Harshness vs Expressing One’s Feelings

Take a look at this hot mess that someone might call a ‘book review’:

For so long, the gospel of God has been assumed in our churches. We now stand on the cusp of the gospel being denied from those who grew up in church and yet was never taught the fullness of the gospel and the full council of the Bible. Nevermind, the true gospel being scoffed at from the unbeliever–we know that would happen. We now have the gospel assumed or even worse yet, taught something that is the gospel is not: namely, Jesus is a good example, Jesus is just a Lord, Jesus provides wealth, health and prosperity or we have to take the part of God and make all things right by him by transforming our world.

By God’s providence and will, we now see a small yet vocal group of Western churches boldly proclaiming the gospel (the rest of the world like China or all throughout Africa is years ahead in proclamation of the gospel). This is wonderful. In turn, many other churches are catching wind and claim to proclaim the gospel as well.

What I have experienced is the word gospel being tossed around but I yearn for teachers, preachers and saints to dive right in and explain the gospel of God. More than that, when pressed to explain the gospel, I see too many other Christians with their deer-in-highlights expressions as if to say, “please don’t pick me to answer that question.” I don’t say that to criticize the saints but to extend grace to them because those who are called to office have not done a great job equipping them to do the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-16).

We haven’t done a great job before. Instead of kicking ourselves of sucking, now is the time to turn the ship around. Martin Luther makes the call, “Beat the gospel into their heads continually.” First, we must clearly and simply answer the question:

What is the gospel?

Those who are called to equip, answer this question and teach the answer to the saints. To the saints, go forth and proclaim this Truth of truths to the captives, the blind, the deaf, the sick and the dead that is there is One who has brought freedom, sight, sound, health and life!

Buy this book. Study the verses well. Led by the Holy Spirit, repackage and teach this well. Buy a case and give it away.

With His blood, He has saved me
By His power, He has raised me.
To God be the glory
For the things he has done

Perhaps if I was a studied theologian. Perhaps if I was a seasoned pastor. Perhaps if I beheld a crown of silver upon my head, I could get away with saying some of the things here.

I would go as far as calling myself a pompous ass (rightfully so):

Perhaps I was a bit harsh on myself. Truth be told, I was deeply embarrassed for this and anything else I have written with the same tone. You know the one: comes from a semblance of authority but oneself without any authority.

I am embarrassed for being a Mr. Know-It-All. I am embarrassed for telling other people what to do and I am not even in a position to do it myself.

I was a hypocrite.embarrassed-monkey

I could have come with a lot more humility and a lot less arrogance.

I am embarrassed.

I am sorry if anything I have ever wrote or said ever hurt you.

I am sorry.

Dangerous Calling: God Will Give Us What We Want

Sometimes, we think of God as a pragmatic god. We think we do exactly as he says, we make it appear that all is well, and do everything to please him, he will give us whatever our heart’s desires.

Wait, what if my heart’s desires are for something not Him? What if I want more money, more sex, more work, more security, more of anything out of God but not God himself? Why in all of creation would God give me something not God when my heart desires not God. Logically and theologically, that does not make sense.

In one true sense, God is a pragmatic God. That is, if he has given me His soft heart and now my heart’s desires are for Him and His glory. Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you.1 Okay, I am going to ask God for God and His glory. Guess what, He will not say, “No”, to me. He will give me exactly what my heart desires.

Likewise, God may be pouring His blessings on you, in you and through you despite you. Jesus said, “God shines the sun on the evil and good and pours rain on the just and unjust.2 When someone close to you, be it your wife or your best friend, calls you out on your crap, we cannot dare think that just because everything is going awesome doesn’t mean it is awesome in your soul. Pragmatism should be the alarm, not the process, that something might be going on in your heart.

“I would say to Luella (and this is embarrassing, but important to admit), ‘If I’m such a bad guy, why is God blessing everything I put my hands to?’ God was acting as he was not because he was endorsing my manner of living but because of his zeal for his own glory and his faithfulness to his promises of grace for his people. And God has the authority and power to use whatever instruments he chooses in whatever way he chooses to use them. The success of a ministry is always more a picture of who God is than a statement about who the people are that he is using for his purpose. I had it all wrong. I took credit that I did not deserve for what I could not do; I made it about me, so I didn’t see myself as a man headed for disaster and in deep need of the rescue of God’s grace.” 3

Notes:

  1. Luke 11:9
  2. Matthew 5:45
  3. Paul David Tripp. Dangerous Calling (Kindle Locations 330-336). Crossway.

Dangerous Calling: Blind to My True Condition

“You see, sin is not first an intellectual problem. (Yes, it does affect my intellect, as it does all parts of my functioning.) Sin is first a moral problem. It is about my rebellion against God and my quest to have for myself the glory that is due to him. Sin is not first about the breaking of an abstract set of rules. Sin is first and foremost about breaking relationship with God, and because I have broken this relationship, it is then easy and natural to rebel against God’s rules. So it’s not just my mind that needs to be renewed by sound biblical teaching, but my heart needs to be reclaimed by the powerful grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. The reclamation of my heart is both an event (justification) and a process (sanctification). Seminary, therefore, won’t solve my deepest problem— sin. It can contribute to the solution, but it may also blind me to my true condition by its tendency to redefine what maturity actually looks like. Biblical maturity is never just about what you know; it’s always about how grace has employed what you have come to know to transform the way you live.”

Paul David Tripp. Dangerous Calling (Kindle Locations 301-309). Crossway.

Dangerous Calling: Where’s The Grace?

Lectures. Speaking engagements. One-on-one counseling. Teaching. Preaching. Speaking. Whispering. Is it possible to continuously proclaiming the glorious, loving, gracious gospel of Jesus Christ? What if I preached to myself His gospel? What if I continuously filled my mind not with mindless entertainment but with His glorious revelation? What if I stepped into the world and loved the world in the way He did? What if I could get ever moment of my life to proclaim His goodness and grace? What if?

“You are most loving, patient, kind, and gracious when you are aware that there is no truth that you could give to another that you don’t desperately need yourself. You are most humble and gentle when you think that the person you are ministering to is more like you than unlike you. When you have inserted yourself into another category that tends to make you think you have arrived, it is very easy to be judgmental and impatient. I heard a pastor unwittingly verbalize this well. My brother Tedd and I were at a large Christian-life conference listening to a well-known pastor speak on family worship. He told stories of the zeal, discipline, and dedication of the great fathers of our faith to personal and family worship. He painted lengthy pictures of what their private and family devotions were like. I think all of us felt that it was all very convicting and discouraging. I felt the weight of the burden of the crowd as they listened. I was saying to myself, ‘Comfort us with grace, comfort us with grace,’ but the grace never came.1

Notes:

  1. Paul David Tripp. Dangerous Calling (Kindle Locations 262-270). Crossway.

Dangerous Calling by Paul David Tripp: A Review

I like this book and I am not even a pastor. And I am not going to preface this review with any sort of calling that God has on my life or whatever He might be walking me through. I think this book is suited for any Christian for we are all saints who are being equipped for the work of the ministry. 1 But I think it would be a shame for any Christian to look at the cover, dismiss it because “Oh I am not a pastor”.

I consider those saints who are called by Christ as Pastor-Shepherds to be the Jedi Council of the Christian world. They have masterful way of looking into your life by the words you are speaking and be able to clearly see what is going on in your heart. The good ones don’t judge the heart but instead, ask a series of voodoo questions that helps you see what’s going on in your own heart. This is a skill, gift, and an anointing I do not possess but will always appreciate and will forever admire pastor-counselors and be in awe of the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives and through their lives.

Me? I have to work hard to shepherd well. I have to study my butt off just to half-way counsel others in the gospel of Christ. So, whenever the Biblical Counseling Prof from my seminary writes a book pertaining to pastors, most certainly I will seek this book out.

I initially suspected that this is a book that would help those who feel lead to serve His Bride in some sort of Pastor/Teacher calling. Oh, the book does that but Tripp isn’t simply satisfied with examining your calling. In the omnipotent reaching power of God alone, Tripp is interested in what is really going on in your heart. I mean, really, going on.

If the gospel pertains to the many facets of the diamond that is the life and finished work of Jesus Christ, then Tripp does a masterful job in uncovering the many facets of your heart. Except, if I can speak for my own heart and life, there is no diamond to uncover but rather a coal mine that knows no limits to its depths.

When it comes to your heart, Tripp does not pull punches. For the sake of the gospel, His Bride, my bride, my family, my heart and my soul, I certainly glad he did not.

The easy read yet a read that cuts deep. You can’t do much better than that.

Pick up this book and don’t let it collect dust on the bookshelf with the rest of your other unread books. Read it right away.

Notes:

  1. see Ephesians 4:11-16

I Have A Job For You

“Jesus looks around at Peter’s fishing boat and tackle. Peter has gone back to the old life again, unsure what to do with himself next. Jesus says, ‘Simon, son of John, when I first met you, you were a fisherman, and I called you to be a fisher of humans. You were very happy then to come with me and work alongside me. Now you are back here again. Do you love me more than these?’ Peter is a bit nonplused and doesn’t know where this is leading, but manages to say: ‘Yes, Lord – you know I love you.’ ‘Well,’ Jesus says, ‘I have a job for you. Feed my lambs.’

Peter doesn’t know what to say to this, but Jesus goes on: ‘And Peter, you remember how you said you would go with me even to death? How even if all the others left me you wouldn’t? It didn’t work out that like that, did it? I heard you that night, as you know. You told them you didn’t even know me. Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ Peter hangs his head. There is no denying it now. ‘Yes, Lord,’ he says, ‘you know that I love you.’ 

But Jesus isn’t finished yet. There is no point in getting someone to see themselves as they really are if you don’t show them where to go from there. ‘Don’t you see, Peter?’ he says. ‘That’s not the end of the story. Peter, the next day they took me outside the city and they crucified me. They watched me die while you hid away somewhere. ‘But don’t you see what it means? I was despised and rejected by everybody. I had nothing but darkness and pain and death. But Peter, I bore all your griefs. I carried all your sorrows. I was wounded for your transgressions. I was bruised for your iniquities. Upon me was the punishment that made you whole. As they beat me, you were being healed. You were straying away like a lost sheep, Peter, but God laid on me the punishment for all your sin. Simon, son of John, do you love me?’

Peter, feeling that the tears in his eyes tell the truth anyway, says, ‘Lord, you know all things. You know that I love you.’ And Jesus goes on to tell him of the new life he must lead, a life of serving God, a life of suffering and death, a life of following the Master.

The story hardly needs applying further. Christian faith begins (or it may begin) with understanding what Peter understood that morning. It is as we see Jesus, dying so that his people need not die, completing on the cross the work of our salvation, wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities, that we see clearly the love that God has for us. It is also the point at which we begin to love God in return.”

N. T. Wright. Small Faith–Great God. 2nd ed. IVP Books, 2010. 72-74.

Influence: The Death of Death in the Death of Christ by John Owen

The Doctrine of Limited Atonement.

For those who are not familiar with this doctrine, it seeks to answer this question:

For whom did Christ die?

There are some points to ponder for sure but I have never seen anyone but old theologians wrestle with this question. (I couldn’t even name one New Calvinist who has grappled with this question—understanding the fact that my perspective is quite finite.)

In that context, I wasn’t sure if the polemic nature of John Owen’s work, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, wasn’t somewhat outdated. Besides, is this a hill for us to stand and die on when it comes to theological issues?

Initially, no—not really. The fact that idea of that Christ died for the possibility of salvation and the idea that Christ to save His people from their sins could fall under the and-also truths and not necessary squarely as a either-or truth. In other words, Christians holding to either doctrine and understanding can still have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, faith in Christ and love of God and still are saved to Him forever.

However, those who have planted themselves firmly in the Arminian camp (knowingly or unknowingly) will, from time to time, especially in my lifetime, would try to contest the doctrine of Limited Atonement—the doctrine that states that the work of Christ is perfect, as though the Evangelical world would have to take sides.

And that is where points of Biblical theology, doctrinal truth and overall, logic must be given as a response in order not to simply contests contentions but rather, to challenge the contender with deep thinking in order to esteem the glory of God.

I was a very young Christian (by all accounts, still am) when I started wrestling through theology just a few years ago. The thing that troubled my mind was, “How can the tenets of Calvinistic soteriology stand up beyond a millennium only to challenged so close to my lifetime?” (Close to my lifetime being relative as those challenges were brought up not 500 years ago.) In other words, the truth of theology, after carefully being worked out and confirmed by our Apostolic and Patristic fathers, were trying to be undone by the uplifting and glorifying of the free (albeit undeniably very limited) will of man. That made me dive deep into Calvinistic theology—a theology I have once written off as bullshit.

My introduction to Calvinism came in the form of Wikipedia page bulletpointing each of the doctrines of grace after a late night conversation talks of Calvinism and lots of eye-rolling. That’s was it. No great book like Packer’s Knowing God or Piper’s Desiring God. I never grew up in a Reformed church. I was and still am faithfully attending a Spirit-filled, non-denomination church in the suburbs of Dallas/Fort Worth. Because Calvinism apparently dismissed my personal (stressing that it was my) golden idol of free will, Calvinism was still crap to me. However, for some reason, my interests have been piqued.

It was in around the same time I started to seriously read the Bible for the first time as a Christian. I would say that I was saved for no more than a month when all of this came together. Here’s the thing: as I was reading the Bible is where the doctrines of grace started becoming obviously apparent:

“Hmm, that is total depravity.”

“That is irresistible grace.”

“That’s unconditional election for sure.”

“Crap, that’s obviously limited atonement!”

Over and over again, what started as a basic whisper of an introduction to Calvinism made the passages jump off the page.

From what I believe by the Spirit alone, by the will of the Father alone, by the Word of God alone, my mind was able to grab a hold of the Calvinism and make them my own.

Yes, Limited (or to use a more modern vernacular, perfect, definite, precise, complete) Atonement was the one that I most struggled with the longest. It wasn’t because I struggled with that Christ died on the cross for the possibility of us being saved because that is completely illogical and in a way, antithesis to the attributes of God himself but rather, there were still many passages, most of them Johannine, that suggest that Christ did die for the world.

Still, I was convinced of the truth of Scripture and if I take Proverbs 25:2 to heart and push through any mystery of God using the truth of God, I shall be rewarded with God. I was going to push into this truth once and for all.

That is where this book and John Owen comes in.

This is not an easy book. Don’t turn your nose at the 300 page count. I did the same thing and thought, “Psssh, I can burn through this.” Then you get to Owen’s text itself and the publisher decided to use 7 point font.

It took me six months to read through this book. Often, I would read one side of the open book, read the other side of the open book, close the book and then dwell on it for a while.

Those words were thick, heady and weighty. In the weight of those words, Owen takes all the offenses of opponents of Christ’s Perfect Atonement and turns them on their head.

For example, John 3:16.

There is a book out now called Whosoever Will. The one of the main premises of this book is that John 3:16 is in the defense of the possibility of salvation by God.

But let us actually look at the all-time famous verse:

John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

It is not ‘whosever will’ but ‘whosever believes’.

In other words, It is not ‘the gospel is the power of God in salvation for those who believe and do not believe’ but rather ‘for those who believe’. (Romans 1:16)

It is not ‘for our sake and the sake of the unbelievers, that God made Christ to be sin who knew no sin so that in him we might be the righteousness of God’ but rather ‘for our sake—the sake of those believe’. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

But what about 1 John 2:2?

1 John 2:2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

If that was the only passage in that epistle, then you would have a strong case. But it is not. Look at verse 3:

1 John 2:3 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.

By cherry-picking John’s verses, we can easily make the case that salvation is possible and that possibility rests on us. But when we take in the words of John (inspired by God, 2 Timothy 3:16), as a whole, we can easily see that John is not even contending for the possibility of salvation for all of mankind but laying out actual marks of the Christian.

Hear me out: what I am not contending is the apparent opposite, that is, “Joe, are you say that there are some people (many people if you believe Jesus 1) who have no possibility of being saved?”

No, what I am adamantly, vehemently, boldly, loudly, and passionately contending for is this:

The only way somebody is saved is by God alone for salvation is of the Lord alone and He alone is mighty to save. 2

One and done.

We are not going to sit here and try to determine who is elect and who is not. If Salvation is of God alone then Election completely is on God alone. The Doctrine of Predestination and Election is this absolute truth, “God predestines those destined to death into life.” and “God elects.”. That’s it. No, not because’s or maybe’s or hopefully’s. He choosing of His people happened before the foundation of the earth was in place. He didn’t choose out of some jacked-up game of “Duck Duck Damn”. Instead, He chose His people out of the overflow of His unmatched love because He is Love. This is a love that is not defined by our broken minds in a fallen world within the context a darken culture. This is the absolute truth and the standard bearing of what love actual is—defined by God alone.

Those who would rail against God, say blasphemous and traitorous things against God until their last and final breath, they will then be judged once and be hated in that judgment just like Esau. 3 and not a moment before their dying breath.

But, for as long as they draw breath on this earth, I know that God saves. How can I say? Because God is the only one who saves. Because the weight of any person’s salvation rests on not that person but rather rests on the person of Jesus Christ and his perfect, definite, complete, and satisfactory work, I will continue preaching, teaching and discussing the precious gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ with all of the world—both believers and non-believers alike—until He comes and gets me or I drop dead in the ground.

John Owen’s magnificent book, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, did not just solidify one little doctrine for me, it changed the way I read Scripture, which has, in turn, not only secondarily solidify my theology but has primarily exploded my heart in doxology and has only infinitely fueled my heart for evangelism. For that, I owe him a debt of gratitude and praise to my sweet God in his mercy and provision for my soul.

Notes:

  1. Matthew 7:13-23
  2. Jonah 2:9; Zephaniah 3:17
  3. Hebrews 9:26-28; Romans 9:13; Malachi 3:1

Influences: No Condemnation in Christ Jesus by Octavius Winslow

Why haven’t you read this book yet?

If I had to recommend just one book not including the Bible, it would be this book—above all other works and above all other commentaries. Many call Romans 8, “The Mount Everest of the Bible”. Martin Luther called it, “the clearest gospel of all”.

It is with this little paperback Octavius Winslow separates himself from the pack of scholars and theologians. I feel like it wasn’t that Winslow had to explain the depth and weight of Romans 8 for the scholarly purposes but he had to write this book because if he did not, his heart would have burst in worship and love to our sweet God and Lord. Let me contend that his heart did burst and this book was the result.

Winslow’s love for God drips and flows over every single page of this book. If you love to highlight important passages, you will soon be wishing for a device that will highlight entire pages. (I thought it might be more convenient just to dip pages into a vat of highlighter ink. But I digress.)

That’s what makes this book so special. You start with the chapter that is the richest source of the plenary doctrines of our Christian and dare I say the framework of our Biblical and Systematic theology. Romans 8 covers it: Gospel, Trinity, Perfect Atonement, Justification, Regeneration, Adoption, Redemption, Grace, Law, Creation, Fall, Depravity, Sin, Suffering, Intercession and Love. Not that Romans 8 is complete in these things but it when the reader, blessed with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit or even the non-believer blessed with being pursued by the same Holy Spirit, that you have suddenly realized the glitter in the ground are not mere shards of glass but a path leading to a gem mine that knows no depths and knows no limit on the treasure that can be only in found in Jesus Christ. This book written by a man of God who has descended into the depths of that mine shaft and has only come back to the surface to share with the world with what the author has found in Him.

I ask you, dear reader, have you read this book yet? No? Then why are you not doing so now.

To the Christian, it is a full-blown out description of Christ as the path of life, the fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11). This is a book that cries out, “See what God has done! Come to Him, one who gives great love and sweet rest for your tiresome soul!”

For here is love: “I will put enmity between you and the woman,
   and between your offspring and her offspring;
  he shall bruise your head,
   and you shall bruise his heel.” Genesis 3:15

And here is love: “She shall bare a son and you shall call his name Jesus for He will save His people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21

And here is love: “For our sake, He made Him to be sin who knew no sin so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21

And here is love: “And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.” Ezekiel 11:19-20

And here is love:
… Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
   and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”
  “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
   there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’” Romans 9:25-26

And here is love: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

And here is love: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1

And here is love: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39

To the non-believer who denies the Triune God, this book displays the empirical evidence that you have been seeking that, yes, God does exists and He is not far. May the Holy Spirit show you the power of God by which you can be saved if you would only trust in Him!

To those who are strong in the faith, it book will only serve to prepare your heart to anchor in Christ alone against any stormy gale and fill your heart with such sweet truths.

To those who are weak in the faith, it serves as the sweet, joyous rest for your soul as you lay your head against the bosom of God and rest in the His finished work.

Among my other favorite books, I cannot recommend any one of them to every single person. Yet, No Condemnation in Christ Jesus by Octavius Winslow, is the first Christian book I have read outside of the Bible that I can fully recommend to anyone who can read English.

Likewise, most of the modern Christian self-help books have fallen short in displaying the marvelous and weighty beauty and majesty of our sweet Savior, King and Lord. Those self-help books are just that: about self, in vain and encourages no one. This book is godly encouragement that is rooted in the very breath of God himself (2 Timothy 3:16).

Get this. Read this book. Be encouraged and lifted to the heights of the heavens.

Is Christianity Good for the World? by Christopher Hitchens and Douglas Wilson, A Quick Review

Good, good, good, so good.

Wilson is top-notch and has the upper hand to give the response.

Hitchens is spot-on typical atheist:

  1. Remove God from the equation
  2. Plug-in Evolution as the new source
  3. Profit$

In this, the main hard-hitting topic was Morals and Ethics or the source of Morals and Ethics.

Wilson’s explanation needs none here. Hitchens’ explanation is that there is no source but rather, our morals have evolved.

Classic Romans 1:18-32.

The book is super-short and an awesome introduction to the end-of-an-era Modern Enlightened Atheist and what the Bible has said otherwise. (I must emphasized Modern Enlightened because I don’t know what a post-modern atheist looks like or is that label even possible under post-modernism. But I digress.)

Can’t recommend this highly enough. Bravo, Wilson. Bravo, Hitchens. (I wish you were still here with us.)

Purchase from Amazon.