Reformed Baptist Seminary 2012 Pastoral Theology Module: Reflections

Christian Education, Reformed Baptist Seminary

Note: This post on the January 2012 RBS Theology module was originally posted on a now defunct predecessor to The Decablog.  An audio slideshow of the module has been posted by RBS here.  You will notice if you click that link that the freeze-frame on the slideshow is a profile shot of my fellow Decablogger.  Nice shot, Nick.

From January 23-27, Reformed Baptist Seminary hosted a module class on Pastoral Theology in Greenville, SC.  The RBS syllabus describes the course as

 A systematic and practical study regarding the nature and methodologies of pastoral ministry in the church.  Includes an analysis of the pastor’s role as leader, administrator, shepherd, counselor, and trainer, as well as his relationship to his fellow-elders, deacons, and other church staff.

There are other available courses in the RBS catalog which deal more extensively with specific matters of pastoral ministry such as counseling and preaching.  Pastoral Theology is like the skeleton which unites the larger body of a practical ministerial education in that it provides shape and form and is connected to all the other sundry emphases which make for a well rounded Shepherd of the flock of God.  I was privileged to be in attendance and would like to offer some brief reflections.

While Pastor Robert Selph served as the primary instructor for the course, he was joined in the work of presenting lectures by Pastors Tom Ascol, Gary Hendrix, and Donny Martin; as well as Dr. Mark L. Ward Jr.  The wisdom in spreading out the lectures between these men was apparent in two ways.  First, their diverse backgrounds and experiences expanded and enriched the perspectives on ministry which they presented to the students.  You get a more nuanced and balanced picture of the ministry when you are drawing off more than just one man’s counsel.  Second (and paradoxically), the significant commonality and overlap of a core set of themes among the men served to drive home the weight of those very central issues.  Again and again the various Pastors returned to themes such as the necessity of maintaining a personal and vital communion with God; the grave responsibility a man in the ministry has to guard and treasure his wife and children more than he does his work; and the foundational role of Christ as the one who calls men into and then enables, blesses, and sustains fruitful and faithful pastoral labors.

While the materials presented were all very helpful, each man had one or two lectures which especially stood out as stirring and profitable.

For Pastor Selph, this was his presentation on Pastoral Evangelism and Equipping, which surveyed both the biblical and historical data regarding the role of every church member in the furtherance of the gospel, as well as his various practical helps and directives concerning day to day ministerial labors.   His true pastor’s heart came through in the details, as he even offered advise on how to sit, speak to, and hold the hand of those approaching this life’s final hours.

Pastor Ascol provided the students with an excellent study entitled The Necessity of Accommodation and the Danger of Compromise in the Life and Ministry of the Church.  In this lecture he demonstrated that accommodation and compromise are not fundamentally two principles in tension and conflict, they are of a different species from each other entirely.  We are never commanded, nor allowed to compromise biblical truth and principle; yet we are we are duty bound by love to be as accommodating as we can be to others weaknesses for the sake of the gospel.

Pastor Hendrix gave four lectures entitled The Pastor with God, The Pastor with himself, The Pastor with his sermon, and The Pastor with the Army of the Lord.  The students were made the beneficiaries of Pastor Hendrix’s 41 years in the same pastorate, and all four lectures were deep wells of hard earned wisdom and advice.  However, the final lecture on The Pastor with the Army of the Lord stood out as unique, the sort of address that leaves the room silent for a few extra seconds when it is over.  More than any other words spoken last week, the words still ringing in my ears are

 Our objective is not to get to heaven fat and without wounds, it is to attack and drive back the gates of hell and save as many as Christ gives us.  Our objective is to come to the end exhausted, battle worn, and bloody; but convinced we have fought the good fight. -Pastor Gary Hendrix (based on my hand written notes, may be slightly paraphrased and any error is obviously do to my transmission as opposed to his presentation)

Pastor Martin’s materials centered around issues of counseling, church discipline, and conflict resolution.  His lecture notes provide a handbook in these areas which will be turned to again and again throughout as many years as the Lord is pleased to give me in His ministry.  However, Pastor Martin’s last lecture was a little different from his others, although in truth it provided the unifying theme and foundation to not only his other materials but for all the various topics and subjects addressed over the five day class.  The title of that lecture was From Grace to Grace: The Pastor and the Preeminence of Grace in All Aspects of Ministry.  Much could be said about this exposition and application of John 1:14, but the most direct charge given was this: make audacious claims about grace in your church.  We have been lavished with grace upon grace, and it is this grace alone which will both stoke the fires of our ministry and keep us persevering in the service of Christ and His church.

Dr. Mark L. Ward Jr. gave two excellent lectures entitled Technology Givith, and Technology Taketh Away.  Dr. Ward is an engaging and effective communicator, and he peppered his talks with practical advice and genuine humor. These were extremely helpful and fascinating, especially the materials relating to the ways that our tools and technologies shape our culture and even our minds.  I hope to consider these materials in greater detail at a future date.  For those interested in these matters, Dr. Ward has a great blog you may want to take a look at.

As I reflect back on the experiences of the week I am amazed that so much was packed into a week long module format.  In addition to the excellent times of teaching and instruction, it was a joy to meet men from all over the country and hear about their various ministries.  I am also thankful for the labors of Seminary Dean  Dr. Robert Gonzales, videographer Ryan Hobson, and all the saints of Grace Baptist Church in Taylors, SC who helped out during the week.

There is much that I do not yet know about the Lord’s plans to use me in the service of His kingdom, but I am convinced that I will be more useful and better prepared for having attended this course on Pastoral Theology.

Talking to Your Kids About Sex

Christian Living, Parenting

**This was originally an article I wrote for the members of Ephesus Church when I was preaching through 1 Corinthians 7.

“Daddy, what is fornication?”

Oh no! What do I say? Are they old enough? How do I explain it in a way they’ll understand? Do I really want them thinking about these things? Do I want them to understand it at all?

One of the most difficult things parents talk to their kids about is sex and sexuality. But it doesn’t have to be. It is, to be sure, one of the most important things we will discuss with our kids. We don’t want to mess it up. We don’t want to rush into it, but we don’t want to wait too long. What is a parent to do? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Breathe

Nothing is too difficult for God. What He intends to do, he accomplishes (Genesis 18:14). His word is never void of power (Isaiah 55:11). His prophecies always come to pass (Deuteronomy 18:21-22). Everything that happens in the world comes from Him. He is the one who sends the thunder and lightning (Psalm 65:9-11; 135:6-7; 147:15-18). The smallest details of nature are under his control: the falling of a sparrow, the hairs on your head (Matthew 6:26-30; 10:29-30).

So, breathe. The questions from your children aren’t just by chance. God is in them. And you can’t avoid their inevitability. Proverbs 16:33 tells us, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” God is in control, not us. And with the strength and wisdom he supplies, these conversations can be filled with joy and delight in a good and gracious God.

2. Don’t Make Taboo What God Has Not

Sex is good – God made it that way. “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth…” (Genesis 1:28); “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25). God’s command was essentially, “Have sex and make babies” and when Adam and Eve saw each other naked, they were not ashamed – it was good that they were naked together. Trevin Wax writes, “Throughout church history, some Christians have downplayed the sacredness of sexuality. Informed and influenced by an unhealthy Greek asceticism, some early church fathers believed that all (or most) sexual activity was inherently sinful. By the time of the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church had decided that there were 183 holy days in a year in which sexual activity was forbidden! The Reformers began to reclaim the goodness of sexuality by celebrating it within the covenant of marriage” (Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals 103-4).

Song of Solomon paints a beautiful picture of the goodness of sexuality within the bounds of the marriage covenant:

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine; your anointing oils are fragrant… Behold, you are beautiful, my love, behold, you are beautiful! Your eyes are doves behind your veil… How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride! How much better is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your oils than any spice! Your lips drip nectar, my bride; honey and milk are under your tongue… A garden locked is my sister, my bride, a spring locked, a fountain sealed… My beloved has gone down to his garden to the beds of spices, to graze in the gardens and to gather lilies (Song 1:2-3; 4:1, 10-12; 6:2).

One’s imagination need not go far to get a good idea of what these two young lovers are describing, and the Bible celebrates it! Sex indeed is a good gift from God, within the proper restraints. Unfortunately, in an attempt to keep young people from engaging in sexual activity prior to marriage, many evangelicals have made sex taboo and describe it as something that seems only marginally better than climbing into a sewer. There is no question about our need to speak frankly and frequently with children about the perversion of God’s gift of sex in fornication, pornography, media, etc. But we must be wise as to not make sex the enemy. God gave it as a gift, and within its proper confines, it must be celebrated as such.

3. Err on Early

The vast majority of children now see their first pornographic image before the age of 8. Often, we want to look at our children at this stage of life with innocence and possibility. However, our children are vulnerable, and the perversion of sex is everywhere. At early ages of life, most children are not intentionally searching for sexually explicit media, but the reality in 21st century America is that it’s everywhere. Television, movies, newspapers, magazines, billboards, catalogs – you name it, there’s a good chance sex is involved. So, while our tendency is to want to wait as long as possible before we have any discussions with our children about sex and sexuality, there’s a very real possibility that they will see inappropriate images and have questions about sexuality before we have the “talk”. The average preschooler watches twenty-eight hours of television during any given week, and the average teenager, twenty-one. Do you think it’s possible for a preschooler to watch 112 hours of television in a month and not be exposed to sexual images and innuendos? Additionally, wise as it is, even if one is vigorously screening television content, one will still do battle against the culture as one’s children hear about sex in  conversations with friends, quotations in books, and in their own minds as they develop into young men and women.

And don’t assume your child is not susceptible and that their sinful flesh will not fuel a desire to dig a little deeper. You may have “good” kids with “good” intentions to do the right thing, but the advertising slogan that “sex sells” is unfortunately true. The Apostle Paul reminds us that sexual sin attaches itself to us in a way that other sins do not (1 Corinthians 6:18). It’s sneaky, appealing, seductive, and alluring. When navigating a world of sexual temptation, one misstep can lead headlong into the abyss  of perversion. The sooner you are able to address it, the better – if we’re going to err, it’s best to err on early. Don’t allow time for their understanding of sex to be formed by the deception of Satan in the false view of the world.

4. Don’t Limit Yourself to One Conversation

Talk about sex needs to be an ongoing conversation, not a onetime “birds and the bees” powwow (and besides, what do birds and bees have to do with all of this anyway? What a strange mixing of species!). But take heart, our talks about sex do not need to conform to the world’s version of graphic content and biological illustrations, especially with younger children. Keep it simple and conceptual:

“Sex is something special that God created for married people. It is a way for moms and dads to be close and special with one another. Sex is a blessing because it is designed to help husbands and wives know each other and bring joy to each other. Sex is also how God makes babies grow inside of mommies. But, sometimes people who aren’t married want to be close like that, and that’s not God’s design. What does it mean when we do something that God has not designed to be done that way?”

Lead them to talk about sin when we move away from God’s intentions and designs. Initially, this is probably going to be enough for most children. Additionally, a look at Proverbs 7 will be a helpful tool to help children understand God’s perspective. But teaching your children that fornication and sexual perversion are wrong isn’t enough. It’s also important to teach them how to guard against temptations that are sure to assault them.

As children progress in age, the more frequent and frank these conversations need to be. Issues like prostitution, homosexuality, sodomy, bestiality, and others will enter the discussion. These are all topics that God addresses in the Scriptures as perversions of His good gift. Who do you want explaining these issues to your children? You have daily opportunities to talk about sex, just like the wise father Solomon in Proverbs 7. Indeed, it is your duty as a parent (Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Ephesians 6:4).

5. Remind Them That it Doesn’t Seem Wrong Until it’s Too Late

One quick glance from atop the roof was enough for King David to walk straight into a string of sin (2 Samuel 11). Surely, David had convinced himself that the alluring beauty of a naked Bathsheba was his for the taking. A look turned into an inquiry. An inquiry turned into sex. Sex turned into a pregnancy. A pregnancy turned into deception. Deception turned into murder. And it all, in the end, “displeased the Lord” (2 Samuel 11:27). Are we or our children any more godly than David, the man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22)? Like it or not, lust and sensuality are part of our everyday lives.  Sex, by the world’s standards,  feels natural and pleasurable in the moment.   However, when the sexual experience is over, the conscience screams, “Guilty!”  Our children need to visualize the scene of Proverbs 7 long before temptation presents itself so they can recognize the deceptive trap when they see it. Proverbs, a book designed for the instruction of the young in the ways of God, graphically describes the power of sexual allurement and sin. Do you dare give your children any less warning than what God provides?

6. Teach Chastity, Not Abstinence

While a noble effort, the goal of most abstinence training seems to be to discourage young people from  having premarital sex.  Through various means such as pictures,  descriptions of various sexually transmitted diseases,  or stories of how difficult it is to raise a child – especially as an unwed teenager – Abstinence training is about behavior rather than the heart.  As Trevin Wax points out, “Telling our young people that they should not have sex because of all the bad things that could happen to them actually perpetuates a self-centered view of sexuality. The teenagers who engage in sexual activity are having sex in order to please themselves. The teenagers who do not engage in sexual activity are not having sex in order to protect themselves. But the common root in both of these mind-sets is self-centeredness” (Ibid., 109). A result of this type of teaching, with no help from our culture, has been the complete redefinition of sex. This can be heard in questions like, “How far is too far? Where’s the line? What can I do with my boyfriend/girlfriend before it’s considered sin?” All of these questions stem from two major problems:  a wrong view of the gospel and a distorted view of the purpose of sexual intercourse.

The religion of moralism teaches that one must be good and do good in order to please God. Thus, God is waiting for us to do wrong so he can either punish us, or take note of our bad deeds to put in a scale at the end of our life to see if the good outweighs the bad. Certainly, most churched people would verbally deny this teaching and mindset, but the reality of the questions we ask and the things we do determine whether or not we understand what the gospel actually teaches. Asking “How far is too far?” is a question that is based on an assumption that God is pleased with certain behaviors, and dislikes others, but the reality is that God is only honored in behaviors that are aimed at glorifying Him. When the motive is to find the line, the line has already been crossed because one’s foundation is wrong. Instead of asking, “Is it lawful?”, one must first ask, “Is it profitable, and am I enslaved to it?” Outside of marriage, sexual intercourse is not lawful.  Perhaps what should be  more compelling is that sexual intercourse outside of marriage  is not profitable.  Simply,  the “I have to do it” attitude is one of our culture’s means of bondage.

The gospel, on the other hand, sets us free to walk in the newness of life that transforms the way we look at all things, including sex. As God sanctifies us, our focus turns from “What can I get out of this?” to “How can I best satisfy and serve my spouse (which, in turn, is honoring God)?” So, the gospel response is, “How, in this relationship, can I best honor the person to whom I am not yet married?” Answer: remember one’s future spouse  is first one’s  brother/sister in Christ, and he or she doesn’t belong to you yet. Until then, hands (and lips) off.

The goal is not to get to the wedding vows as a virgin – what a low standard! The goal is to get to the wedding vows completely pure and undefiled by sexual sin because the foundational, motivating question all along was, “How can I glorify God the most?” Don’t defile the gift of sex with such self-preserving motives – honor and promote sex as a gift from God to be cherished within marriage, and speak of the sweet gift it is to give oneself to their spouse without the blemish of sexual sin.

7. Christianity Is For Those Who Have Blown It

I recall listening to John Piper preach about George Verwer, the head of a missions organization called Operation Mobilization, who once stated in a missions conference that he saw a tragic number of young people who were once willing to lay their lives down, sacrificing themselves to advance the gospel to the nations, only to eventually fade away into the normalcy of modern American life. Why? Because of the deep sense of guilt and unworthiness felt as the result of sexual failure. George Verwer thought it tragic that so many found themselves worthless because they were never taught how to deal with the guilt associated with sexual failure.

The Bible is filled with examples of sexual sin. When Christians fail to maintain purity in sexuality, we need look no further than Scriptures to remind us that we’re not alone.  While we need not expect sexual sin to happen in the lives of our children, we most certainly must submit to the fact that it might. And if it does, it is crucial that we point to the cross and the atoning work of Jesus Christ on behalf of His people. As devastating as it is for an individual and their future relationships, and for parents who have children who fall into sexual immorality, the greatest tragedy is not the act itself.  Often, the sinner does not appropriately deal with the guilt that accompanies this particular sin, and then he or she  tragically believes he or she is unfit for  much  meaningful, gospel-advancing, fruitful service. Sexual immorality is sin, and sin in the life of a true believer will cause sorrow and shame, thus driving us to hate our sin and eventually turn from it (Psalm 38:18; Ezekiel 43:10; Ezra 9:6). Therefore,  the solution to the problem of guilt is that the sin is turned from, it is repented of, and a dependence upon Christ’s reconciliatory work on the cross is restored. “Blushing is the colour of virtue. When the heart has been made black with sin, grace makes the face red with blushing…repentance causes a holy bashfulness” (Thomas Watson, The Doctrine of Repentance, 39). The fight against sexual sin is won in the work of repentance because Christ has borne the wrath of the Father, on behalf of the Christian, and we are free to plead his blood as our payment.

At times, the temptation for Christian parents is to emphasize God’s law without emphasizing His grace. While each man sins against God in varying ways, his  response must always be the same: Jesus. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8); “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Sexual immorality is devastating on multiple levels, but the grace of God in Christ Jesus is far greater. The shed blood of Jesus is both our motivation for purity and obedience, and our sure hope for eternal life. No man will approach Jesus pure and undefiled, and praise be to God that this is not His requirement. In the gospel accounts of the Bible, Jesus’ encounters with those who were sexually deviant were not guilt increasing, but hope restoring (John 4, 8). May it be said of Christian parents that we too, like Jesus, are clear and direct, yet gracious and compassionate as we address sin, especially sexual sin, in the lives of our children.

8. Set A Time and Do It!

What are you waiting for? Now is a great time to get the conversation started. Spend some time in prayer asking the Lord to give you wisdom and courage, and make it happen. I think you will be surprised how natural it is to have these conversations with your children, and in the end, you’ll be very happy you did. Here are a few resources to consider along the way:

Sex, Dating, and Relationships by Gerald Hiestand and Jay Thomas

With One Voice: Singleness, Dating, & Marriage To The Glory of God by Alex and Marni Chediak

Everyday Talk by John Younts

Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp

Instructing a Child’s Heart by Tedd and Margy Tripp

Age of Opportunity by Paul Tripp

What’s the Difference? Manhood and Womanhood Defined According to the Bible by  John Piper

(By: Nick Kennicott)

Paul the Photographer

Devotional, The Gospel

This morning my wife was blasting a sermon in the main area of our house while I worked on  the computer in another room (She was actually doing this while engaged in intensive potty training of our youngest.  Now thats a Proverbs 31 woman).  Every so often the preacher would be gripped by some sort of special unction and a word of phrase would penetrate the muffling effect of the wall between us.  I’m not sure what he was talking about, but he was using a photography illustration which got my mind running to some thoughts about the way Paul lays out the devastating case of God against human sin in Romans 1:18-3:20.

To be clear, in using this illustration I am not trying to suggest a way to exegetically organize this section of Scripture.  Opinions vary about the various divisions of humanity within this text, and while I am partial to the “concentric circles” outline suggested by Greg Nichols via Sam Waldron in some seminary materials I worked through, I offer these thoughts as more of a devotional reflection than an exegetical framework.

Romans 1:18-23: My Sin Caught By Satellite

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Romans 1:18 sweeps broadly across all humanity, making the universal statement that God’s wrath is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.  Man’s fundamental problem is not that he lacks truth, it is that he actively suppresses the truth that he has been given.  We are without excuse.

It is amazing to think that the sort of satellite images of the earth we can now bring up in an instant on our cell phones would have been unfathomable throughout most of human history.  It took us until 1903 for the Wright brothers to fly an over sized kite with a motor on it for a few hundred feet.  Within sixty years we were launching cameras into outer space to take pictures.

Romans 1:18-23 is like a satellite image of our sin.  It’s universal, so I know that it includes me.  However, the situation is somewhat similar to knowing that my house is caught in that satellite image of North America.  I know it’s there, but my eyes aren’t quite sharp enough to pick it out from that altitude.

But Paul the photographer isn’t finished.

Romans 2:1-5: My Sin Caught in the Group Photo

Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

While I don’t agree with those who would read a sharp thematic transition in the first verses of chapter two, it is undeniable that Paul gets a little more personal.  This is evident in the shift in his language.  They and them gives way to you and yours.  We’ve lost the option of hiding in the anonymity of images captured from orbit, now there is no denying the presence of our own face in the crowd.

Paul is now shooting a group photo.  His subject matter hasn’t changed, he’s just zoomed in a bit and is picking up more specific and individual detail.  It’s still a crowd, but there is not denying that my smiling face has been caught in the class picture, with a caption that reads because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s judgment will be revealed.

But Paul the photographer isn’t finished.

Romans 2:17-24: My Sin Caught in a Portrait

But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth—you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

Paul now begins to address the Jews in particular, and shows that external marks of religiosity are of no value if they are not accompanied by internal spiritual reality.  It will not do to plead national privilege or covenant birthright when the inner man is full of decay.

Notice the directly personal language Paul uses- you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?  While it is always important to not take Scripture out of context. it is appropriate to apply the spirit of these questions to ourselves.  We may not be first century Jews struggling with issues of religious formalism and entitlement, but these penetrating questions meant to expose hypocrisy certainly apply.

Paul has now set us down on a stool and he is taking our portrait.  There is no crowd to get lost in this time.  My answers to these questions are incriminating to only one person- myself.  It is my hypocrisy which is pointed out, my sins which are exposed, and my failures which are captured in the uncompromising photographic image.

But Paul the photographer isn’t finished.

Romans 3:9-20: My Sin Caught in X-Ray

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
“Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood;
in their paths are ruin and misery,
and the way of peace they have not known.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

We might like to think that a portrait taken in full light with no makeup allowed would reveal all of our faults and scars for the world to see.  Yet Paul goes deeper.  He lays aside his camera and pulls out the x-ray.  The results aren’t good.  An x-ray of my head reveals that there is no understanding.  A shot of my heart shows that it doesn’t seek God.  In fact, it appears that it’s rather worthless.  The x-ray taken of my throat looks like an open grave.  My tongue is infected with deceit.  There is even some venom in my lips.  The shot of my whole mouth shows curses and bitterness.  The images captured of my feet indicate that they are swift to shed blood.  And when Paul points his x-ray at my eyes, he won’t even tell me what he sees.  All he’ll say is what isn’t there- there is no fear of God.

My sin was captured in the first satellite images of Romans 1:18.  It was there is in the group photo.  I couldn’t deny it in the portrait.  And these x-rays show me that sin in in my heart, my mind, and burning in my eyes.

If this is where the photography stopped, our situation would be bleak indeed.

But Paul the photographer isn’t finished.

Romans 3:21-26: My Sin Crushed on Negative Film

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Everybody loved school picture day.  You got to dress up and there were free combs.  However, the four photographs Paul has snapped in this section make it one of the most devastating  parts of the Bible.  Each click of the zoom lens is like another stone added to the suffocating weight of truly gazing upon our sin.  An honest reading may make this weight seem as heavy as the world itself.  Yet Romans 3:21 comes and turns the world upside down.

A minor sorrow of the advent of the digital age is that our kids will probably never hold negative film up to the light to see the family pictures in eerie shades of yellow and brown.  A negative image shows us reality with one major change- all of the colors are inverted.  Light is dark and dark is light.  It takes everything we see and turns it inside out.  That’s exactly what Paul does in Romans 3:21-26.  We see our unrighteousness- but Paul points us to the righteousness of God.  We see our condemnation- Paul shows us our justification by grace.  We see our guilt- Paul shows us the propitiating blood of Jesus Christ.

When we read the first chapters of Romans we don’t particularly care for Paul’s photography.  It is too accurate for our comfort.  However, when we keep reading we see that the honesty of his lens was necessary to bring us to the greatest picture ever taken- the picture of the love of God for sinners manifested on the cross of Christ.  And rather than being a moment in time captured on film, the gospel is the ever present reality of all who trust in Christ to be their salvation.

Paul lays before me various photographs of my sins.  It is seen from 30,000 feet, and it is documented on x-ray.  It is caught in the group, it is captured in an intimate portrait.  But the final picture he lays before me changes everything.  Jesus has turned my world upside down.  He has inverted my reality by means of the greatest exchange the world has ever known: For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21).

(By: Nicolas Alford)



This blog is launching without significant fanfare, unless you count the giant photo of the rocket.   There are already a few posts up, and over the next several days we will be uploading more which should give some sense of where we are going with this site.  We are excited about the opportunities this medium provides, and about adding an additional voice from a Reformed Baptist perspective to the rapidly expanding online conversation between Christians.  Please check out the about page, leave a comment if you are so inclined, and be sure to visit back or subscribe to follow along and join the conversation going forward.

Soli Deo Gloria,

The Administrators

2012 ARBCA General Assembly


2012 marks the 5th consecutive year that I’ve attended the Association of Reformed Baptist Churches (ARBCA) General Assembly. This year we are gathering in Chickopee, Massachusetts. I am thankful to be a pastor of an ARBCA member church, and I am grateful for the opportunity to not only partner with, but see other ARBCA pastors each year. As I think about what I’m most thankful for each year, 7 specific items come to mind:

1. Encouragement and Challenge

Every year, I am reminded how sinful I am, how gracious God is, how great a Savior I have, and how God has given us godly examples to follow. While we accomplish many wonderful things at our General Assembly, the best part of our gathering is the fellowship. I am always stirred up to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24-25), and challenged to pursue godliness and righteousness more fervently. The fire for ministry needs to be stoked every now and then, and being around like-minded men whom I can only hope to be half as godly as, has a great way of making the coals burn brighter.

2. Reminders of our Global Task

One of the primary reasons Ephesus Church is associated with ARBCA is because of the opportunity it provides us to be involved in the global missionary task in a way that we are not able to do on our own. I am grateful for the opportunity to be reminded each year that we are responsible for bringing the gospel to the nations (Matthew 28:18-20), and hearing and seeing how that is being accomplished through the support of member churches.

3. Christ-Centered Preaching

Each day of the General Assembly is packed with devotions and sermons that are thoroughly Christ-Centered. I need the constant reminder that Christ is my righteousness, and I am thankful to hear faithful men preach the Word with passion and clarity. Every General Assembly I have attended has made me a better preacher. When I was learning to play jazz piano, every teacher I studied under reminded me, “Jazz is a language, and the only way to really learn it is to hear it regularly.” Preaching is a language, and if I want to do it well, I need to hear it often – and it certainly helps that it’s good!

4. Unhurried Prayer

I am reminded at each General Assembly that I am surrounded by faithful men of prayer. I am thankful for the extended times of prayer when we are able to join our hearts together in seeking the Lord for continued faithful ministry, perseverance, greater affections for Jesus, progress in our gospel spreading efforts, and a growing love and unity with one another.

5. Fraternal Unity

For now, I am officially the youngest pastor of an ARBCA member church at the ripe age of 30, but the men of the association consider me a peer, are genuinely interested in my ministry, and encourage me in incredible ways. It is not lost on me that many of these men were pastors before I was born, and their collective wisdom is a tremendous help. There is a unity among the ARBCA pastors that is rare, and I am grateful to be right in the middle of it. We are serious about the Lord and what He is doing to build His church, and we are serious about having a good time together – I laugh and weep during the GA more than most weeks of my life.

6. Hearing About God’s Work

Missionaries are busy, churches are being planted, and established churches are growing in faith and numbers. Christ is building His church around faithful preaching and serious worship all throughout the world (Matthew 16:18). The ARBCA General Assembly gives us opportunity to hear what God is doing in and through His church, and provides us the opportunity to hear directly from those who are in the middle of the work.

7. Books

I can always count on Michael Gaydosh from Solid Ground Christian Books to have a large selection of reformed books at low prices. Pastors love books, and I’m no exception. I’m thankful for the availability of these wonderful resources.

(By: Nick Kennicott)