Friday, November 21, 2008

The Contemporary Relevance of God's Word

Many in our day believe that the Bible, God's Word, has to be "made" relevant to today's cultures and societies. However, in the attempt to "make" God's Word relevant the final outcome is twisted Scripture, twisted meaning, and therefore twisted application. The great news is that God's ministers only need to be faithful in accurately handling the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15) and it will be relevant because it is the eternal contemporary (1 Peter 1:23-25).

One example of just exactly what I am talking about is clearly seen in this blog which I read this morning and this blog which I posted last week which defines the characteristics of the heretic and apostate Ralph Waldo Emerson of the 19th century and still has perfect and piercing application to the heretics and apostates of the 21st century.

I'll give a few quotes from both blogs in order to show this wonderful truth about the accuracy and reliability of God's Word.

More to the point, Emerson had ignited an intellectual explosion the year
before, when he was asked to deliver the annual lecture to the Phi Beta Kappa
Society at Harvard. That address, "The American Scholar," was widely understood
to represent a declaration of independence for American intellectuals. No longer
should American thinkers be slavishly dependent upon European patterns, Emerson
declared. This was the time for the emergence of the American Scholar, a new and
advanced form of the human thinker; a scholar who would "plant himself
indomitably on his
" and refuse to be "timid, imitative, tame." A year later, Emerson rose to deliver his address to the Divinity School. Speaking to
young men studying for the ministry, Emerson repudiated Christianity and called
the young ministers to trust their own spiritual instincts and to free
themselves from the Bible, from belief in a divine Christ, and from any remnant of orthodox Christianity
(source, emphasis mine).

A fifth characteristic of these people is that they are instinctive in
their actions
– “…and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning
…” (10b). These people are not motivated by the Word of God (inspiration) but by their instincts for accomplishing their agenda. These people operate by the flesh and not by faith. Their way seems right but it ends in death. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. They think that they are promoting themselves and that God is pleased with them forgetting that those who are in the flesh cannot please God. God is never pleased when people attempt to do His will their way. It is a dangerous thing to operate by instinct rather
than inspiration. These people are instinctive in their actions (source, emphasis mine).

Do you see the relevance of God's Word without having to "make" it relevant?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Truth Pastors Need to Know! (Part 2)...the root of the problem

In my first post on this subject we looked at the truth that in most churches the people are unrestrained because of no revelation (Proverbs 29:18). This implies the great need for systematic exposition of the Scriptures in order to bring the church under the guidelines of God as revealed in His Word. Preaching expository sermons systematically through books of the Bible will yield great benefits both for the pastor and his congregation. In the book, Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea for Preaching, Derek Thomas in his chapter, Expository Preaching: Keeping Your Eye on the Text, wrote, “History reveals that the benefits of the lectio continua method of preaching are considerable and essential in eras of biblical illiteracy” (Soli Deo Gloria Publications, Morgan PA, 2002, page 67). As Proverbs 29:18 says, “But blessed is he who keeps the law” implying the great benefits that come from knowing God’s guidelines and abiding by them.

Now the question must be asked: how or why did most churches get unrestrained; how or why did they get out of control? The answer to this question will give us a clearer understanding of the root of the problem facing today’s churches.

It seems obvious to me that the fault needs to be put squarely on the shoulders of those in leadership. The people are unrestrained and get out of control when there is no restraint because of poor leadership (Exodus 32:1-28).

The people get out of control because of poor leadership who operate under the fear of man rather than fear of God (1-6, 25). Here we see that Aaron succumbed to the wishes of the people (1-2), allowed and led them into idolatry (3-6), and let them out of control (25). Instead of caving in to the pressures of the people and giving them what they wanted, Aaron should have reminded them of God’s revelation of Himself and His guidelines. Churches get out of control because of poor and timid leadership who refuse to confront the people with God’s revelation of His guidelines.

The people and the leadership are responsible for their sin (7-10, 21). Not only do we read that the people are held responsible for their sin when they demand things to be done their way (7-10), we also read that the leadership is responsible for their sin of allowing the people to get out of control (21). When the people will not endure sound doctrine but want to have their ears tickled so that they can be unrestrained, we are not to be teachers in accordance to their desires but are to preach the word of God and operate under the fear of the Lord and not the fear of man (2 Timothy 4:1-5). God will hold both the people and the leaders responsible for their sin!

The leadership is responsible to keep the people under control (21, 25). God will hold the leadership to a higher standard of judgment (James 3:1). No leadership or poor leadership results in anarchy with the people being out of control doing that which is right in their own eyes. God has designed not only the church but also the family and society to have leadership. Those who are given the responsibility of leadership are to lead according to God’s guidelines both guiding and guarding those for whom they are responsible. Bad leadership makes for a bad church, a bad family, or a bad society. As goes the leadership so goes the people and God hold both responsible (Hosea 4:9).

Bold leadership needs to take immediate disciplinary actions (19-28). When the people are out of control because of poor leadership, bold leadership needs to step in and bring corrective disciplinary actions to bring the people back under control. Any unrestrained people are a derision to their enemies (25) and are subject to God’s anger and wrath (9-10). The disciplinary actions necessary may seem harsh (19-20, 26-28) but are totally necessary to restore restraint.

Corrective discipline will restore restraint but will bring death and division (26-28). This is a price that bold leadership must be willing to pay in order to bring those out of control back under control. We must remember that God isn’t interested in quantity unless it has quality. God isn’t interested in bigger churches unless they are better churches. In order to purify God will prune (John 15:1-6) and purge (Acts 5:1-13) and then His quantity will have the quality that He desires (John 15:8 and Acts 5:14).

Pastor, are you willing to do God’s work God’s way using God’s word to restore restraint and keep the people under control?

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Truth Pastors Need to Know! (Part 1)

The truth pastors need to know about the serious situation of today's churches and the solution for her maladies is a subject that God has given me the desire to write about and possibly even publish in either book or booklet form in order to help equip and encourage those who find themselves desiring to see the church function as God designed and yet finding themselves in a major battle to bring it about. While I am no expert on the subject, God has graciously given me the opportunity to be involved in studying His Word and applying it in the context of the local church where I pastor. God has graciously shown me the serious situation that many of today's churches are in and the solution for her maladies.

I also want to say upfront that turning a church around so that it begins to function as God designed it is a long and difficult process. There are no "magic-bullets" (magic sermons) that will cure the church's maladies overnight. However, a steady diet of good, solid, systematic expositional preaching will, over the long-haul, cure the church of her maladies and equip the saints for the work of ministry.

My desire is to inform the God-called pastor from God's Word what the root of the problem is and what he should expect both positively and negatively as he begins to lead the church to function as God designed.

In this post and possibly the next several posts I want to deal with the root of the problem before we move on to dealing with what to expect as we begin to deal with the problems.

First, in most churches the people are unrestrained because of no revelation (Proverbs 29:18). Most of us are familiar with this passage of Scripture and know it to say, "Where there is no vision the people perish; but he that keepeth the law, happy is he." It is by misinterpreting this verse that many pastors have been taught that it is their responsibility to create and cast a vision for their churches. They have been taught to formulate a plan to grow the church and then stategize how to fulfill it while bringing as many along in their vision as possible. However, this isn't true to Scripture and never will be. We are never given the liberty or the luxury to lean on our own understanding and attempt to do God's will our way. On the contrary we are to "trust the Lord with all our hearts and lean not on our own understanding" (Proverbs 3:5). Even the passage we have under consideration doesn't give us the right to come up with a vision for the church. The text literally says, "Where there is no revelation the people are unrestrained." You could interpret it like this, "Where there is no word from God the people do that which is right in their own eyes and get out of control." So you can see how it is possible for many churches to be out of line with God's guidelines for how the church is to function - and that even with a "vision."

This means that there is a great need for systematic exposition - "Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint" (Proverbs 29:18a ESV). Preaching straight through books of the Bible has been a very profitable and rewarding experience for me and my congregation. God will to purge and purify His church through His Word being preached in a systematic fashion. He will bring order out of chaos and bring the people under control by instructing and restraining them through His Word. It is through doing systematic exposition of God's Word that we truly learn how the church is to function and also guard against taking passages out of context and twisting the meaning. Systematic exposition of God's Word is part of the solution for curing the maladies of the church.

There is also a great need for and great reward in abiding by God's guidelines - "but blessed is he who keeps the law" (Proverbs 29:18b ESV). Those who obey God's Word find themselves blessed because they are doers of the Word and not hearers only. God is the creator and designer. When we function as He created and designed then we function properly and this brings Him glory. So the two go hand in hand - systematic exposition of God's Word and obedience to His commands. Any church that would dare trust God and do church His way will find itself the recipient of God's blessings. That doesn't necessarily mean a bigger church but it does mean a better church!

Monday, November 10, 2008

These People - Woe to Them!

God’s Word is truth and it must be because He is truth and He only speaks truth. Therefore what God has to say on any subject is true and we are not left to ourselves to determine what is and what is not true. Since it is the Word of God which is the standard of measure for determining truth we must go to it and hold every truth claim up against God’s Word to see whether or not it really is true. God’s Word is our only trustworthy standard of judgment. Not only does God’s Word tell us the truth of who God is but it also tells us the truth of who we are and whether or not we have become His children or are still His enemies. It is the Word of God alone that tells us who are the children of God and who are the children of the devil.

Since the Word of God is truth it gives an accurate portrait or portrayal of those whom it describes. Therefore God’s Word serves as a mirror or even x-ray which accurately reflects or reveals the inner character traits of each person. I like the way that Warren Wiersbe put it, “God’s Word doesn’t show me my baldness but my badness.” It is possible for men to appear on the outside to be all pious and pure but on the inside to be full of dead men’s bones. It is possible for men to appear on the outside to be all righteous but on the inside to be all rotten.

In Jude verse four, Jude introduces us to some very dangerous people who may appear to be all righteous on the outside but are completely rotten on the inside. In verse four Jude tells us that these dangerous apostates are insidious (stealthy, treacherous, or deceitful) in their activity – “For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”

In verses five through seven Jude gave three biblical and historical examples of the certainty of God’s judgment on apostates. In verses eight through nineteen Jude gave a portrait of apostates which accurately reflects and reveals their inner character traits. In these twelve verses (8-19) Jude referred to the apostates of verse four as “these men” or “these” six times.

Let us consider from the Word of God the portrait of “these people” and the reasons for their woe.

To begin with Jude says of these certain persons in verse four that they are insidious in their activity. They are stealthy, treacherous and deceitful. These people are a great danger to the church of God and His truth that they are to proclaim and uphold. They are workers of iniquity twisting the meaning of God’s Word and God’s grace. And now in verses 8-10 Jude begins to give the full portrait of these people who are insidious in their activity.

The first characteristic that Jude gives is that these people are insatiable in their ambition – “Yet in the same way, these men, also by dreaming…” (8a). These persons are not content with their lot; they are not satisfied with their positions until they achieve their dreams. They believe that they are the answer to the problems of God’s church and that if God would turn them loose they could show everyone how church is supposed to be done. These people live in a dream-world of unreality and delusion. They overestimate their own importance and are not satisfied when others don’t recognize their abilities and their supposed rights to be in some position of leadership.

Jude put it this way in verse 16 – “These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts….” “Grumblers” is “murmurers” and it is one who discontentedly complains against God. It refers, not to a loud, outspoken dissatisfaction, but an undertone muttering. “Finding fault” here means “blamers of their lot, complaining of one’s position, discontented with their position.” We will talk more about this when we get to the apostates’ engagement in the rebellion of Korah. “Following after their own lusts” shows us that these people are dreamers who do not abide in or by the Word of God. They have a vision for the church that includes them in positions of prominence but that vision is not based on God’s divine revelation as found in His Word. These people are insatiable in their ambition.

The second characteristic of these people is they are insanitary in their audacity – “Yet in the same way these men, also by dreaming, defile the flesh…” (8b). Insanitary means unclean or likely to cause disease. Audacity means boldness or daring, especially with confident or arrogant disregard for personal safety. These people have an unholy boldness. They have the nerve to disobey God’s divine revelation and act as though God doesn’t mind. They believe that their agenda is God’s agenda and that their happiness is God’s concern. They live to satisfy their lusts both for their positions of leadership and their personal happiness. Peter in 2 Peter 2:10 said that they are “daring, self-willed.” They have the boldness to turn God’s grace into licentiousness and say things that are an outright denial of the will, way, and Word of God. For instance, Ray Boltz, who divorced his wife a couple of years ago and is now an out of the closet homosexual said, “This is what it really comes down to, if this is the way God made me, then this is the way I’m going to live. It’s not like God made me this way and he’ll send me to hell if I am who he created me to be … I really feel closer to God because I no longer hate myself.” Isn’t that daring and self-willed and an outright denial of the will, way and Word of God? These people have an unholy boldness and are insanitary in their audacity.

The third characteristic of these people is that they are insubordinate to authority – “…and reject authority…” (8c). Doesn’t it make sense that if a person is insatiable in his ambition and insanitary in his audacity that he will be insubordinate to authority? The dissatisfied, scheming, daring, and self-willed person isn’t for a minute going to subject himself to the law of God. “For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile towards God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:6-8). Apostates recoil against the boundaries that would keep them in their God appointed place. These people don’t want to be under authority – they want to do things their way and not God’s way. When you see a person who despises and rejects authority, especially in the church, you are looking at an apostate. When someone is in a position of leadership in the church and will not be subject to God’s ordained and called leadership with his or her ministry, you can mark it down, he or she is rebellious and despises and rejects authority. If you have the attitude that I don’t need and don’t desire the oversight of the preacher and the church leaders in my ministry then you fit the portrait of “these people” who are apostates headed for destruction. Let me ask some questions: who structured the government and function of the church? Who designed the church to be led by scripturally qualified men? Who calls those men to that responsibility? The answer is the Lord! Now let me ask another question: if someone rejects and despises that leadership, who are they rejecting and despising? The answer is the Lord! These people are insubordinate to authority.

A fourth characteristic of these people is that they are insolent in their arrogance – “…and revile angelic majesties” (8d). Insolent means boldly rude or disrespectful. Again look at the logical sequence in their downhill plunge to destruction – the person who is insatiable in his ambition, insanitary in his audacity, and insubordinate to authority, will be insolent in his arrogance. Here the example of the archangel Michael disputing with the devil is given as to how those who belong to God are not insolent in arrogance (9). “But these men revile the things which they do not understand…” (10a). These men revile God’s ministers. This is what Korah and his bunch did to Moses in the book of Numbers. They rejected the authority that God gave Moses and accused him of taking that authority to himself and lording it over the people. Arrogant speech is a dangerous thing and so is despising that authority that God has established. Look out when you see someone who is arrogantly rebuking the devil or arrogantly disrespecting the authority that God has established. These people are insolent in their arrogance.

A fifth characteristic of these people is that they are instinctive in their actions – “…and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals…” (10b). These people are not motivated by the Word of God (inspiration) but by their instincts for accomplishing their agenda. These people operate by the flesh and not by faith. Their way seems right but it ends in death. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. They think that they are promoting themselves and that God is pleased with them forgetting that those who are in the flesh cannot please God. God is never pleased when people attempt to do His will their way. It is a dangerous thing to operate by instinct rather than inspiration. These people are instinctive in their actions.

A sixth and final characteristic of these people in these verses is that they are insensible to their apostasy – “…by these things they are destroyed” (10c). It should be obvious to anyone who is marked by the first five characteristics of these people that they are in grave danger and that they are apostates and children of the devil. But not these people – you can show this to them as clear as day from God’s Word and they will be insensible to their apostasy. They will not be able to feel or fear the danger that they are in. These people are insensible to their apostasy. And no wonder – look at verse four.

Monday, November 3, 2008

A Good Soldier of Christ Jesus...Ordination Service for Johnny Johnson

Being ordained into the gospel ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ is both a great privilege and great responsibility. It is a great privilege in that the Lord Himself is the one who chooses and calls according to His own purpose and grace. It is a great responsibility in that the Lord requires certain character qualifications for a man to be considered eligible to hold the office of pastor or elder and the Lord Himself will hold each teacher of God’s holy Word to a higher standard of judgment.

I pity the man who has run to obtain this office but hasn’t been either called by God or sent by God. I also pity the man who thinks that being a pastor will be easy and that professed believers will automatically love him. Being a pastor entails many serious responsibilities. The pastor must feed God’s people, lead God’s people, discipline God’s people, and guard God’s people. The pastor is to be a good soldier of Christ Jesus especially as it pertains to his responsibilities of guarding the faith and guarding the flock, both of which require warring against the enemies of God’s people.

First and Second Timothy and Titus are pastoral letters. In other words they are God’s divinely inspired accounts of what He expects of pastors and therefore what His church is to expect of their pastors. In 2 Timothy 2:1-7 we see seven aspects of how God expects the pastor to be a good soldier of Christ Jesus.

A good soldier of Christ Jesus is to be strong in grace (1) – “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” Johnny, you are to be strengthened inwardly in order to accomplish the ministry that the Lord has called you to. He is not calling you to be popular but to be His spokesman and you will find your strength to do that in His grace. The ministry is no place for cowards who operate under the fear of man rather than the fear of God. You will be called on by the Lord to speak His truth no matter the consequences. God labors with you through His grace and His grace is sufficient. If everyone else deserts you He will stand with you and strengthen you. The ability to study, understand, and teach the Word of God is a gift of God’s grace. “Able to teach” is one of God’s requirements for the pastor (1Timothy 3:2) and in order to teach you must be able to learn and to be able to learn you must study God’s Word. It is through studying the Word of God that you learn the great doctrines of grace and guard against teaching and preaching some form of perversion of God’s grace. Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.

A good soldier of Christ Jesus is to be sound in doctrine (2) – “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” Paul had delivered the sound doctrine with which he was entrusted to Timothy and expected Timothy to guard and deliver sound doctrine to others who would be trustworthy in delivering it on to others. It is our responsibility to guard the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints and then invest it as a trust in the lives of others who will do the same with others. It is important as a pastor that you get what you preach from the Word of God and not from the ideas and philosophies of men. You are not to attempt to be relevant by speaking as from the world – this is a primary mark of the many false prophets – but you are to preach the Word because it is relevant to every generation in every culture and it is sufficient – it is enough! Be sound in doctrine!

A good soldier of Christ Jesus is to be shameless in suffering (3) – “Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” Ours is a day of upside down theology. The false gospel of health, wealth, and prosperity has been so incorporated into modern theology until the man of God who suffers for the sake of righteousness is considered an ungodly heretic and ungodly heretics who are popular, powerful, rich, and highly influential are well spoken of. You will not be popular if you are God’s spokesman but you will be persecuted for it. However, you will find yourself in good company when this happens. This happened to the prophets, to the apostles, and even to our Lord Jesus Christ. Now you see why you are to be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. As you are sound in doctrine you will be persecuted and spoken evil of for the sake of righteousness but the Lord’s grace will allow you to be shameless in suffering. Paul told Timothy, “Do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God.” Be shameless in suffering!

A good soldier of Christ Jesus is to be separated in service (4a) – “No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life….” Johnny, the Lord is calling you into active service as His soldier. The worries of the world are not to be your concern but the war of the Lord is to be. You must not get distracted by that which is really insignificant. The Lord hasn’t called you to fight the world’s global giants and He hasn’t called you to be the prince of P.E.A.C.E. Curing AIDS or solving world hunger or educating the poor or any other socialist activity is not your calling. Men can receive these benefits and still die and go to hell without Christ as their King. Your calling is to stand against the schemes of the devil and battle against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. You are to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints and destroy speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God. Only the truth of the gospel is significant for it alone is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes. Leave the other stuff to men like Rick Warren – you preach the gospel and do not be entangled in the affairs of everyday life. Be separated in service!

A good soldier of Christ Jesus is to be singular in devotion (4b) – “…so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.” You are to please the Lord and not yourself or anyone else. What does it matter if you please yourself or everyone else and the Lord is not pleased? The Lord deserves your honor, your affection, and your obedience for all He has done for you. His own courage and singular devotion on the battlefield is unparalleled. He stayed the course and went before you to win your freedom and eternal life. Just as Jesus was singularly devoted to His Father’s will so you are to be singularly devoted to the will of Jesus Christ. Your greatest desire should be to hear your King say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” And He will if you always seek to please Him and Him alone. Every time you preach you are to remember whose presence you are in and for whom you speak. Paul told Timothy, “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:1-2). Wanting to please the Lord Jesus Christ will set you free from worrying about what others think of your or the message. Be singular in devotion!

A good soldier of Christ Jesus is to be sensitive to the rules (5) – “Also if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules.” Regardless of what popular men may say you are not to discover the purpose of God and then strategize how to fulfill it. You do not have either the ability or the luxury of leaning on your own understanding when it comes to doing the will of God. The will of God has to be done the way of God or else you have violated the rules. The false prophets are marked by attempting to do God’s will their way instead of His way. Jesus will say to them on that day, “Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness,” because they do not do the will of His Father who is in heaven. In Matthew 7 it is as clear as day that the false prophets attempted to do ministry in the name of the Lord Jesus but they were not sensitive to the rules. Rather, they leaned on their own understanding and took shortcuts. There are no shortcuts to doing the will of God. Shortcuts are not according to the rules. Even the Lord Jesus said that He did nothing on His own initiative – and you are not to do it either. God’s word is sufficient and He will show you His ways so that you can accomplish His will. Be sensitive to the rules!

A good soldier of Christ Jesus is to be steadfast in labor (6) – “The hard-working farmer ought to be the first to receive his share of the crops.” The word “hard-working” comes from a Greek word that means to toil intensely, to sweat and strain to the point of exhaustion. Let no man deceive you – the ministry isn’t a playground it is a battleground. The farmer knows that farming isn’t a playground but it is a battleground. A farmer has to work and he has to stay hard at it. If you leave a field to itself it will produce mostly weeds. If you leave the church unattended it will produce weeds that will eventually overtake the wheat. Without being steadfast in labor there will be no harvest of righteousness. Just like the farmer you must be patient, continually working and weeding, waiting for the harvest. The spiritual growth of the people of God takes time and hard-work. We live in a day of instant everything. Men want instant rewards without the hard-work. Do the hard-work – you will receive the reward – not only of seeing God’s children grow in grace but also of hearing the Lord say, “Well done!” Be steadfast in labor!

Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (7).