When Was the Last Time You Wept for Your Nation?

Lately, we’ve been going through the book of Lamentations in our high school group for Wednesday nights.  I know this isn’t a common choice, but it was voiced by the kids, and I thought it would be a good month or so.  For those of you who are familiar with the book of Lamentations, let me take a moment to set the scene.

The prophet Jeremiah was called to preach to the Southern Kingdom of Judah in a time where their hearts and allegiance was removed from the Lord.  The Norther Kingdom had already been hauled off by Assyria, who then grew more and more incapable of enforcing their empire.  Babylon comes up on the scene, and overtakes Assyria to become the big bully on the block.  They grow in power and seek to conquer the world.  Nebuchadnezzar leads a charge through the land of Israel, and they cry ‘uncle’ and are made a vassal state.  When Nebuchadnezzar finds more opposition than he was expecting in Egypt, he returns home for a year to reload.  During this time, Israel makes the tragic mistake of yielding allegiance to Egypt, which didn’t make Babylon happy.  Nebuchadnezzar comes back, sieges Jerusalem, eventually captures it, destroys the Temple, walls and gates, and hauls King Zedekiah off to Babylon.

During this time, Jeremiah is called to preach a call to repentance to his nation, but is told at the beginning that they won’t listen and he’ll find opposition everywhere.  God promises to deliver him, but its a pretty grim picture.  Jeremiah preaches his message and finds somewhat of an audience with Josiah before he is killed in battle, but nothing after that.  He was turned on by his people and false prophets decried him.  He was mocked, beaten, thrown in jail, left for dead, and accused of treason for telling Zedekiah to surrender to Babylon because God had raised them up to punish His people, Israel.

One would expect Jeremiah to react like Jonah.  To walk out of the city and wait for the wrath of God to consume it.  But that isn’t what happens.  There is a reason why Jeremiah was called the weeping prophet.  Listen to how deeply affected Jeremiah was by his people’s sin:

“My eyes are spent with weeping; my stomach churns; my bile is poured out to the ground because of the destruction of the daughter of my people, because infants and babies faint in the streets of the city.” Lamentations 2:11

“My eyes will flow without ceasing without respite, until the Lord from Heaven looks down and sees; my eyes cause me grief at the fate of all the daughters of my city.”  Lamentations 3:49-51

“Oh that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people.”  Jeremiah 9:1

Jeremiah was personally afflicted by his people’s rejection of God’s words.  When he preached, it was not with the primary of condemnation, but with correction and restoration.  I pained Jeremiah to see his people move so far from arms of their covenant God.  It is also interesting to see how often he lumps himself in with Israel, not content to just take pot shots from a distance, but to share in the misery.

As I was preparing to preach through chapter 3, I realized a large shortcoming in my own heart.  I could use a lot of Jeremiah in me.  I have found that it is really easy to sit back, see the moral decay in our country, and say, “Wait until you see what’s comin’ at you.”  It’s been easy for me to watch the news and see people who promote wickedness like its admirable and think, “Wait until they come face to face with the righteousness of Jesus Christ.”  I realized that my heart isn’t broken over the moral depravity of my country.

And I don’t think I’m alone.  When Prop 8 passed here in California (Gay Marriage Ban), I was afraid for what the evangelical response would be.  I imagined Christians seeking to rub the victory in the face of a crushed segment of society.  I foresaw evangelicals coming off as snobs and elitists, being more proud over their temporary political victory, thinking they have dealt a blow to the “gay agenda”.  The problem with that thinking is that the victory is more preserving the institution of marriage than being ‘anti-gay’, and it ends up alienating and severely offending people in need of God’s grace and redemption.

What we need is less true believers sitting back, waiting for God to consume Sodom and Gomorrah, and more believers weeping for the people’s rejection of their Creator.  I realized I need more Jeremiah in my perspective and less Jonah.

Where John Hagee (and others) Erred

I’ll be honest upfront.  I’m not a big Hagee fan.  I disagree with a lot the guy says, and wouldn’t necessarily line myself up next to him.  But there is a big difference between what Hagee has said and what Obama’s pastor, Rev. Wright.  What Rev. Wright said was not really based in the slightest on any particular passage, whereas Hagee has said these things while going through passages and teaching on the end times.  Here’s what he said that really got him in hot water.

First, Hagee said that Hitler sent by God to lead to the events that would bring the children of Israel back to the land of Israel when speaking of Jeremiah 16:15.  Anytime you bring up the name ‘Hitler’ and you don’t immediately condemn him, you’ll get in trouble.  Hagee said that God allowed it to happen.  That is true.  Can God use evil people to do his bidding?  He sure did in the Old Testament.  He brought Assyria and Babylon, who were known to be pretty bad bullies on the block, and used them to take Israel out of the land of Canaan.

But the problem is that in that situation, we know that God raised up the nation of Assyria to take the children of Israel out of the promised land.  In this situation, Hagee is speaking where the Word of God is not clear.  He is speaking on behalf of the world, instead of letting the Word of God speak.  God can allow this to happen, but he makes the error when he connects the dots, saying that God allowed Hitler to kill the Jews so that they would go back to the land.

He makes the same mistake when referring to the Catholic Church as the ‘Great Whore’ in Revelation.  Again, you can preach through that passage, but there is no way we can know who the ‘Great Whore’ is until we are in that time.  Hagee makes a practice of speaking where the Bible remains silent, and that is where he gets in trouble. He made the same mistake with saying that Hurricane Katrina came because of the disobedience of the people in the region.

Preachers can think that they are bearing the reproach of the people on account of taking a stand for the Gospel.  But there is a line between being persecuted for speaking truth, or for speaking your own mind.  I believe it is the latter that gets Hagee and others in trouble.  If we are going to face opposition, we better make sure it is the Gospel that is being objected, and not our own words or delivery.

(On a side note, McCain, in reaction to Hagee and another pastor who had the nerve to say that Islam is an inherently violent religion said this: “I believe there is no place for that kind of dialogue in America.”  Speaking from a freedom of speech point of view, that’s one thing that’s supposed to be great about America.  That there is room for people to say crazy things without fearing retribution, as long as its not slander against a person.  I think McCain speaks big here, but not thinking about what he’s saying.  I believe this is protected by free speech.)

The Wrath of God

This is piggy backing on a previous post on an article that I read by Carolyn Arends in Christianity Today. Carolyn was kind enough to find the post and give a little explanation and defense, and instead of writing a long response in a comment, I thought, hey, it’s my blog. I can just write a new post. You can refer to the link of you’d like to see the original post and Carolyn’s comment.

Let me first say that the topic of God’s wrath isn’t a topic I necessarily like talking about. I don’t get off on being able to stand behind a ‘big, bad wolf’ and stick my tongue out at people who haven’t repented. If anything, its the exact opposite. I still see the sin in my own heart and when I read of the wrath of God, my knees shake, knowing that that is what I deserve. But, thankfully, Christ bore that wrath on my account. I had nothing to do with averting God’s wrath, and I’m fully aware that I deserved it. When I speak of those on which the wrath of God still dwells, I don’t do it casually, but with the knowledge that, there but by the grace of God, stand I.

I would say that the definition of God’s wrath is one of the most important things here. You define God’s wrath as opposition to sin, but I think that is incomplete. God’s wrath is more than his opposition to sin. It is his punishment of that sin which He opposes. I don’t have to fear God’s wrath, but God still disproves of the sin that entertain in my heart. It is more than opposition. I’d like to go through some passages to see how God’s wrath is defined in the Bible.

In John 3:36 we see that the wrath of God is reserved for those that do not believe in the Son of God for eternal life. The wrath of God ‘remains’ on them. This idea of the wrath of God remaining on those that do not repent is seen also in Ephesians 2:3 where it says that unbelievers are ‘children of wrath’. Romans 2:8 says ‘for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury’. In Colossians 3:6, Paul says that the wrath of God is coming on account of the works of the flesh of the old man. We are not to seek those things on the account of the fact that we have been raised with Christ.

From a quick look at these passages, I think it is clear that the wrath of God is something that is reserved for those who are not believers. I don’t think the article reflects the fact that God’s wrath comes down on those who refuse to repent, and is an eternal punishment, not a temporary correction to steer people away from sin and destructive habits. God’s wrath is eternal in nature, not temporal and correcting.

I also believe the Bible clearly conveys the fact that wrath comes as a result of sin that is ultimately and primarily an offense of God’s nature. God’s holiness is His transcendent attribute that affects and influences everything that He does. He is lovely and righteous altogether. Sin is anything that fails to live up to God’s holy standard and God’s love. Romans 3:23 is simple and clear. Sin is falling short of God’s glory, not His perfect plan for man.

We can see the fact that sin is primarily a sin against God’s holiness by looking at the cross. Christ was put forward as a propitiation for our sin. He took the wrath of God against our sin. It was not done primarily to create a perfect society or to correct a culture, but to satisfy His righteous demand of holiness.

If we confuse this, we make man the center of everything, and remove God’s glory from that position. I think Wayne Grudem says it well: “Although God’s punishment of sin does serve as a deterrent against further sinning and as a warning to those who observe it, this is not the primary reason why God punishes sin. The primary reason is that God’s righteousness demands it, so that he might be glorified in the universe He has created.” (Italics are the original authors, Systematic Theology, 509)

Here is the second comment that was left. I’m copying it here so it can be referred to as a respond to it:

Will try to keep this as short as possible: meaning will have to leave out a lot of supporting stuff. I’m a retired minister (over 35 years) ((LtCol,Chaplain,USARet.); PhD (psychotherapy). Religion/theology is not a “hobby” with me. And, yes, I’m “born-again”.Now then.
1. Carolyn A. is just about absolutely right.; light years ahead of whoever the author of “Preferences and Principles” is. 2. God is no egomaniac. He lives for his glory , yes, – but we are his glory; or don’t you believe we are his “image”. 3. The worst part of Calvin was separating Jesus from God. (”…has seen me has seen the Father.” ;) The glory of the Almighty Sovereign God may be observed in the little dead lamb (now risen). He’s not the “bad cop”. He’s never bad; and I mean by my- our- standard. We know what “good” is; he taught us. He’s no monster, damning big parts of his “beloved” creation whenever he takes a notion to. 4. He’s my Father. I won’t let you talk about him like that! Does it make you feel pious and powerful to be on the side of the “big guy”- as they say today. There’s a lot more psychology goes into people’s “theology” than a lot of so-called Bible study sometimes. 5. Early Christians understood that if you walk away from God you are separating yourself from Love, Light and Life; in short you have chosen hell. 6. Anybody who tells you he just goes by the Bible is an ignorant parrot; he heard someone else say that! Rather than elaborate for days- as I could- on this subject, I’d better quit. Arends is right; largely because she seems to understand Christ/God and is therefore more human. And isn’t God human? Or is the Incarnation a cruel joke? And, by the way, I’m really more conservative than any one who’s written or commented so far. So, it won’t do to write me off as some kind of “liberal”. Thank you for sharing with us, Carolyn. ( forestphilosopher.blogspot.com)

To Bill Borch, I have a few comments.

No, I don’t believe we are His glory or His image. That is Jesus Christ. We are made ‘in the image of God’ (Gen 1:27). Colossians 1:15, speaking of Christ, says “He is the image of the invisible God”. Hebrews 1:3 says that he is the exact imprint of the nature of God. There is a stark differnce between being created ‘in the image of God’ and being the image of God. I don’t believe that man is God’s glory, but I do believe that God’s glory is evident through the lives of His redeemed, through Christ.

You say I’ve (presumably through Calvin) separated Christ from God. But you have just done that yourself by attributing the nature of Christ in relation to the image of God to the nature of man. I don’t separate Jesus from God, but I see that they have different, complementary roles within the Trinity. The Son wasn’t sent unwillingly by a power hungry God, but embraced the cross for the joy that was set before him (Hebrews 12:2). I never used the term ‘bad cop’, but I think my list of God’s wrath in relation to those of His creation that have rejected their Creator speaks for itself.

This is not my own idea or my own my leanings on Calvin. This is my impression from what I read in the Word of God. I don’t get my marching orders from Calvin, but from what God has communicated to me through His Word. It doesn’t mean that its easy to accept the doctrine of God’s wrath being reserved for the rebellious Creation, but my preferences don’t matter. It is what God has said, therefore I must accept it and trust that He has a better understanding of His holiness and the insult that sin is to it than I do.

It is true that I may have been taught by men, but I was taught in the Word of God. If you see an area in which I have failed to represent the Word of God accurately, I’d love to talk about that. But until then, here I stand, for I can do no other.

Finally, on your suggestion that God is human, I’d like for you to defend that belief through the Word of God. The incarnation wasn’t ‘a joke’, but Christ “who, though he as in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, 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 the cross.” (Philippians 2:6-8) Christ took on flesh and lived a life that you and I cannot, paid a debt that you and I cannot pay, so that we can be granted a righteousness that we don’t deserve and could not attain.

God is not human. Humanity is God’s creation. I don’t know what being ‘conservative’ has to do with anything. I find it amusing to be accused of not being conservative enough, as I’m usually accused of the opposite. I’m not really concerned with being conservative. I’d rather be biblical, and that is what I strive to be. If you see an area in which I have misrepresented the Word of God, please let me know. I’d like to continue this discussion, but only on the grounds that it is grounded in a discussion of the Biblical text. Like you, man’s opinions don’t really matter to me. I’d rather focus on the revelation of God.

“Why We’re Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be” by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck

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Last month, when we were in Kentucky for the Together for the Gospel conference, we were blessed with 14 free books hand whenever we walked back into the conference room.  These books were hand picked by the hosts, all important for specific reasons. Any time someone offers me a free book, I’m going to be excited and accept it with open arms. But one of the books peaked my interest more than others, and was actually on my Amazon.com wish list (found here for anyone wishing to be generous). That book was “Why We’re Not Emergent” by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck.  The first time I heard the title of the book, I knew it must be an interesting read.  Don’t judge a book by its cover, but this one gives you a pretty accurate understanding on whats inside.

You won’t recognize either of the names, but the title itself should spark interest. Kevin DeYoung is a young pastor outside East Lansing, Michigan, and Kluck is a friend and lay member who is a gifted journalist. Both these men realize that they are the prototypical target for the Emergent Church movement. But they have resisted the movement for Biblical reasons and this book is an explanation of what they see as being wrong about the movement.

DeYoung and Kluck take turns authoring chapters and bring their own style and perspectives. DeYoung approaches the chapters from a pastoral/theological perspective, biblically addressing issues and problems he sees in the movement. Kluck approaches his chapters as you expect a journalist would. He interviews Emergent personalities, critics, attends emergent ‘churches’, classes, and reads through blogs and books.

Through every issue they address, you can tell that they are humble and desperately try to accurately represent the emergent personalities. Something that is refreshing about this book is that you can tell that this critique is from a loving heart to correct the church. It is written by two young men who love the Church and would do what God calls them to do to see Her grow and be biblically effective. While they are critical, everything is done in love.

DeYoung and Kluck admit the difficulties doing a book on the Emerging Church. The movement is difficult to characterize because none of the writers claim to be ‘the voice’. Instead, they all claim to be singular voices, not speaking for the masses. And when they do speak, it is more centered around what they are critical of and don’t believer, rather than what they do. DeYoung and Kluck hold their feet to the fire, letting them know that when they are the speakers at every conference, always recommend each other’s books, and are the main voices on the most influential blogs, then they are assuming the responsibility of being the leaders.

The authors do a wonderful job at confronting the philosophical errors that are the foundation of their ‘belief structure’. The emergent personalities write volumes about how we cannot know a perfect God through limited language, but that is how God chose to reveal Himself through His Word. “They allow the immensity of God to swallow up the knowability of God.”

The most troubling thing coming out of this movement is a redefining of the Gospel itself. Lost amid the postmodern blabber about the limit of language and the narrative dialogues is a clear definition of the Gospel. In a desire to make the Gospel more relevant to the present culture, the language has been jumbled and they have given birth to a pseudo universalistic Gospel.

By far my favorite chapter is chapter 9, written by DeYoung, entitled “Jesus: Bringer of Peace, Bearer of Wrath”. DeYoung brilliantly and biblically presents the Biblical Jesus and a misunderstanding of the Kingdom of God. The topic of Hell and wrath is almost completely ignored, and they only present the teachings of Christ that really agree with their already existent presuppositions.

As far as weaknesses go, I would have to say that the format they have chosen does provide some awkward transitions. The writing styles of the authors are pretty different, one being more conversational with various pop culture references, while the other is more theological and pastoral. The various perspectives are welcomed and helpful, but sometimes offer awkward transitions between chapters.

Another weakness the book has is a failure to clearly distinguish that Brian McLaren lies outside Christian Orthodoxy and has many heretical views that other emergent figures don’t necessarily hold to. They did admit that what one person believes another may not, but when they were presenting heretical views, the most extreme view would often be McLaren. My concern would be that some loving Christians would believe that all emergents believe what McLaren espouses, but that is often the radical fringe.

The final concern I have with the book is the inclusion of many questionable references to movies that are pretty inappropriate. I realize the way Kluck naturally writes would include many of the pop culture references, but the mere mention of a movie without warning can be understood as a recommendation. For two guys who strive so strongly for clearly presenting the truths of the Word of God, they can send a mixed message with what is appropriate or inappropriate.

In all, these two young authors do a wonderful job at lovingly critiquing these brothers in Christ. Their warnings are clear and concise. These men, mostly pastors, cannot get away with teaching heresy by just casually saying that they aren’t scholars. Unfortunately, I don’t recall God given a pardon for heresy because someone wasn’t a scholar. The problem is going to be when people are sick of hearing soft words and want a teacher to say “Thus says the Lord”, then people will move on. In the mean time, they are going to produce masses of Christians who look down their noses at doctrine and theology and then grow dry in their shallow faith.

Worlds Collide- A Discussion with Mormon Missionaries

On Thursday evening, Leah, Micah, and I headed out to the South Pasadena Farmer’s Market to pick up some fresh vegetables and to enjoy a gorgeous evening walking around. Apparently, quite a few people had the same plan, as there were no parking spots to be found. After parking about a mile away, we began walking back to the market and Leah forgot something in the car. Micah and I waited on the corner for her, and I noticed there were a couple of Mormon missionaries across the street, and they were coming my way. I tried to make myself as approachable as possible, as I love having these conversations. Sure enough, they said hi and decided to talk to me. It was interesting how they started. Very seeker friendly. They asked if I knew what it meant to be happy. Hmmm… I guess the implication is that they would provide happiness for me, which is never a claim the Bible makes. I said, yeah, but I also knew what it meant to have joy, which was more important. After this, they launched into an explanation that joy can be found in God, although they probably would have said happiness had I not brought joy into the conversation. They began talking about how God restored the church and brought truth back, etc. I tried playing a little dumb, just to see how they would approach the normal Joe on the street. Before long, they began to tell me the story of how Joseph Smith asked God what church was the right church for him to join. Before they continued, he asked me if I had heard the story, and I said I was familiar with it. So they said, why don’t you tell us what you know so we can fill in the gaps. So, I gave them my impression of the Mormon faith.

“When Joseph Smith asked this question of God, God said, ‘Don’t join any of them. They are all corrupt!’ So Joseph Smith went on his way and formed his own church. One evening he was visited by the angel Moroni, who told him go to upstate New York and you’ll two gold plates buried there. From that he dictates what we know as the Book of Mormon. “Moroni was the only survivor of the war between the Lamanites and Nephites, who are two tribes that came from two brothers, Laman and Nephi, respectively. Lehi, a Jew around 600 B.C. came over and his two sons get into a fight and have to opposing tribes. Fast forward about a thousand years and they have a massive battle in upstate New York (for which there is zero archaeological evidence). Moroni is the sole surviving Nephite, and he buries the plates for Smith to find 1400 years later.

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Back from Kentucky!

You know its been too long since you’ve last posted when the whole format of the posting page has been changed. The last few weeks have been packed with events, teaching prep, seeing Leah and Micah off to NH, and then four days in Kentucky for the Together for the Gospel ’08 conference. Needless to say, the conference was ‘off the charts’, as Pastor Greg Golden would say. I’m going to take some time to describe the week, to let you know what I was challenged with, and provide some links to men who probably are better suited to write full recaps of the messages.

Of course, you should go to challies.com for recaps of each message, as well as various videos and pictures of the week. If you would like to listen to the messages for free, go here. I’ve attempted downloading them, but have thus far only been able to listen to them online. If you figure it out, please let me know.

Here’s a video about them giving books out for the week. You’ll notice the massive book store that they had there. They had almost every major Christian book publishing company there, and they only had books they would recommend displayed. On top of that, we were given about 15 books, many of which I was already planning on buying.

Free Books

“The Courage to be Protestant” by Davide Wells- Wells has become known for being an amazing source of insight and knowledge when it comes to true Christianity and the culture. From what I understand, this book envelops a couple other Wells books in making observations about where the church is in today’s culture.

“The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three Pioneering African-American Pastors” by Thabiti Anyabwile- Anyabwile is a pastor in the Cayman Islands, former pastor at Mark Dever’s church in D.C., and was an addition to the teaching line up at the conference this year. Much to our surprise, and honestly a little disappointing, he didn’t have a cool accent, but he did give an excellent message about the myth of race and the church’s responsibility to apply the truth of mankind being one in Adam to it’s practices and the proclamation of the Gospel. As Thabiti said, “They brought the black guy in to talk about race.” This book is about three lesser known African-American pastors through troubling times of slavery, the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation, the turn of the 20th century, to the first two World Wars. Should be quite the interesting read.

“Culture Shift: Engaging Current Issues with Timeless Truth” by Al Mohler- I wrote about this book here. When I finished reading it, I realized that it was probably going to be given to me at the conference. Oh well, I guess I have an extra to give out as a present.

“The Gospel and Personal Evangelism” by Mark Dever- This book asks most of the questions about who should evangelize, what evangelism is, and why we should do it. I haven’t read it, so I can’t tell you much, except that Dever’s message on how the church is misunderstanding what the Gospel is was terrific and thought provoking, and if includes any of that in this book, then we should be well off.

“The Truth of the Cross” by R.C. Sproul- out of the 60 or so books Sproul has written, I doubt this ranks up there as ground breaking, but is a solid message none-the-less. It is a continued call to properly understand the cross and the implications of it. To quote Mahaney’s book, “we never move on from the cross, only to a deeper understanding of it.”

Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution”– by Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach- This is potentially the book I’m most excited about. Of all the books written in the last couple of years, this may be one of the most important. It was near the top of nearly ever top 10 list of 2007 that I respect, and was thrilled to get it at the conference. I will write more on this subject later, as this was one of the main themes of the week.

“In My Place Condemned He Stood: Celebrating the Glory of the Atonement” by J.I. Packer and Mark Dever- this book is a compilation of previously written pieces on the subject of penal substitutionary atonement, and I was able to read it on the plane back, and it was superb. There are those that outrightly reject the idea of penal substitution, and an article written by J.I. Packer is included that expositionally confronts the objectors. Also included is the introduction Packer wrote for John Owen’s “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ”. This intro is a fantastic defense and explanation of Calvinism as well as the doctrine of limited atonement. Along with an article and intro by Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan provides a very helpful list of great works on the subject of the atonement. A great, quick read, and an important defense of a crucial doctrine.

“If You Could Ask God One Question” by Paul Williams and Barry Cooper- This is more of a little reference that provides succinct answers to common questions. For those pastors who struggle to be brief, (I hardly know any like that…) it is a good little tool.

“Why We’re Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be” by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck- Doesn’t the title alone make you want to read this? This was also on my wish list, and I read through the intro on the plane on the way home. From the intro, I can tell you that this book is going to be an insightful and entertaining read. They call out the emerging church personalities and hold their feet to the fire. DeYoung approaches it as a young pastor of a church in a college community, while Kluck is more of a reporter and lay person. This provides two good, different approaches. What I’ve read so far has been fantastic, and I can’t wait to finish it.

“The Gospel According to Jesus” by John MacArthur- I know, this is an old one, but it is an updated version. We had a good laugh at thinking the Gospel according to Jesus had been updated. Ironic. Anyhoo, the book is a confrontation to the easy-believism and one of the initial calls to Lordship salvation in the 80’s. A must read by every Christian. (Selfishly, I was hoping for MacArthur’s “Two Sons” book on the prodigal son. One of his best messages EVER was on that subject, and out of that was born his new book. I guess they handed it out at the Band of Bloggers mini-conference prior to the main conference.)
“The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright” by John Piper- Piper’s response to N.T. Wrights claim on the New Perspective on Paul. The Master’s Seminary dedicated the faculty series of chapels to this subject on year, and honestly, I still don’t fully understand it. So I am looking forward to reading Piper’s response.

“Christ and Culture Revisited” by D.A. Carson- fresh off the presses, Carson’s brand new book asks and answers the question of how involved the believer should be in their culture. I’m very excited to read this from one of the great thinkers God has given the world today.

“Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God” by Bob Kauflin- Kauflin led the worship again this year, and is a Sovereign Grace worship leader. Though he comes from a charismatic background, I would say this is a must-read for anyone involved in leading worship. Kauflin has an amazing hear and passion for worship, and wonderfully conveys Bible-centered worship, rooted in Christ. Kauflin proves himself to be a wonderful writer, encouraging the reader throughout, and continuing to light a passion for worship. Kauflin wrote “Grace Unmeasured” as well as other great song, and has done a terrific job at getting hymns back into circulation and updating music to lyrically rich songs.

“Preaching the Cross: Together for the Gospel”– by Dever, Duncan, Mahaney, and Mohler- this book is a compilation of the first T4G conference with chapters by MacArthur, Sproul, and Piper. For some reason, I already had it, so I’ll give this one away to a friend who was with us the first time, but not this time.

The last thing handed out was a small ESV Bible, great for keeping in the car and using in emergencies, according to Ligon Duncan. I didn’t have a small Bible, so that’ll be exactly what I do!

“Shepherding a Child’s Heart” by Ted Tripp- While this wasn’t an official handout, it was made available at the beginning for free on a first come-first serve basis. It is an updated version of one of the greatest pieces of how to raise children. If you have young children, this is a MUST read. You and you’re child will reap the benefits of the time and effort you put in to this book. Tripp is a leading writer on the subject of raising children and counseling today, and his wisdom has proved itself to be invaluable to countless believers.

A Surprising Conference Highlight

I’ll write more about individual messages and conversations that were born out of those messages later, but I did want to share what ended up being the highlight for me. When we were preparing to board our plane to return home, we noticed that it looked like John Piper would be on the same flight. Our connection was in Minneapolis and that’s where he serves, so he was going home, too. As we boarded, he was a few people behind me and an overanxious young man turned around, noticed Piper was on his flight, and started yelling “Mr. Piper!!! I KNEW you’d be on this flight!!!” It was fairly embarrassing for everyone else there.

I’ve never been the type to fawn over people, especially brothers in Christ. It isn’t that I’m blown away by the man, but its more from the thought that he’s probably used to people acting like that and I would want people to treat me like a normal person. When I was in college, I was never comfortable with people having MacArthur autograph their books. I saw many have him autograph their study Bibles, which just seems way out of line. What does an autograph do? You know you met him, and its not really worth anything.

Anyways, we get on to the plane and I’m seated near the front of the plane, and I see Piper come on and stop between first class and coach. He was looking for a spot to put a carry-on, and after finding room, went to find his seat. The seat in front of me was open, so I’m thinking, “Wow, Piper’s is going to sit in front of me!” Then he sits down next to me…. I don’t know what my face looked like, but I’m sure it was wide eyed and a little shocked. We shook hands and introduced each other. I told him I was at the conference and that 14 other guys from my church were on the plane, too. He actually had heard of SGUC, which was cool. He went to school with one of our pastors at Fuller Seminary back in the day, and the son of Dan Fuller (a professor at Fuller) went to SGUC with Greg.

We chatted about small things, about the conference, what we were reading, family, and such. I mostly didn’t want to bother him, since I know he had a long week at the conference and was probably a little tired of being hounded by over zealous college and seminary students. So for the most part, we just read, and he tried to nap. One thing that was funny was that he was talking about how he had flight from Newark to Minneapolis rerouted mid-flight to Green Bay. When we neared Minneapolis and the pilot announced that we’d circle for about ten minutes, he said that they better not go to Green Bay for fuel. Now, the last message of the conference was by C.J. Mahaney and one thing he spoke about was being thankful and not giving into the temptation of complaining. Piper caught himself, laughed, and said, ‘But this may be in the plan of God.’ I told him that we’d also been constantly reminding each other of the message all day.

As I was sitting there, I was trying to read, but every minute or so, I kept thinking, “I’m sitting next to JOHN PIPER!” and I’d have to go back and read the section again. Nevermind that it was on penal substitutionary atonement, I was also distracted by the man who had such a huge impact on my life. I just couldn’t believe it. I’m also thinking of how my mom or sister would kill to be in this seat right now, and are probably going to kill me for not asking the hundreds of questions bouncing through my mind. I figured he had a long week and was going home to prepare to preach to his own people, as well as probably writing another book in his spare time and organizing another conference in the car ride home from the airport. I concluded that I’ll have plenty of time to catch up with him in eternity.

I did get to ask him one question, though. Ever since I read “Hidden Smile of God”, I’ve always wondered about William Cowper’s salvation. He was a hymn writer who struggled deeply with depression throughout his life. His depression drove him into despair and significant doubts about God. It was never anything that he seemed to make a lot of progress on, and I felt like Piper left the issue in the air. Obviously, he said he couldn’t say whether he was saved or not, as we don’t have that knowledge or the ability to make that call. But he said that isn’t why he included him in the book. The reason he was included was to show how God can greatly use a man with such weaknesses. Besides that, he said that the depression was something that ran in his family for a ways back. Something Piper said stuck out to me, “You know, not all darkness is sin.”

In all, it was an incredible surprise. The two hours sped by and obviously I wish I could talk to him more, but I’ll get that opportunity in eternity!

Luther No Longer a Heretic, Can Finally Rest in Peace

In case you missed it, Pope Benedict XVI declared that Martin Luther actually wasn’t a heretic. According to the Pope, Luther never intended to split the Catholic Church, which is actually true. He never intended to split, but was trying to invite a dialogue and discussion over the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Many don’t realize this, but the 95 Theses he nailed to the church doors was written in Latin, not German, which was the language of the people. If he was trying to insight a rebellion, he would have written them down in a language the people could understand.

Pope Benedict XVI says that he was trying to cleanse the Catholic Church, and for that should not be condemned. Benedict is attempting to be seen as a benevolent, uniting force, but is fighting quite a bit of history in order to do that. Luther was condemned as a heretic by Pope Leo X, and called “a drunken German who will change his mind when sober”. He carefully researched Luther’s statements, and declared that he must recant 41 of these statements or face excommunication. This was done with a Papal Bull, or an edict, called ‘Exsurge Domine’. In the ‘Decet Romanum Pontificem‘ on January 3, 1521, Luther was officially excommunicated.

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According to Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085), all Popes are infallible, that is without mistake. Even Pope Leo XII (1885) went as far as saying that the Pope holds ‘upon this earth the place of God Almighty’. These are tall responsibilities and privileges that
Popes have claimed for centuries. Vatican Council 1 in 1870 declared that when a Pope speaks ‘ex cathidra’, which is when a Pope is teaching or preaching, his words are declared truth and teachings of the whole Catholic Church. There is no doubt that they teach that Popes are infallible.

This begs a question: Is Pope Benedict XVI declaring that Pope Leo X was not infallible? It seems as if Benedict is correcting Leo, saying he was incorrect. Of course this wouldn’t be the first time that Popes have contradicted themselves, just the most recent example. According to Vatican I, if you don’t believe that Peter was the first Pope, you are anathema. This stance was softened by Vatican II, and by Benedict, who has reached out even to the Muslim world, in an effort to build bridges to Catholicism throughout the world.

An interesting side discussion would be, what in Catholic terms, does this do to Luther’s eternal soul? Is he now released from purgatory? Was he in Hell, but now gets a direct promotion to Heaven upon further review?

We won’t know anything for sure, but Benedict is going to release his findings in September, so we will sit by idly, waiting with baited breath! One thing I can say for certain, Luther doesn’t care what Benedict thinks of him right now.

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Side Note: an interesting Catholic view of Luther’s life. Though often difficult to follow due to odd language, sentence structure, and numerous links, it is none the less interesting to read a Catholic perspective on Luther.