“The Runway Leading Up to the Pulpit”

In case you haven’t heard, Texas mega-church pastor, Ed Young, has launched a website called Pastor Fashion.  You can check it out here.  Here’s the mission statement, taken right off the site:

Pastors aren’t typically known for their fashion. Most people don’t think of the runway leading up to the pulpit. But why not?! Why can’t the men and women of God set the standard for the rest of the world in fashion as well as faith? That’s why we’re launching PastorFashion.com. We want to set the trends.

Young is a believer and co-laborer in the Lord’s work.  He is my brother and ministry companion.  Even though I have never met him in person, I will spend eternity with him, and we will worship Jesus together forever.  But brothers err, and when these brothers are also pastors, there are times when public confrontation is entirely necessary.  In my view, this is one of those times.

This whole Pastor Fashion bit troubles me.  The very idea of a “runway leading up to the pulpit” brings out the Hyde in me.  I’m convinced my indignation is righteous.  If you’re not, then consider the following.  I hope it will help us see why this is all so treacherous.

When it comes to clothing, there’s not a great deal of prescriptive material in the Scriptures.  Women are warned about the dangers of being obsessed by outer appearances (e.g.: I Tim. 2:9-10 and I Pet. 3:3-4).  Inner beauty is much more important, and pleasing to God.  The issue of elaborate dress among men doesn’t come up in the New Testament–I guess there weren’t any metro-sexuals in the first century.  Those were the days.  But what is very clear in Scripture is that a man who holds the office of pastor/elder is not to be a lover of money (I Tim. 3:3), and by implication he is not to be consumed by the things that money can buy.  This certainly includes expensive clothing.  If he is preoccupied with his fancy wardrobe, there is a serious problem.  Another issue here is that pastors/elders should not want to be the center of attention.  They should desire for all attention to be on Christ.  A pastor’s thought process should never be, “What can I wear today that will wow my parishioners?  I want them to walk away saying I’m a great looking pastor!”  At a conference a few years back, John Piper commented on how he thinks about his preaching attire.  It’s the complete opposite of what Ed Young is suggesting on his Pastor Fashion website.  Piper explained that his goal is to dress plain and simple, so that his congregation will never give the slightest thought to what he is wearing.  He does not want his garb to distract or to take the focus off the gospel.  Piper realizes that he (or what he is wearing) is not the point.  Christ is the point.  This, my fellow pastors, is a much better way to approach “fashion.”  So disregard the ridiculous notion of a “runway leading up to the pulpit,” and shine the spotlight on Christ.  After all, He is the only One worthy of all our attention and affection.

A New Article Over at the Credo Magazine Site

The guys at Credo magazine have published a piece I wrote recently.  The article is titled “A Confession to Make: Discovering the Beautiful Formula of Psalm 32.”  You can check it out here.  My hope is that this exposition of Psalm 32 will reveal to us or remind us of the necessity of confession of sin.  When was the last time you genuinely confessed your sin to the LORD?  When was the last time I did?  It’s been too long, probably for the both of us.

Getting Accustomed to the Southern Hemisphere

Well we’re all moved in to our new home in Dunedin, New Zealand, and we are slowly but surely starting to get accustomed to things in the southern hemisphere.  In the first few days here we have:  filled our house with the basic necessities, decorated our new abode (all those nights watching Design on a Dime with Jamie finally paid off!), been on a number of family hikes in the beautiful Port Chalmers area, and spent a lot of time with our wonderfully welcoming friends, the Hicks.  Everything we need to get to on a regular basis is within walking distance of our home.  Our boys have a great back yard to play in and a couple of playgrounds and a rugby field in our neighborhood.  We also have incredible views of the Otago Peninsula and the sun rises over the mountains directly in front of our house.

Monday was my first day at the University of Otago, and Tuesday was my first day in the office (home office, that is).  It looks like I’ll be spending eight to ten hours a day researching and writing, so prayers would be appreciated–I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed.  We’re a little homesick, I think.  But this is to be expected with such a big change.  “No worries,” as the Kiwis say.

Many thanks to all of our family and friends who have been praying for us.  The LORD is good.

All Desiring God Books Are $5

I’m back from a brief hiatus with great news of cheap books!  The Desiring God store will be completely renovated in the days ahead and Piper’s books will no longer be sold on the site.  To help DG get rid of all their inventory, all books are on sale right now for just $5.  Go here to stock up!  You can also go here to read Piper’s explanation of the changes to DG ministry.

Unforgivable

What is the unforgivable sin… and… have you committed it?

Some of the key passages that will help us answer these questions are:  Matthew 12:31ff., Mark 3:28ff., and Luke 12:10ff.  These texts speak of an eternal sin.  According to Mark 3:29, “…whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.”

Blasphemy basically means to slander; it involves harsh words.  According to I Tim. 1:12-17, blasphemy itself is not an unpardonable sin, because Paul was once a blasphemer.  Peter, additionally, denied Christ three times.  So, as we let Scripture interpret Scripture, we may conclude that blasphemy is far from unforgivable.

But, we must also define blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, since this is different from blasphemy.  In our quest for a definition we must also deal with the question of whether a person living in the twenty-first century can commit this sin.  Some have argued that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit was a sin that could only be committed when Jesus physically walked the earth, doing his mighty works (Jerome, Chrysostom, etc.).  Others believe this is a sin that could still be committed today (Augustine, Melancthon, Packer, etc.).  If this was a sin that could have been committed only while Jesus walked the earth, it is difficult to understand why the Synoptic writers would have recorded it (writing after the time of Christ, of course).  The inclusion of the warning in the gospels seems to imply that the sin can still be committed today.

We must ask, then, what exactly is this sin?  In my view, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is not (as some might argue) attributing the work of Jesus to Satan or demons.  It is true that in the Mark 3 account, the scribes were attributing the works of Christ to Satan (Mark 3:22).  But, Jesus goes on to argue/converse with these scribes (Mark 3:23ff.).  Why would Jesus engage these individuals if, in fact, they had already committed the unforgivable sin?  What good could have come from the discussion if the scribes were already irreversibly damned?   So, I don’t think attributing the work of Christ to the prince of demons is the unforgivable sin.

The most likely option, I believe, is that the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the persistent rejection of Jesus, as the Spirit bears witness to Jesus.  Thus, this is not a sin that the believer can commit.  The disciple who denies his Lord on occasion (as Peter did) is not blaspheming the Spirit.  Blaspheming the Spirit is not an episode, but an entire way of life.  It is the radical refusal to believe the gospel.

Believers, worry not.  All our sins–past, present, and future–have been dealt with in full.  Cling to the promise of His Word:  “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands.  This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Col. 2:13-14).

Soli deo gloria!

For more on this subject, I highly recommend Graham A. Cole, He Who Gives Life:  The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit.

 

Does My Guardian Angel Have His Wings Yet?

My in-laws pointed out an interesting text the other day–Matthew 18:10.  Let’s have a look, shall we?

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones.  For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven…”

The curious part is the reference to “their angels.”  Does this verse teach that each child has his or her own guardian angel?  Does my son, Aidan, have his own “Clarence” up there somewhere?  Maybe, but probably not.  I’ll tell you how I arrive at this conclusion, but I’ll do it in a roundabout way.

Let me begin by saying that there are a lot of misconceptions about angels.  If misconceptions about angels were guardian angels we’d each have a dozen defenders.  We have popular culture to thank for this.  Victor Hugo was wrong; it is not “by suffering that human beings become angels.”  Humans never become angels.  When you hear a daughter speak at her mother’s funeral and say that “momma’s an angel now,” you don’t need to stand up and protest (have some respect for the grieving), just know that the daughter is mistaken.  There are also a lot of angelic movies out there:  It’s a Wonderful Life, Angels in the OutfieldCity of Angels, the list goes on.  I don’t need to say much here.  Just know this:  don’t get your theology from hollywood–ever.

Let’s return now to the guardian angel question.  The problem is that the Bible never specifically speaks of individual guardian angels.  Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology, refers to angels playing a “zone defense” rather than a “man-to-man defense.”  Grudem is probably right.  The Matthew passage above is the closest thing we have to a guardian angel text, but “their angels” does not necessarily imply that each believer has a “Clarence.”  It could just as easily be a reference to the collective angels the Heavenly Father uses to care for His child-like disciples (Heb. 1:14), and this interpretation seems to mesh a bit better with other passages that speak of these heavenly messengers.  God certainly uses angels to minister to His people in a number of ways (communication, protection, etc.), but I don’t think the Bible gives us enough material to support the guardian angel theory–so don’t jump to “Clarence” conclusions just yet.

There seems to be a great movement today of people who want to study angels.  The Bible never tells us to study or to worship angels, but the Bible does tell us that angels are studying us.  The angels stoop to study salvation (I Pet. 1:12).  Angels know a great deal about salvation.  After all, they were present to announce the birth of Jesus (Luke 2) and they were present at the tomb to announce the resurrection of Jesus (Luke 24).  But angels have not experienced salvation.  They are, in a sense, outsiders to salvation.  Angels do not know what it is like to experience God’s grace.  God didn’t spare the angels who followed Lucifer and fell from heaven.  And so, angels are fascinated by salvation.  They rejoice over one sinner who repents (Luke 15:10).

So when you think about angels, don’t dwell on the speculative stuff.  Rather, trust in the sovereign God who controls the heavenly host (however many there are) and let these messengers remind us of how thankful we should be that God has spared us.

“It’s a Dangerous Business, Frodo, Going Out Your Front Door…”

Lord willing, and the creek don’t rise, we will be in the air within the hour and in Dunedin by 10:00pm on Wednesday night (Birmingham time).  In case you missed it when I posted before, here is our itinerary, along with a few specific prayer requests.  We selfishly ask you to pray without ceasing–we’re not going to get any sleep for a few days, and it will make us feel better if you don’t get any either.  :)

Itinerary:

Depart:  Birmingham – 11:55am (Feb. 7th, Bham time)

Arrive:  St. Louis – 1:20pm

Depart:  St. Louis – 2:35pm

Arrive:  Los Angeles – 4:45pm

Depart:  Los Angeles – 10:00pm

Arrive:  Auckland, NZ – 8:00am (Feb. 9th, NZ time)

Depart:  Auckland, NZ – 2:30pm (Feb. 9th, NZ time)

Arrive:  Dunedin, NZ – 4:25pm (Feb. 9th, NZ time)

Prayer Requests:

  • That we would display patience, kindness, gentleness, and the love of Christ toward one another and toward anyone else we might meet along the way; it will be a long two days of flying and layovers with two little boys (age 2 and under).
  • That God would place polite people in our path who can help us get our seven checked bags, four carry-on bags, and two children through the check points and across the airport.
  • That our boys will be able to sleep (at least a bit) on the flight from LA to Auckland, New Zealand (this is the long flight, obviously).
  • That we will arrive safely in Dunedin, New Zealand, with all of our baggage and sanity.
  • That we will be able to find a church, a place to worship and serve, within the first few months.

Many thanks!

P.S. – Fret not, regular readers, I’ve scheduled posts for publication on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.  You’ll have plenty of reading to do…

Simplicity

A good friend and former professor of mine is fond of saying that all Christians are called not only to salvation, but to service, sacrifice, and simplicity.  Simplicity is the one we’ll focus on for now.  We can’t find simplicity these days.  It’s lost–buried somewhere beneath all our stuff.  Well, let’s see if we can dig it up…  Of course, it’s been so long since we’ve seen it, we might not know what to look for.  So, as we rummage through the piles of our possessions, here are some of the things we might want to keep our eyes open for.

Simplicity is not buying a bigger house, madam, just because your tennis partner just bought one.  Simplicity is not taking the new job with twice the salary, mate, if it means that you’ll have to spend half as much time with your kids.  Simplicity is increasing the amount you give away, rather than skyrocketing your standard of living when the Lord blesses you financially.  Simplicity is knowing the difference between necessity and luxury, and choosing to do without luxuries because so many lack necessities.

I’m a selfish man, but I’ve been digging a little lately, and I might have caught a glimpse of simplicity.  It’s all because of an exercise we’ve been doing.  It’s called:  cram everything you’ll need for the next three years into seven suitcases!  As we’ve been getting ready for our upcoming globe-trot, we’ve gotten rid of a lot of stuff.  We’ve sold both our cars, almost all our furniture, half our clothing, barrels of toys (and not just monkeys either), and who knows what else.  Turns out, you don’t even need most of this stuff.  Who knew?  I haven’t found simplicity yet, but I’m committed to finding it.  It’s important, you see.  Because simplicity and good stewardship are blood-relatives.

As the Southern fella sang:  “Be a simple kind of man.”  Life is short, and we can’t take our suitcases with us–not even seven.

Of the Cardio-dwelling Christ

Some interesting thoughts this morning from Paul Helm:

What is someone who asks Jesus to come into her heart saying? Here are things we need to bear in mind. The expression at least has this in its favour, that it is centred on Jesus. But according to the New Testament and the church’s confession of her faith, Jesus is not now in a position to come into anyone’s heart. Having suffered crucifixion, and enjoyed resurrection – how exhilarating that must have been! – he is now ascended to the Father, and though physically located at a place, the New Testament shows little or no interest in this bare fact, nor in the problems that it raises, but it stresses that he is now at his Father’s right hand, a place of exaltation and authority. So the language of taking Jesus into one’s heart invites Jesus to have a role which he is (literally) in no position to fulfil.

It is true that there is some language about Jesus in the New Testament that is related to talk of taking Jesus into one’s heart. We might point to Revelation 3.20, ‘If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me’. Jesus comes and enters into a person’s ‘door’. And there is John 14.20 ‘If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him’. But even here care is needed. The words from John’s gospel are concerned with the coming of the Spirit upon Christ’s departure. For the Father and the Son to take up their abode with the believer is to do this through the ministry of the Spirit. Christ Jesus will not abide with today’s believers literally, nor does the New Testament encourage its readers to think that he will, any more than Paul (for instance) is not in the least interested or concerned to show to his readers and hearers what is God’s will for their lives, or to offer advice about how they might discover what God’s will for them is.

But what is attractive about the language is that it is Jesus-centric. And bearing this in mind, one way to think of the use of such language is as an affirmation of the great fact of the believer’s union with Jesus. He is in Christ, witnessed to by the fact that Christ is in him by his Spirit. I suggest that this is one way of reading such informal expressions, as testifying to the believer’s willing union with Christ. But as well as keeping the emphasis on Christ’s Spirit as the indweller of God’s people, I reckon that such language ought to be tempered by the emphasis of Paul that Christ dwells in the hearts of his people by faith. (Ep. 3.17) The language of Christ coming into the heart is the language of union with Christ, and this (Paul tells us) is the language of believers.

You can check out the full article here.