A Broken Down Faith

“Faith Without works is dead” what a convicting word from the book of James. This one verse in many places has caused great consternation, but this should not be the case. This one verse rather than being a stumbling block should be the encouragement that we need time and again to remember how we are called to live. In the book of James we are not being attacked for trusting in the grace of God or Christ for our full salvation, but rather being encouraged to test that faith by living out the Christian life. In seminary this was the primary area that I studied, applied theology or in normal terms ethics. It is the call to work out and apply the question of Peter “how then shall we now live.” If we know the truth of God, if we believe it with all of our hearts, soul and, mind than it must be worked out in our lives. Our faith is not a passive one but an active one; it is one that calls us to do; not to sit. It is a faith that calls us out of our enslavement to sin and death, to walk in holiness. Here are three quick reason and solution to why we don’t always “work” out our salvation.

We are Afraid

Deep down this is an underlying cause of much of why we don’t do what we been called to do, we are afraid. We’re afraid we may fail. We are afraid that somehow we will fail God’s moral standards and in so failing lose the hope of our salvation, but we know from Scripture that is not the case. Failure is just another opportunity to show that only God is perfect, and in that as well is another opportunity for us to see God transform our failures into his successes. We must not be afraid to fail but only to strive to live is Christ in faith in him. Fear of failure is one of the most paralyzing fears that grips the church, rather than trusting God to do the work our own knowledge of our inadequacy stops us from moving forward. This is especially true with sin. We are afraid that of what will happen when we try to walk in faith and stubble, or we are afraid to reach out to fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and seek help to overcome an ingrown sin, for fear of what they may think about us.

The greatest solution to fear is to truly trust in God. This may sound condescending but will we fear the call to live out the Christian life to fullest because of the thoughts and words of others. Will we allow fear of what might be rob us from the joy of what we know we have in Christ. We must understand that we are sinful beings who been saved by the grace of God, and it is by His saving grace that we can stand. To truly embrace the grace of God is to walk in it, and it is to be tested through faith.

We don’t know how

This this unfortunately feel like it’s become more and more the case as the church becomes more and more lax in the teaching of spiritual disciplines. What I mean by this is there has become shortage of teaching on how to live out the Christian life beyond simply telling people to read their Bibles and pray. To work out our faith with fear and trembling means to work it out in every aspect of life. It means that we teach our people what it means to live out the faith at their jobs, with their spouses, in how they discipline their children, in how they fellowship with their neighbors, and how they apply the Bible.

The solution to this involves the church rolling up its sleeves and doing the hard work of living life together. It’s involves the commitment of mature believers to walk alongside and disciple new converts in the faith. It involves those who have struggled, those who been comforted, and those who walk through the fires to pass on what they learned from those experiences of the work of God to others. We must seek to teach one another to walk in faith and it requires a commitment to walk together. If we want to know how to walk we must observe and be taught by others. Those who are in the midst of running the race well must desire to teach those who are coming behind them.

We Don’t want to

This is the part that really drives me crazy, because at the heart of many within the younger reform community this is actually why we do not live according to the Word of God. We’ve taken to the world and we enjoy what it has to offer us, and rather than living as God has called us to live we’ve adopted a view that God is cool with whatever we do as long as we rest in His grace. However as we see from Scripture this can’t be further from the truth. Choosing to live apart from Christ is to choose to not know Christ. This is an attitude where I sin because I want to and I don’t care what God has to say about it because he will forgive me anyways. This very idea is an anathema to the history of the reformed faith that many of these young believers even claim to uphold for you and never find this in the writings of Calvin nor of the Puritans, for of all men they saw that the glorious gift of God’s grace was not an excuse to sin but a motivation for righteousness.

The solution to is to simply turn back to God. It honestly is to repent and believe the truth of the Gospel that has called you out of darkness into the light. We do not celebrate in the things of the world but in the things of God. It involves the church standing true to the Gospel in the midst of a world that tells us that it’s archaic and out of step with the times. You must remember that your life is not your own; it has been crucified with Christ, and if you believe that it is you who are living and not Christ in you than you have lost sight of the reality of the gift that you claim to have. Therefore the only solution that remains is to repent and believe and walk in faith. For we have been saved by grace to Christ and in so to walk the Christian life.

 

 

Killing Jesus!

In the concluding chapter of the Book of Mark we are introduced to Jesus’s rejection and eventual execution by the hands of the Romans, but what is so interesting about the text is the fact that He stands alone. Throughout the course of some 18 hours Jesus goes from having a crowd of merry men to no one. He goes from being a celebrated possible messiah to an executed rebel. As the story unfolds in the Gospel texts we see His followers fall away and as they do those who stand opposed to Jesus become more emboldened, but have you ever stopped to think how these same attitudes that existed with Jesus in the presence of his disciples still exists within us.

It is easy to say that if Jesus was alive today we would stand and defended him, but that is the very thing peter Said before Jesus told him of his eventual desertion. Why do we somehow think we are more spiritual or better than those who have gone before us, in the concluding narrative of Mark’s Gospel (14:43-15:15) we are introduced to a series of events, each feature a rejection or desertion, and each coming from a variety of motives; So today I would like us to briefly examine theses six groups and how their attitudes can infiltrate ourselves and the church.

His Betrayer: In Mark 14:43-46 we see the betrayal of Jesus by one of the Twelve; Judas. Now of course none of us would like to think of ourselves as Judas, who would; there is a reason no one names there child this. However, If you think about it, the attitude of Judas can often be seen in the church by those who feel they are being disenfranchised, by the church. Here in lies an attitude that believes that the church owes them something and as long as the church is doing what they believe to be filling there needs then everything is awesome, but when the church “changes course” or no longer meets their expectation they take it as a personal affront and attack on themselves. We betray Jesus when our own mission and goals supersede, to the point of division, His mission of reaching the lost and making disciples through the church

Those Who Have Fled: Now many of us may not associate ourselves with Judas, but the other 10 who flee may hit a little closer to home. After Jesus is arrested the remaining disciples (aside from Peter) flee into the unknown for fear that they too may be arrested. Here we see an attitude that is tough on the surface about faith and trust in Christ, but when the pressure mounts it is easy to fall away and flee. While you won’t deny the faith you won’t take a stand for it either. In a modern context this would be to say that your faith is a Private faith. In fear of facing the cost of standing strong for Jesus when it could cost us something we shrink back out of fear. We flee from Jesus when we fear what the world might think about us.

The Denier: The next major event in the abandonment of Christ is the outright denial by the very one who first stated that Jesus was the Christ, Peter. In the gospel of Mark we see that Peter didn’t immediately flee with the others, he followed behind the crowd and traveled to the court of the High priest. What seemed like a victory for standing with Jesus soon turns sour when he is confronted about his relationship to Jesus. Unlike those who simply fled Peter goes on the defensive, at first by feigning to not understand the question to outright attack as he swears curses upon himself. Here we see a perfect illustration of one who stands strong in the company of brothers and sisters, but when the world presses in with its own accusation, they deny the whole truth. This is an attitude that creeps in to the church where we love to be bold on Sunday mornings but Monday through Saturday the faith seems to not exist.  We Deny Jesus when we reject who He is openly to a dying world for fear of what they think about us.

While the first three groups were made up of those that should have followed Jesus the concluding three groups are made up of those who by nature are hostile to Jesus, just as we once were when we lived apart from Him, but these attitudes as well can find themselves re-rooting themselves in our own hearts at time.

Religious Leaders: The religious leaders in the text see the teachings of Jesus as a threat to their power and stability. He defies their religious understandings of the Torah and seems to pose a threat to their very way of life, as he offered hope and salvation to the Gentiles, as well as the Jews. In our modern context we see this is in every major religion (including the segments of the Christian faith). Those who prefer their way of truth and righteousness apart from Christ. This is saddest when it is seen in the context of the church. For when these attitudes take hold in the church we see a shift from turning people’s hearts and minds to Christ and on to ourselves. It is a shift that tells people they can earn their salvation, not that they are in need of a savior. It teaches that the way to truth is through morality and self-discipline, not through the cross of Christ alone. We can become like the religious leaders when our faith becomes solely about us and not about Christ and the Cross.

Pilate: Many look at Pilate in the text and see a conflicted man, on the one hand he clearly sees that the religious leaders are simply trying to kill an innocent man out of envy for his crowing support and his challenging of their way of life, but on the other hand he also has a country to run and a people to keep pacified. He was man who chose to do what was expedient, rather than what was just. This happens all the time when we reach out to an unbelieving world. They may clearly see the reality of who Jesus is, but also see the pressing realities of what it will cost them to act on the truth. Pilate doesn’t kill Jesus because he wants to, but because the alternative seems to high a cost. He even attempts to bargain his way out of the situation to no avail. There is no bargaining with Jesus, He is an all or nothing God. We become like Pilate when we feel the pressures of the world as more demanding then our faith in the righteousness of Jesus, and choose to give up the truth for the sake of expediency.

The Crowd: The crowd is the one group that will always get a lot of flack, and rightfully so, but what is so interesting when we stop and look at the crowd is that there overall goal seems to be to receive their “true messiah.” When they demand the release of Barabbas and the crucifixion Jesus we see that the crowd was once again rejecting Jesus because he wasn’t the messiah they wanted. The wanted a strong military leader, one who would overthrow Rome and return to them power and freedom. The people didn’t like the freedom from sin and death that Jesus offered they wanted power and military freedom from Rome. In this group we see a desire to create our own messiahs out weigh the truth of the Christ who offers true freedom. We become like the crowd when we would rather follow a messiah of our own creation then the Christ given to us by God who sets us free from sin and death.

WE ARE BARABBAS!

The second greatest figure in this gospel narrative, after Jesus, is Barabbas. Not because of who he is or what he had done, but because of who he represents. In that moment on that day he was set free from the bondage of prison and given a pardon from execution, because Jesus took his place. This is one of the greatest realizations for any of us, when we see that we are Barabbas. A sinner who deserved the just punishment due us, one who stood against God and the truth of His word, one who did not deserve another to stand in our place, and yet by the intervention of God we have been set free. We no longer carry the charges against us, we no longer carry the punishment that was due us, we have been set free because he has taken our place. We are Barabbas when we repent and believe and put our faith in Christ who takes our place!

Why Do We Need Creeds and Confessions?

The life and history of the church is a very interesting business, filled with a variety of personalities and opinions. This is especially true when it comes to the areas of theology and doctrine. This is why in a country that has always prided itself on individualism we have seen a massive growth of Denominationalism and “Non-denominationalism.” In each camp there is something that is rallied around as supreme, and rarely is it the reality of the gospel, but usually a secondary issue. However we may have come to these distinctive division they do exist and to some degree that is not bad as long as it is not hindering the advancement of the gospel and the truth of the work of Christ. For the most part this is where Creedal and confessional unity has found its niche and revitalization, it would seem, in the church landscape.

Now what is this Creedal and Confessional idea? This is the basic tenant that we as a church local (or believer individually) agree to and uphold a set of Christian teachings and interpretation of the scriptures that are binding on our life and practice. The earliest forms of our modern confessions were the Creeds of the church which originated as early as Paul with the writing of Philippians 2:6-11 and developed over time as the church grew and wrestled with the apostle’s teachings. Eventually there developed two majority creeds; the Apostles Creed and the Nicaean Creed, and after the reformation we say the growth of confessions; two predominant ones are: The Westminster Confession of Faith and the London Baptist Confession of Faith 1689. Today I want to take a moment and go over the benefits of Creeds and Confessions to the Modern Church.

They Bring Clarity

The Creeds and Confessions of the Faith helped to set the foundation for how we understand the scriptures. They in no way have replaced the scriptures, but rather in a succinct manner explained the basic tenants of the faith as reveled in the scriptures. Even to this day we still recite these statements in our churches. The Early creeds helped us to understand the scriptural teachings on the Trinity, gave clarity to the work and means of the Holy Spirit, and the importance of the communion of the saints. They helped us to know what we believed as Christians. In the midst of much confusion they helped new believers to see the basic teachings of the Scriptures.

They Connect Us to our History

The church where I currently pastor recites the Apostles creed following Communion to remind ourselves of the joyous banquet that awaits all the saints for all time that have trusted in the sacrificial death of Christ and await us at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. The creeds and later the Confessions helped us to see that we are not alone in the Christian journey; our faith is not a 21st century invention but rather a historic and beautiful faith that has stood the test of time, through war, persecution, and even times of peace Christ has maintained and grown the church. The Confessions help us to see that. The early church creeds arose out times of great persecution, and the confessions of London and Westminster arose out of the freedoms granted following the painful persecution that plagued the English reformation. In these writing we are reminded that God has been at work building is church for two millennia, lead by the Spirit and His Word.

They Connect Us to One Another

In the Creeds and Confessions we see an underlying interpretation and understanding of the Gospel. As such they help us to bridge denominational lines, they help us to see where we have commonality and not only our difference. Our blog is a good example of this. We are a confessional blog, not a denominational one. We feature guys from a variety of backgrounds but we unify around two important (and yet distinct) confession: Westminster and London. The key distinction in each is their interpretation of baptism, but every other tenant is almost exactly the same with a few variations. As such our writers must agree with one of these two historic documents of the reformed Christian faith. These documents help us to see our great commonality around the truth of scripture rather than our one disagreement on the application of it.

They Point Us Back to the Scripture.

I saved this one for last, because it is the most important. The confessions are not an end in and of themselves and are never meant to be, they are a tool by which we see and go back to the scriptures. If someone calls themselves confessional and yet the bible is not where they have found these truths then they are far from it. To be confessional is to see the truths of these confessions in scripture not in the confessions. If I hold to salvation by Grace alone because the London Baptist Faith says it is biblical but have not examined the scriptures and seen it to be true, than I am relying solely on the word of man and this is the furthest thing from the point of the confessions and creeds. They help us to see the scriptures more clearly not to replace them. Unfortunately, many in the “confessional” camp at times seem to miss this point. When we ascribe to a confession of faith we must be ascribing to the fact that it most clearly represents the truth as revealed in Scripture, not because it is trendy or cool. 

Learn to Preach

No matter what profession you are in one of the key aspects to growth in that profession is continued education and refinement of your skills.  For some that may mean going to a few conferences and learning about new products, for some maybe that is reading a book or two about new procedures and advancements in your given field. No matter what field you are in you usually want to take the opportunity to hone your skills and be better prepared to do the job before you, which is no different in the realm of pastoral ministry. In Pastoral ministry this refinement can take on many forms such as counseling workshops, theological conferences, or reading books and journals.

For me this past week it took on the form of a Simeon Trust Expositional Workshop. These workshops are hosted around the country and even internationally to help preachers get back to the basics of expositing a text. One of the best parts of the week was the reminder that no matter where we are at the goal is to be getting better as a preacher. As Dave Helm put it, “today you should be the worst preacher you will be the rest of your life.” As preachers our studying of scripture from beginning to end will help us refine our knowledge of God and His truth, making connections easier and quicker. The goal of these workshops is simply to help preachers refine their skills through a series of instructional lectures, through worship, through the hearing of the Word, and through their own personal exegetical work in small groups.  In today’s post I want to work through why these four avenues helped me and why if you are in any form of teaching ministry they can help you.

First, the instructional lectures consisted of six designated times of direct instruction on how to study the book of Exodus in a way that prepares you to preach well to your audience. In this time we covered the importance first of prayer. Often overlooked and yet the key component of any sermon is the prayer that went into it, because at the end of the day the Lord can work through the most heretical sermons to change lives, and give no spiritual advancement through the most biblically exegetical sermon. This isn’t to say what we preach doesn’t matter, because Jesus had some strong words on that, but that if we believe it is our work and words that change lives and not God through the power of the Spirit we have already lost. Prayer in sermon prep is a must as we turn over every aspect of our prep work to God.

Once we properly established the foundation we went to work establishing our best practices for making sure the text being preached properly reflects the meaning of the Scriptures. First, we do this by ensuring that we are properly reflecting the original audiences’ understanding of the text before we connect it to today. We must be true to the text before it can truly speak. After establishing the original audience we make a straight line from the text we are in to the Gospel. Now this could take on a variety of different directions such as direct references to your text in the New testament, illusion in scriptures, overarching theological themes found in the text, etc.  however the text connects back to the gospel make sure it is the clearest and most accurate representation of the text, do not try to wedge your gospel presentation into the text, it must flow properly from the text. If Jesus words on the road to Emmaus are correct and all roads lead to Jesus then it is possible, it just takes prayer and dedication to not be forced. After you have established these two things you now apply it directly to your audience in your context. This is where application and illustration come together. Here you want to make every effort to make it clear how this text and its connection to the cross affect your people’s lives today. This will look different depending on where you live and what your church is like, so while the original context and the connection to the gospel should be pretty similar how that is applied in your context may be very different, especially in the use of language, illustrations, textual critics, argumentation, etc. In the end the lectures help us to reorient our time in the study connecting God’s word accurately so that we can preach it biblically.

The next two parts of the workshop: Worship & Preaching, were equally beneficially in that with the preached Word we got to see the three men heading up the workshop put these very principles into action. For those of us from out of town we then were able to talk to them about it over dinner on Thursday evening and get a deeper insight into how they put their study into their delivery. But not only was it edifying on an intellectual level it was a blessing on a spiritual level to just simply be encouraged by the Word at the end of each of these log three days of study. The opportunity to hear the Word was not the only blessing because we were also able to sing in response to the word. It is a surreal experience at times to come together with 50 or so other pastors and just sing in response to the word. Because the faith isn’t simply pure intellectualism, we have been change by a true and living God and that should change how we live and respond, it does take on an emotional component that cannot be left out.

Finally, and really the most important part of the workshop was our small groups, here we spent time praying together reading the Word together and, in a very nice and pastoral way, grilling each other over our exegetical work on pre-assigned texts. This is the heart of the Simeon Trust workshops because it’s where we actually get to work together in community to refine our skills. I believe this is the key strength of the whole week. It is from here that I was able to see some of the areas where I was being a little careless in application, but also a place where through discussing the texts with guys that have been in ministry for 20 plus years realized we are all still learning and we don’t have it all together. When you first start out in the small groups it all seems a little intimidating, but as you work through them over the week you see how they make you a better preacher. They help you to see areas in your thought process that is just slightly skipping a beat, or that has become too dependent on commentaries to do the work that you have lost sight of how to properly connect the text and meaning yourself.

In the end this was a great week and I would encourage anyone to attend one in your area, unfortunately, for us in Florida not so much an option, but hopefully in the future. I would also say this workshop was better than any of the conferences I have attended as a pastor (not that conferences are bad) simply because I came back with skills to use in helping my people.

More Information can be found at their website: http://www.simeontrust.org/

How Then Shall We Now Preach! Pt. 2

Earlier in the week I addressed the need for ministers to take the role of preaching seriously in how we manage our time. When it comes to sermon prep we must allow ourselves time to be saturated by the word of God, giving ourselves time to see the meaning of the text clearly so that we can present it clearly. We cannot become reliant on quick sermons and a good wit to get us by, we are tasked with bringing the Word of God to His people and it is not so light a matter.  We must allow the Word to sink in so that we are able to properly communicate it in a way that helps our people to see the meaning of the text and how it applies to their lives and to the glory of God.

Which then begs the questions how best do we prepare our sermons, especially as we contextualize them to our congregations. David Helm in chapter one of his book Expositional Preaching outlines for us three distant things to remember while preparing and contextualizing our sermons. Each is reminder to us to be diligent in the word and not flippantly running directly to contextualization with no regard for the text.

The first form of sermon prep we should be wary of is Impressionistic preaching. This form of preaching involves the reading of a text and assuming its meaning based solely on our current culture context with limited to no regard for its original one. This form of preaching is usually a result of sloppy study and a quick imagination. If you are an impressionistic preacher you are more concerned with the final result than the accuracy of what the text may say. Once you feel like you have a base line understanding of the text you jump head long into applications and illustrations, without a more diligent working on of the text to ensure that your applications and illustrations find their roots in the text.

We want our people to see the beauty of scripture and the teachings of God for all their beauty not simply to impress them with our cool stories or six lessons to help their marriage. We need them to see the Word of God clearly for it, coupled with the Spirit of God, is the only that that can truly change us. No matter how awesome our illustrations may be, if they don’t clearly represent the text then they are not accurately serving the church or our people. So in an effort to jump straight to application and contextualization, don’t miss the hard work of truly knowing the meaning of the text to the best of your ability.

The second form that we should be wary of is Inebriated Preaching. David helm uses the illustration of a drunk man and a lamp post, the man uses it more for its ability to hold him up than to illuminate his path. In the area o preaching and contextualization this is seen when we come to the text of scripture already knowing what we want to preach and how we want it to connect with our people. We form our argument then go to the text of scripture to help give it legs to stand on. This is very dangerous as here we are really on our wit, knowledge and cleverness to lead our people, not the Word of God or His Spirit. Our creative talents, apart form the Word, may win us a crowd, but that’s what Ted Talks are for not the pulpit. We preach the Word of God not human wisdom. If we come to our sermon prep already knowing what we are going to preach, having not look at the scriptures, this could lead our churches into some very dangerous places, most obviously would be the thought that the bible isn’t as important as the man speaking. We are not smarter than God, we do not have the power to change lives, only the Spirit of God can do that, so let us trust in Him and His Word to work, not our wisdom.

The final form to be wary of is Inspired Preaching. This is a method of sermon prep that arise out of a purely devotional approach to the scriptures. Now what I mean by this is not that preachers should not read the scriptures devotionally as a part of our spiritual growth, we should, but that our subjective (and at times wrong) interpretation should not be the guide for our preaching. Helm points out that for many this takes on the air of spirituality, except in reality it is simply trying to declare my devotional reading as inspired rather than the true meaning of the text. What God is teaching me on Monday in the book of Psalms or Hebrews may not be what he needs the church to be learning in the Book of Mark or anywhere else. We must not allow our very subjective approaches over shadow the truth of scripture especially as we prepare to bring the Word of God to His people. God’s Word is truth, mine is not. The “what does this passage say to you” approach to preaching will lead many people further from the truth than the many religions of this world.

If you are a preacher let me encourage you to dive deep into the text of scripture and let the true meaning of the word be the meaning of your sermon. Know the context, know the immediate application, and from there derive your modern application and illustrations. We can contextualize the truth without sacrificing the truth to our own wit and whim, God’s word is timeless and has been at work saving souls from cultures around the globe for two centuries, why would today be any different. His Word is. timeless while ours will fade away, so let his word be paramount.

How then shall we now Preach! Pt. 1

As a newer preacher this has been a question that has been floating around my head for quite a while and one that is often discussed: What makes a good sermon. Many weeks I go home and think” well that sucked, I missed an illustration here, I could have said that better.” So we pray harder, study more, and talk with a lot of other guys, and see that it’s the same for most of us. Over the next few post I want to deal with the issue of preaching and sermon prep. The first reason is because Adam and I are working through the subject currently, and second because next week I will be at a Simeon Trust workshop in Chicago tackling this very issue, for today, though, I wanted to begin to focus in on a trap we quickly fall into by waiting till Saturday to put together our sermons, and by put together I don’t mean finish an outline or brush up an illustration, but to crack open your bible and put the first word on paper. Back in the day, these sermons were affectionately referred to by a mentor of mine as Saturday evening specials.

Many of us may have fallen into this trap a time or two. If you are a verse by verse guy this may be a more alluring trap than you think.  This can arise out of two different type of preachers or situations: procrastination or over confidence. The first one involves you as a minister allowing many other events and pastoral responsibilities to be put in priority  over the studying the word. Each day you state there will be plenty of time tomorrow and yet each day passes until Saturday is upon you and you have a large empty page and only a few hours till the Sun arises. So you open your bible and hammer out a few points on a text you are familiar with or on something you think the church will enjoy. This is not the way it was meant to be, but if the sermon isn’t a complete flop you maybe tempted into this trap in the future.

The second trap is over confidence; I will be the first to admit I have fallen into this before. You feel like you know the text pretty well after reading it once, early in the week and you know there is so much other stuff going on that you will just hammer it out later. You know your own capabilities and know that you can finish it in a timely manner even if that means starting on Saturday. The problem though lies in the fact that in both cases you don’t allow the text to work itself out in your life that week. You are not allowing the text to drive what you’re about to preach or the spirit to speak to you in the text.

In preaching the key factor is that we give the people under our shepherding the Word of God, not the word of Andrew, Adam, or anyone else. His word is what must speak and His word is not to be taken lightly.  As I stated earlier this trap can be extra easy for us verse by verse expositors because we feel like we have a leg up because we already know the context from our previous sermons. However, this is not always the case because arguments change, and if you are preaching narratives scenes can change on a dime, jumping months or years at a time. We can not take our own wisdom and Knowledge as an excuse to not let the Word do it’s work in our hearts, each week.

So The first thing we need to apply to ourselves is to not settle for preaching Saturday evening specials, but rather taking the time to let the word saturate our minds and souls. We need to set aside time throughout our study to let the Spirit speak to us and to allow our study of God’s word to reveal the correct context and point of each text, so that we can give our people the Word of God, not whatever cleaver device we create, which means if His Word is not central to us why do we think it will be central to those we lead. If our scriptural text have not had time to mature and strike our own hearts , why do we think that the Spirit will use them to work in our people.

The second thing we need to remember is that this is our calling, first and foremost Elders are dedicated to Prayer and to the Word. This is not to downplay the other responsibilities we carry as pastors, but if you are the head of a church your job is first to pray and second is to preach the word. Therefore let us make sermon prep the delightful joy it should be and allow the word to guide us and guide our people, through an accurate and timely time in it.

 

 

 

How to serve God in the midst of Opposition

This week I picked up Andy Davis’s new book on Church Revitalization and was going to write a blog in reflection on one of the chapters that I found thought provoking, however it seems Dr. Davis beat me to the punch in his own article this morning. For that reason I will let him do the talking and I’ll make a quick note at the end.

10 Reasons to Be Humble Toward Opponents

Andrew Davis / April 24, 2017

Gospel Coalition Editors’ note: This is an adapted excerpt from Andy Davis’s new book, Revitalize: Biblical Keys to Helping Your Church Come Alive Again. Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2017. Used by permission.

From elementary school (when I had my last schoolyard “fight,” which I lost) until I became senior pastor of First Baptist Church Durham, I had no human enemies. Yet within 18 months of beginning my ministry at this church, I had dozens who at least wanted me fired, perhaps sued, and, it seems, possibly (based on facial expressions) dead. That experience was shocking to me. My ministry and convictions had earned me many enemies.

God doesn’t will for us to give in for an instant on issues of biblical truth. It’s not humilty but self-serving cowardice that causes us to back down from doctrinal attacks. We must fight like lions for the truth of the gospel—the souls of our hearers are at stake.

I think it’s unlikely for a work of church revitalization to go on without overcoming significant human opposition. But God commands us to be humble toward our opponents, entrusting ourselves to him. This is among the greatest displays of grace. And it’ll be instrumental in transforming your church.

As personal conduct goes, I believe there are at least 10 reasons we should be humble toward our opponents.

  1. Because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (1 Pet. 5:5). 

God detests pride in any form, and if church revitalizers are more zealous for their own agenda than God’s glory, he will fight them as much as he will fight the nominal Christians at that church.

But God gives grace to the humble. So humble yourself, and God will lift you up.

  1. Because we are sinners too.

Every church leader, no matter how godly, is a sinner saved by grace. We all deserve eternal condemnation. How are we different from those who oppose us? Is there any sin we see in our opponents that we are incapable of? “Who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Cor. 4:7)

Meditating on God’s grace in your own life should destroy any arrogance you may feel toward others.

  1. Because God is motivated to fight for those who don’t fight for themselves.

In this way, we’ll be following the example of Jesus Christ and how he treated his enemies: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Pet. 2:23).

In entrusting ourselves to him who judges justly, we’re forsaking the right to defend ourselves. God’s wisdom and power in defending those falsely attacked when serving him are beyond our calculation. And God will use our humble suffering to advance his purposes in the church.

  1. Because Paul was willing to trade his salvation to rescue his enemies.

In Romans 9:1–4, the apostle Paul made a stunning claim—that, if possible, he was willing to trade his salvation and spend eternity in hell if it would result in the salvation of his Jewish enemies. He had “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” in his heart concerning their spiritual condition.

Paul is a great role model for any leader in church revitalization. His Jewish enemies were hunting him down to kill him. Ours are doing far less. We should see our opponents in light of eternity—and yearn to win them over to Jesus.

  1. You can’t tell the wheat from the weeds.

In Christ’s parable about the wheat and the weeds, the mixed nature of the world—sons of God and sons of the Devil—could not be remedied before the end of the age. The servants offered to pull up the weeds; the master said, “No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them” (Matt. 13:29).

This indicates that before the end of the age, we won’t always be able to tell the difference between wheat and weeds. Paul, the greatest servant of Christ who’s ever lived, was initially the most vicious persecutor of Christians on earth. God’s grace can win any person at any time. Today’s hate-filled enemy may be tomorrow’s zealous co-laborer. And it is “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) that God will use to win them.

  1. You aren’t the issue; God’s glory is.

When we pridefully rise up to defend our honor, we act as though that’s more important than the glory of God in the revitalization of a church for whom Christ shed his blood.

  1. A humble response to attacks will motivate church members to join you.

If you respond to mean-spirited attacks in like manner, it will be obvious to everyone you’re no different from your enemies. But if you are filled with the Spirit, speaking only scriptural truths and seeking repentance and reconciliation with every person, quiet observers will be strongly motivated to come to your aid in the church revitalization process.

  1. Your enemies may be right . . . about something.

It’s exceptionally humble to listen to your adversaries with the conviction they have something worth listening to. While we may disagree about the most fundamental issues having to do with the gospel or the scriptural principles of healthy church life, they may have a valid perspective God wants you to heed regarding some key aspect of the issues or of your own demeanor or performance. God can speak anytime through anyone.

For example, God enabled wicked Caiaphas to prophesy accurately about Christ (John 11:49–52). If God can speak through someone like Caiaphas, he can speak to a church leader in the midst of difficult revitalization work.

If some enemy comes to you after a particularly challenging meeting and says you were rude or you misrepresented his position or you did not follow Robert’s Rules of Order or you did something else he doesn’t approve of, be humble, take the input, and repent wherever you can.

  1. Humility will adorn the gospel for outsiders to see.

We never know who is watching us as we carry on our work of revitalization. And the world is watching the church all the time to see if we practice what we preach. Titus 2:10 says Christians can “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior” by how we act.

If you’re genuinely humble while dealing with in-church opposition, the Lord will at some point make it obvious to the community and use you to bring some lost person to Christ.

  1. Suffering well grows you in Christlikeness.

Never forget that the ministry God gives us is as much a part of our own salvation process as it is a part of the salvation of others. Our sanctification is far from over, and God uses bitter trials to conform us to the likeness of his Son, Jesus Christ. This is why Romans 5:3 says that “suffering produces endurance.” We need to be thankful for our enemies, because God is using them to shape our souls for his glory.

The Original Article can be found at the Gospel Coalition website: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/10-reasons-humble-toward-opponents

-As Pastors and as leaders in general we all have critics and for most of us it is probably one of the hardest parts of the job. We think everything is going great and then the voices begin. This short series of 10 points derived from Dr. Davis tenth chapter reminded me, along with Mark 11:27-12:12 which I preached this past week, that we are but tenants in God’s Garden called to watch over and tend to the vines and when the time comes give them to God, both the one who praise you and critic you are under your care so love them well, and remember they are all in God’s hands.

 

 

Be our Guest: Welcoming Singles into the Church

A few weeks ago I posted an article by Dr. Andrew Davis, the senior pastor of FBC Durham in North Carolina, about the role and acceptability of single elders and pastors. This week I wanted to briefly explore another aspect of singles in the church, and that is in the area of integration and greeting. This past week for the first time in 18 months I had a Sunday with no responsibilities, so I took the opportunity to venture out to another part of our community to see what the Lord was doing and to worship with the Family of God there. First I will tell you it was an amazing blessing to be around brothers and sisters in Christ singing praise to Him and hearing the word of God boldly preached, It is always an encouragement to see the truth at work. Yet at the same time before and after the service I was reminded how much our churches (mine included) at times struggle with integrating and greeting singles. Now I’m not bashing this one church, they really were fantastic, and the Lord is definitely using them to reach the community, simply pointing to an experience that many singles usually face on a Sunday morning if they approach a place they have never attended and don’t know anyone there.

This opens up the questions to us, when we see scriptures call to hospitality especially from a pastoral end, how do we apply it to singles who walk in the door, who have no association with anyone in the church. For those who are married or who have been in the church so long we can forgot (like myself) there are a few things we need to remember.  First, singles who come alone to church don’t have another voice to speak to throughout their time with us (at least I guess we have phones now if we feel really self conscious), unless we speak to them. We as a church need to be more mindful when we see people alone entering our congregations on Sunday mornings to be more approachable, more welcoming, seeking to engage and be involved, in an ever growing isolated society the church should be the least isolating place, but sometimes our family mentality gets in the way of our hospitality responsibility. We know that it is through our hospitality and the work of Chris that we became a family in the first place.

Second, we need to remember the fact that singleness, especially among millennials is the new normal not the anomaly anymore.  Thus many of our plans to minister to millennials isn’t so much family ministry oriented (though still very important) but a more comprehensive approach that includes multiple life stages doing life together. When the church has a heart for every life stage and seeks to include and engage each group equally we see people differently. Churches that continually segregates their people in to life stages will quickly see their churches become disconnected to a growing group of millennials who are single, yet have married friends at work and in other areas of life that don’t treat them like outsiders. This has become a key aspect in many younger evangelical churches (including the one I visited this past week). We are more than ages and martial relationships, we are people journeying with God together, and these different parts of life can help and be an encouragement to others not a hindrance.

This is a rather shorts post, but as I said it is based primarily on my own reflection of churches since I left my home church and went to seminary some nine years ago to now serving as an interim pastor. My own church is now working through these very issues, many churches are beginning to think long and hard about how do we minister to shifting generations and what is their future role in the church as a whole. Singles have been used from generation to generation in the life of the church along with married couples to fuel the mission and ministry of God to all people. So when a single guy or gal walks in our churches let us be just as intentional about engaging them (not just automatically assume they must know someone here) as we are with anyone else who walks through our doors.

Andy Davis on Single Pastors and Elders

One of the great blessing and significant challenges that I face in the realm of ministry at this phase in my life is my own singleness. It can be a blessing in that my schedule is extremely flexible and open to minister to those in the church and in need, but at the same time it is a challenge because people don’t always see you as authoritative on issues of marriage or parenting (not that I would ever claim to be). In the newest IX Marks Journal on Pastoring Singles, which as a whole is a fantastic journal for everyone in ministry to pick up, Dr. Andy Davis deals with this very question “Can a Single man be and elder and by proxy a pastor.” I hope you will enjoy Andy’s article as much as I did.

Andy Davis’ IX Marks Article

Full disclosure he was also one on my professors at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Here is his article below:

 

Can Single Men Serve As Elders?

One of the most significant early steps we made in the journey of church revitalization at First Baptist Church in Durham was filtering deacon candidates according to biblical qualifications. At that time, FBC’s polity consisted of a single elder, a “board” of deacons, a slew of committees, and congregational authority expressed in voting at church conferences. The deacons exercised an unbiblical role as undershepherds, working with “the pastor” to achieve the ministry of the church. Deacons were elected by a democratic process with almost no filtering at all—the top eight vote-getters simply got in. Often, this meant the community’s most successful business leaders or hardest working volunteers became deacons. In short, it was a popularity contest.

So, when we began to require deacon candidates to give testimonies of their qualifications based on 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, things began to change in a remarkable way. Since then, the roles of elder and deacon have themselves been reformed by biblical standards, as the process of choosing qualified candidates for both offices has also gotten more robust and healthier.

bible-1867195_1280

However, it’s possible to use these passages in 1 Timothy and Titus in a wooden way and therefore filter out godly candidates whom the Lord has qualified to serve. But before we overly filter, we must make sure we’ve “rightly divided” (2 Tim. 2:15) the relevant passages. To be overly restrictive based on these passages can prove to be almost as harmful as to have little or no restrictions at all.

So, let’s get to the question at hand: can single men serve as elders, or must they be “filtered out” for not meeting the “husband of one wife” qualification (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:6)? In short, I believe filtering out single men is overly restrictive, and therefore causse churches to miss out on some rich blessings the Lord has given.

This restriction wouldn’t even come to mind except that that the passages seem to be teaching it. But a closer look shows that such an approach leads to unhealthy, even absurd conclusions. For example, it would eliminate Jesus, Paul, and (it seems) Timothy from the office of elder. It would also negate the powerful case the Apostle Paul makes in 1 Corinthians 7 for the benefits singleness brings to ministry. Paul celebrates single servants as being “free from concern” and able to focus completely on how they may please and serve the Lord, living in undivided devotion (1 Cor. 7:32, 35).

Based on this, single men who serve as elders can highlight these very truths in the life of the congregation, especially since it’s so unusual, at least in the Baptist churches I’ve been around. Just as married elders can live out in front of their congregations the immeasurable value of a healthy marriage and godly parenting, so also can a single elder live out the superior aspects of the single life, as celebrated in 1 Corinthians 7.

Beyond this, to forbid single men from serving as elders based on exegesis of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 3 leads to some unhealthy parallel conclusions. For example, would not a widower be excluded from serving, since he is not presently the husband of one wife? One can imagine a man losing his wife and his ministry in the same day, all from an overly restrictive interpretation. Similarly, what about childless men, or fathers of only one child? Wouldn’t they be excluded? After all, Titus 1:6 seems to require children.

I believe the same way we handle that text applies to how we handle the “husband of one wife” requirement. If a man has children still living at home, they must be submissive to his authority, not wild or disobedient; if a man is married, he must be a “one-woman man,” that is, openly living out Ephesians 5’s Christ-church analogy of marriage. But the text doesn’t require either a wife or children in order to serve as an elder.

Of course, there are some challenges for single elders in the life of the congregation. Their ability to teach on marriage and parenting may be questioned, though it ought not to be. Jesus and Paul were both single men, and they taught on both marriage and parenting. It’s not necessary that Bible teaching must in every case be supplemented with role-modeling. Beyond this, the single elder must walk in open holiness with members of the opposite sex, as Paul commanded Timothy, saying he should deal with younger sisters-in-Christ “in all purity” (1 Tim. 5:2). If he’s seeking a wife, there may be some awkwardness in the courting process if she ends up being a member of the congregation. But these practical challenges must not outweigh the benefits of singleness Paul expounds in 1 Corinthians 7.

To sum up, it’s essential that the filtering process of elder candidates be conducted according to biblical standards. This means that unqualified men must be filtered out. But this also means that qualified men must notbe filtered out by faulty exegesis. Godly single men may serve as elders of a local church, and their churches will be richly blessed by their single-minded devotion to the Lord in shepherding his flock.

James in a Social Media World

For many of us, social media has become one of our main sources of communication in a public forum. It is the place go to share great events taking place in our lives such as births, weddings, new jobs and other celebrated occasions. It is also a central avenue where we may keep in touch with friends who have moved away and see how the Lord is working in their lives or how we can continue to pray for them. In many ways, social media has many positives like any community, and this is an important part for us to remember not just that it isn’t all bad, but that to a degree it is a community. It is a place with real people, with real emotions, real thoughts, real hurts, real sins, and where real souls do exist. Behind the computer screen lies men and women designed by Father and those for whom his Son was sent. So, when we think about social media and the gospel we have to think about it just like any other community we exist in and that comes down to the question: does my speech, conduct and attitude online reflect the gospel or does it reflect the world. The Epistle of James is probably one of the best works in the New Testament on  the way we love out the Christian life and as such can be easily applied to our lives online.

but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.” James 3:8-12

First,  let us think of our speech. James spends a lot of his time discussing what it means to follow Christ. The book goes into extensive discussion on how we examine our lives in light of the truth of Christ and in a modern world we can easily apply it to the world of social media. That means, that when James addresses the issue of the tongue we can address the issue of our tweets, comments, status updates, Instagrams, Snapchat stories, blogs, etc.. For most of us on social media sites the above issues of blessing the Lor with one tweet d and cursing others in a comment section is nothing new, in one moment we are quoting scripture or posting memes about the greatness of God or his love and in the next moment tearing people down or calling them names, because we disagree with them or simple because we don’t like something they said, but this should never happen. As believers, our speech should reflect the gospel in all its ways that includes our online presence. Ask yourselves these questions: does my online life look any different from non-believers? If a non-Christian friend looked through my social media presence would they believe there is something different in how I post and how I comment and interact with others?  So when we approach life in a social media world we must remember when commenting or posting to think first about how the things I am saying represent Christ. We are ambassadors of the gospel in all we do, either for good or for bad, so think about if you are seeking to further the kingdom of God.

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. James: 1-3

The next thing that follows the words we say is the attitude behind it. James deals with this same topic. Sometimes the words we say may not be inherently sinful, but the attitude that they originate from is. James simply wants us to think about the conflicts that originate in our lives, especially among fellow believers. What we see is that it does not derive from a effort to see the gospel put on display, but rather there is an attitude of jealousy or self-righteousness behind it. Social media can be no different, when we hit up Twitter or Facebook what is the motivation behind what we post, again are you looking  to build up the body of Christ, show the gospel at work in your life, simply post about what is going on in your life so unbelievers can see the Christian community at work, or do we post to make ourselves look better, to make others look less than us, to tear down others. What is the motivation of our hearts when we post and especially towards those who will read and react to our posts. While, those online may not be able to see the attitude behind what we post online, God does and He is the one we seek to honor and serve, so may we do so with our online presences. Let us examine our hearts to see the motivation behind our posts, and unlike with speech we have more time to process and respond in a way that is honor to the Lord, because you can think and process your words and attitude before you hit enter.

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. James 3:17-18

Finally, let us seek true wisdom form God and delivered it to the world. A wisdom from above does not look like the world nor acts like it.

Book Review: Gospel Fluency

First, let me thank Crossway Publishing for gifting the Publicans with an advance copy of Gospel Fluency by Jeff Vanderstelt which released nationwide yesterday. It was one of the more unique books I have read on church ministry and how the gospel saturates our lives. If you are fan of the some of the books that use to be put out by Re:Lit then this is a book that will be right up your alley.So today I wanted to highlight some of the things about this book that stood out to me and why I would recommend this book to believers of all ages and spiritual maturities.

So, let’s dive into some of the content of this book and how it can be beneficial to us as we live out the Christian faith. First, Vanderstelt spends the opening chapter’s laying out the importance of understanding the concept of Gospel fluency before you even get into the meat of the text, and it is very helpful for his readers to be saturated by this new way of viewing a Gospel centered life. Basing the Gospel around the idea of fluency of language help to set it apart as the way one lives. If anyone saw the movie Arrival (which I highly recommend) language fluency as a transforming part of life is a central theme in that film leading to a total personal transformation. This is the case that Vanderstelt reminds us of about the Gospel. To be fluent is to be immersed, it is to think, speak, breath, dream in the words and ideas of this new language. Its not knowing a few words or being able to interpret, it is being transformed by it, to be fluent is in some ways to become consumed by it.

For believers the opening sections lays this foundation: do we strive to be fluent speakers of the gospel or are we content to come to class once a week and learn a few new words and hope to one day have put it all together. This is the central idea that flows through the text and why I think the book hits on all cylinders in the final two parts, not to discount the second section on the gospel, but for many this may actually be the weakest section, not because of the content, but simply because there begins to be a repetition that seems like a stretch to reach three chapters when one would have accomplished the task, But as a pastor myself I understand the desire to make sure that the point is solidly hitting home. For what it is worth thought these 50 pages are very helpful if you want a good section to walk through a new believer or to help you brush up on what the gospel is.

The concluding two sections make up the meat of the book and once I began reading it I wasn’t able to put it down, it does a fantastic job of pointing us to our need to become Gospel fluent not just as individuals but as a church body. The two things that stood out to me in these sections that I think most readers will find encouraging is that he is open and honest with his family’s  own struggles in this area throughout their lives and current places in ministry. He does an superb job of connecting with the reader and showing that the task is not a simple one that just happens, it is a lifestyle and one that can be a struggle, but also be amazingly rewarding as we struggle together. Which lead to the second point, the use of massive application points. Vanderstelt doesn’t just give us a book with great ideas he gives us helpful tips and advice on how to apply this in our homes, churches, community groups, and neighborhoods. While I may disagree with his stance on taking communion in a community group setting, seeing how he applied the message of the gospel to each member in that moment gave me a new perspective on what pastoral care can look like, and the deep intimacy that a community group can have when it is surrounded by the gospel.

In Conclusion, to be honest in my own church we just began a study in our small groups looking at living our Christian lives with a purpose and a mission to reach the lost, and had this book come out a few week earlier, this would probably have been the text we went with, because it points to a robust gospel that transforms our lives, not simply something we say to non-believers or hear from the pulpit. The Gospel is Jesus and as such it becomes us. To reach a lost and dying world involves more than platitudes and curriculum, it requires lives transformed by the gospel resting in the truth that Jesus is better. It requires people who will love and listen and in the end share Jesus. These are but a small bit of what made this book so enjoyable.

Never skip the Minors …

As a baseball fan growing up being able to go to seminary in the Triangle of North Carolina was a really awesome experience, because of their minor league baseball. There was nothing like taking in a Durham Bulls game on a Saturday afternoon or even heading over to a company picnic to watch the Carolina Mudcats. It was amazing to see some of these guys who would one day be in the majors playing. 

However, I think what stands out the most and probably why I loved the experience so much is that with the game of baseball whether you are watching the Tampa Bay Rays or the Durham Bulls the sport doesn’t change, the rules are for the most part the same, maybe they don’t make the same money, or have a TV network dedicated to them, but the goal and objectives are the same. So when we come to the Minor Prophets in the Bible this is what we need to remember they are not any less important than the ones we call the majors. And today I’d just like to give you three short reasons why not to skip the Minor Prophets.

It’s God’s Word

Okay so of course as any good pastor I have to start with the basics. It’s the Word of God and as such you should read it and be encouraged by it. All Scripture is God breathed and profitable even the parts that seem weird or hard to follow are meant to instruct us in the nature and character of God and especially in the Minor Prophets. These men were carried along by the same spirit that inspired the writings of Moses and the apostles. You would be amazed at how much God can teach you about himself in the parts of Scripture people rarely tend to visit. As pastors we usually make jokes about how no one reads Leviticus because of all the Laws and how legal it all sounds, yet in those pages we see a Holy God who has Holy standards, that can only be fully accomplished through faith, repentance and a savior.

I would assume that there are many people who if you asked who the minor prophets were couldn’t even name most of them. This isn’t a judgment issue, partially it’s a psatoral one, we like to talk about the whole word of God, but we even tend to not lead the people to these books except for maybe Christmas to make a passing comment on Malachi or on Pentecost to reference Joel. For the most part the passages go unnoticed and under appreciated, but as God’s Word we should be more diligent in it’s study and application

They reveal to us the nature of God and His Servants

Secondly, in the Minor Prophets we get a picture of God’s fierce love for His people, such as in the book of Hosea where the Lord reveals his love for them, that though they sin and are wayward He will bring them back and restore them to himself. He will love them as a husband loves his wife even in the midst of sin and adultery. In Jonah we see the picture of God’s love and forgiveness extended out to even Gentile nations like Nineveh being given to opportunity to repent of sin and worship the only God who brings true greatness. And all of them will give us a picture of the Christ and the coming Kingdom known as the great and mighty day of the Lord.

Also connected to the prophetic words describing God’s character we see the response of the prophets in joy humility, submission, and even praise. Habakkuk will end after a series of oracles pronouncing Judgment with a song of Praise to God knowing that even when the vine produces not fruit and the fig tree no longer blossoms, it is the Lord of our salvation who reigns. Each of the prophets gives us another look at what it means to follow God’s commands, even Jonah shows a picture of what it looks like to do so begrudgingly. God will use his servants to bring the news of salvation to the lost.

They are Short but Powerful 

Finally, with books ranging from one chapter to fourteen chapters they pack quite a punch in a small package. It is important to see though that while they are small books they are far from unimportant. Each of these prophets were real men who were used by the Lord to remind the people of God of their need for Him and his love for them. Each of them has a word from the Lord that we need to hear and believe. For the most part these men may have been as equally as important in their own day and age as any of the Major Prophets like Isaiah or Ezekiel.

Some of the most powerfully works that changed the world were not large tomes, but rather pamphlets that hit home in a short and concise way. They dive to the heart of the issues and leave the reader marveling at the purpose and power of God. They drive us to our knees as we see that the Lord is in control of all that happens and that His judgments are true against those who reject him, and that his mercy and grace are what brings the wayward believer home. These short books begin to paint for us a big picture of the work of God leading up to the coming of Christ and how we know respond to that revelation.

As a closing remark, I would encourage you to not skip the minor prophets for the bigger, fancier Major prophets. There is much to learn from these twelve men. In studying the Word the Lord gave to them, you can better understand the Word he gave to the Major prophets. The Lord has much to say to us in His Word, especially in this collection of Twelve. 

Who Prays…..

In the church today one of the most overlooked elements seems to be the importance of prayer. 

While we all may agree that prayer is an essential part of the Christian life we seem to, at times, relegate it to nothing more than a passing conversation with God. When we look at the Scripture this is not the case, nor is it simply a private matter. At the start, middle, and end of every day our greatest need is to be refreshed by the gospel and the power of Christ, and we experience this reality most closely when we are in prayer. Prayer is an essential aspect of the Christian journey seen throughout the Bible. The book of Psalms displays for us the grandeur of the prayers and cries of the people of God, multiple epistles open with the Apostle’s prayers for those whom he is writing, the Pentateuch records for us many prayers of Moses and the early fathers seeking God. The Bible is filled with prayers, but at times we may lose sight of who is praying and where their prayers are directed.

The Church Prays

First, prayer begins in the church. This may seem foreign and to some even false, but prayer at its core is both private and communal, both aspects are in play. The book of Psalms were sung and prayed by the whole congregation of Israel, they were used as elements of worship to God as the spoke His words back to him. In our churches today this may take the form of singing praises to God as well, which are in fact communal prayers. However, it is not only in the singing of songs and psalms that we see the church pray it is through the actual act of worship on Sunday mornings and prayer gatherings where the church is encouraged to join in prayer for the work of God in the lives of their brothers and sisters and in the outworking of the Gospel around them through the ministry and direction of God in the church. Within the church we see modeled for us the prayers of the saints of old and the hearts of our brothers and sisters. The church models for us proper reverence and familiarity with the almighty. It is from this modeling that we pray individually.

The Saints Pray

Now from the church gathered we move into our own individual areas of influence and life. While we may at times cross paths with other saints, often we work and do life outside of continual interaction with the our church family. It is in this that we are reminded that our faith is more than just a communal gathering; it is a life dependent on Christ. If you live form Sunday to Sunday with no recognition or dependence on God through the week that is not healthy and is probably a sign of a greater spiritual problem, for while the church gathers and we are lifted up in prayer, we too must be in prayer and communion with God throughout our lives. So you may ask then the question of ‘how then shall we now pray?’ 

Well Scripture shows us a multitude of options, but it also shows us that it begins in the attitude of worship before God.

Firstly, we come to God with an understanding of His Kingship. He is the Almighty God who rules reigns and judges humanity of their sins and rebellion. He has created the universe and knows the deepest parts of us. At first this may sound terrifying and lead to a fear of coming at all, but when taken in the full context of who God is it should do the opposite. This understanding helps us to see that He is to be revered and not to be taken lightly. He is the great King, who can handle all of lives problems, for He is the one who has decreed life itself. Therefore we should be led to Him in humility and reverence for who He is.

Secondly, we remember that He is our eternal Father. He is the one who loved us and sought us out through the work of Christ. He cares deeply for us and can handle our life’s complaints and trials. Look again at the Psalms, there are many that reflect to God the fact that His ways make no sense and are confusing. One of the most interesting Psalm 88 ends with no resolution of how God will bring salvation in the midst of pain, it is a prayer that speaks to God as a scared child who doesn’t understand and is crying out to his Father for comfort, in the midst of confusion. The prayers of lament are some of the most powerful because they show us that it is okay to be confused by the works of God, and it is okay to tell Him. Don’t worry He can handle it, remember He is a loving Fatherly King, who’s desire is for His children to come to Him not hide from Him.

Finally, because He is our fatherly King who loves us, we are able to confess our faults and find forgiveness and rest in Him. He is the one who declared righteous, through the death and resurrection of the Son, all who repent and believe. He has made us whole; He is the One who initiated the relationship with us, when we were His enemies, how much more now that we are children, does His love for us spread. He can handle your problems and He already knows your sins, so do not flee His embrace, but turn to Him and experience the full warmth of His forgiveness.

With this view of God in mind we come to him both at designated times and continually throughout all of life. We are to set some time aside to be with God and focus on Him alone, but we are also suppose to be in continual prayer throughout the day knowing that it is God who we need for everything. Let us pray in times of joy, sorrow, confusion, success and failure, because our kingly Father cares and loves us through it all.

Learning something from an Old Dead Guy

For many of us in Reformed Christians circles this is a very important year, as it marks the 500th anniversary of Luther’s nailing of the 95 theses to the wall of the Castle church at Wittenberg. This one single event sent into motion a tidal way of change that left the western world scrambling to find out what the true meaning of being a Christian is about. Over the next century men and women would rise up and take a stand for the truth of the Gospel and the proclamation of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. The reformation began at Wittenberg, but for most of us it had its fullness shaped in Switzerland.

Now when I talk about the importance of Switzerland many immediate go to John Calvin, and while he is an important part of the reformation he was not the first in Switzerland to begin the journey, that title belongs to a man named Ulrich Zwingli. Zwingli was one of the first preachers of the reformation to institute strictly exegetical biblical preaching based on the practice of John Chrysostom the great early church father. He not only viewed the Scriptures as supremely authoritative; he found it to be the only source of true faith and worship. Zwingli was a man driven by the truth of Scripture (as he saw it) and finding his purpose and ministry goals summarized in the Scriptures and not in some external reality. For many this may have made him an extremist. He removed art and music from worship spaces feeling that only the word of God should be seen and adored in the church, all else would simply lead to idolatry. He focused the attention of the early reformation to think about the reasons for communion and baptism according to the scriptures and not according to traditions handed down.

This is all well and good but why do I bring up Zwingli today and why does all this matter? Well first Zwingli shows us that even men that have since been forgetton or overshadowed by history still speak through the history of those who were influenced by them. The vast majority of the writings and systematic teachings of John Calvin found in the Institutes will arise from the teachings of Zwingli and his protégé Bollinger. The modern reformed churches emphasis on exegetical preaching can be traced back to his reformed movement in Switzerland. For while Luther was busy being a professor of theology Zwingli was working as a pastor in Zurich.

We owe a great debt to the man for his contributions to how we think about preaching as he pointed us back to the Scriptures and the church fathers as examples of preaching the word, not our own opinions or feel good messages. Maybe you have at times felt like your ministry was just spinning its wheels, you are teaching the gospel, you are following the Scriptures but the results or long term effect is not what you imagined.  Zwingli’s legacy points to the fact that it is okay to be forgotten as long as the message remains and is supreme.

The other thing that is so important to remember about this early reformer in our modern context is that while great in some theological ways, he was not perfect. Among all the reformers Zwingli is probably one of the most problematic for most, and this was due, oddly enough to what also his his best characteristic, his encouragement of his people to read the Scriptures and see the truth for themselves. In opening the Bible to the people he saw that they came to a “radical” view when it came to baptism and other aspects of the faith. Out of this bastion of freedom and authority in scripture Zwingli openly sided with the state to persecute and kill those who did not agree with his view of the Bible, especially in regards to baptism. Many Anabaptists were drowned in the local rivers for their stance on baptism. He like Luther was firmly committed to his interpretation of the Bible and the ordinance that to think or speak other than the way he did was to be accursed by God. This was the main reason why these two men could never reconcile during their lifetimes; this division was too great and their dislike for the concessions of the other too much. Each man was unwavering and hostile to the other almost as much as they were against the Catholic Church.

The break between Luther and Zwingli has been one that makes perfect sense in their time and place and yet 500 years later I still find puzzling. Of course we today live in a very pluralistic society with many different faiths and Christian denominations, while in the 16th century West there was the church and the schismatic sects of the reformation. Today the church is made up of varying points of views on things such as Communion and Baptism, but these things don’t divide our fellowship and love for one another, rather they should encourage us to dive deeper into the Scriptures to know why we believe what we believe and where it is rooted in the text. I am the pastor of a Southern Baptist Church while the other men on this blog range in their affiliations holding a variety of views on these very subjects. But rather than cutting each other off we grow from one another’s perspectives on the text. There are battles to be fought, but some of the battles need to be discussed with love, humility and the understanding that we may have missed the mark on something. One of the great marks of the church is the love for one another.

This is the last lesson I learned from Zwingli. We can have all the right theology but if we have no love for the family of God and the souls of the lost sometimes we end up dead on a battlefield…..that wasn’t needed to be fought.

Also today marks the anniversary of the council of Trent the affirmation that we as protestants are an anathema, so yes there are still battles to be won: through prayer and the proclamation of the gospel. 

Desire of Nations

As this time of Advent is quickly coming to a close, I would like us to take a second and remember the final verse of that great hymn that I have been walking us through the last few weeks, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. In the final verse we are reminded of one of the greatest gifts that Jesus would be and that is the desire of nations.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid thou our sad divisions cease,
and be thyself our King of Peace.

To fully appreciate the biblical significance of this closing verse we must remember that God was not a sectarian God and His desire for the nations to worship Him was not a new revelation only seen in the Birth of Christ.  In narrative form we see it throughout the Old Testament as men and women who are not from the Jewish people come and worship God. We see in the line of Jesus himself four women who have gentile origins. However, specifically when thinking about the nations worshiping God two sections of Scripture jump off the page. The first is in Haggai 2. Here the Prophet encourages the Governor and High Priest in Israel that there is coming a time where the glory of God will be truly revealed in the temple, and this is when all nations desire and worship Him alone. In this prophecy God declares that the nations are coming and will worship Him. If you are a believer in Christ today and are not of Jewish heritage this verse should be an encouragement to you. You were a part of the plan of God, your salvation was prophesied about long before you breathed a word in this life.

The other text which most evidently comes to mind is the celebration before the throne of God in Revelation 5. In this text a great song is sung before the throne of God, and in it His people and all the angels declare that the Lamb of God receives glory from people of every tribe, tongue and nation, through His death and resurrection. Here we see laid before us the clear truth that it is Christ who brought the nations back to God. It is through Jesus alone that the people of God following His resurrection begin to transcend their own geographical limitations. But even before the apostles go to the ends of the earth there is one final thing I think should be remembered about as it relates to seeing the Christ as the desire of nations and that is evidenced in Matthew 2.

In Chapter 2 we witness that Jesus’s birth narrative ushered in the beginning of this new global worship when it was not the rulers or religious establishment who came to Him in Bethlehem when he was a young child, no, it was Magi from Persia. For Matthew it seems very important for us to see that one of the key figures in the celebration and worship of the Messiah were men from the very nation that once held them captive. For out of Persia these men studied the stars and awaited a prophecy that was not from Jewish origin, that we are aware of, but one that pointed to a true Messiah who would save the nations. And so in the very opening to the first Gospel narrative written to a Jewish audience we have the nations gather to this Child to worship.

Now how does this affect us? There are several things that Scripture points to when we see God as being more than a 1st century sectarian deity. By understanding that He is the one and true God who rules over all nations and people, and that only in Him can true salvation be found, we become motivated to take the truth of this reality to others.  Therefore as believers it is our commission and honor to take the hope of Christ to the nations. For some that may mean traveling around the world preaching the gospel, others this could simply mean engaging with your neighbors from other cultures and backgrounds presenting them with the true meaning of Jesus. The commission to all of us is to go and make disciples, we see in the book of Acts the gospel goes forth beginning in Jerusalem with the people of Israel but then flows out across the nations to north Africa, the Middle East, Turkey, in Europe to the edges of Spain. The Word of God would continue and push forward to all people and in time to the ends of the earth. Today the call remains for us all to go and be lights in this dark world as we present the gospel and call people to worship.

So as you gather together this Christmas morning with the people of God to worship the birth of your Savior let it be a reminder as you look around the room at your brothers and sisters from many different lands that Christ is bigger than you, that His kingdom is global and eternal. 

Let us therefore worship the Desire of Nations and seek to join Him in calling the nations to worship.