Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Let Me Count the Ways...

Wrong on so many levels:

HFW: Colossians 1:21-27

We're working through a study this summer to celebrate Ephesians 3:10:

So that the manifold wisdom of God might be made known through the church to rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

This series will run from June 22-August 30, with four readings per week.

This week (2), the second reading is Colossians 1:21-27. After reading this text, answer the following questions, then you can watch the video for a 5:00 thought from the text. (I recommend you work in the text first before watching the video. However, be aware, the video is not intended to be the back of an algebra book--supplying answers to the questions--but rather, is just sharing some thoughts from the text.)

    1. What was our former condition?
    2. How do we continue in the gospel?
    3. Why did Paul become a minister to the church?
    4. What does Paul mean when he says “the church?”
    5. What is the hope of glory?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Fidelity Follow-up

The following are some statements that show the need for an active/proactive pursuit of purity in a marriage, so that we can reflect the faithfulness of Christ. The statements come in a Washington Times article about the Senator Sanford crisis:

I developed a relationship with what started as a dear, dear friend from Argentina. It began very innocently, as I suspect many of these things do, in just a casual e-mail back-and-forth in advice on one's life there and advice here," he said at a news conference at the statehouse in Columbia.

"But here recently, over this last year, it developed into something much more than that," Mr. Sanford said.

Ending a bizarre episode that began with reports of a governor who had disappeared over Father's Day weekend, Mr. Sanford admitted that he had told his staff he was heading for the Appalachian Trail to recover from a bruising legislative session. He also said he had told his wife about the affair five months ago, and they were working on their marriage.

He said he had seen the woman three times in the past year, but did not explain why he went to Argentina or the status of his relationship with the woman.

"I spent five days crying in Argentina," said Mr. Sanford, who said his friendship with the unnamed woman began when he counseled her not to leave her husband for the sake of her two boys.
Guard your relationships while they are innocent! (And pray for those who have fallen, that they might see the glory of Christ.)

HFW: 1 Corinthians 1:1-9

We're working through a study this summer to celebrate Ephesians 3:10:

So that the manifold wisdom of God might be made known through the church to rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

This series will run from June 22-August 30, with four readings per week.

This week (2), the first reading is 1 Corinthians 1:1-9. After reading this text, answer the following questions, then you can watch the video for a 5:00 thought from the text. (I recommend you work in the text first before watching the video. However, be aware, the video is not intended to be the back of an algebra book--supplying answers to the questions--but rather, is just sharing some thoughts from the text.)

    1. What did Paul's calling look like? What was its purpose?
    2. How was Paul's calling similar to the calling of the saints of Corinth?
    3. What words describe the work of God for the believers in Corinth?
    4. How is this true of all believers?
    5. How will Jesus present them someday?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Your Star is at Home!

Sporting News Magazine* provides a Profile Page (What you won't find on Facebook...even if you are approved as a friend, they claim) in each print magazine as well as in their daily e-zine. It's usually an interesting way to peek into the lives of a professional athlete and find out some of the daily things they do. They ask all kinds of things about favorite movies and music, to what's on your walls or what do you least like about yourself. Many of the answers say very little, but in each issue, there is usually an answer or two that provides a little bit of unique insight.

However, one question usually leaves me disappointed: Dream Date

I'm amazed how many of these athletes will mention they have a wife and kids, and then will turn right around and mention some celebrity as their dream date. (An ink covered transforming lady seems to be the choice du jour.) Occasionally, a person will choose a celebrity and then name a feature other than appearance as their motivation, but even that is usually rather weak (Such as, "Miss USA, because I'd like to hear how she really plans to accomplish world peace through winning her crown.") Their motivation is almost always visual, make that lustful, and the concept of it being a dream date clearly suggests an evening alone together...I don't need to say more.

This has been bothering me for a while, and then I see today's feature (note, this article is written days before it is published on my blog...it is not actually today's). In this feature, the athlete gives the following answers:

Status: Married
What I'm reading: Bible and Facing Your Giants by Max Lucado (He lists his Bible as part of his game day superstition too, but that's for another post.)
Dream Date: My wife, I'm living the dream

I was thrilled to read his answer so I went ahead and read the rest of his profile. Unfortunately, he also stated:

Love to trade places for a day with... Jay-Z, so I could kick it with Beyonce. My wife understands. LOL.

Beloved, it just does not make sense to play these sort of games. Surely, this man probably thinks this is a harmless exercise, for what are the odds Beyonce is ever going to come knocking on his door? However, the battle does not begin when he's unexpectedly approached by the starlet, the battle is already lost when the man allowed himself to entertain thoughts about someone other than his own wife.

"You have heard that it was said, `YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY'; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.--Matthew 5:27-28
It may seem like harmless fun, but the battle for purity requires a steadfast devotion. (Check out the verses which immediately follow to see this point!) And remember, the standard is not for you to avoid intercourse with some other woman, your call is to model Christ's love for the church.

Seriously, can you ever imagine the Savior playing whimsical games of fantasy about another bride. (And remember, His devotion is not based upon the Bride's faithfulness, for if it were, Christ would have a valid excuse to look elsewhere.) No, Christ's love is an exclusive, faithful, jealous love. He will not entertain even the slightest fancy, but remains wholly focused and devoted to His bride.

If you've fallen into this unfaithful trap, what is a person to do to get out?
    1. Focus on the Love of Christ. Meditate of passages like Ephesians 5:22-33. Then act upon it. Confess your unfaithfulness to the Lord and rest in the forgiveness granted you by the work of Christ on the cross. Repent of your unfaithfulness and ask God to develop in you a heart which is faithful unto Him and your spouse.
    2. Begin speaking of your spouse as your dream date. Ah, you say, that's hypocritical if I don't really mean it. Actually, the hypocrite is one who knows what he ought to do but claims self-righteous reasons for not obeying. Instead, speak and act with the faithfulness you know your spouse deserves. You'll be amazed that as you quit entertaining these unfaithful lusts, the battle will actually diminish and you will see your spouse as your Dream Date.
    3. Confess to your spouse. If you've ever played a stupid "List of 5 celebrities you'd be allowed to cheat on me for" type game (or any variant) with your spouse, you should confess that as sinful and wrong. If you ever playfully speak of another person as being a temptation you would not be able to resist, that is sinful and should be confessed. You begin the process of being faithful to your spouse when you confess the ways in which you have not and allow your spouse to know that by God's grace, you are turning from those ways.
    4. Quit viewing that celebrity for a period of time. Even the celebrity is one made in God's image, so with growth, you should be able to sit at a table and talk with the person without thinking lustful thoughts. However, if you've entertained impure thoughts about someone for a period of time, and it is now difficult to think/see the person without naturally going to the impure, quit looking for a period of time. Are you really going to claim your "right/freedom" to entertainment over your desire to be faithful to your spouse and Savior? Be smart. Give your heart a break for a while while you work on refocussing your affections where they belong.
For it's not enough that your spouse become your dream date, but God is glorified when you see your spouse as a gift from God that exceeds your dreams!

Alternative to Spanking

An elder in our church sent this to me via email the other day:

Most of the American populace thinks it improper to spank children, so I have tried other methods to control my kids when they have one of 'those moments.'

One that I found effective is for me to just take the child for a car ride and talk.

Some say it's the vibration from the car, others say it's the time away from any distractions such as TV, Video Games, Computer, iPod, etc.

Either way, my kids usually calm down and stop misbehaving after our car ride together. The eye to eye contact helps a lot too.

I've included a photo below of one of my sessions with my son, in case you would like to use the technique.

Your Friend

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Convicted [and Confused]

Since it really doesn't effect me, and I am privy to only a select amount of information, I have typically had very little to say about Mark Driscoll. (Click here to see my only post--and click the comments--to see my schizophrenic perspectives on Driscoll.

I can tell you this:

His "Advance09" message, Ministry Idolatry, is absolutely brilliant. His best message I have ever heard and a very challenging, convicting and edifying sermon. Don't take my word for it? Here is Piper's comments at the introduction of his sermon (which immediately followed Driscoll's):

Before I pray and ask for the Lord's help, just to empathize with you, I found Mark's message to be devastating, and uh, don't have too much left. That's not a joke.

Driscoll began his message stating his desire to be more priestly than prophet-like. This does not mean he was vague or sugar-coated things. If a word search could be applied to his sermon manuscript, you'd find words like sex, pornography and masturbation still appeared in this sermon. However, there was not even a hint that these words were used to produce shock or gain attention. Each was appropriately and maturely handled. Mark has also confessed that ministry, stress and opposition can create a harshness and cynicism in his preaching...elements which are not remotely present in this sermon. Whatever your view (and what the true verdict may be) on Driscoll, I think you'll benefit from this sermon.

The sermon also created other thoughts for me:

To clarify from this post, I do not think sobriety requires a lack of humor. Driscoll and Piper both preached very sober messages, yet each of them took a playful (and appropriate) jab at the other during their messages.

Secondarily, this playful interaction suggests a strong relationship between Piper and Driscoll. At Alistair Begg's Basics Conference, Piper stated that he would be with Driscoll soon, and had several things he wished to address about Mark. As far as what has been published, it seems that Advance09 was that very moment where the two were together. Did Piper have some words that helped shape Driscoll and prepare him for such a message? It certainly seems possible.

Lastly, the question of public repentance/confession becomes an issue. Quite frankly, if Driscoll continues to preach as he did in this message (from here forward), his messages would be quite fruitful. Could such fruit be the evidence of repentance that has taken place and could the trajectory show that he has learned from his sin and turned from it? Or, is it necessary for him to publicly state his turning from sin?

Do yourself a favor, ignore these last three points until after you've listened to message and allowed it to work within your heart (killing idols that the Lord might reveal). Then, after you've allowed that process to happen, let me know your thoughts on these issues as well.

HFW: Matthew 7:24-29

We're working through a study this summer to celebrate Ephesians 3:10:

So that the manifold wisdom of God might be made known through the church to rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

This series will run from June 22-August 30, with four readings per week.

The first reading is Matthew 7:24-29. After reading this text, answer the following questions, then you can watch the video for a 5:00 thought from the text. (I recommend you work in the text first before watching the video. However, be aware, the video is not intended to be the back of an algebra book--supplying answers to the questions--but rather, is just sharing some thoughts from the text.)

    1. How does one prove wise?
    2. How does true wisdom provide stability?
    3. What proves a person to be a fool?
    4. When does the fruit of wisdom or foolishness appear?
    5. What is the relationship between authority and wisdom?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Why Bible Reading Should Take Effort...

From Mortimer Adler's How to Read a Book:

Now, as you go through the pages, ether you understand perfectly everything the author has to say or you do not. If you do, you may have gained information, but you could not have increased your understanding. If, upon effortless inspection, a book is completely intelligible to you, then the author and you are as two minds in the same mold. The symbols on the page merely express the common understanding you had before you met.

HFW: 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

We're working through a study this summer to celebrate Ephesians 3:10:

So that the manifold wisdom of God might be made known through the church to rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

This series will run from June 22-August 30, with four readings per week.

The first reading is 1 Corinthians 1:18-31. After reading this text, answer the following questions, then you can watch the video for a 5:00 thought from the text. (I recommend you work in the text first before watching the video. However, be aware, the video is not intended to be the back of an algebra book--supplying answers to the questions--but rather, is just sharing some thoughts from the text.)

    1. Describe the interaction between man's foolishness and God's wisdom?
    2. What sort of things do people seek in regard to wisdom?
    3. Should we consider ourselves wise?
    4. Why would God choose to use things regarded as foolish?
    5. Where should our pride rest?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Unconventional Question...

So, which in your mind is most troubling?

The B-level celebrity who recently has been proclaiming Christ, yet recently posed for a September issue of a pornographic magazine by stating:

“God made humans naked...We weren’t even born with clothes!”

Or, the "ministry leader" who stated in response:
Sexy photos don’t necessarily say much to prove or disprove her faith...but reveal more about how she sees herself and hopes to attain happiness.

HFW: Romans 1:20-23

We're working through a study this summer to celebrate Ephesians 3:10:

So that the manifold wisdom of God might be made known through the church to rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

This series will run from June 22-August 30, with four readings per week.

The second reading is Romans 1:20-23. After reading this text, answer the following questions, then you can watch the video for a 5:00 (or so) thought from the text. (I recommend you work in the text first before watching the video. However, be aware, the video is not intended to be the back of an algebra book--supplying answers to the questions--but rather, is just sharing some thoughts from the text.)

    1. What attributes of God can be discerned from creation?
    2. What were two negative responses to seeing God?
    3. What is the root of their futility?
    4. How do people view themselves?
    5. What is the end result of this foolishness?

Monday, June 22, 2009

HFW: Romans 11:33-36

We're working through a study this summer to celebrate Ephesians 3:10:

So that the manifold wisdom of God might be made known through the church to rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

This series will run from June 22-August 30, with four readings per week.

The first reading is Romans 11:33-36. After reading this text, answer the following questions, then you can watch the video for a 5:00 thought from the text. (I recommend you work in the text first before watching the video. However, be aware, the video is not intended to be the back of an algebra book--supplying answers to the questions--but rather, is just sharing some thoughts from the text.)

    1. What is the difference between wisdom, knowledge, judgments and ways?
    2. What do the words "deep," "unsearchable," and "unfathomable" express?
    3. Take a look at Isaiah 40 and Job 41. What is the context for these original quotes?
    4. To what purpose do all things exist?
    5. What do the words "from," to," and "through" fully convey?

PoMo Pastor Jack Handey?

To me, truth is not some vague, foggy notion. Truth is real. And, at the same time, unreal. Fiction and fact and everything in between, plus some things I can't remember, all rolled into one big 'thing'. This is truth, to me.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Holy Spirit in Preaching

But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. "And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. "I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. "But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. "He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. "All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.--John 16:7-15

It is to our advantage that the Helper come. Don't miss the audience here. Jesus is standing in front of the disciples who have spent the last three years with Him. Imagine the joy and the growth that would come from traveling with Jesus for three years and observing His service and ministry. However, Jesus says it is better that He leave and send the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit is commissioned by the Son. The Spirit does not descend to fill a vacuum. He is sent by Jesus and His instructions to the disciples help us see how the Spirit's commissioning is connected to the disciples' commissioning.
and He said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. "You are witnesses of these things. "And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high."--Luke 24:46-49
The gospel was to be proclaimed to all nations, as recorded throughout the Old Testament. Jesus is going to use His disciples to accomplish this task. However, before their commission begins, they are to wait for the Holy Spirit to come.

Conviction comes from the Spirit. Though the preacher is to share the Word of God, the conviction itself flows from the work of the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit will teach His saints. Jesus stood before the disciples and did not find it profitable to teach them all things, not because they didn't need to know, but because He did not believe there would be benefit unless the Spirit come and disclose it!

The Spirit does not have a private unique agenda. His ministry is not born out of His own initiative, but He desires to fulfill that which He has heard Christ speak.

His desire is the glory of Christ! He is not aiming to exalt Himself, but is seeking the glory of Christ.

Clearly, the preacher must humble himself and realize that the power of the preaching will lie in the working of God. He must see his need for the Holy Spirit's active work!

This will lead to his petition for the working of the Holy Spirit. The preacher will call upon the Spirit to actively work through the Word to the purpose of the glory of Christ.

Finally, the preacher needs to preach Christ. Rather than focussing on the "shock and awe" factors that are often associated with the Holy Spirit's work in preaching, one should think about the work of the Spirit. When you preach from the Bible, you are using the book the Spirit wrote. When you exalt Christ from any portion of Scripture, you seek to glorify the One to Whom the Spirit directs glory. When you preach the gospel in the midst of exalting Christ from the Text, you proclaim the message by which the Spirit loves to create life.

Exult Christ by celebrating the gospel on every page of Scripture. In so doing, the Spirit is delighted to work, and without His working, your preaching is in vain.

Preaching to the Whole Man

Within any congregation, there will be some people who are inclined toward information, others who want you to connect with their emotions and still some who would like to receive their "marching orders." Not only is the pastor aware of these different types (and he is aware, for he is often told about their preference), but the pastor is also aware of that each individual congregant has intellectual, emotional and volitional capacities.

Often, pastors are tempted to accomplish all three in one sermon. Give the people some specific application while also firing off some information/data. In between, you tell a great joke or heart warming story to connect with some. But multiple targets will dilute or dull the blade of God's Word. So how can the message be kept sharp yet effect the entire man?

It is not a problem if a sermon is informational, emotional or motivational. In fact, it could actually be argued that an attribute of a good sermon is that it contains all three. But their is an order in which these things must rightly be taught. First off, if the sermon is based on the text (and is it a sermon if it is not based upon the Word?), then their is information which must be shared and applied to the mind. However, gaining information is not the end. His prayer should be that his listener is effected by the information they have heard, so that they view God differently. His vision of himself should be altered so that he seeks God's perspective rather than our own. And if the person is truly effected and changed, his actions will look different.

The above diagram should not grant the preacher peace. His response should not be to look at the picture and think, "Oh, well I can do that!" Instead, he should feel completely broken and undone. There is no way possible that he can direct the path of his preached words once the words have left his mouth.

No, instead, the pastor should see that he has been called to an impossible task. This should call the pastor to see his utter dependance upon the Holy Spirit. He alone is the only One capable of giving the sermon this kind of power.

But how do we ensure the work of the Holy Spirit in our preaching?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Who Said It?

"I was called to start a mission, not a church . . . There is a difference. . . . You don't try to preach . . . what is sin and what isn't sin. A mission is a place where you ask nonbelievers to come and find faith and hope and feel love. We're a mission first, a church second."

Flaw of Motivational Preaching

As we've looked, intellectually aimed preaching will often lead to information but a lack of action. Emotionally aimed preaching can create some action, but it is often short-lived. The obvious move--to some--is to aim for actions. Why not simply preach right to application and action. Consider these two texts:

"Many will say to Me on that day, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' "And then I will declare to them, `I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.'--Matthew 7:22-23

"To the angel of the church in Sardis write: He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars, says this: `I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. `Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. `So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. `But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.`He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.`He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'--Revelation 3:1-6

It is possible for us to call people to "good works," for them to obediently participate in the application, and yet for them to not be pleasing to God (Romans 14:23/Hebrews 11:6) The pastor must remember that sanctification is not the same thing as moral application. While a person who is being sanctified will do good works (Ephesians 2:10), it is not necessarily the case that good works are a result of sanctification. (This argument is of course speaking from a human perspective. If I saw a person preaching, healing and exercising demons, I would assume those to be good works. However, Jesus--with a divine perspective--understands that their actions are not good--but due to their lack of faith--are actually deeds of lawlessness.

It's tempting to think that spiritual growth is happening when you see a congregation join the pastor in corporate responses or sign up for challenges. Motivational preaching can be more encouraging, for it is more tangible and easier to assess. Are people signing up for the challenge? Have they done what you told them to do? Have they quit doing what you told them to quite doing?

It's sad enough when a preacher may think sanctification is happening when it isn't. It's even more tragic when you consider that the non-believer may join you in the application (for if it is not dependent upon the Holy Spirit, it isn't sanctification), and because of their works consider himself that much more in God's good favor. To the unbelieving--who is inclined to self-righteousness already--such preaching can actually fan the flame of his works righteousness. And when the man perceives that the church is applauding his works, it will be even more difficult for the man to see his lack of righteousness and his need for Christ.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Flaw of Emotional Preaching

Seeing the flaw of intellectually targeted preaching, many preachers aim for the emotions. Just filling people with information may seem destructive, but changing the way people feel, that has to make a difference, right?

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.--Hebrews 4:12

While some will see this verse as their commissioning to aim at the emotions only, a closer look at the text will reveal much. A) This is a highly theological passage explaining how the Sabbath is really found in faith in Jesus, B) The text calls for the thoughts and intentions, things which are not strictly emotional.

Emotional preaching will get some results. I remember talking to some performers who attended a workshop to generate revenue. They were instructed in how to get an audience to laugh, cry and connect with you. Once that had been done, the crowd was much more likely to buy your merchandise. Clearly, connecting with a person's emotions is quite powerful.

However, any good performer will also tell you, you better have your merchandise available right away. You see, it is not enough to connect with the person and then send them on their way, trusting they will forever be loyal to your performance. No, you have to "strike while the iron is hot," for emotions are temporal and subject to change.
Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.--John 2:23-25
Jesus knew far too well that an emotional connection is short lived. Circumstances change, people change and a different voice will attract their attention. Sure people loved Him now, but would they continue to? There would be a day that they would cry out "Hosanna!" and later cry out, "Crucify Him!"

Preaching at the emotions can be powerful, but if it is the only place we aim, it's bound to be short lived.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Book Review: Pulpit Crimes

Pulpit Crimes
The Criminal Mishandling of God's Word
by James R. White
©2006, Solid Ground Christian Books
156 pages

As the title suggests, White's book is more about exposing destructive trends in the pulpit today than it is a "how-to" of preaching. However, like most things of a polemical nature, White will also turn people toward the Word of God to gain direction and insight toward preaching. White does a good job of showing that his arguments are not just reinforced by Scripture, but are actually built out of the Scriptures. This is especially helpful when he shares concerns in regard to style and practice; showing how our methodology is not completely isolated from our theology. White breaks down the following "Pulpit Crimes" in his book (with a brief explanation from me within parenthesis):

1. Prostitution (The influence monetary gain has had upon preaching, ranging from the gross indulgences of prosperity preachers to the pastor avoiding certain topics because it might scare away "big givers.")

2. Pandering to Pluralism (The tendency to shy away from the exclusivity of salvation through Jesus Christ, either in the name of pluralism or inclusivism. This includes the current popularity of modern-day moralistic "life improvement" preaching that avoids addressing the offense of the gospel.)

3. Cowardice Under Fire (The lack of perseverance by pastors to continue to preach sound doctrine when met with challenge. This includes avoiding doctrine or softening the stance when opposition arises.)

4. Entertainment without a License (The focus of our corporate worship shifts from the audience of One to the members of the audience and keeping them happy.)

5. Felonious Eisegesis (In effort to be relevant and attractive, the pastor chooses his topic, theme or title and then looks to the Bible to make his claim. Grossest abuses become obvious when a pastor switches to a different translation so that he can find his one word and be able to leap off from it.)

6. Cross Dressing (White shows how the acceptance of women preachers has contributed to multiple abuses of the pulpit. After walking through 1 Timothy 2, White simply asks, "Could it be that once you loosen that one cord enough to allow yourself into the eldership a few other holes open up in the fabric that will allow all sorts of other things in?" p120)

7. Body Count (The role of membership within a local church has caused two effects: 1) People who are not connected to any local congregation but consider TV preaching, radio programs or webcasts to be their corporate worship, thus neglecting the role of the Body of Christ with each other; 2) Mega churches over obsession with numbers to be their validation for any of their practices, though their numbers do not usually add up to the effects they claim.)

8. Identity Theft (The sacraments of the church are being distorted, neglecting communion because of its inconvenience while at the same time pushing baptism so hard that people are entering the baptismal who do not yet have a clear testimony for Christ. White makes no apology for the fact that he believes that biblically clear preaching is diminished when our theological system causes us to redefine baptism to not be the response of a conversion to Christ.)

9. Warranty Fraud (How "easy-believism" and "free grace" gospel messages have contributed to a distorted perspective of eternal security, thus making it difficult to convince someone who raised their hand/came forward/filled out a card that he may not actually be saved.)

White regularly reminds the reader that "what you win them with, you win them to" (a phrase I first heard from Mark Dever). White graciously allows for freedom in ministry and does not require everyone to fit a cookie cutter design. At times, he shares his preference, yet makes sure that the reader understands it is only his preference. I appreciated White's ability to scratch below the surface and ask some hard questions as to why we would do certain things. Consider this quote:

There is another major factor that gives rise to entertainment in the place of worship: man-centered theology and a man-centered gospel. If you do not trust the power of the Spirit and the word to bring men and women to repentance and faith, but instead think that the final arbiter of whether God will succeed in the gospel or not is in fact the rebel man, you will use just about anything at your disposal to bring about that ultimate "good" of a person "accepting Jesus." So if you are willing to manipulate their emotions, tug at their heart strings, and in general wring a "decision" out of them through such means, you will likewise try to get them in with any kind of attraction that will work. Put on a show, try to look like the theater down the street, put on a raffle, sell lottery tickets. As long as it works, right? Keep them coming back long enough and who knows, they might just sign the dotted line, and won't Jesus be lucky to have them on His side!--p91
Just like Azurdia's book, White concludes his book with instructions for how the congregant can help prevent pulpit crimes.

Overall, this book serves as incredibly helpful for the pastor who is willing to acknowledge that we all can be tempted to build our ministry on our own wisdom, and not the Lord's. Read with a humble heart, the pastor can see ways he is tempted (or has even committed) pulpit crimes. This book also serves as a good resource for the person in the pew who is uneasy with the preaching trends in their local church but is not sure of the root problem or how to graciously approach their pastor about it.

Flaw of Intellectual Preaching

Some consider the goal of preaching to be growing the intellect; as long as people learned something, surely they grew. Others fear any kind of information transfer; for "knowledge puffs up," right?

Consider the two following passages [emphasis added]:

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.--Romans 12:1-2

That, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.--Ephesians 4:22-24
Clearly, preaching is to engage the mind, for you are speaking of the oracles of God. Despite some weak protests by some postmodern advocates, words do have meaning and those meanings combine to make fact statements. Good preaching will engage the mind, however, preaching that just rests in the mind will be ineffective and will seem ethereal.

Preaching that rests in the mind will either tempt the listener to self-righteousness (thinking that knowledge equals sanctification) or will overwhelm the listener with yet more information, details and requirements. Others, who wish to live in their sin, will prefer informational preaching, for who really gets convicted studying the dates of the Jewish deportation?

So, the mind is necessary in sanctification, but the mind is not where the preacher should exclusively land.

Where should he aim?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Pride Comes before the TKO

Saw this video on Justin Taylor's blog the other day. I'm not a UFC fan (as all cool pastor's are to be now-a-days), but this did strike me as apropos.

Preaching Diagrams

As our "sermoneutics" class is winding down, I presented the following illustrations to instruct about preaching.

The Frustration of Preaching

Many people falsely use the Shema as a tool to dissect man into three compartments.* Then, after severing the man into pieces, the preacher is left to figure out "where" he is to aim. Does he aim for the mind and preach intellectually? Does he aim for the heart and preach emotionally? Does he aim for action and preach motivationally?

And that's just thinking about one member of the audience! Consider also that within any congregation, you're going to have people who also say these three things:

      "I come to church to learn. I want to be fed."
      "I come to church for worship. I want to feel."
      "I come to church to change. I want to be told what to do."
So, what is the preacher to do? Simply preach according to his own giftedness? If you're more intellectual, emotional or motivational, simply preach in that way. Do you evaluate the audience? Figure out which demographic you have and preach accordingly. Does the text determine it? Perhaps the passage determines where you aim.

Or, is the preacher called to try to do all three at once, every time? Yet, clearly this can effect how crisp and sharp the message truly is.

* Many assume that Moses (and Jesus here was breaking man into three parts. However, this formula--which most people are familiar--is not based upon these words, but upon Greek philosophy. One can quickly see that these words do not mean three separate parts when one considers Jesus occasionally added a fourth dimension. A quick scan of Scripture will also show that God speaks of the mind and the heart in much the same way throughout the Bible.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Repost: Please Pastor, Re-view This

If you are planning on preaching on money soon (and you know who you are), please watch this video by Matt Chandler (you can download the entire message at DesiringGod):

Costly Credit

One final thought when it comes to the world of sports, postgame interviews and our chance to exalt Christ.

It's going to cost you.

Though I doubt he perfectly nailed it every time, I always enjoyed hearing Charlie Ward share after a game. Though an incredible athlete (a Heisman trophy winner and NBA basketball player who was also drafted by two MLB teams), Ward regularly turned the attention to the gospel. His statements made it clear the gospel was his first love.

I remember one year the Knicks were making a deep run into the playoffs. In the midst of this, a New York reporter chose to sit in on a Bible study some members of the team enjoyed. In the study, Ward made a comment that the Jews rejected their Messiah and had Him killed. The reporter wrote his article, declaring Ward an anti-semite and had the whole city in a tizzy. Much was made during the game of Ward's comment, with announcers even wondering if his comments would hurt team chemistry. Though never an All-Star (on a cast of all-stars), Ward hit several key threes to seal a victory. At the end of the game, a reporter grabbed Charlie and immediately asked about the game, the controversial week, and whether Ward regretted his statements. Skillfully, Charlie simply stated his love and devotion for the Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation He provided him. It truly was one of my favorite "sports moments."

As much as I love Charlie Ward (and I'm a Pistons fan!), I'm not going to claim his loyalty to Christ cut his career short. (I think the real reason was knee cartilage.) However, it certainly created some tension and stress at times. Bold Christian athletes have regularly had their intensity, loyalty and team chemistry questioned. People will accuse the player of proselytizing, preaching at other players or being judgmental. Sacrifices will probably be made.

This should serve to remind us that all sacrifice involves cost. Often we want to offer our bodies a living sacrifice, but we hope that comes free of charge. However, if we take advantage of opportunities to speak of Christ and His work on our behalf, it will sometimes create a cost. The cost does not mean you've done something wrong. It just may mean you've done something right.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Don't Trust Statistics

It's amazing how the moment you attach numbers to an opinion, it can quickly seem like fact. A recent study finds that 74% of all people find a great amount of confidence in a statement that is verified with statistical data. (Ok, made that up. But made you look.) Anyway, statistics have become all the rage when trying to trace Christian patterns.

For instance, 27% of born again Christians have been divorced, in comparison to 24% of those who are not born again.

"What does this mean," we may ask? "Are Christians less committed than pagans and our marriages [or lack of] ruining any possible testimony for the Lord.

John MacArthur says, "Not so fast."

In an article, MacArthur reminds us that we need to take a second look at this statistic. One question we should be asking, "What do they mean by 'born again'?"

Apparently, the person who receives the phone call gets to decide if they are born again. To be classified as born again, the person called simply needs to claim (1) to have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important to him today and (2) that he will go to heaven because he has confessed his sins and accepted Jesus Christ as His Savior.

But such pollster strategies (I'm not suggesting a better way. I don't know that conversion can be confirmed over a cold call.) create a perfect "Lord, Lord situation." Sadly, this can allow for a situation where a person claims to know Christ, but Christ would not claim to know him/her.

For instance, using these same criteria to poll only the "born again", another study found:

15% deny the resurrection of Christ
28% believe that Jesus committed sins during His life on earth
34% believe that if a person is good enough he can earn a place in heaven
26% believe that it doesn’t matter what faith you follow because they all teach the same lessons
45% believe that Satan is a symbol of evil rather than an actual being

As I've stated before, such critical analysis of statistics should also cause us to reconsider the whole "All young people (and most boomers) are bailing on the church at an alarming rate" poll results as well.

So next time you see a stat, let it be a chance to remind you that you do not want the "Gentiles to blaspheme His name" because of your actions, but to rest in the fact that God sanctifies those whom He justifies. No need to panic...unless He is not in charge.

Vague Credit

First of all, I want to thank God, for without Him, none of this would have been possible.

This week, I've been taking a look at this phrase. It doesn't thrill me, but I think we can learn from it. However, even if the athlete chose to say, "First of all, I want to thank Jesus Christ, for without Him, none of this would have been possible," I think the statement can be improved.

While the above statement is true, for all things have been made by, for and unto Him, He is therefore worthy of all thanksgiving, the listener is still left to wonder just what you mean. By simply saying you are thankful for all things, you are actually thanking Him for nothing.

So what should you thank Jesus for? The win? I always find that troubling, for what do you make of the fact that other players/fans were probably rooting for the other team. You could thank Jesus for your health, but again, this could seem awkward if another player was injured during the game. You could thank Jesus for your gifts, skills, abilities, breaks, contract, teammates or opportunity, however, trying to list all of these things could make you sound like the NASCAR driver who tries to rattle off every sponsor in less than four seconds.

How about thanking Jesus for the most central thing He has ever done for you?

Ultimately, whatever the outcome of the game, it's still just a game. Despite the grace of your physical health, it's still just your physical help. No gracious blessing you could receive will mean a thing if you still stand before God condemned for your sins. The athlete may not get the chance to say, "Hey, this is only a game," without the statement being misconstrued as apathy or complacency. He doesn't need to state how his salvation exceeds all other blessings he has received. Simply by only giving thanks for your salvation, you automatically place it out front and center.

In the same way, we should seek to take our speech to the gospel. We should seek to take opportunities to thank Jesus not just for the blessings we've received in life, but for the most blessed work He did for us. Don't always attempt to thank Him for everything, for without the gospel, none of it would mean anything.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Non-Derogatory Preaching

Though I lack Edwards' brain and the administrative skill to place all of these in one location, I thought from time to time I may lay out some resolutions. (Of course, any resolution needs to be prefaced with: BEING SENSIBLE THAT I AM UNABLE TO DO ANYTHING WITHOUT GOD' S HELP, I DO HUMBLY ENTREAT HIM BY HIS GRACE TO ENABLE ME TO KEEP THESE RESOLUTIONS, SO FAR AS THEY ARE AGREEABLE TO HIS WILL, FOR CHRIST' S SAKE.)

Resolved, I will not speak derogatorily of preaching again. In light of the gift of God that preaching is to His children, and the privilege it is to participate in it, I will not succumb to the world's low view of preaching. This does not mean that I will not critique sermons (or preachers) which fall far short of God's standard (but rather, I might in effort to keep the standard for preaching high), but I will not speak ill of the practice of preaching.

I will lose the phrase, "Sorry, but I've got to preach to you on this," or "Oops, I'm sorry. Did that seem like preaching to you?" even when used in the midst of everyday conversation. Such statements violate that preaching is a gift and tool used by God and instead participates in the worldly perspective that preaching is oppressive, boring and authoritarian.

Instead, when given the opportunity to preach (whether behind a pulpit or in everyday conversation) I desire to have a heart of gratitude to God for having revealed His Son in His Word and for having granted me the privilege of being His herald!

Giving Jesus Credit

First of all, I want to thank God, for without Him, none of this would have been possible.

I mentioned Monday that the phrase doesn't thrill me, and mentioned yesterday that there could be something for us to learn from it.

My first concern is that this phrase is just too vague. Except for the vexed atheist, everyone else is left to think you may be talking about their god. Even if the person knows you are a Christian, a simply compliment to "God" can allow the person to take a more relativistic perspective; knowing who you mean by God, not believing you are limiting yourself to only this God.

Jesus leaves no room for doubt. By giving thanks to Jesus Christ you leave no room for doubt. If a person objects that they truly wanted to thank God the Father, then I would suggest they say, "God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ."

Here's the ultimate question:

Could the same statement of thanks have been made by a Jew, a Muslim or a "God-fearing" pagan?

So often, we're content for people to know general things about us: we're religious, we go to church, we don't do this-or-that. However, those things do not tell us much. The world is not offended by religion, church or morals. Frankly, Jesus would not have been crucified had He simply been a good, church going guy. No, Jesus was killed for declaring that He is God, had the power to forgive sin and would be raised to life after dying in place of others.

If you are a believer, you were not saved by being a monotheist. If you are a believer, you are saved by the precious blood of Jesus Christ, who offered Himself on behalf of your sins. If you want to glorify God in every opportunity, make sure you speak of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Just Incredible...

If you are a Lord of the Rings fan, you simply must check this out:

The Hunt for Gollum

Now, as a fair warning, I should tell you what kind of LOTR fan I am. I have read the Hobbit, but none of the other books. I enjoyed the trilogy of films, but I watch movies for entertainment, so I did not assess their cinematography or fidelity to the books. I have no idea if this short film is from a story line in another book, or if this is all speculative.

I simply found it entertaining and was shocked by the quality of volunteers.


Credit Score--Does It Matter

Yesterday, I mentioned that I find the statement, "First of all, I want to thank God, for without Him, none of this would have been possible," is not a statement that thrills me to hear.

But is this just a case of being nit-picky? I mean after all, can't we cut some slack? These men (or women) have just endured a competition that taxed their physical, emotional and mental limits only to have a camera stuck in their face and to be asked, "What do you think?" Half the time, these athletes are still huffing and puffing from the competition. Can we really evaluate what they say?

While we should offer grace in these situations (and notice, I'm not calling anyone specific out), I do think there are lessons for us to learn, even for those of us who will probably never have anyone with a microphone ask us what we believe...especially in a heated situation.

1. These athletes have played this moment in their head in advance. Seriously, even "players" like myself--who mastered keeping the bench pinned to the floor--visualized playing a central role in a high profile game. It may be the first time a microphone is in their face, but it's not the first time they have played the scenario in their head. This is a perfect example of, "but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;" (1 Peter 3:15). You may never cross the checkered, sink a putt, drive in a run or drain a shot when everyone is looking, but if your sanctification is visible to the world, questions will be asked, and you should have answers prepared in advance.

2. Similarly, we live in a sound byte culture. When the reporter asks a question, the athlete will not have time to breakdown his take on the covenants, why he's complementarian or his former religious views. He has probably been asked a different question already and will only have a moment to make another statement, before he must deal with the questions he's been asked. If he keeps ignoring the question before him, he will appear rude, smug and selfish. Though it may be halftime or postgame, the clock is still ticking. Our days are often filled with similar opportunities. No, evangelism is not the sum of pithy cliches and witty one-liners. However, I often pray that doors would be opened for the opportunity to share and underestimate how often I may have a chance to influence the conversation or nudge it in a direction. Examining a quick statement at the beginning of an interview can help us remember we need to articulate the things that matter.

Just Amazing!

Driving down 49South at 4:30AM, I got to enjoy the most amazing lightning storm. At times, the entire sky lit up as if it were day. Other times, the most powerful bolts were coming right down to the ground; I expected to see trees and fields ablaze beside the road. There were even these horizontal blasts that looked like macro-static electricity. Truly and evidence of God's majesty.

Making it even more spectacular, I was listening to a message by Matt Chandler from Advance 09. Wonderful, wonderful message! (A delight to see the Word of God as far more brilliant than any lightning shower.)

Monday, June 8, 2009

If You Are Looking for Me...

I'm without my cell for the next couple days...

the best way to reach me is probably by email.

Clowney on the New Perspective

As I'm working through the Preaching Christ in a Postmodern World podcast, Ed Clowney made the following observation regarding the New Perspective on Paul*:

Romans 4:13: For not through the Law was the promise made to Abraham or to his Seed, that He should be heir of the world, but through the righteousness of faith. For if they that are of the Law are made heirs, faith is made void and the promise is made of none effect. For the Law works wrath, but where there is no Law, neither is there transgression.

So, you see the Law works wrath because it exposes our sin, it stimulates our sin, it bars the way to life, it condemns us, it shows us we can't do it and it's all because it is given--in the history of redemption--to point us forward to the fulfillment of the promise. That's all! Galatians says--Paul says this in Galatians all the time, doesn't he? He keeps talking about the time of the Spirit. The coming of the Spirit. Life through the Spirit. And Paul's doctrine then, is against the works righteousness of the synagogue.

Now, I know the arguments made by Sanders and others that we've had a wrong take on the Pharisees; that they were really very much into grace. You can quote rabbis that show grace in things they say.

I mean, c'mon, we're hearing from a guy who was one!
I'd have to agree with Clowney, that though New Perspective theology may be academically stimulating and intriguing, it just seems to deny arguments that Paul is making. Consider:
For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.--Romans 3:28

Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.--Galatians 2:16
It sure seems like Paul understood second temple Judaism to be works-oriented. Acts 2 tells us that many priests came to know Christ, so it should not be surprising to find some teachers who would be oriented toward grace. However, we should remember that all of humanity, since the time when Satan tempted Adam and Eve to strive for god-likeness, that man has attempted to work his way to God.

*The New Perspective on Paul is a view that says most Jews at the time of Christ did not believe they were justified by their works but depended on God's grace for justification. This view attempts to bridge the gap between Catholics and protestants formed during the Reformation, by stating both sides get the text slightly wrong. It claims the purpose of Romans and Galatians is more racial unity and how people should act once in the church, rather than explaining how one becomes part of the church. NT Wright is probably the biggest advocate of a New Perspective, and John Piper has a well-written response to NT Wright, if you'd like to investigate further.

Giving God Credit

Though I try to keep it in proper proportion, right now is a great time to be a sports fan. The NBA Finals are compelling, baseball is heating up, camps are opening up in the NFL and I'm even headed out to a drag race laster this month. It's amazing to watch athlete compete at a level you could only dream of and to exercise abilities God has given them, whether they acknowledge Him as the source or not. It's especially thrilling to follow an athlete who professes Christ as Savior. (I intentionally keep from knowing about any believers who attend the School Up North so I won't feel compelled to root for any player.) However, there is one trend that bothers me a bit, lately:

First of all, I want to thank God, for without Him, none of this would have been possible.

What do you think?

Is there a better way to seek to glorify God?

Are there lessons for us to consider?

I'll attempt to break down some of my thoughts through the week.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

More on Sobriety

The day I put the finishing touches on Lesson 5, I later read the following by James White:

Finally, there is a key term used here that has been lost in the large portion of preaching and proclamation today, one we saw in Paul's instruction to Timothy and Titus: solemnity. This is actually part of the term "to testify." Our testimony is to be solemn, serious, and befitting the subject of proclamation. There is something unnatural about speaking of eternal judgment, redemption, forgiveness, lordship, and life in the context of light-hearted entertainment and Hawaiian shirt informality. I'm sorry, but it is hard for me to take a man seriously who rides a Harley into the sanctuary, for example, (nothing wrong in riding one to the service!) or who is going out of his way to be viewed not as a herald of a majestic person with a weighty message, but as my buddy, my pal, my next door neighbor. This kind of seriousness, fervency, and gravity is not inconsistent with joy that marks one's own testimony of redemption and forgiveness. It does not mean that one's proclamation has to be boring, stiff, or lacking in interest or even appropriate humor. Sadly, we live in a day when many who come into the fellowship lack basic listening skills or the discipline to pay attention for almost any length of time at all. An appropriate, topic-sensitive use of humor can "refocus" an audience so that one can press home an important statement. However, humor can never become the vehicle of real Christian preaching. When we testify that Jesus is the Judge of the living and the dead, that is not a joking matter. One cannot but speak of such weighty matters with a solemnity fitting the subject.
Pulpit Crimes, pp 44-45

Friday, June 5, 2009

Lesson Learned [5]

As I mentioned previously, Charity and I have recently come out of an intense time of learning. It is my desire to record some of these lessons learned for the sake of perhaps encouraging others. It is also my desire that I do not forget the lessons learned, even by encouraging accountability from readers to help me remember these lessons.

Lesson Five: Ministry calls for sobriety.

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.--2 Timothy 4:1-5
Can my ministry be marked by sobriety and a solemn charge? Eleven years ago, it was not.

One of the great "dark clouds" of my ministry happened while serving in Richmond, Virginia. Our Senior Pastor had just been asked to step down and our entire church was reeling from the recent events. Our elders were emotionally spent and the people were confused. And as the only other paid staff at the church, they turned the pulpit over to me. My sermon series in the midst of all of this? "Everything I Needed to Know, I Learned from Baseball. Though never a competitive baseball player, I had a number of humorous stories to supply and found "moral lessons" for each. I even had the series kicked off with two people doing Who's On First? At the time, I thought the series was just what the doctor ordered; something fun and refreshing. I later came to realize it was fool-hearty and stupid. Now, I think it was probably offensive.

As I was preaching Leviticus 14, I'm looking out at people who have lost children, battled cancer, been abandoned by the spouse, faced unemployment and recently lost their spouse of 50 years (just to name a few). This doesn't include marital struggles, battles with sin and other emotional strains that I'm not aware of. The sermon was certainly sober, and it is the only appropriate response to such situations.

Our youth pastor sometimes wears a shirt that says, "Life is more than laughter." (Apparently, a regular quote from his father-in-law.) As Charity and I faced the severity of her possible diagnosis my mind eventually considered my preaching. If I had just heard my wife may have in inoperable tumor and came to church to hear Baseball Sermons, I would have left hungry (at best) and possibly angry at the pastor (in worst case). I thought the "Baseball Series" was edgy back then, but would be considered pretty tame today. In our "entertain and win them" church culture today, things have been elevated to costumes, shock language and perceived "taboo topics." Ironically, these methods are often done under the guise of reaching the lost. But why do many unsaved people visit a church? Is it not often that a person is seeking answers after a tragedy? Do they want to hear stupidity, stand-up routines and pretend that life is a joke? How about your sheep? What will really provide answers and hope for them? Is it best for them to have to put on a plastic smile, sit through your entertainment and pretend to everyone else that life is good? The Wisdom Literature suggests that we shortchange our ability to grow when we choose laughter and silliness over dealing with difficult issues in life.

I love to joke. In fact, one of my biggest problems in preaching is to not get carried away with humor. Ninety percent of the time, a comment I later regret after a sermon was a comment I made intended to incite laughter. Life can be enjoyable and the believer certainly shouldn't walk around the earth declaring, "Woe is me!" However, realizing the solemn call of ministry is to do our work with sobriety. Then we can be honest with people...life is hard, but our God is good.

The Leviticus 14 passage was a heavy passage to deal with. By God's grace (and my lack of creativity), I knew of no other way to preach the text than with sobriety. But once we heard the potential diagnosis, my wife and I both realized that sermon was exactly what we needed to hear.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Lesson Learned [4]

As I mentioned previously, Charity and I have recently come out of an intense time of learning. It is my desire to record some of these lessons learned for the sake of perhaps encouraging others. It is also my desire that I do not forget the lessons learned, even by encouraging accountability from readers to help me remember these lessons.

Lesson Four: Sanctification in advance

and we sent Timothy, our brother and God's fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith, so that no one would be disturbed by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this. For indeed when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; and so it came to pass, as you know.--1 Thessalonians 3:2-4
Pastoral care can often feel reactionary. There are fires to put out, people that need counseled on specific topics, and current events to investigate through Scripture. Even the elements of reproof and correction are reactionary, for you are calling the person to think and act differently than they had.

However, God reminded me that much of the shepherding process is also preparatory. Just as Paul knew the Thessalonians would be better prepared for his suffering by being informed ahead of time, God graciously prepares us for some things before they come. Really, this is the only way 1 Corinthians 10:13 makes sense. How does God prevent you from being tempted beyond what you are capable? Clearly, this comes through the renewing of the mind. Just as God prepared good works for us in advance (Ephesians 2:10), He also prepares the believer for the trial in advance. This does not mean the believer does not grow in the midst of the trial or that the Word of God is not needed for wisdom to endure the trial, but it certainly reminds us that a Sovereign God who knows my needs better than I is laying all things out for His glory.

I was renewed to see God's grace as I examined the passages He had me in around the time of this trial (as I mentioned in Lesson One). However, my focus was also sharpened to think about my congregation. Again, I was reminded that looking at the current felt needs of the congregation exclusively will not necessarily help equip people for future trials. God, in His wisdom, desires to not only equip people for their current circumstances, but desires to prepare them in advance for trials they will face.

And yes, it caused me to think of sequential exposition again. Say what you will about a Sovereign God and His ability to move in my heart to preach on a particular topic. I will not deny His ability to do such things. All I can speak to is what did happen. All I know is that the week before my bride received a troubling diagnosis, God saw fit to have me see His sovereign hand in the midst of suffering, and while we waited to hear the results of test, God strengthened me by reminding me of His absolute hatred of death. Could He have instructed me of those lessons from any number of texts? Certainly. Would I have naturally ended up on Leviticus to see those points? I very seriously doubt it.

How gracious to know the Heavenly Father knows both dates that will be etched on my tombstone, and that He will never leave me nor forsake me in between!

No Greater Joy

I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.--3 John 4
Our daughter has just finished a fabulous first grade year. She enjoys reading and has developed quite well.

Two years ago, when she was in her kindergarten interview, her (public) school teacher asked her, "And why do we go to school?"

Her answer: "To learn about Jesus."

The teacher wasn't sure what to make of that, but I was proud of her answer and actually found it quite deep. My number one goal for her literacy is not getting a good job or succeeding in society, but that the gift of literacy allows her the joy of reading the very words of God. I thought her answer was great!

This week, Charity and I gave out daughter the NASB Study Bible for Girls. (Unfortunately, this Bible has been discontinued and took me about three weeks to find a copy). In the last four days, I've had the following father high-lights:

--Walking through the living room to find my daughter sitting on the couch, reading her Bible in the morning...just like Mommy.

--Reading Romans 8:18-21 along with her as Jason led our congregation in that passage.

--Having her read John 8:31-37 as one of our TableTalk Discussions for the week. Then, while I cleared up dishes, to have her read John 1:6-13 and answer questions as she and I slowly go through the book of John together.

At the end of our discussion, she said, "Daddy, I wish everyone would love Jesus and go to heaven." Me too, kiddo.

May God grant her a heart that loves the Lord with all that she has, and may He protect me from underestimating what she (or our other three) can handle.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Lesson Learned [3]

As I mentioned previously, Charity and I have recently come out of an intense time of learning. It is my desire to record some of these lessons learned for the sake of perhaps encouraging others. It is also my desire that I do not forget the lessons learned, even by encouraging accountability from readers to help me remember these lessons.

Lesson Three: My lack of gratitude is sinful.

For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?--1 Corinthians 4:7
--21 years ago I was in awe that God made a woman so gorgeous.

--About 18 years ago, I finally worked up the courage to speak to her, and was surprised that she would be so kind and friendly to me.

--17 years ago, I spent a summer with her, marveling that her inner beauty exceeds her outer.

--14 years ago (July 20, 1995), I was dumbfounded when she told me she loved me.

--13 years ago (July 21, 1996), I was flabbergasted that she said, "I will."

--12 years ago (July 12, 1997), I was overjoyed when she said, "I do."

--7 years ago (August 24, 2002), I was amazed that she could continue to love me and my daughter so well. (And continue to prove that three more times!)

--35 days ago, I sat on my couch in shock...thinking I was going to lose her.

Sadly, somewhere between 21 years ago and 35 days ago, I started to take her for granted. I acknowledged that I didn't deserve her and I knew that to be true. However, I wasn't fully seeing the grace of God in my bride. It should not take fear or tragedy to wake me up, yet I was not appreciating her as I should.

God laid the following things on my heart:

If God takes my wife from me today, He has already given me varying levels of undeserved joy for the last 21 years. That first encounter with her was better than I deserved.

I am a dolt, therefore, I am prone to forgetting this lesson. Yet another evidence that I have been treated far better than I deserve.

A License to Shame?

For the last couple weeks, there has been a car parked on our street that has a red and yellow Ohio license tag. I had no idea what this was until some guest recently informed me that it means the driver has been convicted of multiple DUI's. Apparently, these tags have been available--but rarely ordered by judges--since 1967.

So my questions are:

a) The police can see your driving record simply by running the plate number, right? So, are these tags issued to inform the general public?

b) If this is for the general public, does it actually work if most people (I assume) probably don't know why these tags exist either? (I simply thought they were specialty tags.)

c) If this is for the general public, is this for the purpose of safety? But if I am close enough to notice that their tag is issued from Ohio (and isn't merely an out of state or specialty tag), am I already in harm's way? Would this inform my driving near them in ways that observing their driving (swerving/speeding/etc) would not?

c) Is the real purpose to shame the DUI offender? If so, does this work as a deterrent?

d) Is shame ever a good deterrent? Does it matter if the person is a believer or not?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Lessons Learned [2]

As I mentioned previously, Charity and I have recently come out of an intense time of learning. If it my desire to record some of these lessons learned for the sake of perhaps encouraging others. It is also my desire that I do not forget the lessons learned, even by encouraging accountability from readers to help me remember these lessons.

Lesson Two: God's goodness

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.--Romans 8:28-30
Non-believers and immature Christians will say:

I am facing this trial, despite the fact that God is good.

Their trial and God's goodness are not related. They will seek to construct a system where God excuses Himself from sovereign responsibility while we endure a trial. They know God must be good, yet He does not seem to be acting good at the moment.

A slightly more mature believer will say:

I am facing this trial, yet God is good.

This person will be tempted to acknowledge God's goodness in the results that will come from the trial, but not in the trial itself. They trust that God can "trump" any situation and make it turn good.

A matured believer will say:

I am facing this trial because God is good.

While waiting to hear Charity's test results, many well meaning people would tell me how they were praying. Often, I would hear people say things like, "God is good. I just know that the test results are going to come back OK." However, by God's grace, God pushed me deeper into the Text. Real peace is not in trusting your desired outcome because you claim God's goodness. Peace is found in trusting that God's goodness is revealed in the trial, not just the results.

Through this recent situation, God reminded me of passage after passage dealing with His sovereignty and drove me to remembering the goal when enduring a trial. The goal is not merely survival. The goal is not just to trust God for the results. The goal is to trust God for the trial.