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Stronger Church

Wanting to See the Church be What Christ Wants It to Be.

Updated: 2017-03-26T11:20:05.454-04:00


A Minister's Prayer - Part 3


"Yet I long that people might be edified with divine truth, that an honest testimony might be borne for Thee."

So reads the next section in the prayer "A Minister's Preaching" in the book Valley of Vision.  

Why do we preach?  Preaching, after all, seems to be considered by some to be suited to a former era.  Today we are to have conversations and tell stories.  One of our members told me that an unsaved friend recently shared that she liked listening to one well-known TV preacher because "He makes me feel better about myself."

In the end, we preach because people need to hear from God.  We, like the writer of the lines above, long that people might be edified with divine truth.  We want to see them grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ, to see them mature in their faith, to see them live out the truth of Scripture in their lives. 

But that is not an easy thing.

When I graduated from Bible College I think I expected that people who were interested in spiritual growth would hear the things that God's word said and simply change.  I wish is was that easy.  In point of fact change in our lives takes time, and I've started comparing what we do when we preach to the way layers of newspaper and paste become a paper mache creation.  I can't create the final product, but I can add to the layers each week by God's help.

In the end, whether people feel good about themselves is hardly important.  What is important is that our people grow to be like Christ.  That's what it means to be edified.  There is no more important task.  May God give us a pastor's heart to long that our people be edified.

Monday, Monday - January 28, 2008


Monday is a day many pastors take off, but I'm usually in my office. It's a good day to catch up on "stuff" and do some planning for the week if I haven't been able to do that over the weekend.

I began a series called The Story: From Creation to Christ that I plan to preach through this year. I chose 46 different passages/incidents in the Old Testament and am tracing the storyline of the OT to show how it points to Christ. The process of determining what to leave in and what to leave out was interesting and challenging. But I finally settled on what I would do and have mapped out a year's preaching.

I was curious to see if anyone had done this and committed this to print, but I had very limited success in finding anything other than traditional Bible Survey materials. New Tribes Mission has some great materials, and I looked a a few good Children's Bible Story books as well. One of the best is the Jesus Storybook Bible. I love the subtitle: Every Story Whispers His Name.

I am so glad to see that Purgatorio is back. Nothing like the Divine Vinyl section. I can remember those days . . .

A Minister's Prayer, Part 2


"My Master God, I am desired to preach today, but go weak and needy to my task;"

Long story short. I entered pastoral ministry while in Bible College in 1976. I preached a few times but frankly, it never came easy to me. I felt uncomfortable, and that discomfort grew as time went on. I was the Associate Pastor on a two-man staff, so it was not something that I needed to be doing, so I gradually let it alone.

In 1980 I took a position in a larger multi-staff church. For 23 years I did not preach outside of one Good Friday service. A series of circumstances led to the departure of the Senior Pastor in the winter of 2003. We were by then a three-person staff and it appeared despite my length of service that the church would not be able to sustain three people. I felt I might be the odd man out. I asked our Elders for the opportunity to preach in the interim for several reasons, some for the benefit of the church having a familiar face, but also because I wanted to see if this was something that I could do, and thereby open other opportunities for ministry beyond my previous experience.

As God had it, the interim became permanent, and in a month I am coming up on my fifth anniversary of regular preaching. I have grown to love the opportunity. Preaching can be discouraging (Is anyone growing?) and it can be challenging (How am I supposed to present this passage?). I have days when I wish I could say, "Ok. Let's take a break and let me do this again and hopefully get it right." I also have days when I sense God's hand in a bit of a different way. Preaching is tiring, which is why my Sunday afternoons are given to a good nap. Those of you who preach know the drill.

I resonate with the words of the Puritan brother who wrote the sentence above. I feel that I must preach to be doing what God wants me to do. Yet I am fully conscious of my own weakness and need. I am grateful for each Sunday that God gives me the opportunity to share His Word. I can see how it would be possible to be so comfortable in preaching that doing it is almost second nature and hardly a thought is given to the magnitude of the task or the consequences in the lives of people. But I pray that does not happen.

If you listen to my sermons you won't hear a great orator. What I hope you would hear is someone doing his best to share what a text is saying and how that message relates to the lives of people who, after 28 years, have become dear to me.

Guys are not great at acknowledging weakness or need. And it is very possible for pastors/preachers to think that they are strong enough for the task. But I have come to learn that one of the things that I must keep in mind is that this work is one for which I am weak and needy.

Thank you, Lord, for providing the strength.

A Minister's Prayer, Part 1


I have benefited greatly from the book Valley of Vision over the last two years. I often read an appropriate prayer during our church's observance of the Lord's Table.

I find one particular prayer very moving, and it is one that I posted back in 2006, called A Minister's Preaching. While I prefer to exegete Scripture, I thought I might open this new year and return to blogging as hopefully a personal discipline that will also help some other pastors by sharing some thoughts on this prayer, which I pray each week before I leave my office for our morning worship service.

A Minister’s Preaching

My Master God,
I am desired to preach today,
but go weak and needy to my task;
Yet I long that people might be edified with divine truth,
that an honest testimony might be borne for thee;
Give me assistance in preaching and prayer,
with heart uplifted for grace and unction.
Present to my view things pertaining to my subject,
with fullness of matter and clarity of thought,
proper expressions, fluency, fervency,
a feeling sense of the things I preach,
and grace to apply them to men’s consciences.
Keep me conscious all the while of my defects,
and let me not gloat in pride over my performance.
Help me to offer a testimony for thyself,
and to leave sinners inexcusable in neglecting thy mercy.
Give me freedom to open the sorrows of thy people,
and set before them comforting considerations.
Attend with power the truth preached.
and awaken the attention of my slothful audience.
May thy people be refreshed, melted, convicted, comforted,
and help me to use the strongest arguments
drawn from Christ’s incarnation and sufferings,
that men might be made holy.

I myself need thy support, comfort, strength, holiness,
that I might be a pure channel of thy grace,
and be able to do something for thee;
Give me then refreshment among thy people,
and help me not to treat excellent matter in a defective way,
or bear a broken testimony to so worthy a redeemer,
or be harsh in treating of Christ’s death, its design and end,
from lack of warmth and fervency.
And keep me in tune with thee as I do this work.

What Would Change About Our Sundays If . . .


I'm stepping out of the normal Sunday morning routine this week by showing a video sermon by Mark Dever that I feel challenges the way we approach our time of worship on Sunday. Mark presents thirteen propositions about worship. Though some require explanation, most of them are pretty clear. What would change about our Sundays if we realized that:

1. God cares about how he is worshipped?
2. Worship if fundamentally about God?
3. Worship involves our whole lives?
4. Worship is fundamentally hearing and responding to God's Word?
5. Worship involves our wills and emotions?
6. Public worship should be distinguished from private worship?
7. Public worship is the business of the church assembled?
8. Public worship should edify the congregation?
9. Public worship is not based on a certain musical style?
10. Passivity is always inappropriate in worship?
11. Corporate worship is worth preparing for?
12. True Christian worship services will attract non-believers.
13. If you are a true Christian, corporate worship is your future?

I especially appreciated Mark's 1st, 10th and 11th points as it relates to the way we approach our gathering on the Lord's Day. How do these things change the way you approach Sunday?

Back . . . again


I had great hopes of being able to do a real, honest-to-goodness series of articles on the priority of meeting together as a body of believers, but an unusually busy summer waylaid that intent. But we're back with some tips and resources:

A great article on how to retain and benefit from your reading.

We've been looking at a very good video series this summer from Ligonier Ministries entitled 5 Keys to Spiritual Growth. The highlights - to me - were Ligon Duncan's message on the reason for praying to a God who is sovereign and Mark Dever's excellent discussion of what should go on when we gather as a church (Worship in Spirit & in Truth). We've found a good video series to be a nice change of pace in our adult Sunday School.

Can you top this trivialization of the cross? I saw this on a church sign in our area: "Avoid burning - use Son Block"

Church: Organization or Organism - Part 1


A friend emailed me this week and told me of a conversation he and his wife had with a friend of theirs who is getting married. The bride-to-be said this of her future husband: "He's not really into organized religion, but he's a Christian." It reminded me of a familiar mantra from the late sixties and early seventies: "The church is not an organization, it's an organism."

I'm observing that such thinking is not all that uncommon today. It is not so much that people are choosing to fly solo in their pursuit of Christ. What is happening is that people are jettisoning the church - for various reasons, but including the fact that that Christians don't need an institution. But is that true? And if the church is an institution or organization, is that bad?

As I was scanning some blogs the other week, I noticed that those who have misgivings about the place of the modern local church often point back to Acts 2:42-47 as a model for church life. And there is a lot to be admired in that passage. It describes a group of believers in Jesus Christ in an almost Eden-like environment. But as much as there is much to learn and emulate from that passage, two things need to be remembered. First, this is a description of the church in it's infancy, and second, this is not the "last word" on what the church does.

Last night I was watching the Detroit Tigers roar (pun intended) past my beloved Phillies. As the game got more and more out of hand, I began channel surfing and came across a documentary on the History Channel about the Hippie movement in the late sixties. At first, hippies were gathered primarily in the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco. They numbered a few thousand, took drugs (LSD was, for a time, legal), had free sex, and tried to enjoy what they felt was an attempt at utopia. Things turned ugly - and quite fast - when thousands more teens and young adults headed west during the Summer of Love. The Haight-Ashbury district turned into a cesspool of sickness, crime and poverty. So the True Believers began to migrate elsewhere. Some moved to other cities, but some moved into the country to continue their quest for utopia. There they lived communally, contributing their possessions, working together, etc., until the inevitable happened: they realized that they could not sustain themselves just by "existing" and enjoying each other's company. So back into society they went, took jobs, had families, and bought houses.

One of the people interviewed was Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. As a participant in that culture, he stated that many of those living in the communes felt that they were living as the early Christians did (apparently following the model of Acts 2:42-47, though Vonnegut did not refer to that particular passage). That brought me back to my own experience as a young adult during that time – though I was part of the institutional church. Many young Christians – inside and outside the structured church – wanted that kind of community, that kind of authenticity, and that kind of heaven-on-earth that so many tried to accomplish (in wrong ways, of course). The church was big, our parent’s religion felt stale. There had to be a better way.

And we were right. There had to be a better way. But it wasn’t going to be by staying in Acts 2 mode.

(More to follow)

Church - Part 1


Last week I shared a concern that Christians are - for a variety of reasons - increasingly dismisssing participation in a specific local church as something that is important to their faith. This is happening for a variety of reasons. Some people have bad experiences in church. Others have expectations about church that are not met. Others have more philosophical objections to the church. Some are simply anti-institution. Others genuinely seem to feel that participation in a church has had a negative (or at least inhibiting) impact on their own spiritual life.

Over the next few weeks I'd like to share what I believe about the church. This is going to be an argument that is developed, so those of you in my decidedly un-challies-esque readership (translation - not thousands in number) need to cut me some slack. You're free to comment on what I post, but bear in mind that this isn't over until it's over, so some of your objections/points may be answered down the road a bit. For that reason, I'm going to wait to engage critics or questions until I've finished the series. Hey! It's my blog (grin).

I had hoped to begin this "series" earlier, but have not been able to. I am going to try 2-4 posts per week on the subject. I hope that those of you who stop by will check back often. I'll have the first main entry up on Wednesday, if not before. Thanks for reading!



One of the greatest burdens that a pastor has is when he sees people treat Sunday worship as incidental to their lives. I've taken the last two weeks to speak about the importance of Sunday worship. I must admit that I have a hard time conceiving that there are Christians who can dismiss this so quickly.

Having grown up in the 60's and 70's, I can remember a day when stores were closed, neighborhoods were quiet, and it was pretty easy for Christians to devote the day to corporate worship. Those days are long gone, and we find ourselves in competition with expanding work schedules, household projects, kids' sports programs, and just staying home to rest because it's been a busy week.

Part of the problem - from my point of view anyway - is that we've dumbed down the entire Christian experience. There was nothing sacred about Sunday School followed by a morning worship service followed by an evening worship service followed by Wednesday prayer meeting. That traditional schedule has gone the way of the horse-drawn carriage in our church, and instead we emphasize Sunday morning, Sunday school and small groups. I do wish I had the opportunity to reclaim Sunday nights - at least on occasion - but people have been out of the habit of Sunday night attendance for years now, so I am not optimisitic about the prospects of recovering it, but it would be nice . . .

I was reading some blog entries from people who are "disillusioned with the institutional church" and have stopped going altogether. I think they are wrong, but at least they are thinking about it. So many of our people aren't thinking.

I have blogged infrequently for the last several months, so the only person reading this may be the person who is writing it. But that's ok. I feel strongly about the need to recover this commitment, and I'm going to post some thoughts and ideas about this over the next few days and weeks. I've taken two weeks to teach our people about the importance of Sunday worship, and I have developed an even greater commitment to it than before I started. I hope you'll stop by and read why.



Time flies. My last post was on January 12th. To those of you who stop in and read (and my weekly report says that a couple of dozen do - hardly the same level as Tim Challies, but hey) it has been a very busy 2007. Yet I have a desire to contribute to the pastoral discussion that takes place in cyberspace.

Those of you who preach - do you find it harder to prepare Easter and Christmas sermons? I do. I think that the greatest challenge is finding an appropriate text. Let's face it - there are lots of them. But it is easier to know "where to go" when I am in a regular series. I'm choosing to preach a topical/expository sermon this Sunday on how the NT writers interpret the meaning of the resurrection.

One of the things that I have been thinking about is the development of a system of study for our church - I hate to use the term "discipleship program" that focuses on thinking rather than doing. A lot of the very good training programs (such as the Navigators' 2:7 series) are helpful for establishing positive spiritual habits. But I'd like to develop something for our church that focuses more on ways of thinking. One of the things that I think our modern church lacks is a sense of understanding of the future. Our church used to have a prophecy conference every-other year in conjuction with 7 other churches in our area. That fell by the wayside some time ago, and probably at that time for the best, because much of it tended toward the speculative . But I think a negative has been that we are more "now" focused and as a result we don't live in anticipation of Christ's return and in the awareness of the judgment seat of Christ.

In that vein, I have been scanning a new book by Stephen J. Nichols entitled Heaven on Earth: Capturing Jonathan Edwards's Vision of Living In Between. I'd post a link to it but Blogger doesn't work right with Safari - the default Mac browser. (I made the switch about a month ago and am entirely pleased with the transition).

To those of you who read - Happy Easter to you. May you be filled with joy at the new life we have in Christ!

A Few Resources


I've used several books and videos over the years on the subject of raising children. I have to say that the best that I have used is called Effective Parenting in a Defective World by Chip Ingram. Available from Walk Through the Bible Ministries for only $99 for 9 3o-minute sessions, there is a noticeable lack of psychobabble and a good deal of practical application of what the Bible tells us about parenting.Ingram recently completed a book by the same title, available via Amazon, and would be a good book to give new parents. Well-worth using in an adult Sunday School class, small group setting, or just having it available to in the church library. We were impressed enough to buy a copy for our daughter and son-in-law.- - -Hardly a ministry resource, but Stephen Lawhead's most recent book, Hood: Part 1 of the Raven Trilogy, is fun reading. I wouldn't put it among Lawhead's best work, but it was, well, fun. It is the beginning of the story of Robin Hood, though told from a very nontraditional perspective. Blogger of Bloggers Tim Challies posted a review on a pre-release of the book some months ago. I generally use audio books as my non-ministry reading, but this was a Christmas gift and one I would recommend.- - -John Piper's book on depression When the Darkness Will Not Lift, is online. Justin Taylor has some things to say about the book. It can be printed (it is in PDF format) and given to people who may be struggling with this problem. - - -My next read is The Devoted Life, by Kelly Kapic and Randall Gleason. Subtitled, An Invitation to the Puritan Classics, this looks like a good intro into Puritan authors and their writings. - - -SO GLAD to have the Far Side back, and in a on-page-per-day tear off format. What a great sense of humor. You either "get" Gary Larson or you don't but, fans will enjoy the daily look at one of his classics. [...]

Evangelicals and Innovation


In his new book Why Should I Believe You? Rediscovering Clergy Credibility (Abingdon), Thomas Bandy notes that the church is one of the last organizations in our culture that discourages (I think this is a typo, it should be “encourages”) innovation. He writes, "The church must learn the hard lessons that organizations in other public sectors have learned. In a world of mass migration, technological change, rapid communication, and spiritual searching, core values for maintenance, stability and predictability are no longer practical. The church is one of the last holdouts in organizational America that rewards employees and volunteers for their lack of experimentation."Such behavior is quite contrary to the New Testament, in which Jesus uses the parable of the talents to urge an entrepreneurial spirit in the disciples. It is also contrary to the tradition of first-millennium Christianity, in which leaders of the Christian movement tried everything from funeral societies to house churches to table talk in the agora in order to share the gospel. It is the dominance of the diocesan church of the second millennium, and the need of the diocesan leaders to control, that changed everything. Now we have to change back again."The above two paragraphs were lifted out of the latest issue of Preaching Now, a newsletter that I generally find very helpful. For some reason these few sentences really stuck in my craw. I don’t know Thomas Bandy, and don’t plan to read his book, but I want to respond to what he said with one short word: baloney.There are a couple of straw men that the church growth writers have set up, and one of them is that the church has failed to innovate. I’m not sure where these writers have been, but after thirty years of ministry, statements like that make me scratch my head. In point of fact Evangelicalism has been extremely good at innovation. We have ministries to college students, servicemen and servicewomen, ministries aimed at specific professions. We’ve creatively designed all kinds of ministries to kids and teens. I had lunch today with a friend whose church has a ministry to deaf people. I could go on and on. The church has discouraged innovation?I look at my own congregation. I’ve served here for 26 years and I want to tell you that this is not the same church it was in 1980 when I came. Our people dress more casually. We’re not stuck singing gospel songs from the 1930’s. We do both older and newer Christ-centered music. Discussion has replaced lecture in many areas of our teaching ministries. Our kids programs and youth groups are not age-specific replicas of a worship service. We’ve moved from the King James Version. Many of our adults attend home Bible studies during the week, something made possible by eliminating our Sunday evening and midweek services. We use more than just an organ and a piano on Sunday morning. Our efforts to reach out to our community have been focused on having them receive something from us rather than inviting them to join us in our "thing." And I could go on.Some might say that these changes are not that significant? Really? You should have been here while they were taking place. Some people had a hard time with some of these "minor" changes. And my congretation is not the only one of which this would be true. None of this would have happened – here or elsewhere – without innovation. So exactly what is it, Mr. Church Growth Expert (and I am not directing this at Mr. Bandy) that needs to change?Let me share a lesson I learned years ago. For the first decade of my ministry at Faith I worked broadly in the Christian Education program. One of my responsibilities involved the evaluation of children's curriculum. The early 1980’s happened to be a time when inn[...]

When Time Magazine Shows Us the Way


This came from the December 5, 2006 issue of PreachingNow, the newsletter of If Christian leaders are reading this, and taking it seriously, do they realize that the same is true of adults? Clever video clips and Christian comics will not mature our people. God's Spirit has historically used Scripture to do that. There is no reason to think that our culture is so unique that we can jettison 2000 years of precedent and come up with a better idea.

Youth Ministry: More Substance, Please
Youth ministries are seeing a hunger for more Bible-based worship and teaching and less fun and games, according to an article in the Nov. 6 issue of Time magazine.

"Believing that a message wrapped in pop-culture packaging was the way to attract teens to their flocks, pastors watered down the religious content and boosted the entertainment," according to the Time article. "But in recent years churches have begun offering their young people a style of religious instruction grounded in Bible study and teachings about the doctrines of their denomination. Their conversion has been sparked by the recognition that sugar-coated Christianity, popular in the 1980s and early 90's, has caused growing numbers of kids to turn away not just from attending youth-fellowship activities but also from practicing their faith at all."

The move to more substantive programming is seeing results in growing numbers and changed lives. Time reports: "Bible-based youth ministries at churches around the country are enjoying a similar success. At Shoreline Christian Center in Austin, Texas, youth pastor Ben Calmer vetoed the purchase of a pool table because it didn't further his goal of increasing spiritual nourishment. Instead he started a class in which the young people wrestle with such difficult questions as, 'Why doesn't God answer all prayers?' No one seems to be suffering from the absence of the pool table. Youth membership has doubled, to 160, during the 18 months Calmer has been in charge. Similarly, teens at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Md., are embracing the big doses of Bible study youth pastors now recommend. Teen ranks have tripled, to nearly 600, since the mid-1990s." (Click here to read the full article.)

Wrapping Up 2006, continued - software


Logos Bible Software has become a staple of mine in study. When they upgraded to version 3, I sprung for the Scholar's package, which while duplicating some of the resources I already had, made enough sense because of what it added.

GreatNews is my blog reader. It is free, easy to use, does not crash, has not choked on any feed that I give it, and did I mention it is free? Great program.

With the cost of storage so inexpensive, and having been bitten by not having backups of my data in the past, two programs have been useful in my own backup strategy. I have two internal hard drives in my PC - one for programs and data (divided into a couple of partitions so that data is on a different partition than my programs) and one for backup. Then I have an external backup drive as well. I use SyncbackSE, a shareware program from 2BrightSparks. They have a freeware version, but I paid for the full program and am glad that I did. When I run SyncBackSE, it notes any changes to my files and copies the newer versions to my backup drive. I use this daily. When I want to back up my main partition, which includes only my operating system and program files, I use Acronis TrueImage. Many people use Norton Ghost, but I have been using TrueImage (now in version 10) through 4 incarnations. If I try out some freeware that I don't like, it takes me 3 minutes to restore my main partition. I've also created some baseline installations of my operating system (just basic, with drivers, with programs, etc.) so that in the event of major program changes I can restore to what is essentially a fresh install of my system. A little obsessive? Maybe, but lose your data and you'll wish you had been more obsessive.

Wrap Up 2006, Continued - Some Books, Part 2


Though I just began using it last week, Craig Keener's monumental commentary on Matthew is just fantastic. I am preaching on Matthew 1 and 2 for several weeks and his comments and research on the background to Matthew 1:18-25 were immeasurably helpful.

The Reformation Study Bible accompanied me many times this year to Barnes and Noble for my lunch 'n study sessions. The notes are helpful, and in the main do not ignore questions that arise in difficult passages. The RSB and a handful of photocopied articles/book chapters make quality study out of the office a lot easier.

DA Carson's New Testament Commentary Survey is a constant help in choosing books for purchase. It is now in its sixth edition.

I did not read either of these books, but listened instead to the audio versions. If you have an interest in church history, I would highly recommend The Reformation for Armchair Theologians and Calvin for Armchair Theologians. There are several other books available in this well-written, entertaining and often witty series. Up next on my iPod after Stephen Sears' book Landscape Turned Red (about the Battle of Antietam) is Luther for Armchair Theologians.

Wrap Up 2006, Continued - Some Books


I've been preaching through Romans since the beginning of the year, and will finish the book sometime in March. Two superb helps in the process are the commentaries by Douglas Moo (NICOT) and Thomas Schreiner (BECNT). Both commentaries are filled with top-notch analysis, and interact with other sources, but show a spiritual depth that sometimes is lacking in exegetical studies. Moo's commentary is one of three on Romans that he has offered, and each one is of value to the pastor and teacher.

I've also appreciated The Valley of Vision, and have been sharing portions of it with our church as an introduction to our monthly observances of the Lord's Table.

I am privileged to have a, uh, special room in my office. It's small and sparsely furnished. And this has been a helpful friend. I can't discern the meaning of a Hebrew word with it, but I can make a case that Ron Santo, who played 3B for the Cubs in the 60's, should be in the Hall of Fame with no question. :-)

Beginning to Wrap Up 2006


My blog-posting frequency is about one or two times per week, and as we work down through the last 5 weeks of the year, I'd like to focus my comments primarily on some things that encouraged, blessed, instructed, etc. me during the year.

Hands-down the highlight of the year was being able to attend the Together for the Gospel conference in April. There was not a weak message among the lot of them, and the conference left me with a renewed sense of commitment to "stay the course" and build my ministry around the exposition of Scripture as the primary means God uses to birth and build his people.

I am also grateful for the generosity that was displayed, shown by the fantastic selection of books that were given away to each participant.

One way in which the conference benefited our congregation is that it introduced me to some of the fine Sovereign Grace hymns which have become a regular part of the music of our congregation.

Spiritual Gifts


I've been preaching for the last several weeks on the subject of spiritual gifts as I make my way through Romans 12. I appreciated the post that Tim Challies had the other week, as his thoughts paralleled mine in several ways. I think that is a good thing, at least I hope so.I had come up with a list of four questions about spiritual gifts that I wanted to answer in the course of the series-within-a-series. The first one related to the issue of the continuation of some of the miraculous gifts. I spent a Sunday explaining both the cessationist and continuationist positions and trying to explain the cessationist view that our church has held and the basis for it.This past week I addressed the issue of the gift of prophecy, as it appears on the list of unusual (if I can use that word) gifts in 1 Corinthians 12, and also on the list of conventional gifts in Romans 12. But what was probably of particular interest - and generally is - to most of our congregation was the discussion of how we know what gifts we have and how they are to be used. I've concluded several things that might be helpful as I've tried to sort through the biblical data on this topic.We must not treat spiritual gifts as a novelty. Often people are interested in what gifts they have much like they are interested in finding out what type of personality they fit into. It is cool to hear where you fit, but nothing much happens after that. In reality, we will give an account for the use of our gifts, since they have an important place in the life of the church.We should be careful about splitting hairs when it comes to identifying gifts. There are four (perhaps five) lists of gifts in the New Testament. One is found in Romans, two lists are in 1 Corinthians 12, one is in Ephesians, and then possibly one in 1 Peter. Each list is different, including some gifts that are not found on other lists, and excluding some gifts that are found on other lists. I've seen books and articles that provide very precise definitions of the different gifts, but I'm not so sure we can do that, or that we need to. First of all, many of the gifts are simply mentioned. They are not shown in action, such as might be done in a narrative portion of Scripture where we have an illustration of their use. Therefore there has to be some humble uncertainty about being too fine in our definitions. For example, can anyone make a case that there is a fundamental difference between the gift of leadership (1 Cor 12) and administration (Rom 12), or that serving (Romans 12) is different than helps (1 Cor 12)?I've encouraged our people to think more broadly, following Peter's discussion in 1 Peter 4. There are those who are gifted in communication and there are those who gifted in hands-on types of ministries. There are certainly more than two gifts, but here is a place to begin.Many, but not all, of the spiritual gifts have corresponding character qualities. By this I do not mean that a gift is equal to a particular character quality, but rather that some gifts may involve the ability to excel in areas all should be obedient in. In Romans 12 Paul says that some are gifted to serve. Yet he also says in Galatians 5:13 that all of us are to serve each other. He identifies a gift of exhortation, but then tells us in 1 Thessalonians 4:18 & 5:11 that we are all responsible for encouraging each other (same word). There is a gift of giving (contributing), but all of us are to give. There is a gift of doing acts of mercy, but Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful,” speaking about it in a way that applies to all of his followers. How does this relate[...]

Remember Those in Prison


It can be hard to watch television.Do you remember the wall? The wall covered with pictures of men and women who disappeared in the span of a few moments when extremists directed two airplanes into the largest targets on the New York City skyline. There’s a picture of a man, sitting on the roof of his home. He’s lost everything but his life and the clothes on his back. There’s a picture of a child, flies buzzing around her face, looking at us through hollow, hungry eyes. Mother and father are gone, the victims of yet another military coup that brought death to streets where she once played. Here’s a woman carrying her dying child, looking in vain for food for herself and her baby, but the ground is dry, even the water is spoiled, and there is no food. We feel helpless. So helpless. You feel so incredibly helpless that the only way to deal with the helplessness is to turn it off, turn away, try to forget.This morning I want to show you a picture that I hope you will not forget. I hope that I will not forget. It is a hard picture to look at, but we need not feel helpless nor hopeless.As the writer of Hebrews closes his letter, he tells his readers to pay attention to several areas of responsibility. In chapter 13, verse 3, he writes this:Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.What can we learn from this text that applies to what is going on in our world?Christians around the world are in prison or suffer mistreatment because of their faith.There are two special inserts in your bulletin this morning. I would like you to look at the map and note that it represents, as the title says, areas of the world where Christians are persecuted. This means that because a man, woman, boy or girl has placed his or her faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord, they are in harm’s way. Look for a moment at that map. Note that those areas which are highlighted are also earth’s most densely populated. Missionaries have talked to us about the 10-40 window, that area of the world most resistant to the Gospel. If you look at the shaded areas, you’re looking at the 10-40 window. And right at this moment, in those places, we have brothers and sisters in prison and who are undergoing mistreatment for no other reason than their faith in Jesus Christ. Of course, persecution of Christians is not new. Persecution began as soon as the excitement of Pentecost had settled down, and we can read about it in Acts 4. Paul wrote several of his letters while in prison. Many of the Apostles died as martyrs, with apparently only John dying of old age, but even he was in prison for his faith.In addition, there is no reason to expect that persecution will stop. Jesus told his followers that the world would hate them because it hated him (John 15:18-25). Peter wrote to address the difficulties that Christians were facing in 1 Peter 4:12-19.We need to be fair. People acting under the banner of Christianity have been guilty of persecuting people of other faiths, though in most (but not all) cases this was less a matter of theology and more a matter of power, ambition and nationalism. Who are we talking about? Who is being persecuted? We’re talking about shopkeepers, fishermen, farmers, mothers, fathers and even children. We’re talking about pastors and church leaders – people whose “crimes” are having faith in Christ and being faithful to him. Owning portions of God’s word. Sharing their faith with others. And their punishment includes bei[...]

The Priesthood of All Believers, Part 2


Part 2 – Offering Spiritual SacrificesAccording to what we read in 1 Peter 2, we are a community of priests offering spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God. What kinds of sacrifices is Peter talking about? Let’s look at four places in the New Testament where this idea appears:Romans 12:1-2 – the offering of our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God.Philippians 4:18 – speaks about the sacrifice of giving.Hebrews 13:15 – speaks about the sacrifice of praise.Hebrews 13:16 – speaks about sacrifices of good deeds and sharing. And that’s where this ties in with Romans 12.Part 3 – Spiritual Gifts and the Priesthood of All BelieversLook back at Romans 12:3-8. It is our privilege and responsibility to minister to each other’s needs according to the way that God has uniquely gifted us. As I said last week, no one is exempt. Rather, we are to acknowledge that, as part of the body, as part of the fellowship of believers, we are to see ourselves as ministers of God.Therefore,- We don’t need a human priest to mediate between God and us the work of Christ, our great High Priest, gives us access to God (Hebrews 10:19-22).- We don’t need a priest to interpret the Bible to us. John writes in 1 John 2:27 – “But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you.” That does not invalidate the need for pastors and teachers and elders who teach and guard the flock. God has gifted people to teach His Word. Nor does it mean that each person can decide for himself or herself what the Bible is saying (as if it means different things to different people). What it does mean is that you as a Christian person are capable of understanding truth because God’s Spirit lives in you and teaches you.- We don’t need a priest to do the work of ministry. That is assigned to all of us. The gifts belong to the body, not a super-spiritual subset of the body. Some of us function vocationally in ministry responsibilities, but all we are all ministers. That means that while it is appropriate for pastors and elders to visit the sick and care for people’s needs, any of you can perform the same spiritual function. My prayers are no more or less effective than your prayers. Many of you are just as capable if not more so of providing counsel and direction. That’s why Paul says later in Romans (15:14) that “I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another.” That word instruct means warn, admonish, exhort, counsel.Catch this too – when the writer of Hebrews tells us that we have full and complete access to God on our own, he tells us to do two things. Look at Hebrews 10:23-25:Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.Ministry. Believers helping other believers grow toward godliness. Responding to God’s Word – Your Place in the Priesthood of All BelieversWhat is the best way to respond to what God says in his Word about our status as priests and ministers to each other?One response would be gratitude. This is a doctrine that people died for.[1] I am not saying this to inspire guilt or pity, as our parents may have done when they got us to eat our vegetables by rem[...]

If You Want Some Insight as to How the Culture Views Christianity (and some other unrelated stuff).


I read this last night before the election results were in. This forum was open to anyone, regardless of political persuasion. I find it telling. Do you?

I'm connecting this in my mind to Phil Johnson's dead-center, right-on-the-money, hit-the bullseye comments from last week.

Here's a good article on preaching the longer books, especially in the OT.

These two posts are helpful with regard to our devotional reading of the Bible. Old Truth warns against reading one Bible verse. Dan Phillips talks about having devotions from Leviticus.

Rick Phillips reflects on Scot McKnight's recent lecture at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia on the Emerging Church.

The Priesthood of All Believers


At the heart of the Protestant Reformation was a commitment to five key beliefs. We took several weeks last year to look at these doctrines, which are summarized by five Latin phrases:Sola fide – by faith alone!Sola Scriptura – Scripture alone!Solus Christus – Christ alone!Sola Gratia – through grace alone!Soli Deo Gloria – for the glory of God alone!The issues surrounding the Reformation were not just about the beliefs of the church – though that was the foundation. They were also about the practices of the church. These were also held up to the scrutiny of Scripture and found wanting.As it became clear that Rome would not be changed, the Lutheran and later the Reformed movements began to wrestle with questions relating to the Church. The Roman Church service was organized around the Mass. The Protestant churches sought to root their understanding of “doing church” in the example of the New Testament. Church services began to be teaching times, and in addition Luther emphasized the inclusion congregational singing, believing that, as one writer says, “the vigorous singing of simple hymns could open the hearts and minds of God’s people to embrace the Word of God.”[1]It would now be good for us to read two passages. The first is in 1 Peter 2:4-10. The second is just a few pages away, in Revelation 5:1-10.Central to the changes that took place in what the church did when it gathered was a recapturing of biblical ideas about what the church was. It was out of the reformers’ understanding of passages such as the two we have just read that a concept known as the priesthood of all believers was taught. And this – like the five “sola” statements we looked at last year, was a radical departure from what Rome had been teaching.The Priesthood in the Roman Church & The Protestant ResponseThe Roman church taught that there was a difference in status between those who were part of the church hierarchy and the common person. The priest stood between the people and God, acting as a mediator. He performed the Mass. He acted as confessor. He could proclaim pardon for sin. But Luther protested on the basis of Scripture:“It has been devised, that the Pope, bishops, priests and monks are called the Spiritual Estate; princes, lords, artificers and peasants, are the Temporal Estate; which is a very fine, hypocritical device. But let no one be made afraid of it; and that for this reason: That all Christians are truly of the Spiritual Estate, and there is no difference among them, save of office alone. As St. Paul says (1 Cor. Xii), we are all one body, though each member does its own work, to serve the others.” [2]Luther went on to say that all Christians are consecrated as priests, and this on the basis of what Peter and John had written in the passages we read earlier.You can’t imagine how radical this was! And it still remains radical to the mind of the traditional Roman Catholic.[3]The Implication of the Doctrine of the Priesthood of all BelieversPart 1 – What the Reformers IntendedI need to clarify a few things. Luther’s protest against the division between church hierarchy and the layperson was not intended to introduce a spirit of individualism. In an article on the Priesthood of All Believers, Dr. Timothy George quotes Lutheran Scholar Paul Althaus:“Luther never understands the priesthood of all believers merely in the sense of the Christian's freedom to stand in a direct relationship to God without a human mediator. Rather he cons[...]

Reformation Day 2006


Last year I presented a six-part series on the key doctrines of the Reformation. It is not always easy to measure the effectiveness of a sermon or sermon series (and you hate people telling you, "That was such a nice sermon!"), but as near as I could tell, it was both edifying and educational, which was what I hoped for.I have spent my life in non-denominational churches, and one of the flaws of being an independent church or coming from an independent church background is that it can create a sense of independence on a variety of levels, one of which is a sense of independence from Christian history. I suspect that most Christians have an awareness of the early church that comes from the study of Acts and the NT epistles. But any sense of history ends there. As a result, "our" way of doing things is the only way of doing things right. "Our" kind of music is representative of how music ought to be done in Church.My teaching through the five Solas of the Reformation last year made me realize several things afresh, and these have continued to motivate my ministry this year.The doctrinal issues that the Reformers fought for remain the main issues theologically and are at the root of a lot of practical issues that the church continues to face nearly 500 years later.Our people need to understand the significance of the things we believe. What does it mean, for example, to not believe in justification by faith alone? What are the implications of rejecting Sola Scriptura? I think it is easy for a layperson to assume that these things are often trivialities that have no bearing on "real life" but that theologians and scholars bandy about. Not so!Our people, especially those who were raised in an "salvation by grace through faith shown by a raised hand and then coming forward" environment need to hear these doctrines taught and taught and re-taught. And we don't need to go outside of the realm of regular systematic exposition of Scripture to cover them. They fill the pages of the New Testament letters.That teaching doctrine does in fact relate to life. The division between "doctrinal" and "practical" is artificial, misleading, thoughtless and . . . irrelevant. I have deliberately exposed our people to more church history in the last year and plan to do so as an ongoing part of pastoral ministry. Who can listen to John Piper's sermon/lecture on William Tyndale and not be moved? Who can hear that believers were put to death for teaching their children to pray the Lord's Prayer in English - and not come to the conclusion that holy things have become too common for us and that we take for granted the rich privileges we have, even for things so simple as owning our own copy (in reality copies) of the Bible?The Reformers were not perfect people, but that is not the point. We owe much to them, and much of what they worked for has been so watered down in our day that it needs to be regularly reviewed and taught afresh. It is the clarity of the Gospel and its implications that will secure the church, not methods, visuals, skits, or attempts to be culturally relevant (while lacking clear biblical conviction). So to Martin, John, and the rest of you faithful men, here is one 21st century pastor's thanks. And thank you, Lord, for your grace which was shown to them, and through them to us.[...]

Unnecessary Creativity


Maybe I'm just grumpy . . .

I received an email promotional (which means advertising) for a series of about a dozen video clips that can be played 2 minutes before the worship service starts to let people know that the service is, in fact, about to begin. They feature biblically focused, Christ-exalting, heart preparing activities such as ninja fighting, hamburger eating, etc. I wonder if after they get shown the Pastor of Comedy comes out to warm up the crowd a bit more.

I'm teaching on Romans 12:6-8 this week, and as I am considering spiritual gifts, someone sent me a copy of a church bulletin advertising someone who has a Gospel Trick Pool Shot ministry. I'm glad that I was able to learn about that before I confined myself to the somewhat drab list of gifts in the New Testament. I know, I know: all things to all men. Got it.

Tim Challies asked the other week for a definition of discernment. I don't have one to contribute, but I can pretty safely say that the exercise of such a quality might preclude using these kinds of things that get pushed at us.

But then I am thankful . . .

Sovereign Grace recently put out a CD of songs based on the Valley of Vision book of Puritan prayers and meditations. We have no record of the puritans having partaken of trick pool shots or comedy warm-ups, but they nevertheless appear to have been deeply spiritual and pretty effective. I would highly recommend the CD, available via Sovereign Grace or downloadable via iTunes. This is not so much news as a recommendation. It is both God-honoring and pleasant to listen to.

Influential Books


Christianity Today has a list of the 50 most influential books in the last 50 years on their website. Several bloggers have commented pro and con on the selection of titles.During the early 1970's I worked in a large Christian bookstore that my church ran. What made it unusual then (and I think the standard holds true today) is that while they serviced the entire area, they carried only those books that fit the doctrinal beliefs of the church. They would order anything that was published by an evangelical publisher, but would only stock those books that fit the church doctrinal statement.Based on that time and seeing what people were reading, I'd suggest a few other titles for the list as well. I'm not necessarily recommending any of them, but as I recall they shaped Evangelicalism in the 1970's in particular.Harold Lindsell's The Battle for the Bible was a defense of biblical inerrancy.Ray Stedman's Body Life was the book that unleashed a new understanding of how Christians should view their role in the local church, and created an interest in discovering and using spiritual gifts.Jay Adams' Competent to Counsel was an effort to restore biblical counseling and exhortation to pastors and church leaders. Adams was wrongly chided for being simplistic and harsh, blaming everything on sin. But there is a whole movement that followed in his steps and refined his ideas.Merlin Carothers' book Prison to Praise was a huge influence on the Charismatic Movement in the early 1970's. We (the bookstore I worked in) did not carry it, but we did tons of special orders for people who wanted it. I'm not charismatic, nor did I appreciate the way people who were charismatic felt the need to try to infiltrate non-charismatic churches at that time, but the book was nevertheless highly influential.The Living Bible made CT's list, and it certainly made its mark. But surely any list that includes translations should include the New International Version. The NIV became almost THE standard text to preach from and was the foundation for numerous reference sources, both academic and popular in nature. The New American Standard Bible, while not enjoying the popularity of the NIV, was released at somewhat the same time and provided people with a choice other than the KJV and the RSV (which did not enjoy favor with American evangelicals).Growing up in an independent church culture, I would have to suggest 1967's New Scofield Reference Bible as one of those books that shaped my part of the evangelical world. The New Scofield included updated notes, plus some changes in the wording of the KJV text. Most dispenationalists loved it, some KJV-only types saw it as a perversion of the truth. Regardless of your theological slant, the NSRB was THE study Bible until they began putting one out for every segment of society.What books are influential depends on a lot of factors. These were books that shaped the evangelical world during a time of great change.[...]