3 Reasons to Attend Church Regularly

In 2016 it was recorded that 73% of Americans claimed to be Christian. However, when the same group was asked if their faith was very important to them or if they attended church at least once a month the percentage dropped from 73% to 31% (The State of the Church 2016 – Barna). Less than half of the people who claim to be Christians attend church regularly. And regular attendance for them could be just once a month (12 times a year). So, the percentage of those who attend church weekly is less than 31%.

But the Bible commands that Christians are to be faithful to their church. The author of Hebrews tells his readers that they are not to neglect meeting with one another, as is the habit of some (Hebrews 10:25). And then again to his readers he commands, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17). How can a person obey and submit to their leaders if they are not faithful attenders of their local church? It’s not going to happen. The implication here is that we need to be regular church attenders. Then Luke, in the book of Acts, tells us that Christians in the early church met regularly, day by day, to fellowship and attend church together (Acts 2:46). We can see a pattern of believers meeting together often in a church setting. This is what Christians do; they meet regularly to worship the Lord.

But why is this so important? What benefit is it to be at church regularly? Let me give you three reasons why it is so important:

SERVE & BE SERVED

First, it is important to attend church faithfully so that you can both serve and be served. One of the ways the Bible defines the church is as a body (1 Corinthians 12:27). Christ is the head and believers comprise the rest. And each member of the body plays a big part. Just as a human body is not as effective as it could be if it were missing a leg or an arm so a church body is not as effective as it could be if it were missing members. Each member of the church body plays a vital role in the church. It is important that you regularly attend your local church so that others in the body of Christ can serve you in ways that you cannot serve yourself. You need people who will disciple, encourage, admonish, and correct you. You need people who can serve you through the gifts God has given them. You can only get that when you gather together with other Christians. You also need to attend church regularly so that you can serve others. There are those in your church who need your encouragement, discipleship, and correction. God has given you gifts that He wants you to use for the benefit of the body as a whole. You cannot serve others if you are not around them. Therefore, it is of great importance that you strive to faithfully gather together with other Christians weekly at your local church.

HEAR THE WORD

Second, it is important to attend church faithfully to hear the preaching of God’s Word. The book of Acts tells us that the early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42) and we are to do the same. We do not have “apostles” today in the Biblical sense, but we do have gifted preachers and teachers who rightly share the Word of God every week from the pulpit (Steve Lawson). These men are sharing the very apostles’ teaching (the Bible) that Acts 2 speaks of and we would do well to devote ourselves to their teaching. We do that by regularly attending the services and Bible studies at our local church.

It is through the teaching and preaching of God’s Word that sinners are saved, sanctified, and equipped for ministry work. We can see this clearly from the teaching of Paul in his epistles. Paul, writing to Timothy, reminds him that it was the Word of God that made him “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). In the same passage Paul also instructs Timothy to continue to learn the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:14) as it is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Paul tells Timothy that the word is profitable and then he tells him to preach that word (2 Timothy 4:2). The preaching of God’s Word is one of the primary ways Christians grow in godliness. It is crucial that Christians regularly attend a Bible-believing church so that they can get a steady dose of Biblical preaching that will help grow them in the faith.

In addition, Paul tells the Ephesian church that God gave “the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12). Not only does the preaching of God’s Word bring sinners to salvation and help Christians in their walk with God, but it equips them for ministry. Regularly sitting under the preaching and teaching of your local church will prepare you to do ministry work. You will be able to share the gospel, disciple others, and lead a Bible study, or small group. It is important that Christians are faithful to their local church and regularly sit under their pastor’s preaching so that they might grow in godliness and be equipped to do ministry.

OBEY THE LORD

Third, it is important to attend church faithfully because God commands it (Hebrews 10:25) and that is reason enough! If God commands us to do something it is in our best interest to do it. He is infinitely wise and knows what is best for you and me. The book of Isaiah tells us, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). God is infinitely wiser than us and He knows better than we do what is best for us. Therefore, when God commands us to be regular church attenders we should joyfully comply.  It is in our best interest.

God created and implemented the church for His glory and our good. It is His desire that we meet regularly as Christians to sing, pray, study the Bible, and encourage each other in the faith. Make it a priority to regularly attend your local church for your good and God’s glory.

A Word on New Beginnings

One year ago this week I posted a blog on the Meaning of an Ending. In it I reflected on the last day of Moses leading the people towards the promise land but being restricted by God from entering the land himself. This post was a reflection not only on my New Year’s Eve sermon but also on that previous Sunday where I announced that I would no longer be pursuing the Pastorate of the church where I had served as interim pastor for the previous 2 years and where I had start ministry several years before that. 3 months later on April 28th I would say good bye to that wonderful congregation and begin a new journey at a new church with new responsibilities; leaving the weekly preaching behind to focus on handling the day to day organization and administration of another local body. The final Sunday of 2018 was the first time I was once again behind the pulpit on a Sunday morning preaching in 8 months and today I want to highlight the main aspects of what I learned along the way looking at New Beginnings.

Look to Christ Alone

First, It is easy to get distracted in our everyday lives by everything that we believe we know is coming: work, spouses, kids, bosses, etc, but at the back of our minds we know that none of those things will be completely predictable. Sicknesses creep up on us out of nowhere, jobs are lost with little or no warning, cars breakdown, kids have new troubles, life is unpredictable. 2018 may have started as a year you were excited for with many opportunities, but by the end of the road you couldn’t wait to get it over with and pass it by. The reality is that every day has challenges of its own that cannot be seen or predicted by our own eyes. But the one thing we do know is that our savior is unchanging. He is who He has always been and will be who He has always been.

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” John 10:27-28

As Christians we are called to cling to Christ take up our crosses and follow him. In every endeavor it is to Christ we look, we must rest in the reality that as his sheep we are being kept and look after, even if the results or situation isn’t what we would like them to appear. When the Israelites came to the river Jordan (Josh. 2-3) and stood upon the banks of the flooding river it was hard for them to imagine that this task was going to be an easy one, but what this generation did know is that their God was in control, and when he gave them instructions to follow the ark and in so doing trust him walking forward into the waters, they did it with eyes focused on the ark that went before them, just as God had instructed.

The Israelite’s followed God through the Jordan, the Disciples followed Christ to the ends of the earth, we must as well trust in Christ alone moment by moment through the good and through the evils of this world, knowing that he will hold us fast. When I announced I was leaving previous position there were moments leading up to that where I didn’t know what would be next, the job i currently have was not in any way a sure thing, but the one thing I knew was that God was in control no matter what happens. Now there were plenty of times over those months where i wrestled with this truth, and with my own flesh and selfish desires, and fears. It is easy to say our eyes are fixed on Christ but some times the waters do look insurmountable, and that’s because for us they are, but for God nothing is.

Trust in His Word Alone

Second as we look to Christ we must also be looking with ears open to the truth of His word and with a heart set on following His word for us. When we look forward into the unknown, we are not left to figure it out on our own, for God has given us His word and instruction for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3). When the Israelites were looking at the Ark in the Jordan, they were not left to figure out how to enter the land, the Lord had given them instructions on how to walk and pursue Him. They were instructed to consecrate themselves and to follow his lead, and to follow His word and presences. Truly our eyes cannot be fully set on Christ if our hearts are refusing to head his words.  In Peter’s second epistle he reminds the church to seek in growing in their affection for the Lord by walking in the truth of His word, to grow up into the faith that they have been called. As we look forward are we striving to know Him more and become more like him according to His word, or according to our own devices?

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:1-8)

As I came to the end of my tenure the Words of Paul to the Philippian church were especially encouraging, for in these words we find the mindset Christ has called us to have; a mindset that by its very nature is unlike the world. here we seek to do what is best for those in the family of faith not ourselves. We sacrifice for their good and for the growth of their faith. It is so easy to yearn for our own way and our own glory, but that is not the way of Christ.

Give Glory to Him Alone

Third, through all that comes our way let us give glory to God alone. Now this may seem like a no brainer, but there are many a time that we lose sight of who it was that brought us through the River. How often do we get through trials and tribulations in this life and forget all the ways God got us through, especially when a new trial comes our way. It is easy in a moment to thank the Lord for his work on our behalf, but how often is that moment fleeting or not passed on. For the Israelites at the Jordan they were instructed to construct a memorial of stones representing the Lord work in preserving each tribe and fulfilling His promises, so that every generation would be encouraged to pass this truth on to the next that God delivered His people, by his work alone, not of their own doing. When God does a mighty work in our lives how do we remember it; how do we pass it on; who do we instruct with it? Sitting here in 2019 in ministry it is amazing to see how God put everything together to bring me here today. How a Interim pastorate that was only to last 90 days turned into 2+ years and in that time the relationships the Lord brought along my path lead me to the church I now serve at today. The Lord orchestrated all of these events according to His glory. And I am but the recipient of his kindness.

I pray that as you look backwards over the last year that you can easily see the aspects of God’s sovereign work moving you to where you are today. Hopefully in that you can see how he kept you focused on Him and his words, and how when you strayed, he refocused your eyes back on Him. Should this not be your case, I would plead with you to take a moment and look to Christ, hear his word, be convicted of the truth and walk humbly before him in joy, knowing that he is sovereign over all of our joys and trials, leading us home to himself.

 

 

 

 

 

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

This week in 1973, an important supreme court decision legalized abortion nationwide. Since then, some sixty million babies have been aborted. While a mother’s womb was once the safest place for a child, it is now one of the most dangerous. But the issue that lies at the root of the abortion debate is whether or not there is life within the womb. Recently in the news, I saw the terrifying report about Chris Watts, the Colorado man who murdered his wife and two daughters. Then there was mention that he was being charged with four counts of murder because his wife was pregnant with their unborn child. Yet what is not explained is how our society can justify the taking of unborn life for millions of others. Since the rise of postmodernism, our culture affirms that each of us can come to our own conclusions in these matters and neither opinion is right or wrong. But the ultimate question that remains is whether or not there is life in the womb.

In Psalm 139, David is basking in the limitless expanse that is God. He marvels at God’s omniscience (perfect knowledge of all), omnipresence (existing fully everywhere), and omnipotence (infinite in power). In verses 13-18, David is particularly humbled by God’s intimate acquaintance with him while in the womb. He shares that God, perfectly knit us together, sovereignly planned our days, and graciously upholds us even now.

God perfectly knit us together

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.” -Psalm 139:13-15

Our family has been given quilts and rugs after the birth of a child by sweet church ladies or other friends. These knitted hats and hand-woven quilts or scarves are greatly appreciated because of the amount of detailed work involved by the giver. We know that someone put a lot of thought and energy into these, though we didn’t know they were doing so at the time. They were knitting in secret and we were blessed with the finished product. God’s involvement in the birth of a every human life is not minimal. He is intimately involved in the womb and throughout the days of that child’s life. David uses a Hebrew word here that speaks specifically to the creation of one human life. It is the same word used in Job 10:11 which states, “You clothed me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews.” David speaks of the most secret parts of human anatomy and declares that we are each, “intricately woven” by God. We ought to be humbled to know that there is no part of us that is hidden from the gaze of God. Nothing about us was accidental or haphazard, for it was none other than the Divine Creator who formed us. H. Hammond, a deceased commentator, remarks that our flesh, bones, skin, nerves, and arteries are so weaved together, “that no embroidery or carpet-work in the world can compare with it.” We are indeed fearfully and wonderfully made. But not only were our days in the womb planned, but everyday of our lives thereafter.

God sovereignly planned our days

Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”- Psalm 139:16

Until our generation with the invention of the Ultrasound (sadly after Roe V. Wade), life in the womb was totally unseen and mysterious. It was reserved for God’s eyes only. Now we can see 4D images of babies in the womb, yet it is still a shadowy form we behold. The life in the womb remains for scientists a beautiful mystery that cannot be explained satisfactorily without mention of God. Yet this is merely the earliest stages of that life. God has a book which contains every day each of us will ever live, perfectly planned out to the nanosecond. Our God not only knits us together in the womb, he predetermines every passing moment of our entire lives before any of them even come to be. This is such an encouragement for us in the daily pressures of life. God is never shocked or surprised by our pain. Like a Master storyteller, He is orchestrating all these crazy events by Divine design. Ephesians 1 says God has been doing this from, “before the foundation of the world,” and that He, “works all things according to the counsel of his will.” In Ephesians 2:10 we’re informed that, “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” This goes for not only everyday we will face, but the very one we call `today.`

God graciously upholds us even now

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you.” -Psalm 139:17-18

Every time our family goes to the beach, it seems we bring more sand back with us than is possible. David says if we could count God’s thoughts of us it would be more than all the sand on all the beaches in all the world. His thoughts toward us are best exemplified in the Gospel. His care for us led Him to send His only Son into this world as a baby who would bear the curse of our sin and drink God’s judgment for us on the cross. We will never get over the depth of God’s mercy and grace to us in Christ. It doesn’t make sense why God loves us sinners with such breadth and depth and height and length. And so may we spend eternity marveling that such a Creator is also our Redeemer.

New Year’s Day Prayer

I have been praying that God would grow our local church; not so much numerically but spiritually as I believe that lasting numerical growth flows from authentic Spirit-led growth. I did not, however, see coming what the Lord was doing while I was away.

Our Advent season typically reaches its climax at our Christmas Eve service (when Christmas doesn’t fall on a Sunday) after which I retreat into a week of reflection, rest, and preparation as the current year comes to a close and the new year approaches.

This year I received a phone call from the Chairman of Elders informing me that at our monthly prayer meeting he and our newly hired Asst. Pastor formulated a plan for 24 hours of prayer on New Year’s Day. A sign-up sheet would be created with forty-eight, thirty-minute increments and made available to the congregation at December 30’s worship service.

Excitement, doubt, concern, thankfulness, and anticipation filled my heart.

I’d like to be super-spiritual and tell you I knew that our members would jump at the opportunity to pray for hours at a time for 24 hours on a day that is typically filled with sleeping in because of the late-night festivities that preceded it, but I’m not and I was concerned and doubtful.

However, God in His faithfulness saw fit to fill forty five of forty eight slots and my first day in the office of 2019 was filled with joy, hope, encouragement and excitement as I saw the revolving door of person after person and family after family fill our sanctuary on their knees, with the Word open in front of them, praying through our teachers, leadership, programs, missionaries, and a church plant in South America.

I learned three important lessons on the first day of 2019:

First, God is faithful. He answered my prayers to mature us in Christ and I don’t believe He’s done yet either. I’ve been praying earnestly that spiritual fruit of maturity would adorn the branches of this local tree, Christ’s Church in Eldred, Illinois. A devotion & dependence upon the Lord manifested in prayer is a hallmark of the local Church (Acts 2:42). I couldn’t be more grateful to the Lord!

Second, the Lord confirmed that the work being done here belongs to Him and not me. The Lord placed this on the hearts of our leadership in my absence. In the secular world that would be scary as it could be perceived that I am no longer needed. But for a Sr. pastor to see his church seeking Christ apart from his presence is overwhelmingly encouraging. Eldred Baptist needs more Christ and less Pastor Don (John 3:30). I am thankful for that reminder!

Lastly, I learned that I expect too little from the Lord. I am humbled and convicted by my skepticism as well as encouraged to call Christ’s Church to greater things in 2019. I am firmly convinced that pastors lower the bar too often to make Christianity more palatable for the culture; clearly that pastor is me, too. I have also been praying that God would reveal sin in me of which I was not aware. Again, He is good and faithful!

The same God who created light before He created the sun is creating in us an unquenchable thirst to know Him more fully, love Him more deeply, and be near Him more frequently. Surely, 2019 will bring more growth, more goodness, and more of God.

In 2019, may we all respond as the boy Samuel did when the Lord spoke to him, “Speak, LORD, for your servant hears” (1 Samuel 3:9).

Pick Up and Read

As 2019 begins, many resolutions will be made and many goals will be set. Resolutions and goals come to pass only if discipline characterizes an individual’s life. When it comes to the spiritual disciplines of the believer, there is a fine line one must walk between mechanical, robotic actions and half-hearted devotion. Christians are to be a disciplined people with an acknowledgement of dependence upon the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, all of the spiritual disciplines are to be seen as means by which worship of the Triune God takes place. One of the most important disciplines in the Christian life is reading. So, as the new year begins, let me offer you some encouragement as to what you should pick up and read.

The Bible

Above all other books, the Bible should be at the center of our daily reading habits. This is the special revelation of God that reveals to us the nature of God and the redemptive storyline. Every doctrine found within the pages of Scripture relates to one another and is marrow for life. The reason that the Bible is not read is that we do not understand what we hold in our hand. This year, take your Bible, read it, write about what you read, ask questions of the text, and discern how the gospel relates to this passage. Since we believe the Bible is the inerrant, infallible, and inspired Word of God, should we not seek to know it more and more? Is there anything else in our lives that should impact how we live apart from the Holy Scriptures? When I have grown cold and dulled to the Word, there is a great emptiness and misery that accommodates each day. When considering the Bible, you hold in your hands, remember the sacrifice of men like William Tyndale. Tyndale is a Christian martyr who was executed due to the fact that he desired that the common man be able to read the Scriptures for himself in the English language.

A Bible-reading plan is a solid means of structure and discipline in searching the Scriptures during the year. Reading with an accountability partner is an excellent means to keep you on track. If you miss a day, do not stop and wait for the next January 1st to roll around. Take up the next day and begin again to search the Scriptures. In 2018, I utilized the Robert Murray M’Cheyne reading plan (https://www.mcheyne.info/calendar.pdf). This year, I will follow a chronological Bible reading plan (http://static.esvmedia.org/assets/pdfs/rp.chronological.pdf). Here are some other Bible reading plans that you can benefit from: https://www.ligonier.org/blog/bible-reading-plans/. May 2019 be a year of the Bible in your life by which you are left in more awe of the God who creates, redeems, sustains, and keeps!

Reading the Classics

My fellow Publican, Zack Ford, and I are planning to begin a 4 year journey through these Christian classics (http://www.longing4truth.com/mark-devers-christian-classics-reading-challenge/). Mark Dever organized this listing that covers the early church, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Sibbes, Spurgeon, and others! As Zack shows, this is a very intense and ambitious reading plan. I would not recommend someone do this on their own (I have tried!!) but read this with others. Not only is this another means of accountability but this will provide excellent opportunities to engage and learn with others regarding what you are reading. Furthermore, you might be prone to read only one person or era in church history. This is an excellent way to become more familiar with figures from each epoch of church history.

Puritan Paperbacks

I was overwhelmed when my church family at NTBC presented me with The Banner of Truth’s “Puritan Paperback” series for Christmas! What a goldmine! The Puritans can be difficult to read at times but it is profitable to the soul. “The Bruised Reed” by Richard Sibbes is an excellent place to start! Why not form a group in your church that is dedicated to reading one of these books a month and discussing it? You will find your life enriched and solid wisdom given to pass on to others! https://banneroftruth.org/us/store/series/puritan-paperbacks-1/

Biographies

While I am a history nerd, I realize that not everyone else cares for history like me. Still, I would argue that we suffer greatly when we fail to know history and live as if time began with us. One of the best means to acquaint yourself with history is by reading biographies. This is true whether we are dealing with figures like George Washing and Winston Churchill or John Owen and Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Steve Lawson’s series “A Long Line of Godly Men” is an excellent introduction to biographical reading of some of the great men in the history of the church. These volumes are manageable to read. While these are not exhaustive or even typical biographies, this collection of books will introduce you to some of the heroes of the faith showing how their lives still speak to us today. If any one person strikes up your interest more, there are many resources cited in the book that will guide you in further reading. I highly recommend these books! https://www.ligonier.org/store/collection/long-line-godly-men/

Conclusion

Above all, read in 2019! You will be amazed at how much you can cover and learn if you set 20 minutes, 30 minutes, or an hour each day to read. In you reading, heed the words of C.H. Spurgeon, “Visit many good books, but live in the Bible.”

The Reason for the Season

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” 15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. 21 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb (Luke 2:8-21).

Christmas is a wonderful time of the year. We decorate our houses. We give and receive gifts. We spend time with family and friends. And we eat many festive meals. I really enjoy this season as I am sure many of you do as well.  But so often we fail to miss the reason for the season. We fail to focus on Christ. We celebrate Santa more than we celebrate Jesus and this shouldn’t be.

Jesus brings much more than a red sack of small toys, He brings salvation to the world (10-11). It’s the best news that brings the greatest joy: the enemies of God become the friends of God, all because of the work of God on their behalf. Jesus steps into His creation. He puts on flesh and dwells among us. He lives a life of perfect obedience in our place, dies a sacrificial death for us, three days later He rises from the dead defeating sin and death. Now all who repent and believe in Him will not perish but have eternal life. This is the reason for the season. This is cause for celebration and great joy.

Notice the reaction of the angels, shepherds, and Mary in our passage above as they ponder the news of Jesus. In verse 14 we are told that a multitude of angels all proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest.” In verse 20 we read, “the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” And in v. 19 we see that, “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” The news of Jesus was not dull, unimportant, or casual to the people in our passage and it should be to us either.

The news of Jesus’ incarnation should bring great joy that leads to worship and adoration. As you spend time with family and friends today do not forget the reason for the season. Make Jesus the center of the celebration.

More Love

“I am a meaningless noise; I am nothing; I gain nothing.” You won’t find these words in the latest version of any best-selling, self-help masterpiece. But, you will find them (not verbatim) in the Wisdom of God, through the pen of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13.

God has moved me to this reality using two primary mechanisms in the last several months: (1) Through the study and prayerful pursuit of spiritual gifts, and (2) Through discipling two men whom God placed in my life for discipleship who are not connected to my church.

First, a couple of times per year I teach a new members/new believers class in our local church. There are a few Sunday’s where I teach on spiritual gifts and their exercise for the edification of the Body. This practice, regularly, has me searching through the Scriptures in preparation.

As I learn to “earnestly desire the higher gifts” (1 Cor. 12:31), I couldn’t help but be drawn to Paul’s immediate follow-up in that same verse, “And I will show you still a more excellent way” (emphasis added). Can I prayerfully pursue the higher gifts and disregard (or make second place even) the “more excellent way,” which clearly is love (1 Cor. 13)?

After all, I, without love, as defined by God, am “meaningless noise…nothing…and I gain nothing.” When read, considered, and meditated upon, this is a pretty harsh reality to accept. This means the gifts He has given and the kingdom work (not to even mention the gifts I am prayerfully pursuing) done, when lacking the single greatest ingredient, is of no value and gain nothing. None? Really?

Yes, really.

The Lord has shifted my focus from spiritual gifts to love, the “still more excellent way.” Praise God!

Second, often times I use Don Whitney’s “Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life” when I am beginning a discipleship relationship in order to teach men how to live the Christian life. In the opening discipline of Bible Intake Whitney says this:

“No Spiritual Discipline is more important than the intake of God’s Word. Nothing can substitute for it. There simply in no healthy Christian life apart from a diet of the milk and meat of Scripture.”

In his two chapters on Bible Intake, Whitney points his readers to the supernatural workings of God through hearing, reading, studying, memorizing, and meditating on God’s Word. While working on committing 1 Corinthians 13 to memory, the Lord has shown me that what is lacking in not more gifts in my spiritual armory. It’s love. Love is the muscle behind the ministry; and not just any love but love as defined by God, in Christ!

In short, God used the exercising the gifts He’s already given me (namely, teaching & discipling) to show me that it wasn’t more gifts I needed (although they are to be earnestly desired) but love that was missing. Without it, I am just noise, I’m nothing, & I gain nothing. Nothing.

Isn’t God good? I went looking for more and He’s teaching me a more excellent way to utilize that which He’s already provided.

More love. Who doesn’t need to grow in love? Surely, I do. Surely, you do. And by His grace, surely, we will! After all, in His grace you were “predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ” (Romans 8:29 who is Love personified.

Grow us, Lord, in love; make us, I pray, like Christ.

“He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:24

Learning through our Disagreements

Over the last few weeks in the office we have been reading the book: Spurgeon on the Christian Life by Michael Reeves. It is a wonderful read and one that will make you think deeply about what we love so much about his preaching and teaching, but it will also at times make us step back and disagree with Spurgeon’s views on several things such as preaching books of the bible, liturgies, the New Birth, and scripted prayer.

Today’s post isn’t a review of the book but rather what the book helped me to see and think more deeply about. I’ve posted on it before, but I think it bears reminding that some of the very people our heroes ranged against and called out are us. As a Baptist I love the reformation and appreciate all that Luther did and at the same time know he would have considered me as much a heretic as the Pope in Rome. Augustine was the father of much of what we find distasteful in the Catholic church such as Baptism for the remission of sins in Infants, Purgatory, Limbo, and a host of others, yet he also helped to solidify theologically the truth of Monergism and a full appreciation for the Sovereignty of God. Bavinck and Kuyper in Holland could not reconcile the role of the church and state, especially in the training of ministers, and in the process their partnership as ministers of the gospel was frayed.

Now I say all this for two reasons. First, there is always a chance we are wrong, not about the gospel but at times on its application when scripture is less than clear. Second, there are good and Holy brothers and sisters in Christ who we can learn much from, whom we will equally disagree with. Both of these things we need to remember because at the end of the day we live to imitate Christ and become more like him, not necessarily other Christians. They point us to Christ and at times our worthy of admiration, but ultimately it is Christ whom we pursue.

 We Might Be Wrong

No one likes to be wrong. Let’s just face it, red marks on a test don’t tend to bring out our most excited moments (though many of us can agree we learned a lot from those red marks). Being corrected for our attitude or unrighteous behavior isn’t a fun day, though necessary. I’ve spent the last 6 years in full time ministry before that I spent 7 years in Bible college and seminary, along the way I read a lot of the Bible a lot and equally a lot of theology texts. My office is filled with commentaries on the word of God and books discussing how we should live out these truths. In Seminary specifically I focused my studies on Christian ethics (Or the Practical outworking of theology in everyday life).  This time taught me a lot about what it means to be wrong and to be gracious in doing so, but it also showed me areas of my theology that should have been peripheral that had become central, things that being wrong about didn’t change who I was in Christ. Such as how does the Spirit gift individuals and what does that look like, what should the church sing, how do we practice church discipline, in what ways can baptism be performed, how often should we take communion, what role does Communion, the Word, and singing play in weekly and personal worship?

I could ask these questions to a whole host of pastors and theologians and get a wide variety of answers and in that way, it taught me that it was okay to accept that possibility of being wrong in some areas of the Christian life, but not to settle for being wrong. It is important that we acknowledge that there are mysteries too marvelous for us to full comprehend or articulate. We must accept that there are areas of the outworking of the gospel that take effort to dive deeply into, and we should. The point of accepting that you could be wrong is not to be lazy in the process but to push harder into Christ and to trust in Him, to dive deeply into His Word and allow it to be the guide of who we are and how we then shall live. He gives us His Word to know Him and His family and to live out the truth of who has been revealed.

Now I know there are a lot of traps with what I am saying, and I’ll admit that as well. Hebrews encourages us to continually be on guard against falsehoods and to not be led astray into disobedience but to fight all the more for the faith and to rest in Christ our great High Priest who gave all for us, and for the Glory of His father. So, while it is good to accept, we may be wrong on the peripheral we must not give ground on the reality of who Jesus is, what salvation is, the work of the Holy spirit producing righteousness, the call to repentance, the work of God through all of scripture. These are the areas of the faith first and foremost to be wrong is to be outside of the faith. These are questions while they may be answered with different words will have the same substance, will reflect the same gospel truth, Spurgeon, Luther, Augustine, Bavinck, Kuyper, Piper, MacArthur, R.C., Gurnall, Athanasius, Polycarp, John and Paul would reflect the same gospel reality.

Learning from Others

Now that was a long way to highlight the importance of learning from those, we may at times disagree with on peripheral issues. Again, this is not a call to start picking up Osteen and Bell books, no need to take down that old Brian McLaren book on the 19 different Jesus’. No this is more about the importance of getting outside of our tribal instinct and studying the truth of scripture and seeing how other godly people have applied the text and lived it out. When I was in college, I went to an interdenominational school made up of a host of different theological backgrounds all studying the scriptures together and having lively and gracious discussions on the outworking of that faith. I learned a lot about loving my brothers and sisters well in disagreement from brothers whom truly reflected and lived out the gospel. I didn’t agree with everything they thought but I agreed with how they lived, for they lived it out far greater than I. Especially while those in my same camp seemed to move farther and farther way from the actual practice of the faith, while condemning these brothers as legalists.

It is an amazing thought that we read men whom we openly would disagree with if they were around today, but the measure of their lives proved that they ran the race, they kept the faith, and in Christ have been rewarded greatly. In a day and age where we have become more tribal than ever, I fear we have stopped listening to those we disagree with, and in some ways, we have stopped learning.  If you are afraid to pick up a book by Charles Wesley because of his views on Holiness, you will miss his great care for the preaching of the Word and Deep reverence he had for God. There was a reason Whitefield and Wesley were great friends, and they learned a lot form each other even while disagreeing over aspects of doctrine. If Spurgeon’s view of preaching topically drives you to forsake his preaching you will miss his rich exposition on the Psalms or the beautiful encouragement, he gives to suffering saints through the preached word, while simultaneously presenting the hope of the Gospel to the lost.

Ultimately, we need to be people committed to the cause of Christ, learning the truth of Scripture, defending the faith well, and growing in our love and dedication for the Saints.

Preaching is Strange

When it comes to the event called preaching, there might not be anything more exhilarating, more puzzling, more exhaustive, more challenging, and more rewarding then the man standing behind the sacred desk expounding the Word of God. Truly, preaching is strange because it an event that requires human discipline and preparation, while at the same time can only accomplish good by the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit.

Why is preaching strange?

Discipline in the Study

As those who are commissioned to preach the Word of God, there can be no substitute for diligent study and preparation. Our time must be well-spent in working through the text, understanding the passage in the context of the redemptive narrative of the Bible, as well as gleaning the doctrines from the text through the lens of systematic, biblical, and historical theology. Meditating upon the text and chewing on the text are essential for us as we think about the congregation, we will be feeding the Word to. None of this can be neglected. Yet, discipline in the study is not only a process of reading, thinking, and writing. The preacher’s time in the study must be one of cultivating spiritual disciplines in his own life. I will confess, more times than I care to admit, that my time in the study was an exercise in writing a sermon rather than seeking to be personally fed and changed. In our time in the study, we must come desiring first to be changed and to be conformed into the image of Christ. It is not enough for me to know what my people need to hear from the text. I need to hear from the text. I need the conviction of the Word to pierce my own heart.

Preaching is a public act of worship. How dangerous it can be for us to substitute that public act for private adoration, worship, and sanctification. Let us commit to pray for ourselves and for other ministers of the Word that we not neglect personal holiness for the public platform that comes with preaching. As one writer puts it, “The biographies of the finest Christians illustrate for us, the bedrock of the truly devoted life is a daily discipline of private prayer and meditation on the Word of God. No matter how far along the Christian way we travel, our need of these things will never diminish. As has often been said, there are no shortcuts to holiness.”[1]

The Power of the Spirit

            Paul was a model theologian-preacher. The apostle faithfully expounded the Word, connecting Christ to the themes of the OT, and rightly setting forth the word of truth. Yet, as the apostle argues in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, the power lies not in the preacher but the Holy Spirit. For all of our preparation and study, there can be no substitute for our reliance upon the Spirit of God. Ezekiel 37 summons us to join with Ezekiel in understanding that the breath of God is what brings life to the valley of dry bones. There is no more humbling truth for the preacher to know and live by then that his role as a herald means that he is not the main attraction. When the preacher begins to think he is the star of a production, then he has forgotten all he claims to be. The preacher is the messenger sent forth to declare the glories of God and the mighty power of the kingdom. If we do not rely upon the Spirit of God, if our confidence be in our own abilities, then we will resort to tricks, emotional manipulation, and seeking to always be “fresh” and “relevant” by the standards of contemporary culture.

As we step into the pulpit, realizing how we are totally dependent upon the Spirit of God brings a peace and rest to our souls. This does not give space for laziness in the time of preparation. However, it will cause us to be aware that the people need not hear from me but from the God of heaven. Spurgeon said it well, “It is better to speak six words in the power of the Holy Spirit, than preach seventy sermons without the spirt.”[2] When Martyn Lloyd-Jones described preaching as “theology coming through man who is on fire,” the great pastor pointed to the power of the Holy Spirit. This is why we need Him during our time in private study and prayer. May God help us all to realize how desperately we need the Spirit as we preach!

What About Feelings?

            What about those Sundays when I step out of the pulpit and feel like a failure? I imagine that all preachers feel this way at some time. Personally, the Lord has blessed me where I preached and everything seemed to go almost perfectly. When I stepped out of the pulpit, I felt like Whitefield or Spurgeon, like I just hit a grand-slam, and any other image you can think of from sports. That type of “buzz” can become an idol. Not every Sunday feels that way. What do we do then? Some Sundays we can feel like hypocrites because we know that we are sinners and fall short in so many areas. Brother preachers, you are not supermen. You are sinners who have been transformed into saints, clothed in robes of Christ’s righteousness, heralds of divine grace, and stewards of the Word of God. Each time we preach, we are involved in a spiritual battle. As I was recently reminded, preaching is about us being faithful and not about attaining a feeling.

Conclusion

Preaching is no easy task. Sometimes the reward comes a time after we are finished preaching that sermon. Regardless of where Christ has put you, remember that you are His herald. That’s a solemn, weighty task but also a joyful, glorious labor! Preaching is strange. Just as soon as you think you have figured it out, you receive a divine reminder that you really have not. That sermon you think you fell flat on your face in the pulpit is the one that God uses to change a life. Is it because of the preacher? No, it is because of the Spirit of God who happens to use clay pots like you and me. Let us rejoice in that as Sunday approaches! May our preaching be that which glorifies God!

[1] John Cheesemen, The Priority of Preaching. (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2006), 24.

[2] Ibid., 27.

Are You Suffering?

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

Last week I got the news that someone in my small group had a stroke and they are still in the hospital recovering. Today, while at small group I found out that another member of my small group had an unexpected death in the family. There are other members of my church who have lost loved ones recently, or battled serious illness, or suffered other difficulties. I know of a church in the panhandle (certainly there are others) that was badly damaged during hurricane Michal this past October. I have a friend who just received the news that he has brain cancer and there is not much he can do for it.

Many Christians face difficult circumstances in life. This has always been the case. Job lost his possessions and family (Job 1:13-22). John the Baptist was imprisoned than beheaded (Mark 6:16-17). The author of Hebrews tells us some believers suffered “mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated…wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (Hebrews 11:36-38).

The apostle Paul speaks at length of some of the difficulties he experienced in this life in his second letter to the Corinthians. He writes, “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure” (2 Corinthians 11:24-27).

Perhaps you are reading this today and you have recently received bad news from the doctor, or learned that a loved one has passed away, or have been told that you are going to be laid off from work, or that you had a miscarriage, or that your child is not walking with Jesus and you are suffering deeply. Remember Paul’s words here to the Church at Rome. He tells them, “that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

The worst suffering that any Christian has ever experienced does not even remotely compare to the joy that they will have in heaven with Jesus for all of eternity. The Psalmist speaking of Christ writes “in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). Our joy will be full and never ending one day in the presence of Jesus. That is our hope as believers. Remind yourself of this regularly.

When We Pray

Prayer. From the outside, it can look like little more than resting one’s eyes. And to the fast-paced, microwave culture in which we live, prayer to the God of the Bible seems like an extravagant waste of time. Yet we know as believers that there is more to prayer than what meets the eye. Prayer is warfare and prayer is worship. Prayer is confession and prayer is communion. Prayer is beholding and prayer is becoming. Prayer is one of the means by which God advances His kingdom in this world and a means by which He advances us spiritually.

We know prayer is more than what meets the eye and yet our behavior doesn’t always align with our belief here. We sleep in that extra 30 minutes we had planned to spend in prayer because, after all, we reassure ourselves, we don’t need to be so legalistic. We turn on Netflix when we had planned to pray with our spouse because, it’s been a long day and we need a break. We run around frantic all day from the house to work to school to our kid’s ball game and crash in bed at night without realizing what perpetual prayerlessness is doing to us and our family. What we need is a good, strong, biblical reminder about how and why to pray when we don’t always see prayer’s immediate fruitfulness for us.

In Colossians 4, the Apostle Paul gives us a small theology of prayer. He concludes his letter to the church at Colossae with commands that we pray and requests that we pray. He even gives us a glimpse of the warfare that is prayer when he highlights one of the first prayer warriors. In these verses, we’ll see six things to keep in mind when we pray…

 

  • Be steadfast in prayer

“Continue steadfastly in prayer…”

One of the hardest things about prayer is this reality that it requires persistence. Our God loves us too much to give us what we want right when we ask. We all know that a child whose every wish is granted the moment he requests it becomes spoiled. But in prayer, God is more concerned with a relationship than a simple request that will come and go. When we expect our prayers to be answered in the way we want every time, we are forgetting God’s sovereignty and treating Him as our servant. Great prayer warrior George Muller once said, “It is not enough to begin to pray…nor is it enough to continue for a time to pray…we must pray patiently, believing, continue in prayer until we attain an answer.” He lived this out himself. Mueller wrote in his diary, “In November 1844, I began to pray for the conversion of five individuals. I prayed every day without a single intermission, whether sick or in health, on the land, on the sea, and whatever the pressure of my engagements might be. Eighteen months elapsed before the first of the five was converted. I thanked God and prayed on for the others. Five years elapsed, and then the second was converted. I thanked God for the second, and prayed on for the other three. Day by day, I continued to pray for them, and six years passed before the third was converted. I thanked God for the three, and went on praying for the other two. These two remained unconverted.” Thirty-six years later he wrote that the other two, sons of one of Mueller’s friends, were still not converted. He wrote, “But I hope in God, I pray on, and look for the answer. They are not converted yet, but they will be.” Believe it or not, 52 years after he began praying for them, and even after his own death, the final two friends were converted.

 

  • Be watchful in prayer

“…being watchful in [prayer]…”

Spiritual alertness is vital to a faithful prayer life. We must pray with a certain expectation that God is going to answer, even though He may not answer as we would have it. Another side of this watchfulness is the realization that distractions come very easily in praying. We can be distracted from praying for something through a sudden trial or through a random thought in the midst of praying. To help with this, we can actually pray that God help us not get distracted from prayer.

 

  • Be thankful in prayer

“…[pray] with thanksgiving.”

In his book A Praying Life, Paul E. Miller writes, “Thankfulness isn’t a matter of forcing yourself to see the happy side of life. That would be like returning to naive optimism. Thanking God restores the natural order of our dependence on God. It enables us to see life as it really is.” Gratitude is at the heart of prayer itself. The mere fact we sinners can approach God, and at the price of Christ’s blood on the cross should make our every prayer one of gratitude. I’ve been to several countries and heard believers pray in their languages, but the one word I always can identify is their word for thanks. May we never “enter His courts” without thanksgiving in our hearts.

 

  • Be evangelistic in prayer

“…pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ…that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.”

In Star Wars: The Last Jedi, there is a scene where Luke Skywalker is able to teleport his body somewhere else and defeat the enemy while actually being somewhere else. Prayer is actually very similar to Skywalker’s teleportation in that when we pray for the Gospel to advance in another place, we are actually assisting it’s spread while not being there ourselves. We ought to pray for open doors, but also clear words so that the Word will spread effectively. One practice we’ve begun to do is to pray, along with about 1,000 others for an unreached people group of the day using the Joshua Project. We can also pray daily for sister churches in our area and for missionaries we know sharing Christ abroad. Our prayers are what early Baptist Andrew Fuller called “holding the rope” for these missionaries, as he held the rope for William Carey serving in India.  

 

  • Be serious in prayer

“Epaphras [is]…always struggling on your behalf in his prayers…”

This is what I meant by saying prayer is warfare. In prayer, we struggle. We wrestle with God as Jacob did. We must not view prayer as some casual thing and approach it very nonchalant and lackadaisical. We must pray with vigilance. Jesus spoke of those who would enter the kingdom as those who “force their way into it.” Without this element of striving and straining, prayer becomes just another lifeless ritual. We must learn to pray as those who are speaking to a sovereign who is all-powerful over the universe and who has promised to hear us when we pray.

 

  • Be intercessory in prayer

“…on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.”

Epaphras’ prayer warfare had the purpose of seeing Christ’s church grow to maturity. So often church prayer meetings are nothing more than what one friend called “organ lists” where we ask God to heal this person and that person. But in his book entitled Prayer, Tim Keller points out something remarkable: “In all of his writings, Paul’s prayers for his friends contain no appeals for changes in their circumstances.” Paul and Epaphras give us a model here to pray for the spiritual growth and progress of our church and its members more than merely physical improvement.

These are just a few ways we can pray more effectively and I pray they prove helpful.

Afraid? Of What?

Afraid? Of What?

by H. Hamilton

Afraid? Of What?

To feel the Spirit’s glad release?

To pass from pain to perfect peace?

The strife and stain of life to cease?

Afraid-of that?

Afraid? Of What?

Afraid to see the Savior’s face

To hear His welcome, and to trace

The glory gleam from wounds of grace?

Afraid-of that?

Afraid? Of What?

A flash, a crash, a pierced heart;

Darkness, light, O’ Heaven’s art!

A wound of His a counter part!

Afraid-of that?

Afraid? Of What?

To do by death what life could not-

Baptize with blood a stony plot,

Till souls shall blossom from the spot?

Afraid-of THAT?

In memory of Jack Vinson, Martyr in China, 1931

 

Truly afraid of what.

These words encapsulate so perfectly the beauty of the Hope of the Christian life. The strengthen that it takes to stand before the guns of man and declare the hope of Christ. The strength to stand when others fall away. It is not our own doing. The strength of the martyrs is the strength of Christ.

I wish to encourage you today with these words as a reflection on the reality that fear truly has no victory in the Christian life. For that which we fear is temporary while the hope of Christ is eternal

What is it we fear so greatly in this life, look to Jesus.

What is it that has us so broken down that we cannot lift our face,

He is the one who lifts up the broken

Our strife and strains are but a blink in the blessed eternity of our savior

The Darkness that seems to surround us will soon in time pass into the beauty of the Son.

 

For those who have gone before they experience the full blessing of this reality today, and for us in our trials we can look forward to the glory that is to be revealed in that day.

Remember the words of Christ: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

-John 16:33

Convictional and Compassionate: Being an All-Around Calvinist

What comes to your mind when you hear the term “Calvinist” or “Calvinism” mentioned? For some people, the term represents a theology and a people who are cold, selfish, eggheads, academics, not practical, and isolated. The caricature of Calvinism oozes forth from many people as if being a Calvinist and being a leper were synonymous with one another. As someone who gladly embraces the term (with qualifiers as a Baptist), along with unashamedly declaring the doctrines of grace from the pulpit, it raises a concern that perhaps our zeal apart from love contributes to the scarecrow straw-man constructed by those who oppose Calvinism. A Calvinist must be a man or woman who is a Calvinist all-around. This is play on C.H. Spurgeon’s work An All-Around Ministry where the Prince of Preachers guides young pastors into seeing the many elements that must be a part of ministry. I would suggest a few elements that are needed for us to be all-around Calvinists.

Experiential Religion

Some might get the impression (fairly and unfairly) that to be a Calvinist requires an oath to reject any type of feelings and emotions in regards to the Christian faith. If one reads just a few Puritan works, the conclusion will be made that this is not true. As I read The Valley of Vision (which you should too) prayers, my heart stirs within me considering the greatness of our God and His grace manifest in the life and work of Jesus Christ. Calvinism fuels true experiential religion built upon the Word of God. In his work The Practical Implications of Calvinism, Pastor Albert N. Martin makes a striking observation: “I submit that a man has no right to speak of being a Calvinist because he can repeat like a parrot phrases brought to him in the great heritage of Reformed literature. He must ask himself, Has the Holy Spirit brought be me to this profound sense of God that has worked in me at least in some measure the grace of humility.”[1] It is not enough for us to systemize if we do not internalize. The doctrines of grace are the marrow for experiential religion for they are anchored to the text of the Bible, beholding the majesty of God, humbling our prideful spirits, and taking us upward to behold the Lamb of God. Is your Calvinism causing you to be a man or woman of biblical, experiential religion? May God help us if our Calvinism causes us to be cold and indifferent! Such an experience would indict us of not truly knowing the doctrines of grace.

An Informed Worldview

            Calvinism extends far beyond TULIP and the latest conferences. Biblical and historic Calvinism provides a guide for how to view all of life. A person’s theology better be more than what takes them to corporate worship for an hour on Sunday. In fact, this is one of the great problems of the day. A ritualistic morality is a poor and cheap substitute for biblical Christianity. The great Princeton theologian B.B. Warfield defined a Calvinist in the following way:

He who believes in God without reserve and is determined that God shall be God to him in all his thinking, feeling and willing – in the entire compass of his life activities, intellectual, moral, and spiritual – throughout all his individual social and religious relations, is, by force of that strictest of all logic which presides over the outworking of principles into thought and life, by the very necessity of the case, a Calvinist.[2]

Warfield expands the playing field when it comes to Calvinism as being more than a theological acrostic. Theology can never be impractical due to the fact that doctrine fuels our lives. Each day decisions are made based upon a worldview, a grid for life. Calvinism will influence how you parent, how you relate to your spouse, the way you view your job, politics, and so forth. If Calvinism only comes into play when TULIP is spoken of, then it is not Calvinism but a sort of pragmatism that reigns in the heart and mind of an individual. J.I. Packer beautifully summarizes this in his introductory essay to John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ:

Calvinism is a whole world-view, stemming from a clear vision of God as the whole world’s Maker and King. Calvinism is the consistent endeavor to acknowledge the Creator as the Lord, working all things after the counsel of his will. Calvinism is a theocentric way of thinking about all life under the direction and control of God’s own word. Calvinism, in other words, is the theology of the Bible viewed from the perspective of the Bible – the God-centered outlook which sees the Creator as the source, and means, and end, of everything that is, both in nature and in grace. Calvinism is thus theism (belief in God as the ground of all things), religion (dependence on God as the giver of all things), and evangelicalism (trust in God through Christ for all things), all in their purest and most highly developed form. And Calvinism is a unified philosophy of history which sees the whole diversity of processes and events that take place in God’s world as no more, and no less, than the outworking of his great preordained plan for his creatures and his church. The five points assert no more than God is sovereign in saving the individual, but Calvinism, as such, is concerned with the much broader assertion that he is sovereign everywhere.[3]

A Gracious Outlook

            Confessing a theology known as the doctrines of grace must impact us in being gracious to others. Sometimes I cringe reading Twitter and seeing how men who I am persuaded are true believers, who call themselves Calvinists, and yet speak to each other in ways that lack any type of grace and charity. Keyboard Calvinism is as dangerous as pragmatism. Calvinism is not a badge to wear for admittance into the cool kids’ club nor is it a club to beat people over the head with. When one gets a true sense of the grace that God has shown, how can that not humble us and guide us in our dealings with others? One of the great concerns I have is that many Facebook and Twitter Calvinists are pragmatists when it comes to their ecclesiology. If you choose where you attend church and are a member at based on pragmatic values, then it does not matter how well you can articulate the doctrines of unconditional election and irresistible grace. One of the greatest changes in my life when I came to understand the doctrines of grace involved how I viewed the local church. If you want to destroy the caricature of cold Calvinism, band together with like-minded believers. The beauty of Calvinism should be seen in gracious cooperation: serve the community like ministering at a children’s home or a nursing home, show grace to one another knowing all of us are feeble human beings who need Christ, and remember that the pilgrimage to Zion is not a road of isolation.

Steadfast Convictions

The false dichotomy that states being gracious and compassionate means the absence of convictions and beliefs must be rejected. Our Lord is all-gracious and compassionate yet He is dogmatic and narrow as He declares that He alone is the way, the truth, and the life. Calvinism must be compassionate and convictional. Our theology does matter. Our beliefs do matter. For someone to say that it is not a big deal what one believes concerning God’s sovereignty, man’s depravity, and Christ’s sufficiency moves closer and closer to a false gospel. Further reformation is needed today when it comes to the regulative principle of worship, the perpetuity of the moral law of God, confessionalism, and covenant theology. However, a person can be fervently committed to the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith without being obnoxious about it. In my opinion, no one combined the doctrinal fidelity of Calvinism with experiential religion, powerful evangelism, compassionate ministry, and selfless service like C.H. Spurgeon. Yet, Spurgeon was no ecumenical in the sense of watering down doctrine and theological railing.[4]

Conclusion

Beliefs do matter. Practice does matter. They go hand-in-hand. Calvinism must be convictional and compassionate. I urge you to explore ministries like Ligonier Ministries, Reformation21 of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, Founders Ministries, and Banner of Truth as examples of how Calvinism serves for all of life. I will close with a word from Mr. Spurgeon:

A knowledge of doctrine will tend very much to confirm your faith. Try to understand God’s Word, get a sensible, spiritual idea of it. Get, if you can, a system of divinity out of God’s Bible. Put the doctrines together. Get real, theological knowledge founded upon the infallible Word. Get a knowledge of that science which is most despised, but which is the most necessary of all, the science of Christ and of him crucified, and of the great doctrines of grace…The church needs the doctrines of grace to-day as much as when Paul, or Auguste, or Calvin preached them; the Church needs justification by faith, the substitutionary atonement, and regeneration, and divine sovereignty to be preached from her pulpits as much as in days of yore, and by God’s grace she shall have them, too.[5]

[1] Albert N. Martin, The Practical Implications of Calvinism. (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1979), 10.

[2] Ibid., 4.

[3] See https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/packer_intro.html for the full essay.

[4] See https://banneroftruth.org/us/resources/articles/2001/are-you-sure-you-like-spurgeon/

[5] Tom Nettles, Living By Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. (Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2013), 167.

How Do You Train?

“Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8).

 

I recently read that Olympian Michael Phelps, when competing, would train for 5 -6 hours a day, 6 days a week. He put a lot of time and effort into his Olympic training. It certainly paid off. He has won numerous gold medals and is arguably the greatest Olympian of all time.

 

We may not be at the level of Michael Phelps, but we regularly train ourselves. We have training at work. We have training at school. We take courses that train us to be financially stable. We go to the gym to train. We go to the soccer field or the basketball court to train. We spend a lot of time training ourselves to better in many areas. These things are good. You will notice that Paul, in the passage above says that, “bodily training is of some value” (v8).  There is value to our training. It is good to improve ourselves at work, school, and the soccer field. It is good to go to the gym every now and then. We are called to hard work and to do things well and training is a part of that.

 

Although Paul says that “bodily training is of some value” you will notice that he says, “godliness if of value in every way” (v8) and therefore he says to “train yourself for godliness” (7). We spend a lot of time training ourselves in many ways, but how often do we train ourselves in godliness? Is this something we even consider?

 

As a people who have trusted in the gospel of Jesus Christ and have been changed from the inside out our thoughts ought to be on the eternal rather than the temporal (Colossians 3:1). Our desire to be more like Christ should be stronger than our desire to be successful, athletic, good looking, etc. The goal in the life of the believer should not be physical, financial, or mental fitness, but spiritual.

 

Here are some ways, by the grace of God, that the we can train ourselves in godliness:

 

  • Pray – Jesus told his disciples to “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Mark 14:38) and “Pray then like this… lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:9-13). There is a real correlation between praying and fighting sin. To train in godliness to pray regularly.

 

  • Bible Reading – Paul told Timothy that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16). If we are not regularly reading the Bible, then we are not equipped as for godliness as we could be. To train in godliness is to read God’s Word often.

 

  • Christian Community – The Author of Hebrews writes, “let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25). There is a way that we can be encouraged and stirred on in the Christian life though Christian community that we cannot achieve on our own. To train in godliness is to surround yourself with Christian community.

 

Of all the hours and ways, we train, let’s be sure that we work in a heavy dose of training in godliness.

Beholding the Glory of Christ

This week in my Bible reading plan, I was struck by the repeated references to beholding the glory of God in Christ. I saw unbelievers like Pilate say, “Behold your King!” as he presented Jesus for crucifixion and I saw scenes where Moses beheld God’s glory on burning Mt. Sinai. I saw Zechariah prophesy of Christ’s coming, “Behold your King…how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty!” and I saw David praying, “our eyes look to the Lord our God.” But what stood out the most to me were Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 3:18, where I read, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” All this language of beholding made me take a step back to see what Scripture teaches on this. I discovered 5 steps in the Bible’s argument on this, which may be helpful to you as well…

We were created to behold the glory of God

God says in Isaiah 43:7 that we were created for His glory. But what does it mean to behold God’s glory? It obviously means more than merely seeing it with our eyes. After all, Scripture says we’ll never fully see God’s glory because he is invisible and, “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see” (1 Tim. 6:16b). Jonathan Edwards says to behold God’s glory is to delight in Him above all else. He says this in his Miscellanies: “God is glorified not only by his glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in…[W]hen those that see it delight in it: God is more glorified than if they only see it.” This was the condition Adam and Eve had in the garden. They enjoyed unhindered fellowship with God. Until that dreadful day when they broke fellowship with God and started beholding the glory of lesser things. This brings us to the next step in the argument…

Sin and Satan have blinded us to God’s glory

Jesus says that we are born spiritually blind because of our sin nature (Jn. 9:39-41). Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:4 that Satan compounds this blindness by actively blinding unbelievers from beholding the light of God’s glory in the Gospel. So not only can they not see God’s glory, but Satan is working to ensure they don’t ever see it. Thankfully, this is where the bad news ends and the good news begins…

God by His Spirit gives us eyes to behold His glory on the cross

The only possible way for the blind to see is by the miraculous touch of the Great Physician. They can’t and don’t want to behold God as glorious until then. As a matter of fact, Jesus said, “People loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed” (Jn. 3:19-20). So then, what needs to happen must be nothing short of Divine intervention. God must impart spiritual eyesight. But how does He do this? Through the preaching of the Gospel. This is precisely what Jesus sent the apostles…and us to do. Paul says Jesus sent him, “to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:18). But wait, I thought we already saw how Satan blinds them from seeing the Gospel when it is preached. Yes, but God in His grace, overcomes this blindness through the very Gospel that is preached. Paul says that what God does in the new birth is similar to what He did in creation: He says, “Let there be light” and He shines the Gospel into our darkened hearts (2 Corinthians 4:6). So now that we see Christ’s glory and realize He alone is truly valuable, what do we do from here?

We grow more like Christ as we behold His glory in the Gospel

2 Corinthians 3:18, once again says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” Becoming requires beholding. Beholding enables becoming. If we want to be more like Christ, we need to behold Christ more. The reason we sin is because we are beholding something else as glorious and not Christ. Paul David Tripp has pointed out, “If we worship our way into sin, we have to worship our way out.” How do we do this? Bible study, prayer, fellowship, humility, meditating on the Gospel. All the various means of grace are avenues God created for us to better behold His glory in the Gospel. If we seek God’s glory in these we will grow in Christlikeness as we behold Him. So then what is next?

One day, we will eternally behold His glory

John Piper puts it this way in his book, God is the Gospel: “Christ did not die to forgive sinners who go on treasuring anything above seeing and savoring God. And people who would be happy in heaven if Christ were not there, will not be there. The gospel is not a way to get people to heaven; it is a way to get people to God. It’s a way of overcoming every obstacle to everlasting joy in God. If we don’t want God above all things, we have not been converted by the gospel.” God, through the preaching of the Gospel, has broken into your blindness to give you a sight of His glory and He now calls you to to an eternity of beholding Him which begins now. If you now see the crucified and risen Jesus as the most satisfying and glorious One of all, then God has given you this. Keep beholding Him in your daily life and be urged on by the future Day when you will behold Christ fully and finally with new eyes. We’ll end with some words from a Sovereign Grace hymn entitled When We See Your Face. Let these words spur you on as you behold Christ in your daily life:

“We will see, we will know

Like we’ve never known before

We’ll be found, we’ll be home

We’ll be Yours forevermore.”