Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Preparing for Preaching

I was asked the other day by a friend who does not attend my church how I went about planning and preparing for sermons. Approaches probably vary from preacher to preacher, but in case you are one of my curious church members or you are looking for tips on how to prepare for your own preaching/ teaching responsibilities, here goes…

Firstly, I preach expository which means I take a specific passage of Scripture, explain it, apply it, and rejoice in it! My goal in preparing to preach is to make sure the main point of the text becomes the main point of the sermon and then to make sure I communicate that clearly and memorably. What the Lord does with it from there is His business. In choosing a sermon text it is helpful to remember that “all Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16) so you can’t pick a bad or useless text. I try to preach through one book at a time but I typically break it up with a short series (2-4 weeks) on a specific theme that I will cover from other passages (still expositionally). For example, currently I am preaching through Matthew’s Gospel but I’m planning a four-week series on Church Health in March that will cover three texts from Revelation and one text from 1 Corinthians. I’m also planning to preach three or four biography sermons over the next year. For this I’ll take a specific text or a couple key texts and explain them using the biography of a key historical Christian figure as an illustration and example of application.

I’ve dedicated a few days now at the end of 2008 to forecast the general direction of what I’ll be preaching over 2009 (especially the first 6 months). I also put together a “worship card” which I pass out to my congregation as a reading guide and outreach tool. This lists about ten to twelve Sundays with the sermon title, text, and memory verse for each week. Do I have all those sermons written? No. Besides some general and preliminary research I will do in advance, the bulk of my preparation comes the week before I preach the sermon. On Tuesday I really start digging into the text and taking notes. On Wednesday I will cull from commentaries and other sources and put together my outline. On Thursday I will polish it. Thursday and Friday are dedicated to preparing my Sunday evening sermon which is a bit less “preaching” and more “teaching”. The reason I don’t write these things out weeks ahead (I used to do that) is because I want to preach fresh and from the overflow of my own devotional life in the Scriptures. These aren’t merely rehearsed speeches. So there you go- my sermon prep in a nutshell.

Monday, December 29, 2008

What does the President read?

You may not be a President Bush fan or supporter but a recent article by Karl Rove about our President’s love for reading inspired and convicted me. Despite what the oh-so-knowledgeable Hollywood celebrities might tell us, our president is no dummy. You might not agree with his policies and you are probably not impressed with his public speaking skills but let’s be fair to his intelligence and learn something from him. I love to read but I need to read more and sharpen that skill. One of the greatest obstacles to reading is watching TV. Watching the television isn’t all bad but it must be done with moderation otherwise we can easily become poor stewards of the time and brain power the Lord has given us. So I have gathered a stack of books beside my bed (about ten or so) that I’m intent on reading by the summer. Ready to take up the challenge and expand your mind? You'll be enriching your own life and those who you influence.

Here is the article from the Wall Street Journal on President Bush’s reading discipline- prepare to be impressed.

HT: Justin Taylor

Monday, December 22, 2008

What I learned from Charles Simeon.

Charles Simeon was born on September 24, 1759 and went to be with the Lord on November 13, 1836. During his life Simeon was the pastor of Trinity Church in Cambridge, England for 54 years and was also a fellow at King’s College, Cambridge. Over the last few days I’ve read a short biography of his life by John Piper (in his book, The Roots of Endurance). I would strongly encourage you to study the life of Charles Simeon as a lesson of faithfulness and joy. Simeon’s joy was not robbed by the difficult circumstances that are inherent in this mortal life. His faithfulness was not shaken because His faith was in a majestic God. Here are a few things the Lord taught me through Simeon…

1. Simeon was a man of deep conviction and resolution. He committed to celibacy to make an uncontested commitment to the church of Christ. That is a unique calling and a rare form of endurance.

2. Simeon possessed a pervading joy. Here was a guy who was rejected by his congregation for the first twelve years or so of his ministry and he rarely had a negative or pessimistic thing to say. You can’t fake it that long. His joy was in Christ and that lifted his mind and heart above the humiliation.

3. Simeon was strong on doctrine in one hand and strong in love in the other hand. When doctrine or theological position divided him against another he was still loving and kind without wavering on truth. In this he also refused to be pigeon-holed with regards to a label so not to create unnecessary division.

4. Simeon was enduringly faithful to his Lord. Few today endure the kind of humiliation and rejection that Simeon faced among those inside and outside the church. Most would give up. We are a quitting, moping, and easily bruised generation. Simeon saw that his calling was not to be popular, beloved, or successful by any earthly standards. He was called to be faithful to the Lord Jesus and he strove for that end alone.

What a testimony Charles Simeon is for us and the transforming work of Christ! Only Christ could produce these qualities in a sinful human being. He certainly wasn't perfect- far from it. Furthermore, Simeon's story is not about his works. Simeon is a testimony of what could happen in our lives if we would daily and wholly submit ourselves to the working of the Holy Spirit through the Word.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Don't Waste Your Graduation

It was a real blessing to take part in the commencement ceremonies last Friday at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth. If for no other reason it was a gift to my wife who endured the last couple years as I was finishing my degree. One of the most encouraging moments was when our seminary president, Paige Patterson addressed us during the rehearsal and challenged us with Proverbs 12:27.

“A lazy man does not roast his prey, but the precious possession of a man is diligence.”

Dr. Patterson used the illustration of the proverb to challenge us to continue our pursuit of studying and applying God’s Word. I don’t want to get lazy or complacent. That would be a waste of all the work put in thus far. I also want to keep all the study in perspective. It is for application- for ministry. So I was convicted to lay out some goals for the coming year in how I can keep from wasting my graduation. Here are my initial goals for 2009 (the first few months anyway) to carry on my studies and the application of my studies:

1. Read biographies on John Wesley, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and Jonathan Edwards
2. Teach a course on sharing the gospel
3. Share the gospel at least once a week in a one-on-one conversation.
4. Finish preaching through Matthew’s Gospel
5. Preach a mini-series on church health.
6. Preach a mini-series on worship.
7. Read through the Bible with my wife.
8. Read through the Book of Acts during January with my church.
9. Preach four biography sermons (John Calvin, Lottie Moon, Martin Luther, and either John Wesley or Charles Simeon).
10. Spend more time with other pastors for fellowship and prayer.

How about you? What are your goals for pursuing a deeper knowledge of the Word and for applying that knowledge? If you don’t aim for anything you won’t hit anything either.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A Degree for my Wife

I love my wife and I want to take the opportunity to thank her in as many public ways that I can for enduring with me and supporting me through seminary. This Friday I’ll receive (Lord willing and to Him be the glory) my Master of Divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Many weeks I came home late on a Monday or Tuesday night because I was in class all day at the Houston campus and making the three-hour round trip. Many nights I was huddled around a computer working on a paper or buried in books doing my assigned reading. Blair, you were completely understanding and patient. Your words were always motivating to me and you kept my eyes focused on the prize. Thank you so much for being my help-mate and for being a godly wife. You deserve to have a degree conferred on you for all your endurance and labor alongside me. I love you babe! Now when do you want me to start on that doctorate??

New Booklet on Prayer

So often I hear people talk about prayer as though they are "wishing upon a star". There is no hope, no expectation, and no real trust in a God who is both good in nature and great in power. This presents a great burden in my heart because I want Christians to enjoy the gift of prayer and to unleash the power of prayer in their lives. A few weeks ago I preached a two-week series on the subject of prayer. I've been preaching through the Gospel of Matthew on Sunday mornings at my church and so I dealt with the issue of prayer when I came to Matthew 6. As a help and teaching tool I've compiled those notes and some other study into booklet form. Here is a link to a PDF version of that booklet.

Unleash the Power of Prayer by Jeremy A. Bradshaw

Monday, December 8, 2008

Preaching and Teaching Resource

If you are like me and have a weekly responsibility to teach or preach then you will really appreciate a helpful resource to improve preparation. I am always looking to improve my Bible study skills and to enhance my pulpit and teaching ministry. Whether you have a regular opportunity to teach or preach... or if you are hoping to have opportunities to do so, then here is a link chock full of articles, audio files, and video by some of the finest teachers, preachers, and theologians today.

"Unashamed Workman"- Sermon Preparation

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Let the Men be Men

Last week I wrote about gender roles in the church. This was a recap from the series I have been teaching through on Sunday nights at Memorial Baptist Church (on hiatus until Jan 4). We need men to be the men God had called us to be. I’m so thankful for the godly women of my church and those who have had such a profound influence on my faith, but they should never be burdened with the spiritual headship that falls to the responsibility of Christian men (Genesis 2:18-25; 1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 5:22-33; 1 Timothy 2:8-15). Here is a video by pastor and author Voddie Baucham that nails the effects of secular feminism’s influence on the church.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Don't Waste Your Pulpit

Here is a very affirming video to me and I hope encouraging to you as well. Faithful preaching of His Word is what the Lord has called me to- simple as that. My frustrations in ministry often arise when I forget that and think that other ambitions and goals are more significant.

HT: http://mercyswimming.wordpress.com/

Don't Worry, Be Happy... in Christ!

Sunday morning I preached from Matthew 6:19-34. There are really multiple sermons to be found in this text and it seems at first glance that Jesus was addressing two distinct subjects. In verses 19-24 Jesus addresses the issue of loyalty by commanding His disciples not to store up treasures on earth but rather to store up treasures in heaven. He explains that the treasures on earth are passing away while the treasures in heaven last. Jesus also draws a line in the sand and tells His disciples they have to make a choice. We have to make a choice- God or mammon. Mammon was an Aramaic term with a derisive tone. It referred to material possessions when they have become god-like to the person possessing or seeking them. Will we treasure man-made gods which pass away or will we treasure God in Heaven?

Jesus shifts gears with the statement “for this reason”. So what follows in chapter six is an application of what preceded. Jesus commands His disciples not to worry or to be filled with anxiety. Worry, anxiety, and stress are in direct relationship to what we treasure. If we treasure things of this earth which are passing away we will be suffocated with anxiety. When the thing you treasure is threatened or taken away anxiety is born and that often gives birth to things such as bitterness, constant nervousness, and depression. If we treasure Christ more than anything else and cherish Him as our source of satisfaction and delight then how will anxiety have a place to be born? For Christ is eternal. He is not threatened. He is not passing away. In fact, when a Christian is ever-anxious it robs God of glory and calls His character into question. Our worry shows that we treasure things of this earth more than God which attributes more value and glory to the things of the earth. Our worry casts doubt on God’s goodness and His ability to provide for His children. We must be on guard of worry by treasuring Christ above all things. Jesus teaches (v. 33) to “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” This is not to say that Jesus is a celestial sugar-daddy who will grant us all our selfish desires if we are just obedient. Jesus is saying that if we set our hearts wholly on Him all our desires will be satisfied in Him and worry will have no home in us.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Filling the Pulpit

One of the blessings of my life has been the godly men who the Lord has placed in my path for instruction, conviction, and encouragement. Keith Meyer is one of those men. Keith is an associate pastor in the area and has been a pastor at two or three congregations. He’s recovering from triple-bypass and will be preaching in my place while I’m out of town in a couple weeks (graduating from seminary). We visited today and I walked away with another Meyer-nugget. He said with regards to the pastorate and the local church, “My call is not to fill the pews but to fill the pulpit.” That’s a great statement. So often I can get frustrated by the lack of so-called success or visible response in my ministry. A lot of pastors and lay people do. Keith wisely reminded me that it is faithfulness that we are called to, not success. The Holy Spirit will do what He wills once the Word is unleashed. We are called to simply unleash that Word. I can no more get people in the pews than I get them into Heaven. That is in God’s hands. I can however drive people out of the pews if I fail to properly and obediently feed them the Word of God week in and week out. How blessed I was by that encouraging word today, and I’m eager for my church to be blessed in two weeks by my friend Keith Meyer as he again faithfully fills the pulpit.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Culture of Evangelism

This is an excellent (and personally convicting) video by Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church on developing a culture of evangelism. In January we will begin a gospel-sharing training course on Wednesday nights at 6pm. While we want gospel-sharing to be integrated in our members' day-to-day lifestyle it is also important to provide a platform for learning this. On Tuesday nights beginning in January we will use outreach teams to make visits, phone calls, and write cards as a means to share the gospel.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Gender Roles in the Local Church

Last night I taught from 1 Timothy 2:8ff in our evening worship service, "Night Light". In the context of the local church or congregation (1 Timothy 2:8; 3:15), Paul instructs Timothy regarding gender roles. In Eden God set forth the blueprints for manhood and womanhood. Ever since mankind fell into sin those blueprints have been perverted and confused. The church is to be a display of God’s glory. Through faith in Christ and through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in believers’ lives the edenic roles of manhood and womanhood are restored. That is the heart of Paul’s instructions regarding how men and women are to function in the ministry of the local church.

Men are to lead out in prayer, worship, and church unity (verse 8). Women are to be adorned in godliness, they are to grow in God’s Word, and they are to reflect biblical submission toward male leadership in the church and home (verses 9-12). Paul’s instructions to men and women are not built off an issue that was specific or sensitive to the Ephesian culture. He grounds these guiding principles on a trans-cultural argument from Genesis 2. Both male chauvinism and secular feminism are perversions of biblical manhood and womanhood and should not be the influence on how men and women serve in the local church. Paul writes these instructions so that men will not abdicate their biblical responsibility of headship. He also writes these instructions so that women will not abuse their freedom to learn Scripture (unheard of in the first century outside Christianity) by usurping the spiritual leadership and authority of Christian men. Paul is provoking men to lead out as they are called and he is guarding women from being burdened (or burdening themselves) by taking on a role which the Lord never intended for them to carry. This is not an issue of value- men and women are equally created in the image of God but they are distinct in function and responsibility both in the home and in the church.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Why share prayer requests?

This morning I want to address the issue of "prayer requests". We have people call in requests, turn in requests by paper, and email requests. We don’t have a magic prayer slot machine so why do we do that? Well first, I hope if you turn in a request you are praying for that issue too. The church is not the "wailing wall" where you squeeze a written request in a crack and magically it is closer to God's ears (see picture). When prayer requests are passed around it should not be understood that we just need more people to make God aware or to beg Him to do what is right. Prayer is about alignment and submission to the Lord's will. Sharing prayer requests is an act of submission before the Lord. If I ask you to pray for healing in my body it is because I need to align my thoughts with the Lord’s will and submit the need over to Him so that I don’t give myself to worry. I’m asking you to pray so that together we can lay something at the Lord’s feet, learn to submit to Him, and watch together in expectation of how He will meet the need.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Why we gather as a congregation?

Last night I spoke from 1 Timothy 2:1-6; here is a quick recap. Have you ever wondered why God wants us to assemble as local churches even though every Christian is a part of the universal church? The statements in verses 1-6 are the grounding principles of our ministry and our corporate assembly as a church. Paul explains why we meet together as a congregation.

1. We congregate because of the need to pray for all peoples (verses 1-2). The message is clear that when the church assembles we should devote time to prayer and prayer is not discriminatory. Paul tells Timothy to pray for “all men”, meaning men of every kind. We are to corporately submit to the Lord through prayer and those prayers should be for the gospel of God to go to all peoples.

2. We congregate because God desires salvation for all peoples (verses 3-4). The inference that Paul makes from these verses is that we should care about what and who God cares about. God doesn’t just desire salvation for Americans. So we need to ask ourselves how we carry out God’s desire to see people of every ethnic group saved. We are to corporately spread the gospel and grow in our passion to spread the gospel.

3. We congregate because Christ died as a ransom for all peoples (verses 5-6). Christ bought people with his blood on the cross. Our mission is to go be the agent of redemption for what Christ purchased. We wouldn’t be here if Christ hadn’t bought us. When we assemble we need to proclaim the majesty of Christ and when we scatter we should live out the majesty of Christ so to gather in those others for whom Christ died.

We are wasting time and space if we abandon these principles to cling to a “country club” mentality. If we aren’t a church that submits itself to the Lord’s sovereignty and are faithfully obedient to the Lord’s commands then we have no business meeting as a church.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Essential v. Important

One resource that has been especially edifying to me as a Christian and as a pastor is the ministry of Mark Dever. Dever is the pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church (SBC) in Washington D.C. He is also the author of books such as Nine Marks of a Healthy Church and The Deliberate Church. These books have really helped to put in words my shared convictions about what the Bible teaches regarding pastoral ministry and the local church. Dever repackaged the “Nine Marks” material into the shorter book, What is a Healthy Church? This book aims to help the congregation understand the principles of a Biblically healthy church. In this resource Dever shares again the nine marks which he has drawn from Scripture but distinguishes them in two categories: essential and important. Those essential marks are 1) Expositional Preaching; 2) Biblical Theology; and 3) A Biblical Understanding of the Good News. The important marks are, 1) A Biblical Understanding of Conversion; 2) A Biblical Understanding of Evangelism; 3) A Biblical Understanding of Membership; 4) Biblical Church Discipline; 5) Biblical Discipleship and Growth; and 6) Biblical Church Leadership. He says, “Insofar as all of the nine marks outlined in this book are biblical, they are authoritative for Christ’s churches. Yet the distinction between the essential and the important marks should remind us that sanctification—in the church’s life as in the individual’s life—occurs slowly. Just as God calls us to patience in raising our children, so he calls us to patience with our churches.” Dever encourages pastors and church members to pray, be patient, and to set a good example while waiting on the Lord to reform some unhealthy practices in the church they are serving. This counsel has provided me insight into what are “hills worth dying on” and things that call for more grace and endurance. The essential marks take time themselves to ingrain and those are worth the immediate focus.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Praying for a Jump Start

Last night our church had a really good prayer meeting. It was obvious the Spirit was at work in hearts as we spent some time praying for the spiritual needs of our members and for revival to happen in our church. Of course, revival is change. That is the nature of it. Change in heart. Change in behavior. Change in lifestyle. Change in church. We must be on guard as a church that we are not so resistant to changes that we stifle the spirit of revival that is beginning to kindle. It got me thinking about some things we studied in my Evangelism class this semester. My prof, Dr. Dan Crawford shared six characteristics of churches that refuse to change:

1. There's a focus on the church as an institution rather than a focus on the purpose of the church. Will we make our core value "keeping things like we like 'em" or being obedient to the commands of the Lord?

2. There's a focus on the social self-perpetuation rather than a focus on social acceptance. Will we only welcome newcomers to our fellowship if they agree to "blend in"?

3. There's a focus on minority rule rather than a focus on majority rule. Will we have an "us four no more" view to leadership or are we open to other voices that may have new ideas?

4. There's a focus on yesterday's innovation rather than a focus on today's needs and possibilities. Will we just try to go back to old programs that we're fond of or seek to apply the message of Christ to the current context?

5. There's a focus on conservative non-risk taking rather than a focus on creative steps of faith. Will we stop growing in our church because we've stopped growing in our faith?

6. There's a focus on painlessness rather than a focus on hurting together through a tough time. Will we avoid challenges out of fear or will we move forward in faith and let the fellowship of the Body of Christ encourage us through the difficulties?

I added the italicized questions as thoughts that apply to our church right now. We are at a critical juncture. Memorial needs to be a praying church to be in alignment with the Lord's will and we need to be a courageous church to be in obedience with the Lord's will.

Monday, November 10, 2008

What is a Pastor to Do?

In his first letter to the young Timothy the Apostle Paul imparts instructions about Timothy’s responsibility as the spiritual leader of the church in Ephesus. Last night I began a series through the Pastoral Letters (1-2 Timothy & Titus). Every Sunday night for the next several weeks I’ll be giving an expositional overview of each chapter. My goal is to provide a recap of each week’s study here on this blog. Here is the recap of chapter one titled, “What is a pastor to do?”

My aim for the study of 1 Timothy 1 is to take seriously the instructions of Paul to Timothy as the beginning of a blueprint for pastors and churches. We want to be a healthy church that is a display of God’s glory. Organisms are healthy when they are properly nourished and our nourishment is the Word of God. There is no better “church growth” manual. Paul’s words to Timothy in chapter one can be summarized into five instructions that teach what a pastor (and every church member) is to do.

1. A pastor is to combat the liars (v. 1- 7). Pastors must stand firm on Biblical truth and not allow false teachings to infiltrate the church. A pastor must keep the “sword of the Spirit” ready otherwise he will leave his people defenseless to the “wolves”.

2. A pastor is to teach the truth (v. 8-11). Pastors combat false doctrine by teaching right doctrine. Paul says “the law is good”, meaning that it is useful. The “law” or Scriptures exalt God’s standard (Romans 7:12), expose sin (Romans 3:19), and point sinners to their need for a Savior (Galatians 3:24). When a pastor fails to teach the truth without apology he opens the door for false doctrine to creep in.

3. A pastor must remember the good news (v. 12-16). Timothy is facing great opposition and discouragement. Paul comforts Timothy by reminding him of the gospel. If God can save sinners from Hell imagine what else He can do even in the face of overwhelming opposition.

4. A pastor must worship the King (v. 17). Paul erupts into a verse of doxology upon reflection of the good news. When the gospel is cherished worship happens in a pastor’s heart and in a church’s assembly.

5. A pastor must keep the faith (v. 18-20). It has been said that too often pastors (like me) overestimate how much can be accomplished in the short term and underestimate how much can be accomplished in the long term. Ministry is tough and it is long-suffering. Paul warns Timothy not to follow the path of Hymenaeus and Alexander who were “shipwrecked” in their faith. One commentator says that Paul challenges Timothy (and every pastor) to be both good soldiers who will fight the good fight of faith and good sailors who will navigate the waters of this world carefully and faithfully.

These are good words from Paul to Timothy and they inspired words from the Holy Spirit to every pastor and layperson seeking faithfulness in their church.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Okay I realize this blog has been a bit politically charged the last couple days, but it has been a unique couple of days. The news of California’s passing of Proposition 8 was really encouraging. Prop 8 has amended the California Constitution to define marriage as only between a man and a woman (this was the previous definition as affirmed in 2002 by the voters until four San Francisco judges decided they knew better than the state’s citizens). This is a major victory in upholding the Biblical and historic institution of marriage.

However I was not as encouraged by the results of another proposition. Prop 4 to amend the state Constitution to bar abortions by un-emancipated minors until 48 hours after a physician notifies the minor’s parent or legal guardian failed. This would have been a major deterrent to having an abortion and would no doubt have limited the number of babies whose lives would be taken. Those lives will be given no freedom of choice. Inexplicably the state passed Prop 2 which will require farmers to provide room for egg-laying hens and other livestock to fully extend their limbs or wings, stand up, turn around and lie down. The argument for this proposition for that farm animals deserve to be treated humanely. I have not argument with this (though it is not a simple issue and will bring a significant economic hit to farmers), but it is unbelievable that 52% of a state values the leg room of chickens more than the lives of human babies.

The need for Christians who are filled with courage and conviction for Biblical truth is all the more critical in 2008- that kind of Christian is trained up in Bible-proclaiming (and living) churches. We need to get back to that singular focus in our churches and in our pulpits if we want the gospel to spread throughout our nation and transform our society.

The President and the Sovereignty of God

Yesterday there were people praying for a John McCain victory. There were also people praying for a Barack Obama victory. Did the now President-Elect Barack Obama supporters pray harder? Did they have more faith? What is prayer’s role in this election? What should its role be in the Obama Administration? How should one feel toward an Obama presidency today if they were praying against it yesterday? These are some very real questions in the thoughts of many Americans today. First, we need to understand that prayer is not about begging or making demands on God. Prayer is about submitting ourselves before His soveriegnty. It is the means in which we get our thoughts and our words in alignment with our Lord. Sometimes He answers our requests with a yes, sometimes with a no, and sometimes He helps us to simply understand the right questions to ask. Make no mistake that whether or not President-elect Obama follows God’s moral will, his presidency is under God’s sovereign will. The election results did not surprise God. The question we may never know the answer to this side of Heaven is why Barack Obama and not John McCain was the man God decreed by His sovereignty would be president or why God decreed President Bush over Al Gore and John Kerry. I pray that we have moral men leading our nation who will uphold absolute truth and the Biblical principles that were fundamental to this country’s establishment, but whether Barack Obama is that kind of leader or not, he is that man placed in authority under the sovereignty of God.

-Psalm 47:8, “God reigns over the nations, God sits on His holy throne.”

-Psalm 103:19, “The Lord has established His throne in the heavens, and His soveriegnty rules over all.”

Now how should a Christian feel about this president particularly if they did not vote for him? Let me allow God’s Word to answer here.

-Romans 13:1-2, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.”

-1 Timothy 2:1-2, “I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be nade on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.”

-1 Peter 2:13-14, 17, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right… Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.”

Whether or not you were a supporter of Barack Obama the political candidate, as a Christian we are charged with being a supporter of Barack Obama the American President. That does not mean we are not to oppose efforts by the administration that undermine or contradict Biblical truth, but we must do so in a way that shows due respect to authority and distinguishes us as those imbued with the love of Christ. We are citizens of the Kingdom of God first, but we are also living in this land with a gospel mission. Considering this, how do we pray for President Obama?

-Proverbs 9:10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (I pray that President Obama will be a man who leads with wisdom because He fears the Lord.)

-Proverbs 11:3, “The integrity of the upright will guide them, but the crookedness of the treacherous will destroy them.” (I pray that President Obama will be a man of integrity and not compromise the Word of God.)

Proverbs 16:12, “It is an abomination for kings to commit wicked acts, for a throne is established on righteousness. (I pray that President Obama will flee from wickedness and lead with a passion for righteousness.)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Abortion and the American President

Recently I was presented with an argument regarding this year’s election in relationship to the issue of abortion. The person who presented this argument holds to a pro-life position but maintains that the issue should not be a determining factor who a person votes for. He believes the president’s influence on this issue is essentially insignificant. With respect I shared with him my points of disagreement and since this may be an issue some of you are unclear or indifferent on I think it is helpful to reprint some of what we exchanged. First, two things to say up front- 1) I mean this in no way to slander the one who I disagree with. We are family and both love and respect one another- we just disagree. 2) I am in no way telling you who to vote for today or endorsing a candidate. We need to pray for both candidates regarding this issue as one will be president and the other a serving senator.

The argument I was presented

“This rhetoric [regarding abortion] is getting us nowhere. Just to qualify, I was raised pro-life, and continue to be personally (as in, for myself) pro-life… My personal preference doesn't matter because the issue of abortion has already been decided in this country - once and for all. What's that you say - Roe v Wade might be overturned? No, it won't. Sorry to break it those who would like to legislate their personal philosophy of the origination of life onto this secular country, but that's NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN. At various points in the previous 8 years, you had a conservative President, Congress, and Supreme Court - all at the same time - and you still couldn't close the deal… I'm not trying to minimize anyone's beliefs or the seriousness of what's going on in this country, but the government will not solve this problem for you, not ever. How about dialing the rhetoric down a notch, and working to reduce the number of abortions by reaching out to confused or desperate mothers and offering some alternatives?”

My Responses

First off, I agree 100% that as Christians we should invest time, money, and effort to “reduce the number of abortions by reaching out to confused or desperate mothers and offering some alternative”… Amen. There are a few points of disagreement regarding the statements on the abortion issue. He states, "The rhetoric is getting us nowhere... the issue of abortion has already been decided in this country- once and for all." Here are a few of the victories the rhetoric has helped with thus far (from the Knights of Columbus)…

1. The Hyde Amendment, which restricts federal funding for abortions;
2. The federal law banning partial birth abortions, which was finally upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in April 2007;
3. The "Mexico City Policy," which has barred the use of federal taxpayers' money to pay for abortions in other countries;
4. Laws in 44 states that preserve a parental role when children under 18 seek abortions;
5. Laws in 40 states that restrict late-term abortions;
6. Laws in 46 states that protect the right of conscience for individual health care providers;
7. Laws in 27 states that protect the right of conscience for institutions;
8. Laws in 38 states that ban partial birth abortions;
9. Laws in 33 states that require counseling before having an abortion;
10. And laws in 16 states that provide for ultrasounds before an abortion.

There is a lot more to this issue and a lot more at stake than just whether or not Roe v. Wade is overturned. I am not as willing to so easily concede on that point however and this USA Today article agrees. Of course I understand electing a pro-life president can not automatically lead to overturning it. What cannot be disputed is that this election will have an definite impact on the abortion issue. For example, Senator Obama says that he intends to make the signing of the Freedom of Choice Act one of the first orders of business in his administration. This would effectively remove all restrictions on abortion procedures. Senator Obama himself, in his own words, agrees that the election is crucial to this issue, "With one more vacancy on the Supreme Court, we could be looking at a majority hostile to a women's fundamental right to choose for the first time since Roe v. Wade. The next president may be asked to nominate that Supreme Court justice. That is what is at stake in this election."

As a Christian, the prospect of our nation having its first African-American president is very exciting. Racism is abhorrent to God and is in direct conflict with Genesis 1:27. Electing an African-American president would be seen and would be a major victory in the assault against racism in this country. With that said, the prospect of electing the most pro-abortion president in history is terrifying. Though I don't see a candidate out there with William Wilberforce courage or conviction on this issue, Senator Obama is certainly the antithesis of this. If I agreed with a man in nine of ten issues but the one issue of disagreement was over something so immoral as slavery or abortion I could not support that man. My prayer is that both John McCain and Barack Obama would be filled with courage and conviction to stop the heinous practice of abortion in our country. We need to vote and yes, our Biblical convictions should shape our vote. As Christians, a Biblical worldview should shape every choice we make. Regardless of the outcome of the election both Obama and McCain have significant positions of influence in the government and in the minds of our citizens. Let’s pray for these men.

HT: Justin Taylor and John Piper

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Why Churches Die?

This Fall I am finishing up my Master of Divinity degree by taking an internet-based course on Evangelism. One of the subjects the course covers is an examination of both church growth and church death. My church is at a critical point in its history right now as the church has experienced decline over the last several years due to many factors. We are seeking to “turn the battleship” by Biblical reform and renewed emphasis on the gospel. It isn’t a quick or easy process but there is such great potential here and I am confident the Lord will bless obedience and faithfulness. Concerning the course on evangelism, our notes this week addressed the question, “Why churches die?” This is clearly a path I don’t want to go down so I paid special attention to the insight provided. Hollis Green provides five reasons why churches die (included in our class notes and from his book, Why Churches Die).

1. Churches begin the death process when they overly prioritize their program. My professor, Dr. Dan Crawford suggests, “Perhaps we are spending so much time at the church building that we have little time left for being the church in the workplace.”

2. Churches begin the death process when they employ or continue to tolerate ineffective staff members. I once heard John MacArthur say, “People are where they are because someone led them there.” Leadership has a critical influence and a critical responsibility.

3. Churches begin the death process when they fail to realize the importance of organizational structure. Evangelism is the beginning of the discipleship process and we are called to “make disciples”. Discipleship demands organization. Churches must do a better job at connecting people and keeping account of people.

4. Churches begin to die when fellowship becomes an end within itself. Dr. Crawford adds, “It may well be that without meaningful fellowship a church will die, but it also is a fact that when fellowship’s end is more fellowship, the church is almost dead. That kind of fellowship gradually decreases the circle of interest until there is no vision of people outside that circle. Eventually, the circle itself becomes non-existent.”

5. Churches begin the death process when they continually ignore any type of spiritual renewal or revival. Most people would not admit to this but it happens everywhere. People get caught up in “doing church” they stop “being the church” and the fervency for prayer, evangelism, and genuine disciple-making relationships fades.

This is good insight and we would be wise to heed the warnings. The Bible provides the blueprint and the power for building healthy, Christ-magnifying churches. Let us cling to its words and take them seriously. After all Christ promised that He would build the church (Matthew 16:18)… we must simply be obedient and faithful to Him.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Culture of Sacrifice or Culture of Entitlement?

Ready for a rant this Monday morning? Here it is. I’m a football fan. Friday nights I enjoy our season tickets to the Port Neches-Groves High School Indians’ games. When time avails I’ll catch a college game on Saturday afternoon and on Sundays after morning worship at my church I enjoy floating in and out of a nap on my couch while watching an NFL game. What I do not like is how the amateur and professional athletes seem to reflect our culture’s “entitlement” mentality. Our culture seems to believe that we are all entitled to material prosperity, positive attention, and circumstantial happiness. Many even believe that certain rights, freedoms, and privileges are entitlements rather than responsibilities. This attitude was reflected to me by the recent comments of one Kellen Winslow of the Cleveland Browns.

Winslow is a tight end for the Browns, who currently have a 2-4 record. He has contributed 187 yard and one touchdown so far this season. Winslow missed last Sunday’s game due to a staph infection. He is angry. After speaking with Browns’ general manager Phil Savage, Winslow went to the media to discuss his disappointment over the conversation. Winslow said, “I didn’t get a ‘How are you doing Kellen? It’s good to have you back.’ Nothing like that… I was very disappointed. I basically told him I don’t feel appreciated on this team by you, and I feel like a piece of meat sometimes.” Now Savage is the one who negotiated with Winslow’s agent to pay the 'unappreciated' tight end a 2008 salary of almost $4.6 million. Will someone 'unappreciate' me like that??

This is just one example of the entitlement culture we live in. Let’s not just blame the superstars though. We all battle it. It is called pride. As Christians we need to heavily guard our hearts from that pride so this mentality becomes a foreign concept in the church. We need to be counter-cultural as Romans 12 instructs us. Instead of a culture of entitlement, pride, and selfish ambition we need to demonstrate a culture of sacrifice which magnifies the worth of God in our lives.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Two Days with John Piper

Yesterday and today I had the privilege and joy to attend the Desiring God Regional Conference in Austin, TX. John Piper has been used by God for many years to have a profound influence on my life through his preaching and writing ministries. His pastoral ministry has been an example to me of faithfulness. So it was a real blessing to sit under his ministry for two days and soak up his preaching on the subject of "Job: When the Righteous Suffer". I want to recommend the two messages and Q&A session to you as sources for encouragement in the sovereignty of God and Biblical insight into this always applicable message of suffering. Here is a link to the conference messages (audio, video, and notes).

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Doctrine of Repentance

We are at war. It is a deadly war and it’s a lot closer to us than the war being fought in Iraq. I’m speaking of course of the war against sin (Matthew 11:12; Romans 7:23; Ephesians 6:10-17). As I’m typing this I’ve had to work at repenting from my anger. My computer is bi-polar and today is the day it won’t cooperate with me. This presents a great temptation to say and think ungodly things. As silly as that may sound to you most of our sinning is not planned out. We react. We spill over. So battling sin begins with saturating our minds and seasoning our lips with God’s Word (see James 3:1-12). Even then however, we are still in the process of being sanctified and we will sin as long as we have breath on this earth. We fight back through repentance.

Repentance is one of the most misunderstood and misapplied doctrines of the Bible. Repentance is not the same as being sorry. It is more than confession. It is more than seeking forgiveness. Repentance is the willful act of changing directions. Repentance is bound up in faith. To have faith in Christ you have to repent from whatever else you were clinging to before, namely sin. Jesus called us to repent (Luke 13:3). Peter preached repentance (Acts 2:38). Paul wrote to the church about it (2 Corinthians 7:8-13). In fact, Paul’s letter to the Corinthians provides us with some very clear instructions about what repentance looks like. Repentance begins with sorrow. Godly sorrow is not just being sorry you got caught and it goes beyond just being remorseful. Godly sorrow ought to move us to change. Paul lists seven qualities of repentance:

1) Earnestness (this is to be serious about change);
2) Vindication of yourselves (this is to seek and show evidence of reform);
3) Indignation (this is to loathe-not love- the sin itself);
4) Fear (this is to realize the holiness of God- see 1 John 5:16-17);
5) Longing (this is to eagerly desire integrity, trust, and relationships restored);
6) Zeal (this is passion to overcome sin); and
7) Avenging of wrong (this is to make every effort to help those whom you have hurt as a result of your sin).

This is the battle we must fight. It is a serious battle, but when we belong to Christ we do not fight in our own strength. The Holy Spirit works through us to refine us for God’s glory (1 Thess 4:1-8).

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Stay out of the Shack

Several weeks ago I wrote on the book- The Shack- and strongly warned against its content. Normally I do not blog on the same thing twice because I don’t want to beat a dead horse in the ground. This isn’t a dead horse however. A couple of conversations I’ve had with people regarding the book and some things I’ve read recently from its author have convinced me to stress this point again.

First, no one is arguing whether the book is engaging. Of course it is! I am not even saying that the author is intentionally trying to spread false doctrine or harm the church. To give him the benefit of the doubt I’ll assume his errors are born from ignorance which is still no excuse. The common response I get is “well its only fiction”. That is a slippery slope and to be frank is idiotic. What about writing a fiction book that said Jesus was romantically involved with a woman- and this fiction helps our devotional life with God because it helps feel closer to Jesus because we see His humanity? That’s outrageous! By the way… wasn’t that book published as The DaVinci Code and Christians were pretty upset about that? False doctrine always presents itself in an appealing way. That is how it creeps in and does its damage. The particular false doctrine espoused in Young’s book is a misrepresentation of the nature of the Trinitarian God and it directly violates the 2nd Commandment by creating an image of God the Father. Here is my previous post with some helpful links to read more.

One of the scariest comments I’ve read regarding the book is by the author himself. William P. Young said in an interview with the Baptist Standard, “All over the country, I meet nonreligious people who have read the book, bought copies for their religious friends, and told them, ‘I like the God in this (book) a lot more than yours’.” So according to Young, his portrayal of God is more credible that God’s portrayal of Himself in His Word. Blasphemous and very very dangerous. Take my advice… Stay out of this Shack!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Happiness in God

Does God want His children to be happy? Well, that depends. So many preachers today are spreading a false prosperity gospel that the Bible does not teach. God’s ultimate goal is not to make us rich and happy through material possessions. We exist for His glory and we bring Him glory when our happiness is in Him.

  • In James 1:2 we are commanded, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter trials of various kinds.”
  • Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 9:7, “Go then, eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine with a cheerful heart; for God has already approved your works.”
  • In Job 5:17 Job says, “Behold, how happy is the man whom God reproves, so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.”
  • Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart.”
  • Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:17, “God… richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.”
  • David proclaims to God in Psalm 16:11, “You will make known to me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever.”

My last two sermons (interrupted by two hurricanes) have covered Matthew 5:1-12 (the Beatitudes). These verses comprise the introduction to Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” which explains what it means to be a disciple and to belong to the kingdom of God. In these introductory verses Jesus describes the source of blessing from God or true happiness in God.

  • True happiness is not in itself the end for which we were created.
  • True happiness is not in itself the end for which we were saved.
  • True happiness is not something for which we can demand or are deserved.
  • True happiness is not something grounded in earthly treasures, circumstances, or your mood.

Let me recap those sermons and lay out the principles of “the beatitudes” in Matthew 5:

  • True happiness comes through acknowledging your own spiritual poverty (v. 3).
  • True happiness comes through sorrow (v. 4).
  • True happiness comes through controlling our passions and focusing them on our eternal purpose (v. 5).
  • True happiness comes through a pursuit of righteous living and righteous thinking (v. 6).
  • True happiness comes through demonstrating the mercy of God which we first received (v. 7).
  • True happiness comes through guarding your heart from impurities (v. 8).
  • True happiness comes through spreading the gospel of peace (v. 9).
  • True happiness comes through persecution and suffering (v. 10-12).

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Developing a Vision Strategy

Our church has begun a process to clarify our mission and develop a vision strategy. Some people may find this process much ado about nothing, but in reality it is very critical to the future of our church. A mission statement is not the foundation or “brick and mortar” of the church- the Word of God is- but it does help to be more discerning about why we are a local church in the first place. It also helps us to recognize the uniqueness of our church and the unique way we can carry out the Great Commission in our specific context. I’ve been reading a book called The Healthy Small Church by Dennis Bickers (pgs 32-42) and he proposes four reasons why churches should flesh out their vision in something like a clarified mission statement:

1. Vision provides focus.
2. Vision unites the church.
3. Vision enables people to move beyond their own self-interests.
4. Vision allows the church to be proactive rather than reactive.

There are two things that I have noticed among some of our people that really concern me. I see complacency among some and aimlessness among others. Like many other churches wrestle with there is dangerous comfort level that hinders our drive toward fulfilling our gospel mission as a church. There are also many people doing many different things but not necessary out of a sense of direction or purpose. Our church is full of godly people and people who love the Lord, but we do not want to waste what God has given us here. We want to be people with a vision for what God has uniquely called us to. We want to let the Word continue to challenge us to not ease into complacency but press on as soldiers of truth in the last days. We want to be people who move together, in unity, with common purpose. Busy is not the same as effective. So we are trying to develop a mission statement and vision strategy to keep us on task and keep us accountable to be the church God has called us to be.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Past is Prologue

For those of you who do not go to our church or who do not attend our Sunday night service you may not know we have been expositionally going through Genesis 1-11. The title of my series is “The Past is Prologue” as I believe the “prologue” of the Bible is setting the stage for the whole redemptive and Messianic story of the Bible. This has been a really exciting study and our evening services are more laid back with Q/A after the message. A source I have recently tapped into the last week or so are the “Answers in Genesis” folks. Their website is chock full of great articles and interesting research. It isn’t “crazy Christian theories” that oppose science. They show through much research that science and the Bible are indeed in harmony concerning the events recorded in Genesis. Here is a funny cartoon from their site and the link to the site is below for your own research and reading.

Now go read "Answers in Genesis"!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Nourished on Sound Doctrine

In Southeast Texas the word catechism evokes a lot of nervousness from Baptists because of the reaction to the Roman Catholic application of catechism. However, catechism is a good and edifying thing particularly when it is used well and applied rightly. The word ‘catechism’ is from a Greek word that simply means, “to teach”. A catechism is a teaching tool that uses questions and answers for the student to memorize and is designed to summarize and teach key doctrines of the faith. That is essential to do in the home and in the church. Baptists need to reclaim this tradition and use it for the equipping of saints. Here is a link to some historic Baptist catechisms- please read.

I have been teaching a course on Wednesday nights at my church that covers our Church Constitution and its Biblical roots. This week is the last session and I have made up a mini catechism to summarize many of the key points of our study and to conclude the study. Here are the questions and answers…

Memorial Baptist Catechism

Q 1- What is our purpose as human beings?
A- To glorify God- Isaiah 43:7

Q 2- How are we to glorify God?
A- In every area of our lives- 1 Corinthians 10:31

Q 3- What keeps us from glorifying God?
A- Sin corrupts us in every way- Romans 3:23

Q 4- How are we restored to being a display of God’s glory?
A- Christ died so that we could be redeemed to glorify God- Romans 15:8-9

Q 5- What is our mission as a church?
A- To make disciples- Matthew 28:19-20

Q 6- To whom do we carry this disciple-making mission?
A- To all peoples- Acts 1:8

Q 7- How do we demonstrate the gospel of God as a church?
A- By proclaiming the Word of God- Romans 10:13-17
A- By modeling a culture of sacrifice- Romans 12:1-13

Q 8- Who owns our bodies?
A- Jesus Christ has purchased our bodies- 1 Corinthians 6:20

Q 9- Who owns this church?
A- Jesus Christ owns this church- Matthew 16:18

Q 10- How is our church governed?
A- We are congregationally governed- Acts 6:2-5

Q 11- How is our church led?
A- We are pastor led- Acts 20:28

Q 12- How does our church delegate ministry?
A- We delegate ministry through deacons, committees, and ministry teams- 1 Corinthians 12:4-7

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Church and Social Order

I want to briefly consider the issue of the church and its role in pursuing social justice. It is clear in Scripture that God wants His people to stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves (Exodus 22:22; Deuteronomy 10:18; 14:29; 24:20-22; Isaiah 1:17; James 1:27). Our Church Constitution (ca. 1914) contains a statement on social order (which I suspect because of other statements in this document may have been motivated by a postmillennial viewpoint). Here is that statement:

Every Christian is under obligation to seek to make the will of Christ supreme in his own life and in human society. Means and methods used for the improvement of society and the establishment of righteousness among men can be truly and permanently helpful only when they are rooted in the regeneration of the individual by the saving grace of God in Christ Jesus. The Christian should oppose in the spirit of Christ every form of greed, selfishness, and vice. He should work to provide for the orphaned, the needy, the aged, the helpless, and the sick. Every Christian should seek to bring industry, government, and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love. In order to promote these ends, Christians should be ready to work with all men to good will in any good cause, always being careful to act in the spirit of live without compromising their loyalty to Christ and His truth.

I’ve been teaching through the Biblical roots and practical uses of our Church Constitution on Wednesday night in a study I’ve called “Firm Foundations”. Here are the points I am emphasizing to my church regarding this statement in our Constitution:

First we need to consider the gospel’s effects on society. The gospel transforms people which should transform communities and cities. The gospel’s effect on an individual should have an effect on the community the individual lives day to day. For example if a large church is baptizing over a hundred every year shouldn’t the crime go down? Shouldn’t the divorce rate decline? Shouldn’t more people be standing up for social justice, fight poverty, condemn racism and argue for the right to life of unborn children? The reason these effects don’t take place is because Christians often choose to compartmentalize their lives. They see the gospel and their salvation exclusively as an internal and heavenly thing.

Second we need to consider the spiritual realities of the world we live in. We must acknowledge that we live in a fallen world and sin will reign until Jesus establishes His millennial kingdom (I’m not a postmillennialist). Social justice as a result of the gospel and as a means of spreading the gospel is not the same as Christian Socialism. Our church provides a food bank once a month. We do this in part because it leads to direct witnessing opportunities- it is a foot in the door. We also do this because ending hunger and poverty is a natural overflow of the gospel’s effect on our own lives. The gospel reverses the effects of the curse.

Third (and most importantly) we need to consider what the gospel is and what it is not. Let’s not confuse the gospel. The gospel is not that men do good and compassionate things in society. The gospel is that which enables men to do good and compassionate things in society for the praise of God’s glory. The gospel is the satisfying of God’s holy wrath on sinners by the gift of God’s grace through the substitutionary death of Jesus on the cross. Social justice is not the gospel. Social justice is a consequence of the gospel consuming a person’s life.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Renewing Commitments

To my church family... here again are the five areas we are seeking to renew commitment to this year. To my outside readership... these five commitment renewals were part of a letter I sent out to my congregation (accompanied by a copy of the Church Covenant) back in May. If we are going to take this seriously it's important to keep reiterating it.

Five Commitment Renewals for 2008:

1. We must renew our commitment to pursue godliness (1 Timothy 7b-8).

If our attitude, lifestyles, habits, and language reflect something other than Biblical principles we are sending a mixed message to people about who or what is really Lord of our lives.

2. We must renew our commitment to each other (Romans 12:9-16).

There are two irrefutable facts about every one of our families: each family member is unique and families disagree. This is true in the church family as well, but Scripture teaches us that a church is to be a culture of sacrifice. This distinguishes us and distinguishes our Savior to outside world.

3. We must renew our commitment to the covenant we’ve made (Acts 2:44).

When we each became members of Memorial Baptist Church we agreed to keep and uphold the summary of faith that is our Church Covenant. The purpose of this covenant is so that we can hold one another accountable and present a unified and uncompromised witness as a church body to the community.

4. We must renew our commitment to meeting together (Hebrews 10:23-25).

We meet together for spiritual growth, to encourage one another, to meet each other’s needs, and to worship the Lord together. Of course some are physically unable to come because of health or military service. The rest of us need to be clear that it is not honoring to the Lord to avoid gathering regularly with the church family. Non-active church membership is not a Biblical concept.

5. We must renew our commitment to prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:17-23).

Do you want to see God at work in and through our church? This is going to come through submission in prayer. We need to be burdened to pray for the lost and burdened to pray for our church. I want to invite you to come on Wednesdays at 6:00pm but more than that- make prayer a vital part of your daily life.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Matthew 2 Recap (part two)

There are a lot of different opinions on exactly who the Magi were and what the Bethlehem Star was. There is also some debate regarding the dating of Jesus’ birth. Let me make a couple comments and then point you to some links for further reading. Most scholars date Jesus’ birth at around 6 BC because the majority hold that Herod died in 4 BC (the Magi came and went before Herod’s death and would have needed about two years to travel). The problem with this dating is that Luke 2:2 records Quirinius (a Roman politician) as governor of Syria at the time of Jesus’ birth. Quirinius governed sometime between 4 BC and 1 BC/ AD so that would put a wrinkle in the dating of Herod’s death at BC since he was alive at the time of Jesus’ birth.

Rick Larson argues in his documentary on the Bethlehem Star that Jesus’ birth was in 1 BC/ AD and produces some interesting conclusions about the Magi and the Star. Here is a link to his website called The Bethlehem Star. Here is a link to a good counter-point article. Was the Star a miraculous astronomical event or was it part of God’s mapping of the stars at the Creation? Larson argues the latter, “If the star was part of the natural order, and our solar system and the universe is like a great clock -- mathematically precise and predictable -- then that means that the star was a clockwork star, and that of course means that God built the star into the structure of the solar system in the universe from the beginning of time.” Either way, the most important thing is that we understand God was at work to bring glory to His Son when Jesus was sent to be the Messiah King to redeem sinners.

Matthew 2 Recap (part one)

Just a quick recap from this past Sunday’s (6/20) message- I preached from Matthew 2:1-12 and explained the significance of the Magi, the Bethlehem Star, and King Herod to understanding exactly what kind of King Jesus Christ is. I shared that he is a revolutionary king- not only because he shook the political establishment of King Herod and Rome, but most importantly because He came to topple the reign of sin in our lives and establish His Lordship over us. Then I shared that Jesus is a shepherd king- the star led the Magi to Bethlehem, the city of David. This birthplace is significant because:

1) Bethlehem means “house of bread” and Jesus is the “Bread of Life” (John 6:35);
2) It fulfilled prophecy (Micah 2:5); and
3) It again connects Jesus to David- Jesus was the long awaited king in the line of David and like David was a shepherd king who would gather, protect, and save His people (John 10:11).

Finally I shared that Jesus is an irresistibly worthy king- pagan Magi travelled across the world to lay costly treasure at the feet of a toddler Jewish King and prostrate themselves before Him in worship. Only the Messiah Jesus could cause “every knee to bow” (Philippians 2:10).

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Planning to Worship our King

Yesterday I met with my music team to evaluate our previous Sunday morning service and plan ahead for the coming Sunday. I thought it might be helpful to write here the guidelines we use to carefully plan (under the direction of the Holy Spirit of course) what will be included in the coming worship services. Naturally this is still a work in progress. We are still getting to know one another and learning how to work together, plan ahead, and evaluate.

In choosing the sermon text I am first greeted with the warm reminder that “all Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16). So I cannot go wrong when preaching from any text- God will do His work through it (Isaiah 55:11; Hebrews 4:12)! Practically I try to plan in advance the direction we as a congregation need to go and preferably I preach through books of the Bible systematically and expositionally. Currently I am preaching through Matthew on Sunday mornings. I have tried to plot out which texts I will cover over the course of the next six months. The Lord may throw me a curveball in my study time and change the direction one week, but at least it gives me a plan. My music team knows in advance the texts I will cover and when I will preach them (they are provided along with the whole congregation a “worship card” which provides the date, sermon title, main text, opposite Testament text for devotional reading, and memory verse). While I do not write the sermon until the week of, this gives us a guide to plan the music and other worship elements.

In choosing the songs my music team is first to think through each song from a theological perspective. They must ask the question, what do these songs teach us about God? Second, they are to think through each song from the perspective that Sunday is a corporate gathering. In other words, they must ask the question, is everyone included in this praise offering? Third, they must think about how the musical praise offering portion of the worship service flows in (or from) the preaching portion of the worship service. So they must ask the question, how do these songs prepare ears for the Word of God to be preached? Finally, they are to think through each song from a practical perspective. The question has to be asked- is the song sing-able? Is it a good fit for our instrumentalists, lead singers, and congregational singers?

In arranging the order of worship I primarily trust our worship leader and music team to arrange the order of service but typically includes (besides the sermon of course) songs of praise, meditation, Scripture readings, and focused times of prayer. Does order stifle the Holy Spirit? I believe 1 Corinthians 11-14 command and encourage that we have order in our weekly gatherings. It isn’t about being rigid or rehearse but about being intentional and instructional in our privilege to worship our King. In should also be noted that preparation is not an alternative to being Spirit-led. In fact we believe that the Spirit leads in the preparation meetings, in the choir rehearsals, in my study, and during personal devotions throughout the week. Preparation is the practice of submitting to the Holy Spirit and discerning His leadership more thoroughly.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Great Resource!

I just wanted to plug a website I came across called Faith by Hearing. It is loaded with mp3 files for free download and links to where you can read or listen to some great stuff from some great pastors, preachers, theologians, etc. With the rising cost of gasoline conferences and seminars that would interest me are not optional right now but this website delivers those otherwise unattainable resources to ready ears.By the way... how many of those dead theologians in the picture (the website's title banner) can you identify??

Have a safe and happy 4th! Praise God thru Whom all blessings flow!!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Raising the standards for Church Membership

Here at Memorial we are aiming to raise the standards for what it means to be a church member. The motivation for this is not an attempt to be elitist in a self-righteous sense (that would be in contradiction to Romans 12:3). Our motivation is to more clearly display Christ as individuals and as a spiritual community (this is in obedience to Romans 12:1-2). We are taking a number of steps right now to raise the standard and increase accountability. One of those steps is by having prospective member interviews. As the pastor, I or another whom I designate will meet with any prospective member for an interview before recommending them to be voted in as a member (by the congregation at our monthly business meeting). So far I have had the privilege of conducting two of these interviews in the last couple months. Here is the basic format of the interview (varying, depending on the member candidate and circumstances):

1. I ask them to share with me their story (family history, marriage history, religious history, etc) so I can get to know them better.
2. I ask them to share with me how they became a Christian (this is when I explain baptism if necessary).
3. I ask them to share what has led them to Memorial Baptist Church and why they feel called by God to join the covenant membership.
4. I ask them to share with me their understanding of church membership (then I will go over the Church Covenant, doctrinal beliefs, and some general responsibilities).
5. I ask them to share with me their understanding of the gospel.

Our aim as a church is to be more clear about what it means to be a member of our church. Many times church members do not know what membership is about and sadly some do not even know what the gospel is about. Here is how I explain (from Scripture- particularly from Hebrews) the general responsibilities of church membership:

1. Publicly profess your relationship with Jesus Christ (Heb 10:22).
2. Read through and agree with the Church Covenant (Heb 10:23).
3. Participate in formative church disciplines- prayer, Bible study, etc (Heb 10:24).
4. Gather weekly with the church body for corporate worship (Heb 10:25).
5. Contribute to a culture of sacrifice- through hospitality, service, and giving (Heb 13:16).
6. Submit to church leadership (Heb 13:17).
7. Live with integrity (Heb 13:18).

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Do you believe there is only One Way?

In John 14:6 Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me." Yet according to the latest study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life 57% of evangelical church-goers say that there is not just one way to Heaven. This is tragic and reflects the growing pluralistic climate in our society and it reflects a lack of sound and consistent Biblical teaching in churches. Go here for the article in Fox News.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Avoiding Labels

This article is a follow-up from the last two on "Savoring the Doctrines of Grace".

Calvinism is not a dirty word. It is however a misunderstood and sometimes abused label. I do not want a label to speak for me and I do not want a label to do the theological work for me. It is easy to throw yourself in a theological camp. The responsible thing though is to throw yourself at the mercy of God’s Word and dig until your convictions are shaped by Its words. These Biblical convictions may sound Calvinistic at times when you are talking about salvation and the sovereignty of God. They may also sound Arminian at times when you are affirming the human responsibility and the free will of man. We have to remember that these doctrines are going to become clearer to us as the Holy Spirit shapes our minds through sanctification. Still, like the doctrine of the incarnation or the Trinity we have to be comfortable with mystery when it concerns God’s redemptive work in sinners. It requires faith in a big God. If anything becomes your theological label let it be simply- disciple of Jesus Christ. As you seek to study and know God more intimately, be humble- we are fallen humans who deserve nothing. God in His mercy has granted us ears to hear and eyes to see.

For further study, Dr. Danny Akin (President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) has written an excellent and balanced article on subject. Click HERE.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Savoring the Doctrines of Grace (part two)

It has always concerned me that those who hold to the doctrines of grace or "Calvinism" as it is sometimes nicknamed get labeled as anti-evangelistic, anti-missions, or even anti-church. William Carey, the "father of modern missions" and founder of the 'Baptist Missionary Society' gave his life to proclaiming the gospel in India and spurred on thousands upon thousands to follow God's call to herald the good news to the nations- "Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples" (Psalm 96:3). This same trailblazer was a faithful preacher and teacher of the doctrines of grace because he understood them to be Biblical truths. So to hold to God's sovereignty in all things- particularly in regards to salvation is not un-evangelistic. To be evangelistic is simply to herald the good news... the good news is that God has chosen to show mercy to people incapable of saving themselves and He did so by sending His Son to pay the penalty of sin on our behalf through His death on the cross. It is not a contradiction hold a belief in the sovereignty of God in salvation and a belief in the responsibility of every believer to share the gospel. In fact it is implicit in these five traditional doctrines that the grace which God has poured into His elect must pour from His elect. It pours from the elect so that those still dead in their sins may hear the good news and gloriously respond to God's call. This sixth aspect or doctrine of grace can be coined the Stewardship of the Gospel.

We are responsible for the gospel of God's grace (Ephesians 3:1-3, 8-10; 1 Thessalonians 2:4; 2 Timothy 1:14). To put it another way, if grace is present within us, it will overflow from us (John 13:35; 1 John 3:14). Of course evangelism shouldn't be like door-to-door sales (2 Corinthians 2:17), invitational response times after sermons should not be for manipulating false decisions or to produce numbers for bragging, and church growth should not be about getting a big crowd for pride's sake. We are commanded to share our faith however- invitations (when done properly) encourage a public response to the inner-working of the Holy Spirit in a person's life and churches can get big if it is healthy growth. These are the outpourings of God's grace in your life and in the lives of the community of faith. Recipients of God's grace are explicitly commanded to herald the gospel (Matthew 28:19-20; Psalm 67:3-4; Psalm 68:3; 1 Corinthians 1:17-18).

A rebuttal to this may be (from a hyper-Calvinist), "Yeah but if God has elected some to salvation they will get saved whether we share or not so why share?"

Why? Because this is how God's salvation plan works- He uses those who were once His enemies to be His heralds to those who are presently His enemies that they too may share in His goodness. This is especially glorifying! We don't know who the elect are- only God knows- so we must proclaim the truth and allow the Holy Spirit to call them unto salvation (1 Corinthians 1:23-24; Romans 10:14-15). If I didn't believe this- if I were instead an Armenian I could never pray for the lost, because how could I pray for God to save the lost if I held that God's will doesn't presume upon men's free will? Thankfully my salvation is anchored in God's will and I recognize that I am now a steward of the grace He has given me to pray for the lost world and proclaim it in every way, to everyone, everywhere God calls.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Savoring the Doctrines of Grace (part one)

On Wednesday evenings our church meets for Bible study and prayer meeting. The Bible study has recently centered on the church doctrinal statement from our constitution. We are covering these important doctrines one at a time and searching through many Biblical texts to understand why we believe what we claim to believe. One of those doctrines being covered is the doctrine of election. This is a tough doctrine for many people for several reasons:

1. It destroys human pride.
2. It is often ignored (which then breeds misinformation).
3. It requires faith.

I thought it would be helpful here to explain this doctrine in its larger context of God’s redemptive work. It is essential that we understand the practical application of this doctrine as it concerns our Christian mission. The Bible teaches us about the many different aspects of God’s redemptive work. These are often referred to as the “doctrines of grace”. The traditionally held Biblical doctrines are often misunderstood or mislabeled but I would coin them (and understand them) as such:

1. Total Inability… Sin completely corrupts and so man cannot save himself (Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 3:10-11).
2. Gracious Election… God saves people according to His sovereign grace and not on the basis of any work of man (Ephesians 1:4-5; Romans 9:16).
3. Definite Atonement… Christ’s death actually accomplished what God intended to do- provide penal substitutionary atonement for sinners (Revelation 5:9; John 10:14-15).
4. Effectual Grace… The grace of God is effectual at drawing people and saving people- God’s grace never fails (John 6:44; Eph 2:4-5).
5. Preservation of the Saints… By His grace God keeps people saved and their perseverance by faith is testimony to God’s saving grace present in them (John 10:28; Hebrews 6:19-20).

Tomorrow I'll blog on the practical outworking of these doctrines. These Biblical truths might at first be mind-blowing (even frustrating) but I pray as we meditate on these things we will conclude that we are under the sovereign hand of an awesome and gracious God. These doctrines are meant to drive us to a deeper faith and worship.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

This book ("The Shack") probably has some inspirational content which some of you may have already enjoyed but it also carries some heretical content which to me puts the whole book on the "protect your people from it" category. The core problem with the book is its false teaching about the Trinity (yes Mr. Bell, this is a crucial doctrine). Don't buy it (be a good steward of God's money) but do read up on it so you're prepared to respond if someone recommends it to you. However, remember to combine your conviction with kindness when responding. It currently sits at #9 on Amazon's sales rank. In other words, a lot of people are drinking this junk in. It may have been written with good intentions to encourage people but good intentions do not make false teaching okay. Here is an interview with the author with some troubling ideas suggested. Here is a good summary and review of "The Shack". Below is one pastor's response...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Dusting off the Church Covenant

Our church held a work day last Saturday. It was more of a purging than anything else. I am always amazed at how much stuff we amass and stow away in church. Of course we do the same at home too- just look in my attic. Cleaning out the storage rooms of a church often draws much debate on disagreement on the value of hanging onto certain things. Sometimes I wonder if we become more passionate about keeping our old chalk boards and Sunday School quarterlies than we are about keeping people connected and growing in the Lord. People come and go but don’t throw away that coffee can full of bottle-caps… after all we might need those for a VBS craft someday.

The most discouraging thing I found during this clean out process was the large framed copy of our church covenant. It was covered with a layer of dust buried behind an old out of tune piano which was itself buried behind a bunch of old junk no one wanted to claim. This is the statement of our church’s beliefs and our summarized commitment to God and one another as members of a local body of believers. There it was… buried under junk.

So we pulled it out, dusted it off, and are now trying to find the best place to hang it again. This particular copy is not sacred, but it does represent the lack of value that we may have grown to place on the church covenant in general. Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC says about church covenants in his book The Deliberate Church-

“The church covenant is equal parts promise, summary of expectations, ethical statement, and biblical standard. We summarize how we promise to live together in the covenant. It forms the ethics, or the moral principles, of our worldview and holds out a biblical standard by which we live. Our acceptance of this multi-faceted document follows the practice of believers throughout the centuries who have pledged to God and one another to live out the gospel in community.”

Biblically a covenant was a binding agreement. Our church covenant is not the infallible Word of God. It is not the rule of faith, but it is a guiding statement which summarizes what we as a church believe and describes the kind of people we commit to be. I believe it is good to state what you believe to ensure unity and solidarity and to protect the flock from false doctrine or immorality. It is also good for prospective members to know what the church covenant says and be in agreement on it before joining the church. This helps avoid potential dissension and church discipline when you are clear about what it means to be a member up front. As I was meditating on the usefulness of our church covenant I came up with five ways the covenantal statement serves a sanctifying purpose:

1. It helps to raise the standard for church membership.
2. It serves as a measuring tool when church discipline may be needed.
3. It provides common ground- if we are clear and in agreement on the essentials we can disagree with charity on the non-essentials.
4. It is a tool for teaching children Biblical truth (Deuteronomy 6:4-8).
5. It is a summarized standard for holding each other accountable (Galatians 6:1-2) and examining our own salvation as authentic (2 Corinthians 13:5).

Here is a copy of our church covenant.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Myths about Teaching the Bible

I’m thankful for the men and women committed to teaching God’s Word in my church. They are fellow soldiers who proclaim the truth to equip people to do ministry and to battle false doctrines in the world. However, there are some myths about teaching that need to be debunked and removed from our thinking for a healthy Bible teaching ministry to thrive.

1. All it requires to be a teacher in the church is willingness and/or passion. NO! Yes those things are important and essential but there must be a knowledge of the Word produced by diligent study on the teacher's part (2 Timothy 2:15) and a giftedness from the Holy Spirit.

2. Teaching positions in the church look like a corporate ladder (Ex. start out with a children's class and over time work your way up to teaching adults). NO! Really the best teachers should be teaching the children and youth. Why? For one thing, they are still in very impressionable learning stages- bad teaching or weak teaching could be crippling. For another thing, statistically, most of the children in an average Sunday School class are going to be pre-conversion (i.e. they aren’t saved yet)... doesn't it make sense that the best teaching is for those who need it the most? If you are currently serving in those areas- do it with all your heart. Don't look for a "promotion" and if you are looking to exercise your spiritual gift of teaching consider an area that always needs reinforcements... children and youth.

3. Older people can't teach younger people because they can't relate. NO!
Bobby Bowden (Florida State) and Joe Paterno (Penn State) are senior citizens yet still lead college young men and boys to be successful football players year in and year out. Don't waste your wisdom. You don't need to know MTV or read Teen People to relate to kids. Just study God's Word and be genuine. After all we don’t want the kids following a “cool teacher”, we want them following Christ.

4. Called Bible teachers retire. NO! There is nothing in the Bible that says after you help out in the youth department of your church for the six years your kid is there you can spend your Sundays at the lake or in the bed after they graduate! Paul tells Timothy (2 Tim 4:2) to, "be ready in season and out of season." I can honestly say that teaching and preaching is not a labor but a joy because I get to spend hours in the richness of God's Word and share that with people... Wow! Why would I want to retire from that? Remember, if you didn't call yourself into this ministry, you can't call yourself out of it.

5. It is more important in teaching to appeal to felt-needs than imparting doctrine (doctrine is boring). NO! Staring deeply at an awesome God should be exciting, not boring… especially if we say we love God. If studying the attributes and aspects of God and His sovereign will come across boring then the teacher is boring not the material.

6. Teaching begins when the class starts and ends when the class dismisses. NO! Teachers are not more privileged than any other Christians but they are more accountable. James (3:1) says, "Let not many of you become teachers, my brethern, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment." Teaching is a calling, it is a discipline, it is a ministry (you are investing time and relationship in people), and it is a commitment to a lifestyle of integrity.

Let us have integrity in life and in teaching. If the Word is not at the center of our teaching then what lasting effect can we hope to have? In John 17:17 Jesus prays to the Father, "Sanctify them in the truth; Your Word is truth." It is the Word that transforms and not for a better self but for the glory of God. I hope you will join me in commitment to sound teaching and sound living, and also praying for God to raise up more men and women in our church to follow the call to teach His Word.