Sunday, February 28, 2010

Invitation to What?

Recently I've had discussions with folks on both ends of the spectrum as it concerns the "altar call". Some would argue that there is no place for it in the church worship service and others would argue there is value in offering a time of response. Some still would say it is necessary for the work of salvation to occur in a person's life. To that last assertion I would vigorously rebuke that thinking as salvation is wholly to the glory of God and wholly the gracious work of God. "Walking an aisle" or responding publicly to God's call to faith does not complete the work otherwise salvation would be as a result at least in part by a human work. Furthermore there is no argument for this or example of this in Scripture! Now what is the case against an altar call? First of all, it is not Biblical. There are no examples of this in the gathered worship of the church. If we believe in the sufficiency of Scripture and that it should regulate our what we do in worship then we need to seriously question the place of the "come forward invitation" in our worship services. I've got some of you nervous right now but hang with me. The second issue with the altar call is a point the great Martyn Lloyd-Jones brings up in THIS ARTICLE (which I encourage you to read) concerning one with "false faith". We never want someone to think responding to an altar call is the same thing as Spirit-regenerated repentance and faith. This misunderstanding has led to hosts of "false conversions" where true spiritual conversion never really occurred.

Is there a place for the "altar call". Firstly, I've never been fond of that term. The "altar call" originated in the 1820's under the ministry of Charles Finney (as did the "sinner's prayer"). In the scope of Christian history that is pretty recent to become a bedrock of church life and doctrine. However, I think it is appropriate to have a period of reflection after the sermon and at the conclusion of the service especially for Christians. As a culture we are always busy and always on the move. It is important to slow down and meditate on the Word that has been presented and how God intends for each to apply it. Also as I say at times if true conversion has occurred in a person's life I want to provide a moment for those to come meet with me briefly for prayer and encouragement. This always leads to an appointment for further discussion and testing of the faith. People don't join the church in that moment and we must wait to see fruit before confidently affirming salvation but I am not entirely oppossed to a public profession of faith if we are clear that genuine faith has already been produced by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. I've been challenged to be more clear by my words that the invitation is not to 'walk the aisle and be saved'. God's work of salvation doesn't need a 20 foot walk to be completed. I do want to invite people to "let their light shine before men" and not be ashamed to declare to others Christ is Lord. I want to also invite people to covenant with our congregation in membership so that we can watch each others' walks. Finally I want to invite people to stop moving so fast through the day and reflect on the weight of God's holy Word. That is an invitation we should all respond to.

Friday, February 26, 2010

How should you listen to a sermon? (part two)

To follow up on yesterday's post I am going to lay out some wise counsel that Thabiti Anyabwile offers in his little book What is a Healthy Church Member? regarding "expositional listening". Then I'll offer my own tips on how to listen to a sermon. Anyabwile presents five benefits to expositional listening (pgs. 20-22). I won't go into detail to explain them so you will have to get his book but here are those benefits: 1) Listening in this way benefits us by cultivating a hunger for God's Word; 2) It helps us to focus on God's will and to follow Him; 3) It protects the gospel and our lives from corruption; 4) It encourages faithful pastors (amen!); and 5) It benefits the gathered congregation. Anyabwile then provides six ways to "cultivate the habit of expositional listening" (pgs. 22-25):
  1. Meditate on the sermon passage during your quiet time.
  2. Invest in a good set of commentaries (my words- for follow-up study).
  3. Talk and pray with friends about the sermon after church.
  4. Listen to and act on the sermon throughout the week.
  5. Develop the habit of addressing any questions about the text itself.
  6. Cultivate humility.

I "amen" what Thabiti has shared in his book, but let me add to or put into my own words some tips to more efficiently and effectively listen and process what you hear on Sunday mornings.

  1. Get the sermon text ahead of time and read through it during the week. I provide a "worship card" which includes the sermon text, title, and a related Old Testament reading, but you could probably call or email your pastor and get that info (at least by Friday). He'd probably be delighted you showed interest which would be an encouragement as he goes into the pulpit.
  2. Bring your Bible and follow along... highlight, underline, and TAKE NOTES.
  3. In your notes try to write down the main idea or main point of the passage/ sermon. If the pastor doesn't clearly state it or you miss it, write down what you deduce it is and check with him to make sure you got it right. Also note sub-points that build off or support the main point... these will help with future study and with application.
  4. Write out questions. In the bulletin I supply "table talk questions" which are simple questions that will help review the message and the passage. My hope is that families or friends will discuss them around the lunch table or in the car on the way home. Try writing out your own questions as the sermon unfolds. Perhaps they will be answered in the sermon or they will be good discussion points later or you can quiz your pastor (I'd be delighted to field questions... just give me some time to breathe after the sermon).
  5. Go back through the passage of Scripture on your own no later than Monday to make sure it sinks in. Make some bullet points in your mind (helps to write them out) of ways you can apply the Scripture that week.

Rarely in school did I ever master content without listening, taking notes, studying, and being tested. So why do we think we can check our brains at the door, put forth little mental effort, and never revist the content and still be equipped? Thankfully the Holy Spirit has been given to "guide you into all truth" (John 16:13), but let's make every effort to "present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15).

Thursday, February 25, 2010

How should you listen to a sermon? (part one)

Okay the smart guy in the room immediately responds to the above question, "With your ears!" Funny. The problem is not everything that our ears technically hear is spiritually processed in our minds and through our actions. Quick quiz... whatever church you who are reading this attend, what did your pastor preach on last Sunday? Two Sundays ago? You may remember the title- especially if your pastor is one of those hip creative types with jazzy titles (not me), but can you cite the central text of Scripture the sermon was built around (assuming it was built around Scripture and didn't just sprinkle Scripture in)? Can you recall the main point of that Biblical text and thus the main point of the sermon? Have you meditated on the appropriate and critical application for your life that the particular Biblical text pushes you to?

If you are having trouble answering any or all of those questions you are probably not alone. Sadly though, the same people who by Monday morning cannot remember the substance of the sermon they just heard can give you a play by play of the football game they watched on Sunday afternoon or describe in detail a phone conversation that was shared with a friend on Saturday night. We process what is important to us therefore we need to make an added effort to listen to preaching or teaching with a sense of importance. Now I'm not going to address bad preaching or poor exposition. That's another post for another time (I've actually covered that one a few times already). I do want to address the issue of bad listening. In Thabiti Anyabwile's helpful little book, What is a Healthy Church Member? he defines the way we should listen to sound expositional preaching as "expositional listening". Expositional preaching is preaching that takes the main point of the text as the main point of the sermon- supports it, explains it, and applies it (the preacher "exposes" the meaning and implications of Scripture). Anyabwile says, "Expositional listening is listening for the meaning of a passage of Scripture and accepting that meaning as the main idea to be grasped for our personal and corporate [i.e. your whole church] lives as Christians." So what can you do to be better "expositional listeners" and what is the pay off? Check back with me tomorrow for part two but until then watch a classic Mr. Bean clip below about how not to listen to preaching!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

How to treat your Pastor

One of my teachers and mentors, Jim Hamilton charged a room of young preachers in Greek class with this old and anonymously written message for churches and pastors. As I was going through some old files I came across it and it is as potent to my heart today as it was seven years ago when I first heard it.

How to treat your pastor? Fling him into his office, then tear the "Office" sign from the door, and replace it with a sign that says, "Study." Take him off the mailing list. Lock him up with his books—get him all kinds of books—and his typewriter and his Bible. Slam him down on his knees before texts and broken hearts and the flippant lives of a superficial flock and a holy God. Force him to be the one man in the community who knows about God. Throw him into the ring to box with God until he learns how short his arms are. Engage him to wrestle with God all the night through, and let him come out only when he's bruised and beaten into being a blessing.

Shut his mouth from forever spouting remarks and stop his tongue from forever tripping lightly over every non-essential. Require him to have something to say before he breaks the silence. Burn his eyes with weary study. Wreck his emotional poise with worry for the things of God. Make him exchange his pious stance for a humble walk with God and man. Make him spend and be spent for the glory of God. Rip out his telephone. Burn up his success sheets. Put water in his gas tank. Give him a Bible and tie him to the pulpit. Test him, quiz him, examine him. Humiliate him for his ignorance of things divine. Shame him for his good comprehension of finance, batting averages and political party issues. Laugh at his frustrated effort to play psychiatrist. Form a choir, raise a chant and haunt him night and day with, "Sir, we would know God."

When at long last he does assay the pulpit, ask him if he has a word from God. If he doesn't, then dismiss him. Tell him you can read the paper. You can digest the television commentary. You can think through the day's superficial problems and manage the weary drives of the community and bless the assorted baked potatoes and green beans better than he can. And when he does speak God's Word, listen. And when he's burned out finally by the flaming Word that coursed through him, consumed at last by the fiery grace blazing through him, and when he who was privileged to translate the truth of God to man and is finally himself translated from earth to heaven, bear him away gently. Blow a muted trumpet and lay him down softly. Place a two-edged sword on his coffin and raise a tune triumphant, for he was a brave soldier of the Word and ere he died he had become a spokesman for his God.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Laziness will find you out!

Is the week getting long and you need some levity? As I'm reading John Stott's Between Two Worlds he has a funny story related to sermon preparation (pg. 211). Now as I'm often a critic of the contemporary state of the Church this story is also quite sad considering how realistic it probably reflects so many preachers and pulpits today. So it challenges me but it also makes me laugh... good combo.

Once upon a time there was an Anglican clergyman who was lazy. He had long ago given up the bother of preparing his sermons. He had considerable native intelligence and fluency of speech, and his congregation were simple people. So he got by pretty well with his unprepared sermons. Yet in order to live with his conscience, he took a vow that he would always preach extempore and put his trust in the Holy Spirit. Everything was fine until one day, a few minutes before the morning service began, who should walk into the church and find a place in one of the pews but the bishop, enjoying a Sunday off. The parson was embarrassed. He had managed for years to bluff his un-educated congregation, but he much less sure of his ability to hoodwink the bishop. So he went went over to welcome his unexpected visitor and, in an endeavor to forestall his criticism, told him of the solemn vow he had taken always to preach extemporaneous sermons. The bishop seemed to understand, and the service began. Halfway through the sermon, however, to the preacher's great consternation, the bishop got up and walked out. And after the service a scribbled note from the bishop lay on the vestry table: 'I absolve you from your vow!'

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Theology Breakfast

This post is especially for male members of Memorial Baptist Church but extends to any guys who are interested. We have begun a "Theology Breakfast" on Tuesdays at 7:30AM every week. For about 30-45 minutes (leave when you have to) we'll be gathering to discuss a theology-centered book, share prayer requests, and have fellowship. It is dutch-treat so no "church budget" is covering anyone's biscuit and coffee, though some generous soul may spot you if you offer to let them carpool with you! Currently we are beginning Wayne Grudem's Christian Beliefs (this is a condensed version of his Systematic Theology book). We meet at Chick-Fil-A on FM 365 and Hwy 69. Hope to see you there!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Luther on Preachers

I'm reading through John Stott's Between Two Worlds and he recounts (p. 24) Martin Luther's "nine 'properties and virtues' of a good preacher" from Luther's Table-Talk, Of Preachers and Preaching...

  1. He should 'teach systematically' (through Scripture)
  2. He should 'have a ready wit'
  3. He should 'be eloquent'
  4. He should 'have a good voice'
  5. He should 'have a good memory'
  6. He should 'know when to make an end'
  7. He should 'be sure of his doctrine'
  8. He should 'venture and engage body, blood, wealth, and honour, in the Word'
  9. He should 'suffer himself to be mocked and jeered of every one'
Obviously Scripture is sufficient in supplying characteristics of the office of pastor-teacher (see 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Peter 5:1-3) but this is wise and practical counsel from a faithful torch-bearer of God's Word. Thoughts?

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Jewel of a Christian

There are few joys in ministry greater than sitting at the bedside of a faithful saint who is very near to entering Heaven. Yesterday I had the blessing of visiting Mrs. Jewel Scoggins in her nursing home room. As her pastor I arrived to be a ministry and blessing to her and while I hope the Lord used me in such a way, she was in fact the one who imparted the greatest blessing. At 95 years old she is confident her heavenly reward is near. She is ready. I asked her what Scripture the Lord was bringing to her mind in these final days and she (mind still sharp as a tack) quoted Psalm 100 word for word. The fourth verse of this Psalm says, "Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise." Mrs. Jewel is eager to do just that. She told me that she lies there in her bed imagining the beauty and majesty of Jesus in Heaven. Her faith is firmly anchored in our Lord's promise of eternal life.

She is not wasting the time she has left though. Even in her most recent hospital visit days ago she was sharing the gospel with nurses and hospital employees. What an amazing testimony she is of the grace and power of God! I'm so thankful to be her pastor and the pastor of many other wonderful Christians at Memorial Baptist Church, young and old. We have much need for sanctification but are growing in Christ together. Mrs. Jewel is a wonderful reminder of the blessings that come from being in covenant with other Christian brothers and sisters as a local church. She is also a wonderful reminder of the eternal joy that awaits those who are alive in Christ and persevere until the end.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Voddie Baucham's helpful response to Calvinism question

There are a lot of misunderstanding and misrepresentations of the doctrines of grace also nicknamed "the five points of Calvinism". It is much easier to build a straw man (i.e. hyper-Calvinism) and knock it down than to study the history and exegetical work behind these doctrinal statements. As you know I hold firmly to the "five solas of the Reformation" and understand the "doctrines of grace" to represent a right interpretation of Scripture. It is a systematic presentation of Biblical theology. Questions are often posed to me about these doctrines concerning prayer and evangelism from people who are trying to reconcile what they are learning from Scripture with what they have (usually erroneously) learned from their religious tradition. Recently Voddie Baucham responded to such a question and his response was, while not exhaustive, clear and concise. Follow the link below and hopefully you will find this helpful.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Thinking Retirement?

Desiring God Ministries has produced another short yet compelling video that has immense application for every generation in our church. The challenge of course is, "Don't Waste Your Life". Check out the video (featuring John Piper) below.

Preaching through Matthew's Gospel and Beyond

As we are well into the New Year I thought it would be good to lay out where my preaching ministry will be heading in 2010. This post is especially for my church but I hope those friends who peek into this blog from time to time find this helpful as well. Since July '08 I've been preaching through the Gospel of Matthew with minimal excursions. Lord willing I will complete this series in August of this year. I'm very excited about the texts that are before us. Very shortly we will come to the turning point in the Gospel where Jesus and His disciples enter Jerusalem for the finals days of His earthly ministry. Preaching over the cross, the resurrection, and the Great Commission will provide for some thrilling times in my study and I pray in the pulpit as well. I chose to preach through Matthew for three reasons. One, I believe in the expositional preaching of whole books of the Bible as the most healthy main diet for the church. Two, I wanted to dive right into the life of Jesus. Is there a more compelling, more life-altering story than the real events of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection?? Not in a million years! Three, it covers a gamut of real life issues of today and I wanted my flock to see how pertinent the Bible is (though what book of the Bible is not pertinent??).

I actually began the year with a five-week series on our church's mission and values (mostly from the Book of Acts) but I'm thankful to be back in Matthew. Once we've concluded Matthew I hope to preach about six or seven sermons from the Old Testament book of Jonah and then conclude the year in a doctrinal study about Jesus Christ. Of course there will be a couple of biography sermons thrown in again-- I'm strongly considering one on John Wesley after reading Iain Murray's book from a reformed perspective on Wesley. The other is likely to be over Martin Luther for Reformation Sunday. As we near November, Lord willing I will lead you in some reading plans (3-4) through Paul's Letter to the Galatians as preparation for what I hope to preach through in 2011. So there you go, that's the plan as I sense the Spirit leading now. Hopefully that will help in your personal devotions as well.