Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Antidote

Sunday we sang the song, “Christ The Solid Rock,” which has the following lyrics:
“My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus' blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus' name.”

This song captures the message of Colossians, namely, the good news that Jesus Christ saves and grows sinners should lead us to trust in Him alone for salvation and growth. This glorious news is the antidote to how most people (including many professing Christians) approach the Son of God:

“My hope is built on something less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I trust my skills, I trust my fame,
And maybe sometimes Jesus’ name.”
(Taken from Tim Chester, Steve Timmis, Total Church)

May you and I gladly swallow the antidote to the poison of self-justifying, self-saving religion.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Should We Do Missions?

In the April 2012 issue of Themelios journal D.A. Carson, research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, took up the subject of whether or not we should still be involved in the task of taking the good news of Jesus Christ into cross-cultural settings (what we have traditionally called missions). In this account of his address at the 150th anniversary of Grace Baptist Mission in the UK, Dr. Carson suggests that many think missions old-fashioned at best and downright dangerous at worst. After all, many argue, missionaries “invade cultures not their own, and by pushing Jesus and the gospel, they announce that they think their religion and culture are superior to the local one-and that, surely, is the very essence of intolerance.” Additionally, as one recent critique worded it, missionary work is “inherently patronizing to the host culture. That's what a mission is-a bunch of strangers showing up somewhere uninvited to inform the locals they are wrong.”

If you have heard objections like these or even thought them your self, you will be well-served by considering this capable scholar’s answer. Carson wrote:

Christians, of course, cannot forget that during his lifetime Jesus himself trained people to go and herald the good news. Christians remember that Jesus was sent by his Father, he insisted, to seek and save those who are lost. So it is not too surprising that he in turn sends his followers. That's what our word "mission" means: it derives from the verb "to send." "As the Father has sent me," Jesus once said, "I am sending you" (John 20:21 NIV). Among his last recorded words are these: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matt 28:20 NIV). So Christians, understandably, will entertain a high view of those who actively seek to discharge Jesus' mission.

There are two common objections raised against this Christian view of missionary endeavor. It's worth reflecting on them before we contemplate the most convincing reason why missionary work is essential.

First, Jesus himself insists, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged" (Matt 7:1 NIV). Doesn't this mean that if we follow Jesus' teaching we should refuse to make moral and religious evaluations? Certainly that view is common on the street. "I don't mind Jesus," we hear; "it's Christians I can't stand. Christians run around self-righteously telling people how to live, condemning other religions, sending missionaries off to meddle in other cultures. Why don't they follow the instruction of the Jesus they claim to serve? After all, he said, 'Do not judge, or you too will be judged.'"

When I was a boy I learned a few of the first principles of interpreting texts. I learned, "A text without a context becomes a pretext for a proof-text." So I suppose we better remind ourselves of the context where Jesus says, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged." It's found in the Sermon on the Mount. That sermon contains quite a few teachings of Jesus. Here, for example, Jesus criticizes the man who looks at a woman lustfully, on the ground that such a man has already committed adultery in his heart (Matt 5:28). Here he teaches us not to store up treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy and where thieves break in and steal; rather, we must store up for ourselves treasures in heaven, knowing that where our treasure is, there our hearts will be, too (6:19-21). Here he tells us to watch out for false prophets, which presupposes we must make distinctions between the true and the false (7:15-20). Here he insists that on the last day not everyone who says to him "Lord, Lord" will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of his Father who is in heaven (7:21-23). In all these utterances, Jesus is making moral, religious, and cultural evaluations. He is, in short, making judgments. So after making all these judgments, what does he mean by saying "Do not judge, or you too will be judged"? The context shows that he means something like "Do not be cheaply critical, or you will be subjected to the same criticism." In other words, there is no way on God's green earth that this command prohibits his followers from making moral judgements, when making moral judgements is precisely what the sweep of his teaching demands that they do. But he does insist that when they follow his instruction and make evaluations and judgments they must do so without cheap criticism of others-a notoriously difficult requirement. There must be no condescension, no double standard, no sense of superiority, no patronizing sentimentality. Christians are never more than poor beggars telling other poor beggars where there is bread. This humble tone ought to characterize all Christian witness, all Christian missionary endeavor. But to argue that Jesus wants his followers to make no judgments at all merely betrays biblical illiteracy.

Second, people often protest, "Yes, but isn't missionary work, indeed all attempts at trying to win another to your faith, terribly intolerant?" Well, no-not if one operates with older definitions of tolerance. Tolerance used to be understood to be the stance which, while disagreeing with another's views, guarded the right of those views to be heard. The new tolerance insists that disagreeing with another's views, saying they are wrong, is intrinsically intolerant. But frankly, that notion of intolerance is incoherent. The Labour Party doesn't agree with the Conservatives; Marxists don't agree with Capitalists; Muslims don't agree with Christians. Each pair may acknowledge some commonalities, but on many fronts, they differ. Yet each tolerates the other if each insists that the other has equal right to speak and convince others of their position. Intolerance is introduced, not when one says another party is wrong, but only when the views of others are quelled by force or corruption. If missionaries try to impose their views on others by force of any kind, they have lost the richest Christian heritage; where they seek to teach and put their case, all the while loving others sacrificially, they are upholding the highest standards of both intellectual integrity and tolerance.
But the best warrant for Christian mission is Jesus himself. He claims all authority is his, but he speaks not as a cosmic bully but as the crucified Lord. He insists that men and women have rebelled against his heavenly Father, but he joins himself to the human rebels so as to identify with them. He declares they deserve punishment, then bears the punishment himself. He claims to be the Judge they will meet on the last day, and meanwhile entreats them to turn to him, to trust him, and live. If one is going to follow a leader, what better leader than the one who demonstrates his love for his followers by dying on a cross to win them to himself? What political leader does that? What religious leader does that? Only God does that!

And then, in a small piece of mimicry, his followers are challenged to take up their cross and follow him. If one of the results is a worldwide missionary movement, I for one will pray for it to thrive.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Joyfully Following God Through Family Devotions

Those who find their delight and joy in God through His Son, Jesus Christ, and so seek to love Him with all they have and others also as themselves, will want to help as many people as possible trust Christ as Savior and also grow in His grace. This was much of our focus in Sunday’s message out of Colossians 1:24-27.

How does this translate into our family? If a Christian parent has children, somewhere along the line it should dawn on him or her that their children are some of the key disciples God has brought to them. How can we carry out this important ministry? 

Terry Johnson, senior minister at Independent Presbyterian Church in Savannah, Georgia, wrote a book in 2003 titled Family Worship Book. In the most recent issue of Modern Reformation (November-December 2012), an excerpt from this book reminded us just how much impact we have upon sons and daughters in the typical amount of eighteen years they are with us. Consider this as a motivation for taking up the challenge to lead our family in family devotions.

If your children are in your home for 18 years, you have over 5,600 occasions (figuring a 6-day week) for family [devotions]. If you learn a new psalm or hymn each month, they will be exposed to 216 in those 18 years. If you read a chapter a day, you will complete the Bible 4.5 times in 18 years…. Every day they [will] intercede on behalf of others. Think in terms of the long view. What is the cumulative impact of just 15 minutes of this each day, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, for 18 years? At the rate of 6 days a week (excluding Sunday), one spends an hour and a half a week in family worship (about the length of a home Bible Study), 78 hours a year (about the length of two weekend retreats), and 1,404 hours over the course of 18 years (about the length of eight week-long summer camps). When you establish your priorities, think in terms of the cumulative effect of this upon you, after 40 or 60 or 80 years of daily family worship: All this without having to drive anywhere.

You may not have eighteen years left, but it is never too late to start.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

What Is Joy?

In a blog called The Joyful Follower somewhere along the line it is good to explain what biblical joy is. One of the best definitions I have heard comes from Sam Storms in his February 1, 2010 sermon titled “For Your Joy,” preached at the Desiring God Pastor’s Conference.  Storms affirmed, "Joy is a deep durable delight in the splendor of God that ruins you for anything else."

As Sam continued in this powerful message he clarified this is not a passive joy or one that leads to a monastic life. Instead, he explained:
It is a joy that stokes the white-hot passion for the nations of the earth and for the lost...that energizes the will of a man or a woman to persevere in a [bad] marriage and not throw in the towel. This is a deep delight and joy in the all-satisfying beauty of Christ that empowers the human heart to overcome addictive behavior, to sustain the soul in its fight against temptation. This is a deep delight in the all-satisfying beauty of Christ that enables a weak and broken soul to persevere when a job is lost or a child rebels or a dream is shattered. It is a deep delight and joy in the all-satisfying beauty of Christ that encourages the fearful and timid heart to engage a lost world and a corrupt world with the good news of the gospel. It is a deep delight and joy in the all-satisfying beauty of Christ that will sustain a church through the loss of numbers and financial strain and to bind the hearts of its people together in unity and love and affection. It is a deep delight and joy in the all-satisfying beauty of Christ that alone will strengthen the soul of the pastor [against difficult circumstances and disappointments].

O, Lord, we praise you for giving us this kind of joy in Christ, we thank you this joy will be our eternal reward in your presence (Psalm 16:11), and we pray that we might be “fellow workers” for the joy of others (2 Corinthians 1:24)!  We know this is at the heart of being a joyful follower of you!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Glory Of The Gospel

In Sunday’s sermon we talked about the ongoing impact the gospel has upon a Christian. With that in mind I thought it would be helpful to focus upon the glorious strong rich nature of that good news. This is taken from July 20, 2010 blog by Tullian Tchividjian.

“A while back, a friend of mine sent me this nugget of gospel gold from John Calvin. It comes from a stunning preface to Pierre Robert Oliv├ętan’s French translation of the New Testament (1534).

Calvin wrote:

Without the gospel everything is useless and vain; without the gospel we are not Christians; without the gospel all riches is poverty, all wisdom folly before God; strength is weakness, and all the justice of man is under the condemnation of God.

But by the knowledge of the gospel we are made children of God, brothers of Jesus Christ, fellow townsmen with the saints, citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, heirs of God with Jesus Christ, by whom the poor are made rich, the weak strong, the fools wise, the sinner justified, the desolate comforted, the doubting sure, and slaves free.

It is the power of God for the salvation of all those who believe.

It follows that every good thing we could think or desire is to be found in this same Jesus Christ alone.

For, he was sold, to buy us back; captive, to deliver us; condemned, to absolve us; he was made a curse for our blessing, [a] sin offering for our righteousness; marred that we may be made fair; he died for our life; so that by him fury is made gentle, wrath appeased, darkness turned into light, fear reassured, despisal despised, debt canceled, labor lightened, sadness made merry, misfortune made fortunate, difficulty easy, disorder ordered, division united, ignominy ennobled, rebellion subjected, intimidation intimidated, ambush uncovered, assaults assailed, force forced back, combat combated, war warred against, vengeance avenged, torment tormented, damnation damned, the abyss sunk into the abyss, hell transfixed, death dead, mortality made immortal.

In short, mercy has swallowed up all misery, and goodness all misfortune. For all these things which were to be the weapons of the devil in his battle against us, and the sting of death to pierce us, are turned for us into exercises which we can turn to our profit.

If we are able to boast with the apostle, saying, O hell, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? it is because by the Spirit of Christ promised to the elect, we live no longer, but Christ lives in us; and we are by the same Spirit seated among those who are in heaven, so that for us the world is no more, even while our conversation is in it; but we are content in all things, whether country, place, condition, clothing, meat, and all such things.

And we are comforted in tribulation, joyful in sorrow, glorying under [persecutions], abounding in poverty, warmed in our nakedness,
patient amongst evils, living in death.

“This is what we should in short seek in the whole of Scripture: truly to know Jesus Christ, and the infinite riches that are comprised in him and are offered to us by him from God the Father.”

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Keys To Plugging Into A Church Successfully

The following is taken from Stephen and Alex Kendrick, with Randy Alcorn, The Resolution For Men (Chapter. 14).

“Here are four keys to being successful in how you plug into a church:”

1. Show up and get involved. How can you feel connected, loved, and ministered to if you’re never there?  Attend consistently, not just every once in a while. And don’t sit on the back row on Sunday morning and then jet for your car during the closing song. Get involved in a small group Bible Study. Find a place to serve. Don’t stand at a distance. Dive in with both feet and join the fun.

2. Fix your eyes on Jesus, not on people. Jesus won’t fail you, but people will. So give them permission to be human, and forgive them when they disappoint you. Extend the same mercy that you would hope to receive from others. Be hard to offend and quick to forgive.

3. Be a blessing, not dead weight. Let love be your motivation for what you do, not merely to be known and loved. Instead of expecting everybody else to do everything, you do some of the pedaling too. Don’t just take. Give. Serve. Encourage. Use the gifts and talents God has given you to be an edifying member of the body. It is what each person contributes that keeps them most connected, ‘as each part does its work’ (Ephesians 4:16).

4. Finally, share life with other believers. Invite them into your world. God wants us being part of each other’s lives: Challenging one another; loving one another; serving one another; helping one another; weeping together; rejoicing together; doing life together.

Conclusion: The church needs you, and you need them. God designed it so that as Christians, we multiply one another’s joy and divide one another’s sorrows. The more we intentionally are knit together with other church members, the more we can celebrate when a member gets married, gives birth, has a prayer answered, gets a job offer, breaks an addiction, or is reconciled to an estranged family member. Their joy is our joy because we are one body.

It’s a family sharing in the very joy of God (John 15:11; 17:13), not a country club. It’s God Himself, delighting in the unity and good of His people (Psalm 133:1). So invest your life in a Bible-believing, Christ-exalting local church, and increase the joy of others while giving yourself more opportunities to rejoice!

God will match and exceed your faithfulness to the church with His faithful love.


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Joyfully United Around Truth, Not Labels

Pastor Lige Reed and I are unashamedly Calvinists. That means that whenever you hear one of your vocational pastor/elders teach, this is the doctrine you are hearing. We are not committed to a system simply because we like it. We are committed to Scripture and we believe this is what Scripture teaches.

Having said this, however, we do not want to divide over labels. We are much like the 18th-19th century British pastor, Charles Simeon, who was a Calvinist, but did not want to be first and foremost known by that label. He wanted primarily to be committed to God’s Word and to stand with whoever shares that commitment. Simeon was bold in standing for truth—no matter who disagreed. Yet, he was just as bold to stand with others who were committed to truth, regardless of which “camp” they were a part.

We discover an example of that commitment in a now famous encounter with the elderly John Wesley, a dialogue Simeon had with the founder of Methodism when Charles was but a young man. Here is the account from H.C.G. Moule, Charles Simeon (London: InterVarsity, 1948), 79f.

Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions. Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God, if God had not first put it into your heart?

Yes, I do indeed.

And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by anything you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?

Yes, solely through Christ.

But, Sir, supposing you were at first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?

No, I must be saved by Christ from first to last.

Allowing, then, that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?


What then, are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother's arms?

Yes, altogether.

And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto His heavenly kingdom?

Yes, I have no hope but in Him.

Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election, my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is in substance all that I hold, and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things wherein we agree.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Thoughts On "Stumbling Block" Issues In Romans 14 And 1 Corinthians 8-10

Recently some in our congregation have faced issues of disagreement about which it has been suggested they might be “stumbling blocks”. Essentially, a “stumbling block” issue is one in which an action or activity may not necessarily be sinful in and of itself, yet some think it is sinful. In such times the person who believes he has the freedom to engage in it must refrain from causing the other person to stumble.

A classic example of a stumbling block issue would be drinking alcohol. If a Christian drinks in front of a fellow-believer who thinks alcohol consumption is wrong or if he tries to get the friend to drink, it could cause the person to go against his conscience and sin. In other words, it could cause him to stumble.

Not all issues are so easily decided. How do we determine when we are dealing with a stumbling block issue or not?  Here are a number of observations derived from the two main stumbling block passages that I trust will lead us toward an answer.

1. Not all issues or disagreements among Christians in a congregation can be classified as stumbling block matters. Beginning in Cor. 7:1 Paul writes to the Corinthians of “the matters about which you wrote” (7:1). In other words, these are matters that troubled the Corinthians and they wanted to get Paul’s take on them. Of all the matters Paul addresses in this section (being married or not being married, ch. 7; food related to idol/temple worship, 8-10; head coverings, 11:2-16; the Lord’s Supper, 11:17-34; “spirituals” or “spiritual things” [extraordinary spiritual activities, including spiritual gifts], 12:1-14:40; and the resurrection, 15:1-58), there is only one that constitutes a stumbling block issue. In all the others Paul clearly comes down upon a particular side. For example, in regard to whether or not Christians should marry (ch. 7), Paul is clear that though there is the freedom not to marry (if God has gifted and/or called a person to such a single lifestyle), most should marry because of sexual sin. So, Paul does not say, “Hey, if you have people in your church who don’t think any Christian should marry, don’t allow anyone to marry—after all you don’t want to be a stumbling block.” No, Paul is clear that though some may not want to marry, marriage is good and, in many cases, it is the wisest step for Christians to take. Likewise, he doesn’t leave it up to the Corinthians to decide whether or not they practice “spirituals” or spiritual gifts in a way that trumps love for one another and God’s Word (12-14); nor does he leave it up to them whether or not they believe in the resurrection (15).[1]

2. Even in stumbling block issues there tends to be a stronger (more defensible) and weaker (less defensible) position, which appears to be why Paul uses “weak” to refer to the person prohibiting the activity (e.g. 1 Cor. 8:11). The issue in Romans 14 appears to be that of Jewish food and Sabbath laws, and whether or not Christians (Jewish or Gentile) must keep them.[2]  The issue in 1 Corinthians 8-10 appears to revolve around the eating of meat related to pagan temples and idol worship. The pagan temples in many first century, A.D., Greco-Roman cities also served as the local butcher. Once meat was sacrificed to pagan gods it would be sold for food. Because of this, many guilds and groups of people would have feasts and get-togethers at pagan temples. Additionally, this meat would also be sold so it could be eaten off-site. In 1 Cor. 8 Paul appears to be addressing the issue of eating at the temples (8:10) and in 1 Cor. 10 eating meat sold at the temple, but eaten off-site (10:25, 28). In both situations, Paul makes it clear that bottom-line there is nothing unethical in and of itself about eating the food some were prohibiting in Rome (Rom. 14:14a) or the meat related to the pagan temples and idols in Corinth (1 Cor. 8:4-6).[3]

3. Because of #2, it appears that Paul felt the freedom to state that in the given issue there was a stronger and weaker position, which implies that discussions could take place among the Christians that may lead to a weaker brother leaving behind his conviction that a particular activity was unethical. So, even in situations in which Christian leaders must be adamant that stronger brothers give up freedoms for weaker brothers, at one and the same time, they can teach weaker brothers with the goal of helping them see that the particular activity is not wrong. This teaching must be done with great care, however. It must be careful to allow God’s Spirit to convince without forcing a person to engage in something against their conscience.

4.  Though #3 seems to follow from #2, nevertheless, the accent in both passages is that as long as an activity is thought wrong to a particular Christian or group of Christians, then the stronger brother must give up his freedom for the sake of the weaker brother’s conscience—as a matter of love and glorifying God (e.g. Rom. 14:7-8; 15:1-2; 1 Cor. 10:23-33). This is true as long as there are no stronger theological issues that would trump the opposition by the weaker brother. For example, in Corinth a potential weaker brother might claim, “I am bothered by Christians marrying since my experience with sexual relations among Corinthians-at-large has been so negative and so filled with sin. I think all true Christians should abstain from all sex, including marriage.” (This, by the way, appears to be the situation behind chapter 7) To this, Paul would not say, “Well, o.k. Corinthians, don’t marry because you don’t want to offend the weaker brother.” No, there is a stronger biblical principle in play—namely the potential of dishonoring God through sexual sin if most Christians are not marrying. Likewise, he would not allow the practice of spiritual sensational gifts (such as ecstatic speech) to trump the preservation of love and the priority of God’s Word (1 Cor. 12-14). In other words, he would not allow a Christian to say, “I am offended by those who put the brakes or restraints upon my use of ecstatic speech or utterances, since they are part of my worship of God.” No, in Paul’s mind, there are stronger issues at play.

5. It appears that stumbling blocks can exist merely by one’s presence at a place associated with an offensive activity (1 Cor. 8:10). Also, a stumbling blocks can exist at the level of engaging in an action when a particular person is present for whom the activity is a problem (1 Cor. 10:25, 28). As an example in the first case, when a person is part of a congregation that largely believes any alcohol consumption is wrong, the wisest approach for a Christian who affirms moderate alcohol consumption is not to go to the town liquor store. Such in and of itself can be a stumbling block, especially if the Christian going to the store is in a position of authority.

As an example in the latter case, if a person is part of a congregation that does not have a corporate position on drinking one way or the other, yet they invite over to their house a brother or sister who believes abstinence is the only ethical position, it would be wrong to drink in front of them or to offer them alcohol when the host knows they have this stance.[4]

6. In both of the key biblical texts (Romans 14; 1 Corinthians 8-10), it appears that a stumbling block is present when Christians are legitimately concerned that an activity may involve or lead to sin. In each case the most likely concern on the part of the weaker Christian was that those who held on to the freedom would be involved in idolatry. Paul’s contention in both cases was that this would not necessarily arise, but the stronger believer must take into consideration the conscience of the weaker brother who feared the possible sin.

Very different from this would be a group of Christians who were concerned that the surrounding town was offended by non-sinful activities of fellow Christians. If such concern led to the first group of Christians being offended by the actions of the second group, this would not constitute a stumbling block issue. For example, let’s say a church had a number of college-age students who like to go onto the local campus to preach on the sidewalks. A second Christian group believes such preaching is more harmful than helpful—based upon the reactions of their co-workers in town. In such a situation no potential stumbling block is present—at least as defined by Rom. 14 and 1 Cor. 8-10.

7. Based upon experience in the Church, it seems clear that though many potential stumbling block issues can be decided based upon the above principles, there will remain disagreement on a minority of issues among Christians. In other words, there will be some issues that some say are stumbling block issues and some will say there are greater biblical issues at play and cannot be constituted as stumbling block issues.  In such issues all involved must do their best to preserve love among each other to the glory of God, even when they must agree to disagree. In such cases, biblical guidelines for working through differences must be followed (e.g. Mt. 5:23-24; 18:15ff.) and those involved must do their best by the grace of God to give each other the benefit of the doubt (see 1 Cor. 13:7).  The wisest approach may even be for church leaders and/or the congregation to draw up a statement upon the congregation’s position—one which would formulate the key biblical boundaries to be followed and then leave room for freedom of conscience in the details (e.g. Acts 15:1-35).

[1] To give parallels from other areas of congregational life, whether or not pastors teach on God’s sovereign grace is not a stumbling block issue. In other words, a pastor should not refrain from such teaching simply because some might not like it or be offended. There are larger issues (doctrinal fidelity) at play than one’s offense. Additionally, it cannot be deemed a stumbling block issue whether or not a person follows biblical guidelines of conflict resolution and whether or not they release resentment against others. The Bible is clear on these issues. Though the biblical steps might be uncomfortable for some Christians, they are absolutely necessary.
Another Pauline example of a disagreement that could not be classified a stumbling block issue was his account of the time he confronted Peter who capitulated to Judaizers from Jerusalem and ceased having table fellowship with Gentiles. Paul confronted his fellow Apostle in the presence of others because what he was doing was not in step with truth that flowed out of the gospel. See Galatians 2:11-14. Though the Judaizers might be offended by Jew/Gentile table fellowship, it could not be classified a stumbling block issue. Clear and greater theological principles were in play.
[2] It appears that some in Rome had taken Jewish food laws and extended them to a point of demanding vegetarianism, perhaps b/c so much meat might be considered unclean or connected into idol worship (cf. 1 Cor. 8-10). This is the case even though the Old Testament never demanded vegetarianism (although it was present in Daniel 1).
[3] Because Revelation 2:14 mentions eating food sacrificed to idols in a negative light, some Bible readers might ask, “What is going on there? Does this contradict Paul who seems to say that eating such food is not wrong in and of itself unless it causes another to stumble?” Upon closer inspection of Revelation 2:14 the reader will notice that John is not writing that those in Pergamum are eating such food. This eating of such food was engaged in by the Israelites in the wilderness at the instigation of Balaam. If the reader goes back to that incident, he will find out that the Israelites were actually engaging in idol worship (Nu. 25:2). So, in the case of Rev. 2:14, the eating of food sacrificed to idols stands for actual idolatry. The point is that the false teaching present in Pergamum was leading people both to idolatry and sexual sin, as did the false teaching of Balaam with Israel in the wilderness. So, there is no contradiction with what Paul writes.
Most likely the “food sacrificed to idols” in the subsequent context (Rev. 2:20) is meant to carry the same meaning as 2:14, namely there was actual idolatry taking place among the believers of Thyatira whenever they participate in such meals. It was not merely eating the food or being at the place that was under consideration. So, again, there is no contradiction with what Paul writes.
[4] In either case it seems most likely to me that there is a known problem among the group or the individual against the activity. For example, a generation or two ago many Christians opposed going to movies b/c a Christian from anywhere might drive by and see a Christian attending a theater and be offended. That is a misapplication or over-application of this teaching. It would only apply if a person was part of a congregation who wrestled with this issue or if a Christian tried to “drag” along with him to a theater a Christian brother who was bothered by going to such a place.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Why Joyful Followers Are Served Well By Good Catechisms

In Sunday morning’s sermon I mentioned the Evangelical Catechism that we have available on our web site (Resources/Articles). This collection of 107 questions and answers designed to teach the basics of the gospel and the Christian faith is patterned after the Westminster Shorter Catechism. More than its origin, though, many will want to know why would anyone use a catechism?

To answer this question and to introduce you to this teaching instrument I am reproducing my introduction to that catechism in this blog post with the prayer that it will inspire you to check out the catechism, to utilize it for your own growth, and also to make use of it in the instruction of your children.

One final comment I will make before the introduction. A helpful companion tool to the Evangelical Catechism is Starr Meade’s Training Hearts, Teaching Minds: Family Devotions Based On The Shorter Catechism (P & R, 2000). I would strongly encourage you to purchase and make use of this tool to help your family learn the Evangelical Catechism.

Now the introduction…

Professing Christians who have been in Evangelical churches any time at all will think it odd that anyone is encouraging the use of a catechism.  There is not only a prejudice against such tools, but a great deal of misunderstanding.  Many conclude, “Catechetical instruction is one of those religious hoops to jump through in cold, sterile congregations!”[1]  Like any tool, a catechism can be misused and sometimes is.  However, this does not negate their helpfulness if utilized properly—namely to ground a person in the basics of the gospel and the Scriptures.

The lack of biblical and theological understanding among the Church today is well documented.[2]  Part of this stems from a misunderstanding of grace, one which suggests we exercise easy belief (mere mental assent) in Jesus Christ as Savior and then try to stay away from study as far as we can, lest we become legalistic and/or make our Christianity something less than a relationship.  It is almost as if the less we know, the more we can claim, “Hey, it’s all about a relationship with Jesus!”

The lack of biblical literacy also stems from the fact that the contemporary Church has made little use of theologically-substantive training materials that can aid believers to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.  Catechisms are just such a tool, which were designed to root and ground children, new saints, and inquiring unbelievers in the basics of the faith and the gospel. In fact, since it was so common in the early church for those who had professed faith in Jesus Christ eventually to turn away from their profession, catechisms were developed to help the person “decide if he still wanted to submit to Christian baptism and gave the church opportunity to discern (as far as human observation can do this) the genuineness of his, or her, conversion…. This use of catechisms served as a safeguard for the purity of the church.”[3]

The term catechism is taken from the Greek word katecheo, which means “teach” or “instruct”. To catechize “simply means to teach biblical truth in an orderly way.  Generally this is done with questions and answers accompanied by biblical support and explanation.”[4]  Catechetical instruction is not something done only in Roman Catholic or cold liberal churches.  In fact, it was one of the factors which enabled the Reformation of the 16th-17th centuries to remain on solid footing and to spread successfully.[5] 

Because the Westminster Shorter Catechism (1647) is the most well-known catechism among Evangelical believers, because it is so biblically-sound, and because of its brevity in relation to some other options, I have used it as the starting point.  I have kept the same order of questions, as well as the same number of questions and answers.  The changes I have made include:  (1) In those questions dealing with baptism and the Lord’s Supper I have followed the original Baptist Catechism (sometimes called Keach’s Catechism), as well as the revision of that catechism by John Piper.  (2) I have modernized some of the language to make it more accessible.  (3) In a few places I have borrowed from John Piper’s revision to increase accuracy and clarity. (4) I have put some of my own choices (as well as Piper’s) for scriptural proofs with the answers.

I have titled this revision An Evangelical Catechism since it primarily sets forth the gospel (or evangel), that word of truth (Ephesians 1:13), which forms the core of the Scriptures.  It should also be known this revision is Baptist in doctrine to match the convictions of our own congregation for whom it is primarily written.   

My prayer is that God will use this instrument in your life, the life of your children, and the lives of those whom you are discipling that he, his Word, and the truth of the gospel, will be opened up in new and fresh ways for your delight in him and for his glory.

[1] Tom J. Nettles, Teaching Truth, Training Hearts: The Study Of Catechisms In Baptist Life (Amityville, NY: Calvary Press, 1998), 15, draws attention to the reality many evangelicals are suspicious of catechisms.

[2]For example, David Wells, No Place For Truth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 4, wrote:  “I have watched with growing disbelief as the evangelical Church has cheerfully plunged into astounding theological illiteracy.”

[3] Nettles, Teaching Truth, 16.

[4] John Piper, A Baptism Catechism (Desiring God Ministries), 1. He lists Acts 18:25; 1 Corinthians 14:19; Galatians 6:6 which all use the verb katecheo to speak of biblical instruction.

[5] Nettles, Teaching Truth, 17.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Dealing With Conflict As A Joyful Follower

Conflict is a regular part of human relationships. This is confirmed by the fact that Jesus taught what we should do if we hurt someone else (Matthew 5:23-24) or if someone does something against us (Matthew 18:15).  It is also confirmed by the fact that Paul and Barnabas even parted ways, disagreeing over what to do with John Mark on Paul’s second missionary trip (Acts 15:36-41).  Too often disagreements lead to people dividing from and hurting each other even further.  The Bible, however, offers very clear and effective teaching on how to approach conflict with others.  There are four key principles we are well-served in keeping before us in any conflict.[1]

First, we must realize conflict is an opportunity to

Glorify God.  Glorifying God (putting His greatness on display) is the ultimate purpose of mankind. (Matthew 5:16; 1 Corinthians 10:31) When God changes our lives through His grace, results such as righteousness, good works toward others, forgiveness, love, and peace bring glory to God. (Matthew 5:16; John 13:34-35; 15:1-12; 2 Corinthians 9:13; Philippians 1:9-11; 2:14-15) All of this means that when conflict arises, it is an opportunity to put God’s life-changing grace on display. Most people do not work out their differences well.  When, by God’s grace, we face conflict head-on, it puts on display what God can do through us. When we remember this, it transforms how we face these hard times in relationships, helping us to face them rather than run from them.  It also reminds us to pray for God’s help. (Matthew 7:7-11; John 15:7)

With this mind frame we are ready to take the next step…

Get the log out of your own eye.  This phrase comes from Matthew 7:1-5: "Judge not, that you be not judged…. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?...You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.”  (emphasis added)  Before we go and communicate to someone how we believe they have hurt or offended us, this passage urges us to:  (1) Ask how I might have contributed to the problem?  (2) Communicate to the person how I have contributed to the problem and, if applicable, ask for forgiveness.  Doing these two things not only may decrease in our mind the part the other person played while increasing our part; it also may lead them to be more receptive to what we have to say.  Sometimes you might even conclude you do not have to go to the person except to apologize.  Surely, it will enable us to be more gracious, humble, and understanding. 

Gently Restore.  Once we have wrestled with what our part in the conflict has been, if there is still a need to communicate to the other person their part in the situation, do so with grace and gentleness (Proverbs 18:13; Ephesians 4:29, 32; 2 Timothy 2:24-26), with the purpose of restoring your relationship and, if needed, restoring the person in their walk with Christ (Matthew 18:15; Galatians 6:1).  As you do this, speak the truth in and motivated by love (Ephesians 4:15; 1 John 4:8).  We must remember that as the family of Jesus Christ, we are to treat each other as brothers and sisters—thus caring enough not to look the other way when a fellow Christian is self-destructing and/or dishonoring God (2 Thessalonians 3:15).  Here are the seven A’s to remember when you gently restore:

  • Address everyone involved.

  • Avoid "if," "but," and "maybe".

  • Admit specifically.

  • Apologize.

  • Accept the consequences.

  • Alter your behavior.

  • Ask for forgiveness.
Go and be reconciled.  Once you have worked things out with the other person, forgive them (Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13).  This is a mark of those who are true believers (Matthew 6:14-15).  If you cannot reconcile with the person and/or they are unwilling to talk to you, then get others involved to help (Matthew 18:16-20).  There are four promises you can make which are helpful in forgiving another person:

  • I will not think about this incident any more.

  • I will not bring this incident up and use it against you.

  • I will not talk to others about this incident.

  • I will not allow this incident to stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.

Few things in life can be as difficult and as draining as conflict. Yet, when we approach it with God’s grace in Jesus Christ so that we can deal with it in an appropriate manner, nothing can be more rewarding that seeing our Savior make the difference, heal wounds, and bring peace. May God be honored as we deal with our differences as joyful followers of him and lovers of others to his glory!

[1] These are taken from the book by Ken Sande, The Peacemaker.  See also his web site  We regularly offer classes on the peacemaking process.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Self-Examination For Idolatry

In our sermon series through the book of Hosea (“The Glorious Good News Of God’s Love In Hosea”) we have discovered just how widespread and dangerous idolatry is. This is not a sin committed only in the Old Testament or only in third world countries where we find actual physical idols erected for worship. It is a problem of every heart.

 Mike Wilkerson, in Redemption: Freed By Jesus From The Idols We Worship And The Wounds We Carry, writes:  “We usually make idols out of good things, even meat and bread, not the obviously bad things like fornication…. The greater the good, the more likely we are to expect it can satisfy our deepest needs and hopes.”

 Because this is true, we have a need to exam our own hearts and lives to root out idolatry. To help with that below I have included five statements that give a full-orbed description of idolatry. Under each statement I have included in bullet point form questions for us to ask. My prayer is that this will take us further in identifying and being freed from our idols. Each of these statements are found in Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises Of Money, Sex, And Power, And The Only Hope That Matters.
1. Idolatry is “anything more important to you than God.”
  • When I look at my life priorities and how I spend my time, does God take a back seat or is he behind the steering wheel?
  • When I focus upon my relationship with God do I put my hope in my works and goodness, or do I trust in God’s only way of salvation, which is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone?
  • When I think about the well-being of my family, which would be more important to me: making sure they do not miss sports camps and opportunities to make family memories (e.g. weekends at the lake) or worshiping together in our church?
  • What and who are more important to you than God? (Ask God to help you change your heart’s priorities)
2. Idolatry is “anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God.”

  • When I dream about the future and what will make me happy, successful, or fulfilled, does God enter into the picture or are my dreams filled with other things?
  • If you were to complete the statement, “I love ______,” would “God” truly be one of the first words with which you would fill that blank?
  • What and who absorbs my heart and imagination more than God? (Ask God to change your heart that you would love him more than anything or anyone)
3. Idolatry is “anything you seek to give you what only God can give.”
  • When I think about my life, what or whom do I truly believe will bring me success and true happiness—God or something/one else?
  • When I think about my children or grandchildren, what or whom do I truly believe will bring them success and true happiness—God or something/one else?
  • Do I believe that keeping my children busy to stay out of trouble is more important to them than shaping their hearts so they love Christ and love him supremely?
4. Idolatry is “whatever you look at and say in your heart of hearts, ‘If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.’”
  • How do you complete this sentence, “My life would have meaning, value, significance, and security, if I had this….?”
  • Whom or what am I trusting in above God? (Ask God to help you trust in him alone for your salvation, your meaning, your value, and your security)
5. Idolatry is “anything that becomes more fundamental than God to your happiness, meaning in life, and identity.
  • How would you complete this sentence: “My life would be destroyed and meaningless, if this happened…?” (Ask God to grant you grace to look to Christ for your hope and so that you can turn from idols unto the living God)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Seek To Have An Interest In God’s Love

In our current sermon series on the Old Testament book of Hosea we are discovering that God’s love is like a diamond with multiple facets of beauty and glory. In fact, the more we discover about God’s love the more we should be left breathless by it.
There is, however, a question that each of us should ask in response to Hosea: Who experiences God’s love?  The answer to that is given clearly by the Apostle Paul in Romans 8:39. We experience God’s love “in Christ Jesus”.  In other words, those united to Christ through faith experience the full, rich, saving love of God. Those who are not united to Christ do not (John 3:36).

In his classic book, Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, And Roots, the 19th century British pastor,  J. C. Ryle, offers helpful counsel to all who would desire to know God’s love.  Because of the seriousness of this topic, I will quote him at length.

“I entreat you not to stifle conscience by vague hopes of God’s mercy, while your heart cleaves to the world. I implore you not to drown convictions by childish fancies about God’s love, while your daily ways and habits show plainly that ‘the love of the Father is not in you.’ There is mercy in God, like a river—but it is for the [repentant] believer in Christ Jesus. There is a love in God towards sinners which is unspeakable and unsearchable—but it is for those who ‘hear Christ’s voice and follow Him.’ Seek to have an interest in that love. Break off every known sin; come out boldly from the world; cry mightily to God in prayer; cast yourself wholly and unreservedly on the Lord Jesus for time and eternity; lay aside every weight. Cling to nothing, however dear, which interferes with your soul’s salvation; give up everything, however precious, which comes between you and heaven.

“This old shipwrecked world is fast sinking beneath your feet: the one thing needful is to have a place in the lifeboat and get safe to shore. Give diligence to make your calling and election sure. Whatever happens to your house and property, see that you make sure of heaven. Oh, better a million times be laughed at and thought extreme in this world than go down to hell….”

So, as Pastor Ryle wrote, make it your desire to “seek to have an interest in that love.”

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Why The Unusual Preaching?

Many of the people who attend the Minden Evangelical Free Church have some church background and in that experience you are accustomed to pastors preaching on different topics each week that are not related to the previous week. In some cases you may have been in congregations where the pastor followed a lectionary that assigned different passages and topics each week to fit with the calendar of the church year. Others of you may be have known pastors to preach a series of sermons on a topic. These are the most common approaches to preaching.

If you have been attending our Sunday services any time at all you have discovered I spend most of my time preaching verse by verse through sections of a Bible book or through an entire book of the Bible, a manner often called expository preaching. I have a very strong conviction that most preaching should be of this type. Here are a number of reasons that stand behind my conviction.

1. Expository preaching, as the label suggests, has as its goal, to expose what the text of the Bible says, rather than reading in what we want it to say or reading it in some general way that acknowledges the main theme, but then shapes it according to a preacher’s personal thoughts or preferences. This type of preaching demonstrates to the congregation that the pastor works to remain true to what God says in the Bible, rather than espousing his own thoughts. In other words, such an approach can give added confidence the congregation is hearing a word from God and not merely from man.

2. God gave the Bible to us in books, so to understand each book of the Bible as it was given is to grasp Scripture in the same form God inspired it. There should be something in this method that comes closer to the message God originally intended for us in each book. This is not to suggest that topical preaching (if done with great care and flowing out of diligent and careful study) has no place. After all, Jesus, Paul, and most every other preacher recorded in the Bible preached topical sermons. It does, however, honor the form in which the Bible was inspired. It also is the method of preaching that best serves preaching’s ultimate goal, which is to uncover what the text of the Bible says to us.

3. Expository preaching provides a good model to the congregation for how to read or study through a book of the Bible. It demonstrates what kinds of questions to ask, how to study words, how to understand the flow-of-thought. Similarly, it lays a foundation for a congregation to understand a book of the Bible with greater detail as they read through it after the pastor has preached on it. Such preaching is some of the best preparation a congregation can go through for their own devotions and for family devotions.

4. This approach to preaching provides greater variety of topics, as well as forces the pastor to deal with topics he may not choose to take up if he were not going through the book. What this results in is a better understanding of the entire counsel of God in Scripture.

5. As a pastor studies Bible books verse by verse it forces him to wrestle thoroughly with an entire book and to discover the inspired author’s flow of thought as the latter gives wise counsel, direction, correction, encouragement, and the like to his first readers. Such disciplined study forms a very solid biblical foundation for a pastor’s counseling ministry, as well as for his understanding of the entire Bible. This is why thoughtful, careful expository preachers often make for good counselors.

6. Expository preaching gives a preacher the boldness to address a controversial topic since it is what comes next in the text. It helps to know he did not personally have to choose the topic, but is simply being faithful to what God inspired the biblical author to write next. Similarly, it can put a congregation at ease as they hear such a topic addressed that it is not the “hobby horse” of the pastor or something he has chosen to preach on merely to hit the congregation over the head. Again, they know it was simply the next topic in the text to cover.

7. Finally, verse by verse expository preaching tends to force the preacher and the congregation to dig deeper in the text. The result is the discovery of greater nuggets of truth, as well as more nourishing spiritual food.

All in all, though expository preaching has fallen on hard times among many evangelicals recently, I strongly believe it is the most beneficial manner of preaching for any congregation. It has a long, rich heritage, one that has often been at the heart of the strongest churches and the deepest, most lasting works of God. May our sovereign God be pleased to move among us through the verse by verse teaching of his Word!