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