T4G

Why I’m Thrilled to Travel to Louisville this Week!

T4G stands for “Together for the Gospel.” Every other year some pretty heavy hitters in the world of reformed evangelicalism pool their efforts to host this amazing event.

I’ve managed to go twice over the years. God never fails to show up. With the 500th birthday of the Protestant Reformation right around the corner, no way did I want to miss this edition. Check out the quick video clip below to see what I  mean:

 

 

I feel so fortunate to have pastored a Reformed Baptist congregation for the past eleven years. That we get to stand on the shoulders of the likes of Luther, Calvin, and the rest to proclaim the doctrines of grace to our city, I take as an enormously serious stewardship.

Thankfully my jaw has healed enough to allow the trip. I’m asking the Lord to speak in profound ways to me and the thousands of other pastors who will attend this week. Would you pray to that end as well?

According to the T4G website, they plan to live stream the sessions in case you want to join the event at any point. Sweet!

On Asking Why

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For some reason I don’t usually. Ask the Lord why He lets me suffer like I am right now with my jaw, that is. Well, there was that time in 2005. I had finished cancer treatment with all its nausea and vomiting. My expectation that those symptoms would cease soon after the last chemo blast proved to be wishful thinking. One particularly violent episode turned into a flood of tears and a very loud “Why, Lord?” in my family room.

But for the most part, I’m not inclined to go there. Perhaps one reason lies in what I know the Bible teaches about God’s purposes in the trials He ordains for us. There’s a world of instruction in various texts to that end. For example, that we might grow in steadfastness which would have its perfect result—complete, lacking in nothing (Jas. 1:2-4). Or that we would be able to comfort others with the same comfort whereby we have been comforted by Jesus (2 Cor. 1:3-5). And that we get to identify with the Master in His sufferings because the servant is certainly no greater than He is (1 Pet. 2:21). I could go on.

Another reason for trials in our lives dawned on me recently with comforting intensity. In the middle of HBO2 dive #10, one of the nurse/techs engaged me about what kind if church I pastor. The Lord opened a door for the gospel so big, even I could drive a summary presentation of the good news through it! For once I had the presence of mind to make the most of the opportunity. I laid the truth in love on the man. It almost made my sentencing to hyperbaric oxygen prison palatable. Almost.

And then I thought of Paul’s attitude in Phil. 1:12-13. Writing from prison, here is how he framed his difficult circumstances:

 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.

Now I can’t say that it has become known throughout the whole of Florida Hospital that my treatment is for Christ, but to some extent it is becoming known in the deep wound unit that this is the case. Frankly, that took a good bit of the pain out of this preacher’s jaw that day. Have you considered the possibility that, among other reasons, one why for your trial involves God’s plan for your beautiful feet to bring the gospel of peace to someone in need?

Jaw Joy

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I won’t make this a long post. But post I must.

Jaw pain on my right side has plagued me since a root canal tooth failed in May. This morning I underwent oral surgery to remove dead bone on the right side of my jaw. The procedure exceeded my expectations. My surgeon cleaned out a bunch of junk. He did a superior job.  That I can work on a blog post the same day testifies to that effect.

I got to thinking about one’s jaw. I admit it. I take mine, both sides, for granted. I shouldn’t. My right side got hammered ten years ago with radiation treatment for head and neck cancer. Gotta love cancer treatment, conventional style. While cancer cells get killed, so also do healthy cells. Hey, I’m not complaining. I’m still preaching ten years later. My complications have been minimal. Couldn’t be more grateful.

Still, there is this jaw thing. Preacher’s tend to make connections from the experiential to the spiritual. Here’s mine, with the help of Puritan Matthew Henry, from Hosea 11:1-7.

He eased them of the burdens they had been long groaning under: I was to them as those that take off the yoke on their jaws, alluding to the care of the good husbandman, who is merciful to his beast, and will not tire him with hard and constant labour. Probably, in those times, the yoke on the neck of the oxen was fastened with some bridle, or headstall, over the jaws, which muzzled the mouth of the ox. Israel in Egypt were thus restrained from the enjoyments of their comforts and constrained to hard labour; but God eased them, removed their shoulder from the burden, Ps. 81:6. Note, Liberty is a great mercy, especially out of bondage (emphasis mine).

Do you see that phrase, I was to them as those that take off the yoke on their jaws? At this point in my spiritual journey, no other verse may matter more to me in the strengthening of my faith to finish strong. Do I long for the pain in my jaw to abate? Absolutely.

Would I trade that for the confidence that Jesus, by His gracious death on the cross and victorious resurrection from the dead, has TAKEN OFF THE JAW OF WORKS and given this unworthy ox the mercy of laboring under gospel grace?

Not in a million years.

Thank you, my great Savior, for using my frail jaw for reminding me once again of your great grace.

This jaw, what’s left of it, praises You.

A Dead Guy’s Take on Idol Smashing

expulsive powerIn our Resolving Everyday Conflict class last Sunday, the video lesson made mention of a helpful resource for ridding ourselves of the idols that often lie at the root of our conflicts.

I promised I would post a link to the sermon manuscript by Thomas Chalmers entitled “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” A bit long and dense, perhaps requiring more than one reading, it is well worth the time and effort.

Here is how Amazon summarizes the treatise:

Dr. Chalmers states that “It is seldom that any of our tastes are made to disappear by a mere process of natural extinction,” and “the heart must have something to cling to—and never, by its own voluntary consent, will it so denude itself of all its attachments.” Therefore the superior affection for God through the free Gospel of Christ is necessary to displace worldly affections. This sermon, written by one of the foremost minds of his day, has become seminal for modern thought.

Check it out and happy idol smashing.

The ABCs of REC

ABC

So no doubt you get the idea behind the ABCs. The basics. The starting place. The fundamentals. To quote Coach Lombardi of Green Bay Packer’s fame on opening day of summer camp: “Gentleman, this is a football.”

What in the world is REC? Resolving Everyday Conflict.

RECLast Sunday we began a journey at OGC of working through this study by Peacemaker Ministries. It aims to help us navigate the troubled waters of inevitable conflict in relationships in a redemptive way. If you missed session one, you are more than welcome to join us this Sunday at 9:30 AM for part two.

In session one I did my peacemaking version of “this is a football.” I covered the ABCs of REC. Ready?

A – awareness of one’s heart. Two key texts anchored our study. James 4:1-3 gives us this building block of the ABCs.

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

To deal with the symptom you have to know the cause. James makes it plain. Passions, cravings, idols of the hearts, often good things that become god things and end up bad things more than not turn disagreements into relational war. So stand guard over your heart from the get go. Be suspicious of your own desires-turned-demands that throw gasoline on the disagreement fire.

B – burdened for others’ interests. Philippians 2:3-4 shape this fundamental.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Paul assumes we will do the self-interest part of the equation. What he pleads is that we will give the same level of concern to what drives others in our conflicts. It’s not an either/or proposition; it’s a both/and one.

C – consumed with Jesus’ mindset. Paul tells the rest of the story in Philippians 2:5-11.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Imagine that. He points us to the gospel – Jesus sacrificially humbled on the cross, then gloriously exalted in the heavens. Jesus sets the pace for us. He puts the bar high by His own example. But that alone will never get us to a place of concerned deferral to others even sacrificially. Please note. A mind like this, one that looks out for interests of others to such a sacrificial degree, is yours in Christ Jesus. That’s what he wrote. It’s our very own possession. Because we are in Christ we have the supernatural strength to elude the grip of selfishness and travel the way of others-interests. That’s terribly good news.

These are the ABCs of REC. How’s your grade lately in the school of conflict resolution? Maybe you could use some remedial tutoring? Hope to see you Sunday.

Not One, But Two

Opportunities, that is.

For what? Bending the gospel outward at OGC this weekend.

The first comes this Friday, December 20, in the form of a free Christmas concert featuring a new group getting airtime on Z88.3 FM in Orlando called “All Things New.” Here’s a sample of what you will hear:

You can go on mission with this option in one of two ways. First, you can volunteer to serve on one of the teams. We need greeters, parking attendants, security, among other things. Contact the church office if you want to get in on the fun. Second, you can bring a friend and use the time together as a chance to connect about spiritual things. For more information about the concert click here.

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The second opportunity takes place the very next morning at 9 AM at the All Women’s Health Center in Altamonte Springs. Various churches from around the city will convene at this abortion center for a twenty minute Christmas caroling and prayer service on the sidewalk. The mill will be open for “business” during this time. I have been asked to lead in prayer as part of the service. For those who can, the group will proceed from there to other abortion clinics in the Orlando area. For more information, contact the church office and ask for me. Ample parking is available at Pharmacy Specialists just north of the center on Maitland Avenue. This is a no brainer mission opportunity for us at OGC since our facility is right down the street from this house of horrors. You won’t have to do anything more than pray and carol and trust God to work in the hearts of some folks that may lead to the rescue of one or more infants in the womb.

Come on church. Let’s bless the city and storm the gates that won’t prevail against the church of King Jesus!

 

SHOW & Tell

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Mega kudos to one of my alma maters. This fall, RTS Orlando sponsored something called “The Current Read.” They unpack their motivation this way:

We believe that the Christian community should be full of thoughtful readers. For this reason, we’ve created a book program called The Current Read that encourages not only our students, but others in the Orlando area, to read a book together, discussing the issues it raises and engaging the topic with the author at a “meet the author” event at the culmination of the program. Each fall, the library staff choose a thought-provoking book for the program and plan events to correspond with the reading.

When I received notice earlier this year, I jumped at the opportunity. I ordered the current offering and RSVPd for the author meet-and-greet. That event occurred this morning in downtown Orlando. I happened to engage Mr. Douthat while grabbing a bite in the breakfast line. I asked if I could share something personal with him. He obliged. I proceeded to tell him that I read his thought-provoking book during my recent vacation in Idaho. In so many words, I encouraged him with my testimony of just how much wind the read blew into my pastoral sails. His book, along with other means, convicted me more than ever to hunker down and plow on in my role as a pastor of a confessional church in suburban Orlando where much of what he describes does indeed ail the church. He admitted how humbled he felt at such a notion. His autograph signing of my personal copy of Bad Religion revealed as much. Nice. I might have to start reading the New York Times.

As I listened to his remarks during breakfast, one thing above all stood out. He spoke very strongly about the need for the church of Jesus Christ in this day and age to do more showing than telling in order to win a hearing about its message. The deficit brought about by the preponderance of heresies masquerading as the real deal has so disenfranchised the average American that now more than ever more than not we have to show folks the real thing before we get to tell them about the real thing.

bridge building

My take away is this: bridge building into the culture is a big deal. Doing things like free-parking outreaches and craft fairs and whatever else we can come up with to connect with those outside the church is something we must make a priority as we continue to strive to bless our city and preach the gospel.

It’s time for show and tell with a heavy emphasis on show so we get to tell when God gives us opportunity. Covenant member at OGC – will you pray for the craft fair? Will you serve at the craft fair? Will you visit the craft fair or if not, will you plan to participate in the next available opportunity you have for bridge-building? Titus 3:1 says to be ready for every good work. Are we?

Why Observe Reformation Sunday?

reformationday

Fresh from two weeks in the wilds of Idaho, it feels good to get back in the blog posting saddle again. The church calendar constrains me. October 27 is Reformation Sunday. Every last Sunday of the month of October we at Orlando Grace, along with most churches in the Reformed tradition, mark the anniversary of the official start of the Protestant Reformation. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his church-shaking Ninety-Five Theses on the the door of the Wittenburg church, catalyzing a tectonic shift in Western Christianity.

I’m not sure I can improve on last year’s post to this end by a fellow officer of mine. However, I do feel certain things need to be said, if only by repetition. The question to observe or not to observe Reformation Sunday for this pastor is a no brainer. Yes, a thousand times yes. Although I must admit for years as a pastor, I failed to do so. I credit a former associate of mine, now turned jeweler, for opening my eyes on that score. Thank you, young squire. I miss you.

Orthodox Christians of the 21st century stand on the shoulders of giants who have gone before us. None matter more than the Reformers in one respect for what they recovered for the church laboring under the legalism and apostasy of Roman Christianity. As captured in the first of the solas, sola Scriptura, the Reformation saw a return to the ultimate source of authority over the church – the inspired, inerrant word of God (2 Tim. 3:16). Thanks to Luther, Calvin, Zwingly and the rest, no longer do we look to creeds, confessions or tradition for the source of truth guiding God’s people. Scripture sets the standard. Creeds and confession have enormous value, even as OGC subscribes to the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, but only as they accurately reflects the Word of God.

As captured in the additional solas – sola gracia, sola fide, sola Christus, and sola deo gloria, the reformation accomplished a recovery of the gospel that is rightly grasped and proclaimed only as salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone. Hence my sermon text for this Sunday – Ephesians 2:7-10 and title – Eternity’s Glorious Display. God will forever put on display the wonders of His grace precisely because the nature of the redeemed’s salvation is by grace alone, not a result of works, lest anyone should boast.

One final thought why we ought to observe Reformation Sunday. Because we need a modern day Reformation. I first became convinced of this by reading David Wells provocative book No Place for Truth: Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology. Lately I have been reinforced in my determination that the same need exists more than ever by reading Ross Douthat’s 9781439178331_p0_v3_s260x420helpful assessment of the American religious landscape Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics. Douthat chronicles the demise of orthodox Christianity over several decades into a panoply of false teachings and heresies that make one’s hair stand on end. In his concluding thoughts, he notes historical evidence including within America’s journey when it looked like all was lost for true religion when the opposite actually occurred. He offers this hope with the help of G. K. Chesterton:

In each of these cases , an age of crisis was swiftly followed by an era of renewal, in which forces threatening the faith either receded or were discredited and Christianity itself revived. Time and again, Chesterton noted, “the faith has to all appearance gone to the dogs.” But each time, “it was the dog that died.”

Yes, we should observe Reformation Sunday. May we celebrate what the Reformers recovered and hope the heterodox dogs of the day die once again.

“Law-Speaker” or “Grace-Speaker”?

Here is food for thought from Peacemaker Ministries to reflect upon:

Many times it is difficult to consistently weave the gospel into our conversations with others until the gospel is first woven deeply into our own hearts. Many of us are by nature “law-speakers”–we bring judgment much more easily than we bring grace. If that is you, pray that God would give you a major heart change, to make the gospel central to everything you think, say and do. Pray that God will open your eyes more fully to the glory of what Christ has done for you. Learn to delight in reading about, meditating on, and rejoicing in Jesus’ completed work on the cross. When your soul, your thoughts, and your conversation are saturated with the gospel, it will overflow into other areas of your life, bringing hope and encouragement to others.

The Grand Canyon of the Gospel

Have you ever visited the Grand Canyon? I have. Twice. The view from every vantage point takes one’s breath away.

As stunning as that vista is, it doesn’t compare to the scene of God’s love on display in the gospel of Christ. Greg Gilbert capitalizes on that illustration in his book What Is the Gospel?

How long has it been since you looked up from the earthly details of life and came face to face with the Grand Canyon of what God has done for us in the gospel—his unfathomable grace in forgiving people who have rebelled against him, his breathtaking plan to send his Son to suffer and die in their place, to establish the throne of the resurrected Jesus over a kingdom of perfect righteousness, and to bring those who are saved and redeemed by his blood into a new heavens and new earth where sin and evil will be forever conquered!

How is it that I let the beauty and power and vastness of that gospel be crowded out of my mind so often and for so long? Why is it that my thoughts and emotions are often dominated by silly things like whether my car is clean, or what’s happening on CNN right now, or whether I was happy with my lunch today, rather than by these glorious truths? Why do I so often organize and think about my life as if I were wearing blinders, rather than in the light of eternity? Why does this gospel not permeate, all the time and all the way to the bottom, my relationships with my wife and children, my coworkers and friends and fellow church members?

I know exactly why. It’s because I’m a sinner, and worldliness will continue to linger in my heart and war against me until the day Jesus comes back. But until then, I want to fight against that. I want to fight against spiritual laziness—against the drugged stupor this world constantly threatens to put me in—and I want to embrace this gospel hard and let it affect everything—my actions, affections, emotions, desires, thoughts, and will (p. 114-15).

Content likes that makes me eager to sit under Greg’s teaching this Friday night and Saturday morning in our Living in the Grip of the Gospel Conference at OGC. Oh for a people who embrace the gospel hard and let it effect everything!