Moe Bergeron: Serving the King

I watched this video from Desiring God today. It is a powerful little video that displays for us the truth of why we exist – to declare and display the good news of God to a world in darkness. Moe Bergeron exemplifies this truth by the grace of God. A factory worker in a small New England town, he is the one for whom we ought to thank God for using to begin the website of desiringgod.org. May his testimony encourage you today.

 

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Through the Gospel Lens

rose Colored GlassesSome songs you can’t unhear no matter how hard you try. Unfortunately musical atrocities come in surprising numbers these days. Of course auditory offenses are not a new problem. One such harmonic tragedy I heard the other day is an oldie by John Conlee entitled “Rose Colored Glasses.” If this happens to be a favorite of yours then I am truly sorry on so many levels. The central nugget of the song seems to be conveyed in these couple of lines.

“But these rose colored glasses, that I’m looking through,
show only the beauty, and hide all the truth.”

That got me thinking about how easy it is for us to view life through a lens that is misleading whether a positive “rose colored” lens or something darker. But this begs a question: is there a lens that will allow us to see others and ourselves as we truly are? Would we even want that lens?

As Paul writes in Philippians 1:1-2 he points us to see ourselves and others (if we are followers of Christ) through the gospel lens.

He identifies himself and Timothy as mere “servants of Christ Jesus.” Of course Paul could have used his title of apostle here (and he does in other letters to other churches as the need arises) and that would have been totally fine. But instead he chooses to identify himself as a servant. In fact the word servant would be better translated “slave.” He is a slave of Christ. This must have struck home for the church in a society where people are defined by their class and where slaves are the bottom dwellers in the class system. Especially when slaves were seen as the property of their owners. So why this kind low of self-identification? Is Paul struggling with some sort of self-esteem issues that we should be concerned about? I think identifies himself in this way for two reasons.

The first is because this is how he really sees himself. He really does know that he is merely a slave to Christ. He really views himself as the property of Jesus. Paul is not exaggerating or struggling with self-esteem issues. He is viewing himself (and Timothy) through the gospel lens. He has been bought with a price – that of Christ’s blood (1 Cor. 6:20). This self-understanding informs everything Paul does. He understands the depth of his sin (read Romans 1-3) and yet he knows that the grace of God is deeper still. Though he was in bondage to sin and satan was his slave-master he was freed to be Christ’s slave and this is what drives him to write this letter of love and friendship to this struggling group of believers in Philippi.

The second reason I think Paul decides to refer to himself as a slave of Christ and not as an Apostle of Christ is because he wants to deal carefully with this group of believers in Philippi. They are facing both external opposition from a culture and city that is extremely loyal to Rome and Caesar as well as what appears to be the beginning of some internal posturing and division. In that context Paul wants these believers each to see that their Apostle whom they love does not view himself merely as one with position and authority but one who is ultimately the slave of Christ. Paul wants his self-identification to become the self-identification of the Philippian believers. It is nearly impossible for believers who are viewing themselves through the gospel lens of slavery to Christ to fight and posture for position, respect, or influence in the church so that they can have their own way. Indeed if we, as Paul, would humbly learn to view ourselves as those whose lives have been purchased at the cost of the life of God our Savior then we would more easily rejoice in serving others.

Of course Paul doesn’t stop there but goes on to identify those to whom he is writing. And of course he keeps on seeing through the gospel lens.

Soli Deo Gloria

Back to the Writing Table

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I am beginning to write again. It has been a couple of months since I last posted here. Some of this was due to laziness which had to be repented of. Much of this was due to prioritizing where the efforts of my life and ministry were needed. What I mean is that for a little while I could not justify giving up the time I had for the sake of such a little enterprise. I am now realizing that this little blog is as much for me as it is for anything else. I enjoy writing. I need to write. It helps me gather thoughts from the distant and dusty regions of my mind and order articulate them in ways that are beneficial to me – even if they are not so original so as to gain great fanfare. But as real as the enjoyment and satisfaction I get from punching the “publish” button is, it does not hold a candle to the profit I gain from the journey of having written. I learn and grow through writing as I do from the writings of others. It is because of this that I find myself back in front of this virtual writing desk clearing off the clutter and adjusting the inkblot’s placement for careful use. And so I write.

And so I write that I might exult and enjoy the resurrected Christ more and more – and lead you to do the same.

Gladly in Christ!

Choosing a Bible Translation

We live in happy times when we have the Word of God available to us in so many excellent modern translations. But this diversity also complicates how we think of the Word of God. It is much more simple (though fantastically wrong on many levels) to divinize one translation and proclaim that translation as “the Bible” while simultaneously eyeing every other translation with suspicion and/or hostility. And while you are probably thinking of those who hold the undefensible King James Only position, and rightfully so, I have noticed that other translations are sometimes quietly granted the “only” position by well-meaning individuals who refuse to recognize the high qualities of other translations. I believe this simply reflects the idolatrous pride in our sinful hearts that always wants “our” translation to be the best one…and on the highway of human pride this can transition from “best” into “exclusive” absurdly fast. This is most visible in the small group discussions where unless someone’s favorite translation is read and seen to be superior the study is not over.

What we need is a little dose of humility and perspective. It is with this hope that I am eager to read Which Bible Translation Should I Use? A Comparison of 4 Major Recent Versions: ESV, NIV, HCSB, NLT edited by Andreas J. Köstenberger and David A. Croteau. You can find out more about this excellent book over at Andy Naselli’s blog!

We must not be a people of a translation, but a people of God’s Word. Jeremiah 15:16.

 

The Transient World and the Eternal Word

Isaiah 40:8 The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.

One of the things that I continually must recall to mind is what to ground my life upon. Neither the fleeting opinions of talking heads, the superficial platitudes that clutter the social networks, nor the empty promises of advertisements are capable of sustaining soul-satisfying, life-giving joy and security that only the word of God is able to provide. The problem is that I (and so many of us) are too easily distracted. We are too often like a bunch of 3 year olds with extreme cases of ADD and ADHD. And the world excels at offering up distractions.

That is why I so need and enjoy the reminder that songs like God’s Word Shall Stand Forever by Martin Luther and arranged and adapted by Faye Lopez have for us. Read and remember.

God’s Word shall stand forever,
The Bible shall prevail;
God’s Word shall stand forever,
His truth can never, never fail.
 
For feelings coms and feelings go,
And feelings are deceiving;
My warrant is the Word of God,
Naught else is worth believing.
 
Tho’ all my heart should feel condemned
For want of some sweet token,
There is One greater than my heart
Whose Word cannot be broken.
 
I’ll trust in God’s unchanging Word
‘Til soul and body sever;
For tho’ all things shall pass away,
His Word shall stand forever.

Leading My First Funeral

Not too long ago I came across a book that I knew would be helpful to me as a young pastor but didn’t buy it because it wasn’t something that I was going to need for a few years yet. One month later I found myself purchasing this same book and selecting the “one day shipping” box on Amazon [thank goodness we are prime members!]. What book was it that I foolishly put off buying? Conduct Gospel-Centered Funerals: Applying the Gospel at the Unique Challenges of Death by Brian Croft and Phil A. Newton. I was about to lead my first funeral and I was desperate for some  practical and cross-centered wisdom from someone more experienced than I. How did this come about?

I am an Assistant Pastor which means that weddings and funerals are pretty much left in the domain of our lead Pastor (though he has had me assist him in these duties). This has meant that I generally don’t have to worry about all the particularities that come with

leading these events – until last week that is. Last week my pastor left for a ten day trip and then the spouse of one of my coworkers passed away suddenly. Though this coworker was not affiliated with any church and wasn’t a follower of Jesus, she still called and asked if I would conduct her husband’s funeral. I was honored. And I was terrified. What follows are some things I learned in doing my first funeral.

Do: Get resources such as Conduct Gospel-Centered Funerals: Applying the Gospel at the Unique Challenges of Death by Brian Croft and Phil A. Newton as well as Comfort Those Who Grieve: Ministering God’s Grace in Times of Loss by Paul Tautges. These books really should be read in tandem since they compliment each other so well. Really, if you are a pastor, you should read these books.

Do: Get wise counsel. I spoke with several pastors (including my dad) who have led a number of funerals and found their advi

ce truly helpful. Besides it will help you honor them and them to know that you respect them. I also asked some of my friends who are young in the ministry. I knew that the level of experience wasn’t there but the fact that they were praying for me was encouraging.

Do: Meet quickly with the grieving family. This will help you as well as the family that has experienced the loss. It will help you as a pastor to know them and bond with them on a level that you would not otherwise have. It will also allow you to minister more directly to their hearts since all pretenses are usually gone. It will also help you to get a feel for the person who has passed away. I found this especially helpful since I didn’t know the man at all. In my context the pastor delivers the eulogies so knowing the person who has passed away is especially important. This will also help the family through the grieving process. After a family member has died those

who remain are left to plan and coordinate a thousand little details. Listening to stories and looking at pictures is an important part of the grieving process for many people (at least it seemed to be incredibly helpful for this family). Meeting quickly and listening to these stories will also let the family know that you care about them – not merely about another service that you have to perform. This will allow you greater flexibility to share the gospel both privately and publicly.

Don’t: Correct every theologically incorrect statement. If something a family member says bugs you because it isn’t right – get over it. You can deal with stuff like this later privately in the grieving process if it is appropriate. This goes for the funeral service as well. It is not our duty to correct every false statement made during the time when family and friends speak.

Don’t: Give false hope or certain judgment regarding the eternal state of the deceased when it is unclear. Just be faithful to the gospel
Do: Meet with the funeral home director. I am so thankful I met with the director of this funeral. He has been responsible for over 7,000 funerals and his experience and care were encouraging. As a pastor, your role in the funeral is important. But so is the Funeral Director’s. Don’t sideline him or attempt to undermine him. Instead try to develop a relationship with him for the sake of future funerals and families.by saying something like “only those who submit in faith to the Lord Jesus will be granted eternal life to enjoy God’s presence forever.”

Do: Get resources such as Conduct Gospel-Centered Funerals: Applying the Gospel at the Unique Challenges of Death by Brian Croft and Phil A. Newton as well as Comfort Those Who Grieve: Ministering God’s Grace in Times of Loss by Paul Tautges. These books really should be read in tandem since they compliment each other so well. Really, if you are a pastor, you should read these books. Wait, I said this one already….oh well. Get these books!

Here is a quote from the book by Brian Croft and Phil Newton to whet your appetite.

Faithfulness to the gospel in funerals is obscured in the pastor’s words of comfort about heaven when how heaven is received is not made clear. The gospel is distorted when the pastor preaches the deceased into eternal glory when there has been no credible evidence of gospel transformation in that person’s life. The gospel is likewise contradicted when the man entrusted to facilitate and conduct the funeral service is unloving, impatient, and uninterested in the soul’s of the family that remain. . . . Therefore, gospel-centeredness is when the gospel of Jesus Christ is the primary purpose and the focus of the funeral. It is making sure that the foundation of any hope experienced is rooted in a holy God’s merciful plan to redeem sinners through crushing His own Son on the cross in our place. (p. 18)

Divine Sovereignty: The Fuel of Death-Defying Missions

In case you are unaware, T4G is going on right now. This is one of the best conferences that I think you could hope to plan to attend (I have been there in the past and so I speak from experience). I am one of the many who wish they could be there. T4G is a conference primarily for pastors and church leaders though they encourage pastors to bring some of their men.

Here is one of the many excellent sessions from this week (it is over an hour long so clear out some time to watch and listen).  This sermon entitled Divine Sovereignty: The Fuel of Death-Defying Missions was delivered by pastor and author David Platt.

In case you would like some notes to follow along, Aaron Armstrong (who is attending) has done us the courtesy of giving us his notes from the sessions.

Possible Redemption = No Redemption

If we concentrate on the thought of redemption, we shall be able to sense more readily the impossibility of universalizing the atonement. What does redemption mean? It does not mean redeemability, that we are placed in a redeemable position. It means that Christ purchased and procured redemption. This is the triumphant note of the New Testament whenever it plays on the redemptive chord. Christ redeemed us to God by his blood (Rev. 5:9). He obtained eternal redemption (Heb. 9:12). “He gave himself for us in order that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify to himself a people for his own possession, zealous of good works” (Tit. 2:14). It is to beggar the concept of redemption as an effective securement of release by price and by power to construe it as anything less than the effectual accomplishment which secures the salvation of those who are its objects. Christ did not come to put men in a redeemable position but to redeem to himself a people. We have the same result when we properly analyse the meaning of expiation, propitiation, and reconciliation. Christ did not come to make sins expiable. He came to expiate sins – “when he made purification of sins, he sat down on the right hand of the majesty on high” (Heb. 1:3). Christ did not come to make God reconcilable. He reconciled us to God by his own blood.

The very nature of Christ’s mission and accomplishment is involved in this question. Did Christ come to make the salvation of all men possible, to remove obstacles that stood in the way of salvation, and merely to make provision for salvation? Or did he come to save his people? Did he come to put all men in a salvable state? Or did he come to secure the salvation of all those who are ordained to eternal life? Did he come to make men redeemable? Or did he come effectually and infallibly to redeem? The doctrine of atonement must be radically revised if, as atonement, it applies to those who finally perish as well as to those who are the heirs of eternal life. In that event we shall have to dilute the grand categories in terms of which the Scripture defines the atonement and deprive them of their most precious import and glory. This we cannot do….We do well to ponder the words of our Lord himself: “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that of everything which he hath given to me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up in the last day” (John 6:38, 39). Security inheres in Christ’s redemptive accomplishment. And this means that, in respect of the persons contemplated, design and accomplishment and final realization have all the same extent.

…The truth really is that it is only on the basis of such a doctrine that we can have a free and full offer of Christ to lost men. What is offered to men in the gospel? It is not the possibility of salvation, not simply the opportunity of salvation. What is offered is salvation.

Redemption Accomplished and Applied by John Murray, pg. 63- 65. This book resembles one of those expensive deserts at a fancy restaurant: small but rich and extremely satisfying.

The King’s Crown

There is its significance for a lost world. Christ came to be the Saviour of the world and that meant enduring the cross with all its shame and suffering. That crown of thorns was placed there by God as well as by man. The cross was God’s cross as well as man’s.

If we are to receive the crown of life, Christ must receive the crown of thorns. He cannot be our Saviour any other way….It is in his diadem of thorns that he stoops low in humiliation and shame and sorrow to seek and to save sinners. It is only by the sharp thorn of his suffering that the poisonous thorn of our sin is drawn. In other words, apart from the cross God cannot forgive sin.

There is also the significance of the crown of thorns for the church, for God’s redeemed people. It reminds us that C hrist is a king and that he is victorious even when he seems defeated. However abased Christ may appear to men he is still a king. He accomplishes a regal task at Calvary and gains for us a royal pardon. He ascends a throne as he goes to be crucified, a throne of grace. In this apparent weakness he is the mighty conqueror of Satan and sin and death, the overcomer of this world. The cross appears as foolishness to the world, but to God’s redeemed people that cross is victory, salvation, the power of God.

The Cross He Bore: Meditations on the Sufferings of the Redeemer by Frederick S. Leahy. This is a small book with short chapters and lots of stuff to meditate on. A good book for every Christian.

As D. A. Carson has said it: “The God on whom we rely knows what suffering is all about, not merely in the way that God knows everything, but by experience. In the darkest night of the soul Christians have something to hold onto that Job never knew. We know Christ crucified. Christians have learned that when there seems to be no other evidence of God’s love, they cannot escape the cross. “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”(Rom. 8:32) … When we suffer, there will sometimes be mystery. Will there also be faith? Yes, if our attention is focused more on the cross, and on the God of the cross, than on the suffering itself.”

Strengthened to Suffer

Meditation on Luke 22:43 “And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him.”

Although the entreaties of Christ in the garden met with oppressive silence, it does not follow that the Father was indifferent to the Son’s anguish or that his prayer was unheeded. Christ’s sufferings were an essential part of his satisfaction of divine justice, and the Father was actively involved even when he deprived the Son of the sense of his presence. Finlayson puts it movingly when he says that ‘the finger of the Father was upon the pulse of the lonely Sufferer in Gethsemane, and when the heart-beats of the One in conflict seemed to weaken, Heaven concerned itself about Him, and an angel was commissioned to hasten to His physical aid’. There was an outstretched hand, his Father’s hand – even in the darkness – and Christ knew it….

For one fleeting moment immense joy must have leaped within Christ’s soul as the Father’s hand touched him. This was a message from home. Heaven was behind him. He was forsaken, but not disowned. His Father was there, somewhere in the darkness. His loud cries and tears had not been unnoticed.

Whatever comfort the angel brought the Saviour was transient. The angel’s mission was not to bring relieif to Christ, but to strengthen him for further and even greater anguish – anguish quite beyond human endurance. It was then that our Lord ‘being in an agony . . . prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground’ (Luke 22:44). The angel’s presence served to aggravate his suffering. It was in order that the suffering might not only be maintained, but also that it might be intensified that the angel was sent. The battle must go on. It was too soon to say ‘Finished’. The Lamb of God must have the strength of a lion in this struggle.

The Cross He Bore: Meditations on the Sufferings of the Redeemer by Frederick S. Leahy, p. 18-20 (2007)

How Deep by Stephen Altrogge seems to be an appropriate song to reflect on in light of this meditation.

VERSE 1
You were broken that I might be healed
You were cast off that I might draw near
You were thirsty that I might come drink
Cried out in anguish that I might sing

CHORUS
How deep is Your love
How high and how wide is Your mercy
How deep is Your grace
Our hearts overflow with praise
To You

VERSE 2
You knew darkness that I might know light
Wept great tears that mine might be dried
Stripped of glory that I might be clothed
Crushed by Your Father to call me Your own