Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tim Keller and CJ Mahaney - Where Should I Begin?

This past Sunday while on vacation, my family worshipped at Calvary Baptist Church, in Oshawa. This church is dear to my heart because this is where I became a Christian in 1996! What a blessing to be back as a visitor and to see the work not only continuing on, but being so vibrant! After the worship service I got talking to Jon Stairs, who is the associate pastor of adult ministries at the church. We shared an appreciation for the ministry of John Piper, and he added that he'd really like to listen to Tim Keller and CJ Mahaney. He'd just read a very helpful book by Keller and he's heard a lot about CJ Mahaney. Those two men happen to be very influential 'mentors from afar' of mine, so today I wrote him an e-mail, pointing him to the best places to begin in each man's ministry. I've copied/pasted the relevant portion of that e-mail below. . .because I wanted to share this with more than just one pastor!

Tim Keller trained the church planter I interned under in Toronto about 10 years ago. He is among the most insightful preachers I've listened to, especially when it comes to engaging postmodern people with the gospel. His church charges for sermon downloads, but an assortment of free stuff can be found here. The single most helpful three part series is called 'smashing false idols' - the most insightful series I've ever heard. . .really! His lectures on preaching Christ in a postmodern world (DMin class) are also on there - about half-way down the page. I wrote a review of the class here - scroll down to 'book reviews' and download the pdf. My review is the second of two in that document. The site is a pastor's fellowship I attend monthly.

CJ Mahaney is a charismatic Calvinistic baptistic (i. e. walking contradiction) pastor who I really appreciate. The best messages by him are as follows: at the Together for the gospel conference he spoke 'the pastor watching his life as a part of a pastoral team' here, and 'the pastor's joy in an imperfect flock' here. His messages on humility are also second to none - see them here. He has a book on the topic that I simply love.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Just Stop It!

I'm off for a few weeks away from work, phones, internet, and every other electronic distraction. I'm excited to be spending two whole weeks with my wife and kids at my mom and step-dad's cottage up north. While we are gone, I thought everyone would enjoy one of my favourite (hilarious) counseling videos. I'm glad Bob Newhart is not the pastor of counseling at Binbrook Baptist Church!

Carl Trueman: Is Hurt Mail the New Hate Mail?

Carl Trueman has fast become my favourite cultural critic. Rather, he's at least my favourite Christian cultural critic (Neil Postman has to have the primary place of honour as my favourite). Trueman is a historical theology professor at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, who specializes in teaching Martin Luther and John Owen. Trueman is also an incredible analyst of the culture in which we find ourselves. His writings are insightful and almost always, side-splittingly hilarious. His newest article is no different. In it he traces the shift that has happened more recently from evaluating an opinion in truth terms (that was wrong), to evaluating an opinion in aesthetic terms (that was hurtful). He observes that whereas authors used to get hate mail to intimidate them into not write on a given topic, they now get hurt mail - a different means with the same goal. I'd recommend you read the article and begin to follow his monthly column. Columns like this one help me see things I'm so immersed in, I'd otherwise miss. It takes a historian to have such an insightful set of glasses through which to see the world! The article can be found here.

Friday, July 10, 2009

On John Calvin

I've tried to restrain myself, but to no avail. I have to mention it. Today is John Calvin's 500th birthday. He's one of my heroes for a number of reasons. He was a godly man and a humble pastor. He was a scholar who was first a pastor. I love reading him for his clarity, thoroughness, pastoral heart, and Biblical saturation. But I thought I'd quote a paragraph from Darryl Dash about what Calvin's opponents said about him. It makes me appreciate Calvin even more. Darryl writes:

Calvin had (and has) his critics, but even they grudgingly respect him. Pope Pius IV, Roman Pontiff at time of Calvin’s death, said of Calvin: “The strength of that heretic [Calvin] consisted in this, that money never had the slightest charm for him. If I had such servants my dominion would extend from sea to sea.” Jacob Arminius said that Calvin is “incomparable in the interpretation of Scripture,” and he recommended Calvin’s commentaries second only to the Bible itself.

What a model to aspire to!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Sermon on the Generations of Esau from Genesis 36

On Sunday mornings at Binbrook Baptist Church, I've been preaching through Genesis. We are now 36 chapters and 49 sermons into the series and we finally came to what at first looked like the dreaded chapter of the book: the 43 verse genealogy of Esau in Genesis 36. Who cares about all of those names, and who cares about a donkey and some hot springs? As I began to work through the text myself about a month ago I was absolutely overcome with boredom. At the end of that session of study I concluded that I'd probably have to skip it and jump right into Jacob and Joseph in Genesis 37. However, when I finished up my technical work the next God began to open my eyes to precious truths and actually gave me a burden to preach a sermon on this chapter of His Word. What at first seemed as interesting as reading the phone book had turned into living truth that I longed to preach! In the sermon I zoomed the camera lens out and traced the story of Esau and then the story of Edom through the Bible, and offered applications along the way. Below is the manuscript I preached from. I hope it's edifying to the blogosphere. If you have any constructive criticism, points that might refine my preaching I'd really appreciate them (at ianjamesv@gmail.com). Sadly, our church does not yet have its audio sermons on-line, although that is coming soon! So keep in mind, you'll be critiquing the bare bones of what I expanded on from the pulpit, rather than the real deal as God led me to cut down and add on the fly. Here it is:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. God spoke and light came into existence. . . Sky took form. . . Water and land were separated. . . Vegitation came into existence. . . Sun, moon, and stars were created. . . Fish filled the waters and birds filled the air. . . Animals were created. . . And, as the crowning climax to his creation, God created men and women in his image.
Men and women were more like God than any other aspect of creation. Under God they were to be rulers of God’s creation. They were to image-forth God to the rest of creation. God gave men and women good words to obey, and perfect relationship with himself.
In the face of all this blessing, men and women doubted God’s goodness. They listened to the voice of the serpent instead of the Word of God. They rebelled against the word of their creator.
God came to sinful men and women with words of punishment. Their lives would be marked by the effects of sin. Work would be toilsome, and giving birth would be painful. They would have marital difficulties. And they would surely die. All of this was deserved.
In the face of this deserved punishment, God also spoke these amazing words: “I will put enmity between the serpent and the woman, and between his offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel”. This single verse, Genesis 3:15 speaks words of hope and grace and favour. There will be two kinds of offspring. The seed of the woman will be God’s people. God will call them to himself by his grace. They will lead to one Saviour who will definitively crush the head of the seed of the serpent and gain eternal victory over sin and death for God’s people. In Genesis, they are people like Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and his 12 sons.
The seed of the serpent will be another people. A people not saved from sin and death. A rebellious people who live at enmity with God and hate his plans to glorify himself, and oppose his people. In Genesis they are people like Cain, Ham, Canaan, Ishmael, & Esau.
Genesis is broken up into ten genealogies. Ten times in Genesis we read these words, “This is the account of. . .” or “These are the generations of”. Each of these genealogies outlines a person who is either the offspring of the woman, the people of God, or the offspring of the serpent, the rebels against God.
In Genesis the pattern is to have a genealogy of the seed of the serpent and then have a genealogy of his contemporary, who is the seed of the woman, and then go on to tell the detailed story of that godly person’s line. So in Genesis 36 we have the genealogy of Esau, and it is followed in Genesis 37 by the genealogy of Jacob, whose story will be told for the rest of Genesis.
As we zero in on Genesis 36 this morning, we essentially are driven to widen the lens, and look at Esau and his descendants, the Edomites, throughout the entire Bible.
This morning we are going to look at two points:
1. The Story of Esau 2. The Story of Edom
Under each heading we’ll look at a number of key words and tell the sweeping story of Esau, and then Edom, as it is told in the Bible.
We’ll remember that this is the cursed seed of the serpent, and we’ll learn what this has to teach God’s people, the church, today.

1. The Story of Esau - Sin and Blessing
Our two key words in telling the story of Esau, are sin and blessing.
From the beginning he was a man who always wanted life to feel good now. Kids do you know anyone like this?
When I was a kid my brother and I got an allowance every week. I would save my allowance so I could buy something big later. My brother would immediately spend his allowance on candy.
My brother always had candy. I always had money stockpiled.
When it came to something much more serious - like obeying God, Esau always went for the candy of sin. What felt good now.
Esau was born first. This gave him rights of inheritance. He would also be more likely to gain the spiritual blessing from God. But in Genesis 25 he sold his birthright for a meal. Something that filled his stomach now, but that compromised the long-term.
God had commanded that his people marry from Tereh’s lineage. Do not marry Canaanites. But in Genesis 26 Esau married two Canaanite women - idol-worshipping Canaanites who God would eventually judge for their sin. Esau entered into permanent union with them.
In Genesis 27 Esau planned to murder his brother. Just like Cain before him, his jealousy led him to desire his brother’s death.
In Genesis 28 Esau took a third wife - the daughter of Ishmael. He wanted to please his parents, but he failed again. He failed to please God, and he failed to marry from the right line again - Ishmael was in the lineage of the serpent, the godless people!
Esau could not make up for his disobedience to God or his parents!
Then we get to Genesis 36. The first eight verses tell the story of Esau. In vv. 1-5 we are reminded of his sin in marrying godless foreign women. (note that the different names may reflect the fact that many people had dual names in those days.)
Then in 36:6-8 we find Esau disobeying God yet again - by moving from the promised land, to an area outside of the promised land. You might think this is no big deal, but the land of Canaan is where God promised to dwell with his people. Instead of moving somewhere within Canaan, Esau disregarded God and his word.
This is a brief sketch of the life of Esau as God has recorded for us in Genesis. He is a man who consistently, throughout his life rejected the word of God. The author of Hebrews sums it up like this: “See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son”.
If Esau’s life went poorly, it would be his own fault. He was a man who had access to God’s Word and he rejected it.
This is why we are amazing to find that the second key word to describe the life of Esau is ‘Blessing’. If the first key word is ‘sin’ the second one is ‘blessing’.
Esau’s entire life was filled with good things.
He was a skillful hunter, according to Genesis 25:17. He was the leader of 400 men according to 33:1. According to his genealogy he was enormously rich. Follow along as I read 36:6-7 - “Esau took his wives and his sons and daughters and all the members of his household, as well as his livestock and all his other animals and all the goods he had acquired in Canaan, and moved to the land some distance from his brother Jacob. Their possessions were too great for them to remain together; the land where they were staying could not support them boht because of their livestock”.
Esau was rich in every way - in people, in possessions, in posterity.
In Genesis 36 we find that Esau had 12 grandsons - corresponding to the 12 tribes of Israel. Esau has a huge posterity - a huge genealogy. An enormous nation came from this one man.
In 36:15-ff chiefs were descended from Esau.
In 36:31-ff kings were descended from Esau. Esau’s descendants were kings long before Israel ever had a king!
Finally, in 36:43 Moses refers to the land of Esau’s possession. The first readers of Genesis were years away from possessing the land of promise. They were still traveling nomads. But Esau’s descendants had abundant land that they owned personally!
So Esau is shockingly sinful and Esau has a shockingly good life. He is prosperous.
Even more shocking, though, is the fact that the Bible makes it clear that every single one of his blessings came directly from God. Listen to some of these references:
17:4-6 - God promised Abraham that he would be the father of a multitude of nations and that kings would come from him. His grandson Esau’s blessings were a part of that fulfillment!
In 25:23 God prophesied that Esau would become a nation.
In 27:39-40 after Jacob stole his blessing, Isaac still gave Esau a blessing. It lacked spiritual content, but was full of earthly prosperity - you will live by the sword, and break the yoke of your brother.
In Joshua 24:4 we are told that God gave Esau his land!
This sinful man had a life of good things, and they were all directly from God, in direct fulfillment of promises from God.
Are you someone who is not a Christian? Think of every good thing you enjoy. Do you realize that every one of them are gifts from God?
I know people who refuse to become Christians, because hockey or skiing are bigger priorities for them. Isn’t it ironic that God gives you the health and skill to enjoy sports in the first place?
What else can we learn from Esau’s story of sin and blessing?
A. The seed of the serpent is alive and well - We’ve seen that Genesis traces two kinds of genealogies for us - the seed of the woman (or God’s people), and the seed of the serpent (or those who rejected God’s word). In Genesis 36 we learn that this one single family of unbelievers is both prosperous and huge!
God has a lot of work to do to overcome this sin!
Do you ever look at the world and groan because the gospel is not penetrating enough? When I lived in downtown Toronto I saw blatant sin every day. It was everywhere. It made me groan. Here in Binbrook I see signs of hidden sin everywhere. Whispers, stories, lack of evidence of people who love God.
Like in Esau’s day, today the seed of the serpent is alive and well.
B. Esau’s blessings should encourage God’s people. We look at Esau and we marvel at the way God was faithful to this sinful man. If you this morning are in Christ, how much more will God be gracious to bless you. You are a child of God! Every promise of God’s Word is as good as done. If you live groaning, God will fulfill his promises. Your groaning will one day stop.
C. Consider Esau’s eternity - In Psalm 73 Asaph begins with discouragement: why do all these godless people have so much when I, a faithful child of God, have so little? Then he begins to think about life in light of eternity and he remembers: all this earthly prosperity is all that godless people will ever have. This is the extent of their blessings. They do not deserve these things, and God has graciously given them to them. But in eternity they will lose all these things, and they will hear these words, ‘depart from me you who are cursed into the fire prepared for the devil and his angels’.
Let the prosperity of Esau teach you that God’s eternal spiritual promises to you will be kept, and that it is not worth it to live godlessly and have all the wealth this world can offer.

2. The Story of Edom - Sins, Curses, and Mercy
Genesis 36 moves from the story of Esau, to the story of Edom, the nation that descended from Esau. There are three key words to remember as we think about the story of Edom: sins curses & mercy
Edom followed in the same sinful path that their father Esau took.
In fact, in Edom, sin just snowballed. 1) The nation as a whole rejected God’s Word. 2) They worshipped idols. 3) And they consistently opposed God’s people. Listen to a few examples:
A) In Numbers 20:21 when God’s people requested safe passage through Edom, they were refused. B) In 1 Samuel 22:18 Doeg the Edomite killed 85 of God’s priests. C) Edom rejoiced when Jerusalem was destroyed in 586BC. D) Amalech, whose name appears in 36:12, became one of Israel’s bitterest enemies.
E) When we turn to the NT we all marvel and rejoice when the Son of God, Jesus Christ was born. God became flesh for us and for our salvation. Almost immediately an attempt is made on the life of Jesus Christ. . .by Herod the Great. . .who is descended from Esau.
Edomites opposed God’s people all through the Old Testament, and an Edomite tried to murder the son of God when he was still a child.
F) Jesus lived and grew and ministered and proclaimed God’s Kingdom. After his three year ministry another Herod, also a descendant of Esau and the Edomites, planned his death. This time he was successful. Acts 4:27 speaks of Herod and Pontius Pilate ordaining the death of Jesus.
A man in the line of Esau was a chief player in putting Jesus, the Son of God to death.
As we view the horrible sin committed by Edomites, and the worst sin in history committed by an Edomite - butchering the Son of God, we might be tempted to cry out to God and ask ‘why’?
Amazingly, if we turn to Acts 4:27 we are expressly told what God was doing. “Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen”.
God decided beforehand that Jesus should die. We know from other passages of Scripture that God ordained that Jesus would die in our place, to bear sin for us, to bear the curse of God for the sin we committed. When Herod and Pontius Pilate and others wickedly conspired to kill Jesus, they were responsible for their wickedness. But they were just pawns in the hand of the same God we worship today. God used the seed of the serpent, who was a King in a great position of power, to accomplish our redemption!
It should not suprise us, then, to find that the second key word to remember as we think of the story of Edom, is ‘curses’. This was a nation under the curse of God.
When David was King, Edomites were his servants in 2 Samuel 8:14. This fulfilled God’s prophecy in Genesis 25:23 - the older shall serve the younger.
By 1 Kings 22:47 there was no king in Edom. Their earthly pomp and power was temporarily lost.
In 2 Kings 14:7 ten thousand Edomites were struck down in battle by King Amaziah.
All through the Psalms and prophets there are strong prophecies of Edom’s downfall. The strongest comes in Malachi 1:2b-4 - turn there with me: “I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals’. Edom may say, ‘though we have been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins. But this is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called the wicked Land, a people always under the wrath of the LORD.
God judges sinners. Generations of Edomites grew up godless, lived a sinful life in defiance of God, and were judged eternally for their sin.
But as the Bible closes, this is not the last word for the Edomites.
That’s why the last key word in the story of Edom is ‘mercy’.
When Rev 7:9-10 describes the scene of worship in heaven it says this: “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne & in front of the lamb. They were wearing palm branches in their hands. & they cried out in a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, & to the lamb”.
All nations - including Edomites - are in the number of the redeemed. Even after an Edomite successfully killed Jesus, some of their descendants would be saved by the Saviour their forefather had butchered.
Do you see the freeness of the grace of God to the Edomite, this morning?
The life of sin ends in hell. The life of sin ends in children who sin and go to hell. The life of sin includes common grace - earthly blessings God gives to people. But that common grace will end in this life. What will eternity bring.
If you are not a Christian, you are essentially an Edomite. You may not be descended from Esau, but your lifestyle matches his rebellious, ‘I’ll do it my way’, ‘live for the moment’ mentality.
The same Jesus who died for the Edomite died for you. Would you come to him today and be forgiven?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Audio: Tim Keller and Ligon Duncan - Should Women be Deacons?

I guess the proper term would be 'deaconesses'. At the PCA General Assembly, two teachers I've learned a lot from discuss their opposing views on whether the Bible teaches that women ought to serve in this role. Frankly, I'm split on the decision, but the discussion really helped spur thought in areas I hadn't previously considered. The hour and a half discussion also models:

- How to keep the gospel central while disagreeing on 3rd order doctrines (into which slot both men put deaconesses)
- How to keep the gospel central while disagreeing on 2nd order doctrines (as Keller discusses the way he interacts with people who will ordain women into the ministry)
- How to submit to authority when you disagree with that authority's stance (which Keller models as he refuses to oppose the PCA, even though he disagrees with them)
- How to rigorously think through an issue, Biblically, historically, and practically
- How to respect a person who used Q & A time to take the microphone and teach (which happened at the end. . .I hate when that happens)

You can download the audio here.

Note: if you are wondering what this whole "1st, 2nd, and 3rd order doctrine" language means, here's a summary:
- 1st order doctrines are Biblical truths that every true believer holds to. Like justification by grace alone through faith alone, the Trinity, etc. A Christian ought to only fellowship with people who believe these things.
- 2nd order doctrines are beliefs which authentic believers can disagree on. In a case of disagreement, happy fellowship can and should be cultivated, but those Christians will probably worship in different churches. The classic example are the many dear friends I have who believe in baptizing infants.
- 3rd order doctrines are beliefs that authentic believers can disagree on and still worship in the same church. In my view issues like: eschatology, deaconesses, etc fit into this category.

The trick is to figure out which 'order' each doctrine fits into. For now, though, I'd recommend you listen to the audio and glean wisdom from these men of God.

HT: Challies

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Videos: Why Is John Calvin Important For The Church Today?

I just watched these two minute video clips from those slotted to speak at the upcoming Desiring God conference on John Calvin. In the clips, each conference speaker explains the aspect of Calvin he thinks the church can learn most from today. Although I think Piper hit the nail on the head, all of the men had helpful insights.

If you've noticed a seeming inordinate amount of attention given to John Calvin lately and wondered why, you'll be happy to know that this year he turns 500. Calvin lived from 1509-1564. In honour of this birthday, there are a lot of Calvin conferences going on and books being published. For my own part, I've taken 2009 as a chance to read through Calvin's monumental book of systematic theology, 'The Institutes of the Christian Religion" using this one year reading plan. I'm half way done and it's been well worth the effort thus far. If you are interested in starting this plan, just ignore the dates and jump in! I'd love to learn together by chatting about what we learn. (Note: the Latin word 'Institutio' simply means 'instruction'. Perhaps a more accurate English title would be 'Instruction in the Christian Religion.) Calvin's work is rich in its mining of the Bible. He also had a talent for being both succinct and readable (a combo I wish I had). The 1800 page book was originally published as a primer to help people read the Bible better; kind of a brief introduction to the Bible for beginners in 1800 pages or less!

Also on the Calvin note, Covenant Seminary has lectures on Calvin available for free on iTunes. I've listened to 9 out of 26 and they are very helpful so far (though a bit monotone). To find them open iTunes (if you have it), click on 'iTunes store' and do a search on 'Calvin's Institutes'. You'll find the lectures under iTunes University with a Covenant Seminary Logo. Regent Seminary sells lectures by my old prof, Dr. Victor Shepherd, and I found them really helpful when I audited the course back in 2003.