Christian Responses to the Tragedy in Aurora

While this certainly grabs at the heart of every American, it is somewhat nuanced for me in that I attended that midnight showing of The Dark Knight earlier this morning.  But in God’s providence, I watched in Louisville, KY and not Aurora, CO.  Still, the news was, needless to say, burdening and broadening.  Here are two responses from Collin Hansen and Al Mohler.  Praying for these families during yet another sin-evincing crisis, and for all the churches in the Denver area, that they will be granted wisdom, grace, spiritual life, and a gentle boldness in bringing the gospel of Jesus to bear upon the hardest realities of this world.

Advertisements

11 Reasons Why Working With Kids Is Not Second Rate Ministry, by Brent Osterberg

Sadly, children’s ministry in the local church can often be seen as second rate ministry, not much more than crowd control and waiting out the clock. This can be seen on the occasions when members looking to move on to bigger and better things will see children’s church or AWANA as merely something to cut their teeth on. Or when the church leadership, in a desperate attempt just to fill the volunteer gaps, will try and make children’s ministry as burden-less and non-committal as possible. Then, of course, there are those who take a shift with the kiddos just because they feel like they have to do something to serve.

Truth be told, I’ve thought all these things at one time or another over the years. Only now that my wife and I have kids of our own have I realized the crucial role that children’s ministry plays in the lives of the kids it serves, their families, and the church.

So then, in the hopes that more Christians and churches will begin cherishing this ministry and investing in it more copiously, here are 11 reasons why children’s ministry is not second rate ministry:

Go here for his 11 insightful reasons.

How the Gospel Changes Our Apologetics, Part 1, by Tim Keller

Apologetics is an answer to the “why” question after you’ve already given people an answer to the “what” question. The what question, of course, is “What is the gospel?” But when you call people to believe in the gospel and they ask, “Why should I believe that?” —then you need apologetics.

I’ve heard plenty of Christians try to answer the why question by going back to the what. “You have to believe because Jesus is the Son of God.” But that’s answering the why with more what. Increasingly we live in a time in which you can’t avoid the why question. Just giving the what (for example, a vivid gospel presentation) worked in the days when the cultural institutions created an environment in which Christianity just felt true or at least honorable. But in a post-Christendom society, in the marketplace of ideas, you have to explain why this is true, or people will just dismiss it.

Go here for the first part of this blog series by Keller at City to City.

WORLD’s Top 10 Books of the Year, by Marvin Olasky

1. The Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the World’s Largest Religion, by Rodney Stark

2. Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help — And How to Reverse It, by Robert Lupton

3. From Prophecy to Charity: How to Help the Poor, by Lawrence Mead

4. Coming Apart, by Charles Murray

5. The Intolerance of Tolerance, by D. A. Carson

6. We the People: A.D. 1600 to 1800, Christian History Project, Vol. 10

7. What is the Mission of the Church?, by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert

8. Gospel-Powered Humility, by William Farley

9. The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson

10. A Life of Gospel Peace, by Phillip Simpson

Go here and here for his run-downs of the top three.  At the bottom of the second link, where the final 7 books are listed, there are links for WORLD’s reviews of all the books.

The Triumphant Gay Revolution, A Book Review by David Murray

This is one of those book reviews that not only covers the essential contents of the book but also informs the church on how to respond to those contents.  And I think his exhortations are wise, balanced, humble, and timely.  I’ll place those just below and you can read the full article here for the rest of the content:

So it all looks rather grim for Christians. We are facing opponents with a well-defined strategy and an energizing moral certainty. Their “kill list” has claimed three out of four targets, and they are pursuing the last (“the most resilient horseman of the gay apocalypse—sin”) with a united, uncompromising, never-give-up, laser-like focus on gay marriage. And many lawyers—including our President—are out to make a great name for themselves in this final “triumph.”

Is there anything we can do? I believe there is. We can repent. Yes, let’s begin with ourselves, the Christian church, and our own sin: apathy, cowardice, defeatism, pragmatism, and inconsistency. Let’s confess it and seek the empowering pardon that Christ alone can give.

We can also pray. Despite our failings, we can pray for God’s mercy to his church and the nation. We can plead, “For your name’s sake, for your glory’s sake, intervene for your beautiful and blessed institution of marriage.”

And we can love. Although the majority of the gay movement hold us in contempt—and, make no mistake, they do—let’s not return evil for evil. In our relationships with gays, and in our public words, while holding firmly to biblical morality, let’s do all we can to smash the caricatures of Christians as gay haters. Gays have declared themselves our enemies. As such, they are entitled to our love—especially the love of evangelism.

Last, let’s not give up on the legal and political avenues open to us. Let’s prayerfully and practically support courageous Christian individuals and organizations who can speak truth to power. Who knows, maybe in God’s providence Hirshman will have to write another book before long: Debacle: How I Helped the Gay Revolution Snatch Defeat from the Jaws of Victory.

When He Lies, He Speaks Out of His Own Character

I happened to be watching ESPN’s First Take this morning, while wearing out my daughter before putting her down for a nap.  The particular topic being discussed was whether or not the debaters were buying Tim Tebow’s comments pertaining to the success of fellow New York Jets quarterback, Mark Sanchez.  One of the debaters, Stephen A. Smith, essentially said he didn’t buy it, which was followed by Skip Bayless with the charge that he had called Tebow a liar.  Smith then posed the million dollar question to defend what he had said: if someone lies one time, is he a liar?  Does that speak to his essential character?  For the record, Smith said “no,” while Bayless said “yes,” although Bayless, a lover of all things Tim Tebow, did not accuse the Jets quarterback of lying.  And both of these men are professing Christians.

Whether or not Bayless could defend his position theologically, I do not know.  But Jesus can.

John 8.31-47 has become one of the most important passages in the Bible for me in understanding why we do what we do, say what we say, think what we think, desire and will what we desire and will.  It is a passage about universal enslavement dependent upon one’s nature.  You see, all human beings are born with not one but two fathers: an earthly father and the devil.  All human beings are born as Paul says it, “dead in trespasses and sins . . . following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph 2.1-3).  Jesus simply says it this way, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (Jn 8.44).  By contrast, He ends the text with, “Why do you not believe me?  Whoever is of God hears the words of God.  The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” (Jn 8.46-47).  In other words, while all human beings are, at first, stillborn spiritually as children of the devil, being not “of God,” yet God in His grace regenerates the spiritually dead sinner, and in this process makes the person a new creation with a new heart, new desires, a new will, and a new nature out of which the believer now lives, thinks, acts, speaks.  The Christian is “of God.”  We have been “born of God.”  We are the children of God.  God is our Father, and this changes everything.  We are no longer enslaved to the desires of the devil.  We are set free to be a slave to God.

As Jesus explains these things to his audience, He says something fundamental about the relationship between character and action.  In John 8.44 Jesus teaches, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.  He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him.  When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”  The reason they won’t believe Jesus is because Jesus is telling them the truth, but their father is the father of lies, he is a liar, and therefore he lies.  And because the will of the unrepentant sinner is to do their father’s desires, they embrace his lie, they lie.

Jesus fundamentally disagrees with Stephen A. Smith.  And for a couple of reasons.  First, contrary to Smith, Jesus understands that no person has only lied one time (Smith actually said of Bayless that he knew he didn’t lie).  Insofar as a person is enslaved to the desires of their father, the devil, they lie constantly by their rejection of the truth, namely, Jesus Christ.  Secondly, Jesus attaches lying to character.  When a person sins, it does not so much make them a sinner as it proves that they are one.  When a person sins, it is because they are a sinner.  In other words, life — thoughts, words, actions, motivations — arise out of nature or character.  If a man lies, it is because he is a liar.  Now, before moving on, I just want to go back to John 8.47, because Jesus teaches that a man’s nature or character can be supernaturally resurrected from the spiritually dead.  This is good news!  What we are now is not what we must always be!  We need not always be defined by our initial relationship to the devil.  We do not have to remain enslaved to his desires (enslaved, by the way, does not equal drudgery; unrepentant sinners are very much in love with this enslavement, they love their sin, and indeed find it to be of their own volition with joy).  Jesus proved to be the one and only exception to this rule.  Thus, Jesus died in the place of sinners, and by His death purchased the new birth for everyone who believes in Him.  So Christians really are set free from sin, death, Satan, and all his desires, his nature, his character; and we really are set free from having our characters and lives defined by a serpent’s.  Nevertheless, until this grace is bestowed, a sinner sins because he is a sinner.  A liar lies because he is liar.  When he lies, he speaks out of his own character.  

A common objection to this goes as follows:

What about Christians?  Do Christians sin?  Don’t Christians lie, etc., etc.?  What is the difference between the one who is “of God,” and those who are still of the devil?  This is a key issue.  In fact, it is one that I am confronted with most often in evangelism.  So here goes (disclaimer: this is a difficult subject to navigate):

1.  Yes, Christians sin.  And, yes, Christians sin by lying and in many other ways.  So what is the difference?  If the unbeliever sins, it is because he is a sinner.  He sins out of his own character and nature.  Is this true for the Christian, and if not, how can that be so?

2.  This is not true of the Christian.  There are only two natures that can be experienced in this world.  The old and the new.  That of the devil and that of God.  That which is of the flesh and that which is of the Spirit.  And they are mutually exclusive.  They cannot be held together.  All human beings experience the former in every case.  Some also experience the latter by grace.  How then does the Christian still sin and how is this not indicative of a sinful character?

3.  I want to be very clear here.  This is not an easy subject.  So while it is obvious that I still sin, that since having been born of God almost 13 years ago, I have sinned in many ways, it is not indicative of my nature or character.  And this is not some philosophical mumbo-jumbo designed to self-justify.  There is a reality true of the children of God that is not true of an unrepentant sinner: the child of God is free, while the child of the devil is not.  What that means is that the unbeliever can only do what is pleasing to his father, the devil.  Again, Jesus: “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (Jn 8.44).  Volitionally, the unbeliever is gladly enslaved to sin.  This volitional enslavement, or enslavement of the will arises from and evinces their sinful nature or character.

The Christian, on the other hand, has been “set free” by the Son and so we are “free indeed” (Jn 8.36).  Whereas the unbeliever has one option and can see no other but to delight themselves in what is most pleasing to them, namely, sinful desires, the Christian has been set free to be gladly enslaved to delight themselves in what is most pleasing to God.  And the Christian knows the other option too, namely, sinful desires.  The Christian knows both the desires of their heavenly Father and the desires of their former father.  Whereas the unbeliever can do nothing but sin, for they do nothing from faith (Rom 14.23), the believer can do what is pleasing to God and we can sin.  And when we do the latter, we are acting contrary to our new nature.  We are testifying falsely about Christ and our character.

4.  One more crucial reality must be tied to this.  I have confessed that Christians do still sin after being the recipients of divine and resurrecting grace.  To confess to the contrary is simply unbiblical and dangerous (1 Jn 1.8, 10).  But this must be said also: because of our new nature, the Christian is characteristically violent against sin.  In other words, the Christian will not stay there without a fight.  He will abide in the dark without turning on the flash light.  In fact, distinctive of the Christian is a walking in the light where God is, which is a metaphorical way of saying that the Christian does not desire to walk in sin, and if the Christian has committed sin, we do not desire to conceal it, but rather to confess it, to go public with it to our Father, and to our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.

The Christian knows that Christ has taken away sins by His death on the cross, and that not just in a legal sense, i.e., our sins have been forgiven.  This is wonderfully true, but if this is not packaged with the new birth, it can lead to great misunderstandings about the Christian life and the call to personal and corporate holiness.  In other words, licentiousness (abusing God’s grace to justify our continuance in sin) happens when the truth of justification is severed from the truth of regeneration or the new birth.  But the Christian believes the Word of God, that Christ taking away sins means not only that Christ has brought about the forgiveness of our sins, but also the removal of the present power of sin — and very soon the presence of sin entirely in glory!  The Christian holds these together.  We have been forgiven by God in Christ.  And the very reason we have believed that is because we have been born again by God in Christ, by the working of His Spirit.  As we hold it together, it means that we who know that Christ has taken away our sins also know that we cannot and desire not to live in sins any longer.  We desire, pursue, strive for holiness of life.  Do we sin?  Yes.  But that is not our first love.  And, most importantly, by God’s Spirit, we are fighting against sin — this is all the difference in the world!  Is their a fight?  This distinguishes “of the devil,” from “of God.”  The child of God is a growing person.  We are growing up into Christ.  We are maturing in the ways of our Father.  We are being transformed day by day.  And so, although sin’s presence will not be fully eradicated until heaven, our love for and practice of sin grows less and less, while our love for and practice of holiness increases more and more.  If it doesn’t, we simply are not new.

Psalm 127.3-5: Why We Aren’t Done Seeking To Have Children After One Boy and One Girl

May 6, 2010 Jenny and I had our first child, a boy whom we named Luke.  March 28, 2012 we had our second child, a girl whom we named Kate.  And believe it or not, we aren’t done seeking to have children, although the comments from many seem to suggest a wisdom to the contrary.  This is a wisdom from the world.  Two children is to some two too many.  Two children too many is time to stop.  And apparently, when the two you have been given by God are a boy and a girl, you’re all done.  Well, we aren’t done seeking to have children.  We aren’t done seeking the Lord for this mercy.  This is one purpose for our marriage (Malachi 2.15).  Along with this, it just makes sense when our worldview is shaped by Scripture, and particularly the overarching truth that we are at war.

I do not mean war in the political sense.  I do not mean war in the present national sense.  I mean war between God and every being at enmity with God, and therefore every being at enmity with us (Psa 120.7) because we preach the gospel of God’s reign in Christ (Isa 52.7; Mk 1.15; Acts 2.30-35).

As bullets fly by, the soldier at war desires as much weaponry and armory as possible.  It is simply reckless to go into battle underprepared.  Legalos is a fool if he only carries one or two arrows into the battle at Helm’s Deep.  And I am a foolish warrior if I only carry two children with me into the fray of spreading Christ’s victory and battle cry.  Now, I have many, many friends, dear brothers and sisters whom the Lord has not granted children.  These are not fools because they cannot carry what has not been granted.  But a fool I am if I carry not what God has granted for that purpose.

So we aren’t done seeking to have children after one boy and one girl.  Why?

“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth.
Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate” (Psa 127.3-5).

Why?  Because the Bible tells me so.  Because in the truest sense, we are at war, not against flesh and blood, but principalities and powers of the air, and God gives children, biologically (Psa 127.3), by adoption (rooted in Eph 1.5), by conversion (1 Thes 2.7) or discipleship (1 Tim 1.2), in order that we might be well-equipped for the fight — a fight fought because Christ has already won.