Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Audio: Ephesians 1:3-6

In the second installment in the Ephesians series, Pastor Russ examines the doctrine of Election, one of the many spiritual blessings that God has given us in Christ. Click to stream, right-click to download.

Audio Ephesians 1:1-2

We begin our new series on Ephesians with an expository examination of the people of Jesus as described in the introductory verses of this letter. Click to stream or right-click to download.

Audio: Mark 16:9-20

We bring the two-years and eight-month study of Mark to an end by examining the case concerning the authenticity of the last twelve verses of this gospel. Click to stream, right-click to download.

Audio: Easter 2009

Easter Sunday, April 12, 2009. Combined Service with Greensboro Chinese Christian Church.
Click to listen, right click to download.

Big Audio Update in the Works Today!

Attention all subscribers to my podcast - yes, I am talking to both of you. As you may have noticed, we have not uploaded any audio recently. We haven't grown lazy or anything, though I would appreciate your prayers for Leilani, who maintains our site and has been extremely sick in recent weeks. Our FTP has not been working in over a month, so we couldn't get the audio uploaded-- I don't know, something about passwords, usernames, time outs, and a bunch of other stuff I really don't understand. BUT IT IS FINALLY WORKING AGAIN! So, I am getting ready to link to a bunch of audio files here, and feedburner will do its thing to get it over to the iTunes store and other podcast delivery services. In the meantime, you can find them all here.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Disappearance of God by Al Mohler (A Review)

In his recent release The Disappearance of God: Dangerous Beliefs in the New Spiritual Openness, Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr. treats his readers to an intelligent and insightful critique of present dangerous trends in the culture and in the church while offering profound corrective steps to those who seek to remain faithful to Jesus Christ and His Word. If the material in this book has a familiar to feel to regular readers of Mohler's online commentary (at www.albertmohler.com), it is not a case of deja vu. Though the publisher does not inform the reader in the front or back matter, every chapter of the book is a near verbatim repetition of some of the most salient commentaries published there during 2004 and 2005. While one may understand the desire of an author or publisher to not disclose that fact openly, readers' appreciation and comprehension of the book would be greatly aided if they were told that each chapter was intended to stand alone as an individual essay.

Among the essays contained in this volume is Mohler's landmark call for mature Christians to practice theological triage. This essay has received a wide audience and high praise from evangelicals since its original publication in 2004. The church would perhaps be greatly helped in the present generation by a book-length treatment of this subject by Dr. Mohler in the future. Additional essays treat the subjects of assurance, morality, sin, hell, beauty, the emerging church, liberal Christianity, open theism, church discipline, the "post-Christian" age, missions and preaching. Each essay functions well on its own, offering a solidly biblical analysis of the issue in the present milieu. For this reason, the book serves as a handy guide for Christian pastors and lay-people to utilize in responding to the claims and questions of those who have been engulfed in the waves of change in church and culture.

Readers may wonder why certain subjects are treated in single chapters while others are divided into "parts" over several chapters. For instance, the monumental work on theological triage is contained in the eight pages of the book's opening chapter, while the Augustinian flavored discussion of beauty covers three chapters and totals nearly thirty pages. The discussion on church discipline is divided into four parts (or chapters), covering some thirty-five pages. The divisions are as they are because of the original form of the essays. For instance, the four parts covering church discipline were originally published online on May 13, 16, 17, and 18 of 2005. Though a major editorial change may have resulted in a wide variation of chapter lengths, one cannot help wondering if continuity may have been better established in the book by combining these thematic units into singular chapters.

Additionally, because of minimal editorial work prior to publication, at least one loose end is left untied. Chapter 14, on the divisive issue of Open Theism within the Evangelical Theological Society begins by stating, "Theology was front and center at the 2003 meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Atlanta, Georgia." Mohler goes on to detail the charges which were being brought against Clark Pinnock and John Sanders for their teachings on the openness of God and the subsequent vote that was to determine if they would be able to remain members of the Society. The chapter ends with the statement, "This much is certain -- God will not change based on how a vote turns out." The original essay, written during the week of the Society meeting in 2003, ended as follows: "This much is certain -- God is not waiting to see how this vote turns out." Certainly both concluding statements are true, however, had Mohler or an editor chosen to include what actually happened with that vote (which took place over five years prior to publication of the book) perhaps his point of the theological demise within Evangelicalism would have been strengthened, in addition to his readers' curiosity satisfied. In point of fact, the Society did not vote to remove the offending brothers. Thus, inclusion of this information would have demonstrated that tolerance of unbiblical beliefs has not only infected the culture, liberal Christianity, and the emerging church, but even the cradle of evangelical theology.

Another significant weak spot in the book is in the treatment on the emerging church. While the information presented in these chapters is accurate and the analysis needed, readers may be disappointed to find very little original analysis by Mohler himself. The essays that make up chapters 10 and 11 amount to a protracted book review of D. A. Carson's Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church. Carson's work may be the most relevant and balanced examination of the emergent trends, yet in a book such as this by a scholar such as Mohler, one should expect to find original insight and critique rather than a summation of another's work. As president of one of the largest seminaries in the world, Mohler is certainly able to respond to the issues presented by the emergence of a radically different church in our day. It is our loss that we do not have it contained herein.

Although each article stands very well on its own to offer pointed and profound theological and cultural analysis, in their present form they have the feel of a disjointed miscellany, lacking the flow of careful thematic development from start to finish within the book's covers. While a reconsideration of the order of the chapters may have aided this somewhat, perhaps what is more needed is a more careful editorial process which would take the articles as they were originally written and weave them together in a way that more cohesively develops the theme of the "disappearance of God."

If this reviewer understood the main point of the book as a whole, it is that the disappearance of God in the culture has created a spiritual vacuum. Many in the church have responded to this vacuum inadequately by accommodating cultural trends to the neglect of biblical doctrine. Traditional understandings of God, hell, and the church have been jettisoned in exchange for postmodern and post-Christian ideals. Mohler addresses several of the most pressing concerns of our day (more accurately, of 2004-2005, for some of these concerns have undergone a course correction to some degree in the intervening years) with searing intellectual analyses and offers a clarion wake-up call to the church. Mohler would have the church to recommit itself to expository preaching, absolute truth, and gospel-centered missions, uniting around the central and most precious of Christian doctrines through a process of theological triage.

In conclusion, The Disappearance of God represents clear and biblical thinking about several pressing issues that the church needs to confront in our day, all written by one of its most articulate voices. Those who have read the essays before will be disappointed perhaps to find that this book contains nothing that they have not already encountered. Still, we should be glad to be reminded of the truths these writings contain and grateful to have them bound in one volume (not to mention having them accessible when there is no wi-fi connection or when a power outage occurs). While the initial disappointment of being served intellectual leftovers may taste bitter at first bite, we must not allow ourselves to be so cynical to miss the blessing that is ours because of gifted men and the fruit of their labor such as we have in this volume. The church should be grateful for present-day voices like Al Mohler, and for publishers who wish to broaden their impact.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Ephesians 1:1-2 -- The Followers of Jesus

Sermon Notes:

2 Tim 3:16 -- All Scripture is God-breathed & profitable
* Even the introductory words of a letter.

Descriptions of the Followers of Jesus

I. The Followers of Jesus Demonstrate God's Sovereignty (v1A)
* Paul (Acts 8:3; 9:1)
** On a mission to apprehend Christians, but was apprehended by Christ (Acts 9:3-6)
** Didn't set out to find Jesus, but was found by Jesus
** Didn't offer his service to Jesus, but was called into service by Jesus (Acts 9:15-16)

* An apostle
** 2 Senses of this term in NT
***General sense (like a missionary; Barnabas, Apollos, et al.)
***Restricted sense (the 12, Hoehner: "an official delegate of Jesus Christ commissioned for the specific tasks of proclaiming authoritatively the message in oral and written form and of establishing and building up churches; This is the sense in which Paul was an apostle).

* By the Will of God
** contrast w/ Matthias in Acts 1
** Paul not chosen by lot or committee, did not choose this for himself.

Paul's salvation and service demonstrate God's sovereignty, as does ours.
God's Sovereignty = His will is not subject to the dictates of another; He is the first-actor, not the reactor; He is the initiator; first move is always his.
* We have been called and equipped for service according to God's will (1 Cor 12:7, 11)

II. The followers of Jesus have experienced God's salvation (v1B)
* 3 descriptions of one group of people: saints, faithful, in Christ Jesus
A. Saints = "holy ones"
* Not the world's definition, or the Catholic definition. God's definition of saint is "faithful/believer in Christ Jesus".
* Justification (2 Cor 5:21)
B. Faithful = "believing ones"
* Many kids of faith, only one kind saves
* Elements of saving faith
***Mind, emotion, will
C. In Christ Jesus
* This and similar expressions, some 200X in Paul
*Union w/Christ, living fellowship
***NT images: husband & wife (eph 5:22-33); vine & branches (Jn 15:1-17); foundation & building stones (eph 2:20-22); head & parts of the body (1 cor 12:12-27)

III. The Followers of Jesus have received God's supply (v2)
Typical Gentile greetings (xairein) and Jewish greetings (shalom); addressed to a mixed body.
Paul makes this distinctly Christian (xaris - grace).
Source? God our Father & the Lord Jesus Christ
*God has shown us grace in providing salvation in Jesus Christ.
* This grace is received as we trust in Jesus Christ as Lord.
* The result of His Lordship is preace with God.
* He becomes our Father.

Conclusion: God has richly blessed us, in His sovereignty and grace with: salvation in Jesus, peace w/God, adoption into His family, making us holy, supplying the faith to believe, joining us to Christ, calling us into His service according to His will.

But He leaves us here "at Ephesus"/"at Greensboro"; our city is much like that one. We are left here for good and for God; to live for His glory; no need to fear being corrupted by the culture -- His saving grace is also a sustaining grace.

Therefore ...
* Let us each one experience this salvation
* Let us each one serve in the way God has called us
* Let us each one live in the grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ