Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Stuff Won't Satisfy

I thought the following article form Yahoo news was pretty interesting:

Why this millennial quit his 6-figure job and gave away most of his possessions

It's amazing to the world when folks can't be satisfied with "stuff."  No one really believes that until they've been there.  From the Christian worldview this shouldn't be amazing at all.

What's ironic is the guy's friend is named Nicodemus! You won't find fulfillment in this life unless you are born again.  Contentment in this world is impossible without Christ. Furthermore, it's not that we are "born again" and then are enabled to find contentment in stuff.  Stuff won't satisfy.  We are born again and our contentment is rooted in Christ.  Perfectly? Of course not, but we fight for it.  As Augustine said "Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You."

Read the article.  Perhaps it will come in handy as a sermon illustration sometime.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

6 Themes of Genesis 12, Part 2

A reminder as to why Genesis 12 was originally written (in short): To show the Israelites who this God was that was leading them to the promised land and what He had promised.

In Part 1 we looked at God’s call on Abram’s life. We saw GRACE – BLESSING – GOSPEL as 3 themes of Genesis 12. In Part 2, we are going to look at 3 more themes from this chapter and these themes are going to deal with Abram’s response to God’s call. This covers Genesis 12:1-20 and is only a summary of the message.

1. Obedience – Abram received the effectual call from YHWH and he responded in faith. We cannot separate obedience from faith. Obedience flows out of faith.

Hebrews 11:8 says “By faith Abraham obeyed…”

Obedience apart from faith doesn't work because it’s not really obedience. We have to realize that within ourselves we are bankrupt. There’s nothing we can do of our own accord to secure God’s favor. We must go to Christ in faith believing His promises for the forgiveness of sins through His own righteous life and substitutionary death on behalf of sinners.

Abram could not see all that God had in store for him but he believed by faith alone. But that faith wasn't alone was it? It produce obedience. Abram left and he took everything. Just as God said. From verses 4-9 we learn a few more things about obedience:

A. Part of our obedience is worship and part of our worship is obedience (See 12:7-8)

No, it’s not about “rituals”. It’s what’s on the “inside” that counts, so to speak. But what is “on the inside” is going to show up on the outside. Abram builds an altar as an outflow of a changed heart.

So really, when we are pursuing God by faith that is worship and there are times as we pursue God by faith that we set aside to specifically worship - “build an altar” so to speak.

B. Part of our obedience is understanding our citizenship (see Hebrews 11:10)

Abraham was an alien and sojourner. He was promised the land but he himself would never occupy it. Hebrews tells us that Abraham realized his citizenship was in that city whose designer and builder was God.

C. Part of our Obedience is patience 

Here’s the land that God promised Abram but guess what? IT’S ALREADY OCCUPIED BY SOMEBODY ELSE! Genesis 12:7 is the first recording of God appearing to Abram. The point of God’s appearance is to reassure Abram. Abram is to trust God’s promises and be patient, knowing that God is faithful.

2. Failure (take a look at Genesis 12:10-20)

The Bible is real. The Bible is totally true and trustworthy. The Bible doesn't paint false pictures of the people it tells us about. Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Paul – all had failures. In fact, there is only one who didn't and that’s the point: JESUS.

I want to talk for a moment about “end” and “means”
· End – the goal, what you’re going for, where you’re trying to get
· Means – the way you get there.
What is the “end” in this passage? That Abram would be made into a great nation (Genesis 12:1-3).  Problem? 12:12-13

Kind of selfish right? Most certainly! But I do think Abram has the “end” in mind. In other words “I need to live because God has made me promises and through me all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” So then the means Abram uses to accomplish his end are what? Lie. Give his wife to another man and take the gifts Pharaoh gives in silence.

I want to drive home this point: THE END DOES NOT JUSTIFY THE MEANS

What should Abram had done? He should have trusted God’s promises! Don’t we too often impatiently take matters into our own hands because of a lack of faith?

And as one further application: For too long we've used this mantra in the church: “The end justifies the means.” In other words, we can do anything we want as long as people are getting saved, that’s what is important. No doubt we should praise God for salvations! But, God doesn't save people because of unbiblical means. He saves people in spite of them.

God saved Abram in spite his faithlessness. Abram’s failure here is not an excuse for us. It was written down for our instruction. It shows us that we aren't to be dependent on Abraham. We are to be dependent on Jesus. God made a name of Abraham as a plan to make a name for Jesus, who succeeded in every place Abram, and you, and I, failed.

3. Mission

For this theme we need to revert back to Genesis 12:1-3. God is God of the nations. He is revealing to us here how He is going to bring reconciliation between Himself and the Nations. Remember where Genesis 12 falls. Immediately after God disperses the nations. This isn't a “commission” to Abram as much as it is a “communication” of what God is going to do.

So it’s not “Abram, go and tell” it’s Abram, this is what I am going to do through you to bring the hope of salvation to all the families of the earth.” And we do see that throughout the history of Israel other people who weren't Israelites where grafted in, for example Rahab the prostitute, and Ruth.

God’s mission is to redeem for Himself a people from every tribe tongue language and nation. All those who will repent and believe the Gospel and this is a mission that He will accomplish! Does this have anything to do with us? Actually, much. The church is God’s means for accomplishing this end.

Here’s a beautiful and theologically robust thought: The CHURCH does not have a MISSION. The MISSION has a CHURCH! (Not original! But, I’m not sure where I first heard this thought)

So for us it IS more than just a “communication” of what God is going to do, it is also a COMMISSION. We have been commissioned to GO AND TELL. To take the Gospel to the ends of the earth “for the sake of His name.”

If your church only looks like you, why? Is it because everyone in your area is exactly like you or is it because you are not intentionally reaching all tribes, tongues, and nations?

So, there’s Genesis 12! Grace, Blessing, Gospel, Obedience, Failure, Mission

Shouldn't these truths cause us to be glad in God? To forsake all else and trust Him alone? Repent of making less of God than the Scripture does and come to Christ in faith…

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

6 Themes of Genesis 12, Part 1

There are many ways to arrange a sermon for Genesis 12. I've chosen to divide it up based on the 6 major themes I've seen in the chapter. This consisted of two sermons, and so we'll make it into two separate blog posts. Each post is just a small overview of the sermon.

Here are the first 3 themes* (covering Genesis 11:27-12:3):

1. Grace - Don't forget Genesis 1-11!  We have the story in those chapters of God creating the heavens and the earth ex nihilo, out of nothing.  When He is finished God declares His creation very good and then rests on the 7th day.  From chapters 3-11 we have the story of man's fall, and the ever worsening condition of mankind.  A global flood destroys all but 8 people, but it doesn't destroy sin.  Barely a century after the flood mankind tries to build a tower heaven resulting in God's dispersing of the nations.

How should we expect Chapter 12 to start? More judgment? Mankind continues to show its wickedness despite God's goodness but God shows us man's wickedness won't have the final say.  God shows us His original plans and purposes for mankind will not be thwarted.  And out of nowhere God calls a man born in a pagan land to leave all that he knows and to trust Him.

That's grace.  Abram didn't pursue God, God pursued Abram.  If we really want to be a "seeker friendly" church then we should align ourselves with the One, and only, Seeker, God Almighty (see Rom. 3:10-18).  Despite man's depravity, despite Abram's depravity, God chose to save him to accomplish His good purposes.  That's what grace does.  It comes out of nowhere and sweeps us off our feet.  Or, ask Paul, it knocks us, quite literally in his case, off our high horse.

2. Blessing - We want to be careful here in light of the prosperity gospel that is permeating our society. Yet, we also need to be boldly biblical.  God delights to bless.  God does bless. Blessing is manifestation of God's favor. God was blessing before the fall (1:28) and he continues to bless after the fall.

Reread Genesis 12:1-3. Notice: I will make. I will bless. You will be a blessing. I will bless. In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

God has the right to bless and His blessing is better than man's.  Notice for example in 11:4 the people wanted to make a name for themselves, and in Genesis 12:2 God promises to make a name for Abram.  Which turned out better?

A couple of more points here.  1st, why did God bless Abram according to verse 2? So that he will be a blessing.  A quick application point is this: God doesn't bless you or make your name great for the sole purpose of you having a great name - it's to show His great name.  Use your blessings to bless others.

But a 2nd point I'd like to make, and one that shatters the prosperity gospel to pieces, is this: The ultimate blessings in this life are not material. “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”  Think on that for a bit.  Are all families of the earth blessed because of Abram's physical blessings?  No way.  We know this verse alludes to Christ.  This is why the prosperity Gospel is whack.  You don't come to Christ for material things.  Come to Christ for Christ, He is the most treasurable blessing, for in Him there is life and He is infinitely glorious. He is the only true satisfaction for our restless hearts.  If the blessing in verse 3 means we are better off simply because Israel became a semi-dominate nation in the Middle East for a few decades 3,000 years ago then we should hang our heads.  What I mean is that worldly prosperity is fleeting and the blessing promised to all the families of the earth through Abram was infinitely greater than material.

3. Gospel - The 3rd and final theme will look at today from Genesis 12 is the theme of the Gospel.  What is the Gospel? God saves sinners through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  More detail HERE.

Scripture interprets Scripture, so I want to look at what Paul says about this passage in Galatians 3:8
And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.”
So much to be said! But, I'll keep it brief.  The Old Testaments Saints were saved by the gospel.  They exercised faith in God's promises pointing forward to the coming Messiah that would crush the Serpent's head. Genesis 12:3 reveals that the nations (which were just dispersed in judgment) are in need to be blessed and that God will be the one to bring the nations a blessing through Abram, which would be Christ (see Galatians 3:16).

Abram was called to trust God and his promises over and above what he could actually see. We will see later in Genesis that Abram is justified by faith, and we see in Galatians that this is the same way that God justifies the faith.  Faith? Faith in what? Not faith in what, but faith in Who. Christ.

God pursued Abram. Abram trusted God’s promises even though the Gospel was just in the form of an acorn not yet a full blown Oak tree. God credited His Son’s righteous life to Abram through Abram’s faith in God’s promises. You need righteousness.  This is what God requires because He is Holy.  The problem? You don't have it and you can't attain it.  The good news? It has already been attained through the perfect life of Jesus and His substitutionary ("in the place of") death on the Cross.  Which is how Paul is able to say in 2 Cor. 5:21
For our sake he made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in [Jesus] we might become the righteousness of God.
God, what is man that you are mindful of him? Who are we that God would look upon us with favor? With blessing? That the Most High and Holy God Almighty, unchanging, in need of nothing, would condescend to make Himself known to rebellious man?

We spend hours and hours focusing on lesser things while the most glorious thing in all the universe, God Himself, who transcends the universe, has proclaimed terms of peace and offered up Himself, in the Person of His Son, who secured for us a righteousness and died the wrath absorbing death on the Cross for all those who will turn form their sins and put their faith in Jesus. 

These truths are not just for the lost. They are to be ever before the Christian as well. We do not graduate from the Gospel. We need to be reminded of it daily, perhaps hourly.  God accepts us based on Christ and Christ alone. As we’ll see more in the next post, that changes everything.

*I will not cover the theme of "covenant" in Genesis 12.  That is reserved for Genesis 15.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Genesis 1-11 Review, Part 2

Here's a follow up post on reviewing Genesis 1-11.  The summaries are intended to be brief!

1. Genesis 6: Increasing Wickedness and Intro. to Noah

Again, mankind is not improving. God ought to be honored and worshiped but instead everyone does what is right in their own eyes.  Genesis 6:5 is of particular importance as it reveals the real character of natural man.

Noah wasn't born righteous but was chosen by God to spare humanity and continue the line of the Seed of the Woman.

2. Genesis 7: The Flood

The wrath of God burst forth. God justly annihilated every human being and every animal on the face of the earth except those who were saved in the Ark.

We are reminded that God is Holy and that God is just. Either you seek refuge in Jesus or you will face the wrath of God for eternity righteously punishing you for your sin.

3. Genesis 8: The Flood Subsides

God is just. But also, God is gracious (Genesis 8:1). God has a purpose for mankind. His grace will prevail in that He will have a people who are loyal to His name, who will come to Him in repentance and faith and serve Him and walk with Him most joyfully.

4. Genesis 9: God’s Covenant with Noah

Life will continue. God is after the production and the protection of life. Also, man post-fall and post-flood is STILL made in the image of God. So, murder is a heinous crime because it’s an attack on God’s image.

Genesis 9:13 - The rainbow reminds us that God is faithful to His promises. More importantly it reminds us that God’s promise not to flood the earth had a grander purpose and that was to, at the right time, send forth Jesus.

Also in this chapter we see: Noah falters. He’s not the Messiah. He’s not the one we should trust in. He is an arrow pointing to our need for Jesus.

5. Genesis 10: Genealogy of Noah’s Sons

The nations are settled. And we see the ongoing line of the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman.  We are reminded in this chapter that God is God of the Nations.  Whether people acknowledge that the YHWH is God or not, He still is on His throne and all will answer to Him one day.

6. Genesis 11: The Tower of Babel

Man was created to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Instead mankind wanted autonomy. They wanted to be gods themselves.

Remember, Genesis 3, Genesis 4, Genesis 6, Genesis 9, Genesis 11 - The negative pictures of mankind in these chapters isn't just “back there”. That isn't just how people “used to be”. Genesis 1-11 is a picture of us.Yes we were made in God’s image. Yes we are the climax of God’s creation. But something is terribly wrong now. And that is we are naturally in rebellion against Him.

7. Conclusion:

The end of Genesis 11 introduces us to Abram, who would later become Abraham. It is through this line that Jesus came. It is through this line that God would redeem and is redeeming a people for Himself from every nation, all those who turn from their sins and trust Christ as Lord and Savior.

In Genesis 1-11, we've seen 4 major events in this section which we entitled “Primeval History”*:
1. Creation
2. Fall
3. Flood
4. Babel
We've seen the faithfulness of God and the wickedness of man in this. We've sought to have a bigger view of God’s majesty and a more healthy view of man’s fallen, sinful condition.

As we continue in our sermon series in Genesis we will continue on that trajectory as we pick up “Patriarchal History” which is Genesis 12-50. In it we’ll see 4 major people:
1. Abraham
2. Isaac
3. Jacob
4. Joseph

We’ll continue to see God’s plan of redemption unfolding, all pointing us to Jesus Christ.

Are you resting in Him?

*The names of these divisions, Primeval History and Patriarchal History, as well as the 4 sub-points under each, are taken from J. Sidlow Baxter's Explore the Book.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Purpose in Your Practice

"Most people who think they are working hard are merely developing the skill of being in the gym, not the skill of making baskets."
Wow. That hit me. I found the article this quote came from after seeing Donald Whitney's tweet earlier today:

You can read the article HERE, but the basic premise is that those, like Mozart, Kobe, etc. who where/are the best in their field put in the time to practice. But that's not all. It's not just practice. it's practice with a purpose.

So, it's not enough to just "go to the gym for an hour" every day, there must be purpose in your practice. Waking up everyday and going to the gym at 6:00am and half-heartedly doing your leg workout while taking frequent breaks to check Facebook isn't really going to produce the desired results.Now, the analogy between practice and pursuing holiness is far from perfect but it is close enough to draw some application for us.

There is a category of "christian" in the South that means nothing more than attending church (sometimes), trying not to do anything "real bad," and being a good American citizen. This post isn't an address to that category because that category isn't really Christian at all. If you're in that category you need to repent and believe the gospel.

Here's who I'd like to address. Those who acknowledge their only hope of salvation is receiving the righteousness of Jesus Christ by faith which He secured for them by His life, death, resurrection, and ascension. You truly desire to grow in godliness but your bible intake, prayer life, evangelism, participation at church, etc. has felt stale.

You feel like your working hard, but not seeing "results".

Have you trained yourself to just go to the gym or how to make baskets? What is the purpose of your practice? Why are you reading the bible? Why are you praying? Why are you involved in a local body of believes? Why are you telling others about Jesus?

Seriously, answer that. Why? Is it because "that's what Christians are supposed to do"? Is it because "I feel guilty if I don't"? If those are your motivations, or something similar, you are training yourself in the skill of going to the gym. There is no sustaining purpose there and while there will be growth if you truly are a Christian through the means of these and others spiritual disciplines, you will never find satisfaction in your walk with Jesus by just trying to keep a checklist.

1 Timothy 4:7 says "Train yourself for godliness."

Paul understood that we have the World, the Flesh, and the Devil pulling at us as we continue to walk with Jesus by faith. While we don't diminish the work of the Holy Spirit in our Sanctification, the reality of the New Testament is that we must train. And actually, it's when we really come face to face with grace as Christians, and understand that we don't have to earn God's favor or do things to make Him love us (and realize that we can't do things to make Him love or hate us) that we will be motivated to train ourselves for godliness. We've tasted and seen that the Lord is good and we want more. We realize that God has saved us for a purpose - to fellowship with Him forever in holiness. To glorify Him and enjoy Him forever or as John Piper has put it "To glorify God by enjoying Him forever." While we will never realize anything close to perfection in this life, our desire now is to pursue holiness because we want to be glad in God.

And that's the kicker to training for the skill of making baskets, not just going to the gym. What must ground our bible intake, prayer time, discipleship meetings, church gatherings, etc. is the goal of godliness. We do not do these things to check off a list or to make God happy or to keep Him from zapping us. We do these things because we desire holiness.

So when the alarm goes off at 5:00am, and you're groggy, and feel like you're just going through the motions, keep this in the forefront of your mind: godliness. I want to know Christ in a more intimate way. I want to be like Christ. I want to do His blessed will in every area of my life. I want to love others and take the gospel to the nations. I want to be glad in God. I want godliness.

And that's purpose in your practice. You're not waking up early to train yourself to go to the gym. You're waking up early to learn how to make baskets.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Genesis 1-11 Review, Part 1

From time to time I plan on posting what I'm preaching through.  We are currently going through the book of Genesis and begin chapter 12 this Sunday.  Genesis is a very important book that gives us a biblical foundation of who God is and who we are. I highly recommend preaching through this book or teaching through it in a Wednesday Night or Sunday School type format.  I have chosen to preach through it mainly chapter by chapter although sometimes I spend a couple of sermons on a specific chapter.  Anyway, the next two posts will be just a quick review of where we've been with Genesis 1-11. Each review is very brief, maybe too brief, but I rather not write a book for each chapter...

1.       Genesis 1: Creation

What a foundational chapter! Just from the very 1st verse we can know things about God like He is Sovereign, Omnipotent, All-Wise, Transcendent, etc.

We also learn that humanity is created. And that we are created in the image of God. (Gen. 1:27-28)

Good post by Challies on Why I Am a 6 Day Creationist.

2. Genesis 2: The 6th Day

Genesis 1 is a zoomed out approach of creation while Genesis 2 zooms in and hones in on God’s Immanence - that God is covenantal and has made Himself known to mankind. We see the name YHWH used. YHWH is One God in 3 persons as alluded to in Genesis 1.

We have a perfect set up. Man, Woman, and an environment where they will be able to carry out what God had commanded.  It is also important to note that Man and Woman's roles were established before Genesis 3!  Much more could be said here, but I'll leave it at that for now.

3. Genesis 3: The Fall

Big chapter isn’t it!? We see here that God is good, He is just, He is gracious. We also see that God’s plans to walk with a people who will worship Him is not thwarted. God's plane is Genesis 3:15.  We learn through progressive revelation that this Seed of the Woman is none other than God Himself, the 2nd Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ our Lord.

We also see from Genesis 3 that mankind’s relationship with God prior to the Fall is no longer the same )(Genesis 3:23).  Mankind is no longer in fellowship with God.  We are born guilty of Adam's sin, and are therefore sinner's by nature and by choice (cf. Rom. 5:12).  All those apart from Christ are dead in their trespasses and sins because of what happened in Genesis 3. We ain't in Eden anymore Todo.

4. Genesis 4: Cain and Abel

We are reminded in Genesis 4 that God is faithful, despite the wickedness of man. We also see that because of the Fall our worship has been distorted. The condition of mankind will not improve on its own. There must be intervention by God if we are to see an improvement. The ultimate fulfillment of that intervention is JESUS!

So by chapter 4 we've already seen: CREATION – FALL – REDEMPTION: God pursuing sinners and sinners exercising faith in God’s promises. (And even some hints at CONSUMMATION).

It seems Adam exercised faith by naming his wife Eve. It seems Eve exercised faith in her comments about Seth, although the Bible is not explicit on Adam or Eve's faith like it is on Abel's in Hebrews 11.

5. Genesis 5: Line from Seth to Noah

In order for God to righteously fulfill His will of having His people, in His place, recognizing His rule (what Graeme Goldsworthy calls the Kingdom of God Motif) God will send His own Son, Jesus to be the Messiah. To be the 2nd Adam. He will live before God not in a Garden but in a wilderness. In a fallen world. And He will succeed where Adam failed. Furthermore, He will die on behalf of sinners bearing the wrath of God for our sin.

So, in Genesis 5 we see God’s faithfulness in continuing the line of the Seed of the Woman and we see that humanity is redeemable because God does the redeeming.

Genesis 5:23 is also crucial because it lets us know that God isn't just "getting people to heaven" but He is saving a people for Himself for a purpose: to be holy. 

That's enough to absorb for today! We'll cover 6-11 next post.

On Corporate Prayer and Repentance

Below is a resolution passed at the 2011 SBC Annual Meeting. (Baptist Press Article about this HERE) I plan on discussing this with our church at our prayer meeting next Wednesday. Yes, this is now almost 3 years old but  I ask that you would prayerfully consider this resolutions's charge.  No doubt we are facing uncertain times as a nation and as a denomination for that matter. Let us seek His face together.  Who knows what our gracious God may do?

From the SBC Annual Meeting 2011 

WHEREAS, Both the Old and New Testaments, as well as church history, attest to the reality that God works powerfully and manifests His presence among His people through authentic God-seeking prayer and repentance; and
WHEREAS, Jesus expressed deep grief and righteous anger when He came to the temple and found it to be something other than a “house of prayer for all nations” (Mark 11:17); and WHEREAS, The book of Acts teaches through the birth of the church that what is birthed in prayer is of necessity sustained by prayer (e.g., Acts 1:14; 2:1, 42; 4:31); and
WHEREAS, The common corporate sins of many churches include, but are not limited to, prayerlessness, lukewarmness, neglect of biblical church discipline, and shallow relationships with God and with one another; and
WHEREAS, In our preoccupation with Mammon, we have too often embraced unbiblical priorities in our spending, our giving, our response to the poor, and our allocation of resources, assuming by our actions, contrary to our Lord’s explicit teaching, that our lives consist in the abundance of our possessions (Luke 12:15); and
WHEREAS, For the past fifty years wickedness and family collapse have been increasing rapidly, and at the same time we have seen that programs and strategies alone cannot revive lagging baptism rates or anemic discipleship; and
WHEREAS, The Southern Baptist Convention adopted the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force report in 2010, a part of which called for pastors to lead their churches in Solemn Assemblies “for the purpose of calling Christ’s people to return to God, to repentance, and to humility in service to a renewed commitment to Christ and the Great Commission”; and
WHEREAS, The Southern Baptist Convention adopted the addition to the Convention Calendar of Activities a focused Day of Prayer for the SBC in 2011 and for the years to follow; and 
WHEREAS, God has already promised that He will not despise a “broken and contrite heart” (Psalm 51:17); now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, June 14-15, 2011, do hereby beseech all pastors, congregations, ministry leaders, and denominational workers to seek the Lord in the manner of 2 Chronicles 7:14 and Joel 2:12-17, and to repent corporately in their various churches of all sins which God’s Spirit reveals; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we call on all Southern Baptist churches to renew their first-love devotion to Jesus Christ through full confession of and repentance from all revealed sin, and that they humbly declare their utter dependence upon, and glad surrender to, His grace; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we encourage all Southern Baptists to pursue a life of genuine repentance, Kingdom-focused prayer times for sweeping revival and spiritual awakening, and consistent prayer for specific lost people, missions, and ministry; and be it finally
RESOLVED, That we urge Southern Baptist churches to embrace corporate prayer and repentance for revival in the hope that God would be merciful to our churches, the Southern Baptist Convention, the United States of America, and the peoples of the world for the glory of His great Name.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Praying for Your Church

I have to give all the credit to this idea to my good friend Nathan Nalley. I've wanted to be more disciplined in praying for my church as a pastor but didn't have a good strategy.  Now I do! Below you'll find a copy of what I use (with names removed) and I don't mind emailing you a .pub file if you'd like to use it for your own church.  Before I get to that though, let me include some quotes on why, as a pastor, you should be praying for your people.

  • “We will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Acts 6:4
  • “A minister who is not a man of piety and prayer, whatever his other talents may be, cannot be called a servant of God.” - John Smith
  • “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you.” 1 Peter 5:2
  • “The minister who does not pray for his flock is no minister at all.” Martin Holdt
  • “We have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” Colossians 1:9-10
I hope those few lines are enough to motivate you as a pastor to pray for your flock.  How does that work practically?  I know Mark Dever suggests praying through your church directory regularly if you have one. My problem is, we don't have one!  So, with this guide we are able to pray for everone in our church in two weeks, praying 4 days a week.  This is a guide I put in every member's hand to encourage their disciplined prayer for every other member of the church.  Once printed, this is easily turned into a trifold pamphlet.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Family Devotions

I remember the 1st time I really began doing family devotions a little over 5 years ago.  I had a 9 month old, a wife of 2 years, and felt absolutely clueless.  I had been convicted of my neglect of this discipline and knew that we needed to do it but I was unsure of myself.  That was 2008.

(Piper and Big Sis, Ella)
Now, 2014, I have a wife of 7 years, a one week old, a 2 year old, a 4 year old, and a six year old. I am still convinced that we need to do family devotions (we call it "family worship") but as a husband and father I am still not always 100% sure of myself!  So, I wanted to pass along a couple of recent posts I've seen regarding family devotions to hopefully encourage you as you lead in this important discipline. 

First, here's a post from Dr. Jim Hamilton that fleshes out some of the biblical reasons for leading family devotions: That the Coming Generation Might Praise the Lord

Here is a video that features a recent panel discussion on family devotions but before the discussion it gives 2 real life examples of family devotions led by Dr. Jim Hamilton and Dr. Timothy Paul Jones:

The following is from a recent post by Andrew Weiseth at the Resurgence website:

Practical outline of a family devotional
In case you might find it helpful, here’s what we tend to do in our family time:
  • Pray
  • Sing a song or two
  • Read the Bible story
  • Invite all kids to interact with what they heard
  • Act out the story, with me narrating as needed as we go along
  • Take pictures during the reenactment and let the kids look at the photos
  • Sing a song or two
  • Hold hands and pray together for each other

I pray this encourages you. May it help you to lead your family toward Jesus with greater joy and power. How can you incorporate your kids’ play into your own family devotional time?

Finally, I'll link to an old post where I outlined How We Do Family Worship.  I would add a few things to that. 1st, we use The Jesus Storybook Bible now (instead of the one mentioned in the post).  We also open our night with Doxology and close it with The Gospel Song.  Finally, we are also intentional about memorizing Scripture.  You'd be surprised how well kids can memorize bible verses!  Repetition is key. A few good ones to start out with are Genesis 1:1, Psalm 19:1a, Psalm 34:8a, etc.

I also saw this book referenced in the above video and think we'll invest in purchasing it!

I hope you have found these resources helpful.  The one encouragement I like to give parents comes from the great shoe company, Nike: Just do it.  Seriously.  I know you feel overwhelmed and under-equipped but God has given you the tremendous blessing and responsibility for shepherding your children.  Just do it. Just begin and trust that the Lord will lead you, through His Word, in the right direction. To God be the glory.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

7 Attributes of the Church

Immanuel Baptist Church, Clinton, AR

I’m finally beginning to read Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church, a book by Dr. Gregg R. Allison.  It is a book that I’ve wanted to read for some time because of having the opportunity to sit under a couple of classes taught by Dr. Allison at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and hearing his heart for Jesus and his love for the local church.  I’m sure I’ll share some more from this work but one thing I liked was Dr. Allison’s 7 attributes of the local church.  I think you'll find it helpful reflecting on these.

The local church is: (pg. 103)

1. Doxological: oriented to the glory of God
2. Logocentric: focused on the Word of God – this is understood in two aspects. The local church is to be focused on Jesus the Word of God incarnate and to be focused on Scripture.
3. Pneumadynamic: created, gathered, gifted, and empowered by the Holy Spirit
4. Covenantal: gathered as members in new covenant relationship with God and in covenant relationship with each other
5. Confessional: united by both personal confession of faith in Christ and common confession of the historic Christian faith
6. Missional: identified as the body of divinely called and divinely sent ministers to proclaim the gospel and advance the kingdom of God
7. Spatio-temporal/eschatological: assembled as a historical reality and possessing a certain hope and clear destiny while it lives the strangeness of ecclesial existence in the here and now

The first three attributes deal with the church’s origin and orientation.  The church exists for the glory of God!  Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone and head of the Body.  The Spirit of God calls us out of death and into life and empowers us to live for Jesus and carry out His mission. 

The final four attributes deal with the church’s “gathering and sending.” We are gathered under the new covenant and confess Christ as our only suitable all sufficient savior in accordance with historic orthodoxy.  We are carry the message of the gospel this lost and dying world realizing that we have been called in a specific time and place as we await the blessed hope of Jesus’ return.

Therefore, I don’t think it’s necessary for a church to have a “vision statement” in the sense of needing to create a reason for why a local church exists. Here is our vision!  This is what the church is and this is how and why it exists and these truths are rooted in Scripture, which is all sufficient

I’m only about halfway through this book so far (which weighs in at about 471 pages) but I would recommend it to anyone who desires to grow in their understanding of and love for the church.  Here it is on Amazon. (I get no commission so just find the book for the best price!)

Monday, January 13, 2014

Are We Practically Denying the Sufficiency of Scripture?

I have the following note written in my iPhone:

NEVER give up the fight for pushing people to give priority to bible saturation.  Don't let up or stop emphasizing until the majority of folks get it and apply it.

This stems from the reality that in the 'Bible Belt' (for what that's worth) there is a great practical denial of the sufficiency of Scripture.  A quick definition from Grudem's Systematic Theology (pg. 127) says the sufficiency of Scripture:
...means that Scripture contained all the words of God he intended his people to have at each stage of redemptive history, and that it now contains everything we need God to tell us for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly
I say "practical" denial because, and let me address Southern Baptists here, we have affirmed the sufficiency of Scripture in our minds, nay, we have conquered in the battle for the inerrancy of Scripture, but in our daily or corporate lives we fail to let Scripture have any meaningful place. Perhaps I shouldn't say any meaningful? We fail to let Scripture have its rightful place.

Let's put the 16 million 'members' in SBC churches but only 6 million of those who actually show up on Sunday, or whatever crazy statistic it is, on the table for a moment and try to identify a few other ways that we can know when we are practically denying the sufficiency of Scripture:

1. When we don't read it.  This is pretty basic.  I have found that there are many laypersons who do not have a working knowledge of the bible.  We don't expect everyone to be seminarians but I do think it reasonable to expect that people who've been a Christian over a few years should have at least a basic understanding of the grand story line of the bible, God pursuing sinners for the sake His glory - even if they don't articulate it in those exact words.  However, it seems many are confused as to how the Old Testament and New Testament fit together.  Certainly poor teaching is to blame but also a simple lack of reading.  When we don't read the Bible we are practically denying its sufficiency. We are saying "I don't need this to tell me everything I need to know about salvation, for trusting God perfectly, and for obeying Him perfectly."  To be in such a literate society with access to the Word of God does not bode well for many of us on how we use our time when we stand before God on that great Day.

2. When we don't prize it.  Reading the bible is one thing, treasuring it is something else.  I've heard many a story of lost people reading the bible and other lost persons using the bible for historical or literary work.  Anyone can read the bible.  But are its teachings prized? Is the One it points us to treasured? When Southern Baptists who have been saved for years can only quote John 3:16 because they don't have "good memories" it seems that maybe the bible isn't actually prized. When Christian parents allow their children to memorize Taylor Swift songs but don't push them towards memorizing Scripture it seems that maybe the bible isn't actually prized.  When we are able to talk about what happened on Duck Dynasty or last night's game on a regular basis but not able to talk about our deep meditations upon Holy Writ it seems that maybe the bible isn't actually prized. I could go on but the point is we are practically denying the sufficiency of Scripture when we do not prize it as the very words of God. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb (Ps. 19:10).

3. When it doesn't drive our methodology. Write this down and circle it three times, then highlight it and put an asterisk out beside it: The end doesn't justify the means.  God did not say 'get people saved' however you want (He didn't say 'get people saved' anyway but that's probably another post). The Word clearly lays out that it is Sovereign, Holy God, who pursues sinners, and that we, His loyal subjects, are to take His message of forgiveness to the nations and to call all men everywhere to repentance and faith the way He has ordained for us to do. So, when the latest fad or scheme is used that is extra-biblical or even unbiblical, and people buy into it, what it is really saying is this: The Word of God is not sufficient.  Ah! But people are getting saved! The end doesn't justify the means. Maybe they are getting saved but if they are it is NOT because of the latest fad, rather it is in spite of it.  Is the Word of God sufficient for everything we need from God for obeying Him perfectly or not?

4. When it doesn't saturate our gatherings. If Scripture contains everything we need God to tell us for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly then we must sing it, pray it, and preach it in our services.  Sing the Word.  Pray the Word.  Preach the Word.  When a church service is void of one or all of these elements then the congregation is saying, practically, that the Word of God is not sufficient.

Let me conclude by clarifying that we don't saturate ourselves in Scripture for the sake of Scripture itself. "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me..." John 5:39. Scripture leads us to Christ.  We saturate ourselves in the Word because we have tasted and seen that the Lord is good and we want more.  We desire to pursue holiness, and to live for the sake of His name among all the nations.

These are just a few thoughts.  This post could have been much longer but I am interested in hearing your thoughts on other symptoms of practically denying the sufficiency of Scripture...

Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Suggestion for Increasing Bible Intake

Like many of you I had some time towards the end of 2013 to think about my current level of daily Scripture intake. Like many of you I was not fully satisfied with where I was and resolved to make some changes for 2014.

I wanted to share one practical change I've made because I think it is an easy concept for anyone to incorporate into their bible intake plans and hopefully you will find it effective in your quest to know God's Word so that you may walk in His truth (Ps. 86:11).

So here it is, nothing revolutionary really...

Each night before we go to bed, my wife and I read 2 chapters from an Epistle. We alternate reading; I read a chapter and then she reads one. Once we make it through we start the same epistle over.

For example: Right now we are doing Ephesians. I'll read a chapter and she'll read a chapter each night, out loud. After 3 nights we complete the entire book. On the 4th night we start back over. At this pace we make it through the entire book twice each week. The goal is to do this repeatedly for 4 months and by the end of April we'll have made it through Ephesians over 32 times. In May we are going start 1 John and in September, 1 Peter.

Why do this?

1.  It helps us know individual books well: We each have separate goals for reading through the bible but this habit helps us to learn some individual books more in depth by just reading them over and over. 

2. Easy goal to keep: We don't do in depth bible study each night. We just read. It takes less than 5 minutes. Sometimes we do/will talk more about what we've read but our goal in this is to just read. If this was all we were doing for Scripture intake I would say it would be insufficient. However we each have other times in our day for meditative reading. The goal for this is just to read. 

3. It ends our day with focus on God's Word: what better way to go to sleep than to reflect on the inerrant, infallible, all sufficient truth of God's Word as you hit the pillow? We believe that the Word of God is transformative. Our hope for becoming more like Christ lies in the power of God to change us and we know that one way God changes us is through the transforming power of His Word.

4. It's another time the bible is read in "community." To read the bible individually is important for spiritual growth but so is reading the bible together with other believers. The Word of God is given for the people of God not just the "persons."

5. Helps focus our marriage on Jesus. We need intentional Christ-centeredness built into our marriages. This is just one of the things we are doing to help our marriage be focused on Him.

Is this plan or a similar one something you can incorporate into your bible intake plan?

I'm writing this post from a hospital room in Little Rock, AR where my wife just gave birth to our fourth child! We are grateful for God's gift of children. Needless to say this has thrown us off a few days on our reading plan but we'll pick back up soon. The goal isn't to "check off" a list anyway. The goal is to have a disciplined approach to reading God's worth in faith that God will shape us into the people He woul have us to be. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Give us EARS to Hear

I am wholeheartedly committed to the priority of the preaching of God's Word in our regular church gatherings.  True, I am a pastor, so I guess by default I "have" to say that, but even apart from that role there is a deep conviction running through me that the Word of God itself bears testimony that it should and must be preached and that preaching must be of high priority among God's people (see Nehemiah 8, 2 Tim. 4:1ff, Mt. 4:17, etc.). But, alas, this post isn't about preaching God's Word as much as it is about hearing God's Word preached. Actually, not just hearing but listening and not just listening but listening well.

While I know there are better posts out there about how to listen to a sermon well, I would just like to offer a little acronym that I hope will assist you in the discipline of sermon listening.  Yes, I said discipline. There's a reason you can sit through a 3 hour movie but not a 30 minute sermon. In the former, you don't have to exercise your mind. In the latter you are to be participatory.  You must engage your mind and heart and learn to listen well by using your EARS.

Here we go:

(E)xpository Listening*: Listening well to sermons doesn't begin on Sunday mornings.  If it does, then you are already at a disadvantage. If you expect your pastor to prepare to preach, shouldn't you expect yourself to prepare to listen wellWe need to come to the church's gathering expecting God to speak to us through His Word.  ? One of the ways to heighten our expectancy is to read over the text that is going to be preached prior to the message. If you're a pastor, work on letting your people know what is going to preached the next week, next month, or even next quarter.  If you're not a pastor, ask your pastor what's coming up so that you can read and be prepared.  Another important point about expository listening is to listen well to Scripture throughout the week.  Not just reading the upcoming sermon passage but also a regular, disciplined intake of Scripture during the week will prepare you to listen well to your pastor on Sundays.  This will also include prayer.  It is the Holy Spirit who ultimately applies the preached Word to our hearts so ask Him to open your eyes that you might behold wonderful things from His Word (cf. Psalm 119:18). As you are listening to the sermon you want to be thinking some basic thoughts: What does this passage say about God? What does this passage say about mankind? What response does this passage call for from me? How does this passage point to Jesus? Context is king, which is why you want to be read up to be able understand the passage properly.  Granted, your pastor should supply this for you but even if he doesn't or a baby is crying during part of the sermon, you will be equipped to listen well because you've spent time preparing to listen. Here's a great place to insert a quote by J.I. Packer:
congregations never honor God more than by reverently listening to His Word with a full purpose of praising and obeying Him once they see what He has done and is doing, and what they are called to do.”
(A)ttention to Points: You've prepared yourself to engage in the preaching of God's Word and the pastor has began his sermon introduction, now what? Pay attention to the point(s)! Here it's a little tricky because pastors aren't perfect and pastors have different personalities. Some pastors are easier to listen to than others.  Some may specifically say "Here's my point:" or "The point of the passage is:".  Some may have several points, so pay attention to things like "first" or "number one", etc.  Some pastors may not say "lead ins" like that and so you will have to listen closer but if you've done step 1 this should hopefully be easier.  I think this is something you can and should improve on as you grow in your discipline of sermon listening.  If you find that you just are unable to identify the "point(s)" talk to your pastor!  If he is anything like me, he would love to hear some feedback from a church member who is actively working on listening better to his sermons.

(R)eview Notes: I think you would be well served to go to Walmart and spend $0.98 on a notebook for sermon note taking. You can also make notes in your bible or invest in a bible with wide margins for taking notes but writing them in a notebook gives you more room.  Taking notes engages more of your senses as you engage the Word preached.  As you identify the point(s) (previous step) jot them down.  Putting them in outline form is probably easiest but whatever way you can get the information down and easily come back to it at a later time is best. Also, don't spend so much time taking notes that you fail to hear the rest of the message!  It's notes not an essay. You can also jot other Scripture references that come to mind as well as other thoughts and questions to come back to later.  And that's the point: come back to your notes. Don't spend the effort in taking notes and not ever come back to them. Review your notes.  Review them with your spouse.  Did you hear everything rightly? Compare. You could even use them one evening (or a couple) for family devotion time. This leads me to my final point:

(S)hare with Someone Else: You've listened well, you've taken notes, you've looked over your notes, so is there anything else you can do to get the most out of a Sunday sermon? Yes there is! Discuss it with someone else.  This could be informal while you're at work "Yeah, you know my pastor was preaching about something similar this Sunday. Can I talk to you a little more about it?"  Preferably, this could also be more formal as in meeting with someone you are discipling (or who is discipling you) and discussing the pastor's message together each Thursday afternoon over lunch or each Monday morning over a cup of coffee. As mentioned above, going over the sermon sometime during the week with your family is an "easy win" for dads.  The preparation was already put in on Sunday morning.  All you have to do is pull out your notebook and discuss with your wife and kids one night after supper.  Don't just walk out of the church building, shake the preacher's hand and say "Good sermon."  Go back to it for the purpose of sharing it with someone else. You didn't just listen to a message to gain information but for the purpose of transformation.  Share the transforming power of God's Word with others. Again, I will reiterate that informally is good (at school, work, with your exercise group) but formally is better.  Plan to meet on a regular basis with 1-3 people of the same gender from your church for the purpose of discipleship and have as a regular part of your meeting a time of sharing about last week's sermon(s), even if only done briefly.

So, how are your EARS? This is not an exhaustive list by any stretch but hopefully it will get you thinking more seriously about how to listen well to the preaching of the Word. If you are a pastor I would encourage you to teach your people how to listen well to what you are preaching. Feel free to "customize" this outline and pass it out to your people. If you are not a pastor feel free to share this outline with your pastor or small group for the purpose of encouraging others to grow in there discipline of sermon listening.

*I first heard the phrase Expository Listening in Thabiti Anyabwile's book What is a Healthy Church Member?