• Jean F. Larroux, III
    Senior Pastor
  • Will Spink
    Associate Pastor / Director of Shepherding
  • Melissa Patterson
    Executive Assistant
  • Chad Townsley
    Associate Pastor / Director of High-Life
  • Winnie Winford
    High-Life Assistant Director
  • Sharon Dutcher
    Admin. Assistant
  • Niña Banta
    Director of Children's Ministry
  • Nancy McCreight
    Assistant Director of Children
  • Kim Delchamps
    Admin. Assistant Children/High-Life
  • Sarah Niemitz
    Director of Community Development/Assimilation
  • Jonathan Barnette
    Director of Communication
  • Janice Crowson
    Director of Facilities/Office
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Knots.

The Beautiful and Beloved Bride

Monday, May 21, 2012
The Beautiful and Beloved Bride

This Sunday marked the beginning of our Summer series called “The Church: the Beautiful and Beloved Bride of Christ.” Our passage of Scripture for consideration was Ezekiel chapter 16. If you haven’t read this before, do it now. It is profoundly disturbing. It is a Divine description of our relationship with God. It is the ‘how we met’ description and ‘how we live’ explanation. It is a picture of grace in Hi-definition, sobering, somber and true. Download the message here and plan to join us next Sunday at Southwood. On Sunday, June 3 our worship services will be held at 8:30 and 11:00 a.m. until then the first service will continue to begin at 8 a.m. The Christian Education hour will be held from 9:45 a.m. until 10:45 a.m.

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Comments disabled

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Because of the Session’s determination to begin addressing the issues before us in an open forum on December 4, 2011 at the congregational meeting I have determined to disable comments for a period of time to assist in promoting the peace and purity of the church. This is in no way to discourage dialogue between members, but rather to encourage individuals to speak to each other personally and not through comments on this blog.

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Purpose of congregational meeting revised

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Last evening the Session of Southwood Presbyterian Church met again to consider the matters before the church. After much prayer from both the members of the Session and members of the congregation the Lord provided a decision with no dissension or abstention. The UNANIMOUS motion reads as follows:

With repentance and conviction over our own personal and corporate sin, particularly for having stirred dissension with a premature motion delivered after Monday night’s meeting, the Session has met and deliberated further on the issues before our church. Having considered the breadth of the situation and our unified desire for the peace and purity of the church, the Session does hereby revise the purpose of the called congregational meeting to begin addressing the myriad of issues brought before us, including Jean F. Larroux, III, but we are not recommending the dissolution of the pastoral relationship with him at this meeting. Furthermore, we are in need of, thankful for and desirous to have further prayer from the congregation in all our deliberations.

SUBMITTED BY BOB GREENMAN, CLERK

The Session will meet again on Monday evening, November 21st and greatly desire your prayers and support for a continued spirit of unity and peace as we begin to make plans for addressing the myriad of issues before us. The called congregational meeting will be held on Sunday, December 4, 2011, in the sanctuary of Southwood Presbyterian Church commencing at 12:30 p.m.

God is at work. His Spirit is moving to bring forgiveness and healing. I personally urge you to work toward, pray for and labor after unity, charity and peace. Let your love be known among all men.

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Jesus + Nothing = Everything

Monday, November 14, 2011
Jesus + Nothing = Everything

Looking for the perfect Christmas gift for the Pharisee in your life? How ‘bout a book that you will love to hate? Trying to find a handbook on how to exorcise your inner legalist? Tullian Tchividjian has written Jesus + Nothing = Everything. Its not a ‘how to’ book, it is a ‘how He’ book. It is about Jesus and how He has indeed done all things necessary for us to die well and LIVE well. If you are thinking of buying this for someone other than yourself, because they need it, then grab yourself a copy while you are at it. You, like me, need to read this book!

“The fact is, a lot of preaching these days has been unwittingly, unconsciously seduced by moralism. Moralistic preaching only reinforces our inner assumption that our performance for God will impress him to the point of blessing us. A Christian may not struggle with believing that our good behavior is required to initially earn God’s favor; but I haven’t met one Christian who doesn’t struggle daily with believing—somehow, someway— that our good behavior is required to keep God’s favor.

So many contemporary sermons strengthen this slavery to self. “Do more, try harder” is the constant refrain. “Here is what you need to do; you’re not doing it, so get out there and do it.” Many sermons today provide nothing more than a “to do” list, strengthening our bondage to a performance-driven approach to the Christian life. It’s all law (what we must do) and no gospel (what Jesus has done).

The world insists that the bigger we get and the better we feel about ourselves, the freer we become. Absorbing this narcissistic assumption, the modern church is all too often guilty of producing worship services that are little more than motivational, self- help seminars filled with “you can do it” songs and sermons. But what we find in the gospel is just the opposite. The gospel is good news for losers, not winners. It’s for those who long to be freed from the slavery of believing that all of their significance, meaning, purpose, and security depend on their ability to “become a better you.”

Moralistic preaching is stimulated by a fear of the scandalous freedom that gospel grace promotes and promises. The perceived fear is this: if we think too much and talk too much about grace and the radical freedom it brings, we’ll go off the deep end with it. We’ll abuse it. So to balance things out, we need to throw some law in there, to help make sure Christian people walk the straight and narrow.

It’s part of a common misunderstanding in today’s church, which says there are two equal dangers Christians must avoid. On one side of the road is a ditch called “legalism”; on the other is a ditch called “license” or “lawlessness.” Legalism, they say, happens when you focus too much on law, on rules. Lawlessness, they say, happens when you focus too much on grace. Therefore, in order to maintain spiritual equilibrium, you have to balance law and grace. If you start getting too much law, you need to balance it with grace. If you start getting too much grace, you need to balance it with law. This dichotomy exposes our failure to understand gospel grace as it really is; it betrays our blindness to all the radical depth and beauty of grace.

I believe it’s more theologically accurate to say that there is one primary enemy of the gospel—legalism—but it comes in two forms. Some people avoid the gospel and try to “save” themselves by keeping the rules, doing what they’re told, maintaining the standards, and so on (I call this “front-door legalism”). Other
people avoid the gospel and try to “save” themselves by breaking the rules, doing whatever they want, developing their own autonomous standards, and so on (“back-door legalism”).

In other words, there are two “laws” we can choose to live by apart from Christ: the law that says, “I can find freedom and fullness of life if I keep the rules,” and the law that says, “I can find freedom and fullness of life if I break the rules.” Either way, you’re trying to “save” yourself, which means both are legalistic because both are self-salvation projects.

So what some call “license” is just another form of legalism. People outside the church are typically guilty of break-the-rules legalism, while many inside the church are guilty of keep-the- rules legalism.

The biggest lie about grace that Satan wants the church to buy is the idea that it’s dangerous and therefore needs to be kept in check. By believing that lie, we not only prove we don’t understand grace, but we violate gospel advancement in our lives and in the church by perpetuating our own slavery. The truth is, disobedience happens not when we think too much of grace, but when we think too little of it.

As a pastor, one of my responsibilities is to disciple people into a deeper understanding of obedience—teaching them to say no to the things God hates and yes to the things God loves. All too often I’ve wrongly concluded that the only way to keep licentious people in line is to give them more rules—to lay down the law. The fact is, however, the only way licentious people start to obey is when they get a taste of God’s radical, unconditional acceptance of sinners. Grace alone melts hearts and changes us from the inside out. Progress in obedience happens only when our hearts realize that God’s love for us does not depend on our progress in obedience.

A “yes, grace—but” disposition is the kind of fearful posture that keeps moralism swirling around in our hearts and in the church. Subtly, the force of that falsehood gets transferred into sermons in which the driving dynamic is to get Christians behaving properly. Those messages appeal to our self-centered hearts, which are proudly pleased to latch onto such teaching.”

Order @ Crossway.org Ebook $9.99, Hardcover $18.99

Taken from Jesus + Nothing = Everything, Crossway Books 2011, pp.49-52, used without permission

 

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A Good Question about Sanctification

Friday, November 11, 2011

QUESTION: You seem to make light or down-play the importance of the traditional disciplines of the Faith in stating what we should not do.  Or you make the assumption that prior to doing those disciplines (the ten steps in your article) the hypothetical sinner has not done what you desire him to do:  see that he has been saved by Grace, and then as a result of that works out his salvation through the traditional disciplines of our Faith.

I guess I’m just trying to understand where you think those disciplines fit into our Christian Life.  I’m confused since the majority of the time you mention studying the word, memorizing scripture, prayer, etc. it is in the context of a bad thing:  doing those to solely in an attempt make us acceptable to God.  Undoubtedly there are those that do, but many more who do them for the right reasons.  I know you can’t mean that those disciplines are unimportant since scripture unambiguously teaches us that we are required to do those in order to grow. 

I think I understand where you are going, but as a result of your ridiculing (my perception) and painting the traditional disciplines of the church, as well as the evidences of most signs of righteous living and moral behavior, in a negative light whenever you bring them up, you have, rightly opened yourself up to valid criticism with regard to your teaching of sanctification. 

-SW MEMBER (name withheld, but the letter was signed)

DEAR SW MEMBER-

I am out of town for a couple of weeks. Ironically, I am writing a book that deals with some of the very same things you’ve asked about. I’m going to give you a VERY INCOMPLETE response, but such a thoughtful question deserves more than, ‘Sorry, I’m out of the office.’

Basic premise: In Galatia the CHRISTIANS, who became such by FAITH ALONE were beginning to subtly REST IN their own acts of obedience for their acceptance before God. For them the PARTICULAR work they rested in was CIRCUMCISION. Remember, these were people who were ALREADY converted, engaging in behavior that was Biblically commanded and the danger was that they were beginning to base their standing with God; his acceptance and his love for them on their BEHAVIORAL OBEDIENCE i.e. circumcision RATHER THAN in Christ Alone.

Transition: Fast forward 2,000 years to Huntsville. In order to make legitimate application of the principles in Galatians to us today we have to ask a parallel question: WHAT THINGS (duties, actions, works of obedience) do people who have ALREADY BEEN CONVERTED tend to rest in/trust in for their day to day standing with God; his acceptance and his love for them and in doing so, LIKE THE GALATIAN CHURCH betray FAITH ALONE in CHRIST ALONE. Obviously, circumcision is out. No one is going home to Hampton Cove thinking, “If I circumcise my children according to the Abrahamic Covenant then we will really be ‘sold out’ for the Lord.” There are some denominations where there are things ‘on the books’ if you will that would lend themselves to very clear application i.e. the view of some churches on on Baptism. That is a slam dunk. They teach baptismal regeneration and as such are a perfect example of Paul’s prohibition.

So here’s the exegetical dilemma: Do I stand in the pulpit and beat up on those churches for their views on Baptism or do I ask deeper questions about our own behavior seeking to find areas where WE, REFORMED EVANGELICALS tend to violate the same PRINCIPLE but perhaps in different ways. That has been my aim. Remember circumcision was not something BAD that they cooked up, it was something GOOD which God gave to Abraham and his children that had ‘taken on a whole new life’ because of the trust and rest that BELIEVERS were placing in it.

Soooooo, where does that leave us? At this point you should have already connected the dots. What GOOD, God-given things do we at Southwood tend to do ‘for God’ but ultimately have a tendency to rest in/find our worth in? The answer is clear. It is the so-called spiritual disciplines and the so-called ‘means of grace.’ We tend to rely on Christ Alone for our ULTIMATE acceptance before God, but on a day to day basis those GOOD things become the ‘field reports’ used to gauge the health/sickness of our relationship. It just isn’t so. All of those things: Prayer, Bible Study, Quiet Times, Accountability groups, Mission trips, etc. can be VERY GOOD THINGS but when we rest in/trust in those things then they become more like CIRCUMCISION than acts of true Christian piety.

I could/should insert here a list of diagnostic questions to help identify motives and root causes for behavior and when those ‘good’ things become bad. (I will do that more in the future) Ultimately it is all going to come down to the heart and WHY we do what we do. It is telling that Paul who argues so vehemently AGAINST circumcision in Galatians and in Acts later on in Acts actually CIRCUMCISES Timothy. That is either the height of hypocrisy or something else. The reason for circumcising Timothy was to avoid being a stumbling block to the Jews where they were going to minister next. That is SO VERY instructive. When CIRCUMCISION was trusted in/rested upon for worth/identity and value then it was from the DEVIL, but when THE SAME EXACT BEHAVIOR was treated as morally neutral behavior THEN it was profitable to the furthering of the Kingdom.

I hope this helps a bit. Understanding that grid you should go back and listen to some of the messages that bothered you the most. I think you will find that what I am saying here is consistent with the application made. With regard to criticism, it is part of the job and I don’t mind it from you or anyone else. It really provides an opportunity to speak more clearly, provide further clarification and to make sure that we are certain about where we are disagreeing without being disagreeable.

P.S. I loved your use of ‘unambiguously teaches’....AMEN! I just happen to think that the Bible UNAMBIGUOUSLY teaches both the value of embracing those things and the danger of resting in them!

Blessings,
Jean

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George Jones and Jesus

Monday, November 07, 2011


James Parker, our lead musician sent me the text of this song last week. Of all the songs ever written about either I am convinced that this would be a favorite of both. I could definitely see the Younger Brother in Luke 15 writing a song like this if the story had been set in modern times…

George Jones and Jesus are two heros of mine.
One is only human but the other one divine.
When I could not find a friend I found out that I had two.
George Jones and Jesus pulled me through.

When a man is on the bottom he may not cry for help.
But he needs to know he’s not alone in hell all by himself.
Those songs old George was singing they some how eased the hurt.
And Jesus did not turn me out when a bar room was my church.

Chorus:
George Jones and Jesus are two heros of mine.
One is only human but the other one divine.
When I could not find a friend I found out that I had two.
George Jones and Jesus pulled me through.

The possum ain’t no savior, but he never claimed to be.
And Jesus hung out with a crowd of trouble souls just liked me.
Now you can’t find a George Jones classic, in a big black book of hymns.
Oh but I’m living proof that Jesus saves in a smoky place like this.

Chorus:
George Jones and Jesus are two heros of mine.
One is only human but the other one divine.
When I could not find a friend I found out that I had two.
George Jones and Jesus pulled me through.

George Jones and Jesus….

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October 31, 1517

Monday, October 31, 2011
October 31, 1517

“(reply to the Diet of Worms) Since your majesty and your lordships desire a simple reply, I will answer without horns or teeth. Unless I am convinced by Scripture and by plain reason (I do not believe in the authority of either popes or councils by themselves, for it is plain that they have often erred and contradicted each other) in those Scriptures that I have presented, for my conscience is captive to the Word of God, I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”― Martin Luther

See Also: Martin Luther posts 95 theses. (2011). The History Channel website. Retrieved 8:25, October 19, 2011, from http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/martin-luther-posts-95-theses.

THE 95 THESES by Martin Luther

  1. When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

  2. This word cannot be understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, that is, confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy.

  3. Yet it does not mean solely inner repentance; such inner repentance is worthless unless it produces various outward mortification of the flesh.

  4. The penalty of sin remains as long as the hatred of self (that is, true inner repentance), namely till our entrance into the kingdom of heaven.

  5. The pope neither desires nor is able to remit any penalties except those imposed by his own authority or that of the canons.

  6. The pope cannot remit any guilt, except by declaring and showing that it has been remitted by God; or, to be sure, by remitting guilt in cases reserved to his judgment. If his right to grant remission in these cases were disregarded, the guilt would certainly remain unforgiven.

  7. God remits guilt to no one unless at the same time he humbles him in all things and makes him submissive to the vicar, the priest.

  8. The penitential canons are imposed only on the living, and, according to the canons themselves, nothing should be imposed on the dying.

  9. Therefore the Holy Spirit through the pope is kind to us insofar as the pope in his decrees always makes exception of the article of death and of necessity.

  10. Those priests act ignorantly and wickedly who, in the case of the dying, reserve canonical penalties for purgatory.

  11. Those tares of changing the canonical penalty to the penalty of purgatory were evidently sown while the bishops slept (Mt 13:25).

  12. In former times canonical penalties were imposed, not after, but before absolution, as tests of true contrition.

  13. The dying are freed by death from all penalties, are already dead as far as the canon laws are concerned, and have a right to be released from them.

  14. Imperfect piety or love on the part of the dying person necessarily brings with it great fear; and the smaller the love, the greater the fear.

  15. This fear or horror is sufficient in itself, to say nothing of other things, to constitute the penalty of purgatory, since it is very near to the horror of despair.

  16. Hell, purgatory, and heaven seem to differ the same as despair, fear, and assurance of salvation.

  17. It seems as though for the souls in purgatory fear should necessarily decrease and love increase.

  18. Furthermore, it does not seem proved, either by reason or by Scripture, that souls in purgatory are outside the state of merit, that is, unable to grow in love.

  19. Nor does it seem proved that souls in purgatory, at least not all of them, are certain and assured of their own salvation, even if we ourselves may be entirely certain of it.

  20. Therefore the pope, when he uses the words “plenary remission of all penalties,” does not actually mean “all penalties,” but only those imposed by himself.

  21. Thus those indulgence preachers are in error who say that a man is absolved from every penalty and saved by papal indulgences.

  22. As a matter of fact, the pope remits to souls in purgatory no penalty which, according to canon law, they should have paid in this life.

  23. If remission of all penalties whatsoever could be granted to anyone at all, certainly it would be granted only to the most perfect, that is, to very few.

  24. For this reason most people are necessarily deceived by that indiscriminate and high-sounding promise of release from penalty.

  25. That power which the pope has in general over purgatory corresponds to the power which any bishop or curate has in a particular way in his own diocese and parish.

  26. The pope does very well when he grants remission to souls in purgatory, not by the power of the keys, which he does not have, but by way of intercession for them.

  27. They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory.

  28. It is certain that when money clinks in the money chest, greed and avarice can be increased; but when the church intercedes, the result is in the hands of God alone.

  29. Who knows whether all souls in purgatory wish to be redeemed, since we have exceptions in St. Severinus and St. Paschal, as related in a legend.

  30. No one is sure of the integrity of his own contrition, much less of having received plenary remission.

  31. The man who actually buys indulgences is as rare as he who is really penitent; indeed, he is exceedingly rare.

  32. Those who believe that they can be certain of their salvation because they have indulgence letters will be eternally damned, together with their teachers.

  33. Men must especially be on guard against those who say that the pope’s pardons are that inestimable gift of God by which man is reconciled to him.

  34. For the graces of indulgences are concerned only with the penalties of sacramental satisfaction established by man.

  35. They who teach that contrition is not necessary on the part of those who intend to buy souls out of purgatory or to buy confessional privileges preach unchristian doctrine.

  36. Any truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without indulgence letters.

  37. Any true Christian, whether living or dead, participates in all the blessings of Christ and the church; and this is granted him by God, even without indulgence letters.

  38. Nevertheless, papal remission and blessing are by no means to be disregarded, for they are, as I have said (Thesis 6), the proclamation of the divine remission.

  39. It is very difficult, even for the most learned theologians, at one and the same time to commend to the people the bounty of indulgences and the need of true contrition.

  40. A Christian who is truly contrite seeks and loves to pay penalties for his sins; the bounty of indulgences, however, relaxes penalties and causes men to hate them—at least it furnishes occasion for hating them.

  41. Papal indulgences must be preached with caution, lest people erroneously think that they are preferable to other good works of love.

  42. Christians are to be taught that the pope does not intend that the buying of indulgences should in any way be compared with works of mercy.

  43. Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better deed than he who buys indulgences.

  44. Because love grows by works of love, man thereby becomes better. Man does not, however, become better by means of indulgences but is merely freed from penalties.

  45. Christians are to be taught that he who sees a needy man and passes him by, yet gives his money for indulgences, does not buy papal indulgences but God’s wrath.

  46. Christians are to be taught that, unless they have more than they need, they must reserve enough for their family needs and by no means squander it on indulgences.

  47. Christians are to be taught that they buying of indulgences is a matter of free choice, not commanded.

  48 Christians are to be taught that the pope, in granting indulgences, needs and thus desires their devout prayer more than their money.

  49. Christians are to be taught that papal indulgences are useful only if they do not put their trust in them, but very harmful if they lose their fear of God because of them.

  50. Christians are to be taught that if the pope knew the exactions of the indulgence preachers, he would rather that the basilica of St. Peter were burned to ashes than built up with the skin, flesh, and bones of his sheep.

  51. Christians are to be taught that the pope would and should wish to give of his own money, even though he had to sell the basilica of St. Peter, to many of those from whom certain hawkers of indulgences cajole money.

  52. It is vain to trust in salvation by indulgence letters, even though the indulgence commissary, or even the pope, were to offer his soul as security.

  53. They are the enemies of Christ and the pope who forbid altogether the preaching of the Word of God in some churches in order that indulgences may be preached in others.

  54. Injury is done to the Word of God when, in the same sermon, an equal or larger amount of time is devoted to indulgences than to the Word.

  55. It is certainly the pope’s sentiment that if indulgences, which are a very insignificant thing, are celebrated with one bell, one procession, and one ceremony, then the gospel, which is the very greatest thing, should be preached with a hundred bells, a hundred processions, a hundred ceremonies.

  56. The true treasures of the church, out of which the pope distributes indulgences, are not sufficiently discussed or known among the people of Christ.

  57. That indulgences are not temporal treasures is certainly clear, for many indulgence sellers do not distribute them freely but only gather them.

  58. Nor are they the merits of Christ and the saints, for, even without the pope, the latter always work grace for the inner man, and the cross, death, and hell for the outer man.

  59. St. Lawrence said that the poor of the church were the treasures of the church, but he spoke according to the usage of the word in his own time.

  60. Without want of consideration we say that the keys of the church, given by the merits of Christ, are that treasure.

  61. For it is clear that the pope’s power is of itself sufficient for the remission of penalties and cases reserved by himself.

  62. The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.

  63. But this treasure is naturally most odious, for it makes the first to be last (Mt. 20:16).

  64. On the other hand, the treasure of indulgences is naturally most acceptable, for it makes the last to be first.

  65. Therefore the treasures of the gospel are nets with which one formerly fished for men of wealth.

  66. The treasures of indulgences are nets with which one now fishes for the wealth of men.

  67. The indulgences which the demagogues acclaim as the greatest graces are actually understood to be such only insofar as they promote gain.

  68. They are nevertheless in truth the most insignificant graces when compared with the grace of God and the piety of the cross.

  69. Bishops and curates are bound to admit the commissaries of papal indulgences with all reverence.

  70. But they are much more bound to strain their eyes and ears lest these men preach their own dreams instead of what the pope has commissioned.

  71. Let him who speaks against the truth concerning papal indulgences be anathema and accursed.

  72. But let him who guards against the lust and license of the indulgence preachers be blessed.

  73. Just as the pope justly thunders against those who by any means whatever contrive harm to the sale of indulgences.

  74. Much more does he intend to thunder against those who use indulgences as a pretext to contrive harm to holy love and truth.

  75. To consider papal indulgences so great that they could absolve a man even if he had done the impossible and had violated the mother of God is madness.

  76. We say on the contrary that papal indulgences cannot remove the very least of venial sins as far as guilt is concerned.

  77. To say that even St. Peter if he were now pope, could not grant greater graces is blasphemy against St. Peter and the pope.

  78. We say on the contrary that even the present pope, or any pope whatsoever, has greater graces at his disposal, that is, the gospel, spiritual powers, gifts of healing, etc., as it is written, 1 Co 12[:28].

  79. To say that the cross emblazoned with the papal coat of arms, and set up by the indulgence preachers is equal in worth to the cross of Christ is blasphemy.

  80. The bishops, curates, and theologians who permit such talk to be spread among the people will have to answer for this.

  81. This unbridled preaching of indulgences makes it difficult even for learned men to rescue the reverence which is due the pope from slander or from the shrewd questions of the laity.

  82. Such as: “Why does not the pope empty purgatory for the sake of holy love and the dire need of the souls that are there if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of miserable money with which to build a church? The former reason would be most just; the latter is most trivial.

  83. Again, “Why are funeral and anniversary masses for the dead continued and why does he not return or permit the withdrawal of the endowments founded for them, since it is wrong to pray for the redeemed?”

  84. Again, “What is this new piety of God and the pope that for a consideration of money they permit a man who is impious and their enemy to buy out of purgatory the pious soul of a friend of God and do not rather, because of the need of that pious and beloved soul, free it for pure love’s sake?”

  85. Again, “Why are the penitential canons, long since abrogated and dead in actual fact and through disuse, now satisfied by the granting of indulgences as though they were still alive and in force?”

  86. Again, “Why does not the pope, whose wealth is today greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build this one basilica of St. Peter with his own money rather than with the money of poor believers?”

  87. Again, “What does the pope remit or grant to those who by perfect contrition already have a right to full remission and blessings?”

  88. Again, “What greater blessing could come to the church than if the pope were to bestow these remissions and blessings on every believer a hundred times a day, as he now does but once?”

  89. “Since the pope seeks the salvation of souls rather than money by his indulgences, why does he suspend the indulgences and pardons previously granted when they have equal efficacy?”

  90. To repress these very sharp arguments of the laity by force alone, and not to resolve them by giving reasons, is to expose the church and the pope to the ridicule of their enemies and to make Christians unhappy.

  91. If, therefore, indulgences were preached according to the spirit and intention of the pope, all these doubts would be readily resolved. Indeed, they would not exist.

  92. Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Peace, peace,” and there is no peace! (Jer 6:14)

  93. Blessed be all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Cross, cross,” and there is no cross!

  94. Christians should be exhorted to be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, death and hell.

  95. And thus be confident of entering into heaven through many tribulations rather than through the false security of peace (Acts 14:22).

  Note: This document was originally made available to the Internet by Bob Van Cleef (.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)). I don’t know him, but you ever meet him, tell him, “thanks.” This document was converted to HTML format by Jonathan Hall Barlow.

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Holiness by Grace (a book you’ll LOVE)

Monday, October 24, 2011
Holiness by Grace (a book you’ll LOVE)

Below is an excerpt from the introduction of Bryan Chapell’s book, Holiness by Grace. You should buy this book. It is balanced, bold and for broken people who long to see the grace of God take root in their lives and actually propel and motivate them to holiness. Chapell doesn’t disclaimer away the radical grace of God, nor does he soft-sell grace motivated obedience. If you find yourself reading the book and wondering if it was written by two authors then you are probably reading it right, but processing it wrong. God’s radical grace and the radical response He desires from it will often seem to be at opposition to one another, but it precisely the opposite is true. Grace must be EXPERIENCED and EXPRESSED or it is not grace at all!

‘God says, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’ The young preacher quoted the
words of Leviticus with such fervor that I had little doubt he really
expected us to live up to this command for untarnished righteousness.
Yet, as my eyes scanned those seated between the pulpit and my pew,
I wondered if he recognized the true challenge in his words:

• On the front row were two sisters; both divorced in the past
year. One had recently confided to friends that her loneliness
since her marriage had driven her into sinful relationships with
other men. The second sister had found more frequent solace
in alcohol that trapped her in a horrid cycle of depression that
made her treat her kids cruelly, making her feel guilty, and
causing her to drink again to escape her guilt.

• Behind the sisters were a successful businessman and long-term
elder who had engineered the ouster of the previous pastor with
a combination of biblical proof-texting and political intrigue. The
elder’s wife, seated next to him, had conducted a skillful phone
campaign that created enough questions about the pastor’s
credibility to disarm any defense he tried to make.

• In the same pew was a young mother trying to manage two
out-of-control preschoolers. Simultaneously she was ignoring
disgusted glances from the nearby elder while glaring daggers
at her own husband to motivate him to discipline the children.

• Directly in front of me a teenager sat at the opposite end of
the pew from his parents as a geographical statement of what
he felt about his relationship with them since he had been
grounded for ignoring curfew the previous night.

• Ultimately my attention rested on me, the seminary professor
who had been moody with his family for days because of a letter
from a stranger that had criticized his work.

My eyes and my heart testified there was not a sinless person among
us. Yet the preacher seemed oblivious to our obvious faults. He said it
again, ‘Be holy, for God is holy’ (see Lev. 11:44, 45; 19:2; 20:26; 1
Pet. 1:16).

Does God really expect us to be holy as he is? He is infinitely pure.
I am an imperfect person. So is everyone about me (see Ps. 14:1-

3; Eccles. 7:20). His standard seems either to ignore human frailty
or to impose certain failure. We must make sense of this command
for perfect righteousness lest our hearts harden into a shrugged, ‘Get
real,’ or break into sobbed, ‘I can’t do it.’

VISIONS OF HOLINESS

How does God enable us to meet his requirement of holiness? An
answer lies along the path of John Bunyan’s famous travelers in the
children’s version of Pilgrim’s Progress that out family has read after
dinners (which have had their own share of imperfect behavior).

Late on their journey, Bunyan’s pilgrims discover a wonderful mirror.
There is nothing unusual about the front of the glass. However, on
the back of the mirror appears an image of the crucified Lord Jesus.
Everyone who looks in the mirror’s face sees an ordinary reflection
that includes the blemishes and scars that always accompany our
humanity. Yet anyone who observes these same persons from the
reverse side of the mirror sees only the glory of the Son of God.

The amazing glass from Pilgrim’s progress pictures the answer to how
we can be holy in this life. Our holiness is not so much a matter of
what we achieve, as it is the grace our God provides. Grace is God’s
willingness to look at us from the perspective that sees his holy Son in
our place.

God can certainly see the faults and frailties reflected in the mirror
of our lives. Still, he chooses to look at those who trust in his mercy
through the lens that features the holiness of his own child in our
place. As a consequence he loves and treasures us as much as if we
had never sinned.

Many years ago, the preacher Phillips Brooks explained –G-R-A-C-E as
God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. The acrostic beautifully expresses
how the blessings of God, which Jesus alone deserves, are mercifully
passed to us as a consequence of his suffering and dying for our sin.
When we trust that Christ’s work, rather than our own achievements,
is the basis of our righteousness, then God mercifully grants us the
riches of his love that only Jesus deserves. God looks at us as though
we are as holy as his own Son, and treats us as lovingly despite our
many imperfections.

Most Christians cherish the beauty of the truth that God viewed us
through the lens of Jesus’ goodness when we claimed him as our

Savior. We trusted that Christ’s death paid the penalty for our sins,
and that we were made right with God – justified – not by our own
holiness but by trusting in the holiness he provided. Just as objects
look red when viewed through a red lens and green when viewed
through a green lens, we believed that when God looked at us through
Jesus he viewed us as his own child.

Belief in his provision of grace, whereby God chose to view us as
his beloved through no good of our own, became the greatest joy
of our souls. What robs many believers of this joy, however, is a
misunderstanding of how God continues to view us after we have
received the grace that justifies us.

After initially trusting in Christ to make them right with God, many
Christians embark on an endless pursuit of trying to satisfy God with
good works that will keep him loving them. Such Christians believe
that they are saved by God’s grace but are kept in his care by our own
goodness. This belief, whether articulated or buried deep in a psyched
developed by the way we were treated by parents, spouses, or others,
makes the Christian life a perpetual race on a performance treadmill to
keep wining God’s affection.

While the Christian life can be characterized as a race (see Gal. 5:7;
2 Tim. 4:7; Heb. 12:1), we persevere on the course God marks out
for us not by straining to gain his affection but by the assurance that
he never stops viewing us from the perspective of his grace. God
continually offers us unconditional love and encouragement that our
status as his children does not vary even though our efforts do.

When I see my son’s energy flag in his cross-county meets, I shout
encouragement to revive his resolve and keep him going. I know
intuitively that threats or expressions of frustration would sap his
strength for the long race ahead (and the many races to come) even if
my pressure were to spur him on for the moment.

God is a better father than I, and his encouragement rings more
powerfully, wisely, lovingly, and continually in his children’s souls.
We race in the confidence that his grace does not cease just because
we have faltered. Grace becomes not only the means by which God
once justified us, it is also the means by which we are continually
encouraged and enabled to serve him with undiminished delight.

Since grace is the means by which we find the joy that gives us
strength, it is vital that we refine our vision of how God views us.

Whether our lives will be typified by joy or by despondency depends
largely on the perspective from which we view ourselves. Will earth’s
or heaven’s perspective dominate our vision?

The first purpose of this book is to make heaven’s view so clear to
us that we will never stop seeing ourselves as God sees us. For if
we cannot lift our eyes from an earthly perspective, then we will so
focus on our weaknesses and stumbles that the race to please God
will be misery. But if we remember that God is the lifter or our heads
(Ps. 3:3), then we will raise our eyes to see the affections in his own.
When we see that his regard for us does not waver, then his grace
will quicken our steps, strengthen our hearts, and delight our souls to
carry on.

Special thanks to Bob Bradshaw who recommended this book to me!

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Quote from William Romaine

Monday, October 17, 2011

Jerry Bridges wrote an article for Modern Reformation Magazine in 2004 entitled, Gospel-Driven Sanctification. In it he quotes William Romaine. The quote is pure Gospel gold!

William Romaine, who was one of the leaders of the eighteenth-century revival in England, wrote, “No sin can be crucified either in heart or life unless it first be pardoned in conscience…. If it be not mortified in its guilt, it cannot be subdued in its power.” What Romaine was saying is that if you do not believe you have died to sin’s guilt, you cannot trust Christ for the strength to subdue its power in your life. So the place to begin in dealing with sin is to believe the gospel when it says you have died to sin’s guilt.

Thank you Jerry for reminding us that we live by FAITH ALONE, by believing what is true as the basis for behaving like it is true!

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You said, “God LOVES me and LIKES me, but what about ‘grieving the Holy Spirit’?”

Wednesday, October 12, 2011
You said, “God LOVES me and LIKES me, but what about ‘grieving the Holy Spirit’?”

I got an email early on Monday morning asking a very thoughtful question, “If God isn’t MAD at us then why does the Bible speak of grieving the Holy Spirit and why does our Confession of Faith (Churches in the Presbyterian Church in America embrace the Westminster Confession of Faith as containing the system of doctrine taught in Scripture) indicate in chapter 17 that God can be ‘displeased’ with us?” It was a great question and it prompted about 13 pages of theological explanation.

If you haven’t listened to Sunday’s sermon you probably need to do that right now. You can access that file by clicking on the title. The message is entitled, “He likes me…He likes me NOT…” Secondly, download the paper and then, as always, post your comments, questions and concerns right here!

The paper begins with the question I received…

One of the required reading pieces for the officers class is the Westminster Confession, so I’ve been going over it.  Yesterday when you were preaching I was having a tough time reconciling your words with Chapter 17 point 3 of the Confession and tying it all together.

“Nevertheless, they may, through the temptations of Satan and of the world, the prevalence of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of the means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins; and for a time, continue therein; whereby they incur God’s displeasure and grieve his Holy Spirit, come to be deprived of some measure of their graces and comforts, have their hearts hardened , and their consciences wounded; hurt and scandalize others, and bring temporal judgment upon themselves.”

It’s the incurring God’s displeasure part and grieving his Holy Spirit which I didn’t hear from you yesterday and I’m having a hard time making the leap from the Confession to your sermon.

I went to the small group questions you post hoping they would shed a little light, but I’m still wrestling…  When you have time, any additional thoughts you have would be appreciated.

Good question.

First things first: when you say something, you can’t say EVERYTHING. Often sermons can die the death of a thousand disclaimers. I don’t do alot of disclaimers. Part of that is really good and intentional because it spurs you on to study and wrestle personally. But, part of that can be aggravating to the person in the pew because it leaves too many stones unturned and too many nuances left to be teased out. So, thank you for the question and the opportunity to explain.

The premise of the sermon was simply this: if we truly embrace and understand the doctrine of imputed righteousness then we must admit and relish in the fact that our fundamental ‘position in Christ’ as believers is one of acceptance, love and adoption. When Paul says in Romans 8 that ‘there is therefore now NO CONDEMNATION for those who are in Christ Jesus’ he is talking about believers in the present tense right now. Reformed theology has often referred to the imputed righteousness of Christ as ‘positional righteousness’ meaning that my ‘position’ before God in Christ is righteous and secure. It is a nuance used to describe the ‘already and not yet’ of what I see at work in my flesh, but what I know to be declared true about me in Heaven. I am declared to be righteous in Christ, but I see a demonstration of unrighteousness in my flesh. Theologians would say that our ‘position’ in Christ is fundamentally secure, but that our sanctification involves the mortification of the sinful flesh and the vivification of the Spirit so as to reflect ‘in real life’ who we have already been declared to be in Christ. I’d call this the ‘working out of your salvation’ that is spoken of in Scripture.

DOWNLOAD the entire paper here…

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An Open Letter to Self-Deceived Sorority Girls and Soccer Moms…

Monday, October 10, 2011

I met a couple last week that just floored me. They were both ‘good’ Presbyterians, Calvinists, Bible-readers and church attenders. I assumed they had fallen in love through RUF and had a storybook romance ending with a wedding night where God blessed the union that they had both ‘saved themselves’ for. Not so much. They epitomized what the cancer of legalism and self-righteousness can do—it can make you look HEALTHY on the outside while rotting your spiritual bones from the inside. The wife said this to me, “Sometimes God has to show your sin to the whole world before you can see it yourself…” I told her, “You have to write your story down and let me put it on the blog.” Here is their story. I hope you see yourself somewhere in here.

It is an odd thing to tell your own story, especially when you aren’t sure who will be reading it. But, I have been asked to share my tale with honesty so I will give it my best attempt. To start at the beginning would be reaching too far back. It would begin on the day of my birth which I assume was a warm evening in the late spring of 1979. So, I will jump ahead 20 years to the day I truly saw myself for the first time. On the evening of February 7, 2000 I found the end of me which turned out to actually be the beginning. I was midway through my junior year of college when I find myself sitting in shock on the bathroom floor of my fiance’s college apartment with a positive pregnancy test in my hand. We had been engaged for about 8 weeks and based on my best guess we were about 8 weeks along. It was at that moment when I realized that everything I thought I knew had suddenly changed.

You would think that the greatest struggle would have been dealing with the responses from others, but God spared us the fights and resentments that often flow from families in a moment of crisis. Instead, I found that my greatest crisis was within. I realized that I no longer knew who I was. You see, up until then I was always the “good girl”. Frankly, in my own mind I was one of the best girls. I grew up with a long line of gold stars next to my name. My gold stars weren’t just for achievements at school either. I was earning gold stars for Jesus! I was a leader in my youth group, chaired the True Love Waits campaign, volunteered with community organizations, made my Junior Miss platform abstinence, and loudly rebuked all my friends when they fell into one of the deadly sins such as underage drinking or premarital sex. I truly thought that I was strong enough and spiritually mature enough to avoid this type of sin. Yet, somehow it had crept in, and there I was completely broken knowing that the sin I had tried most to hide was soon going to be evident to the world. 

What I discovered over those next few days was grace, true grace, the kind that gives you the strength to roll out of bed when you can’t even stand the sight of yourself. This grace is only found when you finally see the depth of your own sin. You see, I had been a believer nearly all my life. I had rarely missed a Sunday service or youth retreat. I had experienced many heartfelt moments of spiritual renewal and awakening, but I had never felt the unabashed, unending depths of Jesus’ love for me. It was there all along but I had missed it, because I had never really seen my sin. God had to reveal my deepest, darkest best hidden sin to the entire world before I was able to see it in myself.

This realization of my own sin came from the encouragement of our pastor at the time. He encouraged me to move past seeing my sin as an act that had taken place and to dig deeper to see the root of all sin in my heart. What I began to see for the first time, is that Christ had died to redeem me not only from the sinful acts that I committed, but from the sinful nature in me, the root of every sin that lurked in my heart just waiting for the opportunity to be revealed. Even worse, I realized that my greatest sin was the prideful love that I had for myself. I knew with confidence that all the good works I had ever credited to myself were filthy rags. I saw that I had done all the right things for all the wrong reasons.

At the time, I had thought that all my good works were my obedience to God, but those achievements and works were really about my glory and the favor I was trying to earn from God instead of the free grace I had been given in Christ. I realized that I had been living by own standard of righteousness. As long as I measured me in my own eyes, then I didn’t look too bad. However, when God showed me my heart, I saw myself measured against His standard then I knew Jesus was my only hope. Suddenly, I felt for the first time that because of Jesus, I had no less favor in God’s eyes when I was unmarried and pregnant than when I had been teaching bible study or leading worship as the “good girl”. With this truth secure in my heart, I was truly set free. I began to feel for the first time in my life that my walk with Christ was really not about my actions at all. It wasn’t about what I was doing or not doing, but it was about my heart before the Lord. It was about abiding and believing that my righteousness could only be found in the blood of Christ. This new found freedom compelled me to genuine obedience and works which flowed out of a longing to walk in a manner worthy of the grace I had received. Through Christ alone, I found that He had already accomplished the very things I was striving to do or not to do so I was able for the first time in my life to abide in Him and rest in His amazing grace. I had been set free, no longer bound to my image of being the good girl, but free to become a woman of grace who finds her value and significance in the cross of Jesus not in the eyes of the world.

Can I get an amen?

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Sobering quote from Spurgeon

Thursday, October 06, 2011

“We do not like to be saved by charity, and so to have no corner in which to sit and boast. We long to make provision for a little self-congratulation. You insult a moral man if you tell him that he must be saved in the same way as a thief or a murderer, yet this is no more than the truth. For a woman of purity to be told that the same grace which saved a Magdalene is necessary for her salvation is so humbling, that her indignation is roused, and yet it is the fact, for in every case salvation is “without money and without price.”

From a sermon by Charles Haddon Spurgeon entitled “Without Money And Without Price,” delivered March 8, 1871

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LIBERATEconference

Saturday, October 01, 2011
LIBERATEconference

Put February 23-25, 2012 on your calendar. Book your flight to Fort Lauderdale and make plans to attend this conference…I hardly every give you OUGHTS, but this is something you OUGHT to do! The speakers, topics and intention of this conference is aimed directly at our Gospel needs, but more specifically it is aimed at APPLYING the Gospel to our hearts, not simply reiterating the Gospel to our minds.

From Tchividjian’s website, “Even those of us who have experienced the unconditional, saving grace of God find it intuitively difficult not to put conditions on grace- “don’t take it too far; keep it balanced”, we say. The truth is, however, that a “yes grace but” posture perpetuates slavery in our lives and in the church.

I wholeheartedly believe that the gospel of grace is way more drastic, way more offensive, way more liberating, way more shocking, and way more counter intuitive than any of us realize. There is nothing more radically unbalanced and drastically unsafe than grace. It has no “but”: it’s unconditional, uncontrollable, unpredictable, and undomesticated. It unsettles everything. There is a dangerous depth to the gospel that needs to be rediscovered and embraced…and that’s what the LIBERATE Conference is all about.”

For More Information Click Here

FYI Registration costs are discounted for earlier registration….

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Idolatry, Self-righteousness and other confessions of a Homeschooling father…

Monday, September 26, 2011
Idolatry, Self-righteousness and other confessions of a Homeschooling father…

I found this article on JoshHarris.com It is a profound personal expose of idolatry, self-righteousness and pride. The Gospel awareness that it took to write this piece is a testimony to grace. This is a perfect complement to our series in Galatians and a sobering read for anyone who has ever tried to ‘get it right’ with their family. Pastorally, I must tell you from the outset that the issues he speaks of are not the result of ‘homeschooling’ per se, but it is the lens through which he addresses these issues common to most of us, however I will also point out that some of his specific application points will be most apropos for people who have adopted a homeschool, family-based youth ministry, date-your-daughter, courtship only mindset…Take a deep drink of Jesus and then read this…

Exposing Major Blind Spots of Homeschoolers by Reb Bradley

In the last couple of years, I have heard from multitudes of troubled homeschool parents around the country, a good many of whom were leaders. These parents have graduated their first batch of kids, only to discover that their children didn’t turn out the way they thought they would. Many of these children were model homeschoolers while growing up, but sometime after their 18th birthday they began to reveal that they didn’t hold to their parents’ values.

Some of these young people grew up and left home in defiance of their parents. Others got married against their parents’ wishes, and still others got involved with drugs, alcohol, and immorality. I have even heard of several exemplary young men who no longer even believe in God. My own adult children have gone through struggles I never guessed they would face.

Most of these parents remain stunned by their children’s choices, because they were fully confident their approach to parenting was going to prevent any such rebellion.

After several years of examining what went wrong in our own home and in the homes of so many conscientious parents, God has opened our eyes to a number of critical blind spots common to homeschoolers and other family-minded people.

Read the full article here

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What is SO wrong about loving what IS right?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

I got an email from a dear friend in the congregation this past week. We have disagreed many times on ‘gospel stuff’ but we both love Jesus and we do have an affection for friendly banter. Rather than answering their email I decided to ‘de-personalize’ it and make a blog entry. One page turned to eleven and the rest is history. It is attached as a PDF file and addresses their concerns, but also some of the same sentiments that recent comments on the blog have echoed.

It is written in response to their entire email, but the first question will give you the flavor:

This is not an “angry” email just a “confused” one… This past week’s sermon was confusing to me so I was hoping you could clarify. First, I would put myself in the group that you were addressing at the beginning of the sermon as far as .... of course I believe by Faith Alone, through Grace Alone, in Christ Alone.  And the way I see “Faith In Christ should lead to Faithfulness to Christ” seems like just another way of saying “Faith without works is Dead”  and “Experiencing Grace leads to Expressing Grace”.  Those all mean the same to me. So I thought I understood you to say that “Faith in Christ should lead to Faithfulness to Christ” was a wrong worldview. Could you explain why or if I have misunderstood what you said?  

Link to the entire PDF file by clicking here

One addendum: I had one of our Elders remind me last night that the history of the Lordship controversy in the States probably requires some further explanation on my part in order to avoid any confusion about what I am NOT saying in the paper. This comment is best understood AFTER you read the paper (but I know that most of you will read it now…thus proving Grace actually LEADS TO license…Smile…)

The “LORDSHIP” controversy was really an issue that arose because ‘easy believism’ was springing from a plethora of both church and para-church movements, mostly evangelistic type ministries. They were reporting ‘conversions’ that were actually only ‘momentary decisions.’ The advocates of the ‘Jesus must be your Savior AND Lord’ camp were originally trying to say that ‘Jesus must be the one you chose to follow in that ‘moment of decision’ and in all the subsequent moments of your life.’ I would wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment. The problem, in my estimation, that crept into so many of the para-church ministries and particularly campus ministries during that period is that those who were trying to refute the ‘easy believism’ actually OVER-compensated and reacted, rather than responding. The idea that mere mental assent to a set of facts at one given point was tantamount to conversion is incorrect, but to construct a behavioral evaluation paradigm as the solution was incorrect as well. The way they expressed that was to say, ‘Jesus must be your Savior AND Lord.’ What they originally meant was that faith in Christ is not an event it is a lifestyle, but what it became was that TRUE faith EQUALED a particular lifestyle.  Of course, you know I would not agree with that. The original diagnosis of error by the Lordship camp I wholeheartedly endorse. Their solution to the problem, is, in my estimation, an equally troubling problem.

So how do we reconcile the fact that in the paper I said that I’m ‘against Lordship’? If all Lordship did was re-affirm that faith isn’t a momentary event, but a lifestyle i.e. living by faith and repentance then I’d have no problem, but ‘Lordship’ came to be the umbrella term for much more. As I alluded to in the previous paragraph there was an ‘over-compensation’ made in an effort to ‘balance out’ the ‘easy believism’ crowd. The advocates of Lordship theology began to articulate specific evidences of what ‘living by faith’ not just believing for the moment might look like. HEAR ME CLEARLY: this started as helpful, pastoral care. I firmly believe the initial pastoral concern and application of pushing the ‘easy believism’ crowd to ask themselves about the veracity of their faith was helpful. What it BECAME/has BECOME is much, much more. The evolution of the question today is now basically the same theology as the ‘FAITH LEADS TO FAITHFULNESS’ camp I characterized on Sunday. FAITHFULNESS for the Lordship crowd and for many in that camp is seen as a ‘litmus test’ for Faith. Specific ‘markers’ show someone to be ‘in the faith’ or ‘out of the faith.’ Lots of religious language is used. Things are ‘given over to the Lord’. Activities are done ‘for the Lord.’ We wait before we act because we are seeking ‘leading from the Lord.’ The list goes on an on. The problem is a paradigm of ‘Faith in Faithfulness’ is what has actually evolved. Christian mantras, activities and behaviors are substituted for living by FAITH IN Christ. I would venture to say that in most Southern Evangelical Churches I could convince 99.9% of the pastors and parishoners that I was ‘saved’ by simply doing these 10 things:

1.) Going to Church regularly and sitting together as a family
2.) Talking about the evils of the Government and the moral decline of our nation
3.) Telling people how we need prayer in schools
4.) Teaching Sunday School or Vacation Bible School
5.) Serving as a Deacon, Elder or Usher
6.) Reading my Bible daily & calling it ‘quiet time’ (P.S. you have to mention once a week what the “Lord has been teaching me…” in my quiet time)
7.) Forwarding ‘Christian emails’ and sending out e-prayer requests
8.) Giving money (but saying “Time, Talent & Treasure”)
9.) Using one of these 4 phrases every 2 minutes, the “Lord” told me…the “Lord” led me…the “Lord” convicted me…I’m giving it to the “Lord”
10.) Carrying a large Bible with notes written in the margin and bulletins from years gone by to prove what the “Lord had been showing me…”

I would venture to say that if there was ANYONE who did that list above we would likely elect them to any office in the church. Problem is that you could do all 10 and not even know who the LORD is. Not a single thing on that list makes you a Christian, but if you did those things most churches in the Evangelical south would give you a free pass for life and never once question whether you hadn’t missed the Gospel, not by ‘easy believism’ but rather by ‘christian activism.’

I would prefer to say it this way: the antidote to ‘easy believism’ and mere mental assent is not a full-throttle, ratchet-down embrace of Christian moralism and pietism, but rather TRUE FAITH. The opposite of ‘easy believism’ isn’t ‘christian activism’ it is saving Faith. There is no such thing as Jesus the Savior who is not Jesus the Lord—- it is a false dichotomy, but it is equally false to say that the ‘Jesus is Lord’ portion means that I subscribe, adhere to and manage my behavior to align with a preconceived set of behaviors that the reactionary evangelical church prescribed as ‘markers’ of Faith. This is the Galatian error all over again. Jesus IS my Savior and my Lord, that is why I must continue to live by FAITH IN Him. It is precisely His Lordship that won’t allow me to persist in my sin and drives me to the cross. It is His Lordship that brings me to the cross repenting and sends me from the cross rejoicing. If He was not Lord, then indeed I would suggest that the Lordship folks had it right. We had better get busy. We have a crown to earn.

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The scandal of Grace from….Les Miserables

Thursday, September 22, 2011

My friend Tullian Tchividjian posted this video on his website a month ago. My eyes fill with tears every time I watch it. I remember when my daughter was young and particularly troubled one night about her sin. She could not sleep. She told me that she could not ‘forgive herself…’ I gathered the family and we watched this particular clip from the movie. We all wept. She got it. The picture of grace in this artistic expression is inspired. Anyone who doesn’t think grace leads to obedience and holiness needs to watch the rest of the movie. Victor Hugo understood what so often seems to elude us…the powerful reality of Grace is the ONLY thing that turns us a man from evil to good.

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Dear Jean, Your clever little one liners are insufficient…

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I got this as a blog comment on Sunday. Some really good encouragement about Sunday and some frustrated questions. I don’t have time to engage it all right now, but it was so well written I thought it might get some chatter going on Knots…P.S. I told the one who posted this that I was going to steal their line and title my autobiography, ‘HOW I MADE A LIVING WITH CLEVER LITTLE ONE LINERS…’

*******************************
Dear Jean,

As far as the execution of the new 3-service, sunday seminar format goes, all I can say is Wow, that was amazing! I can really see that a lot of thought went into the new format, and I just loved being part of something this exciting for Southwood!

On your sermon, ok, I’ll bite! Let me be the first to take the bait: When Jesus returned from praying in the garden, and found his disciples asleep, it seems to me that He should have spent a little more time listening to Steve Brown before He rebuked them, because instead of saying, “I’m glad you fell asleep in your Father’s arms again!”, He said, “What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mt 26:40-41).

Of course, the context in Matthew 26 is slightly different than Steve Brown’s clever example, but the fundamental issue is the same: the spirit in God’s children is willing, and the flesh is weak, and this leads to frustration. Do we just discard the Christian disciplines because our gracious pastor might mistake our progressive sanctification for a slide back into self-justification? Should Peter, James and John have responded, “Jesus, we’ve been listening to Jean Larroux, and that’s just Your inner Galatian talkin’! We were resting from our labors! Trust us: resting in Your future work on the cross is actually harder than staying awake, and we were focused on that!”

My point is that, yes, Steve Brown says clever things, and you say clever things, but when all the preaching is over, the sheep still have to go home and wrestle with what the Word of God actually says, and neither you, nor Steve Brown, actually invest the time in reconciling your exhortations with the Scriptures to the edification of the flock.

Steve Brown says “Hey, stop focusing on your sanctification!”, and then goes home and rests in his Father’s arms. But I go home and read from Paul that I should focus on my sanctification, and no less restful in my Father’s arms than Steve Brown.

I hear you say that when I fail, God isn’t any less pleased with me than He was before I failed. But I go home and read in the Bible that “the thing that David had done displeased the LORD.” Should David have just said, “Hey, Nathan, you’re just a Galatian trying to spy on the freedom I enjoy in Christ! I’ve been listening to Jean Larroux, and he says God’s disposition toward me isn’t any different than before I stole Bathsheba!”

I actually don’t think that what you’re preaching will lead to license. I don’t think it will lead to laziness. I don’t think it will lead to dogs and cats sleeping together with abandon.

But I do think that clever one-liners are insufficient to the task of distinguishing between the believer trusting in God’s act of justification, and the believer longing for His work of sanctification. It is indeed possible to rest in the knowledge that I have been hidden with Christ in God, and know with certainty that God is displeased that I cheated on my wife last week. Those two thoughts are not mutually exclusive, but your preaching insists that they are. I don’t get that, but I am starting to “get” your message. My skull is a little on the thick side, but your relentless pounding has actually made some inroads into my thoughts, and has helped me uncover what surely are not the last of my hidden stores of righteousness secretly buried in the basement of my heart. Thanks for uncovering them for me.

And thanks for what you’re doing at Southwood. Today was JUST TERRIFIC!

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Where are all the people?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Where are all the people?

When I was a child my mother taught me that cute little game you could play with your hands folded, “Here is the church. Here is the steeple. Open it up and see all the people…” We would do it over and over again. As a child I loved to laugh and watch the ‘church’ open up and see all of the people.

On September 18th we are going to do the same thing, but at the end of our exercise things may look a bit different: “Everything is remodeled, except for the steeple, but when I look around where are all the people?” You need to know this: the empty chairs and pews are empty ON PURPOSE. You read that statement correctly: the empty chairs in Sunday Seminars and empty pews in worship there by design!

Some might say that empty seats indicate our decision to go to three services was premature. Some might say empty seats are a testimony to the failure of Sunday Seminars. There is a temptation to see these potential realities a referendum on a poor strategic decision. Consider another possible interpretation of the empty seats: what if they were actually part of the intended goal of this transition? That indeed is the case. They are part of the intended GOAL of this decision and I want to spend the rest of this brief article explaining ‘why’.

Imagine you are new to Huntsville. Imagine you desire to connect with a Bible-believing church. Imagine someone suggests that you give Southwood a try. Imagine walking into a place where you open the church and look past the steeple but all you can see is a room FULL OF people. Several things happen: 1.) You feel lost, like a number in a crowd. 2.) You feel invisible to everyone else there (and to some degree are). 3.) You subconsciously get the message that there is ‘no room’ for you. 4.) People in the church feel no compulsion or passion to invite others because subconsciously they have already decided that the church is ‘packed.’ 5.) The church becomes stagnant and ingrown. Eventually complacency sets in because the status quo has become very, very comfortable.

Now imagine that we add just one thing to this equation: empty seats. Instead of feeling ‘packed out’ we are now experiencing the ‘where are all the people?’ feeling. Where are the people? They are out there, in Huntsville, in Madison County and beyond. They must be out there, they’re not in here. The people who belong in these empty chairs and pews must be at your office, in your carpool line, at the ball fields and in your neighborhood. If you look around and find yourself longing for ‘all the people’ then remember why God put this church in Jones Valley. He put it here for His sheep, some of whom have already made it to this place and some He is now making room for in those empty seats. That empty chair next to you is for the sake of someone you have yet to meet; someone you have yet to invite; someone you have yet to call your friend. It is there by design. We made these changes IN ORDER TO get empty chairs and empty pews! The seats are empty ON PURPOSE.

Do something for the Kingdom: if you are in a room or a pew that is ‘full’ then get up and go get more chairs. Make more room. Make sure there are empty chairs everywhere! Expect that God will bring others. Plan for Him to bring others. Expect the hungry, needy, broken and downcast to come and feast on grace at Southwood. There was a day in the recent past when you walked through the door and there was room for you. Empty chairs and pews are now strategically available at Southwood to make room for the ‘you’ we haven’t met yet. We need to look in the church and look past the steeple to intentionally empty seats awaiting God’s people. That isn’t strategic failure; it is strategic planning! It is expecting that God will do what He said He will do—-build His church!!!

We need to be careful not to despise the days of ‘small things.’ That may sound ludicrous when we are talking about a church of 1,800 members, but some of us may end up in a classroom with only 4 people and a teacher. There may be some ‘holy huddle’ moments coming. PRAISE GOD! What an opportunity for fellowship, intimacy and real-life application! Before long having a ‘two or three gathered’ will seem like a shadowy dream from the past. Enjoy the relationships that will be built in these moments and take a mental snapshot. You can place that photo in the album right next to the photo of the room at full capacity. In BOTH photos God is at work. The only error in either context is the discontentment that longs for the other scenario while missing the blessing right before our eyes!

A final word of encouragement. God tends to grow His church in His timing. That means that our desire to visibly see growth may not directly coincide with His plan for growing us. In the meantime might I suggest that we pray. Ask God to do something. Ask Him to open the door to an invitation conversation with a friend. Start praying that God would move in the heart of someone you know. Pray them into that empty chair next to you. Pray their family into that empty pew. If you want to be really encouraged then choose the most hardened, least likely people you would ever expect to ever darken the door of this church. Pray expecting that they will walk through the door. Every time you walk into a room expect that they will be there. God loves His people more than you do; just be available and keep getting more chairs. One day, by His grace, they may just show up. When they do, don’t be shocked, be reassured, God hasn’t changed. Not so long ago you showed up here and it was just as scandalous. It is my prayer that Southwood always has lots of empty seats and empty pews, on purpose.

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The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification

Monday, September 12, 2011
The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification

Below is an excerpt from Walter Marshall’s book, “The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification” It is a great reminder that today and everyday all we bring to God is our sin and Jesus. What hope and comfort it is to know that Christ was and is the Redeemer and I am the one who is redeemed!

‘Despair of purging the flesh, or natural man of its sinful lusts and inclinations, and of practicing holiness, by your willing and resolving to do the best that lies in your own power, and trusting on the grace of God and Christ, to help you in such resolutions and endeavors; rather resolve to trust on Christ, to work in you to will and do, by his own power, according to his own good pleasure. – They that are convinced of their own sin and misery, do commonly first think to tame the flesh, and to subdue and root out its lusts, and to make their corrupt nature to be better natured, and inclined to holiness, by their struggling and wrestling with it: And, if they can but bring their hearts to a full purpose and resolution to do the best that lies in them, they hope, that, by such a resolution, they shall be able to achieve great enterprises, in the conquest of their lusts, and the performance of the most difficult duties. – It is the great work of some zealous divines, in their preaching and writings, to stir up people to this resolution, wherein they place the chiefest turning point from sin to godliness. And they think, that this is not contrary to the life of faith, because they trust on the grace of God, through Christ, to help them in all such resolutions and endeavors. – Thus they endeavor to reform their old state, and to be made perfect in the flesh, instead of putting it off, and   walking according to the new state in Christ. They trust on low carnal things for holiness, and upon the acts of their own will, their purposes, resolutions, and endeavors, instead of Christ: and they trust on Christ to help them in this carnal way: whereas true faith would teach them, that they are nothing and that they do but labor in vain. They may as well wash the Blakmore white, as purge the flesh, or natural man, from its evil lusts, and make it pure and holy. It is desperately wicked, past all cure. It will unavoidably lust against the Spirit of God, even in the best saints on earth (Gal.5: 17). Its mind is enmity to the law of God; and neither is, nor can be subject to it (Rom. 8:7). They that would cure it, and make it holy, by their own resolutions and endeavors, do act quite contrary to the design of Christ’s death; for, he died, not that the flesh, or old natural man, might be made holy; but that it might be crucified, and destroyed out of us (Rom. 6:6); and that we might live to God, not to ourselves, or by any natural power of our own resolutions and endeavors, but by Christ living in us, and by His Spirit bringing forth the fruits of righteousness in us (Gal. 2:20) and 5:24,25). Therefore, we must be content to leave the natural man, vile and wicked, as we found it, until it be utterly abolished by death; though we must not allow its wickedness, but rather groan to be delivered from the body of this death, thanking God that there is deliverance through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Our way to mortify sinful affections and lusts, must be, not by purging them out of the flesh, but by putting off the flesh itself, and getting above into Christ by faith, and walk in that new nature that is by him. Thus ‘the way of life is above to the wise, that he may depart from hell beneath’ (Prov. 15:24). Our willing, resolving, and endeavoring, must be, to do the best, not that lies in ourselves, or in our own power, but that Christ, and the power of His Spirit, shall be pleased to work in us: for, in us (that is, in our flesh) there dwells no good thing (Rom. 7:18). We have great ground to trust in God and Christ for help in such resolutions and endeavors after holiness, as in things that are agreeable to the design of Christ in our redemption, and to the way of acting and living by faith. It is likely, that Peter sincerely resolved to die with Christ, rather than to deny Him, and to do all that he could, by his own power, for that end; but Christ made him quickly to see the weakness and vanity of such resolutions. And we see, by experience, what many resolutions made in sickness, and other dangers, mostly come to. It is not enough for us to trust on Christ to help us to act and endeavor so far only as creatures; for so the worst of men are helped: He is the JEHOVAH in whom we live, move, and have our being (Acts 17:28). And it is likely the Pharisee would trust on God, to help him in duty, as he would thank God for the performance of duty (Luke 18:11). And this is all the faith that many make us of in order to a holy practice. – But we must trust on Christ to enable us above the strength of our own natural power, by virtue of the new nature which we have in Christ, and by His Spirit dwelling and working in us; or else our best endeavors will be altogether sinful, and mere hypocrisy, notwithstanding all the help for which we trust upon Him. We must also take heed of depending for holiness upon any resolution to walk in Christ, or any written covenants, or any holiness, that we have already received; for, we must know, that the virtue of these things continues no longer than we continue walking in Christ and Christ in us. They must be kept up by the continual presence of Christ in us; as light is maintained by the presence of the sun, and cannot subsist without it.’

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Cat lost on the way to opera…

Wednesday, September 07, 2011
Cat lost on the way to opera…

I was driving on my way to work and saw this sign. I passed three of them before I stopped and took a photo. In my mind all I could envision was a cat like “Puss in Boots” but with a tuxedo, cumberbund and bow tie, perhaps a small tophat and a walking cane strolling through Jones Valley singing Sinatra’s “I’ve got the world on a string”, “...I’ve got the world on a string…sitiin’ on a rainbow, got the string around my finger…what a world, what a life….I’m in LOVE!” Hit it boys!!! Then a chorus of mice join in…bop, bop, bopity bop….

Here’s your challenge: Come up with the most creative story of what the cat was doing, who he was with, etc…you may also consider other ‘parallel’ stories i.e. Lost German Shepherd wearing semi-formal attire, white dinner jacket…. or Lost Rabbit wearing cocktail dress and heels…

P.S. Please don’t remind us all about the ‘seriousness’ of the lost feline. We know. We all care. The sign is funny.. This is a JOKE…r-e-l-a-x….

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From Dr. Sinclair Ferguson

Monday, September 05, 2011
From Dr. Sinclair Ferguson

The first thing to remember is that we must never separate the benefits (regeneration, justification, sanctification) from the Benefactor (Jesus Christ). The Christians who are most focused on their own spirituality may give the impression of being the most spiritual but from the New Testament’s point of view, those who have almost forgotten about their own spirituality because their focus is so exclusively on their union with Jesus Christ and what He has accomplished are those who are growing and exhibiting fruitfulness. Historically speaking, whenever the piety of a particular group is focused on OUR spirituality, that piety will eventually exhaust itself on its own resources. Only where our piety forgets about us and focuses on Jesus Christ will our piety be nourished by the ongoing resources the Spirit brings to us from the source of all true piety, our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Encouragement from Spurgeon…

Monday, August 29, 2011
Encouragement from Spurgeon…

Are your weary hands drooping?
Is your heart sinking under the weight of a burden?
Do you feel alone?
Do you feel isolated?

Read these words from Charles H. Spurgeon and see if you do not believe that God may have specifically sent this wonderful quote just for you. Hold fast dear Christian. God is with you. He will not abandon you. He will quicken and vivify your faith. I am thankful to my dear brother Bob Bradshaw for sending to me these words of hope and encouragement as he saw my shoulders drooping and my heart weary. I am reminded that His yoke is easy, His burden is light. It is only heavy when I carry it on my own.

‘Here and there we meet with one to whom it is given to believe in God with mighty faith. As soon as such a man strikes out a project, or sets about a work that none but men of his mold would venture upon, straightaway there arises a clamor: ‘The man is overzealous,’ or he will be charged with an innovating spirit, rashness, fanaticism, or absurdity. Should the work go on, the opposers whisper together, ‘Wait a little while, and you’ll see the end of all this wildfire.’ That said the sober semi-faithful men to Luther? The monk had read in the scriptures this passage: ‘A man is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith of Jesus Christ’ (Gal 2:16). He went to a venerable divine to ask him about it, and at the same time he complained of the enormities of Rome. What was the good but weak brother’s reply? Go to your cell, and pray and study for yourself, and leave these weighty matters alone.’ Here it would have ended had the brave reformer continued to consult with flesh and blood. But his faith enabled him to go forward alone, if none would accompany him. He nailed up his theses on the church door and showed that one man at least had faith in the gospel and in its God. Then trouble came, but Luther minded it not, because the Father was with him. We also must be prepared, if God gives us strong faith, to ride far ahead, like spiritual light cavalry, who bravely pioneer the way for the rank and file of the army. It were well if the church of God had more of the fleet-footed sons of Asabel - bolder than lions, swifter than eagles in their Lord’s service - men who can do and dare alone till laggards take courage and follow in their track. These Valiant-for-Truths will pursue a solitary path full often, but let them console themselves with this thought: ‘I am not alone, but I am with the Father who sent me’ (John 8:16). If we can believe in God, He will never be in arrears with us; if we can dare, God will do; if we can trust, God will never suffer us to be confounded, world without end. It is sweet beyond expression to climb where only God can lead, and to plant the standard on the highest towers of the foe. ‘

*Don’t you love the picture of Spurgeon smiling? It is the only one I have ever seen and it gives me joy to see the joy in his face, not simply the somber characterization that is often portrayed of this ‘Prince of Preachers.’ No man could ever preach grace and the Gospel as he did without laughter and joy in his heart!

 

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A rock at a hornet’s nest…

Tuesday, August 23, 2011
A rock at a hornet’s nest…

My friend Steve Brown is not the most subtle guy you will ever meet. If I were to write an S.A.T. question about Steve this is how it would go: Steve Brown is to legalism what a child hopped up on cake and ice cream is to an pinata. I love this guy. Check out his website and PLEASE subscribe to his podcast!

These are quotes from Steve’s book, Scandalous Freedom (here goes the pinata!):

‘What God does or does not do in your life rarely has anything to do with how good you are.’

‘The greatest cause for our not getting better is our obsession with not getting better.’

‘Sanctification becomes a reality in those believers who don’t obsess over their own Sanctification. Holiness hardly ever becomes a reality until we care more about Jesus than about holiness.’

‘Now let me give you my confession: I’m about as good as I’m going to get, and I’m tired of trying. While the fact that I’m not going to get much better has disappointed some, I’m a lot easier to live with.’

‘There is hardly anything that will beat you down and rob you of your freedom more than your efforts to get better - or, at least, the effort to get better in the wrong way.’

‘You may be thinking that I care nothing for the law of God, for his plan for me, and for my own sanctification. But stay with me. I have some surprising information to share with you.’

‘I don’t think I’ve ever met a Christian man or woman who didn’t want to be better than he or she was. They were just gong about it the wrong way…. trying really hard to be better.’

‘I’m part of Christ’s visible church - but sometimes, church looks more like a prison than it does a gateway to freedom. Religion can make people mean, angry, gloomy, critical, judgmental, and neurotic.’

‘But if the Christian faith is about being nicer, it becomes moralism; and in that case, Buddhism will probably be of more help than biblical Christianity.’
‘I believe that, from an existential viewpoint, one of the greatest sin Christians can commit is a constant focus on their sin. It is a far more prideful and arrogant exercise than almost anything you can do.’

‘In recent days God has allowed me to see that I want to be alone, because when I’m with other people, I try to fix them; or if they really get to know me, I will have them fix me.’

and all God’s people (or at least some of them) groaned and said, “Amen!”

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‘Christian’ used to describe anything other than a person is just a marketing term…

Friday, August 19, 2011

“Christians have this really nasty habit of only engaging with art and culture that has a Christian label on it. You have to learn how to find truth, you have to learn how to find beauty, you have to learn how to discern those things rather than how to discern the category of the band you just bought. Labeling something Christian does not suddenly make it beautiful and true. And labeling something non-Christian doesn’t make it untrue and ugly. Those terms don’t mean anything.”

-Derek Webb

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Never, Never, Never, Never, Never…give up (grace)!

Monday, August 15, 2011
Never, Never, Never, Never, Never…give up (grace)!

This is a re-post of the text of a blog entry from Dr. Tim Keller at Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City. Many thanks to Ruling Elder, John Bise for directing my attention to it. It is worth reading every word. The original post can be found here.
________

“First, Dr Lloyd-Jones insisted that we use the gospel as we edify Christians. In Preaching and Preachers, Lloyd-Jones warns preachers not to “assume that all…who are members of the church, are…Christians. This, to me, is the most fatal blunder of all.” (p.146) He goes on to say that many people have accepted Christianity intellectually but have never come under the power of the Word and the gospel and therefore have “not truly repented.” (p.150)

This is very significant. It is at the heart of the difference between the Old Side/New Side, Old Lights/New Lights controversy during the revivals in 18th century America. The Old Side and Lights insisted that what made you a Christian was, essentially, that you were in the church as a baptized, confessing member. They thought it inappropriate to make baptized, professing Christians consider that perhaps they were not regenerate. But here Lloyd-Jones comes down firmly on the side of the revivalists. He says that under real gospel preaching there will always be a steady stream of church members who, every year, come forward and confess that they had never understood the gospel and had, over the past months, finally repented and believed truly. “One of the most exhilarating experiences in the life of a preacher is what happens when people whom everybody had assumed to be Christians are suddenly converted and truly become Christians. Nothing has a more powerful effect upon the life of a church than when that happens to a number of people.” (p.152) Lloyd-Jones relates several intriguing cases. In one case, he tells of guest preaching at a church in Toronto in which an older lady, one of the biggest financial supporters and “pillars” of the congregation was led to see by his preaching that she was not a Christian. The preaching at that church had never revealed it to her, because the preaching was what the Doctor called “general expositions for believers”, helping them live a good Christian life, but mainly appealing only to the will, never going down after the heart and conscience.

Therefore, the Doctor warns about only exposing Christians to what he calls “general expositions” meant to teach, or “preaching morality and ethics without the Gospel as a basis.” (p.35) Not only have many professing Christians never truly repented and rested in grace, but regenerate Christians need to constantly feel the power of the Gospel, and “almost” go through the experience of conversion again and again. (p.151) He adds, “If our preaching is always expository and for edification and teaching it will produce church members who are hard and cold, and often harsh and self-satisfied. I do not know of anything that is more likely to produce a congregation of Pharisees than that.” (p.153)

As I’ve said in previous posts, Lloyd-Jones’ advice is largely being ignored today. The emphasis even within the Reformed world tends to bifurcate in two directions, neither of which follow the Doctor. On the one hand, many Reformed evangelicals are (rightly) enamored with expository preaching, but it tends to be highly doctrinal and exegetical—it is not very life-related and, while there is some general concern to preach Christ from Old Testament texts, does not regularly recapitulate the gospel the way the Doctor calls us to do. On the other hand, there are the more liturgically oriented, who follow (whether they know it or not) the high church Calvinism of John W. Nevin rather than his contemporaries Archibald Alexander and Charles Hodge of Princeton. Nevin was completely against assuming that baptized believers might not be regenerate. He stressed the long processes of liturgical worship and catechizing for shaping heart and mind, not preaching that called for self-examination and conversion. Lloyd-Jones is far more in line with the Princeton theologians.

In his Thoughts on Religious Experience, Archibald Alexander writes that Christians must be exposed to the gospel of grace versus works again and again, not only to bring people to justification, but to enhance sanctification.

When persons are truly converted they always are sincerely desirous to make rapid progress in piety….Why then is so little advancement made?  First, there is a defect in our belief in the freeness of divine grace. To exercise unshaken confidence in the doctrine of gratuitous pardon is one of the most difficult things in the world, and to preach this doctrine fully without verging towards antinomianism is no easy task and is therefore seldom done. But Christians cannot but be lean and feeble when deprived of their proper nutriment.

It is by faith that the spiritual life is made to grow, and the doctrine of free grace, without any mixture of human merit, is the only true object of faith. Christians are too much inclined to depend on themselves and not to derive their life entirely from Christ. There is a spurious legal religion, which may flourish without the practical belief in the absolute freeness of divine grace, but it possesses none of the characteristics of the Christian’s life. It is found to exist in the rankest growth, in systems of religion which are utterly false. But even when the true doctrine is acknowledged in theory, often it is not practically felt and acted on. “The new convert lives upon his frames rather than on Christ, while the older Christian is still found struggling in his own strength and, failing in his expectations of success, he becomes discouraged first, and then he sinks into a gloomy despondency, or becomes in a measure careless….ntil religious teachers inculcate clearly, fully, and practically, the grace of God as manifested in the Gospel, we shall have no vigorous growth of piety among professing Christians….The covenant of grace must be more clearly and repeatedly expounded in all its rich plenitude of mercy, and in all its absolute freeness.

Do we preach the gospel so clearly even when we are seeking to edify that there are always at least a trickle of people within our church who come to see that they never really believed? The purpose of every sermon, according to Dr Lloyd-Jones, is not to give information and general instruction but to preach the gospel and make it real to the heart. There’s a flip side to this, and we will look at it in the next post.”

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RYM 2011: Sufficiency of Scripture

Monday, August 08, 2011
RYM 2011: Sufficiency of Scripture

This is a link the conference audio from Reformed Youth Movement Summer Conference 2011 in Colorado. I have been affiliated with RYM for over a decade now, more as a beneficiary of the wonderful work of the ministry and the solid teaching on the truth of Scriptures. It is my pleasure to commend the ministry to you and these messages that I was asked to teach last month (June 2011). They were 5 separate messages on the authority of Scripture. The students and I were blessed to see God TRULY meet us at this conference. If you are unfamiliar with the ministry of RYM please spend some time on their website and look around. LINK TO THE MESSAGES HERE

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Priceless comment….

Sunday, August 07, 2011

After church today I got this email from one of our mothers. Below is the dialog between she and her 4-year-old son Andrew. The mom was asking Andrew if he had fun in the nursery with his classmate Rosemary.

Mom said, “Andrew, did you play with Rosemary in your class like you did last week?”

Andrew replied, “No, she went with her mom and dad to big church to listen to the creature.”

Priceless.
-The Creature

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Green grass of grace…

Friday, August 05, 2011

Grace is difficult. It is harder than trying harder. We are allergic to resting in the finished work of Christ and the hardest ‘trophy’ to lay down is that trophy of obedience I have been working for my whole life. To make the shift from an life driven by fear to a life motivated by love is very, very painful. The emotional fear involved cannot be overstated. Most of us have obeyed because of fear of reprisal from God. To know that we are loved apart from our obedience or disobedience is a truth that is elusive. This is why it must be pounded into our souls week after week. Tim Keller said, “If you fear that when all fear of punishment is removed that all motivation for holiness will be removed as well then you must acknowledge that the only motivation to holiness at all was FEAR itself!” We have purposed to drive deep into those fields ripe with the green grass of the grace of God, not into the rocky crags of fundamentalism, legalism and pietism hoping that some nourishing shoot of grace will emerge every now and again. The sheep cannot be sustained on a sparse diet of occasional grace. Everything in Christendom tells them to weave for themselves garments of obedience and performance to wear before the Great White Throne of Judgment as ‘jewels in their crown.’ This is fundamentally no different than Islam! The Gospel offers us freedom from our sin-stained hearts and our obedience-stained garments and bids us rest in the finished work of Christ which is better than us being better!!!’

-Jean F. Larroux, III

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Indicatives vs. Imperatives

Friday, August 05, 2011

This quote was forwarded to me by Southwood Executive Director/Director of Adult Ministries, Bob Bradshaw. It is pure Gospel gold!

“You want to call people to holiness, as the new creatures they are, AND bring them into a deep awareness of the gospel of Grace. I want to call people to holiness, as the new creatures they are, BY bringing them into a deeper awareness of the gospel of Grace. You believe ‘effort and action (are) central to sanctification.’ I believe the gospel is central to sanctification, and that effort and action are neither central nor optional (optional = antinomanism) but integral. The rhythm of the New Testament is ‘walk in love as a response to how deeply you are loved in Christ’ Be imitators of God, as beloved children (Eph. 5:1). In a nutshell: if the imperatives of Scripture are extracted in preaching without being self-consciously placed within their (heart-transforming) indicative framework, then such bald imperatives will invariably devolve into a counterproductive reinforcement of the Pharisee lurking in every human heart - even the regenerate human heart. For the regenerate, holiness has taken on a strangely attractive hue, for God is now our loving Father, not our wrathful judge. We now delight in the law in a way we never did (never could) before. But the law itself remains impotent to generate this holiness. The law can guide us, but not propel us. It is a steering wheel, not an engine.”
-Dane Ortlund
Blogging regularly at Strawberry-Rhubarb Theology

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Faith and Receiving

Monday, August 01, 2011
Faith and Receiving

The following guest post is by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) who preached at Southwood yesterday. Les is the former RUF campus minister at Ole Miss who is now serving as an RUF area coordinator for the Presbyterian Church in America. Les is responsible for the oversight of the RUF campus ministry at the University of Alabama, UAH and Alabama A&M to name a few. Les is a dear personal friend, an outstanding theologian and a preacher that I aspire to emulate. He is also the BIGGEST MISTAKE that Ginger Hubbard ever made.

Faith and Receiving

My impression is that faithful readers of Common Grounds Online do not suffer from any want of critique from the more fundamentalistic strains of evangelicalism still dominating the religious experience of so many in America today. For most of us, the pendulum is still swinging quite in the opposite direction without too much help, thank you very much. Yet a recent Saturday morning children’s devotional I attended warrants some comment.

Halftime at my 9-year-old daughter’s basketball league is given to “devotional time,” due to the fact, I assume, that she plays in a church league. The speaker opened his message by holding a pen out in the palm of his hand. “Who would like to have this pen? It’s a free pen and anyone who wants it this morning can have it.” It took a minute or so before someone mercifully played along and walked up to take the free pen.

“You see,” he explained, “that’s exactly what the Gospel is. It’s free and it’s available. But you don’t have it until you receive it. And once you’ve received it, you need to use it.”

Again, my intention is not to nitpick what was likely a kindly volunteer at a simply country church function. Rather, the comment revived my recent quest to identify the nature and practice of this most fundamental of Christian acts: believing. The message of the Gospel, we were told growing up, was not activated in the life until it was “received” and “believed.”

My question for the gentleman speaker last weekend is simply this: when presented in this way, how do you avoid making faith meritorious? The gift of the Gospel exists, as it were, outside of me prior to my conversion. What releases the effects of that gift into my life is the simple act of “receiving and believing.” So then how is faith not a condition of salvation? How is salvation “free” if it costs me an act of reception in order to enjoy its effects?

My intention is not to launch into an explanation here, but merely to offer some observations. First, the sensations associated with the act of believing are painfully hard to define in that world. The descriptions believers give of the event usually end up being marked by some vague inward impression that they are in fact feeling positively towards the speaker’s message. They agree with them. They like what they are hearing. They are willing to go ahead with the emotional transaction, albeit with wildly undefined currency.

Second, one of the near results of this kind of thinking is that is places the directional compass of salvation on the self and not on Jesus. Faith has got to be faith in Jesus, not faith in my faith. Therefore, the act of believing, if considered in the context of the Christian’s larger story, must have the net result of causing me to focus less on my self and more on Jesus. Self-absorbed Christianity should be an inherent contradiction in terms.

Finally, my suspicion is that this confusion is due to the fact that a fully Biblical consideration of faith cannot be separated from its spiritual flip-side, repentance. Faith and repentance are regularly spoken of together in Christian spiritual theology. Why? I suspect because there is no turning TO when there has not been a turning FROM.

That is to say, repentance leads me to despair of myself, to stop focusing on my ability to do anything about my current spiritual state, to drop my arms helplessly at my side and admit that I am powerless before my addictions, broken but for his grace. Ironically, this painful, Spirit-created admission with its attendant posture towards God, my neighbor, and myself IS the very posture of believing. I am in fact believing when I own this truth about myself: that I am a sinner, that I am needy, that I am hungry.

Horatius Bonar, in his little book God’s Way Of Peace, describes absurdity of a man who insists that he doesn’t know how to believe as being like “a man wearied with a journey, and is not able to go one step farther, [says] ‘I am so tired that I am not able to lie down,’ when indeed he can neither stand nor go. The poor wearied sinner can never believe in Jesus Christ until he finds he can do nothing for himself.”

Originally posted Les Newsom on February 12, 2009, used by permission.

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Experience and Express grace ‘Kiss’ in Small Groups!

Monday, July 25, 2011
Experience and Express grace ‘Kiss’ in Small Groups!

-a guest post by Bill Nash, Associate Pastor and Director of Small Groups at Southwood Presbyterian Church.

“I have realized that we all have plague.” Dr. Rieux in The Plague, by Albert Camus

Jean asked me to guest blog this week and suggested that I write on how the experience and expression of grace “kiss” in small groups. Sounds good to me, I like kissing. TMI…

There are a number of ways the experience and expression of grace “kiss” in small groups. But, how do I highlight one or two (at most) and not appear self-serving or as a heavy handed small group Pharisee adding to grace the need to be in a small group if you really love Jesus. And how do I write about it without painting a rosy picture of life in community?

First of all, I am a self-serving small group Pharisee that struggles with wanting to be the best small group pastor presiding over a successful ministry that is the standard-setter on the face of planet earth.  Neurotic, I know… (sigh) That is why small groups are not a rosy picture of sweet community life. It is full of and led by neurotic messes like me.  Instead of experiencing grace by letting the truth work on my heart that God alone is my refuge and my strength, I struggle every day with the desire to take refuge in a successful ministry. I look to find relief in a small group ministry that is growing, where every leader is awesome and everyone gets along. The Bible has a name for that: Idolatry. And so, I guess that makes me an idolatrous self-serving small group Pharisee… (sigh).

But, that is each one of our stories - isn’t it?  We’re all like that. “We all have plague.” Every day we wake up to competing voices. C.S. Lewis puts it this way, “The moment you wake up each morning, all your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals.” He goes on to say the challenge is “...shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in.” What Lewis terms as “the other voice… other point of view… quiet life” is what we would term experiencing grace. It’s the idea that it’s ok that you’re not ok; that it is better to know God than to know why; grace is better than being better; etc.  As Jean has said recently, “Do you believe that believing is enough?” My answer so often to that is “No. It will be enough when I have twice as many small groups up and running. It will be enough when I am better at (place here an endless supply of idols, including really good ones like scripture memory, and being a great parent)”

Stop laughing and feeling better about yourself. I’m worse than you, but you’re a close second!

And so the challenge begins with ourselves. As I rush in to busyness and a successful ministry for refuge, what I am really doing is avoiding grace, I am leaving the God of grace to commit adultery with the Goddess of Success. We all do it. We all work to avoid grace. In our church circles we avoid grace by pretending and performing. We avoid grace by getting better at being better: scripture memory, quiet times, great public prayers, re-Tweeting a John Piper Tweet, etc.

Joining a small group is not a solution in and of itself to pretending and performing as if simply getting in one will fix your lack of zeal for God, and guarantee you’ll finally put others first, memorize scripture, set a personal best streak of quiet times, etc. Here’s why: we are all skilled at hiding, excusing and minimizing sin. Only the best among us at hiding their sin can move from the minor leagues of looking good in a large crowd on Sundays where conversations are quick and noncommittal to looking good in the close confines of a small group where you must be a highly skilled Southern Evangelical quick on your feet with pious excuses and creative minimizing. It takes a lot of effort to pretend and perform for 90 minutes in a small group. That’s why a lot of us have retired from small groups. We’ve “been there done that.” Our spiritual backs have the strength to pretend and perform on Sundays. It’s just that we can’t be in a small group because we threw-out our backs doing all that heavy lifting of pretending and performing in the last group we were in.

Now, before I make the mistake of getting on the off-ramp to guilting and cajoling you to get in a small group (even better, lead one - it makes me look good if we have lots of groups!) let me wrap this up by pointing out a single word I believe gets close to why and how small groups bring experiencing and expressing grace to kiss: Proximity.

Let’s face it. Most of us don’t want to be in the proximity of others for too long because we don’t trust God’s grace for ourselves and/or we don’t trust others to show us grace.* Another way of saying it is that we pretend because we have failed to experience grace for ourselves and we fear others won’t express grace to us.

And let’s be real. One of the best ways to avoid grace is to avoid other people. When you’re in community with other people it’s not long before your sin surfaces because being close to a fellow neurotic exposes the sin you’ve been hiding. Let’s be clear, others are NOT the cause of your sin, YOU are. Proximity just doesn’t let you get away with hiding it. Proximity forces you to wrestle with whether you believe believing is enough for yourself or others. Proximity positions you to express the very same grace that has been lavished upon you.

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:32

And there it is in Scripture: Proximity. To the degree you are in proximity to the Cross - seeing your sin and finding continual relief, rescue, repentance, and rest - to that degree you will express grace through kindness, compassion and forgiveness to others. To that degree, conversations won’t end with others feeling condemned because all you have to offer them is advice and clear Biblical principles - principles you can’t meet either, by the way. Because when you have been in the proximity of the Cross where you continually find relief, rescue, repentance, and rest you won’t be out to fix anyone. You will be free to show kindness, compassion, and forgiveness to those in your proximity.

The experience and expression of grace “kiss” in small groups because you remain close enough to the Cross to be kissed by Jesus and experience his lavish unfathomable grace. It’s the joy of that kiss that compels you to maneuver and position yourself in the close proximity of others in community to give away that very same kiss of grace.

Peace…

P.S. Back in the day, small groups at Southwood where called K-Groups for the Greek word for fellowship (koinainia).  Maybe we should resurrect the K-Group moniker, except this time the K is for Kiss because in small groups the experience and expression of grace kiss. Well, maybe not… (sigh).

*An idea I stole from Tim Chester in his awesome book You Can Change, p.162. 

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Officer Training

Friday, July 22, 2011
Officer Training

You can find a complete listing of our ‘summer reading’ and more information about our officer training class which begins in August by clicking here.

The class schedule is as follows:

Leadership Class Schedule

Aug. 10 Gospel Foundations
Aug. 17 Gospel Implications
Aug. 24 Vision/Mission
Aug. 31 Qualifications for Elder and Deacon
Sep. 7 Calling and Responsibilities
Sep. 14 Spiritual Gifts
Sep. 21 Governing the Church
Sep. 28 Shepherding/Serving
Oct. 5 Community Development
Oct. 12 Small Groups and Student Ministries
Oct. 19 Westminster Confession of Faith
Oct. 26 Westminster Confession of Faith
Nov. 2 Westminster Confession of Faith
Nov. 9 Westminster Confession of Faith
Nov. 16 Summary and Written Test Distributed

2011-2012 Nomination & Election Schedule
Aug. 10 Leadership Training Begins
Aug. 24 Last Day to Join Class
Oct. 30 Nominations Open
Nov. 13 Nominations Close
Nov. 30 Written Exams Due
Dec. 11 Examination by Committee
Jan. 9 Examination by Full Session
Jan. 29 Congregational Vote
Feb. 5 Ordination of New Officers

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Laughter is the BEST (Biblical) Medicine!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Laughter is the BEST (Biblical) Medicine!

Looking for a little ‘pick me up’? This message from Steve Brown might just hit the spot. I am encouraged (as ALWAYS) by Steve’s candor, love for life and embrace of the good things of the Kingdom of God. Steve is one of my heroes and a man who has shaped me by his love, life and counsel. This is from the current study of Proverbs and is about the Laughter of the Redeemed!!! Enjoy!

CLICK HERE TO LINK TO THE FILE

Link here to Steve Brown’s website: http://www.keylife.org

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Christ Died for the Sins of Christians Too!

Monday, July 18, 2011
Christ Died for the Sins of Christians Too!

This post is a link to the blog of Tullian Tchividjian, Senior Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. It is a profound explanation about the place that the Gospel has in the life of people who ALREADY believe. I HIGHLY recommend to you Tullian’s blog. It is saturated with grace, theologically sound and engaging to read.

“Any evangelical- indeed, any real Christian-would probably say that life’s key issue is whether someone comes into a saving relationship with God through Jesus Christ. How one receives that salvation, however, has been the subject of many debates throughout church history, debates that continue today. At the center of these many debates is an assumption: Every human being born after Adam and Eve is affected (some call this effect total depravity) by the Fall. In order to right the wrong and restore us to a saving relationship with our Creator, Christians affirm that the eternal Son of God assumed to himself a particular human nature in order that he might do the work of being our prophet, priest, and king. He has solved our basic problem by standing in our stead and taking our place. That simple story of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection is the gospel. And the gospel message is that Christ did all of this for you and me. The word that most evangelicals would use for this work is a biblical word-Christ Jesus has brought us salvation.

My task would be simple if I were merely to answer the question, “How am I to be saved?” For, the answer to this question is simple as well. It is “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved!” (see Acts 16:31 [nkj]; cf. 1 Tim. 1:16 [nkj]). Although the doctrine of justification is still under attack in many circles, most evangelicals understand the question of salvation and are able to grasp it in its bare simplicity: Christ died for me. But the more difficult thing with which Christians must come to grips is, “What does the gospel matter to my Christian life?” Or, in other words, “What do I do now? Do I still believe the gospel, or is the rest left up to me?” TO CONTINUE THIS ARTICLE LINK HERE

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How does the Gospel ‘work’?

Monday, July 11, 2011

I get lots of questions about the Gospel. Most of them are not as ‘form’ oriented (i.e. content) as they are ‘function’ (i.e. how does the Gospel work?). Most of the inquiries revolve around grace and the ability of a philosophical system that demands faith INSTEAD OF works to ACTUALLY result in the mortification of sin. Just such a question was posed last week about an ongoing struggle with pornography. Below is an exerpt of the PDF paper “How does the Gospel work?” The particular sin addressed in the paper is ‘lying’ but you can make the connection to your particular poison. Grappling through these issues IS the hard work of sanctification and mortification. You should know that it is HARDER to rest, by faith in Christ, and have that change you than to avail yourself of a hundred sin-stifling strategies! John Calvin said, “He who makes the worship of God consist in faith and repentance, BY NO MEANS LOOSENS THE REINS OF DISCIPLINE, but rather compels men to the course they are most afraid to take.” I am indebted to my friend Bob Flayhart for exposing me to that quote!

How Does the Gospel Work?

In order to figure out just ‘how’ the Gospel works you have to begin with a diagnostic question: What is the one sin that you find yourself most regularly repenting of, but going back and doing it over and over again? Secondly, ask yourself, Has the repetitive nature of your sin driven you to a deeper & deeper knowledge and love of Christ or a deeper & deeper frustration with your own ability to get this ‘regular’ sin under control? Thirdly, you need to ask yourself: have you actually repented and moved from your sin toward Christ or have you just been living in penance- doing the sin and then trying as hard as you can to do the opposite of that sin for as long as you can until you slip up and sin again?

Example: if your sin is ‘lying’ do you find yourself:

1. Acknowledging that ‘lying is wrong.’
2. Knowing from the Bible that you ‘shouldn’t be lying.’
3. Knowing that its ‘bad’ but feeling like its not AS BAD as the ‘really bad sins.’
4. Hating the emotional struggle of ‘doing wrong’ when you know ‘what is right’
5. Telling God you are ‘sorry’ but not really feeling much heartbreak or guilt (and feeling guilty/heartbroken for not really feeling guilty/heartbroken.)
6. After telling God you are ‘sorry’  for lying then you make God a ‘promise’ that you will try harder to tell the truth. (This is the stage that you get to after you’ve lied to God 100 times telling Him that you won’t lie at all anymore. You give up the thought of ‘never’ lying again, so you reduce that to simply promising to ‘try harder’ not to lie instead of lying by saying you ‘won’t lie’…)
7. You emotionally feel like the situation has been handled; you and God are back on speaking terms.
8. If someone asked you how God ‘felt’ about you after all of this the best you could get to would be ‘acceptance.’ It usually ‘feels like’ divine tolerance, but on good days acceptance is the decided emotion that God has for you. He is God, you are his child, you are accepted because of Jesus, see you in heaven. Period.
9. Life goes back on auto-pilot and unfortunately this is where the cycle starts over because you inevitably lie again.
10. Lather, rinse, repeat, despair.

NOTE: the longer this cycle continues the greater despair one will experience. The more despair one experiences the more likely they are to begin to entertain thoughts like, “I bet I’m not really saved….” Outwardly, you become hypersensitive to even the most remote insinuation that you might be a liar. You become an extremely vocal advocate for TRUTH and inwardly you have a personal disgust for people who lie and ESPECIALLY for people who don’t take the wrongness of lying seriously.

Download the full PDF file by clicking here

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Help! Grace has made me lazy…

Monday, July 04, 2011
Help! Grace has made me lazy…

I receive lots of email. Most of the ‘concerned’ email revolves around fears that somehow the preaching and teaching of grace will make us LAZY in our Christian lives. Frankly, I had never come across the question from a person who identified themselves as having struggled this way. I got that question from a person struggling in that specific way last week. Fair warning, the answer is detailed and longer than normal, but worth reading! It’s a PDF download. What is posted here is just an intro to the full article. Enjoy and P.S. If you missed Sunday’s message: “Divide, Conquer and remembering the fine print of grace” you should download and listen to it first. It is amazing how God times these thing to go together!

Dear Pastor Larroux,

Is there such thing as going “too far” with grace? What I mean is this: I am fully aware of my sin and brokenness. I know that I can never earn favor (with God) through works and that my righteous standing with God is based on Jesus and not on myself. Sometimes the result of this knowledge is that I just don’t even try; I get lazy in grace.

I don’t try not to sin because I know that I am totally depraved, my sins are paid for and God cannot love me any more or any less. I do not try with my family because they are all saved by God’s grace anyway. I don’t try at my job because God has granted me favor in the past and it’s not based on my work… You get the picture…

The Holy Spirit convicted of me with this at one point in the midst of me crying out “why won’t you take this sin away from me??” I felt him say “Why don’t you actually try to resist it?” I am amazed at how my own sin can take something so wonderful as grace and distort it to my own destruction into almost a Reformed fatalism. I guess this would fall into the category of “presuming upon grace” that you’ve spoken about before but I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this.

-Conflicted

Download the PDF File Here

 

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Galatians the 13th….

Monday, June 27, 2011
Galatians the 13th….

Apparently our Gospel appetite is about 13 weeks long.

After week 13 in Galatians the dam broke. I have heard rumors, whispers, grumblings from every corner of Southwood. They have come from long-time members and newcomers alike. They range from blatant disgruntled comments about my preaching to subtle fears that by preaching ‘so much’ grace we will never ‘turn the corner’ to obedience. It seems that grace has been viewed as an ‘appetizer’ and the church is ready for the meal.

The comments generally go something like this, “Okay, enough already. Enough of this verse by verse, section by section consideration of Galatians. Get us to the REAL meat of the Bible! Get us at least to Galatians chapter 5! Get us past the indicatives of Paul’s preaching to the imperatives of the Gospel where we finally DO SOMETHING!”

I’ve heard that I just don’t care about holiness at all. I’ve heard the accusation that I am over-emphasizing one aspect of Pauline theology at the expense of the rest of Scripture. I have heard that I don’t preach in a way that is exegetical enough to feed some members of my flock and then I’ve heard that I am preaching in a way that is too detailed and doesn’t consider the ‘broader’ picture of the Bible.

Like a pastoral Dorothy trapped in an exegetical Oz, which way should I go?

License and Law and the Gospel, Oh my!
Grace and obedience and fears, Oh my!
Luther and Calvin and Paul, Oh my!

What should I do?
How should I respond?
What am I going to change?

Honestly, NOTHING.

The reason is this: I love you and I love this church too much to change anything. Grace and the gospel isn’t simply one of the facets of the Christian life that can be considered as a 13-week appetizer to Galatians, but rather a truth about the character and nature of God which we see reflected from Genesis to Revelation. God is a God of Grace. He has pursued us from the moment we disobeyed and pursues us to this day. The story of the church and the Gospel is a cover to cover story of grace. Our church must therefore preach, teach and proclaim that same grace every week. Grace is, after all, the substance of our mission at Southwood: to experience and express grace.

This means that our church is a place for recovering addicts. Not only the alcohol and drug kind, but the self-righteous kind too! We are addicts to performance, behavioral modification, legalism, self-justifying obedience and personal piety. We are allergic to dependence, weakness, helplessness and personal trust and rest in Jesus. In short, we are allergic to grace. It is the very thing we need, but the last thing we want.

So hear this: the more grace unnerves and scares you the more you NEED it!

I know that some of you have consulted other pastors, friends and churches. I know that there are many ‘concerned conversations’ happening. I know that some of you are just holding your breath and have had about all you can handle. Please know this: there was a day in the not so distant past that I was just like you. When I would hear people talk about grace my blood boiled. These were the thoughts that went through my mind:

“Liberals! This is EXACTLY what is wrong with the church today. This type of ‘feel-good’ grace-oriented preaching is giving people license to do ‘whatever they want!’”

“These people just don’t love holiness. Of course people would FLOCK to churches that allow them to live and believe anyway they want! Sometimes you’ve got to love people enough to tell them what they NEED to hear, not just what they WANT to hear! God loves holiness, so should we!!!”

“These grace preachers are just what the Bible warns us about. These pablum preachers are only saying what the tickling ears of people want to hear. I am going to be a prophet like Elijah, not like one of these modern, 20th century, ‘tell people what makes them feel good’ sandal-wearing, seeker-sensitive, pseudo-Presbyterians who claim to be Reformed, but are really aren’t!”

Do you believe me?
Think I’ve been there?
You’d better believe it.
The same things you have heard said about me, I’ve said about others.
The same things you may have thought about me, I’ve thought about others.

So what happened? Grace happened.

Something dawned in my life that I never expected. It was grace. I had heard ABOUT God, but in the Gospel I MET God. I was acquainted with Him, but I didn’t know him. As Job said, ‘my ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you!’  I had mistakenly understood the Gospel to be the door by which I entered the Christian life instead of the oxygen I had to daily breathe to live the Christian life. I had misunderstood Jesus as being the Savior who simply opened the door to Heaven instead of the Savior who provided all I needed, every moment of every day. In encountering grace, ‘justification by faith alone’ went from being a cold, sterile doctrine that I read about from the pages of the Westminster Confession to a TRUTH that fueled my daily life and my personal sanctification.

If you are one of the many who may have fear and angst about the perceived ‘over-emphasis’ on Grace at Southwood then hear me well, what you need is not LESS grace, you need MORE grace. Yes, MORE. I understand your fear. Your fear is that the preaching of grace will cause others (or you) to dismiss holiness. It will not. It is actually the preaching of grace that LEADS TO holiness, not the other way around.

If you fear that the preaching of grace is a licentious ticket for weak-willed Evangelicals who just won’t embrace holiness then you don’t understand grace at all. Grace isn’t a ‘ticket punch’ to grant us admittance to the den of iniquity, it is the unshackling of our souls from sin and death and the shackling of our souls to Christ! Anyone who claims grace has set them free to sin is not simply confused about grace they are confused about their own salvation! Grace, as an excuse for sin, is not an invention of Paul; it is an invention of Satan!

The grace being preached at Southwood isn’t designed to set us free to sin, it is designed to set us free to love something more beautiful than sin: God himself! Grace sets our hearts free, not to feast on sin, but to rest in Him! The problem that so many face is that you cannot REALLY see grace like that until you see the HORROR of your own sin. Until you have scraped the bottom of the barrel in your own soul and then seen the beauty of a God who will not abandon you there then you will NEVER appreciate or crave true grace. A light view of your own sin will create an appetite for a lighter view of grace.

Until you see the propensity of your heart to feast on your own merit and righteousness you will never love grace; you will never appreciate grace; you will never ‘get’ grace. When you see the poverty of your own soul, the tendency of your own heart to go ‘prodigal’ and the desperate need you have DAILY for the grace of God then you will will have an insatiable appetite for the Gospel and God’s amazing grace. So if you want a ‘recipe for holiness’ here it is: stop praying for the strength to conquer sin in your own life and pray that God will conquer you instead. Ask Him for the ability to see your sin and the ability to see why you are sinning. Ask Him to show you how you have been trying to avoid Him by getting better, sinning less and ‘maturing in your walk.’ Then ask Him why even reading sentences like that last one make you so vehemently angry that you can’t even see straight? I can remember well the frustrating conundrum of being ‘righteously angry’ with people like me who seemed so loose in their theology, but then concurrently convicted that these ‘slackers’ seemed to be more patient, kind and loving that I was. I didn’t know why I was so angry, but nonetheless it made me hate them more. If you feel like you are at the end of your rope then maybe what you need is…ahem, grace? When we are confronted with our amazing sin and our amazing need of grace daily, then the Gospel of grace will be the oxygen you need for every moment of every day and it WILL change you.

That’s right, I said it, it WILL change you, but not in the way you think. A ‘gospel’ of reduced grace, let’s call it grace ‘light’ will never change you. Only the deep, unmerited grace of God, as Paul preached to the Galatians, will change you. Grace ‘light’ will only get you to change your behavior, not your heart. Grace light will transform your music preferences from ‘rock’ to ‘contemporary christian’; your political views from ‘liberal’ to ‘religious-right’ or your willingness to drink a glass of wine depending on the crowd who sees you, but it won’t transform your soul. Only TRUE grace does that.  True grace fundamentally changes the heart, not just behavior. Unfortunately many churches and Christians just ‘tip their hat’ at Grace. Grace ‘light’ treats God’s grace as ONE OF the tools in the Christian’s tool box to accomplish the goal of getting ‘better.’ To reduce grace to a tool of behavior modification is a betrayal of what true grace is all about. Grace ‘light’ plunges you into accountability groups that don’t work; Bible studies that make you more self-righteous or venues of service where you minister from personal strength and righteousness, TRUE grace plunges you into Jesus’ blood again and again because you’ve failed at accountability, you forget to read your Bible and every time you think about ministering to someone else you realize it’s more about you than them!

Grace, true grace, changes you and I’m not talking about just the visible you. It changes the you no one else sees. Grace ‘light’ might convict you to stop your car and buy a homeless man a hamburger for lunch. You might have even had one of those ‘christian radio’ songs convict you to adjust your day to do so. But TRUE grace doesn’t show you a ‘pitiful man’ on the street corner who needs your intervention; true grace shows you yourself, a ‘pitiful man’ on the street corner of his own life who needed God’s intervention! The captivating thought going through the mind of the man who has been feasting on true grace is one of empathy and identification. He sees his own spiritual poverty and need, so he therefore moves toward the homeless man, not as a project, but rather as a person, just like himself. Grace ‘light’ turns the homeless man into your trophy of benevolent outreach. True grace sees ourselves as God’s trophy and that man as an image bearer of the Triune God and our brother. True grace allows us to see that man, not as a someone we are ministering to, but as someone who may actually be there to minister to us! True grace causes us to estimate ourselves as beneficiaries of the relationship with that homeless man not as benefactors toward him.

But Jean, what about Galatians 5, the Fruit of the Spirit? Paul isn’t going to preach ‘grace, grace, grace’ forever, he IS going to tell us to ‘put off the deeds of the flesh’ and ‘put on the fruit of the Spirit’! You cannot avoid this! You MUST deal with it! You CANNOT explain it away! I agree, but let’s make a deal first——let’s make sure that if we are going to argue for ‘all of Paul’ then we also argue for ‘all of Jesus’ and while we’re at it ‘all of the rest of the Bible’! Ask yourself one question: What is the single-most common misunderstanding that has plagued the people of God from Genesis to Revelation? It is very simple: the people of God have often falsely believed that God was more concerned about their EXTERNAL behavior than their HEARTS. If you read your Bible you will see that Scripture is most critical of outwardly-performing, pious, religious people who get their behavior correct, but their hearts are far from God. He is often harder on the church people for missing it than for the pagan nations who never got it!

Grace ‘light’ makes the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 something which should be cross-stitched and put on the walls of your home, visible for everyone to see. True grace writes love, joy, peace, patience and kindness on the walls of your heart visible for everyone to see Christ in you. It does not take true grace to ‘make a stand’ on election day, listen to Christian radio or hide the Chardonnay from your neighbors. It takes true grace to love those neighbors instead. It true grace to see the glory of God, not just in an Amy Grant song, but also in Lady GaGa as an image bearer of God. And it takes grace, true grace, to look at that Chardonnay and remember that it is NOT what goes into a man that defiles him, but rather what comes out of his heart.

Grace light will deal only with your behavior.
True grace will deal with your heart. 

Grace light will deal only with your observable actions.
True grace will deal with your motivations.

Grace light will only deal with what you do.
True grace will deal with why you do what you do.

Grace light will lie to you and convince you that you are malnourished without the ‘meat’ of the law, but true grace will show you that the only lasting nourishment comes from Christ’s work alone.

Lastly and emotionally, Grace light makes you angry, critical and disappointed. The reason is simple. It is because you see other people’s sin and your own righteousness concurrently. True grace makes you humble and gracious. This is because you actually see YOUR own sin and God’s love for you concurrently.

I know you are protesting right now. I know you have been striving for humility. I know that you wrote and re-wrote that email to me five times to make sure it didn’t sound ‘proud’. Make no mistake, grace light gives lip-service to humility but it cannot resist being the critic of the choices, spiritual condition and behavior of everyone around you. Sadly, this is actually pride masquerading as Christian discernment. True grace gives us the humility to see ourselves, critique our own choices, our own spiritual condition and our own behavior. True grace produces Godly discernment about my own life and refuses to stop at the modification of my behavior until there is mortification for the sin in my heart.

If you find yourself despondent and frustrated, seeing your sin, but still mad at me, then ‘cheer up’ you may be in a really good place: messy, unfixable, mean and tired. You may be ready for….ahem, grace. Aren’t you glad that it isn’t really ‘grace light’? That would hardly work on a heart as perplexed and frustrated as yours and mine. We need heavy cream, half & half, pure, unrefined TRUE grace and we need it poured over our heads week after week. A sip here and there will never suffice.

I have no doubt but that this will have served to frustrate some and encourage others. Press on, deeper and farther into grace! It is in wrestling through these issues that the elusive beauty of the Gospel often dawns in the hearts and minds of self-righteous Pharisees like you and me and we are convinced of the present value of the blood of Christ for today!

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Dear Mr. Sloppy Gospel…

Thursday, June 23, 2011

I stumbled across this article this morning from a friends blog. It is apropos for Southwood today:

An Open Letter To Mr. Grace-Loving Antinomian
There seems to be a fear out there that the preaching of radical grace produces serial killers. Or, to put it in more theological terms, too much emphasis on the indicatives of the gospel leads to antinomianism (a lawless version of Christianity that believes the directives and commands of God don’t matter). My problem with this fear is that I’ve never actually met anyone who has been truly gripped by God’s amazing grace in the gospel who then doesn’t care about obeying him. As I have said before: antinomianism happens not when we think too much of grace. Just the opposite, actually. Antinomianism happens when we think too little of grace.

READ THE ENTIRE BLOG ENTRY:
http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tullian/

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Paul had a dream!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

This week’s message, entitled “Gospel Confirmation Hearings” (link is for file download) would probably be more appropriately entitled, “Paul had a dream…” There is likely no more important message that I have ever preached from the Pulpit at Southwood. The grace of God is so pregnant, poignant and rich in this text that I will hardly be able to sleep this evening thinking about sharing it with the church! Please be in prayer for worship tomorrow!

From the message, “You need to know that the question before the Galatian church had VERY LITTLE to do with the ‘sign’ of circumcision, but more to do with the fundamental implications of the law.
Circumcision, as a sign of the Abrahamic covenant, was indicative of ‘obedience to the law’——if circumcision was required in order to be saved, then salvation would not have been by FAITH ALONE.

The best analogy I can give you is this: in the 1960’s one of the tell-tale marks of racism in the South was the fact that we had water fountains for ‘whites only’ and for ‘colored’s only’—- The problem in the South was not the distribution of water, the problem was our hearts! The problem was epitomized by water fountains, bus seating and classroom integration, but the heart of the matter was the HEART!

In Galatia the same problem existed. The fundamental question of the Gospel was being asked—- but the question showed up as circumcision. The issue was Faith Alone, but this was epitomized in the question about circumcisionl!!!
In Galatia, Titus refused to get off the bus!
Barnabas refused to give up his seat!
Paul had a dream that one day, all God’s children, Jew and Greek, Slave and Free would not be judged by color of their obedience, but by the content of Christ’s character!”

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I lifted up my eyes to the mountains (the rocky ones)

Monday, June 13, 2011
I lifted up my eyes to the mountains (the rocky ones)

I spent last week at the YMCA of the Rockies preaching on the Authority of the Word of God for RYM. It was a wonderful week to see how God is moving in the next generation of our church to taste and see that the Lord is good. There is something profound about being surrounded by snowcapped mountain peaks when it is a beautiful 85 degrees outside. The only word which captures this is: breathtaking. It really is profound.

Ken and Jeanette Leggett brought 8 of our students to the conference and spent one on one time with them enjoying the conference and creation.

My week began with a ‘BOOM’—- I sat in my room and listened to Will Spink’s sermon, “A Savior For Near-sighted Disciples (like me)”. It was EXCELLENT! The Holy Spirit really used it to minister grace to me as I prepared to teach these students. Will’s reminder that when Jesus gets ‘blurry’ in our lives that HE moves back into focus and doesn’t demand that we ‘see better’ was profound. What a blessing it is to have a pastoral staff who are so gifted and blessed!

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Airport Day…a poem

Monday, June 13, 2011
Airport Day…a poem

In honor of the amount of traveling I’ve been doing this past week to General Assembly and now on to RYM in Colorado I offer to you ‘Airport Day’ a poem written by yours truly to help me cope with travel weirdness. It’s mostly based on what people wear while they travel!

Airport Day

What was she thinking?
What was he thinking?
What are they thinking about me?

Monkey man.
Stripper, gotta be.
I’m 60, I mean 30, thanks Doc!
Busier than everybody else man.
Mr. Professional traveler.
I brought my kids, eh.

Beep, Beep, Beep.

Riders like Royalty whisked through the terminal.
I guess you have to be…
Very old,
Very young,
Or Very fat.
Can I have a ride?

Please don’t let that one be next to me…
Please no, please no, please no!
Screaming baby.
Mr. Know it all.
Rap man.
Mr. Dark Lord of death.
Mr. Salesman of the universe.
Even worse…a preacher.

Sweat pants.
Short pants.
Suit pants.
Put on some pants.
A voyeuristic buffet of humanity.
A circus of costumes and characters.
We, the people, flying.

What was she thinking?
What was he thinking?
What was I thinking?

-Jean F. Larroux, III

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Play by Play from PCA GA

Wednesday, June 08, 2011
Play by Play from PCA GA

For the best play by play, moment by moment, motion by motion, overture by overture coverage of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America go to ByFaith online and you will get in-depth coverage of the business of the church, the latest updates and pertinent information about all of the actions of the Assembly.

Keep in mind, the General Assembly is not simply a conference or some ecclesiastical ‘trade show’ for preachers and elders it is actually a convening of the highest court in our denomination. Motions, actions and amendments to our constitution become ‘law’ after going through the process laid out in the Book of Church Order. Many of the overtures and motions will seem more like housekeeping than substantive issues, but all have a direct impact on the infrastructure and operation of our denomination as a whole.

Please be in prayer for the PCA and all of the commissioners who are in attendance. Representing Southwood are myself, Ken Leggett, John Bise, Kris Preston and Mark Baginski. Blessings to you and please especially remember Mr. Dan Carrell, ruling elder, who was elected moderator of the entire assembly last evening.

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PCA General Assembly Webcast for this week!

Monday, June 06, 2011
PCA General Assembly Webcast for this week!

This week is the 39th General Assembly of our denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America. You can watch all of the proceedings from Virginia Beach live by clicking here. (NOTE: Last year’s General Assembly will play through this link until our assembly opens tomorrow evening) The times of worship are particularly encouraging as well as some of the debated issues. It is a good time and an easy way to stay connected with the work of the larger body of the Presbyterian Church in America.

In terms of ‘controversial’ topics or any major changes/debates coming forward this year it seems that there is a sense of peace and unity at this point. I have not been privy to any ‘hot’ topics, but if there is a debate which seems particularly fruitful or interesting I will post an update on Knots. Please keep me and our other attendees in your prayers for this important time of connection, work and worship together.

A complete list of overtures, schedules and events can be found by clicking here.

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Southwood Storm Recovery

Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Southwood Storm Recovery

After the tornadoes struck North Alabama people began to ask me, “What is the church doing to help?” After all, we DIDN’T house tornado refugees in the Lodge. We DIDN’T cook meals and take them to the Wal-Mart on Hwy. 72. We DIDN’T get a truck full of deacons and chainsaws and head out to Hartselle. We DIDN’T do any of those things. So what did the church do? The angst that some felt wasn’t necessarily a longing for anything specific, just for us to do SOMETHING.

Before you read anything else remember something, me, the one who is writing this, the one who lived at ground zero of Katrina’s destruction and spent 5 years rebuilding those cities. Honestly, if there was any pastor in the PCA who might raise a stink about us doing ‘nothing’ it would be me right? Right. Remember that.

Now stop, breathe through your mouth, take a deep drink of Jesus and ask yourself a question: Was Southwood ‘gathered’ prepared to do anything significant on the afternoon of the Tornados? The answer, if you are honest, is no. We are not a disaster relief church. We didn’t have a chainsaw brigade. We didn’t have a food service trailer ready to go and honestly we weren’t prepared corporately to provide any immediate relief. What we did do however, was to provide individual service to our neighbors and our community as Christians. This wasn’t because our church was doing ‘nothing,’ it was because we understood that we ARE the church. This isn’t a slick way to ease our consciences, it’s a truthful statement about the Kingdom (and something we were thrilled to see!) When we serve, we aren’t doing so because the church ‘isn’t’; we are doing so because the church is who we ARE.

As we begin to explore what it means to be a community development church we will need to embrace and believe several things about the Kingdom of God. First, the Kingdom of God is bigger than Southwood. I cannot begin to tell you how excited it made me to see photos of churches like The Rock on the day after the storm. These are God’s people using their gifts to His glory, amen and amen. By the same token, I hope that when their pastor drives by the Lodge on a Sunday night and sees the building brimming with kids he thinks to himself, ‘Praise God!’ The Kingdom is bigger than both of our churches.

Secondly, there are unique stages of intervention when helping those who hurt. They are relief, rehabilitation and restoration. The first, relief, is really triage and this involves the alleviation of immediate pain & need: if the roof has a leak, put a tarp over it. The second stage, rehabilitation, is where you help make people ‘whole’ to the place where they were before the event: putting the roof back to the way it was. The third stage is restoration. In this stage we begin to deal with the ‘why’ behind the life situations that existed prior to the disaster: what life situations contributed to the neglected roof in the first place?

Our focus on community development means that we will be exploring ways Southwood ‘gathered’ can enter into the hurt and pain of this world to provide relief, rehabilitation and restoration. The degree to which we will ultimately participate in each of these three areas will depend on our giftedness, our passion and the participation of each of those in need.

With the relief stage of tornado recovery virtually complete, we are exploring a couple of strategic opportunities to aid in rehabilitation. Both opportunities will be working WITH those affected, not working FOR them. Our long-term plans will involve how we can work toward restoration in this disaster and in the normal storms of life.

If there was ever a time for you to read “When Helping Hurts” the time is now. If there was one book I wish I had read prior to Hurricane Katrina it is this book. The principles apply to disaster relief and the alleviation of all the effects of the Fall, both in material and spiritual poverty.  Southwood is a church who is passionately committed to doing ‘something’. This has been in our DNA for years. Our present commitment is to create a world-class paradigm for helping that will result in restoration from all the storms of life, be they unemployment, homelessness or another tornado.

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Love Wins, NOT a winner

Monday, May 23, 2011
Love Wins, NOT a winner

by Will Spink, Director of Shepherding

You can find Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins, everywhere from the cover of Time magazine to the top of bestseller lists. You won’t be able to find it being sold in Southwood’s Guest Center or being taught in our Sunday Seminars this fall. What? Who would write a critique of a book called Love Wins? Well, in this case, me! Surely the next thing I’ll do is complain about apple pie and ice cream, right? I assure you there’s no chance of that anytime soon!

Brief Summary of Love Wins
Before I offer that critique, let me first offer a brief overview of some key assertions Bell makes in his book and then suggest some very positive points to it. This will certainly not cover all he says but will help explain up front why the book has been such a lightning rod for praise and critique.

Bell is writing about issues of eternity – “heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived”(subtitle) – so it’s no surprise that the issues he addresses matter to people. Love Wins has been widely criticized (the best review I have read and to which I am indebted is by Kevin DeYoung at thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung) for espousing universalism (all people are saved), post-mortem second chances at salvation, and the denial of a literal, traditionally understood hell. Though Bell might not claim all these labels himself, the book clearly deserves them. He asserts that God’s love is so great that it will eventually win over every human heart; thus, no one will suffer the pangs of hell forever, and eventually all will live in fellowship with this loving God. Bell depicts hell, rather than as an eternal place of punishment, as a present and future (but not eternal) reality we choose to live in when we reject God’s love. 

Lest someone think along the way that I am making a bigger deal out of these issues than I should, let me be clear that I am not giving them more importance than Bell himself does. He draws a line in the sand on these topics when he calls traditional stories of Jesus and Christianity “misguided” and “toxic” (viii) and implicitly labels the impact of these traditional stories on our world “tragic” (7). 

Some Real Positives
Bell, as he often does, brings a fresh perspective on many things, which I really appreciate in an author. This is not in itself a bad thing and can push readers to consider beliefs carefully. He makes me think! In addition, Bell references a lot of Scripture, so that he’s not claiming to be a self-validating authority for his positions. He is not long-winded or repetitive, he correctly identifies God as “love,” and he evidences an exemplary heart for the marginalized and downtrodden. This concern for social justice and the harm our sin causes to the “least of these” is a commendable emphasis that is sometimes glossed over. His chapter on heaven (“Here Is the New There”) is excellent and corrects many commonly held misconceptions about what those in fellowship with their Creator will be doing forever. Finally, most of what he writes sounds very “Christian,” lots of words and phrases that churchgoers will find familiar and perhaps even reassuring.

Some Grave Concerns
This fact, however, is actually disconcerting since falsehood that sounds like truth can be both deceptive and devastating … and I believe the overall tenor of this book is exactly that: false and potentially devastating. Overall conclusions like universal salvation and Bell’s view on hell are certainly worrisome. His universalism, for example, causes him to equate completely the communion believers in Christ experience in the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist) with the communion of all people in their common humanity, since Jesus mysteriously indwells the entire world (157). But it’s the casualties along the way to these conclusions, the issues that underlie and support these conclusions – that are more grievous and more devastating in my mind. I will only address three, but they are weighty: the use of the Bible, the nature of God, and the nature of sin.

The Use of the Bible
As I noted earlier, Bell cites a lot of Scripture passages. I will not pretend to explain Bell’s entire hermeneutic, his strategy for interpreting and understanding the Bible, but a couple comments are in order before I look at some specific examples. Much of contemporary literary theory emphasizes the death of the author and the life of the text in the hands of the reader. What this means is that the author’s intended communication is secondary (or even unimportant) compared to the meaning one finds when approaching the text as a reader, or especially as a community of readers in a particular cultural setting. I certainly don’t believe Bell treats the Bible entirely that way, but he heads in that direction. He certainly highlights community, especially recommending communities that encourage debate and questions rather than those that squelch them. He even concludes that the very “discussion” of truth and error “itself is divine” (ix). I certainly don’t mind discussion – in fact, I love a lively debate – but we must always have those with our hearts clearly submitted to the authority of God’s written Word. Bell is right that a sense of wonder and mystery at the person of Christ and the working of the gospel are absolutely appropriate. I hope that when I assert something firmly from Scripture it never communicates I have fully comprehended God or understood everything about how He works. But where God speaks clearly, there is no problem with saying, “Period. End of discussion.” Whatever issues contribute to Bell’s approach to the Bible, in this book it is on occasion solid and reliable but in several instances careless, at best.

First, the covenantal context of the prophets is often overlooked. Almost all of the Old Testament prophets address the covenant people of Israel and call them back to faithfulness to the God of the covenant. Thus, promises of restoration to these people are hardly blanket guarantees of restoration to all people on the day of the Lord. Bell acknowledges this reality and gives the example of Egypt from Isaiah 19 to eliminate this concern (88). That hardly suffices; God’s bringing Gentiles into his covenant does not imply universal salvation or restoration. Even his promises of restoration to his covenant people are replete with appeals to personal repentance and embrace of the God of the covenant. It is quite clear throughout the prophets that an individual member (or even generation) of God’s covenant people who continually rejects the God of that covenant should expect judgment, not presume upon God’s love or participation in God’s restoration.

Second, Bell’s application of this same principle to the city of Sodom completely misses the context of both Old and New Testament passages. In Ezekiel 16, the prophet references Sodom (among others) as an example of a wicked city whose wickedness Jerusalem herself has surpassed. In Matthew 11 (Bell cites Matthew 10), Jesus warns the city of Capernaum that “it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.” Bell takes these two instances as evidence that even the most wicked, condemned people actually have hope. The message in each passage is actually a warning of judgment (which Bell seems to ignore), not a guarantee of hope (even though restoration is also promised in Ezekiel 16). One would be hard-pressed to find the promise of salvation for the residents of Sodom destroyed in Genesis 19 in either of these passages.

Third, Bell (like Origen centuries ago) puts too much stock for universalism in Pauline references to “universal” uniting or reconciling in Christ (Ephesians 1, Philippians 2, Colossians 1). Without going too far into the range of meaning of the Greek word for “all,” one can still note that a simple assumption that these passages imply every individual person who has ever lived is unwarranted. In both Colossians and Ephesians, Paul clarifies that he is referring to things on heaven and on earth. In other words, the scope of the reconciliation is huge (Jesus comes to make blessings flow “far as the curse is found,” in all of creation, including human hearts); however, his point is not to apply it to every individual. In Philippians 2, one day every knee will bow to Jesus, but this does not imply every person living in fellowship with God forever. In fact, some of those knees bowing will be in heaven, some on earth, and some “under the earth.” The demons remind us that knowledge of God’s identity doesn’t guarantee saving relationship.

Fourth, the use of I Corinthians 10 in the chapter “There Are Rocks Everywhere” takes it well beyond its intended message. Bell recounts the Exodus 17 account of the Israelites drinking from a rock and Paul’s explanation that “that rock was Christ.” He then writes, “Paul’s interpretation that Christ was present in the Exodus raises the question: Where else has Christ been present? When else? With who else? How else? Paul finds Jesus there, in that rock, because Paul finds Jesus everywhere” (144). This is simply untrue and misleading, and it ignores the context of Exodus 17, the sacramental context of I Corinthians 10, and the warnings to God’s people in both passages.

Fifth, the lack of context leads to faulty conclusions in regards to John 14:6, where Jesus identifies himself as “the way, the truth, and the life.” Bell admittedly swings the door to Jesus as the “way” wide open, “creating all sorts of possibilities” for how he could be the way, possibilities that include people finding Jesus as the way to God without knowing it and people experiencing Jesus as the way to God as the “very life source of the universe” (155-56). Bell seems happy to omit the consistent references in John 14 to faith or belief in Jesus as the way one knows Him and the Father. This, of course, is consistent with the message of the gospel of John, that the hope of the gospel comes through faith, through believing in Jesus as the way to the Father (John 3:16, 3:36, 20:31). John 3:36 even contrasts those who believe in the Son and have eternal life with those who reject Him and face God’s wrath.   

Finally, Bell bases his most problematic chapter, “Does God Get What God Wants?”, around an overly simplistic reading of I Timothy 2:4. I’ll deal with the larger issue below under the nature of God, but here I’ll say that the way Bell takes this passage (a simple “God wants everybody saved”) does not deal with the complex nature of God’s will and thus threatens to fly in the face of other similar passages where God “wills” something to happen that clearly does not always happen. These examples would include our avoiding sexual immorality (I Thessalonians 4:3), our giving thanks in all circumstances (I Thessalonians 5:18), and putting to silence the ignorance of foolish people by our doing good (I Peter 2:15).

I give these examples simply to say that one should be careful when following Bell’s “exegesis” of a biblical passage. Reading this book with a good study Bible or set of commentaries would help, too, and would probably help one to see some holes or inconsistencies fairly quickly.

The Nature of God
Bell doesn’t claim to be presenting a systematic theology on the nature of God in this book, but he addresses several issues that make clear comments on his picture of God. Bell asserts that since God is love (I agree this far!), He requires no payment for our sins but loves us anyway and always. Bell repeatedly emphasizes this unconditional, unilateral love of God but rarely mentions anything about God’s holiness, purity, and power.

In fact, when Bell does address the issue of God’s power in the chapter “Does God Get What God Wants?”, he asks the seemingly rhetorical question from I Timothy 2:4, “Will all people be saved, or will God not get what God wants?” (98). He even goes so far as to suggest that God not getting what God wants (the salvation of all) would be for God to “fail” (98). What he argues in the rest of the chapter, though, reveals that this question is not at all rhetorical. He says that when it comes to humanity, God “has to play by the same rules we do” (103) because love demands he give us freedom. At one point Bell so tames his characterization of God that Bell is more confident we get what we want than that God gets what God wants. After all, he argues, isn’t that what love would desire?

As a son and a father, I have to say that’s a disturbing picture of God as our father – that the most loving thing He can do is give us whatever we want! Since when is the definition of loving to give to someone whatever he wants? Shouldn’t parents – especially omniscient, omnipotent, perfect ones – occasionally give their children – especially stubborn, selfish, sinful ones – what they most need rather than whatever they want?

Even more shocking to me are the reasons given for understanding God this way. They are not primarily biblical – although occasionally Scripture passages are quoted – but rather psychological. Apparently, God must operate this way because we want him to be like this. The traditional Christian view of God is one Bell characterizes as “loving one moment, vicious the next. Kind and compassionate, only to become cruel and relentless in the blink of an eye” (174). This God is “simply devastating, psychologically crushing” (174), “terrifying, traumatizing, and unbearable” (175). We shouldn’t believe God is like this, he says, because it “isn’t a very good story” (110). Now God is certainly beyond our full comprehension, but I have always believed in a God who was both loving and holy at the same time, not one or the other depending on his mood in the moment. And I’ll admit this is overwhelming to wrap my mind around at times, but it causes me to bow in humility and awe, not crumble under a crushing, unbearable weight. I find it quite a good story in that it produces both hope and trust, neither despair at his holiness apart from love nor lack of confidence in his love without power to act – and for extra credit, seems to me the story God tells of Himself.

The way Bell deals with the will of God (as referenced above) is symptomatic of this way of determining God’s character. Many Christians have talked about God having two “wills” evident biblically, a will of command and a will of decree (or something similar to these categories). Without going into detail and regardless of what one thinks of that, there are options other than Bell’s simplistic assumption. There are passages (some mentioned above) that would clearly push one to consider this issue and other passages like Romans 9:22 that are not only germane to the discussion but also raise pretty strong doubts about some of Bell’s assertions for what he – on his own, apparently – determines would bring God glory.

Addendum (5/2/11): I was in the middle of this section of this review when the tornadoes that hit Northern Alabama left me without power for the past four days. I spent yesterday afternoon dragging shingles and lumber across the yards they had been blown through and helping people piece together what was left of homes and possessions. I must say that I find Bell’s characterization of God even less appealing in the midst of this devastation. I need (and biblically I find) a God who is both loving and holy, both good and great. Psalm 62:11-12 reads, “Once God has spoken, twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God, and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love.” I must tell you in the midst of the storms and as I see my own heart, I don’t want a god who gives me whatever I want but can’t control the winds that blow around and within me or account for the results of them. I don’t want to judge Bell’s personal view of God, as he may hold a very robust view of God’s holiness, love, and sovereignty. The person characterized in this book, however, is not just a slightly different version of the same God; he is a decidedly different deity from the God of the Bible. For more on the hope and confidence that can come from the God of the Bible, who is both good and great, listen to my senior pastor’s sermon on Psalm 107:23-32 from yesterday (May 1), entitled “Where Was God Last Wednesday?” at http://www.southwood.org/audio.

The Nature of Sin
Bell certainly believes in sin, and as I noted earlier, the way he firmly addresses issues of social injustice as examples of our sin is very commendable. The problem is that whenever Bell speaks of sin, sin is injustice we commit against each other. This is not wrong, just incomplete. There is no sense of our sinfulness or sinful actions as odious or offensive to the holiness and purity of God. And while we certainly do harm and offend each other when we sin, the holiness of God is such that we can say to God with David (who had even had a man killed), “Against you (God), you only, have I sinned” (Psalm 51:4). Our sin is at its core rebellion against the King.

I have earnestly sought to find this notion in Love Wins and cannot. In fact, I find evidence to the contrary instead. Bell describes hell many times, and it is always something we create rather than a punishment God justly gives to sinners. Hell is “our refusal to trust God’s retelling of our story” (170) or a “big, wide, terrible evil that comes from the secrets hidden deep within our hearts” (93). We experience hell individually and communally, now just as we do “later” (79).

Time and again Bell reiterates that we don’t owe God anything for our sins. God is the one who rescues us, not the one from whom we are rescued (182). Jesus, he says, frees us from a violent, demanding God who creates fear in us “because his kind of love simply does away with fear” (184). This is so close to true and yet so far away! How does Jesus give us this freedom from the wrath of God? By taking God’s wrath for us on the cross, by becoming a curse for us … not just because his love simply makes us unafraid. It does that by paying our great debt on the cross and making us children of our Heavenly Father who are free and unafraid in his arms.

This is not only true when Jesus comes to deal with our sins against God; it’s the story of the whole Old Testament, too. Because God is love, he desires to dwell with his people, actually to live in fellowship with those he created in his image. Yet Adam’s sin quickly made that a problem because a holy God could not live among a sinful people. As soon as his holy presence “moves in” to the tabernacle (Exodus 40), the sacrificial system is set up to deal with Israel’s sin and impurity so that God can dwell in their midst (see all of Leviticus). God continues to pursue that kind of fellowship with his people through the time of the temple and the prophets, all the way to the point of sending his Son as the fulfillment of the promises and the ultimate sacrifice that would enable sinful people to live with a holy God forever. From the beginning of the Bible’s story, God’s abounding love and compassion does not simply overlook sin but rather deals with it so that he can dwell with his people. That’s love that wins … and remains holy. 

Pastoral Note
I don’t recommend you read the book since there is a wealth of solid literature out there to feed your soul. But if you do wrestle with some of these issues (you’re not alone) and want to read the book, I would encourage you not to stop there but to read other views and seek counsel from God’s Word and others who study it. What’s the danger I’m sensing? Other than simply debating theological nuances, why do I get so worked up about this? Remember first that Bell and I agree on the serious nature of these issues. I’m not making something up that he thinks is inconsequential.

Pastorally, I’m concerned that this book (among other things) threatens the urgency of repentance, the joy we have in our redemption from our sins, and the size of the cross in our minds and hearts. As my senior pastor often reminds me, God’s grace to us in Jesus is not amazing until our sin is amazing first. Shrinking our sin and its ramifications simultaneously shrinks the work of Christ on the cross. Anything that threatens to shrink the size of the cross, the magnitude of Jesus’s finished work there, is dangerous to our souls and to the gospel hope we offer the world. I’m also zealous to protect the pure joy and astonishment of believers redeemed by the grace of God to them in Jesus Christ. If we don’t desperately need Jesus to save us, we won’t rejoice and thank Him as we should, and our lives will not reflect the transformation God’s grace ought to produce.

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SLOPPY roast beef…Happy Birthday to me!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Some of you remember the sermon called ‘Sloppy Gospel, extra grace…’ today, my birthday I ate at the restaurant that inspired the illustration. Half way through the meal I think I heard angel wings flapping around me… I thought I was being transported to heaven. It was eschatological. Thanks to my daughter for posing with the sandwich…“train up a child in the way she should go…”

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B.Y.O.B.B. (Bring Your Own Beer & Bible)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

I couldn’t believe my ears. I was on the phone with my best friend from Seminary and he wanted me to come to Jackson, Mississippi and speak to a men’s group he was starting.
“What is the group called?” I asked.
“B.Y.O.B.B.” he said.
“What does that mean?” I probed.
“Bring your own Beer and Bible…” He said without hesitation.
Without missing a beat I said, “I’m in.” He said, “I knew that before I called you.”

So I went. A group of men gathered just North of Jackson, Mississippi on a random Wednesday night in a rented clubhouse in an exclusive neighborhood. They arrived on-time, kind of. Most had on ‘after work’ clothes. They pulled up in golf carts, S.U.V.’s, trucks and some walked. Most carried coolers. There was food in the clubhouse: eggrolls, chicken wings and fried shrimp, basically bar food.

We stood around for a bit and talked S.E.C. football, traded ‘do you knows’ and then my friend invited his friends to the living room. Over 25 men had come out to this rented clubhouse to B.Y.O.B.B. I was introduced to them and then I said this, “Men I’ve always dreamed of beginning a Bible study this way, (raising my Abita seasonal lager) CHEERS!” No one missed a beat—- “CHEERS!” Then I prayed.

We spent the next 45 minutes looking at the Scriptures, talking about life, making honest application and then we dismissed. Here’s the amazing part: only a handful of guys left. I imagined that they would have scattered to the wind. They didn’t. We talked for hours. Some of the conversations were about the idolatry of money and success. Some were about our failures as husbands and fathers. Some were belly-laughing hilarious stories and the normal ‘razzing’ guys do with each other. All of the conversations were genuine.

My friend, his brother and their best friend had done something I think we should pay attention to: they made friends, real friends and then they simply shared their lives AND their Savior with their friends. Novel idea, huh? Oh, by the way, no official church person was there. And also, they all go to different churches. No one passed out a note about the next meeting. Why? They KNEW they would see each other again—- on the golf course, at work or in the neighborhood. I thought to myself: this is real Christianity.

The next morning my buddy thanked me and he personally plans to take over the teaching and leadership. When we graduated from Reformed Seminary together (with the same degree) someone asked him if he was going ‘in to ministry.’ He said no, he wasn’t. He didn’t feel called to be a ‘professional Christian.’ He started a home health care business with his brother. Honestly now, looking back, I think he was wrong about ‘not going into ministry’ He was going into ministry, just not the kind anyone expected him to. 

Where has God placed you? Do you have men or women that you care about enough to ACTUALLY be friends with them with no angle? These won’t be ‘friendships’ because they are your ‘projects’ or in the cross-hairs of your evangelistic passion, but because you LIKE them, really like them. I would imagine that there were years behind each of the friendships in that room at B.Y.O.B.B.

As my friend described his reasoning behind doing this group now, at this point in their lives and friendships, he said, “I love these guys and they love me. They know I love them and they know I love life—- I just want them to know why. I need this group. I need these men.” Amen and amen. I hope a few of you reading this decide to ‘NOT’ go in to ministry too!

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Where was God last Wednesday?

Tuesday, May 03, 2011
Where was God last Wednesday?

Last Wednesday afternoon Tornadoes ravaged the Southeastern United States. Many of these storms touched down in Tuscaloosa, Birmingham and little cities like Harvest, Monrovia and Cullman, Alabama. The photos, eyewitness accounts and videos are sobering and heartbreaking. The loss of life is unprecedented in Alabama and this will certainly be remembered as one of the greatest natural disasters in U.S. history. Having moved to Huntsville from Katrina-ravaged Mississippi the similarities are all too familiar.
The message posted here is the one preached on Sunday morning, May 1st with no power and the gathering of a few hundred at Southwood Presbyterian Church. The message is entitled “Where was God last Wednesday?” Blessings and grace. Our prayers are with you all.

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The Crisis of the “Quarter-Life Crisis”

Monday, April 25, 2011

Several years ago someone forwarded me an email that described a new phenomena called the ‘Quater-Life Crisis.’ It’s premise was simple: we previous had identified what a ‘Mid-Life Crisis’ was, but we were beginning to see twenty and thirty somethings experience similar crises. These crises were dubbed to be the struggles of ‘quarter-life’. I wrote the following in response.

The Crisis of the “Quarter Life Crisis”

Somewhere along the way someone promised everyone ‘tomorrow’.
Somewhere along the way we were supposed to make more money than our parents, be happier, more fulfilled, wiser, more sensitive and more open-minded. Somewhere along the way we decided that the script was up to us.

So we planned…
and we dreamed…
and we educated ourselves…
and we got the best degree…
and we made all the contacts…
and we shook all the hands…
and we smiled at all the parties…
and we started climbing to the top…

We defined the ‘top’
It was money.
It was success.
It was happiness.
It was marriage.
It was children.
It was every page out of every L.L. Bean catalog we’ve ever seen.
Sitting by the fire with a golden retriever.
Having a snowball fight with a model.
Having a coy look at our fiancé on a wharf in Nantucket.
Sipping cider from a $225 cast Iron pot with a pine cone painted on the side of it.
That was the top.

But on the way up something happened.

We met people coming down.
Money wasn’t enough, or there fast enough, or it was just spent as soon as it was acquired.
They weren’t successful at being ‘successes’.
People wanted them to work, labor, sweat, and earn respect.
A college degree and 2 years of Poly-Sci wasn’t enough to make them the office expert.
Happiness was making them very unhappy.
Sad things happened to them.
They weren’t supposed to….other people got cancer, other people’s parent’s divorced or died, other people had their hearts broken.
But we started to realize we we’re the ‘other’ people.

Marriages were tumbling down.
There were friends with 2 year old children who had step-mommies and step-daddies.
The 50% divorce rate was not supposed to affect my life, my friends.
I never dreamed that half of the weddings I was IN would end in divorce.

There were lots of people on the way down, lots of them.

And so we hoped for tomorrow, a better day, a better job, a better marriage, a better life.
Somewhere, someplace, somehow we would get to ‘happiness’.
Everyone else must have been wrong.
It must have been them.
It must have been their parents.
Everyone else is screwed up.

But in the back of our seared consciences there is a nagging thought, like a hair in our mouths, that maybe, just maybe, it’s us.
We’ve seen glimpses of it.
Anger,
Selfishness,
Bitterness,
Pride,
Envy,
and deceit.

But we ALWAYS plugged our ears.

And it never went away- a hollow groan from our souls telling us that it WAS us.
We used to joke with friends saying, “It’s all about me.” But it really was.

Depressed.
Lonely.
Sad.
Discouraged.
Let down by our own dreams.
And we we’re only 20-something.

And then someone called it the ‘Quarter-Life Crisis’.
And we said, “Yes!”
That’s it!
That’s how I feel!
That is my life!

Just one question:
Are you sure it’s “Quarter-life”?
Who promised everyone tomorrow?
Why is today not your 1/2 life crisis or the 3/4 life crisis or the ‘life’ crisis?

Somewhere, even in our diagnosis, the disease shows up again.

It’s only ‘Quarter-Life’ we say.
It won’t always be like this.
Keep climbing.
Keep going.
The people coming down are the exceptions, not the rule.
It’s only ‘Quarter-Life’.

Maybe the echoes of emptiness from all the relationships, jobs, and toys were just shallow echos.
Maybe this isn’t the way up, maybe this is actually the way down.
Maybe the broken, empty people are closer to the truth, than the idealistic ones on the way ‘up’.
Maybe the bottom is much further down.

There is a “Mid-Life” Crisis you know.
It comes after the “Quarter-life” crisis.
How could that be?
Could it be that things get worse, not better?
Could it be that after all these crises we’re still NOT there yet…

Why do old people talk so much?
Why do they sit in parks and watch the birds?
Why do they take an hour to eat a meal?
Why do they still write letters with paper and pen?

Maybe that’s what Solomon knew.
Meaningless, Meaningless, he said. It is all a ‘chasing after the wind’.

Money.
Jobs.
Marriage.
Good Kids.
Vacation homes.
Nice cars.
Ski boats.
and Happiness.

When you grasp for them you grasp at nothing.

Maybe the crisis is not a ‘Quarter-life’ crisis.
Maybe It’s a Life Crisis.
Maybe it is as old as Solomon.

Today is yesterday’s tomorrow.
Is it better?
Has it all worked out?
What if an entire generation of people are really as miserable as you are?

Maybe your script was wrong
Maybe your plans were miscalculated.
Maybe it was just ‘all about you.’

But maybe, just maybe the script wasn’t up to us.
Maybe the ‘Quarter-life’ crisis was a part of His script.
Maybe God hasn’t left me, maybe He’s left me with only Himself.
Maybe the emptiness of ‘Quarter-life’ is a greater blessing than finding out at ‘mid-life’.
Maybe just maybe, the quarter-life crisis isn’t really any crisis at all.
Maybe.
Maybe.

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In Front of the Red Piano

Tuesday, April 19, 2011
In Front of the Red Piano

You might have noticed the announcement slide before and after our Sunday morning services at Southwood, advertising an album I recorded for High Life called in front of the red piano.  Several people have come to me asking how they can get a copy of the album.  We do not have any hard copies available and we did this in order to cut costs.  So the album is available for download only.  And here is how you find it.  The cheapest place to buy it is bandcamp.com. Here is the link!

It is $5.00 on Bandcamp.  It is also available on iTunes and we have no control over the itunes pricing.  here is the link for the iTunes download.  And to the first 5 commenters on the blog post I’ll give a free download code for bandcamp.com. But you have to be sure to put a valid email address in the space provided when you leave your comment. 

Thanks for listening!
-James Parker

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Gospel indicatives vs. Imperatives

Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Gospel indicatives vs. Imperatives

This is from a blog called “heavenward” by Tullian Tchavijin. It’s implications and observations are profound for our lives. Read the full article here: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tullian/

Here’s a preview: “Promise Driven Commission”

About 10 days ago, Mike Horton’s new book on the Great Commission came out entitled The Gospel Commission: Recovering God’s Strategy for Making Disciples.

Mike spoke on this topic during his session at our inaugural “Gospel-Centered Life” conference at Coral Ridge back in January (you can listen to the audio here). He began by asking the audience to say the opening words of the Great Commission from Matthew 28 out loud. As you can imagine, almost everybody started with the words, “Go therefore…”. Mike rightly pointed out that the Great Commission actually begins with the words, “All authority in heaven and on earth is given to me” (v. 18). It’s only after Jesus says that, that he says, “Go therefore…” (v.19).

This may seem like an insignificant thing but it’s actually a paradigm shattering observation. In fact, if we don’t see it, our understanding of the church’s mission will be weakened.

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Why is it our ‘goal’ to be a Mega-Church?

Monday, April 04, 2011
Why is it our ‘goal’ to be a Mega-Church?

In the past few days, several people have asked me a version of this question: “Why is it our goal to have 4500 members in the next 10 years? Haven’t we learned our lesson from “mega churches” in the past? Why would we set it as our vision to be like them when we’ve seen those pitfalls?” How would you respond?

Great question. First of all, let me apologize if I left the impression that the ‘GOAL’ of Southwood was to be a large church, a very large church or a ‘mega’ church (although I don’t like the baggage that word brings with it but I do understand the question). Our ‘goal’ is to advance the Kingdom of God, not to be a 4,500 member church. We are growing and we believe that is wonderful. You are either growing or you are dying. No church ever plateaus in number. Churches are either growing or dying. If a church believes it has plateaued it is actually in decline it just doesn’t know it yet. For more on that discussion I’d recommend Thom Rainer’s book, “Breakout Churches”. So that’s the first thing: we’re growing and growth is good, no apologies there.

Secondly, we believe that our particular church is gifted, called and equipped in a unique way to help advance the Kingdom of God. We are intentionally firing on two cylinders: experiencing and expressing grace. We are intentionally creating a grace incubator. We preach it, read it, marinate in it, struggle in it and rest in it, but it cannot stop there. Grace which is only experienced for my sake IS NOT grace. True grace is experienced and then it MUST BE expressed. Grace shows up in my life. It has to. I have to experience it personally FIRST (you can’t give away what you don’t have) but then it shows up as love for neighbor, service, mercy, advocating for justice, righteousness and truth as well as loving the poor and downtrodden. This grace thing is dangerous because it will propel you to places of service and sacrifice that non-grace never will!

So what about the 4,500 members, you DID SAY 4,500 right? I did.

Now, let me tell you why I said it. Some suggested: “Don’t say a number. Why not just tell everyone ‘we will grow to whatever size God wants us to be…’?” The thinking of the Session and long-range planning committee was this: While it may sound very ‘spiritual’ and ‘open to the Lord’s leading’ to say that we ‘just want to grow to the size that Lord allows us to be..’ in many ways that can be a disingenuous way of avoiding the real questions looming in people’s minds.

There are questions like:
When are we going to plant another church? How soon?
What is our max-out number at the Carl T. Jones campus?
Aren’t we too BIG already?
Shouldn’t we be hiring a church planter immediately?
We still seem to be ‘growing’- how do we stop that or at least manage that?

All of those type of questions loom in the minds of congregation members and without a clear, definitive statement of identity i.e. we are a “large, resource church” and a clear, definitive statement of campus intent i.e. “full campus build-out to accommodate up to 4,500 members” then we would face (and I would add rightly so) years of further ambiguity and discomfort for our members with each incremental strategic decision. Without a definitive statement about where we thought God might be ultimately leading us those decisions would never seem to ‘make sense.’

Imagine how many times the question “WHY?” would be asked incrementally if we raised money, added more staff, added worship services, built buildings and never gave any numerical indication as to what we thought a maximum growth number might be——giving a 10-year vision and a max-campus build-out number clarifies decisions and eliminates the ambiguity that can plague a growing church. Giving the two numbers: “4,500 maximum members” and “25 million dollars” were both given to eliminate questions and clarify expectations, NOT to set up some un-Biblical goal for Southwood where we measure ‘success’ or ‘spirituality’ by numbers.

I should say again that church size is a morally neutral reality. There are strengths and challenges with EVERY church size. Clearly defining and acknowledging your church’s size, identity and culture actually removes one of the major challenges that every church faces: size-culture schizophrenia.

Size-culture schizophrenia can occur in lots of ways. It can occur when a 45 member country church tries to host “Behold the Lamb” at Christmas because one of the members says, “I went at Southwood and they had 1,000 people- it was awesome! WE need to do that!” It can also occur when a 1,500 member church tries to host a pot-luck supper for all the members because one of the members went to a country church the previous weekend and they had a ‘covered dish supper’ which was ‘so sweet and intimate. It just felt like one big family.’ When any church, regardless of size, tries to emulate programs or policies that are more suited to another size-culture then size-culture schizophrenia occurs. That church simply has not had the emotional strength to acknowledge who they are and what they are best suited and equipped to embrace. That can happen with 45 or 4,500 people.

One of our challenges and opportunities in 2011 will be to regularly look in the proverbial ‘mirror’ and acknowledge who we are, where we are going and what WE, as a large resource church, do best. There is great gospel freedom in that. We can then cheer for the 45 member country church when they have their pot luck supper! We are now FREE from trying to be them. We can actually, without regret or fear, help people find their way to that church if such a program is of utmost importance to them in a church home. By the same token, we can with great joy offer to host those same brothers and sisters in Christ a seat right next to us at ‘Behold the Lamb.’ They can be concurrently set FREE from trying to be us!

The Kingdom of God is bigger than Southwood. Our acknowledgement of who we are, where God has brought us and where we could go is nothing more than the body of Christ doing something very healthy. We are saying, “I know I am an eye or a hand or a foot. I know what I am made for; what I’m gifted to do and I’m going to do that. I refuse the jealousy and insecurity that says, ‘because I am not a foot I’m not good’ or ‘because I’m not an eye I really can’t make a difference’! I am aware of who I am. I’m aware of my strengths. I’m aware of my limitations. I am ready to function with one goal: the advancement of the kingdom, nothing else.”

ONE LAST NOTE: part of growing will involve dispersing. Part of identifying church-size culture corporately also involves identifying church-size preferences personally. There may be some at the 45-member country church who NEED for the sake of the Gospel to drive to Southwood every Sunday because we are a better ‘fit’ for them. By the same token, there will be some at Southwood who NEED for the sake of the Gospel to drive to that little country church each Sunday because they are a better ‘fit’ for them. We must expect, embrace and help to free people from guilt when these types of changes occur.

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Thanks for preaching grace…

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

I want to make sure that I let you all know that there are many, many encouraging emails I receive every week. If you are a ‘golden retreiver’ kind of Christian like me then it’s usually easier to remember the critical statements, but this amazing note of encouragement came this morning:

I wanted to say keep preaching what you are preaching!!  We NEED to hear and understand Grace.  I was a covenant child raised by christian parents at large ‘First Presbyterian’ type church in another city.  I knew the catechism by heart, had regular quiet times, and attended church every time the door was opened.  I heard the gospel over and over and knew the right answers, but I did not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  It was all about checking off the items on a list of “being a good christian.”  As you can imagine that the works oriented faith was empty and like the prodigal son I ran to the big wild city in college.  I went wild and was eating with the hogs - thankfully God opened my eyes and heart when my campus minister through RUF shared the gospel with me. Although I had heard it a million times it took me being on my knees in the mud to realize that I had nothing I could bring to the table.

Please realize that even though I became a christian it has been very easy to slip into works oriented faith.  Even well meaning ministries and churches have made it easy to slip into checking off the list instead of spending time with God because we have a heart that NEEDS it.  Keep Preaching!  We need to hear it over and over!  This is the first time in a long time I get excited about coming to church and spending time worshiping.

We just want you to know that we thank God for sending you to Southwood and are praying for you and your family. Keep preaching these gut wrenching sermons!!  We NEED Them!

*edited for anonymity

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Question about Rob Bell’s new book ‘Love Wins’...

Monday, March 28, 2011
Question about Rob Bell’s new book ‘Love Wins’...

Recently, Rob Bell has been in the news for his new book Love Wins. It has drawn a lot of criticism for his ‘new’ views on several key topics.  My question is- has he a mistaken understanding of Lamentations 3:31-” For no one is abandoned by the Lord forever.” ? What do you think about Rob Bell’s new book “Love Wins”?

First things first, I haven’t read the book. I haven’t even read an exerpt. I actually have never read anything by Rob Bell. I had never heard of him (I know, try to breathe through your mouth) before I came to Southwood. Upon my arrival I had people pull me aside to ‘feel me out’ on the subject. Was I PRO or ANTI Rob Bell. I guess because he is a controversial guy so many assumed that birds of a feather flock together and I would probably endorse him because he was ‘edgy’. (Aside: I don’t consider myself ‘cool’, ‘edgy’ or really ‘controversial’. I might say things in a way that gets the grey matter swirling, but for the most part I really don’t have any ‘out of the box’ or personally controversial views. I like to take views to their logical conclusion and then ‘pick the scab’ in order to get us all to think.) Apparently, a few people at Southwood have been grieved by the use of his Nooma videos. Again, I haven’t seen them, but I’ve heard mostly good things, with some smattering of ‘concerns.’

So, back to Rob Bell. I saw a picture of him last week. He looks cool. I think I’d like to have coffee with him. He appears to be the kind of guy who could order sushi correctly and also probably greet the Asian waiter in a native tongue. He looks edgy. He probably shaved off his soul patch when I was considering growing one. That was my first impression.

Next, I did read a very pointed interview that he did on the subject of his new book, “Love wins” and in the interview he didn’t precisely and clearly state his beliefs about hell or some type of second chance theology. So, to be fair to Rob let me say this: that’s not helpful. I think we have a responsibility as theologians to clearly say what we are saying. We can ‘explain’ and ‘disclaimer’ first, but at the end of the day we need to be willing to state our beliefs. Now this may be a particulalr passion of mine as a Presbyterian (We LOVE theology!) but I think it is a mark of Orthodoxy. The history of the church with her councils and creeds points us to the pastoral need of clearly stating our beliefs. When my son was little he asked us a question from the backseat of the car, “Is grandpa a Christian, yes or no?” Helpful. Apparently, even at my son’s young age he was suffering under the weight of his Presbyterian father’s propensity for disclaimers on the subject.

I just want to ask Rob that kind of backseat question: Is there a literal Hell? Are there people there? Is it eternal? Yes or No. I think that would be helpful.

Secondly, Who is Rob Bell again? Now listen, in terms of fame and notariety I am lint in Rob Bell’s bellybutton. I get that, but stop for a second, really, really stop. Who is Rob Bell? The way Treasury agents are trained to evaluate counterfeit bills is through training on the precise marks of legitimate U.S. currency. We need to point people to the truths of Scripture that are abundantly clear and then when you pick up “Love Wins” or whatever else you will be equipped to read with a discerning eye. This should have been a portion that you wrote in the margin, “no..no…no….good try Rob—- I appreciate the sentiment, trying to emphasize the Love of God, but one attribute of God at the expense of others is a bastardization of His character not a matter of emphasis!”

We should be reading books by people with whom we disagree. We SHOULD. We should always find ourselves sharpened, honed and more thankful for truth at each turn of the page. In reality we don’t need to wait for R.C. Sproul to respond to Rob Bell we should be fine with 2,000 years of Church History speaking pretty clearly. I do know there is a correct place in the ‘marketplace of ideas’ for polemics on this subject and I hope that some will post links to good and balanced reviews of Rob Bell’s book on Knots, but please let us keep the spirit of the writing charitable and helpful.

One other thought and I ‘tweeted’ this last week. I’m not sure, but I think that Satan may enjoy tweaking the evangelical church through Rob Bell as much as he enjoys tweaking Rob Bell’s theology. It’s amazing how quickly we will canibalize each other in the church. The venom that we spew in blogs, emails and internet posts is impressive. If Rob Bell had abandoned his views about the existence of hell I think he probably re-embraced them recently, but hell looks more like blog posts, former friends and podcasts than Satan with a pitchfork. Love might ‘win’ but not in our dialogue. Yikes.

Final thought, and this is pastoral with regard to Southwood, if indeed Rob Bell has abandoned the historical orthodox belief that hell (gehenna, perdition, etc.) is literal, eternal, perpetual and those in it’s midst are irredeemable and lost forever or that salvation is, in some form or fashion, universal, not in it’s sufficiency, but in it’s efficiency, then he is teaching false doctrine in areas that are not matters of emphasis or preference. These are core doctrines that strike at the heart of Christianity. Those who have had concerns about Southwood using Rob Bell’s material in the past may or may not have been justified, but any further use of Rob Bell’s material at Southwood will come with a very healthy disclaimer. We NEED to use, study and learn from the best of any gifted teacher whether they be orthodox, unorthodox or pagan. We also might cherry pick specific thoughts, quotes or ideas from a myriad of sources as we cultivate a worldview informed by common grace, but not limited to it. I might quote Rob Bell in a sermon. I also might quote Lady GaGa. I also might quote Pope John Paul or John Calvin. We need to stand with others where we can stand, but also clearly define where we stand so that our agreement in one area is not mis-perceived as an endorsement of all areas. All truth is God’s truth, but we also need to be discerning Christians who are always clearly communicating where we can stand with others and where we must walk away.

Below is a link to a review of the book on the Gospel Coalition website:
http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/files/2011/03/LoveWinsReview.pdf

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Vision 2020 Meeting Video

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sunday March 20, 2001 a Congregational Meeting was held to review financial data and hear about Vision 2020: Southwood’s bold vision for the next decade. Please watch this video (slides accompanying audio) to see what all the buzz is about. The audio includes a financial introduction by Executive Director Bob Bradshaw, the vision presentation by Senior Pastor Jean F. Larroux, III and concluding remarks by founding member and Ruling Elder Kirby Parks. Further information and FAQs will be posted later this week.

Additional Resources:
Vision 2020 Narrative
Leadership and Church Dynamics, Dr. Tim Keller

Vision 2020 Presentation direct link.

 

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Church Size White Paper

Sunday, March 20, 2011
Church Size White Paper

The full copy of the paper by Dr. Tim Keller regarding church size is available by clicking here. This full paper is most instructive and helpful as we educate ourselves on the particulars regarding the dynamics of our large church. The general principles in this paper have been unanimously embraced by the Session as part of our preparation and planning for Vision 2020.

As a follow-up to the congregational meeting, Bob Frederick (one of our Ruling Elders) sent me the following quotes from people who spoke to him this morning. My favorite is the one from his 9-year-old daughter:

“Of all the sermons that Jean will ever preach at Southwood, this one will be the greatest.” Vivian Tozer (Berean class)

“I am exited about the topically based Sunday School classes.” Sue Urban (Berean class)

“I am exited because the changes will allow me to fit in better at Southwood.” Laura Frederick (age 21)

“They said something about 3 million dollars, I think.” Anna Frederick (Aged 9)

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Sloppy Gospel, Extra Grace

Monday, March 14, 2011
Sloppy Gospel, Extra Grace

Special thanks to Emily Cusker who drew this picture of the sermon from Sunday, March 6th. It is great to see our kids are listening and engaged with the message. It is my prayer that when their lives get ‘messy’ as everyone’s life does that somewhere in their hearts they will remember that God’s grace is what sinners fall INTO not OUT OF when we fall! God bless you Emily and thanks for the great drawing!

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You say ‘quit’ Sunday School, why don’t you ‘quit’ preaching?

Monday, March 07, 2011

(This question was submitted via Knots last evening and was inspired by yesterday’s sermon which can be found here)
Pastor Larroux,

I chose to go to Sunday School Class this morning after the first service.  I briefly considered sitting and drinking coffee and waving, but I would have missed out, not on grace, but on the class and it seemed like a profitable way to spend my time. But I wondered, not in an effort to be witty, but in an effort to understand what you are saying: would you be willing to decide at 8:25 a.m. to go and sit on the couch and drink coffee, leaving the pulpit empty, and a few hundred people scratching their heads and looking at each other?

What would be the thoughts that would contribute to your decision either to go and preach, or go and sip coffee on the couch? By the way, if you are going to sip coffee on the couch next week, please let me know, and I will skip the sanctuary and head straight to the couches, assuming the coffee is decent: I have a few other questions I would like to ask, which would be more appropriate sitting on a couch over coffee than shouting them from the back of the sanctuary while you are preaching smile

As a follow up: if you ditched preaching suddenly next Sunday morning to sit on the couch, would you feel guilty about that?  Do you feel obligated to preach the pure Gospel, and if you didn’t, would you feel guilty about that.  If you don’t feel obligated, why do you do it?

Just trying to triangulate on what you are teaching. Trying to grasp the Gospel!

Signed,
(name withheld/details edited by Jean in order to post question for the blog)

Dear ‘trying to grasp the Gospel’—-

First of all, I’m thrilled that you are wrestling with these issues, thrilled. I think that this is precisely the kind of contemplative Christianity that the Puritans would have commended where the people of God meditated on the things of God for their own personal lives. Thank you for not simply being a sermon ‘consumer’ but someone who is applying the Word to their life.

Secondly, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head when you ask me if I’d feel ‘guilty’ or ‘obligated’ about preaching or not preaching. This IS the issue. The questions we are wrestling with are really about heart motivations not behavioral modifications. So, in answer to your first question: “Would I be willing to ‘skip’ preaching and sit on the couches?” I would answer ‘yes’ and ‘no’—-but each answer has to do with my heart motivation for being in the pulpit in the first place.

“Would I skip?” Yes. I would have no angst about calling Will Spink or Ken Leggett on a Saturday night and telling him that I just didn’t have it in me to preach the next day, telling them that ‘organized religion’ had exhausted me, that I had no motivation or passion left and that I was ‘skipping’ preaching. I wouldn’t skip BECAUSE I’d lost my first love, but because I didn’t want to! Now, would I sit in the couches on that Sunday? NO WAY! My reason for skipping would be due to burnout and spending an hour answering questions about ‘why I was skipping’ or ‘what was wrong’ would be equally exhausting. P.S. If you we’re asking me if I would skip church as a general member of the congregation, I think you know my answer- absolutely! Again, the REASON for skipping is the issue, NOT whether one can or cannot ‘skip’!

“Would I skip?” No. First of all I find it interesting that you equated the two issues as parallel issues (worship and Sunday School) and I would suggest that this isn’t ‘apples to apples.’ Suffice to say that Sunday School is NOT commanded by God’s Word, nor is the neglect of it forbidden, so I don’t know how far I would actually entertain the parallel, but I think the principle is what you were after, correct? Worship is clearly, as Ken Stuart said it yesterday, the ‘crescendo’ of our week. So if you are asking whether I would have more heartburn over ignoring my calling, neglecting the pulpit and abandoning the ‘lambs’ who I was supposed to feed during the public worship of the people of God vs. skipping an optional classroom event, yes. I would have more heartburn over ignoring worship.

ASIDE: I think this is the same reason that our teachers/leaders shouldn’t just ‘walk away’ from their classes next week. I so deeply appreciate all of our teachers and their hard work in preparation for Sunday School. For our teachers to just ‘walk away’ or to think that I didn’t value their preparation would be a terrible mis-application of grace! Commitment from leaders to accomplish the task before them is not only godly, but it is actually motivated by GRACE. When the Gospel transforms your life and you see the sweetness of Grace, you realize something profound: there is NOTHING you could do to repay it, no service, no mission trip, no quiet time, NOTHING. Consequently, all of life become a joyful response to grace. I hope we have teachers and preachers who would sooner die than give up their classrooms and pulpits. By the same token if there are some who are serving out of guilt, obligation or regret then I hope they are being set free to step aside! The fancy way to say this is that Gospel indicatives always fuel Gospel imperatives. Always. (That is a whole other subject however!)

The issue is motivation. It is always going to come back to that. As I said yesterday, “the degree to which you feel ‘obligated’ to do or  ‘guilty’ when you don’t is the degree to which your heart has polluted grace.” According to that paradigm there are ministers who SHOULD not only skip the service next week, but probably leave the ministry, because the entire deal has been about ‘obligatory’ service. I would and HAVE encouraged men (who were friends) in those situations to resign. By the same token, there are those who feel no obligation or guilt either way about Sunday School and just simply love it—- amen, forge ahead! I would, however, add a word of caution: it is easy to give yourself credit for being ‘free enough’ to do either, but not really have dug deep enough to consider what would really happen in that scenario!

At this point you should ask yourself: Am I a ‘take it or leave it’ individual when it comes to the non-essentials of Christianity? I’d encourage you to consider the following if you have determined you are ‘free enough’ by grace to skip or not to skip:

1.) Could you skip and never mention to anyone in the class where you were? (Just don’t show up and don’t ever tell anyone where you were. Often we subtly allow others to know that we had an appropriate ‘spiritual’ alternative i.e. that you went to visit your aunt Vera who was in stage 5 cancer in Montgomery so you could share the gospel with her. Could you let them think you were equally likely to be on a mission’s trip or sleeping late? This will help you see how deeply the approval of men is driving you and your behavior.)

2.) If you assert that you are free enough to ‘just skip’ would there be a spiritual ‘bread crumb trail’ to something that would legitimize the absence? (for instance, “Yes, I did skip to go to the Auburn National Championship “War Eagle!”, but I made sure I listened and downloaded the sermon as we drove home. Cha-Ching, give me my gold star! Same as #1 just asked a bit differently. We are adept at ‘adding ketchup’ to a situation to make sure we baptize it into our spiritual life so as to legitimize it rather than just living with the verdict of God as enough.)

3.) How do you feel about others who choose NOT to attend for no other reason than they just don’t like it? (Do you have even the slightest bit of subtle disappointment with them? If you saw them sitting on the couches answering their email or watching a funny YouTube video instead of going to class each week would you find yourself even, ever so slightly wagging your head? Is there some part of you that thinks they should want to be in Sunday School with you? Often we will give people a ‘hall pass’ on HAVING to be in class, but we would say, with Southern, Evangelical charm, that we just wish ‘their hearts would WANT TO be with God’s people.’ There is a subtle sting in such a statement indicating that their hearts might not be ‘longing’ for the ‘right’ things, as you define the ‘right things.’)

4.) Does even the mention of the idea of skipping Sunday School from the pulpit cause you some heartburn, anxiety and/or the need for clarification and disclaimers? (The answer to this one is obviously, “yes” or you wouldn’t have written your email. I’m now trying to triangulate your triangulation. smile The anxiety you feel over my suggestion needs to be deeply considered by you. Why do you feel so anxious? What is really bothering you about what I said? If you are indeed a, ‘take it or leave it’ Christian, why even send an email? Why not smile and think to yourself, “I’m so glad he’s saying that. I know there are some who go out of obligation, they need to be set free. Thank God our pastor is setting them free! I don’t have any angst/guilt about ‘going’ or ‘not going’ and I plan to continue joyfully going, but I totally understand that paradigm. I am thankful that the Grace I’m learning about from the pulpit AND Sunday School is being applied deeply enough and scandalously enough that others are being set free from false obligations and moralistic guilt.” I think a true ‘take it’ or ‘leave it’ mentality would produce such a response.

Now honestly, I appreciate the struggle. I really do. I appreciate the fact that you are struggling with the struggle. You are not alone and that’s why I posted your question. I am trying to push you deeper toward the implications of your questions. I hope that is helpful. I would really suggest that you purchase and read two of the books listed on the blog. They will really help. I would start with ‘We would see Jesus” by Roy and Revel Hession, then “Scandalous Grace” by Steve Brown. P.S. the sermons from RYM which are linked from Joe Novenson and myself are also very helpful. P.S.S. Dr. Tim Keller’s study on the Book of Galatians is worth it’s weight in gold. If you have a small group or a group you gather with this would be a primo rescource. Final suggestion: World Harvest Mission has a program of discipleship that would be a major blessing in your life. I’ll post more details later, but check out: http://www.whm.org/mentoredsonship

Let me share with you a portion of another email that I got last night. I hope it encourages you to know that as God is stirring your heart to wrestle he is concurrently stirring the hearts of others to rest:

“Each week brings my heart another reminder to dip into the cup of grace; breathe it, snort it, surround myself by it; cry because of it; humble myself that he would call me by not any of the exhausting checklist things I had done and had not done – but because his son suffered deeply, died filled with pain and abandonment by the ones he loved, rose and lives .

All to say – keep preaching grace. We can’t hear it enough. There are many, like me, need to be drunk on grace – soon the slumping shoulders will be lighter! For without it, we are nothing. Oh! What an awesome God we have who saves us from ourselves and when we are at our very worst, will hear us cry out “Abba, Father”, pours his mercy over me and floods me with grace.” (appropriately edited for privacy)

-Jean

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Anonymous Commenters FYI

Friday, March 04, 2011
Anonymous Commenters FYI

I’ve received lots of anonymous input and questions lately and I love that! We set this up intentionally for you to be able to do that! Please be aware that if you post a question through ‘ask a question’ and do not include your name, email or other contact information I will have no possible way to connect you when I’m able to answer. It is not our practice to publicly answer every question or concern that is submitted. Also please note that ‘comment sections’ are designed to allow you all to interact with each other and the comments being made. Comments are welcomed, but will not always initiate a response from me or others. Charity to our neighbors and accuracy of information should be the two guard rails for everyone, anonymous or not, prior to posting.

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Larrouxvee

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Okay, so here’s a bit of levity. One of our elders, Skeets Simonis, made a point during a Session meeting that perhaps I was pushing the pace of our meetings a bit beyond what the normal comfort level had been previously. We’ve all had a good-hearted laugh at each other during some of the meetings to ensure that everyone is getting a chance to give input, but also that motions, input and discussion doesn’t languish on indefinitely. Jonathan Barnette, James Parker and me produced this video as a fun introduction to the Elder’s retreat held last weekend in Fort Payne, Alabama. Suffice to say we laughed until we wept.

-Jean Larrouxvee

Here are the Lyrics:

Skeets said, “Slow Down! youʼre movinʼ too fast.
Weʼve got to make our meetings last”
he said, “Sit Down, weʼre going home.
weʼre almost done cuz
Heʼs Larrouxveeeeeeeeee

ba da da daaa daaa daaa daaa
Iʼm Larrouxveeeeeeeeee

Hello John Bise, What ‘cha knowinʼ?
“Iʼve come to watch that docket Growinʼ”
“ainʼt you got no time for me?”
dootʼn doot doo doot

Heʼs Larrouxveeeeeeeeee
ba da da daaa dam bah daaa da dam
Iʼm Larrouxveeeeeeeeee

Iʼve Got..thoughts for you but no words to speak
Iʼm dappled and drowsy and ready to sleep
a motion to Adjourn would be just fine by me

Jean we love you..
youʼre Larrouxveeeeeeeeee
badabada badabada…..

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Please hear what I’m NOT saying…

Monday, February 28, 2011
Please hear what I’m NOT saying…

I stood in front of the sanctuary last week and received a familiar look accompanied by a familiar question. The look was one of concern, confusion and suspicion. The question was very familiar. It began this way, “I’ve got to ask you a question, are you saying…” I interrupted them, “...am I saying that grace means you can go out and do anything you want to do, throw caution to the wind, embrace debauchery and live with a perpetual “hall pass” to do whatever you want, whenever you want?”

They smiled and graciously said, “well I wasn’t going to ask that exactly, but…” I interrupted again, “...but you were going to ask whether I believed that as Christians we are to put off the old man and put on the new man, participate in the mortification of the flesh, run the race with perseverance, buffet our bodies, die to sin and live to righteousness?” They smiled again. I got it.

I’d heard that question before, probably several hundred times. So why is this question so regularly coming my way? I’d suggest to you that the reason is fear. It is fear that my preaching is giving people license to sin, license to do “whatever they want” and license to ignore the clear teaching of Scripture that in Christ we’ve been “unshackled from slavery to sin and shackled to righteousness.” You need to know that far from finding such accusations insulting, I actually find them quite encouraging. It thrills me! I’m being heard—heard to be preaching grace deep enough, wide enough and high enough that in Christ there’s nothing we could do to make God love us any more OR anything we could do to make Him love us any less.

Nothing we could do to make him love us any more or any less? Being heard? Is this making your brain hurt? Okay Larroux, stop the double speak! YES or NO—Are you actually saying that you can go out and do whatever you want? Are you actually saying that the Gospel gives us permission to sin? Are you actually saying that we have a “hall pass” to do whatever we want? No, I’m not actually saying any of those things. Final answer.

Do you feel relieved? Can you finally exhale? Well, before you open the champagne make sure you hear this: I am NOT saying any of those things but what I am saying is much more scandalous. In Christ, neither our greatest performance or our worst failure has any defining power for us at all. You heard me right: neither performance nor failure defines us. The final verdict is cast about me without regard for me at all.

There is NOTHING, nada, not one-single-thing, not one-single-action, no intention, no inclination or smallest glimmer of our most minute desire that recommends us to God. I’ll even up the ante one further: I actually believe that the very BEST things we’ve ever done—the most pious, most religious, most holy, most selfless acts of obedience, with the purest motives we could possibly muster on our best days, if rightly accounted for, would be in the debit column of our lives, NOT the credit column.

Are you still breathing? I hope you so. I hope you are actually breathing easier. We should be because only grace this free, deep, high and wide has any hope of transforming our lives and truly setting us free.

We need to be set free from ourselves: set free from our disobedience by the finished work of Christ on the cross and set free from our obedience by the perfect life of Christ on this earth. When we see that and embrace it we are changed. Our motives are transformed from a myriad of frantic self-atonement efforts to “make up” for our failures to a restful response by adopted children who are secure in the arms of their loving Father. I can now HATE my sin, because I am no longer HATED. I can now LOVE holiness, because I am now LOVED. This is the reason I preach grace.

Am I saying that we’re not changed? Not at all. Actually, if you’re listening, you’ll hear me saying that this is the ONLY thing which has any hope of changing us at all.

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Should the Gospel be SO confusing at communion?

Monday, February 21, 2011
Should the Gospel be SO confusing at communion?

Posted question:
Should the Gospel be confusing?   When we come to the (Lord’s) table should we not know what we are doing? The Gospel is a mystery that was hidden for ages, but now revealed – it is Christ in us the hope of glory (Col 1:27).  

There is none righteous.  
All have sinned.  
All fall short.  
We were under a curse and the judgment of God.  
Christ redeemed us from the judgment due us (Galatians).  
We were delivered out of the domain of darkness (Col1:13 ) and transferred into kingdom of God’s Son.  
Eternal life is a free gift received by faith in Christ.  
Christ is our righteousness.
The Holy Spirit is the deposit and seal of what is to come.
We are made new in Christ for good works (Eph 2:10).  
We are to put on the new self, created in the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph 4:14).  
As those who have believed in God we are to be careful to devote ourselves to good works (Titus 3:8).  
We are to put on the new self, which is being renewed (Col 3:10).  
We are to do good, to be rich in (I Tim 6:18).  
We are to live self-controlled, upright and godly (Titus 2:12).  
We will be known by our fruit (Jesus).  
We are to let our light shine in such a way that men praise God (Jesus).  
We are to walk in love.  We are to walk in the light. We are to walk by faith.  We are to walk in the Spirit.  We are to have the fruit of the Spirit.

You are a gifted communicator and can make the complex comprehendible. There are some in our flock confused.  Help them understand that the kind of people whose every thought was on evil all the time are the kind of people for whom Christ died.  He makes them new.  He sets them free.  He is their Advocate.  They are to turn and flee from evil. They are to be imitators of God.

Answer: Should the Gospel be confusing? Hmmm. I think ‘yes’ and ‘no.’

First the “No.” No, It shouldn’t be confusing if by confusing you mean ‘more confusing.’ If you are saying, “When Jean explained communion I was MORE confused about Christianity than when he started because he just rambled and verbally walked us into a fog.” Then NO it shouldn’t be that way. The Gospel IS confusing, but I shouldn’t make it MORE confusing. The old saying goes like this, ‘a mist in the pulpit is a fog in the pew.’ If I am being ‘misty’ then there’s a reason it feels ‘foggy’. If that is the case I need to know it. I hope it isn’t.

Secondly, the “Yes”. Yes, it SHOULD BE more confusing in the sense that this mystery called the Gospel is perplexing and it’s nuances will push us to places of emotional discomfort and tension constantly. In that sense the Gospel is ‘troubling’, ‘perplexing’, ‘confusing’ and even ‘frustrating’. One has to personally discern whether the information being presented is ‘more confusing’ or whether they are simply ‘confused.’ That’s not a subtle jab, it’s an honest answer.

With regard to communion it is easy to be ‘confused,’ (Side note: there is a general corporate tension at Southwood which adds to this. The idea of progressive sanctification where we get ‘better and better’ the longer we are Christians is one which deeply affects this issue as well. That topic is the subject of a book and other blog entries, not a little pastoral note here!)

So back to communion. First, what is a ‘sacrament’? It is an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible reality. A sacrament is a picture of something else. In the Presbyterian Church we have two sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Both are pictures of the Gospel. Baptism pictures the cleansing or washing clean of a sinner by the blood of Christ using water. The Lord’s Supper pictures the reality that we, personally, are feeding on Christ by faith. By my actions ‘externally’ in taking communion I am saying to the world that I believe ‘internally’ in Christ’s work done for me, a sinner.  Here is where the ‘rub’ comes in: as Christians we believe that there must be continuity between our ‘internal’ profession of faith and our ‘external’ expressions of faith. This is key to understanding why pre-communion instructions (also called ‘fencing the table’) can be ‘confusing.’

Consider the following: let’s say person ‘A’ is sitting in the pew and they have been having a secret, undisclosed, adulterous affair. There is sinful enjoyment and longing for this to continue, but no one knows. When the Lord’s table is set before them there should be a dilemma in their heart. The dilemma is this: I am about to ‘say to the world’ by taking communion that I hate my sin and have turned from it to Christ, but I have been ‘saying with my life’ that I love my sin and I regularly turn from Christ to it. There is profound difference between the guilt and fear that make someone ‘cautious’ and ‘careful’ to not be caught and the conviction which would drive this person to repentance. To this person I would say, “Because of your great sin you should NOT take communion. It would be a lie. Your true life, even if it’s secret, says that ‘sin is where life is found’ and this table says that ‘Christ is where life is found.’ By taking the bread and wine you are ‘declaring’ that you believe sin is death and Christ has given you life. That is a lie. You don’t ‘believe that’ with the way you are living. As Christians we are people who can, for the first time in our lives, actually love what God loves and hate what He hates. You are not doing that. Do not add further hypocrisy to your personal self-deceit. Do not take communion. It would be a lie.”

In the pew across from them is person ‘B’ who is struggling with an eating disorder, and a couple of people know it, close friends and those from who they have sought counsel. Person ‘B’ realizes the sin, the control issues, perfectionism and the sin-patterns beneath the sin. They have confessed, repented, fallen and confessed again. Now it’s communion Sunday and this very morning there was an ‘episode’ of purging before church. As the table is set and the sermon is preached person ‘B’ is now actually feeling sick, sick about sin and sick about what a hypocrite they have been. Someone asked them in the hall how they were doing with ‘it’ and they lied. They said, ‘fine…’ The self persecution then flooded their mind, “I’m such a hypocrite, a liar and a mess… I still think I’m fat…” Persecution comes from the inside and from the whispers of the Evil One, mixed in there is even actual conviction of sin, after all the Holy Spirit is at work here too!

Their dilemma is this: I am ‘saying with my lips’ that I hate my sin and love Christ, but I find myself regularly ‘saying with my life’ that I love ‘thinness’ and control more. The internal tension is this, “I hate my sin. I want it gone. Oh, Jesus please help me!” (Now pay attention here: the last place that this person believes they deserve to be is at the Lord’s table- the guilt, shame and sin accuse and condemn concurrently. So rather than seeing that their sin has actually been driving them TO THE CROSS, it now betrays and drives FROM THE CROSS. They see their sin and regular trips to Calvary as marks of failure rather than movements of health. They see regular encounters with Jesus as ‘proof’ that they don’t ‘get it’ rather than regular encounters with Jesus as the thing they were ‘supposed to get’!!!

To this person I would say, ““Because of your great sin you SHOULD TAKE communion. If you didn’t It would be a lie. Your life of failure and repentance doesn’t say that ‘sin is where life is found’ and it says ‘sin is what is killing me’ and this table affirms that. Taking communion says, ‘Jesus gives me life, not thinness.’ To ‘not take’ communion now would be to further look WITHIN for the strength and power to overcome your sin and actually avoid Jesus. Taking communion is an ‘external’ declaration of your ‘internal’ cry—- “I CAN’T DO THIS MYSELF!!!” By taking the bread and wine you are ‘declaring’ that you believe sin is death and Christ has given you life. You believe that. It IS the way you live. As Christians we are people who can, for the first time in our lives, actually love what God loves and hate what He hates. The hypocrisy you are avoiding is profound. In every other ‘bite of food’ you fear being defined by it, but at this table you are finally free to actually allow THIS MEAL to define you! You are His bride and the dress size doesn’t matter!”

I long for us to see the beauty in the contrast of these two scenarios. This is how I can say in the same breath, “Because of your great sin some of you SHOULD NOT take communion and because of your great sin some of you SHOULD take communion.” I do acknowledge that it sounds like double-speak, but I hope that the ‘confusion’ is now one of a ‘furled brow’ at the mystery of the Gospel and not the mis-clarity of your Senior Pastor.

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When will you preach about Jesus?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Posted Question:
I was intrigued and excited by the “trailer” for Galatians on Sunday! However, I was wondering, when could we have the same expositional teaching through one of the Gospels? Galatians is going to be so fruitful, I’m sure, and I just thirst for such a systematic, steady flow of Jesus! Please?!

Answer: Good news, Galatians is actually all about Jesus! (I’m sure you knew that, but I say it that way to make a point!) The entirety of the book is about the imputed righteousness of Jesus, his work, his perfect life, his atoning death and the implications of all that for real people like you and me. The Gospels are what is called, “historical narrative” where you get the ‘Jesus stories’ i.e. blind man, walking on water, etc. We will have expository preaching on historical narrative over the course of my time at Southwood, but it’s fair to say that we won’t be launching into any of the Gospel narratives for expositional, regular preaching for quite some time! I would HIGHLY suggest that you purchase the book promoted on Sunday called “We would see Jesus” by Roy and Revel Hession. It will nudge and prod you toward Christ Jesus in ways that are helpful, painful and redemptive.

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Are we better YET (this week)?

Monday, February 07, 2011
Are we better YET (this week)?

I came across the following article thanks to an email from Brock Warner. It is very insightful and likely prophetic for the conversations around Southwood for the next couple of years. It is linked below and its content is DEAD ON with regard to the current dialogue going on in the halls of Southwood regarding Sanctification and our participation in that work of the Holy Spirit.

Link to the article entitled: “Are we Transformed YET?” by Mark Galli on Christianity Today’s website.

Internet Monk
There is also a great follow-up article by the Internet Monk about Galli’s article. It can be found here.

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Great Preaching on Sanctification

Thursday, February 03, 2011
Great Preaching on Sanctification

Let me commend to you the preaching of Rev. Joe Novenson, Senior Pastor of Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church in Chattanooga, TN. Joe and I preached together at some training for Reformed Youth Ministries at their leader training in Jackson, Mississippi. My assigned topic was ‘Glorification’ and Joe’s assigned topic was ‘Sanctification’. It was really outstanding- all 4 messages. Truly some of the best I’ve ever heard. You can link to the RYM download page by clicking here.

If you followed the blog dialogue last week with regard to the nature of sanctification and indeed how God uses the regular work of the Holy Spirit through faith and repentance then you will be all the more encouraged and challenged by the messages. With regard to the messages I was asked to bring to the group I’d particularly commend the second message to you—- If you are a Type “A”, “Get it Right” kind of perfectionistic person it is perfect! (I wrote it for ME!) It is entitled, “Glorification: the antidote to perfectionism”

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Man in the TRUE Arena

Monday, January 31, 2011
Man in the TRUE Arena

In 1910, Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the U.S. said the following:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” -excerpted from CITIZENSHIP IN A REPUBLIC “The Man In The Arena” ,Speech at the Sorbonne ,Paris, France ,April 23, 1910

The ‘arenas’ in life are often public, visible and glamorous places- places where the victors receive laurel wreaths with the cheers and admiration of the masses. There are other arenas, however, more hidden, more clandestine, and absolutely private. These are arenas where men and women enter with no foe other than themselves. These are the places where battles are waged with the contestant emerging as both winner and loser, knowing victory and defeat, gain and loss.

There are bold souls who will wage war against foreign armies with valiancy and heart, but few men will wage war with an enemy so domestic and ‘friendly’ as himself. A fiercer contest no man has ever known. A greater foe no man has faced. Even in warring against evil itself man has greater hope- darkness does not know him like he knows himself. For in every advance against self there are troops arrayed to counter the maneuver. For every retreat there are advances stealing soil that has been lost. Every move is mirrored. Every tactic countered. The generals in this war know every strategy of their foe, every minute affection, every weakness, and every opportunity for defeat.

In this battle men writhe within themselves. They receive and inflict internal blows. Men torture themselves, imprison themselves and make treaties with themselves, which they never intend to keep. So fierce a battle is amplified by it’s arena. Contained in the unseen arena of the heart the tumult is profound, unseen, but profound. The battle reports are seen in nuanced expressions, front line reports delivered in tear-stained groans and written in headlines of silence and pain. Like a cosmic battle contained inside the locket of the heart, the battle rages almost bursting from its holding place. And yet, the battle is often waged quietly. Like a guerrilla war fought against one’s self. Enemy lines crossed. Snares enabled. Land mines placed. Snipers positioned. There are moments of cease fire that whisper of peace, but they are designed only to draw the foe into the open.

The man in that arena knows nothing of valiant effort. He knows only pain- the pain of victory and defeat. If he wins, he loses. If he loses, he does not win. Like a madman taking his own life, he battles. He inflicts the death blow and then bandages the wounded foe that he may rise to fight again. The man who has been in that arena knows the pain and loss of valiant effort against a familiar foe.

When will victory come? When will the war be over? When will the battle cease? Bitterly, both enemy and friend are vivified from the same source. The heart gives life to both. As long as man himself has breath, man himself will be at war. One day breath will cease and the battle will end. Man will have breathed his last on the dusty floor of his own heart. His face will be marred by sweat and blood and THEN the battle will end.

There is a cold timidness in man which retreats from the GREAT battle, a passivity in man drawing him only to visible foes. There is cowardice in man which wages war against giants, but wrestles not with self. The true arena is the heart. The true battle is within. The true victory is gained in defeat. A man who wages war against self will know both victory and defeat. But the man who merely battles giants may miss the truth that in doing so, he has lost the real war.

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Lorem Ipsum Test Post

Monday, January 24, 2011

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When do I get ‘better’?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Posted question:
What hope do I have of overcoming sin (strongholds - habitual, not sinning altogether) if all I ever am encouraged about from the pulpit is that I am a broken wagon wheel?

Essentially, the question behind your question is this: “When do I get BETTER?” I would answer simply this way: if by ‘better’ you mean ‘less dependent on Christ’ and ‘living a life of progressive sanctification’ whereby you are emerging from the rubble of your former self like a Phoenix from the ashes of “you” then the answer is NEVER. If by ‘better’ you mean broken, humble, gentle, repentant and awe-struck over grace, then the answer is: you will be ‘better’ as often as you are willing to say, “nothing in my hands I bring, simply to the cross I cling.”

Your distaste for hearing that you are a ‘broken wagon wheel’ is simply because of your faulty pre-supposition that you are engaged in progressive sanctification i.e. getting better and better, needing Jesus less and less when in reality Christianity is lived by drinking more deeply of the Gospel every day and seeing our need of Christ more and more which can only be accomplished by first seeing our sin.

BOOK SUGGESTION: We would see Jesus (on the sidebar)
SERMON SUGGESTION:  Rev. Bob Flayhart, Oak Mountain Presbyterian Church, “Record Smashing and Book Burning
FURTHER READING: Living by the Gospel by Rev. Les Newsom

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Q&A: How can a church practice ‘discipline’ and claim to be ‘grace-oriented’?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Question: If Southwood is so ‘grace-oriented’ and you (Jean) always say it’s ‘okay that we’re NOT okay’ then how come people get ‘disciplined’ by the church for not living as ‘holy’ as others think they should? I think it’s hypocrisy. Ya’ll say you believe in grace, so how can you still ‘judge’ people and tell them that the way they are living is wrong?

Answer: First things first- we do believe in grace and you might find this confusing, but it is precisely BECAUSE OF that understanding of grace that we believe in church discipline. Scripture tells us that ‘God kindness was meant to lead us to repentance’ (Romans 2:4) and that ‘God disciplines those whom He loves’ (Proverbs 3:12). These two passages are very instructive for us.

First, we learn the reason for Grace i.e. God’s patience, forbearance and kindness in Romans 2:4 is that they are all meant to ‘lead us’ to repentance. God’s kindness is not shown to his children to endorse ‘extra years’ of sin, debauchery and licentiousness in the Far Country (Luke 15). To the contrary, they are shown to His children to LEAD US to repentance (turning from our sin TO Christ). Our sin sent Jesus to the cross. He didn’t go to the cross to allow us to be sent back from that cross to feast on the very sin which put him there. Tim Keller says that the reason we must preach the deep grace of God is because it is ONLY true grace which is more attractive than our sin. Only the love of God is more alluring that the tantalizing morsels of sin which we so dearly love. We MUST preach true grace if we ever hope to see our hearts warmed away from sin! So the first reason we preach the patience, kindness and GRACE of God is so that when the law exposes our sin we might be convicted of our failures and drawn to Him in repentance and faith.

Grace NEVER leads to license (a ‘free ticket’ to sin to your heart’s content), true grace ALWAYS leads to brokenness over our sin, humility about the fact that we are sinners and repentance (turning back) toward God. When we say ‘it’s okay that you’re not okay’ we are making a statement about the acceptance you have through Jesus’ righteousness, we are NOT making the statement that your present sin won’t harm you.

Secondly, Proverbs 3:12 tells us that ‘God disciplines those whom he loves’. Consider the unruly child in a restaurant. Imagine parents allowing the child to throw food, scream, yell, take food off of other tables and create general havoc. Imagine the parents doing nothing. Is that love or indifference? It certainly isn’t love! In scenarios like that people often whisper to each other, “I would never let my child do that….” Why is that? Because we LOVE our children and therefore we DISCIPLINE them. We learned this from Him. The Father in Heaven does not dispense grace to His children in order to allow us to indulge in the rebellion of our own hearts. He isn’t an absentee parent who has set the table and walked away telling us to ‘do what we think is best.’ He is a loving Father who has set boundaries for us about what is spiritually nourishing and what isn’t. Because He loves us; He disciplines us.

So where does the church come in? Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that our hearts are desperately wicked and deceitful. We are blind to our own sins. One of the benefits of being a member of the body of Christ is that we have a community of believers committed to helping us see what we are normally blind to i.e. our sin. To use our restaurant analogy: sometimes we sit down at the table and begin to indulge in things that will harm us, but in our own spiritual blindness we convince ourselves that we are ‘eating healthy.’ It is the responsibility of other believers and the church elders to patiently, humbly and gently help us to see our blind spots. In the exposure of those ‘blind spots’ we are urged to turn from our sin unto Christ i.e. repentance. Grace tells us that repentant sinners are welcomed, loved, embraced and sung over (Zeph. 3:17).
Scripture tells us that such repentance WILL produce fruit. A man repenting over stealing his neighbors cable T.V. signal will not only repent and confess to the Lord, but the fruit of that repentance and confession will ‘look like’ disconnecting the cable. If not, one must sincerely ask whether the repentance was genuine. More importantly he must ask whether the faith which he claimed to have was indeed genuine faith. “Faith” which claims that Christ’s work set sinners free to indulge in sin is not faith at all. It is self-deception masquerading as religion.

Some might say, “My life is my life. This is not anyone else’s business. The church should stay out of it!” My gentle response would simply be this: the church is involved because at some point in the past the individual asked the church to be involved. When someone joins the church they are asked, “Are you willing to submit yourself to the government and discipline of the church?” This question establishes a bond of accountability whereby a new member confesses their tendency, as a sinner, to wander from the fold. It is a formal vow requesting that, if in fact, they wander, that the church move toward them with the goal of restoration. If someone plunges headlong into sin and the church does nothing then this is not a picture of love, it is a tragic picture of abandonment. The child being disciplined by his parents at the table is not an orphan, but the unruly hellion throwing food around the restaurant may eventually find themselves alone, with no one there. Grace bestows discipline on those it loves. Where there is no discipline there is no love. The son is disciplined, but the orphan is alone left to his sin and himself.

Grace doesn’t eliminate the need for discipline; it establishes it. Because of God’s grace we now have a relationship with Him and because of that relationship with Him we are chastened as children by a loving Father. We must understand that He uses many different means to discipline us: the preaching of the Word, the conviction of the Spirit and also the formal discipline by the local church. The latter may include exhortation, encouragement, rebuke, censure, suspension from the Sacraments or even (at the farthest extreme) removal from the church roll via excommunication. Each step has one goal in mind: restoration. All formal discipline is aimed at the restoration of sinners, first to their Father and secondly to their neighbor.

The old hymn “Amazing Grace” means what it says in those words, ‘tis grace has brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home!’ Grace doesn’t simply open the door to heaven and set us free to live in depths of sin, grace has brought us safe thus far and grace will lead us home. It is the church’s passion and mine to shepherd the sheep safely home BECAUSE we believe in grace!

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The Cattle on a Thousand Hills

Monday, January 10, 2011

I received the final giving numbers for 2010 last week. It was humbling. Our 2010 budget was $2,975,000 and the giving was about $2,979,000. God is good. I must tell you that conventional wisdom and most of the sidebar anecdotal wisdom would have encouraged us to ‘not get our hopes up’. In the current economy and having gone half of the year without a Senior pastor and a full year prior to that made the thought of ‘making budget’ a pipe dream.1 God had other plans for Southwood. As I woke to the new fallen snow on December 26th my heart filled with nostalgia. “OOoh, snow!” and then I remembered it was the last Sunday of the year and my heart filled with fear, “ohhhh, snow!” We were a quarter of a million dollars away from making our budget after the ‘snowed-in’ Sunday. You read that right- $250,000 AFTER that Sunday. Vinit Mahesh and some of the other elders gathered with me on that Sunday morning and we prayed. We smiled at God’s sense of humor and even commented that it would be ‘just like God’ to have closed the ‘normal’ doors because He was going to show us just WHO it was that takes care of us. He did just that. I want to encourage you as Southwood members- God owns the cattle on a thousand hills; He owns all the money and in a real sense we only have ONE donor, Him. We should be humbled, thankful and confident in the days ahead. Our daddy has everything under control. Soli Deo Gloria.

P.S. Someone asked me if we had received the $1,000,000 I was praying for. Truth is we were about $65,000 ‘short’ of that goal although someone did mention to me that there were some electronic deposits which hadn’t been posted yet——either way I think that might just be God’s way of keeping me humble and dependent—-I’m going to keep praying and I know He is going to keep providing.

1 Just FYI most churches experience a 15-20% consistent loss in giving, membership and attendance during an interim period.

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Hear no evil, See no evil, Speak no evil…yeah, right!

Wednesday, January 05, 2011
Hear no evil, See no evil, Speak no evil…yeah, right!

In what should only be described as the most theologically inaccurate picture ever taken at Southwood you have Rev. Ken Leggett, Rev. Jean F. Larroux, III and Dr. Mike Honeycutt posing after my installation service. Please post your suggestion for the best caption for this photo—- winner gets a Starbucks gift card and coffee with Larroux and Leggett! Entries can be submitted through January 31, 2010.

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W.W.T.K.D.?

Tuesday, January 04, 2011
W.W.T.K.D.?

I think that blogging for knots will be an occasion for resting in Jesus. I read lots of other blogs, posts, tweets, articles and online musings of other really profound thinkers.As I often read what other people write I find myself looking deep inside my heart for a profound nugget of wisdom to throw to the hordes (ha!) of people waiting to gather up the gem I have offered. That introspection often feels quite hollow. In reality I feel like Jo-Jo the monkey boy dangling a Happy Meal toy in front of people who are feasting on steak tar tar at Tavern on the Green. There is a non-Gospel, lack of confidence in Jesus that gnaws at my soul. It hisses to me, “Be profound…be wise…say something ‘meaningful…W.W.T.K.D…(what would Tim Keller do? or say?) There are daily posts by Scotty Smith and Tullian Tchividjian and then there are the chirps that I find gurgling up from me. There is a really twisted reality in me that wants to find my identity in telling other people how their identity isn’t found in themselves. Does that make sense? I want to profoundly tell you how much your identity in Christ FREES you from the opinions of men, but in doing so I am really seeking the approval of men! I’m a Romans 7 poster child—- doing the things I hate, not doing the things I’d love to be doing. I guess the real “Knot” in this post is in me. It’s the guy who knows the truth, but doesn’t KNOW it. In one of my first encounters with the Pharisee within me a friend suggested that I would likely try to ‘get the Gospel right’. They were correct. Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So much for blogging tonight. I will stick with repenting of blogging for today.

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Auld Lang Syne

Monday, December 27, 2010

Wikipedia says, “Auld Lang Syne is a Scots poem written by Robert Burns in 1788…It is well known in many English-speaking (and other) countries and is often sung to celebrate the start of the New Year at the stroke of midnight.” The words “Auld Lang Syne” essentially mean for “old time’s sake”—a song reminiscing about the “good ole days!”

One of the things I love about a new year is looking back for “old time’s sake.” It’s an opportunity to look in the rearview mirror of life and see what God has done. Looking back on 2010 for me is a nostalgic assignment. For the second time in my life I moved away from the city where I was raised. For the first time I moved away from my son which wasn’t “supposed to happen” until he left for college. I’ve been forced to swear allegiance to either Auburn or Alabama and I’m the only one on my street with a 4-foot illuminated, black and gold Fleur de Lis.

It has been a wonderful and concurrently painful year. At the center of my fondest 2010 memories will always be Southwood. When people ask me if I miss home my response is, “well, I’m not really gone from Huntsville that often, so I can’t miss it!!!” That means: this is home. This is my church. This is where the Larrouxs are now “from” and 2010 holds the distinction of having been the time when that occurred.

The New Year also provides occasion for looking ahead. People often make resolutions for the year to come. We plan to “shed a few pounds” or finish some project that has been languishing. I think that 2011 will be quite a year for Southwood. I am finally getting my sea legs. I have had a front row seat to observe and inquire about every facet and program that Southwood has her fingerprints on. I have had great opportunity for thanksgiving and reflection about the history of Southwood. God has raised up this church and has caused His name to be esteemed both inside and outside of the church. It is humbling to be part of the next chapter.

I have heard the stories of meeting at Gold’s Gym and setting up worship on a weekly basis. I have also seen firsthand the fondness with which both Barney and Mike are spoken of. It is my job to make sure I have seen, acknowledged and gleaned the best of our history and then to set a course for our future. I truly don’t know what that future will hold. I’m not certain what we will “look back on” 20 years from now, but there will undoubtedly be changes. Some of those will be warmly embraced while others will likely prove to be more challenging.

I do believe that the brightest days for Southwood are ahead of us. I don’t believe that we can out-dream God. As I look ahead to preaching through Galatians (beginning February 2011), watching our next phase of construction completed and seeing the new faces that God is bringing—I get giddy! What might God do with a group of people who are unwaveringly committed to experiencing and expressing the Grace of God? It’s exciting to imagine! I think God’s mercy compels Him to reveal His will to us incrementally because if we saw it all at once we would be overwhelmed. It is an exciting time to be at Southwood!

I had a professor in Seminary who told us that God wants His people to be “available and willing” whenever and wherever He calls. That was true for me in June when God called us to leave Bay St. Louis and move to Huntsville. For all of the challenges I anticipated in moving here, neither comfort, nor familiarity, nor a long personal history in Bay St. Louis were enough to keep us where we thought we were “safe.” That Professor taught us that “Gospel safety” isn’t found in circumstances or avoiding change; it is found in Him alone.

It is my prayer that as we look ahead to the next 20 years at Southwood we would remember that true safety isn’t found in “safety,” it’s found in Him alone. For a church that started as a fledgling congregation in a rented storefront it’s ironic how “nostalgic” faith like that would be.

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Sample Post in Knots

Tuesday, June 01, 2010
Sample Post in Knots

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Jean's Tweets

Recommended Reading

  • Jesus+Nothing = Everything
    Jesus+Nothing = Everything
    Tullian Tchividjian

    “Jesus + Nothing = Everything will remind you of the ancient yet ever-fresh truth that everything we need is found in the perfections of Christ—not in ourselves, not in our reputation, our relationships or wealth or accomplishments—in Christ alone. If you’ve never rested in the finished work of Christ this book is for you. If you’ve rested in it for decades like I have, this book is for you, too. Why? Because we forget; And, although we love Jesus, we’re blind to the ways in which his work connects to our daily lives and we wonder why joy and zeal are foreign concepts to us.” -Elyse Fitzpatrick

  • A Scandalous Freedom

    Get ready to be bothered by the Gospel. Steve Brown teaches grace in a way that gets under your skin—- Reading Brown is like having a gospel hair in your mouth of your conscience. The more it bothers you the more beautiful the pearl produced will be

  • The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification

    From the publisher: “It is a deep and rich biblical study of sanctification - how Christians grow in holiness and become more like Jesus. In a day when Christians are very prone to pursue self-help methods to grow in obedience to Christ, Walter Marshall lays out the biblical way of growth: obedience comes as Christians live by grace, in union with Christ, by faith.” This book influenced me PROFOUNDLY on the topic of sanctification. The Modern-English re-write makes this a TOP PICK for 2011!

  • 12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (like me)

    I ‘accidentally’ picked up this book simply for the title alone. I grew to hate it quickly. It hit a little ‘too close to home.’ Fischer’s book plunges the scalpel of self-awareness and need for deep repentance deep into the hard hearts of Pharisees like ME!

Recommended Listening

  • Redeemer Presbyterian Church
    Ricky Jones

    Ricky Jones is the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He is a trophy of grace. If you want to listen to bold preaching by a man who knows his sin, knows his weaknesses and trusts only Jesus to take what he says and use it to God’s glory then you are heading in the right direction. The preaching is bold, the preacher is humble and you will be blessed.

  • Key Life Ministries
    Steve Brown

    Steve Brown is not the most subtle guy you will ever meet. If I were to write an S.A.T. question about Steve this is how it would go: Steve Brown is to legalism what a child hopped-up on cake and ice cream is to an pinata! I love this guy. Check out his website and fair warning: you are not heading to a ‘SAFE’ little Christian site!

  • Coral Ridge Presbyterian
    Tullian Tchividjian

    As one comment on iTunes said: “Tullian preaches the Gospel in an unadulterated and undomesitcated way…The way it should be preached!”

Recommended Links

  • Mockingbird Blog
    David Zahl

    Mockingbird is a ministry that seeks to connect the Christian faith with the realities of everyday life in as fresh and down-to-earth a way possible.

  • White Horse Inn
    MIchael Horton

    White Horse Inn is a multimedia catalyst for reformation. We believe that each generation must rediscover and apply the gospel to their own time. We long to see a second reformation take hold of our churches and return them to the God-honoring, Christ-centered, Spirit-wrought places of worship they should be.

  • On Earth as it is in Heaven
    Tullian Tchividjian

    William Graham Tullian Tchividjian (pronounced cha-vi-jin) is a Florida native, the pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, a visiting professor of theology at Reformed Theological Seminary, and a grandson of Billy and Ruth Graham.

  • Heavenward
    Scotty Smith

    Smith is the founding Pastor of Christ Community Church in Franklin, TN, avid writer, prolific blogger and tweeter. His nuggets of Gospel wisdom are seasoned by years of service to the Bride. He is gentle and very purposed in his every comment.