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The Cruelty of Inclusivism
Michael Reeves gives a UK perspective on pluralism and says: “More than no evangelism, it means no real evangel. Quite simply, that is because if ‘salvation’ is thought of as something other than being brought to know Christ, then that ‘salvation’ is something quite different to what Christ himself offers.”

The dangerous pursuit of pastoral fame
“Over the last few years, I’ve thought long and hard about “my platform” as a pastor, a writer, an occasional speaker. And as I’ve done so, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is a danger to my soul in pursuing more exposure, more name recognition, more money to be made from thinking, writing, and speaking about ministry issues. Especially while I am still in full-time, paid ministry to a local community.”

Help my unbelief
Here’s a prayer we can all identify with at times.

The glory of God in the valley of disability
Greg Lucas, author of Wrestling with an Angel, speaking at the Near His Heart dinner for families of children with special needs.

30 Life Lessons
I liked a number of these modern proverbs from Ron Edmondson.

CK Short: Introverted

Download here.

This week’s episode of the Connected Kingdom Podcast (another of our new, shorter episodes) has Tim Challies discussing introversion. You’ve got two options. A partial transcript is below.

Introverted by Tim Challies

I am an introvert. Whatever an introvert is, I know it is a description that applies to me. The classic definition of an introvert pretty much describes me to a T. The problem is that it’s not a label I am comfortable with.

We are taught today that there is a kind of binary distinction between people—some are introverts and some are extroverts. If you’ve ever taken a personality test or aptitude test, you have probably been diagnosed as one or the other. Or more likely, you’ve been told that you are somewhere along a single continuum that extends from the greatest introvert to the greatest extrovert. It is a line and all of us fall along it somewhere. When I was in the workforce there were a few occasions that I had to take the Myers-Brigg Type Indicator test and I was always shown to be pretty far along that scale. That’s just who I am. Or is it?

What people mean by this personality distinction is that some people are naturally shy and inward-focused while others are outgoing and other-focused. Some are introspective while others are assertive. Introverts tend to need to get away from people in order to rest and recharge; extroverts tend to need to get together with people in order to do the same. This kind of distinction impacts all of life, it describes each one of us in a really basic, foundational way. It’s an attempt to answer the question, Who am I?

But here is my concern: introvert is not a biblical word and, as far as I can see, not even a biblical concept. This doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily unbiblical or anti-biblical; just that it’s not a term the Bible uses to describe me, to describe the way I am, to describe my identity. It is a-biblical, unknown to the Bible. Yet it clearly describes some kind of a reality, that there are different kinds of personality.

So what is it? Is introversion like gender or race, things that are given to me and over which I have no say, just who I am? Or are they things that I can control or things that I can choose? Will we all be introverts or all be extroverts in heaven? Are these real distinctions or could it be that the are ways we excuse our sin? What I don’t want to do is excuse sin or weakness by using respected or respectable terms that have no biblical basis. There are some ways that psychology offers some truth, but there are also ways in which it will inevitably lead us astray.

So how do I look at introversion through a biblical lens?

I’ve been helped by Ed Welch and CCEF here. Speaking on behalf of biblical counsellors he says “Terms that stay isolated from Scripture end up in the bin of ‘psychological problems.’ Our mission: empty that bin.” The skillful biblical counsellor will want to look for ways people self-diagnose and explore those things—all of those things. That’s true of psychological conditions and true of labels. If I say, “I am schizophrenic” or “I am depressive” or “I am introverted,” the biblical counsellor needs to dig deep and see how and why I make that kind of distinction and how it will play out in my life. What is it that I am really saying about myself? What does it reveal about me?

Welch says that when I define my personality, when I say that I am introverted, I am actually describing and combining two things: character on the one hand and strengths and weaknesses on the other. When I say that I am introverted, I am revealing my character and revealing both strength and weakness, or perhaps either strength or weakness.

My challenge, and it is a challenge I face all the time, is to keep introversion from enabling or excusing sin. Introversion can quickly and easily become a way to validate sin. I can excuse selfishness, self-centeredness, escapism, lack of hospitality, rudeness. I can stay away from people and excuse it as being just the way I am, as being who I am. I can be shy and quiet when the Lord calls me to be strong and bold. Of course extroversion can also be a way to validate sin. The extrovert can run away from solitude, avoid spending time alone, validate himself by the amount of time he spends with others, doubt himself when he is alone. This introvert/extrovert distinction affects each of us in all kinds of ways.

I find it interesting that in my life right now I have two main spheres of public responsibility and influence. Blogging is an ideal setting for an introvert. I can stay in my office and tap away on my computer all day long. A shy and quiet person, I can appear strong and bold from behind a keyboard—the quietest coward can be a hero in the blogosphere. Blogging is an ideal means of communication for the introvert. But then I am also a pastor and in many ways it seems like extroverts have a natural advantage in ministry. The ministry offers a special kind of challenge for the introvert when it demands spending time with people, loving people, serving people; it is a people-oriented calling. And as a pastor this is one of my greatest challenges, not to retreat into myself, not to run away from people. I have had to learn not to avoid opportunities that are difficult for me but which bring opportunities to teach and serve the people I love.

In the end I see introversion as simply a descriptor, something that states the reality that at heart, in my natural state, I am a shy and quiet person. It is intensely difficult for me to be with a lot of people for a long time and it is incredibly draining for me to stand in front of a group of people. It can feel like death to preach a sermon. Being alone or being with just my wife is life to me. In this way introversion describes my natural inclinations and predispositions. I don’t expect this to ever change. But what I demand of myself is to ensure that I do not allow my personality, my introversion, to have a negative impact on my life and ministry. I want to emphasize and enjoy the ways that introversion is healthy for me and effective in ministry, and I want to work hard to deny what seems to good and natural when it will have a negative impact.

After interacting with Tim about this at the end of the podcast, Tim then challenged me to speak on “Entitlement” for next week’s podcast.

If you’d like to give us feedback or join in the discussion, go ahead and look up our Facebook Group or leave a comment right here. You will always be able to find the most recent episode here on the blog. If you would like to subscribe via iTunes, you can do that here or if you want to subscribe with another audio player, you can try this RSS link.

Desiring the God who desires sinners

It’s easy to theorize about preaching; it’s not so easy to put theory into practice. Thus, a few weeks ago, after I wrote some articles on preaching from the Song of Solomon, I kept hearing a little voice saying, “Well buddy, get to it!” So I did, and posted the sermon notes here.

I wasn’t surprised, therefore, when, after giving 7 Tips for Balanced Biographical Preaching, the little voice started up again: “How about it then, Murray?” When a few people channeled my inner voice in the comments section, asking for examples of preaching that balanced redemptive history lessons with personal application, I pointed people to some of Joel Beeke’s Genesis sermons, but also decided I really have to work harder at this myself.

So, last Sunday, I preached on 2 Samuel 6, where David’s ill-fated attempts to return the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem resulted in the death of Uzzah and blessing on Obed-edom. Originally I entitled the sermon “A Holy Home for a Holy God,” but as I meditated on the passage, the stronger message became, “Desiring the God who desires sinners.” I’ve posted the full manuscript here (pdf) and my summary notes here (pdf); and below you’ll find the introduction and first point in full. I tried to follow a three step process in each of the main points:

  1. The Original Story: An explanation of what’s happening in the text
  2. God’s Story of Redemption: What the story teaches about God and His plan of redemption
  3. Your Story of Redemption: How God’s story of redemption impacts and intersects with our own lives.

Hope this might help someone just starting out in the great calling of preaching the Gospel.

Desiring the God who desires sinners

Whatever else the Bible teaches us, it teaches us that God wants to live with men and women, boys and girls. He desires to enter our lives, our homes, and our hearts and to dwell with us.

Why else did He make our world and us? Look at Him in the Garden of Eden, visiting with Adam and Eve, regularly walking and talking with them. He loved doing that.

And even when they sinned and ran away from Him, He sought them out, found them, and announced a way He was going to recover the situation and make them His friends again (Gen. 3:15).

Time and again throughout Genesis we find God seeking out sinners, drawing near to them, walking, talking, and living with them. He’s saying repeatedly, “I want to share your life and I want you to share mine.”

In Exodus, God made the clearest statement yet of this desire. He orders the construction of a Tent-palace by which He would dwell in the middle of the Israelites. And in a special holy section of the tent, at its center, would be a golden throne, a gold-covered box (4×2.5×2.5 ft), with a heavy golden lid, also known as the mercy seat, bracketed on either side by golden cherubim looking towards the mercy seat.

This golden throne was called the Ark of the Covenant, partly because it contained a written copy of the covenant arrangements in the box, but mainly because it was the central expression of God’s covenanted commitment to dwell with men on the earth. It was the place God specially dwelt, often demonstrating that presence through a bright fiery cloud that hovered above the mercy seat, between the cherubim.

This is how God puts it in his building instructions: “You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the Testimony that I will give you. And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim” (Ex. 25:21-22).

And that’s the phrase that greets us right at the beginning of this chapter (2 Samuel 6:2). David and multitudes of people decided one day to go and bring back to Jerusalem the “ark of God, whose name is called by the name of the Lord of hosts that dwelt between the cherubim.” They desired the God who desired them.

The theme of this chapter and of this sermon is: Desiring the God who desires sinners.

1. Desiring God (vv. 1-2)

a. A Lost Ark
Why was the ark not in Jerusalem? Well, about 65 years previously, Israel lost the Ark because of their sin. In 1 Samuel 4, when the backslidden Israelites had tried using the Ark as a kind of lucky charm in battle, the Lord gave the Israelites over to the Philistines, who also took the Ark. A modern-day equivalent might be Islamic terrorists capturing the Liberty Bell, or perhaps taking the British Queen’s crown. But remember, Israel had lost far more than just a patriotic symbol; they had lost God’s throne, God’s dwelling place, the way God lived among them.

b. A Lost Desire
You would think that Israel would try to recover the ark at the earliest opportunity. However, they didn’t seem to be that bothered. Though God desired to live with them, they really had no desire to live with God.

But God continued to express his desire to live with the Israelites by chastising all the heathen who came into any contact with the Ark. So much so that eventually the Philistines and others got rid of the ark, sending it back to Israel where it arrived in the house of Abinadab of Kirjath-jearim. And there it stayed for 20 plus years, about 7-8 miles NW of Jerusalem, and virtually no one enquired after it (1 Chron.13:3). Few if any desired God. What an indictment of Israel! God desired to live with them, God ensured the Ark’s return among them, but virtually no one wanted God to live with them nor they with God.

c. A Renewed Desire
This poor state of spiritual affairs clearly vexed David, as we can discover in Psalm 132. His first thought, therefore, after his enthronement was the enthronement of God above the Ark of the Covenant (1 Chron.13:1-4). He gathered 30,000 of the best men in Israel and marched to Kirjath-jearim to the house of Abinadab to bring back the Ark of God. God is at work stirring up in David and in others a desire for God

God’s Story of Redemption

The Ark was a picture promise of what God was going to do on an even bigger scale. Old Testament believers looked at the Ark and hoped for something more, something even closer, something even more accessible, something even more personal, something even more beautiful.

Jesus is the fulfillment of that picture promise; the satisfaction of that Old Testament faith and hope; the ultimate, emphatic, and enthusiastic expression of God’s desire to live with sinners. He was made flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).

Your Story of Redemption

1. Respond to God’s desire for you with desire for Him. Many Israelites came to faith through believing the message of the Ark. Priests and prophets and other believers would point fearful, guilty sinners to the Ark and say: “Look, despite all that you are and all you have done, God desires to live with you. He sits on a mercy seat and promises to meet with you there.” What an encouraging sermon! Who could not but respond to that with desire for God?!

But we have an even louder and clearer message. Jesus said He was greater than not just the Ark, but greater than the whole Temple (Matthew 12:6). He is our throne of grace and mercy to come to in our time of need (Hebrew 4:15-16). Respond to God’s desire for you with desire for Him.

2. Re-kindle your desire for God by meditating on his desire for you. Perhaps you used to desire God. But now your heart has grown cold. You’ve neglected and ignored Christ for too long. You don’t have much appetite or longing for God. How can you re-kindle that? The same way that David and the Israelites did after decades of neglect. Back to the Ark! Re-kindle your desire for God by reminding yourself of God’s desire for you, Christ’s desire for you, the Holy Spirit’s desire for you.

Read the rest here.

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Ultimate list of Social Media policies for Churches and Ministries
If you haven’t had to draw up a Social Media policy yet, you will soon enough. Here’a great resource to get you started. (HT: Nathan Bingham)

Religion sidelined by militant secularization
“Europe must become more confident in it’s Christianity,” says  Lady Warsi, Britain’s first female Muslim Cabinet minister!

Overeating may double memory loss
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Why physical books are better than digital books
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20 common grammatical mistakes that almost everyone makes
Your High School English years summarized in one blog post.

Therapeutic Praise

Despite hundreds of new Christian songs, of every possible genre, being composed every year, the ancient Psalms are experiencing somewhat of a revival in various places. Why?

I believe the main reason is their therapeutic value; in a day of so many disordered emotions, worshippers are discovering how the Psalms minister so powerfully to their emotional lives.

The Psalms balance divine revelation and human emotion
Some Christian songs are emotionally stirring, but have little theological content; the heart is engaged, but not the mind. Over-reacting to this, some have composed songs that are full of theological facts, but don’t engage the worshipper’s feelings. They are more like sung sermons.

The Psalms strike an inspired balance of doxological theology and theological doxology; they combine the objective with the subjective in perfect proportions. Time and again we read, “Praise the Lord for…” followed by reasons and motivations for this praise. God is declared and described, but always to stir up our hearts and interact with Him through His self-revelation.

The Psalms express the full range of human emotions
The Psalms contain an incomparably rich mixture of extreme and varied emotions: grief and joy, doubt and confidence, loneliness and fellowship, despair and hope, fear and courage, defeat and victory, complaint and praise, etc.

Is it any wonder that Calvin called the Psalms “an Anatomy of all Parts of the Soul”? As he explained: “There is not an emotion of which anyone can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror. Or rather, the Holy Spirit has here drawn to life all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short, all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men are wont to be agitated.”

The Psalms paint a realistic portrayal of Christian emotions
The Psalms do not portray the Christian life as victory upon victory. Derek Thomas has pointed out that because a lot of contemporary worship is upbeat and positive, and therefore at odds with what Christians experience in the rest of their week, it sometimes produces a disconnect that eventually leads to cynicism and a loss of assurance.

But when we turn to the Psalms, we find bold and bald honesty. Although the strong expressions of stark reality can initially jar our refined ears, we are soon relieved to find kindred spirits who helpfully express what we often think, feel, and experience in our messy daily lives.

The Psalms open a welcome outlet for our painful emotions
Have you ever sung about assurance while being full of doubt? Have you ever sung about joy when feeling depressed? Me too. And it’s horrible isn’t it. Why can’t I sing what I really feel? With the Psalms you can! Some allow us to express doubt and even despair (e.g. Ps. 88); others help us describe our struggles with providence (e.g. Ps. 73); still others guide us in explaining our battles with depression (e.g. Ps. 42).

The Psalms open the pressure valve of our hearts and direct us in how to articulate our most painful emotions. We don’t need to bottle them up or deny them. Instead God has inspired songs to admit them and let them out. As someone said: “What a relief! I can sing what’s really on my mind and heart, and God provides me with words to rightly express these emotions. The Psalms reach in to find these emotions and then reach upwards to God with them.”

The Psalms call for the transformation of our emotions
The Psalms not only permit us to “vent” our emotions, but also call for their transformation. We are not left to wallow in our feelings, but are shown how to move from fear to courage, from sorrow to joy, from anger to peace, and from despair to hope. The painful starting point is legitimate; but it’s only a starting point. The end-point of emotional healing must be kept in view, and moved towards with the help of Psalmist’s guiding hand.

The Psalms summon us to sympathetic emotion
As a rebellious teenager, I often sat in my Psalm-singing church wondering why I was singing words that had no relevance to me whatsoever. Why sing about sorrow, when I was perfectly happy? Or, some Sundays, why sing about joy when I feel so depressed about my life?

Well of course, such is the mindset of a self-centered teenager. But when God saves us, we begin to look a little beyond ourselves and to realize that while I may not feel these things, others certainly do. The Psalms call me to weep with those who weep, and to rejoice with those who rejoice, no matter if I feel exactly the opposite. They remind me of the emotional diversity of the body of Christ and invite me to share in the sufferings and successes of others. They turn me inside out.

The Psalms supply an emotional stimulus to righteous living
I’ve been trying to emphasize the emotional engagement and stimulus of the Psalms. However, ultimately, the Psalms use the emotional energy they generate to stimulate practical obedience. Notice how many “wisdom” Psalms are interspersed throughout the Psalter, setting forth the path of obedience for the stirred up and energized worshipper. Emotional transformation must result in life transformation.

Originally published in January 2012 issue of Tabletalk.

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