Voltaire on free speechMy American friends who were born into a bastion of free speech sometimes take their First Amendment privilege for granted. But I was raised in South Africa under the Apartheid regime. We were taught brainwashed that freedom of speech was a destabilizing ideology held by Liberals, Communists (ironic!), and terrorists (more ironic in the shadow of the attacks on a French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo). Banned books, censorship, and a regulated media were commonplace and seemed normal and necessary in order to provide order in our society.

“Yikes,” you say, “Orwell much?” But this was all we knew. We lived in the nescient pre-Internet world where information came from regulated news stations and government libraries.

Thankfully, under our new and improved constitution (est. 1996) freedom of expression and a free press are rights that have been granted and protected in perpetuity. But this newfound freedom ushered in a fresh set of ethical conundrums.

Should I, as a Christian, be politically in favor of the right Muslims have to denounce my faith? Am I to joyfully accept that public schools present teaching on various world religions to my children? May I justifiably be upset when a satirical cartoonist or movie maker ridicules Jesus?

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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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salvationBecoming a Christian is a colossal demonstration of power in so many ways. When an individual trusts in Christ for reconciliation to God, big things happen. Christ’s lordship is joyfully embraced. The soul’s knee is eagerly bowed. The guilt is instantly lifted. The Bible is hungrily inhaled.

And in the most glorious display of spiritual coup d’état, God the Holy Spirit takes up residence in the soul. He is a great gift, essential to our well-being. And as he settles in, he begins to storm the citadel of our sin. It’s a fight, but there is victory. The Spirit comes to slay the fortress of the flesh.

“For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please” (Gal 5:17).

The true power of the Spirit is demonstrated by an identifying of the flesh, attacking the flesh, and subduing the flesh. It’s what the Spirit does. There are battles, and, sadly the flesh sometimes seems to prevail, but over the longhaul, the Spirit drains the lifeblood of the flesh.

One of the great demonstrations of the Spirit’s power is how we respond when our sin is addressed by others. It’s often painful, but through the necessary inquiry of others, the Spirit works to identify and crucify remaining sin.

“The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence” (Prov 15:31-32).

Less and less are the days of our flesh protecting, promoting, and parading itself. The Holy Spirit is too good to allow it. And too powerful. The Holy Spirit is alive. He never takes a soul-sabbatical. Again, there are battles. It’s rarely clean. But the Spirit is never waving the white flag to our flesh.

So, if we are someone who cannot have our sin confronted and cannot respond in genuine humility to confrontation, it’s a potential sign that we do not have the Holy Spirit.

“He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken beyond healing” (Prov 29:1).

“A scoffer does not love one who reproves him, he will not go to the wise” (Prov 15:12).

Not the Holy SpiritI am not saying that one is not a Christian if they struggle to respond humbly to confronted sin at times. However, if we habitually respond in a fleshly way to confronted sin, we would be hard-pressed to conclude that we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not like a rock-star hockey goalie, looking to slap away inquiries into the soul’s sin. Quite the contrary.

“For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Rom 8:6-7).

“For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom 8:13).

cheetah_kill_2_MasaiMara_2013 The Holy Spirit is no more friendly to the flesh than hungry cheetah’s are to gazelles. Like the gazelle, the flesh does just fine in a big yard by itself, grazing, prancing, and enjoying itself. But drop that famished feline in there and things happen. The cheetah will have to run, chase, and exert, but it’s going to subdue. That’s what hungry cheetahs do. Now, if that gazelle is never being subdued, but prances around unthreatened and unsubdued, we could not conclude that there is a cheetah in the yard with it. So it is with our sin and the Spirit.

The subduing of the flesh is a feat accomplished solely by the heroics of the Holy Spirit. To appreciate the Spirit’s power, consider a few contrasts between a Spirit-filled response to reproof vs. that of the flesh.

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We live in a day of brazen-enough unbelief. It is as if the Christ-haunted today need to prove to their mommies what bad little boys they are, sounding out increasingly billowy boasts and denials and declamations of godlessness, complete with snazzy little samplers of depravity.

But such baldfaced rejection has never been the greatest threat to Christ’s church. I mean, if-only, right? If only heretics all wore T-shirts reading “I DENY FUNDAMENTAL TRUTHS” or “HELLBOUND APOSTATE.” I suppose still some naïve souls would, in the name of a very wrongheaded understanding of “grace,” entertain such. But it would make matters simpler for others. (“Look—he’s wearing the T-shirt! How am I being ‘judgmental’?”)

 

tee shirt

No, the gravest danger to God’s people has always been the smiling subversive, the best-buddy bogus blowhard, the accommodating apostate, the helpful heretic. He wouldn’t touch a flat-out denial with a list of 10 Commandments Promises Whatevers. Like the Government, he’s “here to help.”

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books

Anyone who knows me or has seen my office or home library, knows that I’m a connoisseur of commentaries. I “fell in love” with them in seminary (another story for another time) and have been collecting them ever since. Why do I think they are so valuable and helpful for preachers and students of God’s Word? First, by using great commentaries, you’re interacting with the best scholarship in the world and in most cases, with Christians who have been gifted to teach the Scriptures (Eph. 4:11).

Second, I find that reading through commentaries helps me to meditate on God’s Word (Ps. 1). They cause me to chew on each verse and even each word more slowly and to reflect on the flow of thought in the passage each time I read another commentary. This continual intake prepares my heart to preach and usually ensures that the point of the passage becomes the point of the message. Third, by interacting with commentaries, it helps me say things in new ways. It’s easy for me to use the same vocabulary or style week after week, or to repeat the same truths in the same way, which can be tedious for the listener. But reading the “personality” and style of each author expands my thinking and vocabulary and helps me to say things more creatively for the benefit of the listener (and of course, if I use a quote I always give credit). Continue Reading…

I didn’t realize my new book on Hell had hit the shelves until Tim Challies mentioned it on his blog.VGTH

Why a book on Hell? Interesting story:

Apparently some market research found that a trending topic is non-fiction “afterlife tourism” or first person narratives of people who claimed to have been to Heaven or Hell. This egregious genre is one of my pet publishing peeves (for evidence, see my review Heaven is for Real…Well Duh!) When my agent was approached by a secular publisher (Sterling Ethos, New York) looking for a book compatible with that genre, we instead pitched the idea of a non-fiction, biblical explanation of Hell framed in the first person of the Rich Man in Hades whom Jesus mentioned in his parable in Luke 16. Sterling loved the idea and the journey began. In keeping with the after-life tourism theme it is titled A Visitor’s Guide to Hell.

I should warn those who intend to read the book: though this sobering topic must never be treated flippantly, anyone who knows me understands that I can’t even preach a funeral sermon without using levity. This bugs some people, and I understand that. But I think in this book I avoid being glib while still being myself.

Also readers should bear in mind that this is not written only to an Evangelical market but is intended to be evangelistic. My intention was that the book could be given to an unbeliever, who would find it engaging enough to complete and be exposed to a clear explanation of the gospel.

Here is a snippet from the introduction, followed by the table of contents…

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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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As I’m sure you’ve heard, yesterday a Newspaper office in Paris was attacked by gunmen who murdered twelve people. The specific targets were the paper’s editorial cartoonists, and the motive for their murder was the fact that they had often drawn cartoons disparaging Mohammad.

While the attack was swiftly condemned by many political leaders—France’s own president called it “an exceptional act of barbarism”—it was also met by many people eager to protect the reputation of Islam. The fact that the murders were done to avenge the reputation of Mohammad and that the politically correct response was to protect Islam’s reputation is ironic indeed.   Continue Reading…

Perry Noble replied to the controversy addressed below with his own blog post. In it he apologized for what he said about the Hebrew word for “command.” The post below is not edited in light of that, but instead we encourage you to read Noble’s post.

commandmentsOver the past few weeks noise has arisen over the recent Christmas Eve service preached by pastor Perry Noble. Among other things, he performed a sweeping edit of the ten commandments in Exodus 20 during the sermon.

His justification for doing so was three-fold. God spoke to him, telling him to preach a message in which he edited each of the commandments, then he received affirmation from fellow-staff to do so, and a Jewish friend told him that there is no word in Hebrew for, “command.” The claim is made that instead of “Ten Commandments that you have to keep…they’re actually ten promises that you can receive when you say, ‘Yes,’ to Jesus.”

So, for example, the first commandment, which says, “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exod 20:3), is better understood as, “You do not have to live in constant disappointment anymore.” As a sidenote, the commandments are not promises to which we say, “Yes,” but standards by which we are shown to be condemned so that we would see and sorrow over our inability to render ourselves acceptable to holy God, repent, and embrace the Person and finished work of Jesus Christ for acceptable righteousness.

So, the errors here are significant. First, this is a remarkable edit and jumbling of Scripture (which others have sufficiently addressed). But there are some other issues which merit consideration, especially for those of us who stand behind a pulpit each week.

One issue here is the sacredness of the pulpit. By pulpit, I do not mean a physical stand which sits in a church, but the spiritual act of preaching the Bible. Biblical preaching is to be a sacred endeavor, because of the sacredness both of the office of pastor and the task of preaching. Further, the sacredness is not ourselves, but the God we represent, the God for whom we speak, and the word of God from which we preach. In that sense the pulpit carries with it a sacredness.

Consequently, here are some considerations for the sacredness of the Christian pulpit:

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Friendly fire is a devastating reality of war. In the velocity of action and unrelenting conflict battlefield weapons can be redirected toward the wrong target with unforgiving consequences. The trauma and scars of physical combat are compounded for everyone involved when the source is someone wearing the same uniform.

What takes place in that regrettable scene on a battlefield is sadly a reality in the church as well. Despite the obvious differences in force of action, there is also a difference in motive. Friendly fire on a battlefield is right intentions in the wrong direction. Friendly fire in the church is wrong intentions in the wrong direction.   Continue Reading…