Archives For Mike Riccardi

“Not that we lord it over your faith . . .”
– 2 Corinthians 1:24 –

Heavy HandednessSecond Corinthians is a book about ministry. Many commentators call it the fourth pastoral epistle, adding it to First and Second Timothy and Titus, because it focuses so much on the true character of Christian ministry. And it teaches us the lessons that it does by looking at the life of the Apostle Paul, the archetype of the minister of the Gospel.

In 2 Corinthians 1, Paul explains why he had delayed coming to them after promising another visit. The false apostles were using his change of plans as fodder for slandering him (2 Cor 1:15–17). But he affirms to the Corinthians that it was out of consideration for them; he postponed his visit in order to spare them the pain of judgment (2 Cor 1:23). But he knows that his opponents will seize on that confession of love and consideration, and twist it to suit their own ends. “It was to spare you that he didn’t come?” they would ask incredulously. “That’s nothing more than a veiled threat! He might as well say, ‘Don’t make me come and destroy you!’ Don’t you see what a tyrant this Paul is?!”

So to make sure that he’s not misunderstood, he adds this qualification: “Not that we lord it over your faith.”

In this phrase is a lesson for all those in ministry: the faithful minister of the Gospel is a servant. There is a wholesale repudiation of a domineering spirit. The truly loving shepherd of Christ’s sheep renounces all forms of despotism, domineering, and dictatorial power. Paul has absolutely no interest in lording his apostolic authority over the Corinthians. He has no desire to micromanage and domineer and control people’s thinking and behavior.

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About three and a half years ago, I posted the following sample prayer plan to serve as a guide for those who were looking to add some structure to their times of personal worship. Over the past few weeks, a number of people have happened to mention that this was helpful to them. I’ve also had occasion recently to refer to it in some pastoral counseling contexts. With it on my mind, I figured I’d re-post it for those who missed it the first time. As always, I pray it’s a benefit to you.

In his classic, Desiring God, John Piper diagnoses that a main hindrance to prayer is our lack of planning. He tells us,

Unless I’m badly mistaken, one of the main reasons so many of God’s children don’t have a significant life of prayer is not so much that we don’t want to, but that we don’t plan to. If you want to take a four-week vacation, you don’t just get up one summer morning and say, “Hey, let’s go today!” You won’t have anything ready. You won’t know where to go. Nothing has been planned.

But that is how many of us treat prayer. We get up day after day and realize that significant times of prayer should be a part of our life, but nothing’s ever ready. We don’t know where to go. Nothing has been planned. No time. No place. No procedure.

And we all know that the opposite of planning is not a wonderful flow of deep, spontaneous experiences in prayer. The opposite of planning is the rut. If you don’t plan a vacation, you will probably stay home and watch TV. The natural, unplanned flow of spiritual life sinks to the lowest ebb of vitality. There is a race to be run and a fight to be fought. If you want renewal in your life of prayer, you must plan to see it.

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WhitefieldThis week, I came across a remarkable sermon from George Whitefield, entitled, “The Eternity of Hell-Torments,” which he preached in London in 1738. When the reality of the fate of those who perish in this life without Christ is again pressed upon one’s conscience, it always seems like a burden too great to bear. But, as Whitefield would say in the sermon, “If the bare mentioning the torments of the damned is so shocking, how terrible must the enduring of them be!” Truly this is the most solemn of subjects. But we as Christians — as preachers of the Gospel of Christ — we must give our minds and hearts to the biblical teaching of the unbeliever’s fate. And Whitefield has done us an excellent service. You can read the sermon in full here, but I wanted to highlight his conclusion today on Cripplegate.

As a preacher, it was instructive for me to observe the way Whitefield pled with his hearers to flee from the wrath to come. He was not content to simply parrot out a few stock phrases that summarized the content of the Gospel, and give an “invitation.” No, he reasoned with his hearers. He considered what objections their sinful hearts may have concocted in their own spirits as they were listening, and he did his best to respond to those objections. He loved these people enough to get inside their heads, to trace out the probable outworkings of their unregenerate affections, and to leave them no room to think or feel the way they had been when they came in. This is the kind of penetrating, heart-searching application I aim for in my own preaching — not because my hope is to be like Whitefield for his sake, but because my hope is to love my people the way Whitefield loved his, and the way Christ loved His. This is the way that I want to preach the Gospel in my sermons.

But beyond observing a good homiletical example, this sermon penetrated my own heart, just as a fellow-sinner in need of the grace of God, and as a Christian who proposes to be in the ministry of rescuing souls from hell through the preaching of the Gospel. To be reminded of the eternal torments of hell is, in the true sense of the word, awful. But it is so necessary, in order to shake my soul from the complacency wherein I am too often found. I don’t want the miseries of hell; I want the joys of seeing and loving Christ in heaven! Sermons like this — and Gospel-appeals like this — urge me to renew my resolve to fight sin in my life, “lest,” in the words of the great apostle, “that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (1 Cor 9:27). And I don’t want the miseries of hell for those whom God has providentially placed in my path, either. Sermons like this urge me to renew my resolve to be intentional in proclaiming the Gospel to the people around me, lest I fail to be a God-glorifying watchman (cf. Ezek 3:17-21). I pray you’re benefited by Whitefield.

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Inerrancy SummitIt’s hard to believe that Shepherds’ Conference is next week. For those of us who have the privilege of being around Grace Community Church all year round, it’s difficult to capture the sense of anticipation that’s been brewing over the last 15 months or so. It really is like Christmastime over here, and it’s such a privilege to witness that enthusiasm—from the leadership to the nearly 1200 volunteers (!) that will be serving the men who attend this historic event.

And historic it will be, as the 2015 Shepherds’ Conference is, more precisely, the Inerrancy Summit. Sixteen—count ‘em: sixteen—of the most trusted voices in evangelicalism will join Pastor John MacArthur for an unprecedented marathon of eighteen sessions of devotion to the inerrancy of Scripture. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait. If you’re not able to join us next week, do make sure to watch by livestream. It’s an event you won’t want to miss.

In the spirit of next week, then, I wanted to post something today on the topic of inerrancy. Several months ago, I read the then-recently released Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy, intrigued to know what the other three views (i.e., besides inerrancy and errancy) would be. Turns out there really aren’t more than two views, but such is the nature of things.

I thought the book was really helpful in singling out key issues that need to be addressed today. As you might have expected, I most appreciated Al Mohler’s contribution, in which he presents and defends the church’s historic position on the inerrancy, infallibility, authority, and sufficiency of Scripture—i.e., the view most clearly articulated in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. Today, I want to share some quotes and notes from that chapter, with the hope of priming the pump for next week’s Summit.

Some are just direct quotes from Mohler that are helpful and incisive. Others are my own thoughts as I spring-boarded from what I read. They’re broken down by the chapter headings and page numbers are provided. Quotes are indented, with any of my comments below, flush left.

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At the name of Jesus every knee will bow, . . . and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
– Philippians 2:10–11 –

Name Above All NamesThe wonderful hymn of Christ’s humiliation and exaltation reaches its climax in these verses. Paul has said that the Father exalted Jesus and bestowed on Him the name. He’s said it was the name which is above every name. And here he says that at that name—which is better rendered: in honor of that name—every knee is going to bow.

So what’s the name? Jesus has a lot of names. Is it: Son of Man? Son of God? The Alpha and Omega? The First and the Last? The Faithful and True? The Beloved Son in whom the Father is well-pleased? Is it Christ? The Messiah? Is it the long-awaited prophet? Is it our Great High Priest? Is it the King of kings?

Finally, the almost unbearable suspense is broken, and the Apostle Paul tells us that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

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integrity or ethics conceptIn 2 Corinthians 1, Paul is defending himself against the accusations of the false apostles, who were taking every possible opportunity to bring reproach upon Paul and his ministry in the eyes of the Corinthians. In what was actually a desire to be loving and considerate toward the Corinthians (cf. 2 Cor 1:23–2:4), Paul made a change in his travel plans in regards to his visits to Corinth. And like unscrupulous politicians running a smear campaign against their opponent, the false apostles seized upon this change of plans and blew it entirely out of proportion.

“The man talks out of both sides of his mouth! He’s undependable! Untrustworthy! He’s a fleshly man who goes back on his word because he’s guided by no higher principle than his own fallen nature! He doesn’t depend on the Spirit’s guidance, otherwise how do you explain the fickleness? And if you can’t trust him to get travel plans right, how are you going to trust his apostleship? How are you going to trust his gospel?”

Paul responds to these charges in 2 Corinthians 1:15–22. But as you read that passage, it doesn’t quite sound like a conventional defense of changing itinerary. Before he defends his conduct, Paul defends his integrity. And he does so by appealing to his theology. The reality of who God is, and what He has accomplished in Christ and in the Gospel, is the basis for all of his behavior. Paul’s conduct is rooted in his message. And for those of us who would claim to be ministers of that same Gospel (which is all of us!), the same must be true of us. I hope we’ll be instructed as we look into three of those arguments that appear in 2 Corinthians 1:18–20.

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Picture a high school math teacher that casts doubt on the textbook he’s teaching from. How adept at mathematics do you think his students will be? Or imagine a quarterback that doesn’t have confidence in his coach’s playbook. How far can the team progress into the season?

Paul Washer TMAI

These scenarios illustrate the reality of much of the theological education on the mission field today. Liberal Christianity and skepticism regarding the truthfulness of the Bible have been exported from the shores of America, and flown throughout the globe into the remotest regions on the planet. The consequences of the aspersion cast upon the text of Scripture have been devastating to the mission field. Many well-intentioned church leaders taught by Western missionaries mimic the unbelief of their teachers and doubt the veracity of Scripture. As a result, they base their ministries on pragmatic strategies and human experience—everything but the Word of God. And why wouldn’t they, if Scripture is nothing more than just another voice in the conversation? As you can imagine, the spiritual health and vitality of these churches suffer for lack of being fed from the mouth of God (Matt 4:4). In fields where there was once an unwavering loyalty to God and His Word, missionaries—not pagans or atheists—are sowing the seeds of doubt and unbelief, rather than the seed of the Word of God which brings a true spiritual harvest.

The Master’s Academy International (TMAI) believes that as missionaries go into the field to bring new converts to a saving knowledge of Christ, it is of utmost importance that they instill in their young “Timothys” a lofty view of Scripture—reverence for God and His Word. It is TMAI’s conviction that if missionaries do not believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, they have no business being involved in disciple-making through theological education.

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Abortion vs WarForty-two years ago next week—on January 22, 1973—the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Roe v. Wade that a child in the womb is not to be considered a human person. Since that time, over 56 million babies have died in America under the sanction of the law. In January 1984, 31 years ago this week, President Ronald Reagan designated the third Sunday of every January as Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, to coincide with the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. That’s this Sunday.

As we take time this weekend to remember that the fight against this most tangible evil in our society is far from over, I thought I would pool together some of the posts that The Cripplegate has run on abortion to this point. I pray they serve you as you think, reflect, mourn, and pray about how you might give yourself to bring the Gospel of Christ to bear on the issue of abortion.

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Shoulders of GiantsIt was Isaac Newton who famously penned the sentence, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” In saying this, he meant to communicate his respect for and dependence on the great minds that had come before him. Whatever advances he was able to make, he recognized that he stood upon the work of those who had come before him, giving him greater views of the heights he was to ascend.

We’re very familiar with that principle in the Christian life. And if we’re not, we should be. I am able to make greater progress in my pursuit of Christ in my day-to-day life by reading the insights of those who have come before in this race, and who have long since reached the glorious finish line after a lifetime of faithfulness.

Today I wanted to gather a bunch of quotes that I’ve come across lately. I discovered some as I enjoyed some leisure reading over the Christmas holiday. Others I found as I work on a research project for seminary. And others I came across on my Facebook and Twitter feeds, as friends shared them with me. It’s by reading the thoughts of spiritual giants like these — by standing on their shoulders — that I am helped along in my worship of Christ. And so I wanted to share some of them with you. Read them slowly. Take them in. I hope it makes for an encouraging Friday.

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New Year 2015As we enter the beginning of the New Year, many people are reflecting on the previous year and how they’ve lived their lives, and are making resolutions and determinations to live better in the coming year, whatever that may mean. The process seems to involve a kind of refocusing on things that are important to us so that when we will have come to the end of this next year we will look even more favorably on it than the previous one.

Though I’m a day late, as we anticipate the challenges and opportunities of 2015, I want to write an open letter of sorts that focuses on the most important realities in the world. And the addressee of my open letter is you. No matter who you are—whether young in the faith, a seasoned saint, or not a believer in Jesus at all; whether we’re good friends, have only spoken a few times, or if I don’t know you from Adam—I can think of nothing more profitable that I’d like to say directly to you. And perhaps the most interesting distinctive about this open letter for 2015 is that it’s nothing new. It’s the same old message for a brand new year, because it’s the only message that is sufficient to transcend all times and cultures. It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I hope you’ll read carefully.

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