Monday, June 30, 2008
"When they heard this"; there was no ambiguity or uncertainty about what the apostles were saying. The Council heard and understood. The problem with truth is its clarity. Jesus said, “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed” (John 3:19-20).
Truth is clear – too clear. People do not reject truth for intellectual reasons but for moral reasons. Truth reveals and condemns sin. Therefore, “everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”
This is why men would rather have ambiguity, mystery, and uncertainty - all attempts to overcome the clarity of the light that shines from truth - so that they will not be seen as either anti-intellectual or immoral.
"They were cut to the quick"; the Council was exposed by the light of the truth and it was very painful to them. Men are not cut to the quick through ambiguous, mysterious, and uncertain concealings but by clear and convicting revealings. Light (truth) reveals and darkness (falsehood) conceals, therefore only truth can convict.
Rather than plainly preaching God’s Word in a way that unleashes the power and truth of it, many of today’s church leaders try to “package” the message to make it subtler and more appealing to the world in order to remove its offense – its conviction. The most compelling question on the lips of these many false prophets who have gone out into the world and speak as from the world is not “What’s true?” but rather “What works?” Evangelicals these days care less about theology than they do about methodology. Truth has been replaced by pragmatism and earnestly contending for the faith once for all handed down to the saints has been replaced by earnestly contending for cultural relevance. That is why pagans and unbelievers and servants of the devil can sit through church services these days without ever being cut to the quick. They are never under the conviction of the truth because the truth has fallen in the streets.
"And intended to kill them" - the Council heard and understood what the apostles were preaching because truth is clear and they also were cut to the quick because truth is convicting. Since the truth was clear and convicting and the Council did not want to come to the light unless their deeds were exposed, they were going to attempt to overcome the light by extinguishing its primary source at the moment - they intended to kill the apostles. Truth causes problems for those who love, receive, and proclaim it - they are persecuted for the sake of righteousness/truth.
Truth is clear, truth is convicting, and truth is costly.
Friday, June 27, 2008
First they exalt agnosticism as though it is a godly virtue - mystery, ambiguity, and uncertainty as forms of piety. This indeed is a clever disguise because then the truth that God has revealed can be treated as though it has been concealed. But - "The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us" (Deuteronomy 29:29). Then as soon as a Christian deals in truth or certainty, speaking a clear, "Thus says the Lord," he or she is caricatured as immodest, arrogant, Pope-ish, omniscient, excathedra speaking, pontificators of doctrinaire arrogance. Why? Because of the postmodern's hatred for absolute truth.
Phil Johnson of PyroManiacs said, "Like all good postmodernists, Emergent Christians hate clarity and precision. They despise authority, and they detest certainty. They say they don’t want answers; they want mystery. They don’t want to be preached to; they want a conversation. They don’t want to have to judge whether something is orthodox or heretical, true or false; they want to create their own spiritual reality, and they want to be affirmed while they do it. Unfortunately, the evangelical movement has plenty of people who are willing to affirm all of those things." (Source)
Another clever disguise used by postmoderns to appear that they don't really hate truth is their never ending trumpeting of thier diversity. This is in order to attempt to make an accurate portrait of the movement appear to be just a caricature and therefore critique-resistant. As Dan Philips said in one post comment box, "Try to nail down one blop of EC Jello, and another blop says "I'm not that way!" (Source)
So as soon as you describe an accurate portrait of what postmoderns are like - haters of truth, clarity, certainty, and despisers of authority, one will come along and say, "I love absolute truth and we're not all that way. It's unfair for you to lump us all together that way." However, keep engaging him or her in conversation and you will sure enough discover that they fit the portrait and still want to call it a caricature.
A caricature is a picture or description ludicrously exaggerating the peculiarities or defects of a person or thing (Websters Universal College Dictionary). It is an untrue, ridiculous, and absurd characterization. A portrait does not involve ludicrous exaggerations but is an actual and true portrayal or depiction of a person or thing.
Beware of the caricatures painted by postmoderns and study closely the portrait of apostates as revealed in God's Word.
Edit: John Piper has an excellent post today concerning mystery. Check it out here
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
A man-centered approach to ministry will always result in a toned-down God (He's really not so Holy and so far above us), a lifted-up man (he's really not so bad and so far below God), and a watered-down message void of true heaven sent power. And this will turn missions upside down with missions existing primarily for the benefit of man rather than the glory of God. The true call to missions is always who will go for God - not who will go for man. Isaiah, after seeing the holiness of God and His glory heard God say, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" (Isaiah 6:8).
This right view of the holiness of God and His glory along with the wickedness of man against the backdrop of God's holiness ("Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts" Isaiah 6:5) will guard against the wrong motivation and focus of ministry (humanism and the happiness of man) and restore the correct impetus to missions (the holiness of God and His glory).
Here is a five minute excerpt from Paris Reidhead's Ten Shekels and a Shirt that powerfully explains the correct philosophy (theology) of missions.
Monday, June 23, 2008
The other is on the opposite end of the spectrum - "engaging the culture" - which is nothing short of contamination (unbiblical participation) through the attempt to create a Christian culture based on the power of carnal methods of being like the world to win the world rather than the divinely powerful gospel. This also has an appearance or form of godliness - but it is not.
What the world needs is an authentic witness who has been genuinely changed by the gospel which is the power of God unto salvation.We are to have contact without contamination - a biblical separation without isolation - and as Vance Havner once said, "The world is not going to be changed by conferences on it or complaining about it or conformity to it but by being Christian within it!"
Listen to this three minute excerpt from Havner's sermon The Unfinished Work of Christ:
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
This disdain for sound doctrine is seen in the Postmodern Movements of our day. There is a love for "the new way", "the better way", and "the latest trends." The sufficiency of Scripture as the only reliable guide and blueprint for ministry is being replaced with the sufficiency of "man's best thinking" and his newer and better way of doing things than God's antiquated and outdated method of ministry.
Theology is being replaced by neology and today's postmodern man is actually a sad reflection of "premodern" man - "Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new" (Acts 17:21).
Here is a clip from a sermon entitled When Religion Encounters Worship by Jeff Lyle that perfectly describes those rejecting theology and opting instead for neology. It is only 1:20 in length and is well worth the listen.
Here is the whole sermon:
Thursday, June 12, 2008
But what the false prophet doesn’t understand is that he is under the judgment of God and is being used by God for the judgment of those who reject His truth. This truth is made plain in the Bible: “For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness” (2 Thessalonians 2:7-12).
This truth is also illustrated in the Bible. We read in 1 Kings 22 about Ahab the king of Israel (the ten northern tribes) wanting to go to war with Aram while he was being visited by Jehoshaphat the king of Judah (the two southern tribes). It is important to remember that before this point Ahab had already been confronted by Elijah on several occasions and had not listened to God’s true prophet. So Ahab who refused to receive and believe the truth surrounded himself with “yes-men” – teachers in accordance to his own desires! Ahab asked Jehoshaphat to go to war with him – “And he said to Jehoshaphat, ‘Will you go with me to battle at Ramoth-gilead?’ And Jehoshaphat said to the king of Israel, ‘I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses’” (1 Kings 22:4).
However, Jehoshaphat wanted to enquire for the word of the LORD first – “Moreover, Jehoshaphat said to the king of Israel, ‘Please inquire first for the word of the LORD’” (1 Kings 22:5). Then Ahab brought out his “yes-men” – “Then the King of Israel gathered the prophets together, about four hundred men, and said to them, ‘Shall I go against Ramoth-gilead to battle or shall I refrain?’ And they said, ‘Go up, for the LORD will give it into the hand of the king’” (1 Kings 22:6).
“But Jehoshaphat said, ‘Is there not yet a prophet of the LORD here that we may inquire of him?’ The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, ‘There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the LORD, but I hate him, because he does not prophesy good concerning me, but evil. He is Micaiah son of Imlah.’ But Jehoshaphat said, ‘Let not the king say so’ (1 Kings 22:7-8). Ahab hated God’s true prophet because he was not a “yes-man” with a positive only word from the Lord. Ahab considered truth as evil because it was not what he wanted to hear!
So while Ahab and Jehoshaphat sat on their thrones listening to all the prophets who were prophesying before them, Ahab sent an officer to bring Micaiah so that they could hear from him. And all of Ahab’s prophets were prophesying “good” saying, “Go up to Ramoth-gilead and prosper, for the LORD will give it into the hand of the king” (see 1 Kings 22:9-12).
“Then the messenger who went to summon Micaiah spoke to him saying, ‘Behold now, the words of the prophets are uniformly favorable to the king. Please let your be like the word of one of them, and speak favorably.’ But Micaiah said, ‘As the LORD lives, what the LORD says to me, that I shall speak’” (1 Kings 22:13-14). The pressure was on for Micaiah to be a “yes-man” speaking lies that comfort but kill and he refused.
“When he came to the king, the king said to him, ‘Micaiah, shall we go to Ramoth-gilead to battle or shall we refrain?’ And he answered him, ‘Go up and succeed, and the LORD will give it into the hand of the king’” (1 Kings 22:15). Micaiah was speaking with sarcasm knowing that the king wasn’t interested in truth to which the king replied, “How many times must I adjure you to speak to me nothing but the truth in the name of the LORD?” (1 Kings 22:16).
“So he said, ‘I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, like sheep which have no shepherd. And the Lord said, “These have no master. Let each of them return to his house in peace’” (1 Kings 22:17). “Then the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, ‘Did I not tell you that he would not prophesy good concerning me, but evil?’” (1 Kings 22:18)
But wait! Micaiah wasn’t through – he went on to tell Ahab the whole purpose of God – “Micaiah said, ‘Therefore, hear the word of the LORD. I saw the Lord sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by Him on His right and on His left. The Lord said, “Who will entice Ahab to go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?” And one said this while another said that. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD and said, “I will entice him.” The Lord said to him, “How?” And he said, “I will go out and be a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.” Then He said, “You are to entice him and also prevail. Go and do so.” Now therefore, behold, the LORD has put a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; and the LORD has proclaimed disaster against you’” (1 Kings 22:19-23).
Beware of heaping “yes-men” to yourselves who only speak “good” and tell you what you want to hear - for they come with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
God's Provision for my Dilemma...prayer and Bible study are necessary for discernment regarding false teachers!
All of these are good questions to which we must find the right answers to be sure that we have the right interpretation of this passage. We must avoid the terrible danger of twisting the Scriptures to our own destruction. The only way to guard against the danger of twisting the Scriptures is to keep them in their context.
There is a theme running right through the chapter and it is the theme of judgment. Therefore this section will also deal with judgment just like the rest of the chapter. But what doesn’t seem to be clear at first becomes clearer and clearer the more we look into the Scriptures seeking their true meaning. The Lord has already given us two opposite statements in Matthew 7:1-6 to which we must be obedient to if we are to live an effective Christian life. He said, “Do not judge lest you be judged” (Matthew 7:1) and “Do not give what is holy to dogs...” (Matthew 7:6). And then again, "Beware of the false prophets who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves" (Matthew 7:15).
On the one hand we are not to judge and on the other hand we are to judge. On the one hand we are not to have a critical, condemning, contemptuous spirit and on the other hand we are to have a discriminating, detecting, and discerning spirit. I don’t know about you but I know that I am not adequate or sufficient for these things. How can I possibly know who is true and who is false? How can I know if I am being judgmental or if I am being discerning? I need help and grace! I need knowledge and wisdom that I do not have. Where can I get it?
Here is the answer: “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). It is here that I find God’s provision for my dilemma.
In these verses, Matthew 7:7-11, the Lord was speaking of prayer and Bible-study and persistence in it as God's provision for making a righteous judgment. He has not left us as orphans and we can know who is and who isn't a false prophet or false teacher. Matthew 7:7 is Proverbs 2:1-22 condensed or concentrated into a powerful and succinct statement regarding how to have discernment and discretion.
In Proverbs 2:1-22 the principles of asking, seeking, and knocking in order to have discernment are elucidated. First and foremost the principles of asking and seeking - prayer and Bible-study - are set forth:
"My son, if you will receive my words and treasure my commandments within you, make your ear attentive to wisdom, incline your heart to understanding" - there must be a reception and love for the Word of God (Proverbs 2:1-2).
Prayer - "Ask, and it shall be given to you" (Matthew 7:7a) - "For if you cry for discernment, lift your voice for understanding" (Proverbs 2:3).
Bible-study - "Seek, and you shall find" (Matthew 7:7b) - "If you seek her as silver and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will discern the fear of the Lord and discover the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding. He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice, and he preserves the way of His godly ones. Then you will discern righteousness and justice and equity and every good course" (Proverbs 2:4-9).
Then the principle of persistence is set forth:
Persistence - "Knock, and it shall be opened to you (Matthew 7:7c) - "For wisdom will enter your heart and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul" (Proverbs 2:10).
Then: "Discernment will guard you, understanding will watch over you, to deliver you from the way of evil, from the man who speaks perverse things; from those who leave the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness; who delight in doing evil and rejoice in the perversity of evil; whose paths are crooked, and who are devious in their ways" (Proverbs 2:11-15).
Proverbs 2:16-22 deals with the strange woman, the adulteress who flatters with her words - false and apostate religion - and how you will be delivered from her!
Monday, June 9, 2008
Pastors have the responsibility to be heralds (Acts 20:25) – the word preaching means “to declare a message as the herald of the king.” The herald tells what the king tells him to declare. He is a man commissioned and sent with a message – the message of the king – and he must not change that message in any way. The herald is not responsible to manufacture or manipulate the message – his sole responsibility is to declare it just as the king said it. And since he is sent by the king, the people who listen had better be careful how they treat both the messenger and the message.
Pastors have the responsibility to be watchmen (Acts 20:26) – what a serious calling it is to be a watchman. Souls are at stake and God holds the watchman accountable (Ezekiel 3:17-21) and this is what Paul was referring to.
How to be a faithful watchman (Acts 20:27-31)
The faithful watchman declares the whole purpose of God (Acts 20:27). Preaching the whole counsel or purpose of God includes preaching sound doctrine and not strange doctrine; all doctrine and not just positive doctrine; truth that hurts and then heals and not falsehood that comforts and then kills. It is not love and it is not friendship and it is not faithfulness if we fail to proclaim the whole counsel of God.
The faithful watchman guards himself and the flock (Acts 20:28). The watchman has to stand guard, ready to sound the alarm if he sees danger approaching (28a). The watchman guards himself through self-examination – “paying close attention to himself and to his teaching” (1 Timothy 4:16a). He has to examine his life and doctrine to make sure that both honor God and that he is in right relationship with God. The watchman guards all the flock through declaring the whole counsel/purpose of God and paying attention to what teachings they are feeding on (see 1 Timothy 4).
The watchman has to be faithful not fearful, thinking not only of himself but also of others, and above all serving as a good soldier of Christ who placed him at that post through the Holy Spirit (28b) – the watchman does not choose the post but is appointed to the post – “among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.” Think about it – God places His watchmen in a position so that they can see danger and then warn others. God requires of the watchman that he climb to higher ground so that he can be an effective overseer able to spot danger from miles away. That higher ground for the watchman is the high and holy hill of the Word of God.
A word of warning – the church is not to give “blind” allegiance to pastors – they are to search the Scriptures to see whether or not what they are teaching is so and devote themselves to that teaching respecting and obeying their leaders. But on the other hand the church is not to rebel against pastoral leadership with the attitude of “equality of ability.” In other words it is the attitude of “we’re all Christians and we can all see for ourselves so we don’t need an overseer and if you think that we do then you are exalting yourself above the assembly of the Lord. This is one of the marks of ungodly, unregenerate, counterfeit-Christians (see Numbers 16:1-3 and Jude 11-16).
The true pastor doesn’t make himself an overseer – he is chosen and made an overseer by the Holy Spirit (28b) and to rebel against that is to rebel against, despise, and reject God-given and God-established authority.
The watchman is not only to guard by being an overseer, he is also to guard by being a shepherd/pastor (28c). One of the primary tasks of shepherds is that of feeding the sheep. The sheep must be fed good food and kept from both poisonous weeds and barren fields. In order to feed the sheep the shepherd must lead the sheep to green pastures. This brings us all the way back to the watchman’s responsibility to be in right relationship with God. The pastor is the under-shepherd who is to walk closely with the Great-Shepherd who will lead him and the rest of the sheep into green pastures and beside still waters. The church of God is not led to green pastures through topical, self-help, meet-your-needs sermons and “good ole boy stories”. Those are barren fields and poisonous weeds fit only for goats.
Notice how important the task of being a faithful watchman is – the watchman is made overseer by the Holy Spirit to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood! The church of God is made up of people who are not their own but have been bought with a price and is to be pure and holy and healthy for God and His glory!
The faithful watchman guards against dangers from the outside (Acts 20:29). This is one reason he is called watchman, overseer, shepherd – he takes his stand on higher ground and watches for dangerous intruders. Savage wolves are false teachers and false prophets – Jesus said, “Beware of the false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15).
It is even more difficult today for pastors to guard against savage wolves because their false teachings are televised, published, marketed, and spread through all sorts of media. And even so there is the danger of people coming in from the outside into positions of leadership who are actually false teachers. Let a pastor be motivated by his desire to “grow the church” rather than the command to “guard the church” and he will soon open the door for false teachers to come in. The faithful watchman will not allow false teachers with their destructive heresies unguarded entrance among God’s people.
The faithful watchman guards against dangers from the inside (Acts 20:30). This is probably the hardest to accept – that from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Perverse means to distort or twist. False teachers twist God’s Word and try to get others to follow them and “their way of seeing things.” Not only do those who pose dangers from the outside need to be marked out but also those who pose dangers from the inside. In 1 Timothy 1:18-20, Paul writing to Timothy who was the pastor at Ephesus marked out two men who had risen from among them and were speaking perverse things calling them by name.
The faithful watchman watches or is alert all the time (Acts 20:31) – he must guard against dangers from the outside and from the inside and it is a night and day responsibility. “I passed by the field of the sluggard and by the vineyard of the man lacking sense, and behold, it was completely overgrown with thistles; its surface was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down. When I say, I reflected upon it; I looked, and received instruction. ‘A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest,’ then your poverty will come as a robber and your want like an armed man” (Proverbs 24:30-34). The faithful watchman cannot afford to sleep or slumber – he must be alert all the time.
The faithful watchman warns/admonishes (31b) – admonish refers to giving counsel with a warning involved. The pattern of Paul’s ministry shows the importance of warning believers about false teachers. He admonished the Ephesians night and day for a period of three years with tears. This passage highlights the importance of warning believers about false teachers. 1 Timothy 4:6 refers back to the first five verses which speaks of the deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons that the false teachers would use to deceive men and verse six says, “In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following."
He is no faithful watchman or good servant of Christ Jesus who does not warn against false teachers and their teachings. Unfortunately there are many unfaithful watchmen today who are asleep at their post and false teachers with their destructive heresies have unguarded entrance and access among God’s people.
Friday, June 6, 2008
Our culture has taught us that for mankind "all things are possible." So the thought that there is nothing we can do to get right with God seems wrong to us. The truth that we need the grace of God without any of our own efforts (see Ephesians 2:8-9), that God would dare help those who cannot help themselves, is the true and biblical teaching on the spiritual inability of man and is rejected by the mind set on the flesh.
Here is a very powerful sermon entitled God Helps Those Who Cannot Help Themselves and was preached by pastor Jeff Noblit at a Deacon's retreat. It is well worth the time necessary to listen.
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
Is there a spiritual famine in the land? Respected Christian leaders say yes! In his book, Famine in the Land, Steven J. Lawson sets forth the thesis that we are in days of drought when it comes to true preaching, biblical preaching, expository preaching and that this is the greatest need in this critical hour. While Lawson deals with a more thorough examination of the present day problem in his book, I want to address one main aspect lacking in today's modern and popular style of preaching - namely that true preaching is confrontational.
First we should look at what is actually happening in many pulpits today. Steven Lawson says, "Tragically, most of what passes for biblical preaching today falls woefully short of apostolic standards. Many pastors seem content to dole out pabulum to spiritual babies instead of teaching the full counsel of God. Many evangelical ministers have succumbed to delivering secular-sounding, motivational pep talks aimed at soothing the felt needs of restless church shoppers or, worse, salving the guilty consciences of unregenerate church members. Rather than expounding the depths of God's Word, many Bible-believing ministers have chosen the path of least resistance, content to scratch the surface of shallow souls and tickle the ears of languid listeners. The result is congregations are starving - even though many of the famished may not be aware of it - settling for sickly sweet, yet totally inadequate, spiritual pabulum" (pg. 38).
True preaching however is confrontational, calling for repentance, commanding a life-adjustment to truth, and seeking the transformation of the mind, heart, and soul of the listener. Confrontational preaching has always marked the proclamation of God's men down through the ages. "Noah's message from the steps going up to the Ark was not 'Something good is going to happen to you!' Amos was not confronted by the high priest of Israel for proclaiming, 'Confession is possession!' Jeremiah was not put into the pit for preaching, 'I'm O.K., you're O.K.' Daniel was not put into the lion's den for telling people, 'Possibility thinking will move mountains!' John the Baptist was not forced to preach in the wilderness and eventually beheaded because he preached, 'Smile, God loves you!' The two prophets of tribulation will not be killed for preaching, 'God is in his heaven and all is right with the world!'" (pg. 67)
Lawson continues, "Pastors who are committed to biblical exposition must have a confrontive element in their preaching if they are to emulate the prophets and apostles. Regrettably, this kind of reproof and rebuke is often missing from present-day preaching. Pastor Adrian Rogers calls for boldness in proclaiming God's truth by stating, 'It is better to be divided by truth than to be united in error. It is better to speak the truth that hurts and then heals, than falsehood that comforts and then kills. It is not love and it is not friendship if we fail to declare the whole counsel of God'" (pg. 68).