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Saturday, August 30, 2008

"I believe in God or a higher being, not the bible."

A friend of mine received the following in her e-mail. Below is my response:

"Well I believe in God or a higher being, not the bible. Theres proof that its been tampered with, stories were falsified. Also, it's a bit fishy how after Jesus's death he was just referred to as a intelligant mortal man, until about 1,500 years later when it was recorded. The Christian bible is based on Pagan beliefs. Most of the devil's charateristics are Pagen, to twist peoples minds into their believe. Pagen harvest fork for cultivation? The Devil's pitchfork. When the Roman's came wanted people to switch religion's they morphed their beliefs to be bad. Also their's proof in Medival Time's when the power struggle between the Church and the Monarchy, the church used God to their advantage to gain power. Ultimently creating false idea's to gain popularity. I do believe in a high power, and in some aspect I do believe the Bible should be there, it creates some order in a crazy society."

I can understand how you would come to the conclusion that you have reached; however, please consider the following:

The Bible has not been tampered with. God has preserved His Word. In the spring of 1947, the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. These manuscripts were copies of large portions of the Old Testament, a thousand years older than any other existing copies. Study of the scrolls has revealed that the Bible hasn't changed in content down through the ages as many skeptics had surmised.

Anyone can now obtain access to computer programs that give the original Hebrew and Greek words, and the only "changes" have been made for clarity. For example, the old English translation of 2 Corinthians 12:8 is "For this thing I besought the Lord thrice ...," while a contemporary translation is "Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times..."

How is this a reason to dismiss the Bible? I say this for illustration only, so please don't take this the wrong way: one has more reason to dismiss your reply based on the number of misspellings than dismiss the Bible over editorial updates for clarity ("intelligant," "pagen," and "Medival" are misspelled).

You said "Jesus was referred to as an intelligent mortal man until 1500 years after it was recorded." Please explain what you mean. Besides, how is that a reason to disbelieve the Bible? Is this a false statement?

Next, you said that the Bible is based on pagan beliefs. How does one explain the fact that the Bible actually confronts paganism from the very beginning (all things in nature are not to be worshipped because they were created by the True and Living God), thus proving that biblical concerns existed long before paganism was formed as a rebellion against the Creator?

The Bible never says the devil carries a pitchfork. Nor does it say that the devil is red, has cloven hooves, rules over hell or any such thing. The Bible clearly describes Satan as one who disguises himself as an angel of light, that he prowls about like a lion, seeking whom he may devour. Hell was created for the destruction of the devil and his angels. This is no reason to dismiss the Bible but to dismiss tradition. The Romans did not care about who people worshipped.

It is true concerning the power struggle between the church and the monarchy. What about the persecution of those who believed the Bible during those times? The Church made many official statements and persecuted Bible believers, only to retract their statements when the Bible was confirmed by science . . .

If the Bible brings order to a crazy society, doesn’t it deserve a closer look as to HOW that happens?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Happy Accidents

When the cowboy applied for health insurance, the agent asked his routine questions about previous accidents--had he had any? The cowboy replied, "No, sir. Last year I was bitten by a rattlesnake, and a horse kicked me in the ribs. That laid me up for a while."

The agent said, "Weren't those accidents?"

"Nope," replied the cowboy. "They did it on purpose."

The cowboy knew, perhaps, that where God is in control, there are no such thing as "accidents."

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Authority of the Bible in Preaching


"'What scripture says, that's it!' We need to return to that in our preaching. Every preacher ought to close his message by saying, in effect, what Walter Cronkite says [sic] at the end of every broadcast: 'That's the way it is, this Sunday, January 18, 1976.'"

Ray Stedman, "Total Wipeout," Sermon on Romans 3:1-20

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Warning: Construction site ahead

Yesterday while driving through downtown I experienced two of many major construction projects going on simultaneously in our multiple downtown streets. One cannot drive too far in any direction without having to merge two, sometimes three lanes into one lane in order to avoid dropping down a deep hole carved out by some back-hoe surrounded by nearly a dozen helmeted orange-vesters, all gazing down at the guy at the bottom of the hole doing whatever it is he does down there.

1000 feet before each construction site, orange signs flash the warning that construction lies ahead, and another sign indicates that traffic will merge from three lanes, or two lanes into one lane. Some people move to the new lane, while others speed along trying to get as far as they can before having to merge—and this is the lane that usually backs traffic up. All those who passed the 500 foot mark, the 250 foot mark, the 100 foot mark still travel right up against the cones, not bothering to change lanes, are now creating a bottle-neck that causes frustration for themselves. Others who heeded the warning much earlier are in the right place and must give way to those who waited.

Every once in a while, somebody thinks he does not have to obey the warnings. He travels along in his lane to the point that the cones in his lane force him to move over, or else he will break through and drive right into the construction site. Since that’s been done too many times before (much to the consternation of the guy standing in the bottom of the hole), trucks with flashing arrows now park between the site and the traffic that should merge.

I watched this guy in a pickup truck stay in the right-hand lane until he could go no further. More than 100 feet before the final merge, I backed off more than two car lengths for him to move over. He refused. He drove right up against the cones until he realized that he was not going to get around the large orange truck parked in his way, the large orange light flashing for him to move left, the sign showing him to move from the right lane into the left lane.

I wondered if he was going to show the cones (and the truck) who was boss.

I wondered if he was telling himself “I am the road, and there ain’t no holes in me!”

All I could do was shake my head in wonder as he finally realized that he was not going to get his way, and he finally merged to the left, a cone brushing the front fender of his truck.

I can only imagine what would have happened if he continued in his own way, if he had not changed his mind . . . what a disaster.

It was not until after the event that I realized I could have filmed the whole thing on my cell phone . . .

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The "Salad Bar" approach

Does anyone know who made this statement?

"When you go out for a meal served as a buffet you're given the invitation to serve yourself, perhaps a salad. There's quite a range of dishes to choose from according to your taste. There's quite a range of dishes to choose from according to your taste. This is fine for eating but it doesn't work in Christian terms. One of the reasons why there's spiritual poverty is that believers have taken the 'salad bar' approach to scripture. Can we really pick the teachings we're comfortable with and ignore the rest? The answer, of course, is 'no.' When we take the 'salad bar' approach to scripture to justify your own prejudices or personal comfort, the result is a stunted spiritual life."

Monday, August 25, 2008

Happy

What is "happy"? As I've been examining my heart concerning some weighty matters, I found myself asking this question (perhaps too deeply, some might suggest) when I first inquired concerning my personal happiness. Where is the best place to look for a meaning of the word "happy?" Philosophy, psychology, biology, religion? My grandmother taught me to begin with a dictionary, so to this we will go.

"Happy" is an adjective. Remember: adjectives are words that are used to describe (insert Schoolhouse Rock song here). The root word, "hap" can be a noun or a verb. Old Middle English definitions include "luck, chance, fit [as in "appropriate" or "convenient"], victory." More commonly "hap" can be understood to mean, "an occurence, accident" (older generations used to refer to "happy accidents," which suggests a redudancy for the sake of emphasis). The root word ("hap") is not a word we use often in itself, but we do use it as in "happen" and "haphazard".

So what is meant when we consider "happy" or "happiness?" The range of meaning may include the following: good(ness); flourishing; well-being; pleasure; freedom from suffering and/or craving (Buddhist); practice of virtue (Aristotle); filicity in divine essence (Aquinas?); positive emotions and activities (philosophy); sense and expression of humor; aesthetic appreciation; a balanced neurobiological system (biology); a balance of inner energy; minimal hypertension; high morale; a warm blanket (psychology).

While these may be notable suggestions, most all presuppose the absence of pain; in other words, these suggestions presume there is no bad; there is growth with no growing pain; only health; "warm fuzzies"; no struggle, etc. I suggest these offerings are cheap, shallow as they are euphoric, etherial, fantastic. The attitude has become that happiness is something owed, we deserve it as a right.

I contend we get a better understanding of what "happiness" is when we consider the Hebrew word "asher" as it carries a range of meaning that includes, "to go straight, walk, go on, advance, make progress, advance, to set right, righten." This suggests the picture of one who is hiking, trudging, sweating, moving, pushing, heaving. Imagine a hiker on his way to the top, where once arrived he can catch his breath while soaking in the view, the exhilliarating reward of having worked and arrived. One can only smile, hands on hips, blood pumping, chest thumping. The first set of suggested meanings imply one is already at the peak. This fellow only arrived by helicopter or perhaps on the back of some other laborer. Crucial elements of the journey are missing--can one really appreciate the view having not worked for it? What did they hear, taste, see, smell on the journey? The one who rides (as it were) does not have the same experience as one who has persevered his way there.

Consider further: "to set right, righten" implies correction. A leaning post is now made to stand upright. Cut roses rejuvinate with ice water. Wilted flowers are revived with fertilizer. This is the essence of "happiness," and a level of work is involved--it does not come by default. Happiness is not inward focused, but outward; that is, happiness does not come from selfish motivation for selfish means, but in the context of relationships. One who is happy does not react to the world around it, but tries to change it:

The people were happy because the LORD was happy (2 Chron 7, note v. 10);
The one who receives discipline and is corrected is happy (Job 5:17);
The fruit of the hands (hard work) makes one happy (Psalm 128:2);
The one who finds wisdom and gains understanding lays hold of happiness (Proverbs 3:18);
Happy ones give (Prov. 4:21);
Happy live under constraint, demonstrating love for others (Prov. 29:18);
The happy life is characterized by righteousness (Ecclesiastes 3);
The unhappy life is characterized by unrighteousness (Ecclesiastes 4);
Happiness does not depend on outward circumstances, but wisdom considers the work of God (Ecclesiastes 7);
The herald of good news makes one happy (no matter what others think) (Jeremiah 20:15);
Inordinate happiness withers quickly (Jonah 4:5-11);
What is acceptable to God should bring one happiness (Romans 14:16-23).

A thought in closing:

Once it was recorded that Beverly Hills, California was the ideal place to live. Cool ocean breezes keep the temperatures down in summer and winters are mild. Today one will find in this paradise of wealth and fame the "gods" of Americans, American's Idols. But Beverly Hills averages at least one psychiatrist for every resident. Does this suggest these people are "happy" or mentally ill? Also, there are nearly as many divorce and business lawyers. Does this suggest these people are happy as gods, or are only people with more problems than the rest?

Why are we so eager to rebuild Beverly Hills in our own towns, or at least in our own Extremely-madeover back yards?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Quoting from the Bible

Didja hear the one about the two lawyers? One thought he would make an impression on the jury by quoting from the Bible. He said (concering his oponent's client), "we have it on the highest authority that it has been said, 'All that a man has will he give for his skin.'

The other lawyer, who knew his Bible, replied, "I am very much impressed by the fact that my distinguished colleague here regards as the highest authority the one who said, 'All that a man has will he given for his skin.' You will find this saying comes from the book of Job, and the one who utters it is the devil. And that is who he regards as the highest authority!"

Friday, August 22, 2008

thinking about: Luke 14:25-33

"Now large crowds were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them, 'If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, "This man began to build and was not able to finish." Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.'"

In his book, "Mere Christianity," C.S. Lewis asks the question, "How Much Of Myself Must I Give?" as he considers with us what it means to be Christian. In my own words, to be Christian means the surrender of all. To be Christian means that all our inordinate loves and affections topple at the feet of Christ. We get to hold on to nothing save that which God gives us in Christ Jesus. Two thoughts come to mind here: first, when a person catches a glimpse of the sinfulness of his own heart in the light the Holiness of God through the moral law, he is faced with a crises. His conscience is informed by God's Holy Spirit that he must let go of himself and all he holds dear. Bonhoeffer would say that person is at the border of his existence--he knows he must either die in his sin, or die to self in the finished work of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though this is necessary for initial salvation, this also remains true throughout all of life.

Years ago when I was in Bible College, I had some time on my hands and reasoned that, since I was going to be in the Pastoral Ministry, I will most likely be burying people as well as marrying them. Since I was near a Funeral Home at that time I thought I would drop in and ask for a tour. I think for the first time in his life, the Funeral Director did not know what to do with himself when some guy pops in, "hey, can you give me a look-see? What do you do here?" He graciously took me into a very clean, white back room with a large metal table in the middle, a deep groove ran around the edge of the table toward a drain at the foot. The room looked like a combination operating room/beauty salon: medical instruments amidst make-up and hair styling products.

I stared at the table, realizing that this was not a table one hops up on to have some things fixed that one may hop off again and carry on with the rest of life. No, one gets put on that table and one gets removed from that table to be prepared for a going away party. A cadaver on the table is just that. Nothing in the world makes a difference to the person whose body lies on that table. The person is gone, the body is dead. Dead is dead. No life.

When people are faced with this stark realization that they must repent of their sin, that they must let it go, that they must die with Christ, they fear and they freeze. When Jesus talked about counting the cost, He meant all or nothing. One cannot die "just a little" and keep what is most precious to them--and we all know what the precious can do. The precious will kill us anyway. When we die to sin in Christ Jesus, we are dead to sin and are made alive in Christ Jesus. That body is dead on the slab and cannot continue in the realm in which it once was living. How much must one give? All. All = everything.

This was the reality the rich young ruler faced Jesus when Jesus told him to go sell all he had, then come and follow. Here was a young man who grew up in a religious home. The past couple of years his house was used as a ministry base for Jesus, who came and went, teaching, healing, making disciples and making enemies. Once he asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus points out he has kept all the moral law, except that he loves his stuff more than God--let go of the stuff and follow! This was devestating news to the rich young ruler. He made his decision, and left, distraught. Think of it this way: the reason why Jesus says to count the cost is not build a movement, but to thin the crowds. Chuck Smith explains:

"Now, you count the cost. Unless you are willing to forsake everything you can't be My disciple. Unless you are willing to take up your cross, you can't be My disciple. Unless you love Me supremely, you cannot be My disciple. The terms of discipleship are harsh. They are severe. And it is wrong when people tell you just accept Jesus and you are not going to have any more problems. Listen, many times when you accept Jesus your problems are just beginning. It is not easy. It is not going to be easy. The Lord doesn't say it is going to be easy. He said it is going to be tough and you better sit down first and count the cost. You better not get started in it if you can't finish it, or are not willing to finish it. You need to make an accounting here and determine whether or not you are really willing to pay the price to go all the way through, because unless you are willing to forsake everything, really, you can't be My disciple."

Lewis shows there are two results for the Christian. Either we do what is right (righteous) by obediently letting Christ live His life through us; or, we try to meet the demands of the "natural self" while at the same time try to live in a manner pleasing to God. The latter will produce frustration, distress, discontent, even anger. I've tried to understand why this is so. At it's root we find selfishness--one is more consumed with making a living (as it were) than in life itself. Men would rather die happy (that is, pain free) than free.

Jesus came back to the house with his disciples. They had a meal upstairs that night, in the upper room, then went out to the garden of Gethsemane to pray--in the dark. John Mark, hearing the noise of movement in the house, wraps himself in a bedsheet and follows. When Jesus is arrested, the guards tried to grab at the young man, but he leaves everything behind . . . everything. Later, he travels with the apostle Paul, preaching repentance and salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ. He is even inspired to write about his experiences when Jesus walked the earth . . .

Lewis describes the Christian way as the harder, and easier way. Harder, because the Lord Jesus Christ does not come to torment our natual self, but kill it. He says, "I don't want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree cut down. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the one you think wicked--the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours."

What is most difficult about giving our all to God is that God must get our all. Is God asking the impossible? When it comes down to it, the question does not matter because He is the one who is doing the work for us. Simply consider what He's done already that is beyond the realm of imagination--and if God did NOT do those things, we must admit it would certainly take a being greater than God to think them up! Is it hard? Of course it is, that 's why He is the one who must do it for us!

What areas in our lives are most difficult to give up? Those areas where our affections are most strong. Our idols are large in those places. These are the places where we feel good, powerful, in control. Giving over to someone else is more than threatening to us. It is devastating.

Christianity is not a way of looking at life; rather, Christianity is the changed life.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

shakespearean poimena

Shakespeare opens his play "Julius Caesar" with a most curious situation. The setting is the Feast of Lupercal (February 15) and the people have taken to the streets to celebrate in a holiday-fashion Caesar's victory over Pompey in a civil war. Marullus and Flavius, two tribunes (government officials) who supported Pompey, attempt to discourage celebrating workers.

Addressing the commoners, Flavius inquires of one concerning his profession, learning he is "a mender of bad soles." Shakespeare gives the audience a joke, which Flavius does not get, for the man is a cobbler, a shoe repairman; however, the joke comes to light when the cobbler clarifies his trade by telling Flavius, "I can mend you." The cobbler explains, "Truly, sir, all that I live by is with the awl: I meddle with no tradesman's matters, nor women's matters, but with awl. I am, indeed, sir, a surgeon to old shoes; when they are in great danger, I recover them. As proper men as ever trod upon neat's leather have gone upon my handiwork."

Shakespeares' joke is that, while the man may indeed be a cobbler (working with "all/awl"), he is not at all in agreement with who Flavius is and all he supports. This commoner tells the official he is able to fix him as a person, as a "mender of bad soles."

Think for a moment about that phrase ("mender of bad soles") and realize the depth of the pun when he says, "I can fix you"-- he is a mender of "bad souls" and he works "with awe" (another pun). He is as much a pastor (Greek, "poimena") as he is a cobbler!

Get it?

The question we could entertain at this point is, "are you a cobbler?" When it comes to evangelism, how is your dexterity for shoes in danger; that is, how are you at mending bad souls? What's business been like lately? Are people being changed who come into your shop?

"Rescue the perishing,
Duty demands it;
Strength for thy labor
the Lord will provide.

Back to the narrow way
Patiently win them;
Tell the poor wanderer
A Savior has died!

Rescue the perishing,
Care for the dying;
Jesus is merciful,
Jesus will save."

("Rescue the Perishing". Fanny Crosby (1820 - 1915))

Augustine wrote his Confessions, so here is mine . . .

Ever read "The Confessions?"

God knows I don't do "change" well, so every once in a while He sets events in motion to remind me 1) He is God; and 2) I am not. I have learned there are three ways to exist in this life: growing, maintaining or dying. Of these three there is only one positive and change is what moves us by the means of His grace to grow into the image of Christ. After all, this is the destination of the Christian.

Admittedly, I've been quite busy and quite frustrated. So busy that I've set my blog on "autopilot" to post scheduled items while I try to find where "normal" is again. I've even had to cancel evangelism outings until the dust settles around the house. I could gladly list with details all the things that are bothering me right now, but I will not as nobody but God should be subjected to my complaints.

As I finished unpacking my last three boxes from my office move, I tuned my computer in to CSN Radio, on the Calvary Satellite Network (a ministry of Calvary Chapel) and listened to the late, great Adrian Rogers talk about the ministry of Jesus during the storm (after feeding the five thousand). Right at the very beginning you could almost see the smile on his face when he said to the effect, "You don't have any storms in your life right now? Well, enjoy the ride. You think I'm kidding? You may be telling the truth when you say you don't have any storms right now, but they will come. Until they do, enjoy the ride." I don't know why, but that heaping dose of southern encouragement was a blessing. I had to be reminded that while the storm was raging, in the bottom of that boat sat a basket of left-over bread from the last miracle of Jesus . . .

I feel horrible because of my attitude. When the storm winds start kicking up, I am usually the first to complain--I admit it. I like smooth sailing. I like when things go well. Is that selfish? To a degree it must be, because God says I can't have things my way all the time. He must have His . . . and to think that I complain about what He does for His glory. And then I have the audacity to pray "make me like Christ. Make me after your will . . ."

It is said that there was once a monk who prayed much that he might have the marks of the Lord upon his hands and feet. A vision was given him in which he was shown a mark on the Lord’s body that the world had forgotten. It was the mark upon the shoulder, and the monk learned that he could only have the marks on the hands and feet as he first had the mark upon the shoulder.

This is not about contentment. It is about the perfection of One who thinks higher thoughts, whose ways are His own to the praise of His own glory. It is about one who is not merely a worm, but a worm baking on the pavement in the hot sun. The only good is that which reaches down and lifts the scalded scaly body back into the still-watered green pastures.

Change moves me from what I am to where He is already.

For encouragement, read this, from 2004.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Authority of the Bible

"I had a year to finish a doctorate, so I went to Clarement Seminary. My advisor said, 'Your problem is you have too much Bible for a degree in Bible; you need philosophy.' He gave me 200 books on philosophy to read; half of them were in French or German. I said to him, 'Thank you, but I know the truth and I'm not going to spend the next three years learning error.' If you know the truth, error becomes obvious."

John MacArthur, "Splits and Quarrels in the Church," Sermon on 1 Cor. 1:10-17

Monday, August 18, 2008

Authority of the Bible

"Christians must continually reduce every argument we hear today to this simple thing: Am I to accept this person's word, or the word of Christ? If this agrees with what he says, fine, it is truth. But if it does not, then I must decide whether the challenging authority is greater or less than Jesus Christ. As Christians, we are continually confronted with choices, whether we will accept the puny, flimsy, uncertain authority of a mere man, or the certain, sold and clear word of the Lord Jesus Christ."

--Ray Stedman, "The Forces We Face" (Sermon on Eph 6:10)

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Authenticity of New Testament Writings

“The evidence for our New Testament writings is ever so much greater than the evidence for many writings of classical authors, the authenticity of which no-one dreams of questioning. And if the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt. It is a curious fact that historians have often been much readier to trust the New Testament than have many theologians.” (F.F. Bruce, “The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?” 1949, p.15).

“No literary fact is more remarkable that that men, knowing what these writers knew, and feeling what they felt, should have given us chronicles so plain and calm. They have nothing to say as from themselves. Their narratives place us without preface, and keep us without comment, among external scenes, in full view of the facts, and in contact with the living person whom they teach us to know . . . . Who can fail to recognize a divine provision for placing the disciples of all future ages as nearly as possible in the position of those who had been personally present at ‘the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God?’” (T.D. Bernard, “The Progress of Doctrine in the New Testament.”)

Friday, August 15, 2008

On: The Bible

“Some think that the Old Testament is stricter than the New, but they are judging wrongly; they are fooling themselves. The old law did not punish the desire to hold onto wealth; it punished theft. But now the rich man is not condemned because he has taken the property of others; rather, he is condemned for not giving his own property away.” (St. Gregory the Great, 540-604)

“I vehemently dissent from those who would not have private persons read the Holy Scriptures, nor have them translated into the vulgar tongues. I wish that all women—girls even—would read the Gospels and the letters of Paul. I wish that they were translated into languages of all people. To make them understood is surely the first step. It may be that they might be ridiculed by many, but some would take them to heart. I long that the husbandman should sing portions of them to himself as he follows the plough, that the weaver should hum them to the tune of his shuttle, that the traveler should beguile with their stories the tedium of his journey.” (Desiderius Erasmus, 1466-1536)

“The authority of scripture is greater than the comprehension of the whole of man’s reason.” (Martin Luther, 1483-1546)

“Come to the Bible, not to study the history of God’s divine action, but to be its object; not to learn what it has achieved throughout the centuries and still does, but simply to be the subject of its operation.” (Jean-Pierre de Caussade, 1675-1751)

“Read whatever chapter of Scripture you will, and be ever so delighted with it—yet it will leave you as poor, as empty and unchanged as it found you unless it has turned you wholly and solely to the Spirit of God, and brought you into full union with and dependence upon Him.” (William Law, 1686-1761)

“’The Bible,’ we are told sometimes, ‘gives us such a beautiful picture of what we should be.’ Nonsense! It gives us no picture at all. It reveals to us a fact; it tells us what we really are; it says, ‘this is the form in which God created you, to which He has restored you; this is the work which the Eternal Son, the God of Truth and Love, is continually carrying on within you.’” (F.D. Maurice, “The Prayer Book and the Lord’s Prayer.” 1805-1872)

“The sacred page is note meant to be the end, but only the means toward the end, which is knowing God Himself.” (A.W. Tozer, 1897-1963)

“Doctrinal rightness and rightness of ecclesiastical position are important, but only as a starting point to go into a living relationship—and not as ends in themselves.” (Francis Schaeffer 1912-1984)

“Have you noticed this? Whatever need to trouble you are in, there is always something to help you in your Bible, if only you go on reading till you come to the word God specially has for you. I have noticed this often. Sometimes the special word is in the portion you would naturally read, or in the Psalm for the day . . . but you must go on till you find it, for it is always somewhere. You will know it the moment you come to it, for it will rest your heart.” (Amy Carmichael, “Edges of His Ways”, 1955)

“Never was a book so full of incredible sayings—everywhere the sense of mystery dominates; unless you feel that mystery, all becomes prosaic—nothing about God is prosaic.” (“The Notebooks of Florence Allshorn", 1957)

“Men today, do not, perhaps, burn the Bible, nor does the Roman Catholic Church any longer put it on The Index, as it once did. But men destroy it by not reading it as written in normal, literary form, but ignoring its historical-grammatical exegesis, by changing the Bible’s own perspective of itself as prepositional revelation in space and time, in history.” (Francis Schaeffer, “Death in the City,” 1969).

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Authority of the Bible

"Trying to destroy or defend the Word of God is like two men with toothpicks on either side of the Rock of Gilbraltar. One is trying to push it over with his tootpick and the other is trying to hold it up with his toothpick. The Rock is going to stay firm regardless of either man."

--Doc Henry, Lake Ray Hubbard Bible Church

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Weak Kneed in Acts 12

At that time King Herod caused terrible suffering for some members of the church. He ordered soldiers to cut off the head of James, the brother of John. When Herod saw that this pleased the Jewish people, he had Peter arrested during the Festival of Thin Bread. He put Peter in jail and ordered four squads of soldiers to guard him. Herod planned to put him on trial in public after the festival.

While Peter was being kept in jail, the church kept up their regular activities and pot-lucks and even printed his name on the prayer list that would be printed each week. “. . . and God, please be with Peter . . .” someone prayed during the blessing for the food.

The night before Peter was to be put on trial, he was asleep and bound by two chains. A soldier was guarding him on each side, and two other soldiers were guarding the entrance to the jail. Suddenly another guard came in, flashing his torch around in the cell. He poked Peter in the side and woke him up. "Quick! Get up!" he impatiently barked. But Peter could not get up quickly because of the chains on his hands. The other guards woke and joined the chiding, "Get dressed and put on your sandals." Peter tried to do what he was told, but the chains made dressing difficult. As the guards laughed at his efforts, the torch-bearing guard said, "Now put on your coat and follow me” and he unlocked the chains.

Peter left the jail surrounded by guards, but being half asleep he tried to discern if he was only dreaming, or if this was real. They marched past two groups of soldiers who then fell in behind forming a bleak late-night, black parade. When they came to the iron gate to the city, they opened it and went out along the street. All at once, Peter realized he was not dreaming.

“Someone, please help me,” he cried to himself! “Please someone to help me!” Peter, now realizing what was going to happen said to himself, "I am certain that someone will come to rescue me from Herod and from everything the Jewish leaders planned to do to me."

They continued on down the street, toward the house of Mary the mother of John (whose other name was Mark). Many of the Lord's followers had come together there and were having a pot-luck supper. Peter could not help but look up to the lighted window, praying that someone there was praying fervently for him. They came to the house-gate where the torch-bearer banged with the butt of his dagger. A servant named Rhoda came to answer and when she saw Peter with the soldiers, she was too fearful to open the gate. She ran back into the house and told everyone that Peter was standing there, surrounded by guards.

"You are crazy!" everyone told her. But she kept saying that it was Peter. Then they said, "It must be his angel." But the guard kept on knocking, until finally they opened the gate. They saw him and were completely amazed as they saw the soldiers standing around Peter.

With pleading eyes, Peter motioned for them to keep quiet.

*****************************
“We are weak in the pulpit because we are weak in the closet.”
--Horatio Bonar “Words to Winners of Souls.”

The character as well as the fortunes of the gospel is committed to the preacher. He makes or mars the message from God to man. The preacher is the golden pipe through which the divine oil flows. The pipe must not only be golden, but open and flawless, that the oil may have a full, unhindered, unwasted flow. The man makes the preacher. God must make the man . . . . Under the Jewish dispensation the high priest had inscribed in jeweled letters on a golden frontlet: 'Holiness to the Lord.' So every preacher in Christ’s ministry must be molded into and mastered by this same holy motto. It is a crying shame for the Christian ministry to fall lower in holiness of character and holiness of aim than the Jewish priesthood . . . . The real sermon is made in the closet. The man-God’s man-is made in the closet. His life and his profoundest convictions were born in his secret communion with God. The burdened and tearful agony of his spirit, his weightiest and sweetest messages were got when alone with God. Prayer makes the man; prayer makes the preacher; prayer makes the pastor. . . . Every preacher who does not make prayer a mighty factor in his own life and ministry is weak as a factor in God’s work and is powerless to project God’s cause in this world.” (--Oswald Chambers. “Men of Prayer Needed.”)

Bibles read without prayer; sermons heard without prayer; marriages contracted without prayer; journeys undertaken without prayer, residences chosen without prayer; friendships formed without prayer; the daily act of prayer itself hurried over, or gone through without heart; these are the kind of downward steps by which many a Christian descends to a condition of spiritual palsy, or reaches the point where God allows them to have a tremendous fall.” (J.C. Ryle)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What's Next?

Most people seem to think that the world is becoming, or will inevitably become, a better place in which to live. It is felt that through education, diplomacy, and scientific advances, most people will live longer, better, and more peaceful lives than any who have lived before. Is this really what's next?

Not according to Jesus! Not long before He left this world about two thousand years ago He said, "As the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of Man be" (Matthew 24:37).

There are two very important things in this statement. First, Jesus reiterates His promise to return to the world (more about this later). Second, when He comes, the condition of the world will be the same as it was in the days of Noah. What is said about the world then? We are told, "The earth was corrupt" and "filled with violence" (Genesis 6:11). The headlines on the evening news and in the world's newspapers every day show that in spite of our "advanced civilization" and modern technology, these two evils--corruption and violence--are filling the world today.
Places where it was once safe to walk at night are now the scenes of crime during the day, and many things that God has always called corruption and sin are now accepted as "personal choices" and "lifestyles." Note the words of Jesus again: "As the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of Man be." By looking around at events and conditions in the world today, we believe that "the coming of the Lord draweth nigh" (James 5:8).

His coming will occur in two stages, fulfilling two very different promises. First, the Lord Jesus Christ will come to the air with a shout, raise the bodies of Christians who have died, change the bodies of the living believers, and rapture them all to heaven, "that where I am there ye may be also" (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17; John 14:3). Then, later, all who have rejected Christ will be judged "when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ" ... "because He hath appointed a day, in the which He will judge the world in righteousness" (2 Thessalonians 1:7,8; Acts 17:31).

What's next in God's schedule of events for you? Will you be among those who "know not God," and perish in your sins, or will you be among the blood-bought people of God, and be caught up in a moment of time to be forever with Christ?

Knowing God is not believing that He exists; it is not saying prayers or going to church or doing good works. Knowing God is entering into a personal relationship with Him through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ, who said "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me" (John 14:6). Jesus Christ has provided the only way by which hell-deserving sinners like us can have our sins washed away when He "bare our sins in His own body on the tree" and "rose again the third day" (1 Peter 2:24; 1 Corinthians 15:4).

In order to be ready for what's next--the coming of Christ--you must realize that you need salvation, "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). You must realize that without Jesus Christ, there is no salvation, "For there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). You must realize that you cannot earn salvation, "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast" (Ephesians 2:8,9). You must simply trust what Jesus has done for you, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved" (Acts 16:31).

Turn in faith to Jesus today and He will take away your burden of sin--no matter how great it is. Only then will you know the One who holds the future in His hands, and be ready for what's next.

(posted with permission of Moments with the Book)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Why do we capitalize the word "I"?

"On Language: Me, Myself and I."
By CAROLINE WINTER
Published: August 3, 2008

Why do we capitalize the word “I”? There’s no grammatical reason for doing so, and oddly enough, the majuscule “I” appears only in English.

Consider other languages: some, like Hebrew, Arabic and Devanagari-Hindi, have no capitalized letters, and others, like Japanese, make it possible to drop pronouns altogether. The supposedly snobbish French leave all personal pronouns in the unassuming lowercase, and Germans respectfully capitalize the formal form of “you” and even, occasionally, the informal form of “you,” but would never capitalize “I.” Yet in English, the solitary “I” towers above “he,” “she,” “it” and the royal “we.” Even a gathering that includes God might not be addressed with a capitalized “you.”

Read the rest of the article here.

ht: Tim Challies (who else?)

Friday, August 08, 2008

the best habit for highly effective people

Violet (picking her nose): “Spitting is an dirty habit”
Wonka: “I know a worse one.”

Robert Murray McCheyne, a godly Scottish minister and friend of Horatius Bonar from the 19th century, suggests the cultivation of a specific habit as a means of fostering holiness in a minister. That vital, daily habit is none other than prayer.

McCheyne writes: “I ought to pray before seeing any one. Often when I sleep long, or meet with others early, and then have family prayer and breakfast and forenoon callers, it is eleven or twelve o’clock before I begin secret prayer. This is a wretched system. It is unscriptural. Christ rose before day, and went into a solitary place... Family prayer loses much of power and sweetness, and I can do no good to those who come to seek for me. The conscience feels guilty, the soul unfed, the lamp not trimmed. Then, when secret prayer comes, the soul is often out of tune. I feel it far better to begin with God, to see His face first, to get my soul near Him before it is near another... It is best to have at least one hour alone with God before engaging in anything else. At the same time, I must be careful not to reckon communion with God by minutes or hours, or by solitude.”

Written in a previous article have examined the necessity of quality over quantity as it pertains to the work of the ministry and the life of the minister. We have also examined the sources and dangers of Lukewarmness against the blessings of effective ministry. Here we examine the necessity of prayer to the life of the one who does the work of ministry; that is, who leads a person toward biblical change.

Many times I have been asked if I have read a book called “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” I have not. In this age of quick methods and easy answers (again, I am for effectiveness over success—see previous article), I shy away from trends. People approach me emphasizing how the book changed their life, their business, even their ministry. I ask them how Bible study and prayer have changed their lives, their business and ministry and they have no answer.

Why does this happen? How is it that these habits can help ministry but the habits that should be implemented are nowhere mentioned? Living with dignity, honesty, integrity and fairness are one thing altogether, but this does not separate the sinner from the saved. How can the minister go about his life and work without spending time alone with God? Steven Covey, Rick Warren and Bruce Wilkinson are getting more quiet time than God.

E.M. Bounds writes in his short book, "Men of Prayer Needed":
"WE are constantly on a stretch, if not on a strain, to devise new methods, new plans, new organizations to advance the Church and secure enlargement and efficiency for the gospel. This trend of the day has a tendency to lose sight of the man or sink the man in the plan or organization. God’s plan is to make much of the man, far more of him than of anything else. Men are God’s method. The Church is looking for better methods; God is looking for better men."

The problem with prayer is how it is misunderstood. Here are some “prayers” from a book called “Pocket Prayers”, which presents over 700 Bible-based prayers used for intercession. The prayers are laid out by New Testament book, almost by chapter and verse. Here is a sampling:

Matthew 4:4 “Give _____ victory over every temptation and technique Satan would use to defeat him/her. Just as you, Lord, quoted verses from the Word of God to resist the devil, help ____ to have a working knowledge of the Bible so he/she can do likewise.”

Matthew 8:26 “Give ___victory over all fear. Also, may he/she have big faith, not little faith.”

Luke 17:34 “Give ____ the spirit of forgiveness.”

These are not prayers. These are incantations, placations. These “prayers” are no different from the animist who manipulates the powers to serve his own interests. These are statements made TO God, not conversations WITH God. If McCheyne (or anyone) sat down to spend one hour in prayer and “ding” the timer goes off, now onto something different—they have not prayed but have expressed selfish cajoling.

Again, E.M. Bounds: "What the Church needs to-day is not more machinery or better, not new organizations or more and novel methods, but men whom the Holy Ghost can use-men of prayer, men mighty in prayer. The Holy Ghost does not flow through methods, but through men. He does not come on machinery, but on men. He does not anoint plans, but men-men of prayer."

The one who seeks to see others changed according to the power of the Holy Spirit under the direction of God’s Word must spend time alone with God, talking and listening. We tend to think these things take too much time—actually we have it backwards—the time consuming things are robbing us of time with God.

What are your habits? What drives them? Whom do they serve?

"It is said of the energetic, pious and successful John Berridge that “communion with God was what he enforced in the latter stages of his ministry. It was, indeed, his own meat and drink, and the banquet from which he never appeared to rise.” This shows us the source of his great strength. If we were always sitting at this banquet, then it might be recorded of us ere long, as of him, “He was in the first year visited by about a thousand persons under serious impressions.”" Horatious Bonar

Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Minister’s True Life and Walk

We ask the question, “which came first: the chicken or the egg?” The question implies a puzzle to be solved as one is led to think how one cannot exist without the other. The truth is there is no puzzle. Since there was a beginning to everything, so the chicken must have come before the egg in the miracle of creation. The same kind of question can easily be asked of the minister, “Which comes first, the call or the training?” The answer, on the other hand, is less positive than our chicken--here the answer is “neither”.

Is it possible to begin the ministry without a call? Is it possible to begin the ministry without training? Both are possibilities. For years seminaries have graduated students well trained for the ministry but they lack the call and discover they have interests elsewhere. Men and women have with good intention spend time and money earning ministerial degrees with little or no interest for spiritual development and are searching out ways to increase their earning power or to gain skills that will catapult them high into the marketplace by virtue of the degree. Instead they become marketplace executives who can speak or read dead languages and have Bible knowledge.

There are also many ministers who have a call yet lack the training. In the late 1940’s a man felt a call from the Lord to enter the ministry so he walked out of the college he was attending (he was studying psychology), picked up a Bible and began to preach. In the early 1990’s he was still preaching and was called back to minister in a church where he had pastured almost 40 years previously. For him nothing changed—literally—not even time. He spoke with authority but had no understanding of how to properly handle biblical texts, biblical languages, nor did he ever have organizational and administrative skills to effectively minister in the local church in present time. Everything was to be done as it had been 40 years ago when he was pastor. What is missing?

I had the wonderful opportunity to go to Kenya, Africa to speak at a Pastor’s Conference and at the end of every session I took time to answer questions from the attending pastors. On the second day one pastor stood and asked, “what are we supposed to do if a man who is a total stranger to us comes and teaches doctrine we have never heard before and train us to be pastors when we do not know if he is saved or not?” I had been properly introduced by name, a little professional background and where I was from, but the man got the point. He was not concerned about call or training—he wanted to hear a testimony—asking in effect, “Are you saved?” His concern should be our own for every minister. Are you saved?

Why is it so important that a minister be truly saved? If a man is going to stand as God’s representative, speaking His word and touching people on God’s behalf, that man had better be saved. By saved I mean from his sin through the finished work of Christ Jesus, not just saved from hell. If a man is saved from sin, he has died and his life is hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3). He has, in effect, taken God’s name on himself--and the first commandment certainly warns that one is NOT to take the LORD’s name in vain! To be anything other than saved is to be doomed and misrepresent God. As a truly saved man, the minister must be a new creation in Christ Jesus.

Another reason the minister must be truly saved is that his ministry is God-centered, not self-centered. He must be filled with the Holy Spirit and must function in His power to His end to the praise of His glory. The saved man must act like God. God reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18). We love God because He first loved us; therefore, we must love one another (1 John 4:7-8). Another way to word this is to love God with all heart, mind and soul and love neighbor (Luke 10:27).

"We are well supplied in the world with excellent scholars who are without that qualification. They are doing useful work in detail, in Biblical philology, in exegesis, in Biblical theology, and in other branches of study. But they are not accomplishing the great task, they are not assimilating modern thought to Christianity, because they are without that experience of God's power in the soul which is of the essence of Christianity. They have only one side for the comparison. Modern thought they know, but Christianity is really foreign to them. It is just that great inward experience which it is the function of the true Christian scholar to bring into some sort of connection with the thought of the world." J. Gresham Machen, "Christianity and Culture."

“We shall, indeed, be but poor witnesses of Christ if we can tell only what Christ has done for the world or for the Church and cannot tell what He has done personally for us. But we shall also be poor witnesses if we recount only the experiences of our own lives.” J. Gresham Machen, “The Importance of Christian Scholarship.”

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Living Ministry (In catechistic form)

Q: Why is quality more important than quantity to God?

A: The LORD desires obedience over sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22-23; Gen 4:1-8); clean hands, a pure heart and a heart not lifted up to vanity or deception (Psalm 24:3-4); a broken spirit and contrite heart open to His observation (Ps. 51:16-17, Prov. 21:2-3). God delights in the prayer of the upright (Prov. 15:8), in one willing to be obedient (Isa. 1:10-20), in one who chooses God’s way over method or tradition (Isa. 66:3; Jer. 7:22-23). God desires the depth of intimate relationship (Hos. 6:6), of people who act like Him (Amos 5:21-2; Mi. 6:6-8; Matt. 23:23). The quality of a living ministry is like a house built on a rock (Matt. 7:21-27), is a ministry of mercy (Matt. 9:13; 12:7), a ministry of function--an all heart, mind and soul love for God, that spills over love to others—rather than ministry of form (Mark 12:33).

“One way to tell if a church is dead or alive spiritually is whether its focus and concern is more on the quality of its prayers, worship, love, preaching, fellowship, and communion with God, than with the multiplication of programs and physical activities. . . . God is infinitely more concerned with the purity and health of the inner man, than with the multiplication of mere external, ceremonial, fleshly, traditional, and religious activities. . . . Your goal is to present the congregation perfect in Christ on that last day. This goal cannot be accomplished without quality time in prayer, study, discipleship, visitation, and intercession. These are the channels by which the Holy Spirit ministers Christ through you and nurtures each person that providence sends your way. Conducting your ministry by worldly methods and on any other premise than quality is inconsistent with the biblical description of a minister of Christ. “It is the Spirit who gives life, the flesh profits nothing” (John. 6:63).”[1]

Q: What is the cause of the problems and hypocrisy so often found in the ministry today?

A: Lukewarmness, the lack of challenge and change, the “status quo”. This attitude allows the people to become their own enemy. The pastor’s mind and actions should be about repairing, building up, moving and equipping people (2 Chron. 24:4-5; Neh. 3:5; 13:11). God will repay if one does not learn from his sins and is unwilling to obey (Ezek. 16:43; 33:31-32). The lukewarm pastor is a half-baked cake left unturned (Hos 7:8), incomplete, and his ministry is displeasing to God and is only fit for spewing (Rev. 3:14-22).

“Lukewarmness is a sin which lurks about, seeking an entrance into the soul. It weakens all our graces and saps life from our ministry. After allowing a pastor to exist in a state of superficiality for a time, God, in great mercy, often awakens him by revealing this sin’s heinousness, causing him to loathe it and repent. With fresh and powerful impressions of its exceeding sinfulness, our determination deepens to never again fall into a pattern of ministerial lukewarmness. The Holy Spirit’s gracious acts of producing godly sorrow leading to repentance serve as loud warnings in the deepest recesses of our being.

Nevertheless, lukewarmness often precedes a period of spiritual growth. Sometimes God brings us through a dry and thirsty land that we may again hunger for that land flowing with milk and honey. It is a crisis of mediocrity that forces a man to examine the spiritual foundations of his life and ministry. Mercifully, God often restores a backslidden pastor from spiritual decline without suffering him to leave the ministry. God has His way of using our mistakes for our good and His glory (Rom. 8:28). When God recuperates a pastor back to spiritual health, the restorative effects are immediately felt in the congregation, to their profit and to the minister’s needed renovation.”[2]

One must work with all might to strengthen (Eccl. 9:10; Ez. 16:49) in order to be effective (Prov. 12:24). The pastor must be a diligent leader (Rom. 12:8,11; Col. 3:23,24), steadfast and unmovable in his work for the Lord (1 Cor. 15:58; Col 4:17), caring for others (2 Cor. 8:16; Col. 1:28,29) and redeeming the time for the days are evil (Eph. 5:16). The work of the ministry is felt by men and noticed by God (Heb. 6:10-12; Rev. 3:15,16).

“Carrying the spiritual burdens of men’s souls is often so intense that only those who are given the spiritual capacity to hold up under them can survive. None other than an earnest ministry can equalize the pressures and burdens faced by the man of God. A cold, unsympathetic pastor needs earnestness to revive his love and compassion for the sheep. Earnestness adds life to every duty; it gives zeal and urgency to the heart; and it changes routine duties into matters of life and death”[3]


Q: What is the object, or goal of living ministry and how is it accomplished?

A: Souls must be both saved and matured in Christ Jesus. These are two complimentary elements of the same goal, not two goals. The pastor must fast and pray individually as well as corporately with joy (1 Sam. 12:23; Prov. 28:9; Acts 1:13-14; 13:1-3; Phil. 1:4). He must also do his ministry as unto the LORD listening to and relying on the power of the Holy Spirit (Ro. 1:9). The pastor must listen to His congregation, love them, and guide them to Christ-likeness and intimate knowledge of God (Eph. 1:15-17). Each person is to be strengthened by God’s Spirit, indwelt by Christ, rooted and grounded in love, filled with the fullness of God (knowing the unknowable, comprehending the incomprehensible in Him) (Eph 3:14-21 Phil 1:9-11; Col. 1:9-13; 2 Thess. 1:11). The pastor must help them persevere (Eph. 6:18; Col 2:1; 4:12), living quietly a life of godliness, pleasing the Lord (1 Tim. 2:1-3; Rom. 14:17,18), teaching and living out the whole council of God’s Word (2 Tim. 2:15;1 Tim. 4:6,12-16).

“As a pastor you must minister Christ, hence the title “Minister of Christ.” You cannot minister Christ unless you know Christ, walk with Christ, experience Christ, are controlled by Christ, and are endued with the power of Christ. In other words, Christ is first ministered to your own heart so that you can minister Him to the hearts of others.”[4]

Q: What does God think of a pastor who has no regard for quality, is lukewarm and does not have these kinds of objectives in ministry?

A: God says these are rebellious, without understanding, sinful and full of iniquity, sick, having forgotten God and provoked Him to anger. They are abandoned having separated themselves out, useless, imposing troublemakers, disobedient (Isaiah 1:1-20). They oppress in order to advance themselves, consume without limit, allowing no one to get in their way, not even their families (Amos 4:1-5). They are full of empty rhetoric, misunderstanding, confusing darkness for the light (Amos 5:16-27). These are known by God to be dead, without vision or strength, forgetful, an easy prey, unworthy, useless, naked, blind, poor, without zeal or remorse (Rev. 3:1-6,14-22).

“God delights more in one faithful pastor, pulsating with the life and love of Christ, than ten thousand dead ones over whose ministry is written “Ichabod.””[5]

Q: How, then, is living ministry accomplished?

A: He must practice what he preaches, both DOING and TEACHING all the commandments of the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 5:19,20; James 1:22-25). He must be free to do what he should, not what he wants having seen the glory of the Lord and having been changed by Him (2 Cor. 3:17,18). His life destination is to be in the image of Jesus (Rom. 8:29) with no regard to the flesh (Rom. 13:14), bearing the image of the heavenly man (1 Cor. 15:49).

“[T]he most important aspect in training men for the ministry is the development of those graces which transform the minister into the message. This is so exceedingly important because a pastor cannot be minister of the Spirit without his life measuring-up to the message he proclaims. If he is to be a tool in the building of a distinctively spiritual kingdom, Christ’s Spirit must be the agent in communicating the message through the Word and through the man.”[6]

Q: What is the center of person and ministry?

A: None other than Christ Jesus Himself. Without Jesus, both person and ministry is nothing (John 15:5). Jesus draws all men to Himself (John 12:32) in order to have eternal life; that is to know God the Father through Jesus Christ (John 17:3). Self is to be crucified that the life of Christ be lived out through the new person (Gal. 2:20; Phil. 1:21, 3:8-10) for the purpose that all our boasting is in the finished work of Christ Jesus (Gal. 6:14). God intendes to glorify Himself, to “make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the nations, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27.)

“The goal of the pastor is that Christ may be formed in His people, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). This is your singular objective. All other duties and tools are but supportive of this grand end. Is visitation important? Yes. Are committee meetings necessary? Sometimes. Should we care for the infirm and hungry? Absolutely! Do we need books, study aids, and reference works? Yes, Yes, Yes! However, these things are not an end in themselves¾but a means to an end. But the end of all things is Christ! Jesus is the beginning, middle, and end of our ministry.”[7]

Q: What, then, is the pastor to do?

A. Both Pastor (and his family) and ministry must be built by the LORD (Psalm 127:1). By the authority of Christ he is to go teaching the nations everything Jesus commanded, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:18-20). He must accept all the Father gives to Jesus (John 6:37,44) receiving life by the Spirit of God (John 6:63,65). He must love Jesus and take care of the sheep (John 21:15-17; Acts 20:24,28). The pastor works effective ministry by preaching the gospel to make disciples, confirming and calling them to continue in faith even through tribulation (Acts 14:21,22). He is to be the steward, an ambassador of the mystery of God (1 Cor. 4:1) with the task of reconciling men to God and men to men (2 Cor. 5:18-20) as an example of the believers in word, conduct, love, spirit, faith and purity. He is to dispense scripture and doctrine by reading, exhortation and teaching, to work according to the gifts given and confirmed in him (John 15:16; 1 Tim. 4:12-16; 2 Tim. 4:2). His work is to perfect, equip the saints for the work of the ministry and edify the body of Christ (Eph. 4:11-13), to present men to Christ as fully mature in Him (Col. 1:28,29).

“The glamour of ministry fades quickly due to its constant problems and negative orientation. It is no small undertaking in seeking to win recalcitrant sinners to Christ, and to sanctify stubborn saints. None but God can woo them, convert them, edify them, sanctify them, and keep them. All ministerial efforts are doomed to failure if their source is in the flesh. A miracle of grace is required for every conversion. You must be always mindful, therefore, that your strength is in the Lord and in the power of His might. “Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain which build it.” The goal of your labors is the salvation of men and the holiness of the saints. This goal cannot be realized except by the Word of His power working through you.”[8]

Q: Where does one begin his ministry?

A: One must take God’s will to heart as if one were eating and go out to sow the seed of the Word of God, even to reap what others have sown (Matt. 13:1-9,18-23; John 4:31-38) as fellow workers (1 Cor. 3:5-15). The foundation laid should be the same. Abiding in Christ is necessary for fruit-bearing—living in Him and He in you that the Father be glorified. (John 15:1-8). Our ministry is not a competition or a war so we are to compliment our tasks, enduring and helping one another with patience (2 Tim. 2:1-6; James 5:7).

“As a faithful steward and laborer in God’s vineyard, he does not cease working until the harvest is reaped. The wise and faithful pastor sets his sights on harvesting spiritual fruit; for he knows that if he accepts counterfeit fruit in place of the real thing (a physical imitation masquerading in place of the spiritual reality), its fate will be as wood, hay, and stubble when put to the fire. “Every plant which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up” (Matt. 15:13).”[9]


Q: What is the most effective tool to effect change in people’s lives?

A: The Bible should be the delight of one’s heart, directing one’s walk, his standing, and providing seat of counsel, deserving of constant meditation (Psalm 1:1-3). The gospel is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16) and is the theme of all preaching and study (1 Cor. 1:17). Clever speech and deep thoughts do not change a person but the good news of Christ Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:1-5). The pastor is not to promote himself (1 Cor. 3:4-6) but the cleansing power of the Word of God (Eph. 5:26) in every possible circumstance (2 Tim. 4:2). The Word of God should be welcome as effective in the lives of men (1 Thess. 2:13) as it is good for teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness that the man of God be made complete for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16,17). It is on the authority of scripture one preaches to see men changed (Titus 1:9, 3:5; James 1:18) apart from their own good works. The heart and mind are discerned by the Word of God (Heb. 4:12), causing men to be born again (1 Pet. 1:23).

“The Word of God is one of the primary agencies in converting the lost and sanctifying the saints. As a pastor, you must know the Word, you must live the Word, and you must preach the Word. You must give yourself to the study of the Scriptures. The Word must be an integral part of your inner being. The Word should flow spontaneously from your heart when people look for your advice in impromptu situations. People do not need the wisdom of the world, or spellbinding stories and illustrations. People need the Word of God, proclaimed by true men of God, in the love and wisdom of God, and by the power of the Holy Spirit. Human reason or cute answers cannot raise one sinner from the dead or break the power of sin. We need pastors who preach the pure, uncompromising Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the God ordained means by which the Holy Spirit regenerates souls who are “dead in trespasses and sins.””[10]


[1] Shelton,Jr. . Spiritual Foundations of Ministry. Pensacola: Mt. Zion Bible Institute, 2001.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Effective or just successful?

"Crucial Factors to the Spiritual Effectiveness of Pastors"

The search for success has become an all-consuming obsession in lives of men and women in the western world today. This search is found in the areas of both work and play, in business and in recreation and interestingly, the same search has found its way into the ministry. Ironically the western world has endeavored to drive a wedge between the sacred and the secular, yet the search for success seems to encompass both. Here we may pose a question: which is greater—finding success or finding effectiveness? The answer to this question indicates the great dichotomy that exists between the ministry of success and the ministry of effectiveness.

“The two look the same to me,” one may say. On one hand success and effectiveness may look very much alike as the terms may apply to the “end” of one’s efforts; on the other hand, the difference is subtle and dangerous. Success may be thought of as “mastery” or “the gain of one’s end.” It carries with it the idea of winning, which implies that someone or something must lose—there is triumph and there is defeat. There is victory and advantage over subjugation and perhaps oppression. Effectiveness contains the idea of “capable”, “influential”, “useful.” This is concept of power, of ability, of efficacy, of almightiness. The difference between the two is what (or who) lies at the center.

If a pastor is successful, is he effective? Or, is the effective pastor successful? I would say this depends on his focus—who is at the center of his ministry. This will become clear as we think about the contrast. Let us take a few moments to discuss two different kinds of ministries and two different kinds of pastors. One kind we may say is “successful” and the other is “effective.”

For the sake of the examination, let us return to the beginning to agree there are two kinds of beings—men and not-men. Obviously since we here are human and we are discussing “men” then let us eliminate from our discussion those “not-men.” Now concerning man, one must discover from whence he came—either one is self-made or has an origin outside himself, namely God. Here we will agree that man has formed neither his inside nor his out so we will accept on the witness of scripture that God made man. Next we must discover what or whom is the center of man—for what purpose does he live? Since he did not make himself he certainly cannot glorify himself, but though those who try mark humanity, we will recognize the sinful nature that came about as the result of man’s desire to replace God; hereby, we distinguish that man is either self-centered (rebellious or sinful) or he is God-centered (reconciled or saved).

Since Pastors are the topic of this consideration, let us assume now he is “saved.” What does it mean to be saved? Again clean categories can help us distinguish those saved (that is, rescued) from eternal death (that is, hell) and those who are saved (that is, rescued) from the penalty and power of sin (that is, hell and the effects of sin) and will one day be saved (that is, rescued) from the presence of sin. The difference is that many men and women are saved from hell and have not let go of their sin as “fire insurance” is enough. The words and work of Christ on the other hand, emphasize the latter—that man must be saved from the sin nature. Even pastors can make the mistake of thinking they are secure in salvation without 1) fully knowing what it they are saved from; and 2) what it means to live the life of one saved.

So let us here ask: “What’s at the center.” Every pastor will say, “God!” Really? The Bible says “and do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom 12:2). How can this be checked? How can one know if his mind is transformed? One may hold up his evidence and say, “see all the good and acceptable and perfect things that are being done at my church?” These things may be well and good, but the question was aimed at the MIND—how can one tell what his MIND is like?

Looking at it another way we could discover who or what is at the center not by what is done in public but by what is done in private. Is God acknowledged or is the mind turned over to depravity (Rom 1:28-32)? What characterizes the life of the pastor? In this Bible passage one sees a long list of tell-tale signs that show where his mind is, what his heart is like, what he is in fact saved from. Notice that a small thing like “disobedience to parents” is in the same list as “murder”—both come from the same mind that does not acknowledge God.

Consideration of the mind is only a starting place. What about the walk—either the pastor walks in the Spirit or walks in the flesh (Galatians 5). Walking in the flesh is evidenced by very similar characteristics of one whose mind has been turned over to reprobation. It has been argued that man must gain mastery of himself in order to walk in the Spirit. If this is the case then the one who masters himself is really the slave to himself. If he has everything “under control” then he is not master but slave—and if does not have everything under control there is certainly no mastery over anything but slavery to that which control is lost to. This is why even self-control does not come from self but is evidence of one who is living and walking in the power of the Holy Spirit.

As mentioned before mankind has taken great strides to break the sacred and the secular apart; thus, spirituality and “the real world” are at opposite ends. This is not the case however for even the animist will agree that everything is sacred. Touching the Pastor here another area of consideration—in what realm does he concern himself: the physical or the spiritual? Either the world in which we live touches the spiritual and his concern is how to live in the meaning of the Victorious Christian life (the “normal” Christian life) or he may live the average Christian life and find ways to struggle through it. His concern in the physical realm is with the physical, with appearances, with the numeric and statistic. This leads to wonder how once accomplishes his task—is he driven by quality or quantity? Does the pastor desire to see souls not only saved from the horrors of hell but grow in the true knowledge of Christ through conversion and sanctification or would he like to see his job “done” and be given more to talk about among his peers? Would he like to be successful or effective?

The effective pastor has a living ministry where the church needs him to live a life of earnestness, to delight himself in God, to emulate the apostles’ goal of ministry, to model Christ Himself. The effective pastor must preach exegetically the whole counsel of God, must live out the effectiveness and completeness of the good news of the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes. He must be humble because he will be numbered among the few.
The successful pastors are many, busy about the “things” of God over God Himself, preaching “harmony” with an ineffective and integrated gospel. He cannot live without the church, employing methods to get the job done so he can go home at the end of the day. He is lukewarm because he is just a community example, full of rhetoric and the ease of the age. His churches are large and the numbers keep his anointed from being touched. He lives like an old man, putting away the new.

What are the crucial factors for effective pastoral ministry? The effective pastor must have God at the center for a transformed mind. He must be filled with the Spirit to walk out a life of sanctification. The effective pastor is concerned with the spiritual realm, who is needed by the church to earnestly invest in people to see them grow into Christ likeness (“Christ in you the hope of glory” Col. 1:27), living out Jesus in front of them. He must preach whatever comes next IN SCRIPTURE out of which comes a complete and uncompromised ministry where the effectiveness of the gospel is applied to every area of life for the purpose of godliness. His position is low and he is few in number.

Effective or successful? If one has to come out on top, to make a name for himself, he is constructing another Babylonian tower. Idolatry is a judgment of God (Rom. 1). God makes a name for Himself. For a pastor to be successful to take God’s name in vain; that is, to misrepresent all He has done, all He is and all He will do.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Saturday in Five Points

Wednesday of last week began a new turn of events in the lives of the Wilson family. Wednesday night my mother fell and broke her knee-cap in two. She was unable to leave the emergency room due to her overall weak upper body, high blood sugar and high blood pressure, so she was admitted to the hospital and await surgery, which occurred on Friday. A long stay over the weekend ended with her being transferred to an assisted living facility where she will now stay for what seems to be permanently.

I was anticipating getting back into a "normal" routine, so we had Bible study and prayer on Saturday in preparation for an evening in Five Points. As soon as we got downtown, my cell phone rang with a call that delivered me back to the hospital where my wife and I stayed until 2:30 a.m. with my mother--her blood sugar was sky-high again. I did not make our evangelism outing, but Tim and Joe went anyway. What follows is Tim's report--since he wrote it, he gave me permission to post this as "guest blogger":

************

We had some good conversations, but no decisions for Christ.

Joe and I first came upon a couple homeless guys, a bar owner (next to Quizno's) and a college or high school kid. Gave them all tracks and started talking. Of course one of homeless guys talked the most, but the bar owner, who was quite humble, was very open to the law and gospel. We talked for quite some time with all of them, then one the the homeless guys and the young kid split. The bar owner knew he needed to make some changes in his life (try to stop drinking) and was thankful we stopped by. He seemed to really understand what we told him.

A while later we talked to a couple college girls who were taking a smoke break from working at Yesterdays. One of the girls said she taught 5th grade Sunday School at her church. The other wanted to be more spiritual and was an English major at USC. We made it thru the law and repentance and gospel and the one who taught Sunday School had to get back to work. Of course she was guilty of breaking the law, but she knew most of the answers to our questions and didn't seem to concerned. The other girls stayed with us a few more minutes. She was definitely affected by the law. Then she had to get back to work and we gave her a pocket testament. She said her Grandmother would be happy we were talking to her and of course we responded, "your Grandmother is probably praying for you." She was appreciative and went back to work.

Then we found a group of kids in the parking lot behind Groucho's. Joe took one and I took one. The rest scattered. After a few minutes Joe's kid left with some of his friends. My kid, a Catholic (like you said, probably in high school), was very convicted by the law [I had warned our team to be aware of small knots of teens in Five Points. My experience has found that these teens are usually Catholic]-- he was sweating, wiping his brow, fidgeting, could not take his eye off me, and knew he was guilty and had a problem. I went thru the gospel with him and then the rest of his friends came outside jumped in their car and off he went. I did manage to give him a pocket testament before he got in the car. I hope the law ruined the rest of his night. If anyone is going to give their life to Christ, it will be that kid. [We pray it is, Tim!]

We walked around a little more, and ran into Loraine and Kathy at the fountain [friends of Columbia International University]. They told a bit about their time up in Asheville -- Wow that sounds like a possibility next year! [I'll hold you to that, Tim!] I kept talking with them while Joe went and had a good conversation with another Catholic young man. Then five Ana-Baptists showed up and told us that the King James is the ONLY Bible to use and that CIU didn't teach the blood of Christ anymore, etc, etc. Kathy had a heated discusion with the Kingpin for quite some time. We left shortly after that.

[Thanks for that report, Tim! Joe, keep up the good work!]

************
As I sat there in the emergency room with my mom, I fussed about how I was not able to go to Five Points that night and worried about Tim and Joe the whole time--they've never shared the gospel in that setting before. I was reminded in my spirit of Jesus teaching then sending the disciples--He did not worry about His men--they were given authority to go! I found assurance in remembering this was God's work and in God's time, He would put His men and women in the right place at the right time. God is so faithful!

Waddya need me for? You guys keep up the good work!

Can man be saved by mere "decision?"



James Adams published an excellent article on this topic in the Sword & Trowel, 1972.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

thinking about: Ephesians 2:8-9

[repost from Thursday, April 13, 2006]

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”

This last week was very exciting in terms of evangelism. My daughter went with me to Finlay Park last Sunday and we talked to 11 people about their need for Christ. We have to remember that as we go out, we are only sowing seed. We only spoke with about 4 at USC Wednesday night and all professed Christ. I like one guy’s response—he got right to the point and proclaimed Christ’ payment for the penalty of his sin. All I could do is grin and shake his hand.

It’s hard to see people’s face change when they realize their sinful state before the LORD then choose to hang on to sin and not repent. Last Sunday each couple we talked to had a very different dynamic. One girl delighted in her admitting that all the bad she had ever done was break the 9th commandment. Her delight was quickly turned to distress when she learned that breaking one commandment is like breaking them all . . . but she would not budge. She would not repent. The guy she was with squirmed under conviction. I pray they repented and discover salvation in Christ Jesus. I pray everyone repented.

[pray for Candice and Stephanie and James and Kimry and Winston and Charles and Akiela and James and Loretta and Lamar and Celestine and Antonio and Terrance and Grayson and Danny]

I am really heart-broken to hear people verbally state they are still saved without repentance. They rely so much and the grace and mercy of God at the end of life and have no concept of their need to experience it now. People have been convinced that God is so loving, so caring, so merciful and full of grace that He will extend eternal life to them after they die. I realize in retrospect that when people begin to talk like this, they need to hear that they have broken another commandment and have made a god for themselves as their description does not match that of the God of the Bible. God does punish sin.

We all know the hymn, “Amazing Grace.” Consider the second stanza:

“’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.”

Is that right? Grace teaches fear? This is a point of contention for many people because it seems that grace should provide relief, not distress. Can it be that what is said about grace in all the song is correct except this one snipsy little bit?

Ephesians 2 (among so many other passages) teaches that grace is what saves. But where does it say that grace brings fear? Back up a few verses there in Ephesians and read how it was “God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)” (2:4-5). Mercy and grace together bring about a result that follows the awareness of transgression. What is it that awakens fear and dread and is used by the Holy Spirit to bring conviction into the life of a sinner but the LAW? Paul will later say, “The law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Ro 5:20).

A few years back I was in a very strange car accident. My parents were taking me up to Colorado from our home in New Mexico, about a 4 hour car-drive. It was late winter and we were scooting along the high desert highway in our GMC Suburban. Drawing closer to Colorado late in the afternoon, having passed Ship Rock already, we noticed the clouds getting dark across the mesa’s and dad (being the excellent driver he is) slowed a little.

Snow could be seen lightly salted on the mesa’s and foothills. Ice was forming on the road and patches of black ice appeared here and there. We were traveling at a greatly decreased speed, I think it was about 35 or 40 mph, when we suddenly began spinning out of control, hit the right shoulder and the Suburban flipped over and rolled down the small embankment.

At the time I did not have seatbelt on as I was actually turned to get something from behind my seat. I just remember suddenly being thrown to one side, then another and then I was on my head, on my seat, on my head, on my seat, on my head . . . all in a kind of slow-motion that made it seem so unreal. Glass was everywhere and dad was already checking to make certain everyone was alive. Elk stew had broken out of the container and was everywhere.

We got out, took inventory of each other. Two things suddenly occurred to us. First, we were on the highway of the high desert, miles from the nearest anything. Look again at the picture above to see what I mean. No cars coming, dark was setting in and snow clouds were blowing in over the mesas (they would be off to the right and behind from where this picture was taken). Second, looking from the direction we came were surprised by the small patch of ice that caused our delimma . . . and the ravine that we just missed dropping into. Had we gone off the road just a few feet before, I am not certain who would be telling this story.

Tom Nettles put it succinctly, "Many have learned first-hand that the doctrines of grace have a jolting effect when one who has been able to ignore them all his life first feels the impact of the encounter."

Grace teaching the heart to fear is like standing there looking into the ravine thinking, “I should be dead.” Grace at the same time relieves fear in much the same way as having just crawled from a wreck realizing that one still lives.

We deserve the worse. Remember Dickens’ Christmas Carol? The fact that ghosts came to old Scrooge was grace and his heart was taught to fear while at the same time grace his fears relieved. He could say the next morning, “How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed!”

Pilgrim was quite fearful and distressed when he discovered that he had an unshakeable burden and lived in the city of Destruction, but he was thankful that he was made to find out!

Charles Spurgeon wrote, “ It is by the grace of God that ungodly men are preserved from instant death. The sharp axe of justice would soon fell the barren tree if the interceding voice of Jesus did not cry, "Spare him yet a little." Many sinners, when converted to God, have gratefully acknowledged that it was of the Lord's mercy that they were not consumed.”

Here is something to think about. We like gifts. We like to give them and we certainly like to get them. God’s gift of salvation by grace through faith is exactly that—a gift.

What was the last gift you got for someone? Where did you buy it? How much did you pay for it?
WHY did you buy it? Did you buy it because you thought that item would be good for the person in mind?

Why did you BUY it? Was it because you could not make it yourself?

Dwell there for a minute.

We buy gifts because we cannot make them ourselves. I buy a bike for my child at Christmas and I have a choice—I can pay someone to put it together for me or I can do it myself; regardless, I still have not made the bike. I can’t make a tire or frames.

That’s the way it is with God’s gift of salvation. You can’t just pick up pieces and construct your way to heaven. God made it possible, God puts it together and God gives it.

Oswald Chambers wrote: "God’s first sovereign work of grace is summed up in the words, '. . . that they may receive forgiveness of sins . . . .' When a person fails in his personal Christian life, it is usually because he has never received anything. The only sign that a person is saved is that he has received something from Jesus Christ. Our job as workers for God is to open people’s eyes so that they may turn themselves from darkness to light. But that is not salvation; it is conversion-only the effort of an awakened human being. I do not think it is too broad a statement to say that the majority of so-called Christians are like this. Their eyes are open, but they have received nothing. Conversion is not regeneration. This is a neglected fact in our preaching today. When a person is born again, he knows that it is because he has received something as a gift from Almighty God and not because of his own decision. People may make vows and promises, and may be determined to follow through, but none of this is salvation. Salvation means that we are brought to the place where we are able to receive something from God on the authority of Jesus Christ, namely, forgiveness of sins."

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