Saturday, June 30, 2007

“That I might faithfully follow his shining example”

I’m still thinking about fathers—increasingly rare in the Black community, yet so needed and so utterly necessary. Researchers tell us that fathers are disappearing in other communities, too. That’s sad and tragic. Children need fathers. Daughters need fathers. Sons need fathers. Especially needed are fathers who know God, who know the word of God, and who know how to pray—men who are spiritual leaders in their homes and godly examples their children can follow.
The article below, which I have reproduced in its entirety, was written by Mark Dever and posted a couple weeks ago over at Together for the Gospel, but I just happened upon it today, and I must admit, it moved me to tears. In it, Mark Dever quotes at length a passage from the autobiography of the 19th century missionary John Paton, in which Paton writes about his father.
Fathers, I pray that you would strive to be this kind of “shining example” to the children God has given you.


One for Fathers

by Mark Dever

John Paton was a Scottish missionary to the Islands of the South Pacific. He died 100 years ago this year. He was born in 1824. He went out to the Islands at the age of 34 in 1858. And there he labored for the rest of his long life. After 31 years, he wrote his autobiography. In it, he remembered the time—almost 50 years earlier—when his dear father had walked him out of his village, and toward Glasgow, where his future lay. And with 50 years having gone, Paton was still obviously affected by this man who so trusted in God, feared Him, and delighted in pleasing Him.

I started out from my quiet country home on the road to Glasgow. Literally “on the road,” for from Torthorwald to Kilmarnock—about forty miles—had to be done on foot, and thence to Glasgow by rail. Railways in those days were as yet few, and coach traveling was far beyond my purse. A small bundle, tied up in my pocket-handkerchief, contained my Bible and all my personal belongings. Thus was I launched upon the ocean of life. I thought on One who says, “I know thy poverty, but thou art rich.”

My dear father walked with me the first six miles of the way. His counsels and tears and heavenly conversation on that parting journey are fresh in my heart as if it had been but yesterday; and tears are on my cheeks as freely now as then, whenever memory steals me away to the scene. For the last half-mile or so we walked on together in almost unbroken silence,--my father, as was often his custom, carrying his hat in hand, while his long, flowing yellow hair (then yellow, but in later years white as snow) streamed like a girl’s down his shoulders. His lips kept moving in silent prayers for me; and his tears fell fast when our eyes met each other in looks for which all speech was vain! We halted on reaching the appointed parting place; he grasped my hand firmly for a minute in silence, and then solemnly and affectionately said:

“God bless you, my son! Your father’s God prosper you, and keep you from all evil!”

Unable to say more, his lips kept moving in silent prayer; in tears we embraced, and parted. I ran off as fast as I could; and, when about to turn a corner in the road where he would lose sight of me, I looked back and saw him still standing with head uncovered where I had left him—gazing after me. Waving my hat in adieu, I was round the corner and out of sight in an instant. But my heart was too full and sore to carry me further, so I darted into the side of the road and wept for a time. Then, rising up cautiously, I climbed the dyke to see if he yet stood where I had left him; and just at that moment I caught a glimpse of him climbing the dyke and looking out for me! He did not see me, and after he had gazed eagerly in my direction for a while he got down, set his face towards home, and began to return—his head still uncovered, and his heart, I felt sure, still rising in prayers for me. I watched through blinding tears, till his form faded from my gaze; and then, hastening on my way, vowed deeply and oft, by the help of God, to live and act so as never to grieve or dishonour such a father and mother as He had given me. The appearance of my father, when we parted—his advice, prayers, and tears—the road, the dyke, the climbing up on it and then walking away, head uncovered—have often, often, all through life, risen vividly before my mind, and do so now while I am writing, as if it had been but an hour ago. In my earlier years particularly, when exposed to many temptations, his parting form rose before me as that of a guardian Angel. It is no Pharisaism, but deep gratitude, which makes me here testify that the memory of that scene not only helped, by God’s grace, to keep me from the prevailing sins, but also stimulated me in all my studies, that I might not fall short of his hopes, and in all my Christian duties, that I might faithfully follow his shining example.” (Paton, Autobiography, pp. 25-26)

Sam Storms on “How we must come to God”

Here, then, is how we must come to God, whether to serve him or worship him or enjoy all that he is for us in Jesus:

Come, confessing your utter inability to do or offer anything that will empower God or enrich, enhance, or expand God.

Come, with heartfelt gratitude to God for the fact that whatever you own, whatever you are, whatever you have accomplished or hope to accomplish, is all from him, a gift of grace.

Come, declaring in your heart and aloud that if you serve, it is in the strength that God supplies (1 Pet. 4:10); if you give money, it is from the wealth that God has enabled you to earn; if it is praise of who he is, it is from the salvation and knowledge of God that he himself has provided for you in Christ Jesus.

Come, declaring the all-sufficiency of God in meeting your every need. Praise his love, because if he were not loving, you would be justly and eternally condemned. Praise his power, because if he were weak, you would have no hope that what he has promised he will fulfill. Praise his forgiving mercy, because apart from his gracious determination to wash you clean in the blood of Christ, you would still be in your sin and hopelessly lost. So, too, with every attribute, praise him!

Come, with an empty cup, happily pleading: “God, glorify yourself by filling it to overflowing!”

Come, with a weak and wandering heart, joyfully beseeching: “God, glorify yourself by strengthening me to do your will and remain faithful to your ways!”

Come, helpless, expectantly praying: “God, glorify yourself by delivering me from my enemies and my troubles!”

Come, with your sin, gratefully asking: “God, glorify yourself by setting me free from bondage to my flesh and breaking the grip of lust and envy and greed in my life!”

Come, with your hunger for pleasure and joy, desperately crying: “God, glorify yourself by filling me with the fullness of joy! God, glorify yourself by granting me pleasures that never end! God, glorify yourself by satisfying my heart with yourself! God, glorify yourself by enthralling me with your beauty…by overwhelming me with your majesty…by taking my breath away with fresh insights into your incomparable and infinite grandeur! God, glorify yourself by shining into my mind the light of the knowledge of God in the face of Jesus Christ!”

[From Sam Storms, Signs of the Spirit: An Interpretation of Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2007), pp. 204-205.]

(HT: Between Two Worlds)

Friday, June 29, 2007

Discerning the personal will of God (Part 2)

I want to pick up where I left off yesterday. I ended by saying, “I’m not searching for God’s will. I know I am exactly where God wants me to be. And, you are exactly where God wants you to be.” Someone could possibly misunderstand or misinterpret what I’ve written, so I’d like to elaborate and, hopefully, clarify what I mean.

Am I affirming that if, for example, you are living in a habitual pattern of sin, or caught in some kind of scandal or, like a person I read about in the newspaper this morning, are a cross-dresser who wishes to change his or her gender, you are exactly where God wants you to be?

No, you are not where God “wants” you to be, in terms of pleasing God and bringing Him pleasure. In fact, in relation to God’s revealed will in Scripture, you are, indeed, “out” of God’s will. Sin is not right and God doesn’t condone it. However, in terms of seeking God’s direction, or His personal will for our lives, I don’t think we can escape the reality that we are where we are by God’s providence—that is, according to His sovereign purpose and will. Our lives may be out of our control, but none of us is ever out of God’s control. Everything, visible and invisible—every being, every creature, every molecule, atom and particle in the universe—is under God’s absolute and sovereign authority.

Too many people treat the will of God for their lives as if it is some hidden and mysterious secret that we need to discover before we can get on with the business of living. I don’t think this is a wise or biblical way to view the will of God. There are two important points we should always keep in mind: First, we need to know and remember that God has already revealed Himself through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. If we want to know God, we must believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Secondly, we should never forget that God has also given His people a word of revelation. It’s called Scripture—the Bible—the word of God. If we want to know God’s will, we must read the Bible. The Bible is God’s word to us. Everything you or I need to know about God and the right way to live is already written down for us in the Scriptures.

But, what about God’s specific and individual will for us as it concerns career or marriage or ministry or any number of choices we must make in life? Again, I think the starting point must be Scripture. Does Scripture command or forbid any choice we’re considering? If there is a command in Scripture concerning how we should live, we’re obliged to obey. On the other hand, if the choice we’re considering is forbidden by Scripture, we are not free to pursue that choice. What about a desire or impression that we that we feel led to pursue? Again, it seems to me, if that desire is not sinful or will not incline us to sin, we are free to pursue it.

But, what about a desire to pursue a specific position of service within the church? Maybe we feel called to serve in some specific way. Certainly, it is always good to serve, so sin would not be the issue. Here, the issue becomes one of qualifications. The question we should ask ourselves is, are we qualified, according to Scripture, to hold this desired position of service within the church? A classic passage in this regard would be 1 Timothy 3:1-13:

1The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer [i.e., elder, bishop or pastor], he desires a noble task. 2Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? 6He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

8Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. 9They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. 11Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. 12Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. 13For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

When it comes to the desire to pursue an office within the church, the issue becomes one of qualifications. “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” The desire is good, but the desire is not enough: “Therefore an overseer must be…” Ability is not enough, either. For the office of overseer, with the exception of the directive that the aspirant should be “able to teach”, Paul’s list is not primarily about the ability to do the job. Godly character is the major qualification for office, not ability.

Above all, when it comes to discerning God’s particular will for our lives, our choices must be objectively informed and guided by Scripture.

(To be continued…)

Thursday, June 28, 2007

“The Godly Life” Conference CDs available

Last week, New Life Fellowship Church, in the northern Chicago suburb of Vernon Hills, hosted its annual Bible conference. Those who attended received a tremendous blessing through the rich teaching of Anthony Carter, Thabiti Anyabwile and host pastor, Louis Love, who all addressed various aspects of the conference theme, “The Godly Life”. Concerning the speakers, the comment was made that “the preaching…ranks right up there or even exceeds that of some of the national Reformed conferences around.” It was, indeed, good to have been there.

For the third year in a row, it was my privilege to have been the conference worship leader. The worship songs we sang ranged from classic hymns of the faith to good ol’ down-home songs, like some of our grandparents used to sing. My guess is this was the only Reformed conference in the world that started off its morning session singing, “I woke up this mornin’ with my mind stayed on Jesus”! Who says Reformed folks don’t have soul?!

Anyway, if you would like to hear any or all of the messages, New Life Fellowship Church has made them available on CD. You can obtain ordering information at the church’s website.

Willing to be hidden

Are you a believer in Christ who is laboring in ministry in some obscure place, feeling relatively unnoticed, overlooked or unappreciated? Recently, I came across this quote by George Whitefield* that is very much worth considering:

“He is unworthy the name of a Christian who is not as willing to hide himself when God commands, as to act in a public capacity.”

Maybe, for the time being, God has you hidden. Be grateful that God uses you at all—wherever He may choose to use you. Remember, He knows you—and He notices you. Be faithful.

The Gospel Coalition website

The Gospel Coalition website is up and running! Read the theological statements and articles. Listen to or watch the plenary speakers—D.A. Carson, Tim Keller, Crawford Loritts and John Piper—from the conference in May. Even check out the pictures! As this site is further developed, it promises to be a useful resource, helping the Body of Christ remain centered on the gospel.

Discerning the personal will of God

Yesterday I was offered (and I accepted) the position of choral music teacher at a nearby public high school! My family and I are rejoicing because I have been searching for a “permanent” job since January of last year—17 months! The offer of this teaching job also marks a personal milestone for me. Even though I’ve been a state certified teacher for 22 years, and worked over 17 of the past 21 years in the field of public education, it’s been over 18 years since I’ve actually held the position of “teacher”. I’ve been a “substitute” teacher, a “permanent substitute” teacher, a “teaching assistant”, even a “paraprofessional”, but I’ve not held the position of full-fledged “teacher” since 1989. Needless to say, when I completed graduate school 21 years ago, this is not how I envisioned my “career” in education unfolding.

In the past week, I’ve also been reminded of my “call” to ministry. Chances are, had my family and I not left our former mainline Black denomination 9 years ago, I most likely would have been the pastor of a church by now. The fulltime pastorate was the goal I set out in pursuit of some 18 years ago, when I first discerned that God was “calling” me to preach the gospel. To date, I have yet to reach that goal. Ironically, although I’m not a pastor, and have not been in an official pastoral role in 9 years, in many ways, I’ve served in a kind of unofficial pastoral role in each church of which we’ve been a part since leaving the denomination that ordained me. Even when I didn’t tell anyone about my ministerial background, I’d have people ask me if I was a student at the nearby seminary. It’s like they just assumed I must be a preacher. Occasionally, I will have people, out of the blue, ask me questions about the Bible. Well, thank God, He still provides opportunities for me to teach or preach His word, but the form my ministry has taken is not what I imagined it would be 18 years ago.

Which bring to mind this whole topic of discerning the personal will of God. Many believers want to know, like Saul on the road to Damascus, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” (Acts 9:6 KJV). We’re willing (or, at least, we claim to be willing) to do whatever the Lord says do, if He would only make His intentions clear to us. Some might even worry that they’ve somehow missed God’s will for their lives, and they set out in a frantic search to “find” the will of God.

May I tell you something? It is impossible to “miss” God’s will. If God is in control, then it is impossible to be “outside” of His will. Nothing happens to us that God has not permitted. If God doesn’t allow it, it won’t happen. Like the idea of someone dying “before their time”: If someone could die before their time, it would mean that, somehow, that person’s death took God by surprise. He had a time in mind for them to die, but they went and died “before their time”, without God’s permission. Nonsense! They died right on time—at God’s appointed time for them to die. In the same way, none of us can get “out” of God’s will, as if God is powerless to do anything with us. Instead of wasting time trying to “find” God’s “lost” will, our time would be far better spent being obedient to the will that God has already revealed to us in His written word. Our lives will be used by God and will be effective in His hands if we make it our business to be faithful.

So, does God have a specific plan for our lives? I believe He does but, it seems to me, our life path is rarely laid out for us in clear fashion. God doesn’t let us in on the details of our lives. “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). Therefore, we must trust God. He knows the way. Let’s face it: If God did show us the specifics of the path ahead, we’d never follow Him! We would be frightened off by all the trials, temptations, disappointments and failures that await us. God doesn’t tell us (most of us, at least) what’s going to happen in the future. So, we trust God, knowing that He knows the future, and knowing that His plan for our future is good, even if it does include trials, temptations, disappointments and failures.

That’s certainly what I’ve found. Even though I could wish that 21 years ago I had secured a teaching job like the one I was just offered, the fact of the matter is, 21 years ago I would have failed miserably. I’m a far better teacher today, knowing what I now know, having experienced what I have experienced, than I would have been 21 years ago. And, much of what I know today has been because of the failures and disappointments of yesterday. I would venture to say I’m a far better minister of the gospel today because of my “off-road” experiences of the past 9 years. And the process is not done! I’m still learning, still growing, still maturing. Disappointments and pain, in the hands of God, are worth it, in terms of what is gained in character.

So, I trust God. The increased responsibilities will present even more challenges that I know God will use to continue forming my character in Christlikeness (and I may have far less time available to blog). As far as the ministry of the word, I’ll continue to pursue whatever door God opens.

However, I’m not searching for God’s will. I know I am exactly where God wants me to be. And, you are exactly where God wants you to be. Trust Him. He is using your circumstances to shape you into the image of His Son.
(To be continued...)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The danger of devaluing fatherhood

As a father, trying to raise two boys, and knowing the good influence my late “father”/great-grandfather had in my life, I only wish the warning of this article (from Dr. Al Mohler’s blog) could be sounded all over this country and around the world. Contrary to what seems to be the prevailing opinion in society, fathers do matter.

(Note: For this article, you’ll need to know that “fungible” is a term from the field of Law, “designating movable goods, as grain, any unit or part of which can replace another unit, as in discharging a debt” [from Webster’s New World College Dictionary].)

Before I could publish this post, however, I noticed the latest article at Dr. Mohler’s blog is also related to our society’s devaluing of fatherhood, this time with particular reference to the African-American community.

How did we, as a society, get in this fix? Is not this because we have chosen to ignore God’s word—specifically His word about sexual relations and male headship in the home? If so, then what we are experiencing, at least in part, is the inevitable fruit of the “sexual revolution” of the 60s and 70s, and the feminism of the last half of the 20th century. Because we have failed to submit to God’s commands, our society is suffering. And, by the way, the evangelical church is not spared this suffering. Remember, the divorce rate is as high among professed Christians as it is in the world. Evangelical teens are just as prone to engaging in premarital sex as other teens. Homosexuality is also making its inroads into the evangelical church. Pastors, I dare you to poll your teens on their views of sexuality. I suspect you may be surprised.

Do we remember the second of the “Ten Commandments”? Here’s what God said:

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:4-6).

We’ve made a god—an idol—out of our alleged “rights”, and now our children are paying the price.

Dear Christian, don’t buy into the lies of society. Fathers matter because God says they matter. Children need fathers because a father and a mother in the home, with the father as the head of the home, is God’s design for the family. Let’s obey God. God’s “steadfast love” is only for “those who love [him] and keep [his] commandments.”

Sunday, June 17, 2007

A Tribute for Father’s Day

Today was Father’s Day and, as this day comes to a close, I want to pay tribute to the man who was “father” to me: my great-grandfather, William Gray—or “Pa Bill”, as all of us grandchildren and great-grandchildren called him. Pa Bill was actually my maternal grandfather’s step-father; he had no children of his own. So, for all practical purposes, from the time he and “Grandma” agreed to take me in at two-months old, I was Pa Bill’s son.

I would have to write a book to fully describe Pa Bill’s significance in my life. Pa Bill had very little education and held no position of significance in the eyes of the world. But, I thank God, he was a real man: God-fearing, law-abiding, hard-working, dependable and honest—someone a boy like me could look up to.

He’s been dead for nearly 18 years, but his influence lingers on in my life. I hope and pray I can have the same lasting influence for good in my sons’ lives that Pa Bill has had in mine.

“The glory of children is their fathers” (Proverbs 17:6b).

Saturday, June 16, 2007

“The Godly Life” Conference

This coming week—June 21, 22 and 23—the word of God will go forth as New Life Fellowship Church of Vernon Hills, IL hosts their annual Bible Conference. The theme for this year’s conference is “The Godly Life”, based on Titus 2:11-14.

This year’s speakers will be:

Thabiti Anyabwile
More information can be found at the conference’s website: HERE

This is a great opportunity for those of you who live in the Chicagoland area. And, it’s free! That’s right. Just come!

I hope to see you there.

Thinking about “unction” (or the “anointing”), Part 3

When preachers pray for the God’s anointing or unction, I believe we are praying for a fresh baptism of Holy Spirit power. I believe this is a Scriptural concept.

First, we see in the gospels John the Baptist’s words about Jesus: “I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:8; also recorded in Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16; and John 1:33).

To baptize is to immerse or place in. John is saying about Jesus that He will immerse or place His followers in the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the baptizer, and He will baptize, not with water, but, with the Holy Spirit.

The next time we read of a baptism with the Holy Spirit, it is just before Christ’s ascension. Addressing His followers, Jesus tells them, “Not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, ‘you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now’” (Acts 1:4-5).

A couple verses later Luke also picks up on another aspect of this baptism:

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses…” (Acts 1:8).

Luke picks up on this same facet of this baptism with the Holy Spirit in his gospel account of this same occasion:

“And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49).

So, from these texts, we see that 1) Jesus is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit, and 2) the baptism with the Holy Spirit is a baptism of power, strength or ability. In other words, those who receive this baptism will be able to do what they were not able to do before: i.e., “Be [Christ’s] witnesses.” So, we can say that the baptism with the Holy Spirit will be an empowering for service.

We know that the baptism with the Holy Spirit foretold by John the Baptist and promised by Jesus occurred on that day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon the church in tongues of fire. But, Luke records that on this occasion, “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4a). Why the change of verbs from “baptized” to “filled”? Perhaps, the two different verbs are describing two aspects of the same event: the birth to the Church, and the supernatural empowerment of Christ’s followers for service. It’s worth noting that, after Acts 1:4, the filling or empowering with the Holy Spirit is never again referred to in Scripture as a baptism with the Holy Spirit. Perhaps, as some suggest, the “baptism with the Holy Spirit” is simply the initial experience of being “filled with the Holy Spirit.”

Whatever the term, it is clear that on Pentecost day the believers received supernatural power. This is what I believe we’re praying for when we pray for the Lord’s anointing or unction: We’re praying for supernatural power. We’re praying for a baptism of power, in the sense of God’s Spirit being “poured out” upon us for service:

“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit” (Joel 2:28-29).

We’re also praying that God’s Spirit be “diffused throughout [our] souls” (Acts 2:4 Amplified)—so that He would truly have control of us, with the result that our ministry in Christ’s name would be truly effective.

You will recall that our Lord instructed His disciples to wait until they were “clothed with power” (Luke 24:49) or “baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:4). Why would Jesus instruct His disciples to wait? Why not just let them go right to work? Because, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” In other words, without the baptism or filling of the Holy Spirit, there would be no power or ability or strength to effectively fulfill the task that the Lord has given. However, as a result of the mighty effusion of the Spirit, “you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8).

Isn’t this what we need? Don’t you desire to be an effective instrument in the Lord’s hands? Do you feel your weakness and need for supernatural power—ability far above and beyond your natural strength? What should we do?

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13).

“Ask Him.”

That’s what we need to do. We need to pray, asking and seeking God’s indispensable anointing upon our lives and ministries.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

We’ll resume our regular programming after this brief pause for “station identification”…

Just to clear up any doubts that anyone might have: I am a “fully-Reformed”, five-point Calvinist. I heartily and gladly embrace all the “Doctrines of Grace”.

Some might wonder, from time-to-time, just how “Reformed” I am, because I don’t wear my Calvinism “on my sleeve”. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I’m not well-read on Calvin or Luther. I haven’t studied all the various Reformed confessions, or read deeply from the great Reformed theologians. I came to a fully Reformed or Calvinistic understanding of Christian doctrine over time as the Lord gave me to see that what we call “the Doctrines of Grace” was what the Bible taught. In other words, I’m a Calvinist because it’s biblical. In fact, the titles “Reformed” or “Calvinist” are not biblical designations. I prefer biblical designations: “follower of the Way”, “child of God”, “believer”, one who has been “born again”, “saved”, “sanctified”, “justified”, “Christian”. That’s how I prefer to be known.

Have you ever noticed, when the subject of religious affiliation comes up, most Roman Catholics identify themselves as “Catholic”? Anybody ever notice that? I don’t think—I don’t recall—ever hearing a Roman Catholic identify his- or herself as a Christian. Have you noticed that? It’s always, “I’m Catholic”. I have to admit, when I hear that, I think to myself, “You’re right; you are Catholic. Because, if you believe all that stuff that they teach, you sure ain’t a Christian!”

I’ve been reading some of the other blogs “out there”, and I think it’s ironic, how some of us lead with our theological system. We want other people to know we’re Reformed—fully Reformed. I tell you, some of us sound like the Roman Catholics!

Brethren, I’m a Christian, first! Not Reformed, not Calvinist…Christian! Born-again, blood-washed, Spirit-indwelt Christian! I’m saved…and satisfied…with Jesus…alone!

Now, if you ask me to label myself, I have no trouble telling you, I’m a Calvinist. If you press me further, I’ll admit I grew up a Methodist (A.M.E., actually) and, at heart, I’m still very much a Methodist (think Whitefield, not Wesley). And, I’m a product of the Black Church. Merely cerebral, Psalm-singing Christianity has never been my cup of tea. Give me a faith which is “on fire”:

O that in me the sacred fire
Might now begin to glow;
Burn up the dross of base desire,
And make the mountains flow.

O that it now from heaven might fall,
And all my sins consume:
Come, Holy Ghost, for Thee I call;
Spirit of burning, come.

Refining fire, go through my heart;
Illuminate my soul;
Scatter Thy life through every part,
And sanctify the whole.

(Charles Wesley, 1707-1788)

However, I just want to be known as a Christian. My theological system is to my Christianity sort of like a skeleton is to the body. If a person had no skeleton, he’d collapse. We need our skeletons but, no one wants to see an exposed skeleton walking around! That would be gruesome! The skeleton needs to be covered with muscles and skin and hair. A bare skeleton is not attractive.

Some of my Reformed brethren need to “chill out” and stop trying to be “more-Reformed-than-thou”. The bare skeleton of your theological system is not attractive…at all. It’s cold, hard and sterile. No fire and no life. The average person on the street (you know, the ones who need to hear about Christ) couldn’t care less how Reformed you are. And let me add this, for my Black Reformed brethren: You’re not going to reach the Black community carrying around a theological air of superiority, looking down your nose at the Black Church.

Let’s all get down off our theological high horses, and be known as Christians, first.


We’ll now return to our regular programming.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Thinking about “unction” (or “the anointing”), Part 2

What is “unction” or “anointing”, as it relates to the preacher and preaching? Biblically, exactly what are we praying for when we pray for God’s “anointing” on the preacher? In my last installment, I mentioned that “unction” and “anointing” are practically synonymous words. As an aside, I found this interesting: “Anoint”, according to Webster’s New World College Dictionary, means “to rub oil or ointment on”. “Unction”, on the other hand, can be either “the act of anointing” or “the oil…used for this”. So, we could say that someone who is “anointed” has “unction” or “the anointing”. Or, how about this? To “anoint” is to put the “unction” on someone. I don’t know about you, but I found these definitions helpful. I’ll come back to them, later. In the meantime, there are a few Scriptural passages in the New Testament which come to mind, where the word “anointed” or “anointing” is used, that might be helpful in discovering the answer to our question.

The first place is found in the gospel according to Luke. Jesus, at the beginning of His ministry, after His baptism, entered the synagogue in Nazareth and read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he [“the Lord”] has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” (Luke 4:18-19).

The next place is in Paul’s second epistle to the Corinthians:

“And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee” (1 Corinthians 1:21-22).

The last two places are found in the first epistle of John, as John warns his readers about antichrists:

“But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you have all knowledge” (1 John 2:20).

“I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything—and is true and is no lie, just as it has taught you—abide in him” (1 John 2:26-27).

I find a common denominator is each of these passages: the Holy Spirit. Do you see it? First, the Holy Spirit is directly named in the gospel passage from Luke. Then, we know from elsewhere in Paul’s writing (Ephesians 1:13; 4:30), it is the Holy Spirit who seals believers. Finally, it is the Holy Spirit who is our spiritual teacher and giver of knowledge (John 14:26; 16:13-14; 1 Corinthians 2:9-13; 12:8).

Taking these passages of Scripture together, I think we can safely say that, according to the word of God, the presence of the Holy Spirit and the anointing go hand-in-hand. Where the Spirit is, the anointing is there also. I think we can also say that it is God the Father (“the Holy One”) who anoints with the Spirit. Finally, I think we can safely conclude that the Spirit, Himself, is the anointing that is received.

But, how does this relate to preaching? What are we praying for when we pray for God’s anointing? I think this is where those dictionary definitions I mentioned at the outset of this installment come in handy. According to my dictionary, someone who is “anointed” has “unction” or “the anointing”. If the Holy Spirit is the anointing or unction, then to pray for the anointing or for unction is to pray for the Holy Spirit. But, in what sense do we pray for the Holy Spirit? All believers in Jesus Christ receive the Holy Spirit at the moment of conversion. We know this because it is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit which distinguishes a child of God from a child of the devil:

“You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him” (Romans 8:9).

So, how can believers pray for the Holy Spirit who already dwells within? Is it Scriptural to pray this way? I most definitely believe it is Scriptural, on the authority of Christ’s own words:

“And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:9-13, emphasis added).

So, what are believers praying for when they pray for the anointing or for unction? I believe we are praying for a fresh baptism of spiritual power.
(To be continued...)

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Thinking about “unction”

To those who prayed: Thank you!
This past weekend, I had two wonderful opportunities to teach God’s word. On Saturday, I taught 30-40 men at a men’s retreat about sin, temptation and how to overcome it. Then, on Sunday, I had the opportunity to preach from Galatians 4:21-31. The Lord helped me, and I felt great liberty on both occasions. He also gave me vocal stamina: I spoke for about 80 minutes or so on Saturday, and preached for 75 minutes on Sunday (And the Lord graciously held the listeners’ attention both times!).

This time last week I had just finished preparing my presentation for the men’s retreat, but I still had to prepare, from scratch, my sermon. Last Wednesday evening, I asked for prayer because my mind was very distracted and the sermon was just not coming together. I wasn’t getting anywhere fast. On top of this, I was looking at a week that included my 14-year-old’s graduation from middle school on Thursday evening, hosting our small group on Friday evening, attending and teaching at the men’s retreat most of the day on Saturday, attending a piano recital at which both my sons performed on Saturday afternoon, and having a house guest from Thursday through today (my mother-in-law).

I want to say, the Lord was, indeed, merciful, and He helped me. I worked on that sermon Thursday night and, then, all day Friday. The Holy Spirit helped me focus my thoughts, and I was able to finish my sermon before Friday evening’s small group gathering.

While thinking over and praying through Saturday’s teaching and Sunday’s preaching, I got to thinking about the concept of “unction”. I remember, at the Gospel Coalition Conference, over a week ago in Deerfield (yes, I was there, and it was a great blessing to my soul), in introducing John Piper, D.A. Carson compared him to Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in that both men preached with “unction”. I believe I know what is meant when preachers talk about “unction” but, biblically, what is “unction”? A brief study of the etymology of the word in my Webster’s New World College Dictionary showed me that unction basically means the same thing as anointing.

But, biblically, what are we talking about when we say that a preacher is “anointed” or when we pray for God’s “anointing”?
(To be continued...)