What Makes A Christian?

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https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/new-god-new-gospel-new-gladness/excerpts/what-makes-a-christian

Here are the words (transcript) of John Piper’s opening to his sermon at the Together For the Gospel (T4G link above) conference, and it is true: the real acid test of what is a real Christian, is the affections of the heart for Jesus Christ. If you don’t prove with your life that you love Jesus, then you are not a Christian, no matter how much you go to church, give, have been baptized, or even read or own bibles. Real Christians love and follow Jesus because they cannot resist the overwhelming desire to love and follow Jesus. That IS! the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Here’s Piper’s words:

“The most basic, most essential distinction between a Christian and a non-Christian is not new decisions of the will, not new deeds of the hands, not new doctrines in the mind, but a new delight in the heart. That’s my thesis. I’ll say it again. The most basic distinction between the body of Christ and the world is not godly decisions, not good deeds, not genuine doctrines, but glad delights in the glory of God, the beauty of God, the excellence of God, the holy majesty of God, the marvelous mercies of God — the person of God as revealed in Jesus Christ supremely.

The world is perfectly able to use its willpower to make decisions for Jesus. Judas certainly did for three years, all the while being a lover of money and a thief, while willing to follow Jesus all day every day. Secular philanthropists do good deeds. “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3).

The devil himself knows more right doctrine to be true than anyone in this room. But neither the devil nor secular philanthropists nor the whole unbelieving world does or can delight in the glory of God supremely.”

Autopsy of a Nearly Deceased Pastor and 20 years of pastoring one church

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By God’s good grace and because of his love for the local church and his gospel, God has chosen to give our church a 20 year celebration of a pastor/church relationship. This past Sunday Grace Community Church of Yorkville, IL gave me some books – the ones stacked on the bottom. Now, to be honest, when they were given to me gift-wrapped, upon opening them I felt bummed because I had read nearly all of them and still owned several copies to boot. But, when asked to open the book to its entry page: “Wow!!” Each book has been signed by its author with a word of congratulations to me for surviving 20 years at the same church – and these guys are just a few of my heroes of the faith (of course, the one on the bottom is not signed by its author:).

But as you can see the title to this post is a play off of the top left book: “Autopsy of a Deceased Church.” Last week, I had the privilege to spend nearly an hour on the phone with the author, Thom Rainer. I conveyed to him that he could have written his book by watching our church for the past 20 years. I expressed my appreciation for his timely book (2014) that helped our church avoid what he has observed too many times: churches are dying at an alarming rate in America and almost always due to the same diseases. One of the unfortunate consequences is a short tenure for the pastor – and that often harms, not helps the church (short pastoral tenures is a red flag for a church – it may be on its way to its own funeral). As Thom asked more questions about our history, I expressed to him that when I read his book that I thought he should write a book called, “Autopsy of a Nearly Deceased Pastor”; a couple of times I nearly gave up pastoring because of “cartel members” in the church. Yes, that’s Mark Devine’s and Darren Patrick’s description, not mine (top book on the right, “Replant: how a dying church can grow again”. But if the shoe fits, wear it!

I thank the Lord for a loving church . . .

  • that loves the gospel of God told-out in the person and work of Jesus Christ;
  • who sees a covenant made with his people in the scriptures, carried along by a single story-line that is all about Jesus Christ “saving his people from their sins”;
  • who expects expository preaching through books of the bible on Sunday morning;
  • who enjoys a blend of some of the best old and new songs with a variety of music genres, avoiding the segregation of its members by putting the old folk with the organ in one service, and the young folk with the Fender amps in another;
  • whose liturgy includes confession of sin with rejoicing in the forgiveness from Christ on Sunday morning;
  • that seeks to not idolize the past with its man-made traditions;
  • that seeks to engage and work with the community instead of enticing them to come to church or get saved before we mingle with them;
  • that seeks to put its money on the street, not in its pocket;
  • that does not allow personal preferences to become holy cows;
  • that seeks to fellowship with each other, pray with each other, encourage each other – all in a variety of venues not always held on church property;
  • seeks to share the gospel with the lost the way Jesus and the early church did – in the everyday encounters that we already have with dozens of people each day;
  • finally, though not exhaustively, that has chosen to love me and my family through thick and thin – much like a marriage, “to death do us part”. Thank you for your words, cards and gifts. I’m so blessed.

Our church continues to struggle in many ways. But the struggle is also part of what it means to follow a crucified, publicly disgraced, counter-culture risen Savior. And Jesus is worth every bit of it.

 

“Hillary, Bernie, Donald, and Me”

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Another great post by John Piper – very needful at this hour. Enjoy!

“At 70, I am energized to dream great things, because this year Hillary turns 69, Bernie turns 75, and Donald turns 70. My rising energy has nothing to do with their policies or character. It has to do with the incredible fact that all of them want to spend their seventies doing the hardest job in the world.

This is wonderfully counter-cultural. I doubt that it’s motivated by a passion to magnify the greatness of Jesus. But that makes it all the more inspiring for me, because nothing gets me more excited than spending my seventies spreading a passion for the glory of Christ and his word. Paul is still my hero when he says, “My eager expectation and hope is that Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death” (Philippians 1:20).

So if Hillary and Bernie and Donald want to bear the weight of the world for the next four to eight years out of man-centered, philanthropic motives, I find my seventy-something zeal for Jesus heating up. They only get to be president of a tiny territory called the U.S.A. I get to be an ambassador of the Sovereign of the universe. They only get to change the way some people live for a few decades. I get to change the way some people live forever — with a lot of good spill-over for this world in the process.

But this is not an article mainly about me. It’s about the 70 million Baby Boomers coming behind me. I’m the oldest (born in 1946; the youngest born in 1964). Ten thousand Americans turn 70 every day. And they will continue to do so for about nineteen years. Billions of dollars are spent every year trying to get us to waste the last chapter of our lives on leisure. I’m spending one afternoon to plead with the rising seventy-somethings:Don’t waste it.

A History of Impact over Seventy

Hillary, Bernie, and Donald are not unique. Let them — and all the others — inspire you.

Five of the eight current Supreme Court justices are over 65, and three are over 75. Ronald Reagan served as president from age 70 to 78. He was shot at age 70 and recovered. Then at 76, he stood against the U.S.S.R. in West Berlin and said to Mikhail Gorbachev, “Tear down this wall!”

Winston Churchill became the prime minister of the United Kingdom in 1940 at the age of 66. He wielded his mighty eloquence against the Nazis till he was 70. Six years later, he was reelected and served till he was 81. At 82, he wrote A History of the English-Speaking Peoples.

Theologian Charles Hodge (1797–1878) lived to be 80. His biographer, Paul Gutjahr, wrote, “His last years were among his most productive . . . wielding his favorite pen to compose literally thousands of manuscript pages, which would eventually become his monumental Systematic Theology and his incisive What Is Darwinism?.”

At 70, Benjamin Franklin helped draft the Declaration of Independence. John Glenn became the oldest person to go into space at age 77. At the same age, Grandma Moses started painting. Started! At 82, Goethe finished writing his famous Faust. At 89, Albert Schweitzer ran a hospital in Africa. At 93, Strom Thurmond won reelection after promising not to run again at age 99. He lived to be 100. At 93, P.G. Wodehouse worked on his 97th novel, got knighted, and then died.

“Make no mistake. The Bible believes in retirement. It’s called heaven.”

I heard J. Oswald Sanders lecture when he was 89. He said, “I have written a book a year since I was 70.” So I have just arrived at the beginning of this writing life. The beginning! What a thrilling example!

Ralph Winter, the great missions visionary and activist was thinking and writing and strategizing for world evangelization until he died at 84. He was passionate about non-retirement. He wrote,

Most men don’t die of old age, they die of retirement. I read somewhere that half the men retiring in the state of New York die within two years. Save your life and you’ll lose it. Just like other drugs, other psychological addictions, retirement is a virulent disease, not a blessing. . . . Where in the Bible do they see that? Did Moses retire? Did Paul retire? Peter? John? Do military officers retire in the middle of a war?

Whether in Weakness or Strength

I am not unaware — my body makes me aware — that not everyone has the wonderful privilege of health and resources in old age. Over four million people over 65 live in poverty. Millions more suffer from the dreaded woes of aging — heart disease, arthritis, cancer, lung disease, Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis. Not to mention the typical loss of hearing and eyesight and energy.

I do not want to add a burden to those who would love to dream with me, but can’t act on their dreams. You have your calling to live where you are, with all your weaknesses, for the glory of Christ. And, yes, he does get glory in our weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:9–10). God has great promises for those of you who trust your precious and ever-present Savior, Jesus Christ: “Even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save” (Isaiah 46:4).

Rather, I am writing to the 25 million Americans over 65 who are healthy and have resources — and to the seven thousand Boomers who turn 70 every day with health and wealth. I am inviting you to look around you. Look at Hillary and Bernie and Donald, and thousands of others, who are dreaming their dreams. Whatever their motives are, what are yours?

Without Excuse

“Jesus gave himself for us to purify for himself a people who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). No age limit. Zealous. Passionate. To the end. For good works. Works that he has gifted you to do. He has given you a lifetime of experience and wisdom and resources. You have a decade of freedom in front of you. This is a trust. All your previous life was designed for this season of fruitfulness. What is your dream?

“Most men don’t die of old age, they die of retirement.”

“The righteous . . . still bear fruit in old age . . . to declare that the Lord is upright” (Psalm 92:12–15). Why would God tell us that? Because he wants us to dream that. He wants us to pray for that.

Not everyone gets the privilege. Some die young. Some must bear the burden of immobilizing pain. But millions of you are free. If you do not dream a joyful dream of productive service for Christ in your seventies, what will you say to the Savior? Your only excuse will be that you listened to the voice of this age rather than to God’s. It will not be a good excuse.

Redefine Retirement

The apostle Paul was on his way to evangelize Spain when he died in his sixties (Romans 15:23–28). He called himself an “old man” (Philemon 1:9). But as an “old man,” he planned, while he had breath, to do all he could for Christ and his kingdom. Spending the last season of his life playing games in a perishing world was not in his plan. It should not be in yours.

Join the happy psalmist: “My mouth is filled with your praise, and with your glory all the day. Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent” (Psalm 71:8–9). We have good reason to believe God will answer that prayer for Christ’s sake.

Break free from the spirit of this age. See the world — see your life — the way God sees it. In his reckoning, sweet soul-rest begins when you are born again (Hebrews 4:3, 10), and rest from our labor — true retirement — begins when you die.

Make no mistake. The Bible believes in retirement. It’s called heaven. Then the new earth. It lasts forever. Compared to it, this life is a vapor’s breath. All our trials here are “a light and momentary affliction” that are preparing for us an “eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Keep your eyes on this prize. Such a rest the world has never dreamed of.

“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord . . . that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” (Revelation 14:13). Be up and doing. Joyfully. For Christ. Full of hope.

“France: A Fabric Torn” by John Piper

 France: A Fabric Torn

In France the fabric of family and nation is torn, and ten thousand human fibers are frayed with anger, and wet with grief. Millions more are woven in among the stricken strands, and taste the bitter salt of tears. And from the unsafe distance of four thousand miles, we feel the human fibers pulling on our hearts.

The cry of “Allahu Akbar” (Arabic for “Allah is great”) punctuates the screaming gap between the gunfire and the detonation. Farewell, dismembered terrorist. This is my wish — farewell — but not what I believe. Your Allah is not great. Nor is he God. For God himself has said, No one who spurns the Son knows God (1 John 2:23). Not only that, but this: No one who loves to murder will have a martyr’s hope (1 John 3:15). O, how deceived you are, to think that you can pave your way to paradise with blood from “infidels.”

     O LORD, God of vengeance, 
        O God of vengeance, shine forth! 
     Rise up, O judge of the earth;
        repay to the proud what they deserve! 
     O LORD, how long shall the wicked, 
        how long shall the wicked exult? (Psalm 94:1–3)

Marc Coupris, a survivor of Le Bataclan (the theatre), said, “It was carnage. . . . They shot from the balcony. I saw my final hour unfurl before me, I thought this was the end. I thought I am finished, I am finished.” But you were not finished, Marc. We are thankful. Would that all could say the same. For many, life was over. They were finished.

O, let us wake up from the stupor of thinking we know when we will be finished. We do not know. God has told us how to speak of our tomorrows. “You ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:15). If you are reading this, you’ve been given another day. Perhaps only one. Think on this.

To all of France, the hands of Jesus are extended. The risen Savior stretches out his bloody hands and says, “Come to me, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). “Let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (Revelation 22:17).

Vengeance will come. It need not come from private individuals. “Leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (Romans 12:19). There is a time for everything under heaven. Now is a time for France — and all of us — to hear the words of Jesus, “Do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem [or Paris]? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:4–5).

And if we do? Sins forgiven. God reconciled. Hell shut. Heaven opened. Spirit given. Love abounding. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).

John Piper and Russell Moore on Recent Supreme Court Ruling

Also yesterday, John Piper posted this very pastoral and biblical response.

Jesus died so that heterosexual and homosexual sinners might be saved. Jesus created sexuality, and has a clear will for how it is to be experienced in holiness and joy.

His will is that a man might leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and that the two become one flesh (Mark 10:6–9). In this union, sexuality finds its God-appointed meaning, whether in personal-physical unification, symbolic representation, sensual jubilation, or fruitful procreation.

For those who have forsaken God’s path of sexual fulfillment, and walked into homosexual intercourse or heterosexual extramarital fornication or adultery, Jesus offers astonishing mercy.

Such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:11)

But today this salvation from sinful sexual acts was not embraced. Instead there was massive institutionalization of sin.

In a 5-to-4 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States of America has ruled that states cannot ban same-sex marriage.

The Bible is not silent about such decisions. Alongside its clearest explanation of the sin of homosexual intercourse (Romans 1:24–27) stands the indictment of the approval and institutionalization of it. Though people know intuitively that homosexual acts (along with gossip, slander, insolence, haughtiness, boasting, faithlessness, heartlessness, ruthlessness) are sin, “they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:29–32). “I tell you even with tears, that many glory in their shame” (Philippians 3:18–19).

This is what the highest court in our land did today — knowing these deeds are wrong, “yet approving those who practice them.”

My sense is that we do not realize what a calamity is happening around us. The new thing — new for America, and new for history — is not homosexuality. That brokenness has been here since we were all broken in the fall of man. (And there is a great distinction between the orientation and the act — just like there is a great difference between my orientation to pride and the act of boasting.)

What’s new is not even the celebration and approval of homosexual sin. Homosexual behavior has been exploited, and reveled in, and celebrated in art, for millennia. What’s new is normalization and institutionalization. This is the new calamity.

My main reason for writing is not to mount a political counter-assault. I don’t think that is the calling of the church as such. My reason for writing is to help the church feel the sorrow of these days. And the magnitude of the assault on God and his image in man.

Christians, more clearly than others, can see the tidal wave of pain that is on the way. Sin carries in it its own misery: “Men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error” (Romans 1:27).

And on top of sin’s self-destructive power comes, eventually, the final wrath of God: “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming” (Colossians 3:5–6).

Christians know what is coming, not only because we see it in the Bible, but because we have tasted the sorrowful fruit of our own sins. We do not escape the truth that we reap what we sow. Our marriages, our children, our churches, our institutions — they are all troubled because of our sins.

The difference is: We weep over our sins. We don’t celebrate them. We don’t institutionalize them. We turn to Jesus for forgiveness and help. We cry to Jesus, “who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10).

And in our best moments, we weep for the world, and for our own nation. In the days of Ezekiel, God put a mark of hope “on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in Jerusalem” (Ezekiel 9:4).

This is what I am writing for. Not political action, but love for the name of God and compassion for the city of destruction.

“My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law.” (Psalm 119:136)

Heroes of the Faith – Bryan Chapell and John Piper

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I had the overdue pleasure of catching up with Bryan Chapell at the Desiring God Conference in Minneapolis, MN. Bryan was the President and homiletics prof. of Covenant Theological Seminary for many years – I have not seen Bryan since I graduated in 1996. John Piper invited him to speak to the pastors this year – what a blessing. To take a trip down memory lane, I took my nearly 20 yr old seminary t-shirt for a photo-op with Bryan.

Bryan is a hero of the faith for me because of his love for Christ and his gospel. Bryan’s book, Christ Centered Preaching, is a standard textbook in seminaries across America – this book demonstrates his love for pastors, teaching us how to preach Christ. This is partly what drew me to CTS. I am so thankful for this man.

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A pic with two of the six men who attended the conference with me. And of course, one of my greatest heroes of the faith – John Piper. As always, this year’s conference did not disappoint. Worshipful and majestic singing; passionate, expository Christ Centered Preaching from Romans 1, 5, and 6; refreshing fellowship; renewed love for Christ and his Church; and with the theme of the conference, a deeper understanding of our sin so that we may know how abundant God’s grace is to us through our Lord Jesus Christ.

One take away from the conference.

Lust is not so much an addiction – it’s the result of a trading down for a smaller treasure. If you were sitting at your computer at the height of your temptation, and you were about to click open that porn site, would you still click it open if someone genuinely offered you One Million Dollars not to? Tax free, unmarked, not stolen – $1,000,000 to turn away from porn at that moment? Would you take your hand of the mouse and take the money? Or,

If ISIS stormed your home, and holding a sword to the throat of your loved one, threatening to sever her head, saying, “If you look at that porn site I will remove her head” – would you feel your Lust as an Un-conquerable Addiction, or would you take your hand away to spare the life of your friend?

The reason why so many of our sins run wild is not so much because they are addictions, but rather a flawed belief system based upon what is most valuable. You would take the money and turn away because you value money more than porn at that moment. You would save the life of your friend because you valued her more than lust, at that moment. What was once an “addiction” is now understood as a treasuring of something more valuable to you than lust. Is this biblical?

1 Thessalonians 4:3-4 says this:

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that you abstain from sexual immorality (that is, all forms of sexual activity outside of a married man and woman relationship); that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.”

Do you see it? You control lust by knowing God. If you knew how pleasurable and satisfying and valuable it is to know the Lord, you would turn away from a lesser pleasure, like lust. It’s a matter of what you know and what you believe. Do you believe that if you turned away from clicking on the porn, that the life of your friend would be worth it? Yes or No? Likewise – Do you believe that if you turned away from clicking on the porn, that the knowing of who God is for you in that moment would be worth it? Yes or No? Which means, the more you grow in your knowledge of who God is for you in Jesus Christ, the power of your addictions become impotent compared with the exquisite pleasure of knowing Christ. The way to kill sin is to know a superior pleasure – The Crucified and Risen Lord!

Wisdom for another Year: “2014 Desiring God Pastor’s Conference,” #9 of 10.

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This is a pic of our gang from Grace Community Church in the background on the steps, with John Piper in the foreground getting his picture taken with another attendee. We thought it best to just get a pic with pastor John like this.

Have you noticed that wisdom comes in short snippets of truth? (read Proverbs)

This year’s theme was focused on our Union with Christ, as John Piper, Sinclair Ferguson, Paul Tripp, Jared Wilson, and Michael Horton each taught and reminded us of what we have in Christ. As a forgiven sinner, I am “in Christ” as Paul says so many times in his letters, and Christ is “in me” (John 15). This is what it means to be a Christian: my identity is in Christ and not in my past sins, my failures, or even my achievements. My life is “hidden in Christ.”  I am in Christ and Christ is in me. We are inseparable for eternity. Christ will not, indeed, he cannot exist without me, being united to me in his baptism, death, burial, and resurrection, as he cannot exist without being who he is as the Bridegroom of his elect Church. Christ’s Church was wedded to him before the creation of the world. The Church, the elect of the Father for his Son, was a transaction that permanently united me to Christ: Faith did not save me – Christ saved me, by faith. All that I have is in Christ! What a peaceful, joyful – even loving place to dwell, safe in the arms of Christ.

John Piper is fond of saying, “sometimes a sentence, or a word in a sentence opens your eyes to see new things in Christ.” As these men opened God’s Word to us, here are some tidbits of wisdom from their bible teaching – Enjoy!

“The Fall [into sin] shows us how weak we are. It doesn’t take much to destroy us. Clearly, man is not very strong” – Jared Wilson

“Pastoring a church can be summarized with two goals: you are to persuade those who are under the dominion of sin that they are. And you are to persuade those who are no longer under the dominion of sin that they are not” – a paraphrase of John Owen by Sinclair Ferguson.

“Jesus was baptized [identified] into my sin in the Jordan, so that I may receive his baptism [identification] of righteousness by faith” – Sinclair Ferguson

“False religion is like a man who runs up an escalator that is coming down to him. God must come down to you – you cannot run up to God” – Michael Horton

“What do you think about when you have nothing to think about? For Paul, his mind drifted to “in Christ” as the most pleasurable place to rest” – Sinclair Ferguson

“The Church needs not new programs but new people who know what it means to be “in Christ'” – Sinclair Ferguson

“Satan is The Identity Theft. He steals who we are in Christ” – Sinclair Ferguson

“If Christ indwells them [your brothers and sisters in Christ], then do not be slow to embrace them” – Sinclair Ferguson

“There is no Union with Christ apart from the communion with the saints. The hand cannot be connected to the head apart from the arm” – Sinclair Ferguson

“Pray that you will always desire to know more of the fullness of Christ (Eph 3). We all live at levels of dissatisfaction with what we know about Christ – you know, and yet, you don’t know what more there is to know” – John Piper

“Like Hudson Taylor, sometimes you need to stop praying and start receiving that which you are praying for – Jesus is standing right in front of you with what you ask – RECEIVE IT – IT’s YOURS!!” – John Piper

“Don’t judge a person by their present place of sanctification, but by the distance they have traveled to get where they are” – Sinclair Ferguson quotes John Owen