Friday, February 27, 2009

A Hill to Die On

Since President Obama was elected I have urged my congregation to pray for him regardless of political party affiliation. I still believe the is our Christian duty but it does not mean we stand idly by when the administration takes actions which betray the Word of God (our higher authority). Today I read with sadness and anger that President Obama intends to reverse a policy President Bush enacted that protects doctors and nurses who refuse to perform abortions based on moral convictions. Here is the link to an article explaining further.

Our prayers need to be for the President to be brought to conviction and repentance. Does he not claim to be a believer in Christ and the Bible? A man of integrity would not be so double-tongued and compromise conviction to placate a party line. In addition we need to pray for our congressmen and senators to have Wilburforce-like courage and take the rights of the unborn as a "hill to die on". Let me encourage you to contact your representatives as well to make them aware of our moral protest.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Does our Church Membership mean anything?

What is the purpose of church membership? Our unity and our covenant together before God to live distinct in the world should serve as a witness to the world. If the church membership lives no differently and the church program is all about worldly relevance then why would anyone desire to unite with the family of God except to be comfortable in their sin? How would this confusion exalt the person of Christ and His gospel? The answer is that it would not. You might build a following but they wouldn’t be following Christ. With that in mind our church has examined our membership and taken some initial action. By congregational vote we removed from membership those who we discovered to be deceased and those who we absolutely could not find. That’s step one.

We need to continue to work on ensuring integrity in membership through the following ways: 1) Being clear about what it means to be a member of this local church (the Church Covenant is a good tool for this); 2) Contacting individually every inactive member about affirming the Church Covenant; and finally 3) Releasing from membership those who do not wish to walk with us in covenant. Ideally number three would read- “Rejoicing with those who renew their covenant of membership and commit to faithfully walk with the Lord.” Let’s pray.

Here are two helpful articles from Matt Schmucker of Nine Marks Ministries and Capitol Hill Baptist Church in D.C. Check them out for added insight.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Jesus and Loneliness

Over on the Desiring God blog there is a great little piece by Jon Bloom asking the question, "Was Jesus a lonely child?" Isaiah 53:3 says of our Messiah, "He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief." If you have ever struggled with loneliness then this should be an encouragement to you. Loneliness does not necessarily mean you have no friends, family, or are literally alone. In ministry loneliness is quite common. If you take unpopular stands on the Word of God for example you are going to feel way out there on your own. Your spouse is going to be acquainted with the feeling of loneliness on a whole other level. So consider the example of Christ and take encouragement in His sustaining arms.

Check out the article HERE.

Why "Christians" don't like God?

Hopefully you will recognize the tongue-in-cheek of the title. Of course I believe genuine Christians love God, but many church-goers bristle at the truth of God and what He demands when it is preached or discussed. Our understanding of who God is must come from the Bible, but there are a growing number of people on church rolls who don't know what the Bible says about God or what it means to follow Christ. Rather than taking the Bible seriously they mold an image of a more comfortable, containable, user-friendly god... one that fits their personal worldview. This is a haunting trend even among Christian pastors. Let me suggest some reasons why these "Christians" don't like God (sprinkle with a bit of sarcasm).

1. "Christians" don't like God because He judges sin (Psalm 5:5; 11:5; Romans 2:4-9; Hebrews 10:26-31). It feels better to believe in a 'buddy-god' that bandages our bo-bo's and says "No big deal." Does God love us “while we were yet sinners”? YES! Does that mean God ignores our disobedience? NO.

2. "Christians" don't like God because He demands worship to be directed to Him alone (Deuteronomy 6:13; Psalm 86:10; Colossians 3:17). Wait a sec... worship isn't the time in the service that is there to make me feel all tingly. Worship is not 'Christian karaoke' but obedient surrender through adoration in song, thought, and deed.

3. "Christians" don't like God because He calls for us to endure suffering (Matthew 5:10-12; Acts 14:22; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; 2 Thessalonians 1:4-5). I always heard if Christians suffer it's Satan's fault and God only wants to make our life better (translation- richer, easier, more liked)... could my Sunday School teachers have been wrong?

4. "Christians" don't like God because He calls for us to live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4; Luke 8:43-43-48; Hebrews 11). I hear people say they have faith, but then their lives are dependent on $$, prescription drugs, peer groups, affection and accolades of others, etc. Do we even position our lives (lifestyles) so that we need faith?

5. "Christians" don't like God because He is not a post-modern (Matthew 7:14; John 14:6; Hebrews 13:8; Revelation 22:18-19). Absolute truth? Church discipline? Narrow is the way that leads to life? Yikes... sounds so dogmatic, so intolerant, so unattractive, so... well okay you get the idea.

6. "Christians" don't like God because He is sovereign over human salvation (Deuteronomy 4:32-39; Isaiah 6; Romans 9; Ephesians 1; 2 Timothy 1:8-11). Look, I didn't say God was easy. He can't be boxed in our finite minds and limited understanding. He alone knows what will most magnify His love and glory.

7. "Christians" don't like God because He calls for us to deny vanity and to be evangelistic (Matthew 10:25; 16:24-26; 28:18-20; Acts 1:6-8; Romans 10:14; 2 Timothy 1:8; 4:2). Many people are so concerned with their own vanity- a fear of offending people or people rejecting them that they sugar-coat, water-down, or re-dress the truth to pedal a spiritual life insurance policy. Let us be evangelists who are more concerned with God's glory than our own vanity.

Let us be obedient to the truth that God calls us to this purpose (Ephesians 2:8-10). Let us be a people that sets aside our doctored views of who God is and uncompromisingly discover who God reveals Himself to be in the Word He has given us. I’m reminded of what Susan asks the Beaver regarding the lion Aslan in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, “Is he safe?” Beaver responds, “Of course he’s not safe... but he’s good.”

Friday, February 13, 2009

Don't Waste Your Church

It is entirely possible to waste your church. Being part of a local church is a gift but but you waste your church if...

1. You don't see the people in your church as the family of God.

2. You think you are watching a performance rather than sharing in an offering of worship.

3. You don't value the spoken Word of God and mistake preaching for a motivational monologue.

4. You don't see the corporate gathering as preparing for lifestyle evangelism.

5. You stay up late Saturday night and are groggy before the Lord on Sunday morning.

6. You are tangled in sinful attitudes and habits.

7. You don't talk about what you learned and experienced in the Word with your spouse, children, and friends.

8. You don't make efforts to invest yourself and minister in the lives of the other church members.

9. You aren't a member and therefore aren't accountable.

10. You think church is the gospel itself.

If you haven't experienced the New Birth through faith in Jesus Christ and repentance from sin then you are not part of God's church and not a citizen of Heaven.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Summary of 1 Timothy 6

Paul closed his first letter to Timothy with some words of summary and some final charges. He is one marathon runner nearing the end of his grueling race writing to another marathon runner in the first few miles. The thesis statement to Paul’s charge is found in verse twenty, “Guard what has been entrusted to you.” This statement could easily summarize the whole letter! What is Timothy to guard? We, like Timothy, are to guard the gospel. Why does the gospel need guarding? Our lives- the way we speak, the way we live, the way we run the race- attest to the credibility of the gospel. How do we guard the gospel?

1. We guard the gospel by making a strong case for godliness (v. 3-6). Godliness means living with reverence toward God. It motivates righteousness (living rightly). The false teachers are evident for three reasons: 1) they contradict God’s Word; 2) they reject the correct teaching of Scripture; and 3) they lead unholy lives under the surface. Right teaching can be distinguished from false teaching by the presence of right living. Right living attests to and flows out of right teaching. Likewise, right teaching is discredited when there is not right living (v. 3).

2. We guard the gospel by making a strong case for contentment (v. 7-11). The credibility of the gospel is seriously tarnished if we fail to live godly lives but it is also seriously tarnished if we demonstrate that Christ is not all-satisfying! The Greek word for ‘contentment’ was used by the Stoic philosophers of the first century to describe one who was unmoved by external circumstances. Do we demonstrate that even when circumstances get hairy we trust God to always supply all we need in Christ Jesus?

3. We guard the gospel by making a strong case for faith (v. 12-16). Paul admonishes Timothy to flee from sin and pursue virtue by clinging to Christ in faith (v. 12). Faith in Christ is not blind. Timothy is reminded in verse 13 of Jesus’ stand against Pilate (Mat 27:11; John 18:37). Timothy is reminded in verse 14 of Jesus’ promised return (our faith is not in vain and our struggles are not permanent). Timothy is reminded in verses 15-16 of the glory of Christ that his faith might be encouraged as he remembers that Christ’s redemption is sure. Our faith testifies to the truthfulness of the gospel.

4. We guard the gospel by making a strong case for generosity (v. 17-21). When we see heaven as our home we begin to look at our place in this world differently. In verse 17 Paul charges wealthy believers to have a new perspective on their wealth- to remember that it is a grace not a guarantee. Use what God gives you for the work of the gospel. Live generously to uphold the infinitely greater value of Christ.

Summary of 1 Timothy 5

The gospel transforms us from the inside out. If the gospel changes individuals shouldn’t that change society? It should at the very lead to a new community of faith. This community is called the church and Paul teaches Timothy how the gospel changes us and shapes our relationships. He presents four examples of this in 1 Timothy 5.

1. We are to embrace the various generations in the church as family (5:1-2). Paul is not telling Timothy to never rebuke an older man. Sometimes that is necessary, but never with the intensity of disrespect. Even in rebuke Timothy is to treat an older man with respect on appropriate honor (Proverbs 16:31; 20:29) as he would a father. Likewise he is to relate to younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters. We are to reflect this kind of devotion to one another.

2. We are to honor and care for the widows of the church (5:3-16). In the Roman world there was no social security or Medicare. If you were elderly and widowed you were on your own in most cases and seen as worthless to society. The church was to stand out as unique to this. The gospel should change how we “do unto others” especially to those within our spiritual family and here Paul applies that to the care we should give to widows. The kind of care widows needed at that time was much more extreme so you could apply this today by providing care depending on need and qualification. There were qualifications to go on the “widow care list” in the NT for what was essentially financial support. The widows has to have no family providing for them (v. 4-8, 16) and the widows were to exhibit godliness in their lives (v. 5, 9-15). Giving care to widows has OT roots (Deuteronomy 24:20-22) and NT application (James 1:27). God wants us to care for those who cannot care for themselves.

3. We are to support and hold accountable the elders of the church (5:17-25). In the world we revolt against, conflict with, complain about, and generally buck those in authority whether it’s a boss or the President. The gospel should shape us so that we treat our authorities different. Support for elders comes in two forms. There is financial support and there is spiritual support. Elders are responsible for exercising “rule” or authority in the church (Hebrews 13:17). They are to preside over and give guardianship over the church. In response churches are to support their pastor’s physical needs so that he can “work hard at preaching and teaching” without worry of how they will meet their family’s need. Paul references Deuteronomy 25:4 and Luke 10:7 (affirming the inspiration of Luke as a Biblical author) to support this claim. Another kind of support is that of spiritual accountability. Pastors are people too and members of the faith community who need to grow in the Lord as well. Paul admonishes Timothy to be careful when an elder is accused. They were to guard each other spiritually and when necessary church discipline is to be demonstrated with care.

4. We are to work excellently for our authorities in the world as a witness to them (6:1-2). Paul goes on though to explain that our relationships out in the world should reflect this change in us as well. We cannot expect lost people to treat us any differently or with special privilege just because we are Christians, but we must certainly treat them differently. Paul says we are to treat them uniquely even if the circumstance or situation is undesirable like the relationship of a slave to a master. Paul is instructing the slaves to do more than just ‘not run away’. He commands them to show “honor” toward them. They were to work and behave with excellence even in a situation that was unjust. Why would he tell them to do this? The gospel was at stake. The spread of the gospel takes precedence over our rights. The goal is to spread the gospel and even if the slave-master is a believer (who is obviously sinning by keeping slaves) the slave should demonstrate the changing effect of the gospel so to influence and bring to conviction the slave-master.

Our lives are a beacon for the good news of Jesus Christ. How do we demonstrate the effect of Christ on our lives? The gospel transforms us daily and that should be seen in our relationships within the church. Guests and visitors should find a unique kind of culture in the church.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Summary of 1 Timothy 4

Celebrities are no longer just on the movie screens, the concert stage, or the sports field. Through slick communication devices the men and women who call themselves pastors, evangelists, or preachers have transformed themselves into celebrities. Pop-psychology, clever marketing, and a charismatic leader is the sure-fire formula to grow a mega-church or a mega-following. While there are some very godly leaders pastoring large churches, there are also many popular and well-published communicators who sprinkle scriptures around their motivational yet shallow teaching. It poses a grave problem when so-called evangelical pulpits are not proclaiming the uncompromised Word of God and sound doctrine for a listener-friendly message that may be gospel-influenced but not gospel. Even more dangerous is the blatant false teaching that is dressed-up to appeal to felt needs. Of course books like The Shack and Your Best Life Now are flying off the shelves. The enemy is a master of deceit and of mixing a little truth to sound credible.

Paul is concerned with the deadly infiltration of false teaching in his instructions to Timothy. It was a critical issue for the church in Ephesus and it is critical for the church today. What are the effects of false teaching? Paul does not identify who the false teachers are and where they came from (it is assumed Timothy knows this) but he does rebuke the content of their message (v. 3). They were forbidding marriage and certain foods. Clearly they were influenced by Greek asceticism which taught that sex was evil because it concerned the flesh. They were also influenced by the orthodox Jewish kosher laws on food. The Bible does commend singleness (1 Cor 7:25ff) and fasting (Matthew 5:15ff) but these teachers were imposing human works as a requirement for salvation. The false teachers were confusing people and confounding their understanding of God. Notice that this teaching is presented as ‘what is good for you’ and so like false teachings today, you can see the appeal.

The fallout in Ephesus from these liars was awful. Listen to what was at stake for Paul (v. 1-2), “The Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron.” There were people who were participants in the church, though apparently not truly regenerated, that rejected the faith. John MacArthur describes these as “those who come very close to the truth that saves, only to leave.” They have been manipulated by dark spiritual forces that presented themselves as helpful. Now the enemy has branded their minds as one would livestock. Do we see what is at stake? We aren’t the only ones trying to reach lost people. How do we respond to false teaching?

1. Respond to bad teaching with right doctrine (v. 4-5).
2. We must be obedient to equip others in sound doctrine (v. 6).
3. Avoid distractions and stay disciplined (v. 7-9).
4. Remember the goal is godliness (v. 10-11).
5. Do not disqualify yourself (v. 12).
6. Make the Word center in your life, home, and ministry (v. 13-15).
7. Watch your life and your words closely (v. 16).

Submit everything to the Lord in prayer and discernment through His Word. If there are areas in my life that distract from or confuse the message of Jesus then I want to submit them to the Holy Spirit for change. If there are points in my teaching that seem more opinion that Biblical exposition then I want to submit them to the Word for correction. Are you watching your life and words? Is your mind, heart, and mouth ready to do battle against false teaching?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

More to Come

I've fallen way behind on some things I had planned to post about but that is part of being in the ministry. Some weeks allow for more flexibility to read and write and others are more constricting. Lord willing I will etch out some time in the next day or so to write my summaries for 1 Timothy 4, 5 and 6. I'll also be posting a semi-satirical article about why Christians don't like God. In the meantime, for the faithful few readers let me recommend a couple other things to read. For fun, go check out my wife's new blog called Home Sweet Home- gosh she's cute! Also, the 9 Marks crew has posted a new e-journal which has some great stuff in it. The tag line for it (and the link) is, "Seminaries don't make pastors, churches do." Check it out.

Before I post the summaries to my final three messages from 1 Timothy, here are the previous summaries:

1 Timothy 1
1 Timothy 2a and 2b
1 Timothy 3a, 3b, 3c, and 3d