Providence Church

Singing Together

Singing Together

At the end of a recent men’s book study, we closed with a hymn. It was a simple melody, but rich in content and rhythm. As I drove home I realized the phenomenal rarity of the whole thing. The final words of the hymn said, “And through eternity I’ll sing on.” The hymn writer expressed a desire that few people consider: that the tempo of heaven is the tempo of a new song (Rev. 14:3). The idea of perpetual, eternal singing sounds dreadful unless you congregate in the melody of Jesus often and frequently.

I have often said that the congregation is God’s choir. Jesus is our song leader. We often don’t see Jesus leading us, which is why many dread the singing of church life and if they do show appreciation it’s generally manifested in a passive sort of way–they sing, we listen.

But Jesus wants more. He wants to lead us into green pastures, which is less a metaphor for gentle feelings and more a description of peace after warfare. So, sing! Sing children! Sing old man and maiden! Sing for joy for your God sings over you (Zep. 3:17). Sing to war! Jesus has and will lead us to victory.

Should Reformed People Read N.T. Wright?

Should Reformed People Read N.T. Wright?

It doesn’t happen quite often, but once in a while when I recommend a book or a quote by N.T. Wright on facebook, I will receive a question that goes something like this:

“Do you approve of N.T. Wright? Do you think it’s fruitful to endorse N.T. Wright? Or don’t you know that N.T. denies Justification by faith alone?”

I addressed the first question on facebook and I thought I’d make it available here. My response goes like this:

I think the question ought to be more nuanced. In other words, humans and their ideas, especially new humans recreated by God, ought to be analyzed more carefully and charitably. As a pastor I recommend Wright to my parishioners with the same enthusiasm I would recommend C.S. Lewis, Schmemann, and Martin Luther. I have disagreements with all of them, but charity allows me to communicate with these great thinkers and gain from what they offer, while expressing sometimes strong disagreements on some of their contributions.

Yes, Reformed people, in fact, Christians of all stripes should read Professor Wright. His profound insights, his vision for a renewed humanity in Christ, his invaluable defense of the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and his commitment to the historical, Biblical Jesus make him one of the most gifted teachers and scholars of our time and The Jesus Seminar’s worst nightmare.

But what about justification? Shouldn’t we stand for the principal article of the Church? And by standing shouldn’t we reject anyone who denies it?

First, N.T. Wright has written and clarified many of his statements. He stated again and again that he does not deny justification by faith alone. I take him at his word. “But hasn’t he been unclear?” To those who think so, he will always be. “I and many others find Wright’s overall project to be fruitful, despite having disagreements with him at points.” I find Kevin J. Vanhoozer’s humorous, but yet serious points on the Wright vs. Piper debate to be very helpful, and from what I hear from reliable sources, Wright agrees and finds Vanhoozer’s attempt to bridge the two paradigms extremely beneficial.

Secondly, the Reformation did not settle every issue. There are contemporary issues that still must be handled within our context. The Reformers did not exhaust the fullness of justification. There is indeed a robustly corporate view of justification that the Reformers–rightly preoccupied with Romish theological abuse–simply did not address explicitly in the 16th century. In this sense, Wright needs to be read and listened to attentively.

Thirdly, when one poses the question of whether we should eliminate such an author from our library because he is wrong on an issue, no matter how important the issue may be, he is betraying the charitable nature of the Christian vision and our personal libraries. Of course, he may choose to avoid Wright, and other authors who also had some questionable theological presuppositions (like C.S. Lewis), his theological vision will be narrow, and his ability to articulate a vision of the world will stop at the wardrobe (to borrow from Lewis). Those of us who appreciate Wright prefer to open the wardrobe and see Narnia in all its beauty.”

Finally, the West’s over-emphasis on the individual is tragic. The individual matters, but Adam himself knew that the individual is not alone. Just as the Trinity is not alone, so too man needs to be a part of something greater. “Community” is not just a buzzword no matter how often hipster Christian groups use it. In its biblical sense, community is the essence of the Christian experience. Paul’s vision was highly ecclesiastical. The individual who divorces from the community loses his ability to be truly human. He breathes and eats as a human, but his breathing and eating desecrates God’s intention to incorporate him into  a multitude. N.T. Wright offers immeasurable contributions on this subject.

Naturally, there is the possibility of over-emphasizing community, but that hardly seems to be the problem in our day. The reality is if you stress the community you get the individual, if you stress the individual you don’t get the community.

Should we read N.T. Wright? Yes. Read him often with the eyes of discernment. But again, discernment is the Christian’s best friend in any human activity.

A Father’s Day Exhortation

Happy Father’s Day!

There is a hunger out there. It is not a hunger for food, money, power; it is a hunger for fathers. This is what Douglas Wilson referred to as “Father Hunger.” Sons and daughters are craving for them. And they do not come neatly packaged. They usually come with imperfections and without an instruction manual.

But this is all right. They usually have a pretty good sense of what is right and wrong, and when they make mistakes they don’t justify themselves, but they seek forgiveness.

Where are these fathers today? They are nowhere to be found. We can find their shell in their homes, but we can’t detect their fatherly souls. This is tragic. And we do want to emphasize the important roles that fathers play in the home. But in order to do so, they must be present.

So to fathers who are present, what we want to do is to encourage you to be servants in the home, lovers of truth, carriers of joy, and examples of repentance and faith. Our children will mirror our worst traits, and this is frightening indeed. But God has not left us hopeless. He has provided Himself as an example of true fatherhood. Even those without a father today know that you have a heavenly father; One who does not leave the orphan or widow, but who cares and proves his perfect fatherhood each day.

Fathers, I urge you to take dominion over your role. You only have one shot at it, but remember that no circumstance is too late or too far gone. Every prodigal is within reach. Every prodigal still would prefer dad’s table to the table of doom. Be encouraged and hopeful.

Fathers, you are what you worship, and your children will worship joyfully the God you worship most joyfully. So worship most joyfully the God of your Father Abraham. Do not idolize your children, but teach them to crush idols. Do not serve mammon, but teach them to use mammon wisely.

This is the charge to fathers in this congregation. It is a noble and mighty charge: to love your children and to conquer their hearts, before others conquer them. Learn early and often that you are a servant of your heavenly father. If you do not serve him alone, you will be another absent father in our culture. May it never be! May God grant you strength and wisdom as you lead your families, and may He lead you to your knees, beautify your words with truth and grace, strengthen your faith with biblical conviction, and renew you daily. Amen.

Prayer: O God, our Father, we have at times failed you. We have viewed ourselves as too mighty. We have repented too little, and suffered for it. May we be fathers that delight in You, our great Father. Do not leave us to our own resources, but be our present help in times of trouble. May our hearts be aligned with yours, even as your heart is aligned with your Son, Jesus Christ, in whose Name we pray. Amen.

Exhortation: Church Covenant Series, Part IV

We come to the fourth part of our Church Covenant, which states:

We will reject all heretical beliefs and practices, using Scripture as our final authority.

This is a strong statement with profound repercussions. We are asking as a Church that you submit to something greater than yourself. In particular, to submit to the authority of the Bible. We live in a culture that despises authority. But God has formed this world with authority structures in it. It’s not that the Bible is our only authority, God has given us other authorities– pastors, parents, and leaders– but what we are saying is that the Bible is our final authority. And that means that pastors, parents, and leaders need to submit to this one authority.

We also reject heretical beliefs. If it does not align itself to the God of Scriptures who is reveled in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit, then it must be abandoned. First things, as long as God graces us with His mercy, will always remain first things in this congregation. And it is your duty as members to ensure that it remains this way.

But bad ideas leads also to bad practices. And this is perhaps what makes us unique in this culture. We do treasure practices at Providence that in some ways are long forgotten in our culture. Our view of the Church, worship, families, and marriage, all shape who we are as a people. These practices challenge our passivity and causes us to hunger for righteousness.

This is why as a Church we want to encourage, exhort, and be a source of strength to our members here who are striving to live the life of faith amidst a faithless world. If God’s revelation guides us as a people, then we can safely walk in the paths of truth and godliness.

Prayer: O God of truth, change us to reflect truth daily and live unto You. May our hearts not be far from you, but ever seek your face. On this holy day, we pray that you would cause our lives to embody the truths of your Holy Word, and may be now and forever a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our paths, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Should Reformed People Read N.T. Wright?

It doesn’t happen quite often, but once in a while when I recommend a book or a quote by N.T. Wright on facebook, I will receive a question that goes something like this:

“Do you approve of N.T. Wright? Do you think it’s fruitful to endorse N.T. Wright? Or don’t you know that N.T. denies Justification by faith alone?”

I addressed the first question on facebook and I thought I’d make it available here. My response goes like this:

I think the question ought to be more nuanced. In other words, humans and their ideas, especially new humans recreated by God, ought to be analyzed more carefully and charitably. As a pastor I recommend Wright to my parishioners with the same enthusiasm I would recommend C.S. Lewis, Schmemann, and Martin Luther. I have disagreements with all of them, but charity allows me to communicate with these great thinkers and gain from what they offer, while expressing sometimes strong disagreements on some of their contributions.

Yes, Reformed people, in fact, Christians of all stripes should read Professor Wright. His profound insights, his vision for a renewed humanity in Christ, his invaluable defense of the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and his commitment to the historical, Biblical Jesus make him one of the most gifted teachers and scholars of our time and The Jesus Seminar’s worst nightmare.

But what about justification? Shouldn’t we stand for the principal article of the Church? And by standing shouldn’t we reject anyone who denies it?

First, N.T. Wright has written and clarified many of his statements. He stated again and again that he does not deny justification by faith alone. I take him at his word. “But hasn’t he been unclear?” To those who think so, he will always be. To me and many others, I take his project to be fruitful, though not always agreeing. I find Kevin J. Vanhoozer’s humorous, but yet serious points on the Wright vs. Piper debate to be very helpful, and from what I hear from reliable sources, Wright agrees and finds Vanhoozer’s attempt to bridge the two paradigms extremely beneficial.

Secondly, the Reformation did not settle every issue. There are contemporary issues that still must be handled within our context. The Reformers did not exhaust the fullness of justification. There is indeed a robustly corporate view of justification that the Reformers–rightly preoccupied with Romish theological abuse–simply did not address explicitly in the 16th century. In this sense, Wright needs to be read and listened to attentively.

Thirdly, when one poses the question of whether we should eliminate such an author from our library because he is wrong on an issue, no matter how important the issue may be, he is betraying the charitable nature of the Christian vision and our personal libraries. Of course, he may choose to avoid Wright, and other authors who also had some skeptical theological presuppositions (like C.S. Lewis), however, his theological vision will be widely narrow and his ability to articulate a vision of the world will stop at the wardrobe, while we prefer to open it up and see Narnia in all its beauty.

Finally, the West’s over-emphasis on the individual is tragic. The individual matters, but Adam himself knew that the individual is not alone. Just as the Trinity is not alone, so too man needs to be a part of something greater. “Community” is not just a buzzword no matter how often hipster Christian groups use it. In its biblical sense, community is the essence of the Christian experience. Paul’s vision was highly ecclesiastical. The individual who divorces from the community loses his ability to be truly human. He breathes and eats as a human, but his breathing and eating desecrates God’s intention to incorporate him into  a multitude. N.T. Wright offers immeasurable contributions on this subject.

Naturally, there is the possibility of over-emphasizing community, but that hardly seems to be the problem in our day. The reality is if you stress the community you get the individual, if you stress the individual you don’t get the community.

Should we read N.T. Wright? Yes. Read him often with the eyes of discernment. But again, discernment is the Christian’s best friend in any human activity.

Lent, Ligon Duncan, and Legalism

Lent, Ligon Duncan, and Legalism

Collin Hansen wrote an article for the Gospel Coalition entitled Should You Cancel Good Friday? which has brought to the attention of many a conversation they have never had before. What is Lent? Why celebrate it?

As a committed Protestant, I am committed to the Church Calendar, not because I want to be a slave to it, but because I am aware of its inevitability. We all follow some calendar. The question is which calendar? I ask that question because Protestantism is grounded in a Trinitarian view of the world. In its best expression it does not isolate ideas; it brings ideas together to form a coherent system.

I suggest that Lent is highly Trinitarian. As the Trinity is a communion of love, so Lent provides a means to express that love to one another in the community. Where sins are confronted and battled, there you find a vigorous Trinitarian community and vision. Lent is service to the community by giving us a season of determined battle against sin for the sake of our neighbors.

It offers a vision of history that undergirds the biblical history and that reflects the normal routines, liturgies, and rituals of human beings. Lent is a form of restructuring our lives. All Christians need a re-structuring of order in their own lives. All Christians need to re-balance and re-form areas where there is disproportionate indifference. We all undergo a Psalmic journey of lamentation and feasting. Lent draws us into this journey.

In essence, Lent reveals the God who suffers in the Person of Jesus Christ. God’s image-bearers are formed from the dust of a fallen Adam to the glorification of the risen Final Adam. To disconnect Lent from the Church Calendar is to disparage history.

It is true we live in the age of an ascended Lord, but this same Lord guides a Church that is still broken, suffering, and healing from brokenness and suffering again and again. The removal of Lent is to proclaim an over-realized eschatology.

It is true that Lent can be abused, and history teaches us that it has. But it is also true, as Luther so memorably stated, “the abuse of something is not an argument against its proper use.” So if Lent can be proven to be profitable, then is there a legitimate way to benefit from it without falling into some its former abuses. Protestant Christians are not bound by Romish structures of food or rituals. We use wisdom in forming healthy habits for a Church and individuals while not binding the Church or the individual to a particular habit.

Lent and Wilderness

Lent teaches us that Satan’s gifts are easy to master. They come with first grade instruction manuals. They are made to be mastered quickly and enjoyed rapidly (fornication, drugs, alcohol; various temptations). God’s gifts are a little harder to master. They require self-control and patience. They anticipate spiritual growth; they demand a kingly attitude to grasp kingly wisdom. God’s instructions mean you have to seek others in the community to understand them properly. You have to exercise and express a theology of patience built into a theology of blessings.

In the wilderness, a garden stripped of colors, fruit, and water, Jesus faced the devil again in a re-match. He knew well that temptation had a triumphant history of subtly winning arguments. Jesus wasted no time and rebuked temptation. just like He would do with the demons and the demonic-like religious teachers of the day.

We are not to sit in temptation’s classroom. God already said we are to flee it; to rebuke it with the only source of authority that is permanent and stamped with divine truth.

The Church finds herself in a wilderness scenario. She is stripped of her former glory. But she is destined to journey from glory to glory like her Lord and Master. As in Luke four, we need to sit in Yahweh’s school house. We need to be instructed by the two-edged sword that muzzles the Tempter and tells him to not come back again. He is not welcome and neither are his offers.

Lent offers us a 40 day class on temptations and the glories and rewards of resisting it.

But Why 40 Days?

Lent follows the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness. His fasting for 40 days speaks to the evil and the hardness of heart of the Israelites who succumbed to the Serpent’s whispers. So as the Church walks with Jesus from wilderness to Golgotha she re-lives the messianic journey. The 40 days are symbolic for that wilderness testing, and as a result it is chronologically set before the Great Paschal Feast, commonly referred to as Easter.

Should Lent be Observed?

Ligon Duncan and others in the Southern Presbyterian tradition argue that Lent has a history based on merit. Lent was a way to earn something. The Reformation fixed this soteriological error, and therefore Lent is no longer to be observed.

Duncan and others also go on to say that celebrating Easter and Christmas offer no such harm (he also believes that a National Holiday like Thanksgiving is also a uniquely American holiday to be celebrated). There is no doubt Easter and Christmas, and even Thanksgiving–to a lesser degree–offer wonderful benefits. But the question and the opening presupposition is that Lent is not biblical therefore it should not be practiced in the Church. If that is the case, then the question is not whether one day (or Season) is more beneficial than the other, but rather is it explicitly stated in the Bible or not? If the “explicit reference” argument is used, then Duncan will have to conclude that this is faulty reasoning.

I concur with Vance Freeman that “each of his (Duncan’s) reasons for not observing Lent are undercut by the observance of Christmas and Easter.” Mr. Freeman also concludes:

The biggest threat to Christianity today is not the church in Rome, or that Americans are prone to elevate traditional Christian rituals, like Lent, over discipleship. The biggest threat to the church is that our rituals are increasingly only secular ones. We are Americans before we are Christians. Super Bowl Sunday not only competes with the Lord’s Day, it dominants it. And when we relegate the Christian life to a mere facet of our American lives we fall into Moral Therapeutic Deism.

The formation of godly habits is the issue at hand. In other words, is there an adequate time of the year where the Church should have an explicit focus on the cross of Jesus and how that cross must shape our understanding of sin? Is there room for setting aside a season for a cruciform hermeneutic? I believe there is.

As Peter Leithart so ably summarizes:

Lent is a season for taking stock and cleaning house, a time of self-examination, confession and repentance.  But we need to remind ourselves constantly what true repentance looks like.  “Giving up” something for Lent is fine, but you keep Lent best by making war on all the evil habits and sinful desires that prevent you from running the race with patience.

If this is true, then Lent serves an enormously important role in the life of the Christian. Naturally, to quote Luther’s first thesis, “the Christian life is a life of daily repentance.” A faithful understanding of the Lord’s Service provides that for us weekly. However, an extended period where our sins are deeply brought to our attention by the preaching of the Word and prayer (and fasting) are regularly considered, practiced and meditated upon can provide great benefits for all Christians on each Lord’s Day and throughout the week.

The legalism concern is legitimate. We are all tempted to fall into this trap, but it does not have to be so. If we view Lent as a time to additionally focus our attention on mortifying our sins and killing those habits that so easily entangle us, we can then consider the cross in light of the resurrection, not apart from it. If we do so, Lent will become legalism’s greatest enemy and repentance’s best friend.

Lenten Sermon: Luke 13:31-35, The Mission and Tenderness of God (Audio)

Sermon Preached at Providence Church in Pensacola, Florida on February 24th, Lenten Season

31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32 And he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. 33 Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’ 34 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’”

Sermon: John 16:23-33, Prioritizing Prayer and Peace

Audio Sermon

Sermon: People of God, Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! As we come to the last two Sundays of the Easter Season, we begin to get a sense of the surpassing greatness of the resurrection. In our passage, Jesus is preparing His disciples, so they may persevere and believe.[1]

Jesus has been with them throughout His ministry and now He promises not to abandon them. This preparation is precisely what they will need when Jesus dies at the cross. This Upper Room Discourse is filled with contrasting language. The language of going and coming, grief and joy, tribulation and peace, asking and receiving, seeing and not seeing, parable and open speech, unbelief and faith, the world and God.[2] This language is used to describe precisely the emotional state and the response of the disciples when Jesus would depart from them, but at the same time it would reflect the disciples’ response when Jesus would be with them “in a little while.”

The Lord Jesus will be arrested and betrayed. It is important that they grasp what our Lord is about to say, so their faith will not falter; that they will be strengthened to endure what is ahead. More