I started reading this the article, Man in the Middle, by Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra because I have long appreciated Dr. David Dockery’s leadership in evangelicalism. But as I began reading, I realized that this piece tells a far bigger story than Dr. Dockery’s personal journey. Rather, Dr. Dockery’s experiences offer a lens through which we can consider evangelicalism’s story in North America over the last 50 years. Dr. Dockery has had a front row seat — and place in the ring — and invested his life — regarding debates and violence involving theological liberalism and racism. 

David Dockery, president of Trinity International University, knows the feeling of exhaustion. His wife, Lanese, gave birth to their three boys in three years. While he was president at Union University, one student shot another, and an EF4 tornado tore through while half of the students were on campus.

But the most emotionally exhausting day in his life came on January 24, 1992.

“It was one of the happiest days and one of the saddest days of our lives jammed together,” he said.

For Dockery, January 24 started early. His commute to downtown Nashville normally took about 20 minutes. Although he was an assistant professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) in Louisville, he was on loan to the Southern Baptist Sunday School Board (precursor to LifeWay Christian Resources) in order to serve as the general editor for the New American Commentary series.

But that Friday the drive was three hours, and took him up Interstate 65 back home to the SBTS campus in Louisville.

Read the rest here

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Sunday (D.V.), I am preaching on 2 Corinthians 3:12-18, and the pattern of sanctification. Below are some of my favorite passages on sanctification as well as key quotes that summarize what we believe about how Christians are sanctified or increasingly conformed to the image of Christ. It took me over 20 years to collect these. . .

“We try to change ourselves. We take what we think are the tools of spiritual transformation into our own hands and try to sculpt ourselves into robust Christlike specimens. But spiritual transformation is primarily the work of the Holy Spirit. He is the Master Sculptor . . . Grace and the personal discipline required to pursue holiness, however, are not opposed to one another. In fact, they go hand in hand. An understanding of how grace and personal, vigorous effort work together is essential for a life-long pursuit of holiness.” (Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace: God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness, Colorado Springs (NavPress, 1994), 11,13).

“The root meaning of the word ‘character’ refers to something cut or engraved into an object, that marks its unmistakably for what is. So it is with moral character: it persists day aft day whatever happens. It is not just a collection of occasional behaviors or of good intentions that never get implemented, but it is what I am solidly through and through, a matter of the heart . . . someone who is ‘true blue,’ solid all the way through, all the time, inwardly and outwardly alike, we say has moral character, a moral identity of his own. But character does not just grow like Topsy; it must be carefully, painstakingly cultivated (Holmes, Shaping Character, 59).”

“We believe that Sanctification is the process by which, according to the will of God, we are made partakers of his holiness; that it is a progressive work; that it is begun in regeneration; and that it is carried on in the hearts of believers by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, the Sealer and Comforter, in the continual use of the appointed means–especially the Word of God, self-examination, self-denial, watchfulness, and prayer (“THE NEW HAMPSHIRE BAPTIST CONFESSION, (1833), DECLARATION OF FAITH, X. OF SANCTIFICATION” Grudem, 1198).

The New Testament does not suggest any short-cuts by which we can grow in sanctification, but simply encourages us repeatedly to give ourselves to the old-fashioned, time-honored means for Bible reading and meditation (Ps. 1:3; Matt. 4:4, 17:17), prayer (Eph. 6:18; Phil. 4:6), worship (Eph. 5:18-20), witnessing (Matt 28:19-20), Christian fellowship (Heb. 10:24-25), and self-discipline or self-control (Gal. 5:23; Titus 1:8). (Grudem, 755).

“We may define sanctification as that gracious operation of the Holy Spirit, involving our responsible participation, by which he delivers us from the pollution of sin, renews our entire nature according to the image of God, and enables us to live lives that are pleasing to him (Hoekema, Saved by Grace, 192).”

“Sanctification, says the Westminster Shorter Catechism (Q.35), is ‘the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.’ The concept is not of sin being totally eradicated (that is to claim too much) or merely counteracted (that is to say too little), but of a divinely wrought character change freeing us from sinful habits and forming in us Christlike affections, dispositions, and virtues (Packer, 169, Concise Theology).”

“Although the work of strengthening holy dispositions is chiefly a divine and not a human work, believers must cooperate with grace by the proper use of spiritual means. These include the Word of God, the sacraments, prayer, the constant exercise of faith, confession of sins, and providential discipline (Lewis and Demarest, Vol. 3, 187).”

“…God effects the work [of the Holy Spirit] in part through the instrumentality of man as a rational being, by requiring of him prayerful and intelligent co-operation with the Spirit. That man must co-operate with the Spirit of God follows: (a) from the repeated warnings against evils and temptations…and (b) from the constant exhortations to holy living (Berkhof, 534).”

“Sanctification takes place partly in the subconscious life, and as such is an immediate operation of the Holy Spirit; but also partly in the conscious life, and then depends on the use of certain means, such as the constant exercise of faith, the study of God’s Word, prayer and association with other believers (Berkhof, 534).”

“And, indeed, this restoration does not take place in one moment or one day or one year; but through continual and sometimes even slow advances God wipes out in his elect the corruptions of the flesh, cleanses them of guilt, consecrates them to himself as temples renewing all their minds to true purity that they may practice repentance through their lives and know that this warfare will end only at death (Calvin, Institutes., 3.3.9, page 601).”

“All true knowledge of God is born out of obedience.” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, quoted in CT, 1/10/2000, page 78).

“It is the grace of God only that will secure us, and that grace is to be expected only in the use of the means of grace. (Henry, Matthew, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Bible, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers) 1997).

But we have no reason to be afraid if we are on the Lord’s side. Appropriation of that strength comes through the means of grace (MacArthur, John F., The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, (Chicago: Moody Press) 1983).

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The great theologian John Murray explained that an unwillingness to preach judgment inevitably leads to a lack of biblical joy. 

Many Christians would agree with the assessment that there is a lack of joy amongst Christians. But fewer would agree with John Murray’s explanation of why we often lack joy. Murray argued that when the judgment of God is not preached the joy of grace will be lost. Quoting Murray:

There is an amazing and distressing paucity of the agonizing question which is, after all, the basic religious question: how can a man be just with God? And there is likewise, and inevitably as a consequence, a paucity of the exultant joy which comes with the realization of complete and irrevocable justification by free grace through faith. The root from which all such impoverishment proceeds is the absence of from our thinking and from our preaching of the divine judgment upon sin. Without the ministry of judgment and condemnation the foundation is not laid in the conviction which gives meaning and appeal to the gospel of free and sovereign grace. Collected Writings of John Murray: Claims of Truth (His Collected Writings of John Murray; V. 1) (His Collected Writings of John Murray; V. 1), “Some Necessary Emphases in Preaching,” page 145. 

Murray’s logic:

  1. God’s righteous judgment is preached.
  2. Hearers ask, “How can a person be right with God?”
  3. The question is answered, “Through the grace of God.” (Eph 2:8-9).
  4. Those who turn in repentance and receive by faith the gift of eternal life are filled with joy (1 Peter 1:8, Jude 24-25). 

The sequence must begin with point 1. 

See also:

What Do Christians Mean When They Reference the Gospel or Good News

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Wisdom is the saw we use to cut our way through life. Without sharp saws, life is like cutting through a piece of oak with a butter knife.  So how do we sharpen our saws? Answer: By spending ongoing time reading and meditating on Proverbs. 

All of us make decisions that have great implications for the future. What we decide to do impacts our families and other people to whom we are connected.

It can be scary to consider how much impact our decisions have on the future, especially when we consider that eternity is at stake. What you do today, might influence where your children spend eternity. 

And it is by no means a given that we make good decisions. People with good intentions make disastrous decisions every day.

So a central question becomes, “How do we avoid walking into the airplane propeller of bad decisions?”

The answer is “wisdom.” Wisdom is skill for living rightly. Wisdom is how we navigate life. 

But like any skill, wisdom is not automatic. It must be learned over time (Phil 1:9-11, Romans 12:2). The skill of wisdom is learned by spending time in God’s Word, especially Proverbs. The book of Proverbs was given for the express purpose that we might develop discernment. 

2  To know wisdom and instruction,
to understand words of insight,
3  to receive instruction in wise dealing,
in righteousness, justice, and equity;
4  to give prudence to the simple,
knowledge and discretion to the youth—Prov 1:2-4

  A handy aspect of Proverbs is that there are 31 chapters: one for every day of the month. If the date is the 21st, then read Proverbs 21. When you do, take time to identify and reflect on at least one verse. For example, Proverbs 21:1 reads:

The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory belongs to the Lord. Proverbs 21:31

This Proverb reminds us that no matter how much we prepare for important events in our life, if God is not on our side, then all our labor is in vain. Proverbs 21:31 is a call to prayer. 

Two questions follow. The first is, “How long do I have to study Proverbs in order to grow in wisdom?” The answer is, “The rest of our lives.” I believe that all of us – – especially those with leadership responsibilities —  need to read a chapter of Proverbs daily until we die or Jesus comes back. Wisdom is that important.

If you’re a bit of a contrarian (like me), you might counter – – “So you read Proverbs every single day?” The answer is “no.” I miss lots of days. But I have a general habit of reading Proverbs. Sharpening my wisdom saw in Proverbs is a “go to” spiritual discipline that I have practiced over the years.

I would think that if — on average — you read the day’s chapter of Proverbs 3 out of 7 days every week (42.86% of the time) you would be on a good pace. The important thing is to observe the habit of reading Proverbs the rest of your life.

If you are looking for resources on Proverbs, I would make two recommendations:

  1. Dan Phillips’ book, God’s Wisdom in Proverbs is excellent. (For more see here). 
  2. Derek Kidner’s pithy, Proverbs (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries) is also gold. 

 Some of the below posts may jumpstart your thinking on how to read Proverbs.

See also:

Dig for Wisdom Like Its 1849 (Prov 2:4-5)

What Questions Did You Ask Yourself Today Based on Proverbs 12?

The Fear of the Lord is the Beginning of Wisdom (Prov 9:10)

Why Grooms Should Make the Wedding Dresses (Prov 24:3)

Be Thankful for Your Wife on the 31st  (Prov 31)

Derek Kidner on Understanding the Genre of Proverbs

We Know You Don’t See Your Blind Spot. Duh. It’s a Blind Spot. (Prov 17:10)

Even in Laughter the Heart May Ache (Prov 14:13)

A Chapter of Proverbs Today the 29th (Fear of Man Will Prove to Be a Snare) (Prov 29:25)

On Not Grabbing the Dog’s Ears (Prov 26:17)

The Sluggard is No Freak

If Your Boss is Atilla the Hun (Prov 27:18) 

The Meaning of Proverbs 17:6 – On the Beauty of Grandchildren

Two Classic Pillars of True Old Testament Religion (per Derek Kidner) (Prov 2:5)

Feeling Overwhelmed and Undermotivated? (Prov 6:6-10)

Where There is No Fear the People Perish: One of the Most Misapplied Verses in the Bible (Prov 29:18)

Who Are You? Don’t Be Too Sure You Know! (Prov 16:2)

Tim Keller on Proverbs

Before You Make this Loan, “Ask How God is God’s Credit?”  (Proverbs 19:17)

Dream Big and Be Excited to See God Direct Your Paths in Unexpected Ways (Prov 3:5-6)

A Guide to Proverbs Within Proverbs (Prov 3:3-12)

Why the Circle Doesn’t Always Remain Unbroken (Prov 16:28)

Leaders Know How to Pick Up a Crumb and Carry It Into the Next Room (Proverbs 30:25) 

Don’t Let Failure Give Way to Failure (Prov 24:16)

Sharpen Your Wisdom Saw Today (Read Proverbs 18)

Frame On Why We are Sometimes Contentiously Foolish (Prov 20:3)

There are Two Ways to Deal With a Lion

The Fear of Man Lays a Snare (Prov 29:25) 

A Time to Use the SW Word (Prov 10:19)

Ever Fall on Your Face Like Kurt Warner? (Prov 16:18)

Mark Twain: A Lie Can’t Get Half Way Round the World Before the Truth Even Gets Its Boots On (Prov 26:20)

Gossip Affects Your Spiritual Waistline (Prov 18:8)

Facing Some Orcs in An Adventure You Didn’t Ask For? Persevere (Prov 24:16)

If All Your Friends are Named Beevis, Guess What Your Name Is (Prov 13:20)

Set the Bar for Spiritual Disciplines Low 

Teaching Our Children to Work 

 

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Plugging Into God’s Power

Chris —  February 17, 2017 — 1 Comment

In Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines David Mathis helps Christians understand how they can grow by God’s grace rather than wearing out in their own strength.

The key to growing as a Christians is to understand how to grow through God’s strength rather than by merely “white-knuckling” the Christian life through sheer force of will. 

David Mathis illustrates the idea cooperating or receiving God’s grace. He is careful to show that God supplies the power, but that we need to receive God’s grace. 

I can flip a switch, but I don’t provide the electricity. I can turn on a faucet, but I don’t make the water flow. There be no light and no liquid refreshment without some else providing it. And so it is with the Christian with the ongoing grace of God. His grace is essential for our spiritual lives, but we don’t control the supply. We can’t make the favor of God flow, but he has given us circuits to connect and pipes to open expectantly. There are paths along which he has promised his favor.

Mathis’ book, then, is about how we open the “pipes” and wait expectantly for God’s grace to flow into our lives.

In brief, the way that open the pipes or plug into the power is through God’s appointed means of grace: hearing from God in His Word, praying, and growing together in community. There are vast riches to be discovered on this topic. I highly recommend Mathis’ book.

You hear more in the below video where Justin Taylor interviews David Mathis:

Crossway provided time-stamps of the conversation

00:00 – What do the endorsements for the book tell us about what you were trying to do in Habits of Grace?
02:21 – What are you getting at when you talk about “habits of grace”?
04:39 – In your experience, what are some of the main challenges that Christians face with respect to the “habits of grace”?
07:48 – When it comes to our intake of God’s Word, why is it important to emphasize both breadth and depth?
09:51 – How do we ensure that our understanding and practice of the spiritual disciplines is biblical and not unduly shaped by non-Christian influences?
13:04 – Where and how is the Holy Spirit present in your understanding of living the Christian life?
16:30 – With the multitude of books already in print related to the spiritual disciplines, why did you feel the need to write another one?

For more see:

Is Growing as a Christian a Result of God’s Grace or My Strength?  

The Spiritual Disciplines are for Enjoying Jesus: A Review of Habits of Grace by Joe Harrod 

 

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Why?

Chris —  February 13, 2017 — Leave a comment

“Why?” we cry out when we suffer. While we cannot understand all the reasons for pain. There are comforting answers to consider.

Many of you have prayed recently for our niece Michelle who underwent major surgery last week. Michelle (the daughter of one of my wife’s many sisters) is the mother of five daughters and a pastor’s wife.

Michelle is home and recovering. But more surgeries and a long road await.

Yesterday I preached at Johnston Evangelical Free Church in Iowa for Michelle’s husband Jeremy. The title of my sermon was “Why?” I preached on 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 and the Apostle Paul’s comments on his own painful afflictions in that passage.

Of course, we cannot understand intellectually or comprehensively why people suffer. We might as well attempt to individually name every grain of sand on the beach as to explain all of God’s sovereign ways. All of God will not fit between our ears.

But, amid pain, God does give us comforting answers to consider  that sustain us and help us find our way forward.

You can listen to the sermon on Johnston Evangelical Free Church’s web site.

 

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Our church stresses “meaningful membership” in an ongoing way. Sometimes people counter, “But I don’t find the phrase in the Bible.” Here Trip Lee speaks to this objection.

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Why Read Great Literature?

Chris —  January 27, 2017 — Leave a comment

Read this article by Philip Yancey and your motivation for reading great literature — especially Dostoyevsky — will grow.

Many are aware that there is a collection of “great books” and that our minds and hearts benefit from reading them. We’ve heard comments like, “Everyone should read Tolstoy’s War and Peace. I haven’t for the record. But few get around to actually reading the great books. It’s just easier to read John Grisham.

Some of the reason we don’t follow through on reading great literature is that we have not understood why it is so important to do so. In short, we should invest time reading the great books because they consider the most important questions we face. The Brothers Karamazov (Signet Classics), for example, is considered by many to be the greatest novel ever written because it faces, head-on, the problem of suffering. And the problem of pain is unquestionably the most difficult question Christians face. (See point #6 here).

I don’t have the time — nor the expertise!! — to explain more in this post. But if you if you are interested in further motivation for reading great works of literature, then I would encourage you to read this article by Philip Yancey that reflects on Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and “The Sermon on the Mount.” You will come away knowing more about Russian literature and more about the gospel.

Both of the below books are excellent resources for those who wish to make better use of their reading time.

Louise Cowan and Os Guinness: Invitation to the Classics (Masterworks)

Tony Reinke’s: Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books

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As of 12/28/2016, my beautiful wife and I have been married for 10,000 days. While, I could easily list 10,000 ways I am thankful for her. Here I’ll just mention 11.

There is a web site for just about anything including calculating how many days ago something took place.

Last spring, I realized that on December 28, Jamie and I would be married 10,000 days. (I ended up using an Excel spreadsheet to project the day).

In honor of our 10,000 day anniversary, here are 11 ways I am thankful for my wife. I am thankful:

  1. The supreme defining love of Jamie’s life is Christ her Lord and not me.
  2. She extends love and forgiveness to me on the basis of grace and not what I deserve. I would, otherwise, be in deep trouble.
  3. Jamie is beautiful.
  4. Jamie is a wonderful mother to our children in many, many different ways.
  5. Jamie loves family including all of our extended family.
  6. Jamie loves people in general including the people in our church in a special way.
  7. She laughs at my jokes.
  8. Jamie works so hard.
  9. Jamie is generally a content person.
  10. Jamie likes sports and is an intense fan.
  11. Jamie makes Jubilee Jumble Cookies – – a recipe given to her by mom – – they are the greatest cookie in the history of the world.
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Local churches given wonderful gifts to their communities. The gratitude of people who receive those gifts reminds us that the sacrifice of persevering in a local church is worth it.

My pretty wife, Jamie, and I found ourselves with an extra hour on this wintry day. So Jamie put some Christmas goodies on a plate and we made a pastoral visit.

The couple we called on is experiencing health problems. They won’t be able to go out this Christmas weekend except for dialysis.

Our senior saints were thrilled Jamie and I stopped by – – happier than we deserve. I talked to this couple about doing chores on the farm. I read from Luke 2:8-14 and Jamie and I prayed for them and their family.

As I said – – they appreciated our visit more than we deserved – – but a simple pastoral visit was a Christmas gift they were thrilled to receive.

On the way home, the thought struck me again. Jamie and I were able to make our visit only because of our local church. So many people work so hard — and pray so hard — and persevere through so many meetings — so that together we can wrap the package of pastoral hospital visits — and counseling sessions — and December 23 visits. And sometimes when we give those presents, the people open their package with the delight of children. 

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