Sunday, September 18, 2016

Why do Christians follow some Old Testemant Laws but not all?

It's Sunday night. Needless to say I don't feel mentally capable of writing an entire blogpost! However, I thought it might be helpful if I posted a recent teaching outline on an important question. Here's the question:

How do you explain to a non-believer why Christians do follow some Old Testament laws but not all? 

Before I post the link let me say a couple things. First, this isn't a manuscript, just an extended outline. Also, if you feel the need to use this or even adapt it feel free to do so but please know you should definitely be studied up on your own as this is an important subject in our day! So, with that being said, here's my answer to the above question:

Click here for teaching outline 

Friday, September 16, 2016

4 Important Lessons from Charles Spurgeon's Conversion

Black Wooden Fence on Snow Field at a Distance of Black Bare Trees

On January 6, 1850, a 15-year-old young man wandered into the Primitive Methodist Chapel of Colchester. A snowstorm had prevented him from attending church with his father. Apparently, the snow was so severe that the pastor of this little Methodist chapel didn't even show up that day! That young man huslted inside still carrying his burden of sin that he did not realize was soon to be lifted. "At last, a very thin-looking man, a shoemaker, or tailor, or something of that sort, went up into the pulpit to preach." This man preached the text of Isaiah 45:22 and exhorted this teenager, one Charles Haddon Spurgeon, to look to Christ and be saved. This 'sermon' lasted all of about 10 minutes, but see how Spurgeon recounts the impact of what this man said to him that morning:
lifting up his hands, [the man] shouted, as only a Primitive Methodist could do, "Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothin' to do but to look and live." I saw at once the way of salvation. I know not what else he said,—I did not take much notice of it,—I was so possessed with that one thought. Like as when the brazen serpent was lifted up, the people only looked and were healed, so it was with me. I had been waiting to do fifty things, but when I heard that word, "Look!" what a charming word it seemed to me! Oh! I looked until I could almost have looked my eyes away. There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the sun; and I could have risen that instant, and sung with the most enthusiastic of them, of the precious blood of Christ, and the simple faith which looks alone to Him. Oh, that somebody had told me this before, "Trust Christ, and you shall be saved." Yet it was, no doubt, all wisely ordered, and now I can say,—
 "Ever since by faith I saw the streamThy flowing wounds supply,Redeeming love has been my theme,And shall be till I die." (source)
It's probable you've heard this conversion story before as it has been written about many times and was spoken of in Spurgeon's own sermons and works quite frequently. But as I consider this wonderful story once again, I think of 4 important lessons we can take away from it to apply to our own lives and ministries today:

  1. The Persistence of Godly Impressions

    While it is true that Spurgeon attributes his conversion to a single moment in time, January 6, 1850, it is also true that he gives credit to godly impressions that happened long before then to bring him to that point of repentance and faith on that cold snowy morning. Particularly, he gives credit to his mother's impact on his early years. She would pray for him, instruct him in the Scriptures, and implore he and his siblings to rest their souls upon Jesus.

    What an encouragement this is to parents and others who are faithfully and persistently sharing the gospel with others! Persistence pays off. No, we may not always witness the fruit of our labors but we can believe that it is important to impress upon those around us the truth of the gospel and implore them to seek the mercy of Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. Perhaps you've done this 9,999 times. But who knows whether or not the 10,000th time will be the time the sinner turns to Jesus?

    Truly we believe in the necessity of God's gracious calling upon a sinner's life but we also know God works through means. And years of being called to repentance and faith by his own mother prepared Spurgeon for that day when the gospel light finally broke through. Keep pressing on! Be persistent in godly impressions upon those around you. It matters.
  2. The Providence of Great Inconvenience 

    I believe in the meticulous providence of God. That not a single snowflake falls but under His sovereign will and guidance. A snowstorm! How inconvenient! What work had to be stopped that day! How many souls were prevented from attending their desired place of worship that Sunday! And yet, through this great inconvenience, the greatest baptist preacher in the history of Christianity, was brought to faith in Christ.

    The point? Let us be ever ready to see God's hand in the everyday things in our lives. From the snowstorms to the flat tires. Have you considered whether or not you might not be placed in a certain situation for 'such a time as this (Esther 4:14)'? This poor 'shoemaker' (as Spurgeon called him) didn't wake up on that Sunday prepared to give a sermon, and yet he rose to the occasion and exhorted his hearers to look to Christ and be saved. Wow. You don't know what today holds, what the weekend holds, what next month holds. But will you be ready to rise to the occasion as God gives opportunity and in particular be ready to point sinners to Jesus?

    God knows no inconveniences, only plans. What might you do with the extra time you have to spend at the mechanic? Or the late day at work? Or the long line at Walmart because they only have 2 checkers working today? Let us see God's hand in these things trustusth His providence.
  3. The Power of God-breathed Instruction

    Imagine it's not 1850, but January 6, 2016. Spurgeon is snowed out of his normal place of worship and wanders into an American church (I know, long journey across the Atlantic!). What does he hear? 5 steps to be a better you? A few jokes, a couple of pointed illustrations, and then some good advice? Perhaps the atmosphere is "better" structured with music and comfortable seating. Perhaps the speaking is "better" - eloquent, and more polished.

    But the truth is, the power of God doesn't rest in any of these things. God's power rests in His own God-breathed instruction - in His Word. The Bible. Genesis to Revelation. This primitive methodist wasn't sure what to do that morning, so he did all he knew: open the bible and spoke directly from its life-giving streams. There was no sermon preparation. No catchy title. No alliterated points. It was just the exhortation of God's own holy word.

    I obviously think study is important, and I'm a fan of alliteration sometimes (as you can tell!), but let us be reminded that these things aren't where God's power is found in calling sinners to repentance. Seminary has its place. But any Believer can call a person to repentance by simply using God's own God-breathed instruction. It's the Bible, folks. Read it. Know it. Use it more in everyday conversations. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. Creative gospel presentations have their place. But so does simply quoting what the bible says. Opening it up at work or over lunch or coffee and showing the truth of the gospel. What training do you need to open the bible and read it? You can do this with your children. You can do this with your coworkers. You can do this with anyone who will listen! Yes, you! You can do it because the power doesn't rest in you, but in God's Word.

    Apologetics has its place, and I get excited too about archeological discoveries that back up the Bible. But at the end of the day, scientific facts don't change sinners' hearts. It is the Holy Spirit through the Word of God. So, stay faithful. Stay in the Book. Keep trusting that God will use it.
  4. The Priority of Gospel Invitation

    If we haven't invited sinners to close with Christ, we haven't preached the gospel. We have a wonderful example in this conversion narrative of a true gospel invitation. This primitive methodist exhorted his hearers to look to Christ and be saved!

    He did not play 15 verses of Just As I Am. He did not have anyone close their eyes and raise their hands. He did not have anyone sign a card or even come up front. He simply invited, pleaded, and commanded his listeners to look to Christ and be saved!

    There are actually ministers today that believe if you don't have an 'altar call' you haven't really extended an invitation. Spurgeon would disagree. The gospel invitation isn't inviting someone to an altar but inviting them to close with Christ. The danger of an 'altar call' is organizing your whole service to build up to this 'main event.' I've actually read and heard of well-known pastors making this point. But when this happens, emotional manipulation often becomes rampant. None of us have control over who makes decisions. But we do have control over faithfully sharing Scripture and issuing heartfelt exhortations from it.

    What if instead of making services about the altar, the priority of the gospel invitation was attached to the exhortation from Scripture? If instead of building up to a crescendo of an 'altar call', we invited people right then to close with Christ in faith? My main point here is to not rely on the right mood or music to call sinners to repentance. Do so in your gospel exhortations! Tell them, plead with them, command them to repent and believe the gospel. To look to Christ and be saved! You can exhort that person God has put on your heart right now. You can ask them to trust Jesus today. You can text them or call them or stop by and see them. They don't need an altar. They need Jesus.

As the world continued to turn on that cold snowy January day, God was ordering each moment to graciously save Charles Haddon Spurgeon. A wretched sinner who deserved only hell and wrath, was brought to Christ as God issued His effectual call through the proclamation of His own word. Spurgeon would sadly pass away only 42 years later at the young age of 57. But any person the least bit knowledgeable of his life would say that his short life was a life well lived. He was a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season. And with a man like Spurgeon, that season isn't over yet. His life is still bearing fruit. There are still many great things we can learn from him today, including these 4 important lessons from his conversion.

To God be the glory.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The King's Golden Scepter

Esther's only hope for her life and favor with the King of Persia was if he extended to her the golden scepter which signaled her acceptance into his presence. If you know the story then you know Esther won favor in the king's sight and he did extend the scepter (Esther 5:2). 

I submit to you that a thrice Holy God is unapproachable by unworthy sinners such as ourselves. Our just due is to be in the agony of hell for all eternity for our rebellion against Him. 

And yet, the King has extended the golden scepter. God has made terms of peace for all who will lay hold of this scepter. This scepter is not a mere golden staff, but the Shepherd! It is Christ. God has extended mercy in Christ for all those who will trust His finished work on Calvary by faith. Jesus is our only suitable and all sufficient savior. By laying hold of His person and work by faith, we can be assured we have favor with God and may freely and joyfully enter His presence. Though we are sinners, Christ has taken our burden on Himself and paid our sin debt on the cross. His resurrection secured our redemption and guarantees He will receive the full reward for His suffering. Those who believe on Him will rise again with Him!

Will you lay hold of the King's golden scepter? Will you trust this gospel? Will you repent of your sin and cling to Jesus by faith?

Believer, will you rejoice in the presence of God this day? The golden scepter has been extended! By grace alone you have favor with God! Live as a child of King Jesus today...

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Please Stop Supporting Affinity Churches: A Call to Behold the Glory of Biblically Healthy Churches

That's possibly my longest blog post title ever. 

It's late (early?). Maybe not the best time to publish a blog post but I have something to write about tonight and I hope you'll hear me out. 

At first you're going to think this is just another blog about 'affinity churches'. Well, it is that but it also much more. It is a plea for healthy churches across the board. I ask you to prayerfully consider what's below...

I saw another promo video over the weekend for an affinity based church in Arkansas. By 'affinity based' I mean a church plant that is strategically focused on reaching a certain affinity, connection point, group hobby, etc. 

At first I wanted to included the video in this blog but I think prudence wonout here. Here are 3 reasons I chose not to show the video.

1. I truly appreciate the person's desire in the video to see gospel change in the lives of people in Arkansas, even though from my perspective his methods are both wrong and harmful. 

2. I have no personal vendetta against this brother or some mere isolated issue with this particular affinity plant.

3. My greater concern is the movement at large and its support from our denomination as a whole and of course a special focus on Arkansas. 

I think showing the promo video might detract from the things I listed above. 

Now, with all that being said, let me discuss a few things in hopes of primarily reaching people on the fence about this issue. If I happen to also persuade a few people in the process who are already pro affinity based, then all the better. Actually, I do hope to persuade some of you involved in affinity churches. To God alone be the glory. 

I believe very strongly that it is past time we as Arkansas Baptists throw every bring we have into building healthy churches. Not just in promotional schemes but really hands to the plow serious. This earnestness will manifest itself in biblical planting of new churches, maintaining existing healthy churches, and revitalizing currently unhealthy churches. 

Here's one example. Let's see a statewide absolute no compromise movement toward healthy membership practices. I know from personal experience that it's hard for one church alone to say that only people regularly present and involved should be church members. That there shouldn't be 'inactive' rolls and that people should be met with, pleaded with, and exhorted to return to the fold. And if they won't, after much prayer and patience, they should be removed. This is a difficult task for any church on Her own. But when an entire denomination takes a stand on the issue, watch out! We can do more together than we can apart. 

Now, I know  people will say "ah, can't do something like that because: CHURCH AUTONOMY!" I whole heartily support and believe in the biblical prescription of local church autonomy. However, this (rightly) does not stop us from state wide calls for increasing evagnelism. It (rightly) doesn't stop us from state wide calls to pray for revival. It does not stop state wide calls to increase cooperative program giving. And, it rightly, shouldn't stop us from state wide calls for biblically healthy churches, which includes healthy membership practices. 

So, what is a biblically healthy church? Here are a few necessities:

1. Led by qualified pastor(s): 1 Tim. 3, Titus 1:5ff, Acts 20:28, etc

2. Ordinances (Lord's Supper and Baptism) rightly practiced: 1 Cor. 11, Matt. 28:19-20, etc

3. Biblical church discipline is practiced: 1 Cor. 5, Mt. 18:15ff, Rev. 2:20, 2 Thess 3:14, etc

4. Membership is meaningful: Eph. 4:11ff, 1 Cor. 12, Titus 2:1-10, etc

5. Regularly gathering on the Lord's Day: 1 Cor. 16:2, Acts 20:7, Rev. 1:10, etc

6. Making disciples: Mt. 28:19-20

7. Pursuing holiness and Christlikeness: 1 Peter 1:16, Colossians 3, etc

8. Committd to sound doctrine: Titus 2:1, etc

9. The gospel is understood, applied, and shared: Romans 1:16-17, Ephesians 1-3, etc

10. Christ is the 'glue.' Not tradition. Not innovation. Not cowboy culture. Not hunting. Not race car driving. Not football. Not ethnicity. Not any culture, sub-culture, etc: Phil 3:8, Galatians 3:28, Col. 1:18, Rev. 5:1-10

11. Prayer is prized: Colossians 4:2, etc

12. Preaching and teaching is faithful: 2 Tim. 4:2, etc. 

I'm sure there is more to add and even more in which to go into greater detail. But it's late and that's what I've got at this juncture. 

We aren't looking for 'perfect' churches. But we are looking for churches striving for that! We should not accept unrepentantly or willfully neglecting the above in our own or sister churches. Not that we should go on any sort of witch hunt or purging endeavor. But that we should unashamedly hold forth the biblical standard as we know that it will bring the most good to us and our neighbors and the maximum glory to God. 

And if we don't think there is a biblical standard for healthy churches what does that say about our commitment to the sufficiency of Scripture? Like Jesus, who loves the church and died for her (Eph. 5:23ff), isn't going to tell us how she may be healthy? 

Behold the glory of a biblically healthy church! All of us should strive toward this. 

This brings affinity churches back to the focus. When we support planting and funding affinity based churches, we are setting a standard of health below biblical parameters. 

Why? Well, I've written a lot on this before but let me summarize a few things. 

1. The affinity model inherently sets something other than Christ as the draw. ("Come here because you will fit in because we have __________" is the general call across the board.)

2. The affinity model circumvents the beauty of gospel unity across cultural lines. 

3. The affinity model trades one problem for the same problem. (You don't like your 'old tradition' come start a new one).

(These are just a few highlights of the issues, I thought the question of affinity based churches was answered well in a one minute clip from our Q&A. Listen here from about 9:49-11:00

So, every dollar given to such an endeavor as the affinity model (or 'attractional model' - think: smoke, lasers, and guitar solos) is a dollar devoted to a church design that is less than what God would have for us. 

Am I saying the answer is 'tradional' churches? No. The answer is gospel centered, Christ saturated, God glorifying churches. And as odd as it may initially sound, our churches must care less about having a 'welcoming' environment and more about a Christ honoring environment. Frankly, a Christ honoring environment isn't going to be welcoming to everyone (if you've been paying attention to the moral decay of our society you will definitely agree). 

What I mean is this: may our main weekly gathering be structured in such a way that Christ is the center, draw, affinity, and focal point. May we stop holding out offers of 'relevancy', 'casual atmosphere', 'not your grandma's church', 'music', 'suits', 'pews', 'chairs', 'deer heads', and 'cowboy hats', as the primary draw. May we instead joyfully, convictionally, and uncompromisingly hold forth Jesus, the Lamb who was slain and is risen and ascended as King forever. 

We must - we have to - there is no question about our digging in on the fact that we need to - get more serious about biblically healthy churches as a denomination. The lostness is too great and the time is too short to accept anything less. 

Because I have had so many discussions about this with people in the past, I think the tendency will be to read this and either dismiss it as one young quack who doesn't know what he's talking about or to even get angry at me about it. But I think if you go back and prayerfully consider what I have written you will see that my desire is not to tear anyone down. My heartfelt desire is to see us come together as a denomination on this issue and to have a truly tangible emphasis toward healthy churches for the remainder 2016 and beyond, until our King returns.  

Please stop supporting affinity based church planting. Please stop supporting attractional models of churches. Please start supporting, emphasizing, and praying for biblically healthy churches across our state. 

This Lord's day is a great day to start. May the grace of God be with us in this holy endeavor.  

Monday, September 5, 2016

6 Characteristics of a Successful Pastorate

James Petigru Boyce (1827-1888) is a name all Southern Baptists should be familiar with. Not only was he elected president of the SBC 9 (yes, NINE!) times, he also almost single handedly (in some regards) founded and helped keep the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary afloat during its early years.

Dr. Tom Nettles, in his biography of Boyce (James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman), lays out Boyce's 6 Characteristics of a Successful Pastorate. This is the subject of today's blog. These can be found on pages 360-361 in the book. 

The two chief duties of every pastor are the "preparation and delivery of sermons" and "the development and execution of a strategy by which the people might grow in holiness and in serious work for the cause of Christ." These two chief duties should manifest themselves in 6 characteristics:

1. Soul winning - the offer of the gospel must be made clear by the pastor. Obviously Boyce would be the first to say that "Salvation belongs to the LORD!" (Jonah 2:9). But he would also be emphatic upon the means of calling sinners to repentance. The pastor should be a leader and model in this regard. 

2. Instructing the flock in the "doctrine and duties of God's word." Boyce saw the importance of theological education. But learning theology isn't just for pastors. Pastors need to be able to communicate sound theology to the church. Pastors must be able to teach sound doctrine and all that accords with it (Titus 2:1-10). 

3. "Under God, [pastors are] responsible for the increase of holiness, Christlikeness, in the congregation." Boyce said this aspect of ministry is "one of the most important tests" of a successful ministry. So what if our people known"sound doctrine" but don't live holy lives?

4. Equipping saints for the work of ministry. "A successful pastor will aid each member in finding what work of the kingdom he is fit to do and exhort him to do it 'faithfully and efficiently'." Not all people are called to be pastors. But all Christians are part of the body of Christ. Their work for the kingdom may or may not be seemingly as glorious as other work. But the point remains: we are all called to work for the glory of God. A pastor must help the people of Christ find their work and then help them do it with joy. 

5. Help church members give according to their means. Admittedly, this one probably arises from Boyce's many years of endless fundraising for the Seminary. However, it is still a good point. Boyce wanted Believers to understand "the great blessedness to be experienced in giving." Boyce himself was a wealthy man who understood money. He was also very generous. "Boyce knew well that for work to be supported, pastors needed to encourage the giving and should instruct in biblical truth concerning issues of stewardship and the reality of storing up treasures in heaven..."

6. "Develop the power of prayer among his members." "[Pastors] will instruct them in the duty and joy of private as well as family prayer while encouraging them to unite in the prayer meetings of the church." Boyce, a staunch believe in God's meticulous providence, was also a firm believer in the truth of God working through His people's prayers. A pastor should exhort his people in this wonderful means of grace. 

Is the above list perfect? I don't necessarily think so. But I do think it's helpful to consider Boyce's perspective as a proven man of faith and legend in our own denomination. You may not fully agree with everything above, and perhaps there are elements you'd like to add. But let us take a moment and reflect on what this voice from the past has to say to us and let it motivate us to discharge our duties as pastors with more joy, faithfulness, and urgency. 

To God be the glory.