A Sonnet For Good Friday

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A day of wrath fully deserved by me
The day righteousness demands sacrifice
Blood must spill for transgressions are many
Not the least the sins by my flesh enticed
Those hours of anguish befit my crime
Beheld by Christ my salvation secured
Atonement came in Yahweh’s blessed time
By Jesus propitiation procured
And long anticipated hope at last
Holds promise of joy in that day of grief
A day of grace to break the riddle’s fast
When sinners receive merciful reprieve
For an answer of Godly love we cried
Found when sinners are at last justified

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Book Review: John MacArthur’s Slave

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Wether we examine the national identity of Israel after the exodus from Egypt, or the self-identification of the apostolic writers, or the nomenclature used by early Christian martyrs – we find ourselves continually confronted with a concept as foreign to our Western minds as it is radical and profound. Yet if we are to fully appreciate what it means to follow Christ, we must embrace the life-changing implications of this vital concept. To be a Christian is to be a slave of Christ.
John MacArthur, Slave, p. 212

Over and Over again, the Bible uses the word slave to denote followers of God. English versions have tended to use another word for the Hebrew ebed and the Greek doulos. Servant or bondservant is preferred more often than not, but why? The Hebrew and Greek words both imply more than a servant but a possession; a person that is wholly owned by the master. There are theological implications for using “servant” instead of “slave.” A servant has a choice, where a slave does not. A servant works on his own time, a slave is completely subject to the master. A servant does what he can, a slave does what the master demands. Does “servant” soften the meaning of ebed and doulos? John MacArthur believes is does.

The reclaiming of the term “slave” is the topic of John MacArthur’s Slave: The Hidden Truth about Your Identity in Christ. Certainly, the term offends modern, Western sensibilities. However, MacArthur argues that a proper understanding of the term is crucial to understanding the teachings of Jesus. First century, Roman slavery was the context of many of the parables. Such slavery defines discipleship. MacArthur draws five parallels between ancient slavery and Biblical Christianity: 1) Exclusive Ownership, 2) Complete Submission, 3) Singular Devotion, 4) Total Dependence, and 5)Personal Accountability.

Detailing the trial and execution of John Huss, MacArthur writes, “the faithful throughout church history have always preserved by the Holy Spirit wholehearted devotion to the true head, Jesus Christ. He alone is Lord of His church, and the position cannot be occupied by another.” He gives examples of movements that deny Christ as the head such as Free Grace, church growth, and prosperity preachers. He claims some in conservative circles do this as well with “crass humor and coarse speech.” This connection is not obvious and comes across as methodological axe grinding more than it bolsters his argument.

That aside, MacArthur does well to show the connection between the Greek words doulos (slave) and kyrios (lord). They are two sides of the same relationship. However, when the bible is interpreted in light of our modern sensibilities, if we are not careful, we may loses the significance of such terms.

MacArthur points out that scripture refers to Christ Lord in the exact same way it calls Yahweh, Lord. Thus, such Lordship demands more than just lip service. We are slaves to Christ, but this gives us status in our relationship with God.

The struggle with this argument is the idea of freedom. Why would any free person choose slavery? How could someone claim that Christ set them free if they are to be slaves to Christ? The answer is that no one is free. A sinner is a slave to sin; subject to a master that is a “cruel tyrant.” “He is not only powerless to free himself, but he wears his chains with willing eagerness.” (127) This is certainly not a new argument for MacArthur. This was the very subject of his 2008 Together For the Gospel sermon, “The Sinner Neither Willing Nor Able.”

One of the most important reasons to argue for the use of the word “slave” is that it is crucial to the process of redemption. Sinners are redeemed at the cross, purchased from the master of sin, to be slaves of Christ. Is this freedom? Freedom to sin, lead to slavery to cruelty, but slavery to Christ leads to the freedom of a perfect master!

MacArthur also examines other metaphors used in scripture to describe a believer’s relationship with God: adoption and citizenship. Certainly both show the freedom of Christ; to be a child of God and a citizen of the Kingdom. However, both also show being subject to authority; a father or a king.

What of the life of a slave of Christ, a son of God, and a citizen of Heaven? Macarthur goes to the parable of the talents and reminds the reader that the master will return and the slave will be held accountable. Referring to John Piper’s book, Macarthur encourages such slaves, sons, and citizens, “Don’t waste your life.”

Ultimately, the argument of this book is for a return to slave language in translation and interpretation. Macarthur argues that slavery ends prejudice, magnifies grace, and pictures salvation. The loss of the slave language that is so prevalent in the Greek and Hebrew texts, and found throughout church history, is a significant loss to modern Christianity.

Slave is insightful and thought-provoking, though not without its weaknesses. MacArthur’s examples of various movements of false doctrines are helpful, though it would be more helpful to have more detail. Further, the not-so-subtle slight of Mark Driscoll in that section seems out of place and weakens to overall argument. MacArthur’s issues with Driscoll are well known, but it would be better if pastors could deal with these things in the context of Christian fellowship rather than the pages of books.

Also, though MacArthur does excellent work tying the metaphors of slavery, adoption, and citizenship, he ignores that of marriage. Marriage is a common metaphor in scripture and it would be interesting to see MacArrthurs handling of it in this context.

Ultimately, this is a thought-provoking book. The issue of slave language in modern translation and interpretation is hardly on the radar of Christian debate, but maybe it should be.

Health Update

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Facebook and twitter are great, but news is only conveyed in bits and pieces. Over the past few weeks, people have noticed a few of my posts mentioning things like “ER,” “Stress Test,” “Hospital,” etc and have wondered what in the world is going on. So here’s the run down:

For the past three weeks, I have been having chest pains almost daily. I tried to ignore them (you aren’t supposed to do that), but after three days of chest pains, I decided to see the doctor. I called for an appointment but was told the ER is the place to be. At the ER, they confirmed that I was not having a heart attack and told me to make an appointment with my doctor. My doctor scheduled a stress test and told me to take it easy and take some aspirin everyday. That was a week or so ago.

On Thursday, I went to the Elephant Room conference. I enjoyed it, but really didn’t feel well. I attributed that to the fact that I had to get up at 4am and drive three hours to get there. However, on Friday, I wasn’t feeling much better. I was tired and I felt like I was breathing with a ton of bricks on my chest. I opted to work at home, finishing some sermon writing. Unfortunately, that didn’t get any better. I was breathing shallow and feeling dizzy. In the afternoon, a family needed some financial assistance and I agreed to meet them at the church. As I returned from that meeting, I was completely out of breath. After walking the steps to my house, I was on the verge of passing out. I fell on the couch and told my wife “I just need to rest.” My wife knows that I am the most stubborn person when it comes to getting medical help for myself. She told me I had two choices: doctor or ER. Then, she called the doctor. They agreed to see me right away and we headed there.

The doctor examined me for about an hour. My EKG, blood pressure, etc. were all good, but I kept feeling pressure on my chest. It took a lot of effort to breath. He admitted me to the hospital for observation.

I spent Friday night in the hospital, being poked and prodded. Basically, they were making sure that I was not on the verge of anything life threatening. All the tests came out fine, and the rest seemed to do some good. On Saturday, I was released with orders to rest for a few days; including taking Sunday off.

Today, I had a nuclear stress test. I was able to complete the test without any problem, though it didn’t exactly feel good to get my heart rate and blood pressure up so high. I’m now waiting to hear from the doctor. So far, every test has come back good, so all signs point to this being a reaction to stress and acid reflux. If that’s the end result, I’ve got a challenge ahead of me of learning to relax and handle the everyday stress of pastoral ministry.

So now I am quite thankful. I am thankful that I was not experiencing a life threatening illness. I’m thankful for some friends from church who brought me pajamas at the hospital. They knew that nobody likes hospital gowns. What they didn’t know is that I am most comfortable in a nice pair of pajamas. Their gift was more blessing than they know. I’m thankful for two great pastor friends of mine. One of whom came and visited with me in the hospital and another who sat with me this morning before my stress test. I’m thankful for my friends from all over that read this on facebook and offered their prayers. I’m thankful for all the concerned calls my wife and I have received. I’m thankful for two good friends who visited me in the hospital and later had my wife and I over for dinner. They offered fellowship, free medical advice, and prayer, and I am very grateful. I’m thankful for family who have been concerned and helpful. I’m thankful for my wife who pushes me into the right decisions when I’m less than willing. I’m thankful for Christ, who still seems to have some use for me.

So, most likely the road ahead is going to be learning to do things a little differently. It is amazing what stress can do. I’ve got some things to learn.

A Day in the Elephant Room

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It might seem like a strange idea. Gather seven influential pastors in one room and set up debates so they can slug out their differences. People will pay to see it. In fact, they will pay to watch it on a simulcast. They will even drive in the wee hours of the morning to get to the simulcast. Well, at least I did.

The Elephant Room consisted of James MacDonald, Greg Laurie, Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler, David Platt, Perry Noble, and Steven Furtick. Conversations were arranged that would include two of them and a moderator (MacDonald or Driscoll), with the other four voicing their opinions with thumbs up/down lights and just plain interjecting. The conversations were light sometimes, but very heated at others. There was plenty of jesting, but some very hard words between these pastors as well. All in all, it was a great look at some difficult subject with an eye toward understanding. Here’s a review:

Conversation #1: The Weekend Service: evangelism vs sanctification. Steven Furtick and Matt Chandler.

Furtick began by stating that Jesus’ mission was to seek and save the lost; that the physician comes for the sick and not the healthy. Chandler replied that an infant breastfeeding is cute. A 19 year old breastfeeding is disturbing. He pointed out that the Ephesian church grew big but Paul instructed Timothy to guard doctrine.

Both agreed that the caricature of the debate is “You don’t care about Content/You puff people up with knowledge”

Chandler took issue with Furtick rebuking his congregation for wanting to grow deeper when their were lost people to reach. Furtick explained that by “deeper” he meant people coming to fulfill a selfish desire to know more or be more spiritual. Driscoll interjected that Furtick’s church is very young and is still “All wedding and no funerals.” Naturally, everyone agreed that evangelism is important. “If a church will not evangelize, it will fossilize” was Greg Laurie’s comment. Furtick and Noble (both known for pastoring more seeker-oriented churches) both argued that evangelism is not contrary to preaching the word. Platt offered some great wisdom when he said that it is much more effective to send Christians out than to expect to draw thousands of unbelievers to hear him preach.

In the end, both “sides” realized that they were caricaturizing the other and offered the better definition of “preaching to Christians with a mind to the lost” (Chandler) vs preaching the word in order to win the lost.

Conversation #2: Culture in the church vs Church in the culture. Perry Noble and Mark Driscoll.

This conversation was not initially very polarizing, as both pastors are known for embracing culture beyond what a normal church might. Noble argued, “the church is answering questions that nobody is asking.” He pointed to scriptural examples of Paul using the idol of the unknown god and God using astrology to speak to the wise men as examples of using culture to speak truth.

Driscoll said that the question of culture in the church comes down to where do you contextualize and where do you contend? He said that culture fits into three categories: what should be rejected, what should be received, and what should be redeemed.

However, the conversation did get a bit heated when it was mentioned that Noble’s church played the AC/DC song, “Highway to Hell” as an opening to their Easter service. MacDonald pulled no punches in giving his opinion that it was way over the line and said that Noble had sinned in doing so. MacDonald said he had no question as to Noble’s Godly motives, but that the action was wrong. All but Furtick said that they would not have made that choice (with Platt saying “absolutely not”). Dricoll, however made one point in defense of Noble:

“We hammer guys who go too far. Why not hammer the guys who don’t go far enough? John Coward would never have “highway to hell” played in his church, but he’s got a highway to hell in his church.”

Noble continued to defend the service by stating that it works. “Were those salvations real? If you get to heaven, I guess you can ask them.” Chandler replied, “I know someone who came to Christ when his mother was run over by a car, but I don’t want to start that ministry.”

Though this conversation will most likely be remembered for “Highway to Hell” the real gold was Driscoll explaining how to properly evaluate culture. The categories of reject, receive, and redeem provide much room for though, beyond the normal response of “the lowest IQ on the internet simply saying, “it’s worldly!”

Conversation #3: Do Compassion Ministries help or hinder the Gospel? David Platt and Greg Laurie

There was not a lot of disagreement in this conversation. All agreed that compassion ministries are important and all agreed that churches must be careful that they never hinder telling the Gospel. Laurie warned of churches calling compassion ministries “evangelism” when they never share the Gospel. Noble mentioned that compassion ministries often turn in to social justice ministries “which save people from hell on earth but damns them to hell for eternity.”

The most controversial statement was MacDonald who said that compassion ministries were for the body of Christ and evangelism was for those outside the body of Christ. This statement did not get near enough attention. One of the irritating things about the day was that MacDonald could make statements like this and not get a lot of heat for them. His house, his rules. He was also good at misrepresenting some of the others’ ideas for the sake of argument, but I’ll address that in a later conversation.

Platt said it best when he said that he does compassion ministries globally “simply because of the overflow of Christ in us.”

Conversation #4: Can’t we all just get along vs My way or the highway. Steven Furtick and James MacDonald.

“You listen to Joel Olsteen and John Piper? That’s like saying ‘I’m a meat-eating vegetarian!’” (Driscoll)

Furtick recently posted a blog in which he named off the preachers he enjoyed listening to. Some were those common to people in the Elephant Room and others (such as T.D. Jakes, Joyce Meyers, and Joel Olsteen) were of questionable doctrine. Furtick defended himself by stating that he was a “big boy” and could eat the fish and leave the bones. MacDonald’s frank reply was “I wish you would grow up.” The problem for most seem to be that Furtick may be able to discern, but his followers may not. This lead to quite a discussion regarding how pastors should handle false doctrines and teachers of false doctrines that seem to be so popular today.

Furtick emphatically called for pastors to be known for what they are for rather than what they are against. Driscoll warned that both wolves and shepherds love sheep. “It’s a shepherd’s job to shoot the wolf for the love of the sheep.”

“Everyone claps at ‘shoot the wolf’ until someone says you’re a wolf “ (Furtick)

Perry Noble offered the most practical advice when he said that calling a wolf should be done by the elders of the church and based on doctrine.

How do they all distinguish the wolves? The metaphor was brought up that some issues are national borders while others are state borders. They were all in agreement: Inerrancy of scripture, Christ is the only way of salvation, man is sinful, and more are national borders while speaking in tongues, modes of church leadership, etc are state borders. What about hell (with someone saying “love wins)? All agreed, that topic is a national border.

Conversation #5: Multi-Site: Personality Cult or God’s Greater Glory? Matt Chandler and Perry Noble.

This conversation was a bit one sided. 6 of the 7 pastors have mult-site churches. (Multi-site churches are churches that have several locations but still have one primary teaching pastor). I appreciated hearing Matt Chandlers reservations and ultimately his reasons for going to the mult-site format, and I gained some new insight as to why this might be a good idea. Driscoll mentioned that satellite locations are more successful than church plants. Furtick mentioned that satellite locations tend to teach the congregation be less consumerist.

Still, what came across the most was ego. It just seemed to me that many of these pastors think they are irreplaceable. MacDonald even said, “why do I need to give the most fruitful years of my ministry for someone else?” As a pastor of a small church (the average church in America, by the way) I could only think that some of these guys are out of touch with how most churches function. Of course, what do I know about a mega-church? All in all, it was interesting to hear their thought processes.

Conversation #6: Prosperity Gospel or Poverty Gospel? James MacDonald and David Platt.

If people are not remembering the Elephant Room for “Highway to Hell” then they are talking about goldfish crackers: the subject of a heated debate in conversation number six.

David Platt began by giving many of the arguments of his best-selling book, Radical. “Any approach to money must be a look at the world through the lens of the word.” “Money is not inherently evil but it is very dangerous in the hands of sinful man”

MacDonald was very aggressive from the outset, but he was arguing against the idea that poverty is inherently spiritual; a stance David Platt was not taking. This misrepresentation or misunderstanding of Platt framed the entire argument. Platt even said:

“I don’t tell my people not to make money. I tell them to make a lot of money. Use your God-given gifts, but your standard of living doesn’t have to increase. Your standard of giving does.”

MacDonald continued to argue against the idea that poverty is spiritual. He claimed that people are jumping on a poverty bandwagon, and that pulpit committees are using Radical to beat down pastors and force them into poverty. (I pastor in one of the most impoverished counties in the country. I have encouraged my congregation to read Radical. I have not been beaten down about it.)

The conversation hit its lowest point when MacDonald mentioned that he heard that the kids at Platt’s church were not allowed to have Cheez-its so that more money could go toward missions. Platt said that was “close” and began to explain how every department in the church had given certain things up in order to advance the Gospel overseas. The pre-school kids chose to forgo their Goldfish Crackers. I say began to explain because at that point, Driscoll and MacDonald would hardly let Platt speak. I respect all three pastors, but I have to admit, Platt’s humility was the example to follow.

Conversation #7: Love the Gospel vs Share the Gospel. Mark Driscoll and Greg Laurie.

The final conversation centered on the competing priorities of evangelism and doctrine. There was essentially no disagreement here. Everyone agreed that doctrine is important as is reaching the lost. Laurie challenged pastors to be personally involved in evangelism. Driscoll compared those who focus too much on doctrine this way:

We’re gun collectors not soldiers. We have this nice, beautiful antique gun collection that we’re proud of. We spend lots of time and effort keeping it clean and showing it off. Shoot something!

Conclusion

The Elephant Room ended with a quick Q and A that basically answered questions pertaining to famous pastors (eg. How do you deal with celebrity?)

All in all, it was a great event. I really enjoyed hearing theses pastors discuss so many different issues in an atmosphere that allowed for their genuine personalities. In most of the conversations, I had my mind made up going in and probably did not change it, yet I left with more understanding and a few challenges. If anyone were listening to me (they are not) I would suggest the following for the future:

*Widen the scope and include some more differences in the selection of pastors. I’m not saying bring in the wolves, but it would be interesting to hear a wider range of opinions.

*Widen the scope of topics. If its supposed to be a debate, don’t include topics where everyone will agree.

*Have a neutral moderator. There were times for moderation and MacDonald wasn’t the man for the job (nor was Driscoll good at moderating MacDonald).

*Include some unknowns. Fight the celebrity pastor culture by bringing in some unknown, “smaller” pastors. Surely in that vast array of church planting networks and campus pastors, there are some guys with a lot to offer.

In the meantime, pastors, don’t just watch other pastors debate in a healthy manner. Surround yourself with other pastors and let iron sharpen iron.