Free Easter Resources

I’ve been noticing a lot of good free resources floating around on the internet as we begin Holy Week. Use these resources to set your heart upon the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Raised: Doubting The Resurrection by Jonathan Dodson (ebook)
Available in Kindle (.mobi) iBooks (.epub) and .PDF format

Love To The Uttermost by John Piper (ebook) A devotional for Holy Week
Available in Kindle (.mobi) iBooks (.epub) and .PDF format

The Truth of The Cross by R.C. Sproul (ebook)
Available in Kindle (.mobi) iBooks (.epub) and for Logos Bible Software

Did The Resurrection Really Happen? by Josh McDowell and Dave Sterrett
Available in Kindle format (.mobi)

Hallel Songs by Cardiphonia (Free Album Download): ‘”Hallel Psalms” is our sixth “flash mob” compilation. This collection of songs meditates on Psalms 113-118 often called the “Egyptian Hallel.” They were traditionally sung during passover, were sung by the disciples at the last supper, and make a fantastic set of texts to guide worship and devotion during Holy Week (March 25-30). ‘ You can download all of Cardiphonia’s albums HERE

Page CXVI is a project of a band called The Autumn Film. Their desire is to reintroduce ancient hymns of the faith to the church today. You can download  ALL 11 of their albums for FREE for a limited time.

Book Review: The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung

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The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling The Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness (Crossway, 2012) by Kevin DeYoung is a book that seeks to biblically answer the many questions surrounding the personal holiness of the Christian. In an evangelical culture where the phrase ‘Gospel-Centered’ is pasted on many book covers and church descriptions, DeYoung wrestles with what Gospel-centrality means and doesn’t mean for the pursuit of holiness.

DeYoung begins the book to show that there seems to be a gap in Christians today, particularly young Christians, between believing the truth of the Gospel and living holy lives. He uses the helpful illustration of his feelings towards camping. He lives in an area where everyone camps. DeYoung, while acknowledging that camping is for some people, does not like camping. This, according to DeYoung, is how many seem to view personal holiness; as something for certain people but not for everyone.

DeYoung goes on to say, “My fear is that as we rightly celebrate, and in some quarters rediscover, all that Christ has saved us from, we are giving little thought and making little effort concerning all that Christ has saved us to.” With this, DeYoung begins to lay a foundation for the importance of personal holiness as seen in the Scriptures (Romans 16:19, Revelation 21:8, Hebrews 12:14, etc).

For the remainder of the book, DeYoung fleshes out what personal holiness looks like. He looks at the purpose of salvation in Chapter 2, showing that the saved are to display Christ to the world through holy living. In chapter 3 he clearly shows what holiness is not and what it is according to scripture. Chapter 4 may be the most important chapter in the book. There DeYoung deals with a proper reading of the imperatives and indicatives of Scripture. He shows that the whole Bible, including the law, is important for Christian living. DeYoung puts the law in it’s proper place, showing that “the good news of the gospel leads to gracious instructions for obeying God.”

Chapter five shows pleasing God as an important motivation for personal holiness. Chapter 6 describes tackles proper motivation and place of the effort of the Christian in holiness. Chapter 7 deals with the oft neglected doctrine of union with Christ as essential for personal holiness. Chapter 8 directly addresses with sexual immorality and the Christian life. In Chapter 9 DeYoung shows the difference between union with Christ and communion with Christ, showing the necessity of cultivating a life of abiding in Christ. Chapter 10 ends on an encouraging note as DeYoung reminds the reader that personal holiness is a slow progression over time.

DeYoung writes very clearly. He is obviously a well educated theologian, but he labors to make difficult doctrines clear for the common reader. This is seen most clearly in his chapter on union with Christ. He follows the Puritan’s he commends in Chapter 1 by showing the necessity of deep thinking for proper living and, in this case, for personal holiness.

Another strength is the Biblical approach to applying the gospel that leans neither toward legalism or licentiousness. It is a temptation among many to ignore the imperatives (‘do this’) of Scripture as if the gospel was only in the indicatives (‘you are this’). DeYoung clearly shows that there are many motivations to holiness that we find in the Scripture. While justification is the first and foremost motivation, it is not the only motivation. Other motivations include the pleasure of God, the promises, and the warnings of the Bible.

DeYoung’s chapter on sexual immorality is necessary in our Christian culture today. He addresses head on one of America’s greatest idols. He shows the particular sinfulness of sexual sin while giving practical advice for Christians, especially young ones, who are struggling.

The final strength of the book is the study questions given for each chapter. This book will be a great resource for one-on-one discipleship, small group settings, youth groups, etc. DeYoung’s questions for further study help the reader press deeper into the issues and apply the truths to personal life.

The only critique of the book is that DeYoung’s claim that Christian’s today do not care much about holiness could have been better supported by some outside sources. There is much background surrounding this book that may have helped to shed light on the concern. DeYoung and Tullian Tchividjian had a helpful blog exchange over some of the issues that concern DeYoung, including motivations for Christian living, justification, sanctification, etc. Showing some different perspectives would have bettered the book.

Overall, The Hole In Our Holiness fills the gap between Gospel passion and our pursuit of godliness by giving a sound biblical understanding of sanctification in the Christian life. It is very accessible for Christians of all walks of life and is a great tool for growing in godliness.

Why Church Planting?


In case you have missed the Sunday morning announcements recently, NewBranch is all about Church Planting. We’re kicking it up a notch with two initiatives over the next few years.

  1. Start a Bible Study in Auburn, GA with the long-term goal of planting a church there.
  2. Sending me (Kevin) and my family to the New England area to plant a church

You’ll read about those in upcoming posts. But first, what’s the biblical basis for church planting?

The command of Jesus to go is the basis for all missionary efforts. Matthew 18:18-20 says

[18] And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. [19] Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, [20] teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Ed Stetzer gives 3 reasons the Great Commission is a church planting commission:*

1. The Great Commission is church planting because the church is to disciple:
“God expects the church to provide discipleship. Discipleship is not just a course or a series of studies. Discipleship begins with conversion and continues as an ongoing process. ‘Male disciples’ means that the church is to win people to Christ and grow these new converts in the faith. That process is meant to take place in the local church”

2. The Great Commission is church planting because the church is to baptize:


“Baptism is an ordinance of the local church. Baptism takes place in or among the local church… Baptism takes place wherever we can gather the church and wherever there is enough water to perform the ordinance. The Greek word baptizo means ongoing baptizing- immersing each new believer. Baptism is a local church ordinance with local church purposes. The Great Commission is given to the local church.”

3. The Great Commission is church planting because the church is to teach:
“We observe the fulfillment of this command to teach in Acts 2:42: ‘They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching’ which was the basis of their growth and fellowship. The Great Commission is fulfilled in churches through the planting of new churches, and by the teaching of biblical precepts.”

Stetzer concludes,
“The early church fulfilled the Great Commission by planting churches. The first believers heard the commission, left their homes, and went out to plant. When we hear the Great Commission, we should also be motivated to go out and plant new congregations. The best indication of what Jesus meant can be found in how the hearers responded.

NewBranch’s desire to plant churches is not a desire to multiply ‘NewBranch’ it’s a desire to humbly and joyfully obey the command of Jesus in the Great Commission, taking the gospel to those who have not trusted in Christ.

*From ‘Planting New Churches in a Postmodern Age’ by Ed Stetzer. Pages 35-36

Book Recommendation: Which Real “Jesus”?

NewBranch was privileged enough last month to have Dr. Steve Bateman of First Bible church in Decatur, AL speak at our 2nd missions conference. If you haven’t heard those 3 sermons I encourage you to have a listen here.

Dr. Bateman wrote a book entitled Which “Real” Jesus? Jonathan Edwards, Benjamin Franklin, and the Early American Roots of the Current Debate. Following the missions conference, I gave it a read and loved it! Let me give you a few reasons why I love it. Hopefully this will serve as an encouragement for you to pick up a copy from our resource table on Sunday mornings.

1. It’s relevant for the Christian: As Dr. Bateman points out, Jesus is under attack by a number of scholars who wish to separate the Jesus of history from the Jesus of the Bible. Also, many well known spokesmen for Atheism like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins want to remove Jesus all together.

In this book, Dr. Bateman shows where these debates began to take root in American history, advocates of each side, and how Christians today should humbly respond to such criticisms of the real Jesus of the Bible.

2. It’s relevant for the Skeptic: There were a number of times while reading this when I thought, “I wish I had this when I was talking to _______”. I already know of 2 people I am sending this to. The book acts not only as a brief American history of the debate of the real Jesus but also as an apologetic for the Jesus of the Bible.

3. Jonathan Edwards: The book gives a great introduction to one of the most important Christians in America:

“…if any reader grows in appreciation for the remarkable contribution of Jonathan Edwards, not only to our understanding of the real Jesus but to the history of America, I will be a happier man. Jonathan Edward’s was widely viewed as America’s greatest theologian and philosopher. But he was a local pastor. not a college or seminary professor, and he took seriously his duty to prepare his congregation- people who spent their weekdays running businesses, selling products, building houses, teaching school, growing crops, administering government, and raising children to ‘contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.’” (p.3)

4. Humble Confidence: Dr. Bateman is aware of man’s pride in defending anything, even the Jesus of the Bible. The book ends with a call to humble confidence in defending the supremacy of Christ noting, “There is a direct link between humility before God and humility before people.” (p.153) We are to be humble but not ignorant, humble but not unsure, humble but not silent (p.157).

In short, I would describe this book as a great help in applying 1 Peter 3:15 to our lives: “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…”

 

Book Review: Love Wins

In his new book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived Rob Bell sets out to tackle the big issues of eternal life. I got the book after no small controversy erupted surrounding this promotional video and blurb from his publisher . Is he a universalist or not?

First, let me start by saying that there are so many things wrong with the theology of this book that it’s impossible to write a brief review addressing them all. If you’re interested in a more thorough review you can download Kevin DeYoung’s 20 page review (yes, that says 20 pages!).

So let me just give you 3 major problems I saw…

1. A Lack of Clarity:
Bell is known for this. He likes to ask questions. A lot of questions then give wishy-washy answers that leave people more confused. In many places, you have to dig deep and read between the lines to find out what what he believes.

If Bell is proclaiming the gospel (he says he is), he needs to give biblical answers to such weighty questions regarding heaven, hell, eternity, salvation, etc.

Which leads me to the second problem…

2. A Devastating Misuse of Scripture:
If you ask Bell if he is a Universalist he will say ‘no’, as he did in this interview with Martin Bashir of MSNBC. But he uses several passages of scripture in an attempt to show that all people will ultimately be reconciled to God (Phil 2, Ps 65, various passages from Isaiah).

Bell states:

The writers of the Bible have a lot to say about this love:
In Psalm 65 it is written that “all people will come” to God.
In Ezekiel 36 God says, “The nations will know that I am the LORD.
The Prophet Isaiah says, “All the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.” (Chapter 52)
Zepheniah quotes God as saying, “Then I will purify the lips of the peoples, that all of them may call on the name of the LORD and serve him shoulder to shoulder” (chapter 3).
And Paul writes in Philippians 2, “Every knee should bow… and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is LORD, to the glory of God the Father.”
All people. The nations. Every person, every knee, every tongue.

A plain reading of these passages in context shows us that God is not saying every single soul will be reconciled to God. But instead referring to the blessings of his covenant people Israel, the spread of the gospel to all nations, and lastly the fact that a day will come when all people will acknowledge that Christ is Lord (Phil 2), but this does not refer to a saving faith.

His bad interpretation also allows him to completely throw out the idea of a literal hell. Bell excuses Gehenna and Hades as words that have been misinterpreted to incorrectly refer to eternal punishment. Instead of a place where the unrepentant receive eternal due punishment for sins, it’s here and now. Hell is when we disobey God and undergo a period of pruning’ (91). In other words, Hell is what we get if we want it as well as a temporary place where God disciplines, but in the end, love wins.

God’s intent is not to confuse us with His word. While there are deep truths in scripture, it is an important rule of biblical interpretation to consider the plain reading of the text. Study passages like Matthew 25, Luke 16:19-31, and 18:18. Is the concept of eternal life real? Absolutely.

3. The Destruction of The Gospel
Bell takes sin lightly. It may not seem that way with all of his references to the personal pain that sin has caused to individuals (Chapter 3). While he is correct in pointing out sin’s heinous affect on individuals he fails to point out that sin, most of all, offends a holy God.

Without a proper understanding of man’s sin in light of the holiness of God one cannot properly understand the gospel. Bell doesn’t address passages like Isaiah 6 where the prophet pronounces woe (destruction) upon himself after realizing his sin before Holy God. He doesn’t address God’s consuming of Nadab and Abihu with fire because of their unauthorized priestly practices. Or what about God killing Uzzah for touching the Ark of the Covenant in 2 Samuel 6?

Scripture clearly teaches that our sinfulness deserves the wrath of God. Paul tells us that we were by nature children of wrath (Eph 2:3). The good news of the gospel is that it saves us from the deserved wrath of God. Bell thinks otherwise:

Many have heard the gospel framed in terms of rescue. God has to punish sinners, because God is holy, but Jesus has paid the price for our sin, and so we can have eternal life. However true or untrue that is technically or theologically, what it can do is subtly teach people that Jesus rescues us form God.

Let’s be very clear, then, we do not need to be rescued from God. God is the one who rescues us from death, sin, and destruction. God is the rescuer. (182)

With this Bell rejects the substitutionary death of Christ- a fundamental truth of the Gospel. Yes, God rescues us from sin. But He also rescues us from that wrath of God that awaits us because of our sin (Rom 1:18,2:1). This is the punishment that Christ bore on the cross from God. Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him… (Is 53:10)

According to Bell, the death of Christ on the cross was more of a doing away with the Old Testament sacrificial system and less a payment of sin deserving death (125). But 1 John 4:10 says, In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Propitiation (Gk. hilasmos) refers to Christ’s sacrifice that bore the wrath of God for us (Rom 3:25, 2 Cor 5:21)

In short, there’s no eternal punishment, no justification by faith, no holy God who deals with sin. We all just need to live in the love that God has already been pouring out for all people, a love that will eventually melt every single heart of every single individual and save them. God is love but he’s not holy. He’s merciful but he’s not just.

This is not the gospel.

This is classic theological liberalism that seeks to make God and His word more accessible to the masses.  The truth is that eternal punishment is real and we all deserve it because of our sin. Eternal life with God is a gift of God by grace alone, through faith in Christ alone (Eph 2:1-10, Rom 6:20-23, Rev 14:10-11, 2 Thess 1:6-9).

The truth is, I wish this book had never been written. But it has, and so my hope and prayer is that Love Wins will force Christians to study the scriptures on these issues and contend for the faith against such false teaching, helping the many who will be confused by this book see the true light of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Helpful Resources:
-Hell: Remembering The Awful Reality| 9 Marks e-Journal
-Panel Discussion on Love Wins: Moderated by Al Mohler
We Have Seen This All Before: The (re)Emergence of Liberal Theology by Al Mohler
-To Hell With Hell? by Mark Driscoll
-A chronology of the whole controversy provided by Resurgence

Women Exhorting Women

In our service yesterday, we looked at Titus 2:3-5, and discovered a list of character qualities that older women are to be building intoyounger women.  Here’s a resource that might prove helpful to those who desire to take up the mantel of mentoring those younger than yourself.

Carolyn Mahaney has put together an audio series that can be downloaded as MP3s (as well as PDFs of the message outlines) from the Sovereign Grace website.  If you prefer reading books to listening to messages, then check out Mahaney’s Feminine Appeal from Crossway Books.  I highly commend both of these resources for “older” women looking to be obedient to the call to “teach what is good”.

 

 

The audio series is called “To Teach What Is Good”, and the message titles are:

(Click on a message title to read its description or to download the free        MP3.)

1. A Fresh Look at Titus 2

2. Loving My Husband

3. Loving My Children

4. Being Self-Controlled

5. Being Pure

6. Being Busy At Home

7. Being Kind/Doing Good<!–

8. Being Subject to My Husband

The Kingdom of Heaven

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” Matthew 13:44

You may have heard the adage, “You are so heavenly minded that you are of no earthly good.” My guess is that it originated to describe people who claimed to be spiritual but never really did anything for Jesus. That’s a struggle that we all face; It’s a lot easier to talk the talk without walking the walk.

But the problem is not that we are too focused on the kingdom of heaven. It’s that we are not focused enough. Jesus’ words in this short parable show as that when we truly grasp the kingdom of heaven, we will do whatever it takes to obtain it.

What is the kingdom of heaven? Matthew is the only gospel that uses the phrase “kingdom of heaven.” It is interchangeable with the phrase used by the other gospel writers, “kingdom of God.” It’s much more than the after-life. It is the presence of God here and now.

This kingdom was ushered in by Jesus Christ. John the Baptist knew this when he preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). Matthew goes on to identify John the Baptist as “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’”

Later on in chapter 3 Jesus identifies himself as the fulfillment of the messianic prophecies: “‘The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.’ From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”

The treasure of God’s kingdom is Jesus.

If you are reading this, you are probably a Christian. And you are probably thinking, “Well, yeah. This is basic stuff: Jesus is everything.” If Jesus is your treasure, there is no sacrifice too great for Him. What is keeping you from that field? Is it money? Comfort? Popularity? A career?

I think a lot of us feel stuck. We have tasted the sweetness of the gospel. We have been redeemed by a gracious God. But all too often we have traded in the treasure of Jesus for lesser things. According to Jesus, there is no middle ground. If He is not your treasure, something else is your idol.

Don’t settle for lesser things. Notice that the man in this parable not only sacrificed everything, he did it joyfully. He, like Paul, counted all things loss for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus the Lord (Philippians 3:8). I plead with you to do the same, for there is no true joy apart from Christ.

Some more resources on this topic…
Don’t Waste Your Life: A sermon on Philippians 1 preached by Tyler Recker at NewBranch
Don’t Waste Your Life: Book by John Piper (FREE PDF version)
Crazy Love: Book by Francis Chan
Radical: Book by David Platt. I have yet to read it but it has been highly recommended