In my Theology of Worship class today, we had a discussion about how common it is for Christians to say, “Wow, God really used me today…”  We discussed the danger in making this our meditation.  We should rejoice in the work of God, who is bringing people into a greater delight in Him through the gospel.  However, is this really why we say things like this?  Are we praising God because He did a wonderful thing and we are able to enjoy it?  Or are we glorying in our own role in what God has done?

Here is the litmus test: Would we be just as delighted if we were able to witness God accomplishing that same work through someone else?

It is still true that we should have joy in God using us.  In light of our personal acquaintance with the gravity of our own sin, we should be amazed and rejoice that God can use even us. All things considered, if we are rejoicing in the work of God, then it should be inconsequential who He chooses to use.  If we are rejoicing in ourselves, then we will have joy when we are used by God, and we will be prone to jealousy when God chooses to use others.

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Today is the 30 year anniversary of the day that John Piper sensed an irresistible call to pastoral ministry.  Justin Taylor puts together an incredible testimony of Piper’s journey to the pastorate.

This testimony served not only to give insight into the calling of John Piper, but also to answer the question:  what is a pastor?  Here are two excerpts from Justin Taylor’s blog post that inform us about true pastoral ministry.

1.  Bill Piper, John Piper’s dad and a long time itinerant evangelist, wrote a letter to his son concerning the call he was sensing.  In this excerpt, he paints a compelling picture of true pastoral ministry:

Now I want you to remember a few things about the pastorate. Being a pastor today involves more than merely teaching and preaching. You’ll be the comforter of the fatherless and the widow. You’ll counsel constantly with those whose homes and hearts are broken. You’ll have to handle divorce problems and a thousand marital situations. You’ll have to exhort and advise young people involved in sordid and illicit sex, with drugs and violence. You’ll have to visit the hospitals, the shut-ins, the elderly. A mountain of problems will be laid on your shoulders and at your doorstep.

And then there’s the heartache of ministering to a weak and carnal and worldly, apathetic group of professing Christians, very few of whom will be found trustworthy and dependable.

Then there a hundred administrative responsibilities as pastor. You’re the generator and sometimes the janitor. The church will look to you for guidance in building programs, church growth, youth activities, outreach, extra services, etc. You’ll be called upon to arbitrate all kinds of problems. At times you will feel the weight of the world on your shoulders. Many pastors have broken under the strain.

If the Lord has called you, these things will not deter nor dismay you. But I wanted you to know the whole picture. As in all of our Lord’s work there will be a thousand compensations. You’ll see that people trust Christ as Savior and Lord. You’ll see these grow in the knowledge of Christ and his Word. You’ll witness saints enabled by your preaching to face all manner of tests. You’ll see God at work in human lives, and there is no joy comparable to this. Just ask yourself, son, if you are prepared not only to preach and teach, but also to weep over men’s souls, to care for the sick and dying, and to bear the burdens carried today by the saints of God.

No matter what, I’ll back you all the way with my encouragement and prayers.

2.  In the closing of the first sermon he preached at Bethlehem, as a candidate, John Piper expresses his intentions as future pastor:

When I become a pastor, I am going to have one all-encompassing goal, a very simple goal, that in nothing I might be ashamed but that in everything I might magnify Christ whether by life or by death. To that end, I aim at three things.

  1. I will aim to love Christ with all my heart, and with all my soul, and with all my strength. Because when I die in the midst of my ministry and say farewell to a beloved flock and a cherished family, I want to be able to believe that it is gain. And in my dying I want to be able to bear witness to a church that Christ is great indeed and worthy of all our trust.
  2. While I live and minister, my goal is going to be to make the people glad in God. Woe to the pastor who uses his position to hammer year after year in chiseling out a hard sour people! He has forgotten his calling. “I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your advancement and your joy of faith.”
  3. Since joy comes from faith, and faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of God, it will have to be my main goal–my tremendously fulfilling and joyful goal–to feed that flock the Word of God every week, week in and week out. I will pray that Jesus’ words will become fulfilled in my words. The banner of every sermon I preach will be this: “My words I have spoken to you in order that my joy might be in you and that your joy might be full” (John 15:11).

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As long as I have been a Christian I have had trouble with the way many in the Church have framed the assurance of salvation.

Popular Christianity seems to have given the most attention to two particular views on this subject.  On the one hand, there are those who stress the doctrine of assurance in terms of eternal security.  These people will say, “If you believe, no matter what tempest of doubt or sin may overcome you tomorrow, you are still saved, now and forever.  Even if you walk away from God, He will never walk away from you, because He will never leave you nor forsake you.”  On the other hand, there are those Christians who place very little value, if any value at all, on assurance.  This camp will often describe salvation in terms of the present.  These people will say, “Indeed, today, if you believe, you are genuinely saved.  Yet tomorrow, if you rise from your bed without faith, you are lost, and are in danger of hell and in need of salvation once again.” As with many controversies, the pattern has been to preach fervently the Scriptures that support one view, and ignore the other Scriptures.

Yet, as we seek God in his Word, we see degrees of truth in both the above explanations, and also particulars in both explanations that are deeply troublesome.  In our final analysis, we find both of these explanations entirely unsatisfactory.

Yes, it is true that Jesus keeps those who have faith in Him (John 10:27-29, John 6:37-39).  Yes, it is true that once I am joined to the love of God, no created entity or thing can ever separate me (Romans 8:35-39).  Yes, it is true that God who has started the work in me will finish it (Philippians 1:6).  Yes, it is true that from the moment we believe we are given eternal life (John 5:24, Romans 10:9).  Yes, it is true that we are sealed until the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30, Ephesians 1:13-14).  But, we see that it is also true that there are those who think they have saving faith in Jesus, but are not saved (Matthew 7:21-23).  And it is also true that there are those in the visible church, who will fall away and not inherit eternal life (1 John 2:19).  And it is also true that Paul himself was given to regular self-examination as to his own salvation, lest he be disqualification from eternal life (1 Corinthians 9:27).  And it is also true that our salvation is contingent on continued belief (1 Corinthians 15:2).  And it is also true that, though we have once believed, we are to examine ourselves to see that our faith is genuine (2 Corinthians 13:5).

So we find another way… a third option that has received less attention in many Christian circles.  Perseverance of the saints.

The gift of salvation, by grace through faith, received at a point in time, is evidenced by a faith that perseveres to one’s dying breath. Though the true Christian will have severe times of struggle, his faith is rugged.  And though his faith, once a flaming fire, may during certain times of testing be reduced to a small flicker, it is a faith that is never extinguished.  We must continually recenter ourselves, holding on to the glorious assurance of God’s work of salvation accomplished in us the moment we believed, and encouraging ongoing personal examination of the evidences of true saving faith. Everyone who possesses true faith in Christ for the salvation of their sins is completely and entirely saved, forever.  More than this, we can be assured of whether we do or do not have this true faith… we can indeed know whether we are saved.

God gives us assurance by his Spirit, in his Word.

The Bible gives many great witnesses of what a true faith looks like, what a true faith feels like, and what a true faith does.  We can read the Bible and know whether we have been saved! Let us examine ourselves by immersing ourselves in the Word of God!  In the light of God’s Word let us make certain that He has indeed begun to do a gospel work in us, so that we can also be certain that He will complete it.  The Scriptures center us in this way.

So the answer to the assurance controversy?  The Bible.  The answer to our own assurance?  The Bible.

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I originally wrote a version of this post over a year ago (for another website), when three close friends and I were actively seeking God about how we were supposed to respond to God’s call to the ministry.  This is something that I need to continually remind myself of, especially in this season of intentional preparation for ministry in the local church.

What ultimately qualifies someone for the pastorate?  Is it an MDiv?  Sound position papers on hot theological topics?  The ability to preach?  The respect of the congregation?  A strong desire?  Age and experience?  While all of these things are good, they are not ultimately what qualifies someone for the pastorate.  At the root, the question should be who, not what, qualifies a man for the pastorate.

It is God who qualifies a pastor.  When a man aspires to, qualifies, and takes up a pastoral office, it is not because of how holy or skilled he is.  Rather, like all of existence, it is about how big and glorious God is.  God chooses to use one of his sheep to shepherd the flock, ministering His Word through a sinful clump of dust.  God takes a God-hating individual, who is justly under His wrath and headed towards hell, and God makes this man a pastor. God puts a desire for eldership in this man’s heart and gives him sound thinking about God, His Word, the Church, and the world.  God sparks in this man an unquenchable passion for God and His people.  God puts a burning in this man’s heart to preach the Word, so that he can do no else.  God makes this man a true shepherd to his own wife and children, making their home a sanctuary of worship.  God opens up opportunities for this man to gain experience and training in the local church, and God places recognizable authority in him and keeps him humble.  God calls this man to the pulpit of a church to shepherd a particular body of believers.  God sustains this man in every trial of the ministry, laboring through him as a testimony of Christ’s servant leadership.  Pastoring is the work of God through fallen flesh, just like any God glorifying work.  God alone qualifies a man for the pastorate, and nothing else.  It is important for us to remember this and be humbled by it as we aspire to such an awesome and impossible task.

10 days left to enter the drawing for a free copy of Calvin’s Institutes!

On October 21st, it will be one full year of blogging at 2mites, and God willing it is just the first of many.  I have been thankful for the journey thus far, for it has been a tremendous gift to me.  At its best, this blog has been an expression of my astonishment of the glory of God’s grace… another medium for me to encounter God, and it is my prayer that others have encountered him here along with me.

In celebration of the mercies of God towards me in this way, I want to give you a gift!

There will be 2 opportunities for a total of 3 people to receive a copy of Hendrickson Publishers printed edition of The Institutes of the Christian Religion, by John Calvin, in one volume.

Drawing 1 (For Everyone): simply leave a comment on this blog-post , and you will be entered into a drawing to receive a free copy of The Institutes.

Drawing 2 (An Additional Opportunity For Bloggers): add my blog to your best blog list, let me know that you added me by mentioning it here in comment form, and you will be entered into a drawing to be one of two people to receive The Institutes.  Note: This will enter you into BOTH drawings, giving you 2 chances to win.  To automatically enter yourself a second time in the bloggers drawing (doubling your chances of winning the bloggers drawing), write a blog-post letting people know about this giveaway!

All entries must be received by 11:59pm (CT) on October 20th.  Both drawings will take place on October 21st, and the winners will be announced on 2mites by 6pm that day.

How are we, as Christians, supposed to respond to Obama winning the Noble Peace prize?

Are we supposed to respond with comments like, “It looks like you don’t have to do anything to get the Peace Prize anymore,” or, “They’ll give those awards to just about anybody these days.”  (Note: these quotations do not reflect specific comments from particular individuals, rather I have heard a lot of comments like these today).  Our president is honored with, perhaps the most internationally esteemed award, and rather than give him a congratulations we say, “It’s a paper weight, and it don’t mean nothing!”  I am not trying to say that we are to esteem the things that the world esteems… no.  We boast only in the cross, and in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  However, we must be careful not to shame or mock our president.  When we make comments that belittle or dishonor our president, we are in reality dishonoring God.  Let us remember to, “Fear God, and honor the king,” as Peter exhorted us to (1 Peter 2:17). Let us look for ways to honor God by honoring our President.

This doesn’t mean you must believe President Obama deserves the Noble Peace Prize.  Rather, you must not, as a Christian, state your opinion in a way that mocks our president.  Let us be motivated biblically, not politically.  We have at this time, an awesome opportunity to honor our president.

Here is a related post I wrote on November 5th, 2008.

Before the flood God recognized the continual wickedness of man, and determined to bring judgment.

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually… so the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land,” (Genesis 6:5-7).

After the flood, God recognized the continual wickedness of man and determined to be merciful.

The Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth,” (Genesis 8:21).

Perplexing.  Pre-flood, wickedness and judgment;  post-flood, wickedness and mercy. The difference?  A sacrificial offering. It was just before the Lord promised to “never again curse the ground” that Noah presented the first recorded sacrifice to God.

Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar.  And when the Lord smelled the pleaseing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” (Genesis 8:20-21)

This sacrifice was not sufficient to atone for the wickedness of man, but it gave the aroma of the future atonement which is sufficient.  This insufficient sacrifice was only made sufficient inasmuch as it was anticipatory of the ultimate sacrifice for sins, once for all.

For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.  Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure…” For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:4-6, 14)

Welcome Christ as the offering for sins on your behalf, and live your life in celebration of what He has done.

Thank you God!  I have so fallen from your original design that my works are a stench in your nostrils, worthy of your just wrath.  But you have loved me!  You have sent your Son to be a pleasing aroma to you, on my behalf.  It is his sacrifice that atones for all of my sin!  Thank you God!  Bless your Holy name!