Friday, May 29, 2009

Puritans Exulting Grace

Puritan preaching revolved around 'Christ, and Him crucified'--for this is the hub of the Bible. The preachers' commission is to declare the whole counsel of God; but the cross is the centre of that counsel, and the Puritans knew that the traveller through the Bible landscape misses his way as soon as he loses sight of the hill called Calvary.

Jay Adams Exulting Christ

Preach Christ in all the Scriptures: He is the subject matter of the whole Bible. He is there. Until you have found Him in your preaching portion, you are not ready to preach.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Charles Bridges Exulting Grace

We are not to commence with the outskirts of the gospel, and so reason on step by step till we come to Christ--thus keeping the sinner waiting in the dark. He wants to see the King. There needs no long ceremonial of approach from a distance. Let the great object be placed in immediate view. Every thing short of this is a grand impertinence. The sinner is dying, he is in instant, urgent, need of the physician and the remedy. The brazen serpent must be lifted up before him--not because he believes: be because he needs, and that he may believe.

Bishop Reynolds Exulting Grace

Preach Christ Jesus the Lord. Determine to nothing among your people, but Christ crucified. Let His name and grace, His spirit and love, triumph in the midst of all your sermons. Let your great end be, to glorify Him in the heart, to render Him amiable and precious in the eyes of His people, to lead them to Him, as a sanctuary to protect them, a propitiation to reconcile them, a treasure to enrich them, a physician to heal them, and advocate to present them and their services to God, as wisdom to counsel them, as righteousness to justify, as sanctification to renew, as redemption to save. Let Christ be the diamond to shine in the bosom of all your sermons.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

John Flavel Exulting Grace

The excellency of a sermon lies in the plainest discoveries and liveliest applications of Jesus Christ.

William Still Exulting Grace

It is often lamented that the Holy Spirit is the least understood Person of the Trinity, but surely we why this is so; for the Holy Spirit come not to speak of Himself, but to glorify Christ. Where preachers are intent on glorifying Christ (and only crucified men can do so!), the Spirit is there with all His aid. All true showing forth of Christ is by the Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Charles Spurgeon Exulting Grace [2]

The Holy Ghost never sets HIs signature to a blank check...the Holy Ghost will only bless in conformity with His own set purpose. Our Lord explains what that purpose is: 'He shall glorify Me.' He has come forth for this grand end, and He will not put up with anything short of it. If, then, we do not preach Christ, what is the Holy Ghost to do with our preaching? IF we do not make the Lord Jesus glorious; if we do not life Him high in the esteem of men, if we do not labour to make Him King of kings and Lord of lords; we shall not have the Holy Spirit with us. Vain will be rhetoric, music, architecture, energy, and social status: if our own design be not to magnify the Lord Jesus, we shall work alone and work in vain.

Charles Spurgeon Exulting Grace [1]

Don't you know, young man, that from every town and every village and every hamlet in England, wherever it may be, there is a road that leads to London?...So from every text in Scripture there is a road towards the great metropolis, Christ. And my dear brother, your business is, when you get to a text, to say, now what is the road that leads to Christ?...the sermond cannot do any good unless there is a savour of Christ in it.

Monday, May 25, 2009

John Owen Exulting Grace

This is the design that He [Holy Spirit] is sent upon, this is the work that He comes to do; even as it was the design and work of Jesus Christ to glorify the Father, by whom He was sent. And this are they always to bear in mind who stand in need of or pray for his assistance in their work or office in the church of God; He is given unto them, that through him they may give and bring glory to Jesus Christ.

John Calvin Exulting Grace

The Scriptures should be read with the aim of finding Christ in them. Whoever turns aside from this object, even though he wears himself out all of his life in learning, he will never reach the knowledge of the truth.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

[Sigh of Relief] Posts to Follow

As Charity mentioned on her blog, we've been dealing with a pretty scary issue lately. Since April 29th, we've known the possibility that the prognosis could be quite bad.

However, this week, we found out the condition does not seem life threatening and is probably just an odd allergic reaction of some sort.

I didn't know that a three week period of time could provide so much growth. God has used this time to rebuke me, challenge me and encourage me. I've felt like I was being squeezed between the mortar and the pestle. However, God also provided the fullest assurance that this wasn't vindictive or cruel, but rather that His loving hand was guiding the whole process. Thirty-six hours after officially receiving the good news, I'm still not sure I've processed things mentally/emotionally. I'm considering posting some thoughts learned on my blog; for I fear "forgetting" the lessons as life returns to normalcy. But I'm not ready for that yet. Here's what I do know:

--The next week will be filled with quotes which express a Christ-centered, redemption focused hermeneutic to Scripture. Hopefully, these quotes will better explain what I am talking about, and also show that this should not be something new to the Grace Brethren Fellowship, nor to any pulpit.

--There will also be a book review for the [second] best book [to the Bible] on preaching that I've read.

--I'll continue working on posts that process my thoughts regarding recent circumstances in a way I pray benefits me, and potentially [all three of my] readers also.

Charity and I can't sufficiently thank those who have known some details and have been praying. God has graciously had His sanctifying hand upon us! If you choose to continue to pray for us, please continue to pray for the growth of our faith as your number one priority for the Wright family.

Shaking Hands with the Rich

Every other Tuesday morning I have a meeting at 5:00AM. Since the meeting is about forty minutes from home, I typically try to find a place to crash and work after the meeting is over. By 7:00AM I'm looking for a place to work, and though I don't really enjoy it, Panera is one of the few places up and running by then.

Now, to speak ill of Panera is fighting words in our home. (My wife simply loves it and resents that I frequent--yet don't appreciate--it.) But there are two basic reasons I don't really enjoy the restaurant. a) I'm not real keen on paying $18.50 for bread and coke. b) I just don't feel like I fit in. On a typical Tuesday morning, I sit there in a t-shirt and jeans, plucking away on my laptop (not even sure how or if my phone can text message) while being surrounded by suits and business attire from people talking on bluetooth systems and snapping around their Blackberry's. I feel like I'm surrounded by money, power and prestige. I simply don't fill like I fit.

But I've also noticed something disturbing every time I have been there. I can't remember bumping into another man in the restroom who washed his hands on the way out. This surprised me. I'm looking at a man who is dressed perfectly (people from our church know I can never get my tie to hang straight), and simply look so "together." Yet they walk right out of the restroom without ever having washed their hands? I wonder, when they close their big deal on a hand shake, does the other person know all that is coming with it?

My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with {an attitude of} personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, "You sit here in a good place," and you say to the poor man, "You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool," have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?--James 2:1-4
Recently, God has smacked me around in two ways:

1) I am prone to being dazzled by gold rings and fine clothes. It's amazing how easily deceived I can be. If a person's appearance looks together, I foolishly assume their life must be too. God has convicted me that I sit in a room thinking I am surrounded by the rich, powerful and well-dressed. However, apart from the blood of Christ, they are poor, weak and naked. I should never set my aim to reach someone simply because I think they can be more influential or useful than someone else. God does not show favoritism. I should never look at a guy and think, "Wow, now that guy could do some damage for the kingdom!" For even if he comes to know Christ, it is not the issues of who he has "made himself" that will glorify Christ, but that which God chooses to do through Him.

2) But I also should not reverse discriminate. It is not just the rich who do not wash their hands. I need to look to the heart and realize no matter what they drive, wear or technology they employ, they have the same need for Christ. And while it is impossible for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, Jesus also reminded us that God can perform the impossible (Matthew 19:23-26). God is not in opposition to the wealthy and neither should I be.

I should seek to preach the gospel and extend my hand to any man...regardless of where his hand may have been.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Francis Chan to Pastors

From the conclusion of a Neue interview:

I would just say, get back to Scripture. Read it like you've never read it before. Read it to change your life and not just put together a sermon. Admit your fears to God. I'm scared of doing things. I know there is a system of "doing church" that works and will get people in the doors, and even keep them. But at the end of the day, I know that God asks for so much more, but getting there requires some risk. I've told God I'm scared. I've told God that this works--as far as doing church--the way that other do it, but I know there is more and he has to get rid of these insecurities in me and get me to start taking steps of faith again. So I would encourage people to do the same.

Get back to the Word.
See how God is leading you.
Pray for the courage to do it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Satisfied in God?

Francis Chan illustrates a phrase he's heard somewhere about how God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.

[Though not a point of Chan's, I think this video also displays the battle we all phase against the flesh. Though this dear brother has the best sustenance available to man at his fingertips, he choose to whine that he doesn't have Potbelly's? Pray for him.]

Preaching Reformed Theology?

I ran into this a while back from John Piper's Ask Pastor John section:

How can a pastor uphold good doctrine in a denomination that doesn't?

You certainly want to help your church get clarity. You don't want them to be confused. Probably staying there long enough and teaching in a faithful, biblical way will remove the confusion and replace it with conviction. And you should draw encouragement from other ministers, wherever you can find them.

I know that in England there are hundreds of faithful evangelical ministers. They relate in various groupings, like the Proclamation Trust, and others. And England is not a very big place.

But mainly, stay close to the Bible, stay close to God, and love your people. Teach them so faithfully that they recognize that what other pastors are denying is clearly a denial of Scripture, not just a denial of their pastor's opinion. The key there is going to be that, week after week, he doesn't just preach Reformed theology; he preaches the Scripture in such a way that they infer Reformed theology.

I am sometimes sent tapes from other pastors to listen to, to see what I think. I once listened to one that helped me realize why Reformed teaching doesn't make headway in some places. What he had done was take the first 20 minutes of his sermon to lay out all of the pros and cons about some doctrinal issue of Reformed theology, and only near the end did he even come close to the Scriptures. And I thought, "No way! Never in a thousand years will a church flourish under that kind of preaching!"

You don't start with doctrinal statements taken from the Westminster Confession—giving three reasons for them, three reasons against, and talking about all the historical controversies—and then tack on a text at the end as a proof text. You start with the text and you unfold it for the people so that they see, right there in the word, what is true. The Bible is shocking in what it says, over and over again, and you just need the Scriptures.

So labor in faithful exposition, week in and week out, loving the people, so that their confusion is taken away and their conviction grows. Then they will be your partners and advocates as you deal with other ministers in the area.
I believe that faithfully preaching the Word of God will lead to affirming the Doctrines of Grace. However, affirming the Doctrines of Grace will not necessarily lead to faithful Bible preaching. It's good to remember that no system is ever our goal, but seeing people become mature and complete in Christ is.

Monday, May 18, 2009

What will they remember?

Recognize your students don't learn everything you teach them. My students certainly do not learn all I teach them. So I have to ask myself, "What do they learn?" They learn quite a lot that I teach them to pass the exam. But in terms of life long commitment, what do they really learn? Let me tell you what they learn. They learn what I am excited about. They learn what I act as if it is central. That's what they learn.

So if the gospel becomes that which is assumed--never denied--but that which is assumed, but not what you are excited about, then you will teach your students that the gospel isn't very important. Now, you don't mean to say that. You don't mean to say that. And if I went to you and challenged you and said, "You know, I haven't heard how you tie that to Christ's vicarious substitutionary death on the cross. I don't see how you're doing that, and Paul says it's a matter of first importance. How do you put that together?"

[Defensive Tone:] "I believe that too! What are you doing challenging me? I believe that with all my heart. I've always believed that. I haven't denied that. Don't you see, on my third book, on page 362 on a footnote, I actually mention it!" [/Defensive Tone]

But your students will learn what you are excited about. So that unless you train yourself, I don't care what your discipline is, to major on the majors, to work toward the center and be excited about that which is of most fundamental importance, according to the revelation of God, you are in fact teaching people to marginalize that which God declares to be a matter of first importance! And then you are only another generation away from denying the gospel.

The first generation begins to assume the gospel.

The next generation marginalizes it.

The third generation denies it.

You can't do that!

--From D.A. Carson, during his "Scholar as Pastor" lecture.

Can't Do It in Heaven...

Friday, May 15, 2009

Who Said It?

"Never correct without reminding the individual, at some point, of the gospel."

The Gospel for Believers...

Though the fig tree should not blossom And there be no fruit on the vines, {Though} the yield of the olive should fail And the fields produce no food, Though the flock should be cut off from the fold And there be no cattle in the stalls, Yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.--Habakkuk 3:17-18

Thursday, May 14, 2009


Right aim and right on target!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Giving Basketball a Shot

If people have been listening closely to our elder interviews during Sunday School, there have been several consistent themes. One theme that I did not expect to come out, however, is my lack of basketball skill. But I actually think it may serve to get to the bottom of some of these things. I've shared this illustration several times, but never on my blog, so I'll give it a shot.

How critical is a Christ-centered, gospel-saturated, Bible-driven ministry pattern to my desire to partner with others?

Here's the illustration:

I'm not a good shooter. At a very early age, I learned that my job is to set picks, irritate the opposition and go for rebounds. One reason I love basketball is that hustle can really make up for a lack of skill (as opposed to golf). But I know my place. If given the choice to shoot an open shot or pass to set up another guy for a shot, I will choose the assist every time.

Therefore, I never get on a guy's case for shooting. He can be 0-10 and if I pass him the ball and he is open, I'm fine with him shooting again. Even at 0-15, I always think the guy has a better shot of scoring than I do. I'll keep passing him the ball and will even keep encouraging him to take good shots.

However, what if the guys shoots at the wrong rim? Now I'll say something. Yet, I'm willing to accept the guy may not believe me at first. He clearly wouldn't shoot at the wrong rim intentionally, so you have to expect some confusion. He's probably going to assume I'm the one who is wrong. Added to the fact that he is mistaken, he is also going to have to deal with wounded pride when he suddenly realizes he's been shooting at the wrong goal. This may take more effort than a quick rebuke. I'm going to have to appeal to other evidence. Ask a referee. Notice that no one on the other team is guarding you. Point out that we get the ball back even though he just "scored." These things all serve as evidence he is shooting at the wrong rim.

But at some point, he's got to quit shooting at that rim. While I am willing to patiently encourage the guy to change goals, I can not keep feeding him the ball if the opposition is going to score every time he gets it. We run into a problem if his reply is, "Well, I make more shots at this rim so I'm going to keep shooting here," or "Can't you just accept that my motive is pure, why do you have to be so picky?" or "Hey, you shoot at the basket you want and let me shoot at the basket I want. I'm not telling you where to shoot," or "I've been playing a lot longer than you pal. Don't you tell me where to aim." At some point, I'm not going to want that guy on my team anymore. And if he is on my team, I'm going to quit getting him the ball; even if that means I'm going to have to start shooting (wince).

What does this have to do with preaching?

I have literally shot at the wrong basket in an organized game (Eighth grade versus Eaton Junior High). Fortunately, my lack of shooting skill meant I missed and did not actually score for the other team. But in all my embarrassing basketball history (and there is much to be humiliated by), that by far was the worst.

As a preacher, years of my ministry were spent shooting at the wrong goal. And even today, when I have a different aim with my preaching, I still throw up bricks and airballs from time to time. I'm never satisfied with my participation in the sermon on a given week. I care deeply about preaching (my own and others) and I believe some have misunderstood that concern. I do not listen to sermons with a fine tooth comb, just looking for an infraction. I listen for where the preacher is aiming. From time to time, their touch may be so off that you can't tell where they are aiming, but typically the next sermon can help clear that up. I don't think I have ever approached another pastor about a sermon of his (or posted my thoughts on a blog) on the basis of one sermon. In one particular incident, I think I listened to 8-10 sermons from a pastor before approaching him about his target.

I regularly sit down after the sermon and think about how I could have done it better. Part of this is healthy (it leads to refinement) and part of it is pride (it's an evidence that I far too often think I am responsible for the outcome). As one who graciously feels like God works in spite of my failures, I don't hold other pastors to a standard of perfection. Mercy triumphs over judgment and I certainly don't want my sermons judged in an unmerciful way. I know I'm not perfect and have never preached a perfect sermon, so I'm not going to demand that from anyone else.

Preaching matters. And preaching with the wrong aim can be disastrous. Since I've shot at the wrong rim before, I'm also aware that I need others to help refine me and remind me where my aim should be. I desire to enter these conversations with other pastors. But when you suggest that the Word of God requires a different aim and you are met with silence, defiance or tolerance for any aim, I'm not sure what to do.

I can partner with the guy who tries but fails in his pursuit to see Christ glorified by celebrating the gospel on every page of Scripture, for I too am that guy. I can talk with the guy who struggles to understand what I mean or doesn't necessarily see how that is our calling. I have no idea what to do when a guy refuses to talk or refuses to consider his aim.

If you don't understand what I mean by "Christ glorified by celebrating the gospel on every page of Scripture," please ask. I believe aim matters and I'm not asking you to set yourself up for the Inquisition. If you're willing to aim at the right rim, you'll find me not only feeding you the ball, but cheering you on each time you shoot.

Interesting quote...

Jason (our music pastor) sent me this the other day:

Given the extent to which American Christianity has adopted the methodology of consumerism by appealing to and rewarding desires, we shouldn't be surprised at the spiritual immaturity evident in the American church. To believe that employing consumer methods in the church will produce spiritually mature Christians is delusional thinking akin to expecting a dog to hatch from a chicken's egg.--The Divine Commodity

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Too Literal a Hermeneutic?

"Therefore, you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to fear Him.--Deuteronomy 8:6

Is that what happened here?

What is Success?

From Phil Ryken during the Gospel Coalition

Let me ask you tonight, 'Are you faithful to that call?' My friends, we need to be clear about God's definition for success in the ministry. It has--I think--nothing to do with the size or scope of one's ministry. It has little or nothing to do with political influence. It's not about being trendy or retro or traditional or non-traditional or being whatever kind of church you particularly happen to like.

What then is a successful ministry? Simply this:

A faithful ministry. Faithful to Jesus. Faithful to His Word. Faithful in safeguarding and living out His gospel.

Listen to/view the whole message here.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

My Own Op-ED--Isn't It Lovely?

This entire series (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) was an attempt to critique an editorial without ad hominen. There are three reasons why this has been my pursuit, and why I want to state that clearly.

    I have been wrong in the past.
A brother I love recently stated that I do not recant or concede clearly in writing. At times, I think I am making concessions or admitting wrong doing, yet it is clouded or veiled. Therefore, I want to state this clearly: I have sinned on this blog before and have been/am in the process of confessing that to individuals and making it right. It is perfectly reasonable for brothers to disagree publicly and can be edifying for all involved. However, it is not appropriate to assume motive or attack character on the part of these difference.
    This wasn't about Ed.
It was wonderful to have Ed's permission to post these articles. I hope one reason why is that it really wasn't about Ed anyway. I know Ed loves and affirms the gospel. I know Ed has a passion for discipleship and not just conversions. I know Ed affirms eternal security. Therefore, to attack Ed would be foolish. However, I also do not believe his editorial expressed these truths that I know he affirms. And if it were just one editorial I probably would not have said a thing. However, I do believe there has been a growing tendency for ministry partners to assume (or neglect to communicate) the power of the gospel in the midst of their communication. While I am not attacking Ed at all (or anyone else in the Fellowship), I do think the tone and message of his editorial is pervasive in our circles and should be addressed.

So Danny, if you do not have a problem with Ed, and you know he would agree with your posts (probably, I have not heard what he thinks of my conclusions, just that he was ok with me posting them), Why write the series?

Because, Brothers, we have something so much greater to share than we often do.
Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal {this} to you, but My Father who is in heaven. "I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.--Matthew 16:16-18
Notice a few things from this text:

--Peter nails it! In this one sentence, Peter affirms that Jesus is the Anointed One, He is divine and the necessity of the resurrection!

--God is the One who graciously reveals Himself. We know Peter. We know He doesn't get it on His own. An answer like this comes to Peter only because God has graciously revealed it to Him!

--This message is that which Christ will use to build His church. There is nothing about programs, cultural trends or methodology in this comment. There is no statement about moral reform, conservative values or traditions either. Jesus simply says that upon the message Jesus will build His church.

Any orthodox pastor believes this, but we are all tempted not to practice it. We're tempted to take this message for granted. In times of perceived prosperous ministry (however one wants to define that) we are tempted to superiority. In times of perceived fruitlessness (again, however a person defines it) we are tempted to feel defeated. In reality, both are an expression of pride. How? Both place far more prominence and attention upon the actions of self rather than the activity of the gospel.

But I also think a generic "God did it" response is insufficient to express Christ's truth. He did not simply say, "Good answer Pete. I'm going to build My church." He told Him the very message by which He would build His church. This means that we do not simply say it is up to Jesus to build His church, but that it is up to Jesus to build His church through the proclamation of the very gospel message. And build is not just a numeric statement. We build people up in the faith. The church will increase in quantity, purity and maturity on the rock!

This gospel is powerful:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.--Romans 1:16

Notice Paul did not say, it is the power of God unto justification. He said it is the power of God unto salvation. Just a quick survey of Romans will show that Paul means justification, sanctification and glorification in this verse. Our gospel we preach must be that which calls the non-believer to repentance and faith for the salvation of their soul in justification. It is also the same gospel we are preaching to the saved in our congregation for the sake of their salvation from sin in the process of sanctification. And our people better learn to love it, for it will be the focus of their worship during their eternity in glorification. This gospel does not merely change your eternal domain, it changes your eternity!

This kind of gospel preaching is powerful. It will powerfully call the lost to Christ. It will powerfully call the sheep to abide in Christ. Its power, reach and grip are far stronger than any program change or structure adjustments.

We really don't fully understand how powerful it is.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

My Own Op-ED--He Works Through It

One of the last times I saw Ed Lewis face-to-face, he said something interesting to me. He told me there was someone I needed to meet, because that guy "had the same evangelistic passion" that I had. This caught me a bit by surprise, for many guys think my love of doctrine means I must not be evangelistic enough. (I've been chided many times that I must get more seeker-sensitive.) Yet, Ed seemed to get it. He knows I am doctrinally oriented, but he also knows I love the gospel dearly and am thrilled to see God create new life!

I've always liked Ed (and even more so that day)! Therefore, I felt it safe to point out that his editorial could have used more gospel centrality. It would have influenced his diagnosis and his solutions. But this really isn't meant as a piece to try to call him out. This is meant as a wake-up call for all of us pastors. Are people bored or leaving our churches because we've neglected the gospel?

You see, the gospel is truly the only thing that saves the person. Attending your church for life won't save them. Joining the praise band won't get them justified before God. Liking the church and even getting other friends and family members to join them will not get them into heaven. No, it is only by faith placed deeply into this gospel message by which one becomes saved. And to believe, they have to hear it (Romans 10:14-17). All who hear the gospel will not be saved. But all who are saved will have heard the gospel and believed in it! Therefore, they are won forever by the gospel. They are kept, not by you, but by the Father who holds them in His hand.

But they are also transformed by this gospel. God sanctifies those whom He justifies. Therefore, His children will one day stand before Jesus as He is, but until that day, God will be working the process of making them more and more like His Son. This process will have ups and downs, progress and regression. However, the whole of the process will be marked by transformation. In many ways, this can be the most difficult part.

Bottom line: The pastor does not move his congregation beyond the gospel, but is called to perpetually send his people into the depths of the gospel.

Many people hear me state that the gospel must be preached weekly and assume the weekly theme is simply, "Ask Jesus into your heart. Walk the aisle. Raise your hand." However, I can't remember the last time I employed these strategies. Other pastors will label me a "doctrine guy," yet will assume I turn every Sunday into a revival meetings? Either they think I'm schizophrenic, or they aren't really considering the depths of the gospel. We've already addressed that understanding Christ's sanctifying work helps us assess the statistics differently, but let's look at how it effects proposed solutions as well.

1. Pray together. What many people consider their prayer life is simply their supplication life. They don't first focus on the grace of God in their lives and the worship He is due. Sure, it's great to get young and old together to pray, but make sure their prayers are gospel oriented. An older person will be much more passionate about the young person they've met if their prayer is about the mutual grace of God they have received, than simply praying they find a prom date or get into a good school. Get two people sitting across each other to pray, not focused on the other person, but focused on their mutual Savior.

2. Make the church a "family." This will only work with a gospel centrality. Quite frankly, the niche church plant strategy model has done a great disservice to the truth of the gospel. We have been made a "holy nation." Once we were not a people, but now we are a people of God. Like the church in Antioch, the church should seek to bond people of different ages, races, economic status and educations together. If you simply place generations around each other for the case of exposure, it may be fascinating for a time (What, you mean phones used to have cords on them that went into the walls? Crazy!), but this will eventually wear off. However, when you remind a person that they were alienated completely from God and fellowship is impossible until one comes to God through Christ, this causes the person to appreciate more deeply their fellowship with God, and thus seek out fellowship with others.

3. While "Scum of the Earth" is a cute concept for the name of a church (an idea from MacDonald's book), it is an incomplete message. Yes, we were objects of wrath, but now we have been purchased with the priceless blood of Jesus Christ! Really, are we going to claim that someone purchased with the blood of Christ is scum? Furthermore, we realize we have been reconciled to God in Christ so that we can do the ministry of reconciliation. But this call for reconciliation is not to us, but to God primarily, and then we will see it effect us.

4. Follow up with students. If our students are trained to listen for a truly cross-centered message, then we can more freely set them out knowing what to look for in a church. As far as I know, there are no Grace Brethren Churches in the regions I specifically mentioned. And frankly, that issue just doesn't matter that much to me. Too many of our churches don't understand this gospel centrality and therefore wouldn't share this thread. Our twelve points of the Statement of Faith simply do not narrow things down enough to really get a feel for the passions of the congregation. Therefore, you are left to assess the church based on superficial descriptions (seeker, Willow, Saddleback, Emerging, etc.). But these descriptions don't get to the heart of things, they simply deal with methodology. When Jesus said, "upon this rock," He was not referencing a method of Peter's, but the message that fell from his lips.

5. Real fellowship. Read 1 John 1. There is no fellowship imaginable like the Fellowship between the members of the Trinity! Then, through the work of Jesus Christ, God invites us into this kind of fellowship. Then, once we enter into fellowship with God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit, we naturally find ourselves having fellowship with others who also abide in Christ. As the passage continues, it explains to us that this fellowship is built upon the confession of sin and the work of Christ. As we abide deeply in the gospel, we abide deeply in Christ. And if we love the Groom, we will love the Bride.

Ultimately, the problem of the young leaving and the "Boomers" distancing becomes one of humility. The "Boomers" are bored with what they have and frustrated with what they do not. The youth, who once attended but have been leaving, are frustrated that changes aren't happening quick enough and they are not receiving enough influence. But both parties are wrong. The church is not about them, she is about Him! A gospel centered message will instill the necessary humility to cause both groups to seek Christ's glory and the other's interest.

The gospel has been assumed and treated lightly in too many contexts. This creates the problem. But their is hope. It is not complicated. It is not a struggle. It is not a message which contradicts. Preach the gospel to all men! The lost need to hear it for their justification and the believer (regardless of generation) needs to hear it for their sanctification!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Signs of the Apocalypse 2

Again, these were real signs, though not from New Hope Baptist Church

Is this a trick question?

From the "Zoom Minus O Equals Zom" category:

My Own Op-ED--Time Lapse

As I have stated before, I highly respect Ed Lewis. I am not writing any of these pieces to critique the man, and certainly do not assume a bit of ill intent from him. I simply thought it would be good to share a different take on his diagnosis and his solutions which were offered in his editorial. And the views of the editorial are not unique to Ed, so this really is an issue regarding some discussion for the whole Fellowship.

(In a way, Ed is stuck being singled out because he is a great guy. I clearly like the man. In the past, other critiques, questions or comments I have had for other ministry partners are ignored, bypassed or deleted. I've been accused of being mean spirited or having personal vendettas. This does not apply at all to my relationship with Ed, so I saw this as a chance to place this out in public. If the problem is my writing styles, perhaps I can correct it. And perhaps I can have some constructive conversations with others who seem unwilling to talk? This is your chance to tell me if you think I'm being out of line.)

Really, this has nothing ultimately to do with Ed. It's one article he wrote. I'd sever the connection and move on (for I think these issues matter), except all the posts kind of flow from one another and may not make sense without it. But please, this is far bigger than addressing an editorial from a man who lives in Winona. If you are a pastor (especially if you are in the FGBC), please consider these thoughts carefully.

Often, when we read the statistic that 70% of young people are leaving the church when they leave high school (or that 59% of people 18-29 are leaving the church) we immediately begin to look at the current state of the church. We ask the question, "What are we doing wrong?" However, there seems to be a far more pressing question:

What have we done wrong?

You see, their attendance can trick us. They used to come to church, so we were doing it right then. Now they don't come anymore, so we must be doing something wrong. But what if what we were doing is the reason they aren't coming now? What if past practices are the reason for the current exodus? In fact, could our past practices be the reason the young people are leaving and the "Boomers" are getting bored? I think so.

Mark Dever so succinctly states it: "What you win them with, you win them to." How were so many of the "Boomers" won? We remodeled the facility to look more conducive to their comforts. We shortened the sermons to appeal to their attentions spans. We spoke directly to their felt needs to address the issues they wanted to hear. We began to cater to their desires and wants. We won many with many different things.

Now, the next generation comes along. They tolerated church the way an older generation wanted it for a time, but now they are ready to branch out on their own. They are able to vote and die for their country, but they aren't old enough to begin seeing the church adapt to their desires too. Now it becomes a power struggle. Do we give the "Boomers" what they want (and this isn't status quo, for they are now bored with what they have) or do we seek to engage the next generation?

The editorial suggests PowerPoint® as a possible solution. I'd disagree for the following three reasons (from least important to greatest). a) 99.9% of all PowerPoint® I have seen in sermons is cheesy and lame. Let's be honest, no one is being impressed by it, and at times, it's just making the church look more out of touch. b) It just doesn't go deeply enough into the heart of the problem. This issue goes deeper than just a few surface level corrections we can make. c) Preaching is so different than anything else ever created by God that the Scriptures are full of passages which state people will see by hearing. We still reach the eyes of our people's hearts through their ears. That's a timeless, God-ordained fact.

Furthermore, you won't be able to keep up with the technological demands. PowerPoint® today, holograms tomorrow. You see, what you win them with, you win them to. If they are coming because you have catchy visuals, look out! You'll have to make sure you keep up with the demands. And guess what, the vast majority of our churches are small and are incapable of keeping up with the budgetary demands to wow the masses. Though we can't compete with the funds, staff, equipment and manpower of titan churches, we are often told they are the standard we should be looking to. Even our larger Grace Brethren churches pale in comparison to the "big dogs" out there in other denominations. If that's the way we want to fight the battle, we will lose.

However, if our ministries are set around the gospel, now that we can do. And when we win people with the gospel, then as long as we keep preaching that gospel, we've won them to it. Trends will come and trends will go, but the gospel will keep them there. Ah, but our churches are preaching the gospel, you protest. People often misunderstand what I mean by this, so allow me to ask a few questions for clarification:

1. Do you preach repentance?

    Many have abandoned the word repentance because it "just doesn't sell today." It seems to be too strong a word and we've seen too many people turn away when we use it. Therefore, we try to get them to come to Jesus and then we'll teach them repentance later. However, this simply is not the way the Apostles preached. Repentance is not small print in the contract. It is the lifestyle the believer is called to. To turn to Jesus we must turn away from our sin. If you win them with a Jesus who doesn't demand repentance, how do you win them to a Jesus who expects repentance from His Bride?
2. Do you preach the gospel every time?
    "Sounds to me like you just want to be an evangelist," is often the response I get. (We'll address that point in the next question.) Many pastors tell me they make their schedule out where there is a specifically evangelistic message on a quarterly basis or so. It doesn't seem necessary to preach it every single week. However, let me ask you this. If a visitor comes--and keeps returning--yet they don't hear the gospel until week five, what was it that won them over in weeks one through four?
3. Does your gospel only seem for the visitor/non-believer?
    This is a big pet peeve of mine. To many pastors in my Fellowship view the gospel as simply the message that leads to justification. Once the person has received the gospel, many assume it can just be set to the side as you move on to other issues. Perhaps you bring it back out when equipping the body for evangelism, or when a person doubts whether they are saved. Otherwise, it stays on the shelf while we talk about how to live the Christian faith. However, the gospel must be that which people hear in regard to their sanctification too. It is the message which roots out and destroys my legalism and my lawlessness all at once. It is a message your people must hear to grow in godliness! (Pastor, there is an easy test to see how you are doing with this. How do your people respond when you are preaching the gospel? Do they look around, appear bored or seem disconnected. How could that be? You are speaking about how the Infinite Creator made salvation possible by offering His Son to die for our sins!!! How could your people be bored? Because they don't see that the message is still beneficial to them.) If you won them with a "one time decision" gospel message, how will you win them to a gospel that changes the whole man?
4. Do you over emphasize conversion stats?
    If you give altar calls, or ask for a show of hands, or have people fill out decision cards, it is also easy to declare those responses. Now you are in an awkward place. Five people come forward at the end of a service. The church is thrilled and excited. After three weeks, one person is never seen again and there never was any visible fruit. What does the pastor do? Is he to get in the pulpit one week and announce everyone should adjust their scorecards (and let's be honest, people are keeping score) to four? Do we have people adjust a outreach event total when a person later "falls away?"
These seem to be the places we should be looking. If a young person leaves as soon as they hit college and denies the faith, or an older person suddenly becomes bored with the message, we've got two options.
    1. The church won the young person over with something other than the gospel, therefore they kept coming to church, but it wasn't really for Jesus.
    2. The church faithfully preached the gospel, but there will always be tares among the wheat. They'll eventually leave, and there really isn't anything the church can do about it.
Therefore, the power of the gospel calls us to keep preaching the gospel. If we were before, yet young people are leaving, why would we ever want to change the message? (And doesn't our eschatology tell us that the number of individuals "falling away" should increase as the Day approaches?) But if we look and see our gospel was secondary to the life of the church, there's still time. Repent and place it back out at front and center.

For a neglect or assumption of the gospel is not only the problem, turning back to it is also our solution!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Why Sequential Exposition?--My 1 & 2

My final post of my top ten advantages for sequential exposition. Click the links to see advantages 10 & 9, 8 & 7, 6 & 5 and 4 & 3.

Advantages 2 and 1 to Sequential Exposition.

2. A Biblical understanding of redemption is fostered.

    Preacher—The preacher receives the joy of seeing the gospel throughout Scripture. The pastor is infused with passion, excitement and joy as he sees the redemptive message in places he did not initially expect. The gospel is seen as central throughout all of history and the pastor develops a people who see the gospel as necessary for the justification, sanctification and glorification. Issues of creation, the fall, redemption and the consummation of all things are not just preached from certain regular text, but are unpacked from the entirety of the Word!
    Congregation—Members see the unity of Scripture as they see God’s redemptive plan throughout the book. Biblical concepts become more rounded as they encounter gospel topics from a variety of passages in several different places. The congregation is protected from moralism, as they see men of the Old Testament saved by grace through faith. Greater confidence is given for the power of the gospel when we see its unity throughout all of history!

1. Jesus Christ is loved more deeply.
    Preacher—The preacher does not go to the Word of God simply to find something to teach the congregation, or simply to know something new from the text. The preacher is reminded to go to the text to see His Savior and to grow closer with Him. The preacher is transformed more into the Savior’s image as he beholds His glory on the pages of Scripture. His affections for Him and anticipation of His return are increased as he spends time abiding with Him!
    Congregation—The members of the congregation are called to a deeper love of Jesus. They are reminded that God’s purpose in providing the Word was not simply to tell us more about ourselves, but ultimately to reveal His Son fully to us. The congregation quits seeing the Bible as a history book or a road map for morality and begins to see the life and intimacy with Christ that is offered. Members eyes are fixed upon their Savior, the Author and Perfecter of their faith!

My Own Op-ED--Cause and Cure

I respect Ed Lewis very much. Therefore, when I read his editorial, I found myself surprised at the level of disagreement with his diagnosis and cure for the condition of the local church today. I'm hoping these posts actually offer an opportunity to do something pretty rare these days in our circles (air differences in opinion in public) and could possibly serve as some refining for all of us.

I have already made it known that I did not really agree with the assessment of the church's current situation. There was something that was assumed through out it, but its absence created a tension for me. Then, as I scrolled down to some of the solutions, the same feeling returned. There's just something that is being assumed here, and its absence leaves these solutions in tension. I wasn't surprised that the nagging feeling was identical, for the object missing was identical too...

Where was the gospel?

[caveat] Now, before anyone throws a spear through the internet at me, let me affirm some things. Yes, Ed knows the gospel. Yes, Ed preaches the gospel. Yes, Ed believes in the power of the gospel. As I have mentioned before, these posts are not meant to be ad hominem. I'm conducting an experiment to see if it is still possible to disagree with a person's opinion without it having to create a rift in a relationship. I have no beef with Ed personally, I do not believe their was any ill intent in Ed's editorial. I did not say the gospel was distorted, denied or contradicted. I simply said it was assumed. [/caveat]

How does the gospel further instruct us in regard to the diagnosis?

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.--Philippians 1:6
God is the One who justifies, sanctifies and glorifies! This is not news for our Fellowship, for it has always affirmed eternal security. This is not a battle being fought within our ranks, so I understand why it is tempting to simply not address this fact. However, reminding ourselves of the gospel reminds us that it is God who began the work, it is God who will continue the work, and it is God who will complete the work. Now, if we have a massive number of people who appear to have the work begun, but we do not see God continuing the work in them, should we conclude the church is to blame? Is it the church who causes believers to be sanctified, or is it God who causes sanctification and uses the church in that process? You see, keeping the gospel front and center should cause us to ask a much more disturbing question: If they went out from us, were they really ever of us? (We'll explore this further in the next post.)

How does the gospel further instruct us in regard to solution?
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.--Romans 1:16
Keeping the gospel before our eyes gives us renewed hope. It is He who builds the church. It is He who raises the dead to life. It is He who causes the blind to see. It is He who justifies. It is He who sanctifies. It is He who glorifies. It is He who speaks! The gospel is His power for salvation. Suddenly, the person is set free to serve God, for it is not really up to me and my strategies to create the results. It is God who is working and it is His gospel which is powerful. A gospel centrality is vital to the life of the church. (A point we will further unpack in a couple of posts.)

I have no doubt Ed believes those things to be true. I also have no doubt that expressing them in his editorial would have completely changed his tone to one of hope. For God is powerful!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Why Sequential Exposition?--My 3 & 4

I prepared my own list of ten advantages for sequential exposition for our sermoneutics class. Follow the links to see reasons 10 & 9, 8 & 7 and 6 & 5

Advantages 4 and 3 to Sequential Exposition.

4. Current events are seen through the lens of God’s sovereignty.

    Preacher—The preacher is not forced to read the newspaper as often as the Scriptures to make sure he is relevant, but instead delights in seeing how God causes current events to bring to light the points in the Text. Scriptures can be determined months (even years?) in advance, yet God can cause circumstances to match up well with the point predetermined by the text.
    Congregation—The members of the congregation see the sovereignty of God and that He still ordains that which happens. The congregation grows in their awe and peace of the Lord as He affirms His hand over all things. The congregation is reminded that the world responds to God, not that God is constantly responding to the events of the world.

3. The Word is lifted up.
    Preacher—The preacher is relieved of needing to provide wisdom or a good thought for his congregation, but is simply to explain the Text. This releases him of the pressure of building a congregation solely around his gifts, skills and personality. A pastor can find himself a fit for any congregation or overwhelmed with his need to “perform,” for it is the Word that will do the work.
    Congregation—The congregation is reminded to listen to God and not simply their pastor. They are better prepared for “water cooler” talk as they can now say, “The Bible says,” instead of, “my pastor says.” The congregation is reminded that they are not their to be educated or entertained by their pastor, but they are present to be transformed by the Holy Spirit as they hear the Word of God.

My Own Op-ED--Cure?

I have a tremendous amount of respect for Ed Lewis. Therefore, I am trusting that when I didn't agree with his editorial, he would not be offended if I attempted to interact about it.

My previous article explained that while Ed is usually a very optimistic man, his editorial did not seem very hopeful for the church. He stated that the church is losing 70% of the young people we once had (a statistic I believe can be misleading). He also stated that most "Boomers" are becoming "detached." In essence, they want to be served, rather than serve. (I did not address this issue in my last article, for Ed offers no statistics to make this claim, but merely throws it out. There wasn't much to refute, since it just seems to be a personal observation. Perhaps it's true on a global scale? I have no idea.)

Near the end of his article, Ed offers these 5 suggestions:

    1. Make it easy for young and old to pray together. Don’t pray for the young: pray with them on occasion.
    2. Make the church a “family.” Ask older people to help in children’s ministries. Offer regular, brief interviews in Sunday School. Let youth hear stories of older people in the church. (Then have the youth pray for the older person.) Ask adult classes (ABFs) to interview young people regularly. Learn names. Get to know the young.
    3. Read books like Gordon MacDonald’s, Who Stole My Church? Or...
    4. Listen to people like Chuck Bomar who say we must open homes to the younger generation. Students who go away to college must be followed up. (Did he find a mentor? A good church? If not, send someone there to help him!)
    5. Let the church strengthen relationships. Work on it! Fellowship isn’t just an add-on; it’s crucial. It’s family! Program for it. Learn names. Connect. Play together. Pray together. Do projects together. Praise together.
None of the above things are wrong. They are somewhat insufficient, however. As I've mentioned before, Ed does not consider himself to be a papal authority (although I think he'd look cool in the hat!). I'm sure this list wasn't meant to be conclusive, and if a church attempted to adopt some of these things, I imagine it could possibly help a bit. However, just consider the following:

If your "Boomers" aren't wanting to serve, getting items #1, #2 & #5 to work are going to be quite difficult. How are we assessing that "Boomers" don't want to be involved? Probably because we've already asked them, and they've said no. Therefore, simply prodding them to stay involved will probably only work for a temporary period and has the potential to simply embitter them more.

I absolutely love Chuck Bomar's advise to stay connected to your students. Too many ministries operate on a "out of sight, out of mind" basis. Follow up is important. However, here is my problem. I have a student at MIT. I have another at West Point (and another joining him there this summer). I have a young woman in our church moving to Alamo, California. We're a small, rural community where most of our young people move away. How do I plug them into a "good church" when I know nothing of their new area? Most of the time, a recommendation of a "good church" comes from someone who doesn't even really know your own church, thus they don't know the passions that would make the transition easy. I can tell you this, our church budget can't allow for staff and elders to make scouting trips so we can help them find good churches.

And as for MacDonald's, Who Stole My Church? Well the "Boomer" generation ought to prove its basic premise is lacking. The last couple decades have been spent making the church everything the "Boomer" could ever want only to result in them being bored, detached and uninterested in ministry. Like BurgerKing, catering the church to their desires simply fed their appetite "to have it your way." Eventually, the church can't give someone everything they want and they become dissatisfied. If we seek to again revamp the church simply to meet the desires of the next generation, we will find them eventually bored and dissatisfied too. Are many of the changes MacDonald suggests bad? Not really. Are they enough? Not at all.

As I review these "solutions," I become a little overwhelmed. They can seem contradictory, and at times like they are simply calling us to keep trying the same things, even though they haven't been working. It makes sense then that ministry would seem to be a struggle and something that is very complicated. We strive to reach the young, but they are leaving because we have catered to the "Boomer." But the "Boomer" is getting frustrated and thinking of leaving because of changes we may be making in order to reach the young generation which has already left. I've never liked merry-go-rounds, and staying in this mindset can pretty quickly lead to me "losing my Whopper®."

However, Ed ends his editorial with: I feel for the church leaders...but let's do something to change it. It's possible.

I wouldn't bother writing these posts if I did not agree. However, I plan to unpack a slightly overlooked solution starting Monday...