Partners in the Gospel

Kevin Sanders, our church plant partner in the greater Boston area, sent us an update video. Watch and be encouraged! Take time to thank the Lord for this fruit and pray for more.

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All Things Made New

As we finished our study of Job this past Sunday, we saw how the restoration of Job points to a true and better restoration to come. A restoration where Jesus, the true and better Job, will make all things new (Rev. 21:5). Reflecting on our hope this week, my thoughts have continually been drawn to Andrew Peterson’s song, Is He Worthy?. Listen and be encouraged:

As we wait for that final restoration, let us heed James’ counsel and follow Job’s example.

“You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand…Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”  -James 5:8,  11

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“Burned Ground”

Several weeks ago in my reading for our study in Job, I came across a great gospel illustration. Australian David Jackson wrote the following:

In Australia, we have the land area the size of the continental United States, a population of twenty million people and two hundred million sheep. Sheep eat grass and do well in large areas of fertile grassland. A lighting strike on dry prairie grass will produce a fire that can travel as fast as the wind that drives it. Such fires will outrun a flock of panicking sheep and wipe them out. It would also take out any shepherds on foot who were with them. It is an awful thing to see. Safety in such a crisis is found in doing exactly the opposite of one’s first instinct. The only safe place in a grass fire is on burned ground. So with the fire approaching, it is best to light another fire and let it run away, and as it does, move in behind it and stand on burned ground. This simple technique has stimulated many a preacher to see a parallel with the work of Christ, who died in our place. When I take a step of faith and accept Jesus as Lord, I move onto burned ground. Grass can’t be burned twice, nor can a person’s sin be punished twice. God cannot and will not bring down his fiery judgement on Jesus and then on me for my sin. (Crying Out for Vindication, pg. 37)

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” -Romans 6:4-5

If thou hast my discharge procured,
And freely in my room endured
The whole of wrath divine;
Payment God cannot twice demand,
First at my bleeding Surety’s hand,
And then again at mine. -Augustus Toplady

Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live. -Stuart Townend

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What is Faith?

Have you ever had that moment when someone asks you to explain something you are very familiar with, but find yourself stumbling to offer a good explanation? This can happen when we are used to talking with others familiar with concepts and terms and are then asked to explain those concepts and terms by someone who is unfamiliar with them. At that point, we are required to think about things at a different level and offer explanation beyond simple shorthand.

This is especially true when it comes to theology, especially when so many rich biblical terms such as faith, hope, and love are common and misused. I was reading a book by Tim Chester recently where he offered an explanation of the term “faith” that I thought was helpful. He wrote:

Talk of faith alone can be a bit misleading. I watched a television program recently in which the presenter kept talking about faith: “I don’t have faith but admire people who do have faith.” “Faith can be a great comfort.” He had badly missed the point. Faith is not a “thing” you have, find, keep, or lose. It’s a relational bond. It’s trust in something else. And it’s that something else that matters. Faith in the tooth fairy is not much use because—spoiler alert—tooth fairies don’t exist. Before you step onto a bridge, you need to trust that it will take your weight. That’s faith. When the Reformers emphasized faith alone, it wasn’t because faith itself is virtuous, somehow earning merit with God. It was because faith connects us to Christ. Faith is letting go of self-confidence (what Paul calls “the flesh”) and entrusting yourself entirely to Christ. So the Reformation emphasis on faith alone was a way of directing the focus onto Christ and his finished work…Faith alone connects us to Christ, and Christ alone saves. (Reforming Joy, pgs. 34-5. emphasis original)

Here are two other posts from the archives on faith:

Faith Alone

Saving Faith

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Spurgeon’s Depression

During the sermon this past Sunday, I briefly mentioned Charles Spurgeon’s struggle with grief and depression. Spurgeon (1834-1892) was an English Baptist pastor who was known in his day all throughout England and America. He preached to thousands regularly and pastored a church that would still be considered large, even by today’s megachurch standards. The Prince of Preachers, as he is often referred to due to his soaring ability to marvelously preach God’s Word, is still admired and known by many today. However, his continual struggle with dark nights of the soul is lesser-known. I thought it would be helpful to give you a fuller picture than what time allowed in the sermon.

Michael Reeves introduces us to the beginning of Spurgeon’s struggle when he writes:

Aged twenty-two, as pastor of a large church and with twin babies at home to look after, he was preaching to thousands in the Surrey Gardens Music Hall when pranksters yelled “fire,” starting a panic to exit the building which killed seven and left twenty-eight severely injured. His mind was never the same again. His wife, Susannah, wrote, “My beloved’s anguish was so deep and violent, that reason seemed to totter in her throne, and we sometimes feared that he would never preach again. (Spurgeon On The Christian Life, pg. 163)

As you can imagine, experiencing such trauma as a young husband, father, and pastor would be overwhelming. To make matters worse, Spurgeon’s critics would launch unfair comments in public blaming him for the incident.

Spurgeon would later write of the days following the Surrey Hall tragedy: “I was so unmanned by it (the tragedy)…Someone watched me, for they did not know what might happen to me.” On another occasion he wrote: “I had almost lost my reason for some three weeks.” Zack Eswine points out that during that season even “the very sight of the Bible made Charles cry.” (Spurgeon’s Sorrows, pgs. 22, 81)

When He did finally return to the pulpit this is how he began his sermon:

I almost regret this morning that I have ventured to occupy this pulpit, because I feel utterly unable to preach to you for your profit. I had thought that the quiet and repose of the last fortnight had removed the effects of that terrible catastrophe; but on coming back to the same spot again, and more especially, standing here to address you, I feel somewhat of those same painful emotions which will-nigh prostrated me before. You will therefore excuse me this morning…I have been utterly unable to study…Oh, Spirit of God, magnify thy strength in thy servant’s weakness, and enable him to honour his Lord, even when his soul is cast down within him. (Spurgeon’s Sorrows, pg. 20)

This tragedy haunted him the rest of his life. Even some 25 years after these events as he stood to preach in a different venue Spurgeon had something of a flashback. Of that occasion he remembered that he was “entirely unmanned…leaning his head on his hand.” (Ibid, pg. 58)

Spurgeon’s sufferings would not end there. By the time he reached his mid-thirties he was suffering various chronic physical ailments. Then his wife, Susannah, at the age of 33 would suffer a debilitating chronic physical condition. As if these were not enough, he would continually be ridiculed mercilessly by his detractors. All of this coupled with the weight of his demanding ministry responsibilities was quite a load. Spurgeon was acquainted with grief and sorrow and he spoke openly of it in hopes of aiding fellow sufferers. He wrote honestly of his suffering:

I become so perplexed that I sink in heart, and dream that it were better for me never to have been born than to have been called to bear all this multitude upon my heart. (Spurgeon on the Christian Life, pg. 164)

That should sound familiar to us after looking at Job 3 this past Sunday. In Psalm 88, a Psalm of lament, verse 6 says; “You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep.” In a sermon, Spurgeon said the following of that verse:

The mind can descend far lower than the body, for in it there are bottomless pits. The flesh can bear only a certain number of wounds and no more, but the soul can bleed in ten thousand ways, and die over and over again each hour. (Spurgeon’s Sorrows, pg. 80)

Spurgeon knew that his sufferings made him a more gracious and compassionate Pastor. He said, “I have learnt from it to be very tender with all fellow-sufferers” (Spurgeon on the Christian Life, pg. 169). On another occasion he said, “Yes, we should feel more for the prisoner if we knew more about the prison” (Spurgeon’s Sorrows, pg. 75)

Yet, Spurgeon didn’t just speak honestly about the difficulty of suffering depression, he also pointed others to hope. What is that hope, our Lord Jesus, the man of sorrows. Of this hope he said:

Personally, I also bear witness that it has been to me, in seasons of great pain, superlatively comfortable to know that in every pang which racks his people the Lord Jesus has a fellow-feeling. We are not alone, for one like unto the Son of man walks the furnace with us. (Spurgeon’s Sorrows, pg. 84)

In closing, be encouraged by these words from Spurgeon to fellow ministers. He wrote:

Should the power of depression be more than ordinary, think not that all is over with your usefulness. Cast not away your confidence, for it hath great recompense and reward. Even if the enemy’s foot be on your neck, expect to rise and overthrow him. Cast the burden of the present, along with the sin of the past and the fear of the future, upon the Lord, who forsaketh not his saints. Live by the day—ay, by the hour. Put no trust in frames and feelings. Care more for a grain of faith than a ton of excitement. Trust in God alone…Between this and heaven there may be rougher weather yet, but it is all provided for by our covenant Head. (Lectures to My Students, pg. 189)

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“The Grace of Lament”

This past Sunday, Mark Vroegop preached a sermon at Capitol Hill Baptist Church on Psalm 77 entitled, The Grace of Lament. Vroegop has recently published a book entitled, Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament, which I haven’t had an opportunity to read yet. However, after listening to this sermon I suspect I’ll be making time for this book soon.

In our current study of Job, we looked at a difficult lament in chapter 3 this past Sunday. I would strongly encourage you to listen to this sermon from Pastor Vroegop for your own general edification and for help in better understanding Job. Here are some of my notes from his sermon:

  • Simply put, lament is a prayer in pain that leads to trust.
  • Lament is the language of a people who believe in God’s sovereignty but live in the real world of tragedy.
  • Lament is humbly (and honestly) praying through the pain.
  • Biblical lament doesn’t grieve aimlessly or selfishly, it grieves, but it redirects people to what is true despite what they are walking through.
  • Grief is exhausting because we are constantly swinging between “I believe” and “Help my unbelief.”

Click here to listen to the sermon: “The Grace of Lament

I would also encourage you to listen to this song based on Job from Shane and Shane. It has the added bonus of a sermon clip from John Piper at the end.

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Hope vs. Optimism

As we have been studying through 1 Peter together, we have thought much about hope. Peter begins the letter by saying that as Christians, we “have been born again to a living hope” (1:3). Often when we speak of hope today, we simply mean “wishful thinking”. Biblical hope is so much more than wishful thinking. J.I. Packer explains this well when he explains the difference between hope and optimism. Packer wrote:

We can…clearly see that the word hope signifies two distinct, though related, realities. Objectively, it means the divinely guaranteed prospect before us; subjectively, it means the activity or habit of looking forward to the day when what is promised will become ours in actual enjoyment. It is thus quite distinct from optimism. Optimism hopes for the best without any guarantee of its arriving and is often no more than whistling in the dark. Christian hope, by contrast, is faith looking ahead to the fulfillment of the promises of God…Optimism is a wish without a warrant; Christian hope is a certainty, guaranteed by God himself. Optimism reflects ignorance as to whether good things will ever actually come. Christian hope expresses knowledge that each day of his life, and every moment beyond it, the believer can say with truth, on the basis of God’s own commitment, that the best is still to come. (Never Beyond Hope, pg. 15, emphasis mine)

Thanks be to God for the hope we have in Christ. As Peter says, it is “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you (Christian)” (1:4).

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Two Things

I wanted to take an opportunity to draw your attention to a couple of things.

First, our friend and church planting partner, Kevin Sanders, has recently dusted off his old blogging skills and put them to good use for our benefit. His most recent post, Give Jesus To Your Kids, is excellent. Give it a read!

Second, 9 Marks posted a panel discussion from last week’s Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. The panel was on The State of the SBC and features Mark Dever, Danny Akin, H.B. Charles, and Al Mohler. For those who are interested, it is a good conversation and worth your time.

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“Christ’s Grace and Your Sufferings”

The love of Christ for me will get the last say. My indestructible hope is that he has turned his face towards me and he will never turn away.” -David Powlison

On Friday morning, the church lost a brother who has been a true gift to all gospel loving, Christ-exalting believers. David Powlison, at the age of 69, after a battle with pancreatic cancer, died and met his Savior. I mentioned the loss of our brother in the sermon today and wanted to post his sermon on suffering that I commended to everyone.

Justin Taylor offers a brief biographical sketch of Powlison’s life here. (It is well worth your time.)

Here is Powlison’s excellent sermon, “Christ’s Grace and Your Sufferings” from the 2005 Desiring God National Conference.

Here are some of Powlison’s books:

I am thankful to God for the gift of David Powlison to the church. I am thankful to God for the “indestructible hope” He offers us all in Christ.

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Summer Reading 2019

Summer is here, and for many, that means a change of pace that might provide an opportunity for a little extra reading. If you think you might be able to slip in a book or two in the coming weeks, let me make some recommendations.

Church Life and Individual Discipleship/Growth

Diehard Sins by Rush Witt

Untangling Emotions by Alasdair Groves and Winston Smith

The Rule of Love by Jonathan Leeman

Culture and Apologetics

Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion by Rebecca McLaughlin

Can We Trust the Gospels? by Peter Williams

Plugged In by Daniel Strange


Benjamin Franklin: The Religious Life of a Founding Father by Thomas Kidd

In The Year of Our Lord: Reflections on Twenty Centuries of Church History by Sinclair Ferguson

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