In the Valley

When You lead me to the valley of vision
I can see You in the heights
And though my humbling wouldn’t be my decision
It’s here Your glory shines so bright
So let me learn that the cross precedes the crown
To be low is to be high
That the valley’s where You make me more like Christ

Let me find Your grace in the valley
Let me find Your life in my death
Let me find Your joy in my sorrow
Your wealth in my need
That You’re near with every breath
In the valley

In the daytime there are stars in the heavens
But they only shine at night
And the deeper that I go into darkness
The more I see their radiant light
So let me learn that my losses are my gain
To be broken is to heal
That the valley’s where Your power is revealed

Bob Kauflin, © 2006 Sovereign Grace Praise (BMI).  http://sovereigngracemusic.org/Songs/In_the_Valley/13

Woe to the Men on Earth who Dwell

Woe to the men on earth who dwell,
Nor dread the Almighty’s frown,
When God doth all His wrath reveal,
And shower His judgments down!

Sinners, expect those heaviest showers,
To meet your God prepare;
For, lo! the seventh angel pours
His phial in the air.

Lo! from their seats the mountains leap,
The mountains are not found;
Transported far into the deep,
And in the ocean drowned.

Who then shall live, and face the throne,
And face the Judge severe?
When heaven and earth are fled and gone,
O where shall I appear?

Now, only now, against that hour
We may a place provide;
Beyond the grave, beyond the power
Of hell, our spirits hide:

Firm in the all destroying shock,
May view the final scene;
For, lo! the everlasting Rock
Is cleft to take us in.

-Charles Wesley, 1750

O Great God

by Bob Kauflin

O great God of highest heaven
Occupy my lowly heart
Own it all and reign supreme
Conquer every rebel power
Let no vice or sin remain
That resists Your holy war
You have loved and purchased me
Make me Yours forevermore

I was blinded by my sin
Had no ears to hear Your voice
Did not know Your love within
Had no taste for heaven’s joys
Then Your Spirit gave me life
Opened up Your Word to me
Through the gospel of Your Son
Gave me endless hope and peace

Help me now to live a life
That’s dependent on Your grace
Keep my heart and guard my soul
From the evils that I face
You are worthy to be praised
With my every thought and deed
O great God of highest heaven
Glorify Your Name through me

-Bob Kauflin, © 2006 Sovereign Grace Praise (BMI).

Abortion & Rape: 2 Wrongs Don’t Make a Right

by Trevin Wax
“Abortion is front-and-center in the presidential campaign due to a congressman’s flub on national TV.

In case you’ve missed the news, Todd Akin, a Republican congressman from Missouri running for the Senate, was asked about abortion in the case of rape. His response:

“First of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare… If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Needless to say, such remarks proved offensive. Akin appeared to be making distinctions between violent rape and other forms (statutory perhaps?) as he sought to answer the question about abortion. Other Republicans are calling for him to pull out of the race while the Romney-Ryan campaign quickly tried to distance itself from the remarks.

Rape is a horrific crime with countless emotional and psychological repercussions. No one should ever speak of such an atrocity without having their heart gripped with sympathy for the victim. Any time we speak about such an unspeakable act of violation, we ought to consider the weight of our words.

Even so, as disturbing as Akin’s remarks are, I am concerned about the conflation of issues that suddenly appeared in the aftermath. Once the comment went viral, Republicans all over the country began distancing themselves from the remarks (rightly so) while also claiming to be pro-life except in the case of rape. (Romney is an example.)

The media circus moved quickly from discussion of Akin’s remarks to a wider discussion about the legitimacy of abortion in a tough case. And some “pro-life” politicians took the bait, not only condemning Akin’s unfortunate remarks but also declaring their support for abortion in this particular case.

Let me be clear: Allowing abortion in the case of rape is not the way to express sympathy toward a victim of this crime. Abortion only destroys the life of another victim.

That’s why I wish the conversation with Akin had gone more like this…

Host: So you also believe abortion ought to be outlawed in the case of rape?

Akin: Rape is a horrible crime, and a rapist ought to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I stand for human rights over against anyone who would violate the life of another – from the rapist to the abortionist.

Host: So you’d outlaw abortion in the case of rape?

Akin: Absolutely. As I said, I stand for human rights for all, including the unborn.

Host: But why should a woman who gets pregnant out of no fault of her own be forced to carry a pregnancy to term?

Akin: It is a tragic situation indeed. And my heart goes out to any woman in such circumstances. That’s why I could never recommend that she abort her child. Inflicting violence upon another innocent victim, in this case the baby, is not the way to move past the tragedy of her own innocence being taken.

Host: So you’d pass laws that would force her to carry on the pregnancy?

Akin: Like I said, I stand for the rights of all human beings. Even in a difficult situation like rape, the unborn child should have human rights. We must not let circumstances dictate to us when humans have rights. Otherwise, we could justify all sorts of atrocities in the name of “difficult circumstances.”

Host: But having a child as a result of rape would be a terrible reminder of the crime, wouldn’t it?

Akin: That’s possible. But let me ask you another question. If a woman chose to carry her child to term and then found that every time she looked at her infant she remembered the horror of the rape, would we allow her to smother the baby?

Host: Of course not!

Akin: You’re right. Because no matter how difficult her circumstances, we recognize the humanity of the infant. Unfortunately, many in our society refuse to recognize the humanity of the unborn.

Host: But your opinion on the humanity of the unborn shouldn’t be forced upon a woman who doesn’t hold that view.

Akin: Biology textbooks and scientists tell us the same thing we see when we look at a 4-D ultrasound: the fetus is human. Now, you can make the case that the unborn human should not have rights. And many do. That’s why unborn girls are aborted at a much higher rate than unborn boys, not only in places like China but in the United States as well. That’s why the number of children with Down Syndrome has plummeted. That’s why so many abortion clinics target inner-city areas with high minority populations. You see, once we begin to discriminate against some human beings, we are on the fast track to denying human rights for others.

Host: So you stand by your conviction that abortion should be outlawed even in the case of rape?

Akin: I believe that all innocent human life should be protected. So, yes. This difficult situation is about three people: the rapist, the mother, and the baby. Currently, there is no death penalty required for the rapist. I refuse to believe we ought to give an innocent victim a sentence more severe than the perpetrator of the crime.”

-Trevin Wax, http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/2012/08/20/what-todd-akin-should-have-said-about-abortion-and-rape/

Good News for Bad Preachers

by Russell Moore
“Last night, I received an email from a young minister who is discouraged. He’s just starting out in ministry, and says his preaching is terrible. He’s trying to improve, but is just starting out, and is mediocre. I addressed this here a while back, but I decided to reiterate this point because I hear from a lot of young ministers who are similarly worried. Here’s what I think.

Your first few sermons are always terrible, no matter who you are.

If you think your first few sermons are great, you’re probably self-deceived. If the folks in your home church think your first few sermons are great, it’s probably because they love you and they’re proud of you. If it’s a good, supportive church there’s as much objectivity there as a grandparent evaluating the “I Love You Grandma” artwork handed to them by the five year-old in their family.

So your first set of sermons, unless you’re very atypical, are probably really, really bad.

So what?

The great thing about Christian ministry is that Jesus doesn’t start all over again with his church every generation. He gives older men in ministry who shape, disciple, and direct younger men in ministry. This includes (although it’s not limited to) critiquing your sermons.

Your sermons will be critiqued. You want them to be critiqued, and harshly.

Now you don’t want them critiqued harshly by your congregations (and a critical attitude toward your pastor’s preaching, church members, is not a fruit of the Spirit). But you want them critiqued, and you want them critiqued now.

Your sermons will be highly critiqued early on in your ministry, when you’re still being shaped, or you’ll just be left alone.

The great preachers you hear or that you read about in your church history books are almost never those who were preaching great sermons from the very beginning of their ministries.

Great preachers are the ones who preach really bad sermons. The difference is that they preach really bad sermons when they’re young, and are sharpened for life by critique.

Mediocre preachers are those who start off with sermons that are, eh, pretty good, but they’re never critiqued and thus never grow.

So if you’re early on in ministry and you preach a bad sermon, so what? You’re in a train of previously bad preachers that extends from Moses to Aaron to Simon Peter to about every good gospel preacher you’ve ever heard with your own ears.

Your bad sermon says nothing about your future. If you’ve got folks in your life saying, “Hey, that was a really bad sermon,” that does indicate something about your future, so praise God for it. It’s probably a sign that God has something for you to say, for the rest of your life.”

-Russell Moore,  http://www.russellmoore.com/2012/08/14/good-news-for-bad-preachers/

How Sad Our State by Nature Is

How sad our state by nature is!
Our sin, how deep it stains!
And Satan binds our captive souls
Fast in his slavish chains.

But hark! a voice of sovereign grace
Sounds from the sacred Word;
“Ho, ye despairing sinners, come,
And trust upon the Lord!”

My soul obeys the Almighty’s call,
And runs to this relief;
I would believe Thy promise, Lord;
O help my unbelief!

To the blest fountain of Thy blood,
Incarnate God, I fly;
Here let me wash my spotted soul
From sins of deepest dye.

Stretch out Thine arm, victorious King,
My reigning sins subdue,
Drive the old Dragon from his seat,
With all his hellish crew.

A guilty, weak, and helpless worm,
Into Thy hands I fall;
Be Thou my strength and righteousness,
My Savior, and my all.

-Isaac Watts, 1707

Pat Robertson vs. the Spirit of Adoption

by Russell Moore

In a recent broadcast of The 700 Club, a woman sent in a question about a man who wouldn’t marry her because she has children who were adopted internationally. If they were her “own” biological children, he would have no problem, she said. But because they were adopted, he saw too much risk. Host Pat Robertson’s female co-host bristled and said he was acting like a “dog.” Robertson disagreed.

He said the man “didn’t want to take on a United Nations,” and that, after all, you never know about adopted children; they might have brain damage and “grow up weird.”

I am taking a deep breath here and reciting Beatitudes to myself. I had promised never to mention Robertson here again. Every few months he says some crazy scandalous thing. He blames 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina on gays and lesbians, cozies up to the Chinese coercive and murderous one-child policy, counsels a man that he can divorce his Alzheimer’s-riddled wife because she’s “not there” anymore.

Let me just say this bluntly. This is not just a statement we ought to disagree with. This is of the devil.

The last go round, Robertson “clarified” his statements on a man leaving his sick wife. Didn’t mean to say it was right, he said, just that the man’s got to have some companionship and a divorce is better than adultery. Please. Robertson’s defenders said to me in letters and calls and emails that Robertson is just not what he used to be mentally and that you ought to hold him to a lower standard. That would be true if people were tapping his phone, or going to his house and recording conversations. However, man is on television, representing to millions of people what Christianity is about.

The issue here isn’t just that Robertson is, with cruel and callous language, dismissing the Christian mandate to care for the widows and orphans in their distress. The issue is that his disregard is part of a larger worldview. The prosperity and power gospel Robertson has preached fits perfectly well with the kind of counsel he’s giving in recent years. Give China a pass on their murderous policies; we’ve got business interests there. Divorce your weak wife; she can’t do anything for you anymore. Those adopted kids might have brain damage; they’re “weird.” What matters is health and wealth and power. But that’s not the gospel of Jesus Christ. For too long, we’ve let our leaders replace the cross with an Asherah pole. Enough is enough.

Jesus was, after all, one of those adopted kids. Joseph of Nazareth was faced with a pregnant woman he could easily have abandoned. He knew this child wasn’t his, and all he had to go on was her word and a dream. He could have dismissed either. But he strapped on his cross, provided for his wife, and protected her child. Indeed, he became a father to her child. God called this righteous. The child Jesus seemed to be a colossal risk. His own family and neighbors and villagers thought he’d turned out “weird” (Mark 3:20-21). Maybe he was demon-possessed, they speculated, or maybe even “brain damaged.”

The Bible tells us that Jesus is present with the weak and the vulnerable, the “least of these,” his brothers and sisters. When one looks with disgust at the prisoner, the orphan, the abandoned woman, the mentally ill, the problem isn’t just with a mass of tissue connected by neural endings. The issue there is the image of God, bearing all the dignity that comes with that. And, beyond that, the issue there is the presence of Jesus himself.

Christians are the ones who have stood against the prophets of Baal and the empire of Rome and every other satanic system to say that a person’s worth doesn’t consist in his usefulness. Christians are the ones who picked up abandoned babies, who wiped drool from the dying elderly, who joyfully received developmentally disabled children, and who recognized that our own sin has made us nothing noble or powerful. We’re all just dead and damaged and, well, “weird.” But Jesus loved us anyway.

I say to my non-Christian friends and neighbors, if you want to see the gospel of Christ, the gospel that has energized this church for two thousand years, turn off the television. The grinning cartoon characters who claim to speak for Christ don’t speak for him. Find the followers who do what Jesus did. Find the people who risk their lives to carry a beaten stranger to safety. Find the houses opened to unwed mothers and their babies in crisis. Find the men who are man enough to be a father to troubled children of multiple ethnicity and backgrounds.

And find a Sunday School class filled with children with Down Syndrome and cerebral palsy and fetal alcohol syndrome. Find a place where no one considers them “weird” or “defective,” but where they joyfully sing, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.”

That might not have the polish of television talk-show theme music, but that’s the sound of bloody cross gospel.”

-Russell Moore,  http://www.russellmoore.com/2012/08/17/pat-robertson-vs-the-spirit-of-adoption/

Why the LDS are Growing Faster

by David French

Our churches face a demographic crisis.

Young people are leavingeven the Southern Baptist Convention is losing members, and when you drill down deeper—comparing church attendance with population growth—the picture looks even more bleak. Simply put, when America’s fastest-growing religious segment is “nonreligious,” we have a problem. The Barna Group recently compiled the results of a number of national studies and published a list of six reasons why young evangelicals leave the church:

  1. The church is overprotective.
  2. Their experience of Christianity is shallow.
  3. Churches seem antagonistic to science.
  4. The church’s approach to sexuality is judgmental and simplistic.
  5. They wrestle with the exclusivity of Christianity.
  6. The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.

These answers are just what you’d expect, because they correspond to many leading churches in modern evangelicalism that combine nominally traditional doctrine with shallow commitment and have been plagued by rampant divorce and extramarital sex—all against a backdrop of extreme cultural hostility. In other words, we’re about 95 percent like the surrounding culture and hated for the 5 percent deviation.

But one religious group shows consistent growth year by year and decade by decade. Mormons, living in the same country and culture as evangelicals, keep growing their church. Why? I propose six reasons.

1. Mormons have bigger families.

This is the easiest and simplest explanation. But it’s far from the entire story. In fact, if family size were determinative, then many churches in America would be growing at a rate that exceeded general population growth. After all, the birth rate of religious families generally exceeds that of nonreligious families. Instead, church after church shrinks or remains basically steady in spite of the higher birth rate. Mormons start with a bigger baseline family, but then they tend to hold on to their kids while evangelicals often do not.

2. Mormons have lower divorce rates.

While regular church-going evangelicals divorce less often than secular couples, Mormon-marrying Mormons have the lowest divorce rate of any major religious group. Families that stay together are more likely to pray together. Few experiences are more demoralizing to a young Christian than seeing his parents destroy their own marriage and destroy their own kids’ childhoods in a blaze of selfishness, lust, and pride.

3. Mormons share their faith.

Who hasn’t met a Mormon missionary? My wife used to debate them at the doorstep, but we made many new Mormon friends and now welcome them into our home, offer them rides in the rain, and generally get to know young people who experience a very different young adult rite of passage than your typical evangelical. A Mormon mission is a sacrifice—a deep sacrifice. Evangelism not only wins converts, it also strengthens the faith of the evangelist.

4. Mormons are “orthodox.”

No evangelical can call Mormons “orthodox” in terms of the Apostles’ Creed and biblical canon. But they are orthodox within their own, distinct faith tradition. In other words, members of a Mormon church tend to know and believe their faith. Go to a typical evangelical church—like my own Presbyterian congregation—and you’ll find very wide theological divergence. Nationally, 84 million people self-report as evangelicals, but of that number only 19 million according to Barna actually have orthodox evangelical beliefs. In other words, the evangelical church must improve in transmitting even the most basic elements of the Christian faith from generation to generation.

5. Mormon leaders ask a lot of their members.

I’m always amazed at the level of church involvement of Mormons compared to evangelicals. From giving, to service, to teaching, to raw number of hours in the church building, Mormons are simply doing more. To some evangelical critics, you’d think we lose members because we’re so demanding. But compared to the Mormon experience, evangelical churches are a carnival ride of short services, low accountability, and rare church discipline. If you’re a faithful Mormon, you’re not living a 95 percent secular life like so many evangelicals. At least in this regard, Mormons are truly countercultural.

6. Mormons are less selfish.

Add up points one through five, and you get to the sum. Too many of us evangelicals have forgotten the fundamental paradox of Scripture—you won’t gain your life until you lose your life. We ask our kids to lose just a little life to gain . . . what, exactly? If Christianity isn’t worth losing everything, is it worth only losing some things? And if it’s not worth losing everything, why is it worth losing anything?

Big families, intact families, years-long missions, faithfulness to church teaching, and a lifetime of service add up to a sustainable, Christ-honoring counterculture. By contrast many of our churches will prove to be ashes and dust—unable to resist a culture that relentlessly demonizes even the small remaining differences between evangelicals and atheists.

As a Calvinist member of the Presbyterian Church in America, I’ve got my theological differences with the LDS church. But if we evangelicals don’t believe we have anything to learn from our Mormon friends, then we’re foolish. Our churches will not grow by conforming, by shedding the last remaining distinctions between Christians and the secular world. That route is well-traveled by the imploding mainline denominations. Instead of asking less of our families and youth, let’s ask more by the grace of God and the power of the Spirit. Instead of giving less, let’s give more. Instead of believing we’re unique theological snowflakes capable of discerning truth on our own, let’s teach church doctrine early and well. And let’s not be afraid of church discipline.

What are the core lessons for the church? Conform and die. Resist and live.”

-David French,  http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/08/16/6-reasons-why-mormons-are-beating-evangelicals-in-church-growth/

 

Grace Unmeasured

Grace unmeasured, vast and free
That knew me from eternity
That called me out before my birth
To bring You glory on this earth
Grace amazing, pure and deep
That saw me in my misery
That took my curse and owned my blame
So I could bear Your righteous name

Grace paid for my sins
And brought me to life
Grace clothes me with power
To do what is right
Grace will lead me to heaven
Where I’ll see Your face
And never cease
To thank You for Your grace

Grace abounding, strong and true
That makes me long to be like You
That turns me from my selfish pride
To love the cross on which You died
Grace unending all my days
You’ll give me strength to run this race
And when my years on earth are through
The praise will all belong to You

-Bob Kauflin, 2005  http://sovereigngracemusic.org/Songs/Grace_Unmeasured/14

What is Most Needful in our Pulpits?

by R.C. Sproul

“First, we need to know which pulpits we are talking about. The world is full of “pulpits” that are filled by men and women who are missing the most important thing- the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. That is, the pulpits in mainline churches are not truly “ours” for they are marked by fundamental unbelief. This is why J. Gresham Machen wisely titled his great work Christianity and Liberalism, affirming that they are two different animals, and that there is no such thing as liberal Christianity.

So perhaps we would be better to ask what is most needful in evangelical pulpits. The first most needful thing, of course, is the evangel. And our pulpits will be filled with the evangel when they are filled with the Bible. We need sermons that are expositing the book of the good news of the work of Christ on our behalf.

There is, however, yet one thing lacking- courage. It is safe to say that most church members in most evangelical churches have at least heard the good news that Jesus came to save sinners. It is even more certain that everyone attending the preaching of the Word in an evangelical church is well aware that he is a sinner. It is absolutely certain, however, that no one at the service is sufficiently aware of the depth, the scope and the power of his sin, nor sufficiently aware of the depth, the scope and the power of the grace of God. We know not what we have been saved from nor to what we have been saved.

Which is why we need courage. We need shepherds who walk into their pulpits having seen and used the Bible as a mirror to his own sin. We need shepherds who by God’s grace come to see their own sin for what it is, and who preach confident in the knowledge that his flock is neither more nor less sinful than he is. Knowing his sin, he preaches against his sin. He does not shy away from it, but lays it out for all to see. Because he is speaking to his own sins, others can hear him. Because his sins are the same as those under his care, he speaks to the sins of others.

The courage to speak to our sins, however, is grounded in gospel confidence. A pastor is able to look straight into his own heart of darkness because of the light of the gospel. He can face what he is insofar as he is able to embrace the fullness of the gospel promises. We need pastors who are not merely relieved that their sins are covered, but that are overjoyed to know that they have been adopted. We need pastors who not only know they have by His grace escaped the fires of hell, but who know they will see Him like He is, and so will become like Him.

The church needs preachers who have the courage to believe not only the glories of the gospel, but the sufficiency of the gospel. We don’t need more word studies. We don’t need more scholarship. We don’t need more stories. We don’t need more homiletic genius. We need more courage to preach more gospel. Because Jesus changes everything.”

-R.C. Sproul Jr.,  http://www.ligonier.org/blog/what-most-needful-our-pulpits/