The Reality of Death!

“Before my cancer was diagnosed, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. After the diagnosis, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. But now I knew it acutely. The problem wasn’t really a scientific one. The fact of death is unsettling. If there is no other way to live.” – Paul Kalanithi

 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”–Jesus

Death is probably one of the most uncomfortable subjects in modern America. It is something we would rather just not talk about, yet it is one of the most common aspects of human existence. Everyone who was born is destined to die and yet we spend most of  our life running from this very idea trying to block it out with entertainment, with work, with sports, some with “religious” and spiritual exercises and yet at the end of the day death comes for us all. This may seem like a grim opening but it is a reality that we all must at some point deal with in this life.

The opening quote that I put on this blog is actually from a book called When Breath Becomes Air.  It was written by a Christian neurosurgeon before he died in his mid-30s. In it he wrestles with the reality of the fact that he has his whole life ahead of him and yet it is all gone in one moment, one doctors visit, but at the same time nothing was taken from him that wasn’t already certain. He wasn’t promised a long life with lots of Kids with his wife. He was never guaranteed that finishing top of his field in medicine would produce the life changing research he hoped would occur. His life had changed and yet it in some way it didn’t.

I just finish reading it a few days before my 32nd birthday, probably not the most exciting time to read a book about death, but it did make me think back over Scripture and what Scripture continually reminds us of the reality of death; from the garden of Eden were they were cast out and death became a reality, through to the Gospels and the book of acts as brothers and sisters of Christ lay down their lives for the sake of Jesus. Death is a common occurrence in Scripture, for it is the result of the fall and the painstaking reality of sin around us and the need for a reconciled relationship with God and for restored creation.

However as we await this great day, death should remind us of the greatness of our God all the more. We are not promised tomorrow as Paul’s quote points out. We all know that tomorrow’s uncertain, all we know for certain is that there will come a points when everything we know and love in this life comes to an end, and yet more and more we don’t think about it. We ignore the idea that it is possible, we let it sit in the back of our minds unattended. However I challenge you to think about it more often than not, not in a manner that leads to sadness put in a manner that leads back to Christ. Each and every day the opportunity remains for us to deny ourselves and the goals of the flesh to pick up or cross to follow Him and make Him the center of all that we do, all that we will be, all that we may love. The reality of death is the true reality that we have life, and as a believer the truest life possible.

Therefore, as Christians we of all people should be most acutely aware of death and all the more the return of Christ. In the Gospels Jesus is continually reminding his disciples that the return is at hand, and they will write to the church to continually seek first the kingdom of heaven, to look for the return of Christ, like a  thief in the night unknown to us. The question though is will we be found seeking, will we be found working, living, breathing for Him or for the world around us. The reality of the return or of our own death on this earth is the reminder that we are not our own we are Christ’s, we are here with the purpose and mission to glorify the name of our God, to seek the welfare of those around us for the good of God, and to call men and women to faith.

We are all aware that our time is coming short whether we were given 30 years or 90 years on this earth is blinking of an eye In comparison to the totality of God’s great universe. What will you do with that time? What will you do with the gift that God has given you today? How will you use that time for the growth of the kingdom. Will you invest in your family for the glory of God? Will you take the truth of God to neighbors and friends who you put off for fear of what they may think?

We have one life to live, one day to die or the return of Christ to come, Let us be acutely aware of that reality and by being aware of it may we live it out.

Why Would you Preach That!

A little over a month ago I began preaching through the book of Ezra, that book right after Chronicles that deals with all the people coming back to the promise land, and rebuilding. No, not Nehemiah with the walls and all that really cool leadership lesson stuff. This book is about the depth of mercy God goes too in order to restore His people. In this little book we see the people broken down and defeated. They have acknowledged that they have sinned and God brings them home from exile. There is a lot to unpack in this book as we see them struggle with maintaining their convictions and following after God, yet God is long suffering and patient with his people, bringing prophets and men of the Word  again and again to point them back to the truth of Who God is and reminding them that God has a purpose for them.

Now I say all that to point to something that happened a week before we started preaching through the book. One of my members asked me honestly after reading the book what this has to do with the church and why we would study something like Ezra. Now I love my church and I totally see where he is coming from in that we don’t usually think about preaching through Old Testament texts like Ezra. We love texts on King David and even Nehemiah; I mean leadership lessons galore there. However there is just as much meat in the harder texts of the scriptures such as Ezra, the Minor Prophets (which I wrote on earlier in the year), Kings & Chronicles, Judges, Ruth or Esther.  These texts are often overlooked or simply relegated to Sunday School material, when they have some of the most amazing stories about the work of God in the lives of real people. In these lesser preached texts, we get to see God actually change things over the course of human history. This is where I explained the importance of Ezra.

For a church like mine in the midst of transition and revitalization we need to see the part of God where He is for his people. The story of Ezra shows a people who lost hope in their future. They didn’t see how God could us them anymore, even though He set them apart and had done great things in the past, for them it is simply past, but not with God. Ezra shows us that God works in long term swaths of history, what was once broken down and dying can be restored to new life through the preaching and teaching of the word of God (Ezra 5), through the faithful walking of His people under his word (Ezra 3,6,7) and through faithful obedience to the truth (Ezra 9-10). Ezra shows us that the Christian life is filled with ups and downs, but God remains and His people will be renewed. This is why Ezra was such an important book to be preached, not only for a church in transition or revitalization, but also for a church plant talking about what makes them a community of faith verses just a random group of people who meet and talk about God stuff, or even an established church who needs to be reminded of the Great work of God in the history of His people.

The lesser preached books, mostly it seems being Old Testament biblical narrative, are essential to our Christian faith because they are essential to the revealing of who God is and how God works. We can’t avoid them because they are hard and above all you can’t avoid them because they seem, irrelevant. If there is one thing we know to be true is that the word of God is never irrelevant and the narratives of the scriptures especially. God is the central figure in all of His word and the full revelation of Jesus begins in Genesis and is woven into the whole tapestry of scripture, to leave out large swaths of the story in preaching to our congregations is to miss out on the work of God and to deprive our people of seeing God’s work in the live so the saints through all of history. So For preachers; preach boldly the hard narratives and skipped over books, and for congregants; yearn for such preaching that shows the whole of God’s Word to be true and authoritative. Also pray for the Lord to open your own eyes to see his work through the lives of those who have gone before, through the struggles and victory of God’s people.

Studying Revelation (Free Study Guide)

This week I wanted to quickly draw your attention to another free eBook, because we all love books. This one is a helpful study guide on the book of Revelation by Vern Poythress.

If you have ever been interested in studying the book of Revelation in its historical and original context this is a fantastic little book. For all the fictional novels and hyper-dispensationalism that has taken over the fields of modern day eschatology, this little book helps us to see the original context and unpack how it would have been received and encouraging to the original audience, and as such how we too can find comfort in the truth of God.

The book can be found at the link below:

https://frame-poythress.org/new-resource-on-ebooks-page/

Here is a brief overview of the book of Revelation in regards to how Poythress will approach the book and help us to see its importance on the Christian life.

The Purpose of Revelation

Many people either fear the Book of Revelation or have an unhealthy interest in it. But God designed this book for a very different purpose. Revelation is meant to produce in you comfort, courage, hope, and praise. Do you believe that?

Look at the very beginning of Revelation. Rev. 1:3 says, “Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.” God knew that many people would feel timid about this book—that many would say to themselves, “I can’t understand it.” So he gave you special encouragement to read it. Make a point of reading it once or more during the next few months.

In the verse I just quoted (1:3) we already receive a hint about the contents of Revelation. God tells us to “keep what is written in it.” Revelation does not give us information just to tickle our fancy. We are meant to “keep” it, to take things to heart. We ought to be transformed by what we read, to become more faithful servants of Christ. The Book of Revelation is a very practical book.

Note also what it says in 1:1: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place.” To whom is the Book of Revelation written? Not to PhDs, to experts, to prophecy fans, to a narrow inner circle of specialists. God writes it to “his servants”—the servants of Jesus Christ. If you are a follower of Christ, this book is for you. You can understand it, because God knows how to communicate to you. In addition, let me say the obvious. The Book of Revelation is a revelation, “the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:1). “Revelation” means an unveiling, a disclosure, a display of who God is and what he promises to do. The Book is not a concealment, a puzzle, a riddle, as some people think. It is not a puzzle book but a picture book. Its message is so clear that a child can grasp it and be encouraged.

1. What is the purpose of Revelation?

2. In what way is it accessible to ordinary readers?

3. How might reading it be an encouragement?

 

Additional free books by Both Vern Poythress & John Fram can be found at their Website: https://frame-poythress.org/ebooks

Why Preaching Calendars?

Last night had a great dinner with friends of mine who also serve in the ministry, during dinner he asked me why do I do schedule my sermon series the way I do. Currently I tend to go from book to book interspersing random Psalms or five-week topical series between books.

The thing that you very quickly pick up on if you talk to any pastor is all have different ways of laying out sermon series. In that regard I would agree with many that there is no necessary right way to lay out a teaching calendar: whether it be year to year, three months, or monthly sermons. Some may ascribe to the notion that to even plan more than two weeks in advance is to deny the Holy Spirit’s work in your church or you may subscribe to the school that if we are in deep prayer with God trusting in his work and purposes planning our sermon series for the year will involve allowing the Holy Spirit to lead us into those choices. Today though here are three reasons I choose to plan out a year in advance

It allows us to see the Bigger picture

By this I mean putting together a sermon series beginning in September and working all the way around to the following August we can see the different ways they connect and how they will instruct the church throughout the year. Using 2016 to 2017 as an example we began in the book of Mark to instill with in our church an understanding of the Gospel message of who Jesus is and what He did.

In middle of this series we took a break and began to speak about the Great Commission for four weeks topically walking through our job as disciple making disciples, called to spread the faith building on Jesus’ own mission in the gospel of Mark calling people to repent and believe for the kingdom of God is near.

To close out the year we are going to the Old Testament in the book of Ezra. In this book we begin to see God renew his people as he brings them back to the city that they once called home. We see a rejuvenation of worship amongst the people that didn’t believe they had a purpose any longer. For a church in the midst of great transition in a community that is transforming around them this is a book that reminds us that God has a purpose for his people and that purpose is to worship him and to make his name great growing into the temple of the living God. So in laying out the year this way I hope that the church was able to see the continuity of the Bible as informs us in both the old and the New Testament of the work of God and what He is doing, while simultaneously showing how God builds his kingdom using his people.

Allows us to more clearly teach in every aspect

By knowing what I’m preaching on Sunday mornings for a year the elders are much more easily equipped to see where else what other aspects of God and the Scriptures nee d to be highlighted in our teaching. By knowing the books of the Bible that will be teaching as well as the topical series in between we are able to know where we should be leading our small groups as well as our Sunday school, children and youth ministries. By laying out Sunday morning so completely we can see the different theological ideas that may not be addressed in that given year. So maybe were able to put in a series in our Sunday schools on giving, personal relationships, marriage enrichment, or theological studies such as who is God, what is the role of Christ and culture, what is sanctification or justification.

In regard to small group it shows us what other books we may want to cover.  For example maybe our small group should study Nehemiah to see the back half of what takes place in the kingdom of God in Ezra or while preaching through the book of Mark a small group could say study the book of Matthew or John and see another angle to the gospel story. So Sunday preaching calendars simply allow us to better utilize our time in teaching to help explain the whole counsel of God.

Allows us to disciple intentional

Yearly preaching calendars can greatly enhance the ability to intentionally disciple, as spending time in a given book over the course of many months allows it to seep in and allows better questions and better connections to flow out of the text. It also allows our churches and people to really dive into a text each week before coming to worship. By allowing your church to know where you’re going and why you’re going there they are able to take a deeper ownership of their own personal walk coming into service on Sunday morning. It forces the pastor also to make sure that when studying the passage that they are answering the questions that come to mind while studying and praying that those are the same questions that have begun to germinate in the minds of those will sit in that service on Sunday morning.

 

I Hope this helps give you a glimpse into why some pastors choose to organize and do things the way they do. Probably this gives you a little insight into my mind and why we do things the way we do at Riverside. At the end of the day the goal is that we lead with conviction and passion for the word of God while not leaving out the work of the Holy Spirit. These yearly calendars are not put together on a whim but rather through much prayer and study. Seeking to know the people of the church as well as the direction the Lord is leading our church. It involves a lot of trust and faith in God and the Holy Spirit to lead us well in the midst of these decisions. In the end thought we know that His word does not return void. So whether you are one that listens to a sermon week to week or one who prepares it, may your heart be filled with joy at the hearing of the word of God and trust in the work of the Holy Spirit to change lives.

The Art of Turning (Review & Download)

This past week Kevin DeYoung Released a new book looking at the purpose and role of the conscience in a Christian’s life. This short book is available free to download at WTS bookstore. The link is provide below.

http://www.wtsbooks.com/art-turning-kevin-deyoung-9781911272212?pop=sample

First, this book is very much a primer on the ideas of the human conscience along with it’s biblical roots and function. At just 40 pages DeYoung unpacks why we should take the role of our conscience seriously, as it is both used by the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin as well as to give us assurance in the midst of trials.

Second, this book deals with the influences of the reformation and puritans as to how we often misunderstand and think about our conscience.  He shows us briefly and succinctly that these movements main point was never about a never ending source of introspection that leaves you in a constant state of gloom over sin and wretchedness. Rather both groups end was for us to sleep with a clear conscience by seeing our sin and our selves for what we were, but to also see our savior for who He is. While we have sinned greatly He has saved even greater. Our conscience should not be bogged down continual by our sin, but rather as we see sin in our lives we must turn them over in obedience, repent and walk in the grace of God.

Seriously if you have an hour to spare hop on over to WTS Bookstore and download this amazing book today, or order a few for some friends.

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.

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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.