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Monday, February 17, 2020

The Necessity of the Corporate Body of Christ in following Christ as Individuals.


That man is mistaken who desires his own separate growth. For what would it profit a leg or an arm if it grew to an enormous size, or for the mouth to be stretched wider? It would merely be afflicted with a harmful tumour. So if we wish to be considered in Christ, let no man be anything for himself, but let us all be whatever we are for others. This is accomplished by love; and where love does not reign, there is no edification of the Church, but a mere scattering. ~ John Calvin

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

The Danger of Reading the Bible Casually


The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exod 34:6-7)

Here is what one commentator writes about 'generational sins:'

God then issued a corrective against the natural human tendency to accept grace on the assumption that because an infinite God can produce an infinite amount of grace, sin has no significant consequence. This corrective is introduced simply by the normal Hebrew word for “and,” which the NIV justifiably translates “yet” but which is not a strong adversative word. Perhaps an even more revealing, even if tendentious, translation would be something like: “[Forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin] and at the same time not letting anybody off [i.e., making sure that the guilty get what they deserve].”

In connection with the wording “he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation,” see comments on 20:5–6. As already suggested there, this wording means something quite different from what it might seem to mean to the casual reader. It does not mean that God would punish children and grandchildren for something their ancestors did but that they themselves did not do. Rather, it describes God’s just punishment of a given type of sin in each new generation as that sin continues to be repeated down through the generations. In other words, God here reminded his people that they could not rightly think something like “we can probably get away with doing this in our generation because God punished an earlier generation for doing it, so the punishment for it has already been given, and we don’t have to worry about it.”  Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus, vol. 2, The New American Commentary, 717.

Monday, January 13, 2020

The Significance of the Indicative and Imperative Moods or Becoming What you Already Are

"The Christian indicative statement is not 'This is what you ought to be.' The Christian imperative is not 'Now be as much like this as possible.' Instead, the indicative is 'You are already thus; your true life is this.' And the imperative is 'Enter upon your possession.' In the familiar epigram so often used to describe the Christian position, it is a matter of 'Become what you already are'; and that is a strikingly different approach from 'Try to be a bit better than you are.' ...And trust in human effort implies all that Christianity denies. It assumes the ability of human nature to struggle upwards by itself; whereas the Christian formula, 'Become what you are,' sees in God a divine gift, and calls human nature to accept it. It says membership in the Christian Church, in the Body of Christ, has already possessed you of the life of Christ. To be a baptized member of the Church is to be a limb of the Christ who has passed through the grave and gate of death into life. Believe this, trust him, and begin to enter on your possession."- C.F.D. Moule; "Reach and Grasp", Theology Today xii (1955-6): 484-90; here 485-86.

Friday, October 11, 2019

5 Ways Thinking “Work-Life Integration” Has Helped Me

A great post by Eric Geiger, especially if you are a type A personality and are always working.  This fall I started working out early to mid afternoon because there is no one at the gym at that time and do not have to wait for the weight machines or turn around and someone is using my weights (I do circuit training).


In recent years some consultants and counselors have encouraged people to stop thinking “work-life balance” and start thinking “work-life integration.” While some say this is semantics, others believe the language represents a fundamental shift in thinking with “work-life balance” as a view of your life as having disparate parts (work and life) and “integration” as viewing your life a singular whole. It has been a helpful distinction for me. Here is why…
I never could get the balance right, which I realize is really a statement about my own struggles. On my worst days, I feel I am not doing enough. Not doing enough as a leader. Not doing enough as a pastor. Not doing enough as a husband. Not doing enough as a father. I say “on my worst days,” because those feelings are contrary to the message of the gospel – the message I believe and teach. The message that Christ has accomplished my forgiveness and approval for me is the message I need to liberate me from my striving. My default struggle can easily be amplified in a ministry or leadership role because ministry roles and leadership roles are never done. There is always something else to do, someone else to meet with, some problem to solve, or some opportunity to pursue. Also, there is always more time I can spend with my kids or investments I can put into my marriage. When I sought “balance,” I felt guilty when I “worked” during the evening because that was “family time,” and I would have felt guilty if exercised during the day because that is “work” time. Which is one reason I gained 30 pounds as a ministry leader in my early 30s (pounds that have not been lost).
Thankfully, my view changed over time as I watched other leaders I respected. I noticed something different in ministry leaders I believed to be the healthiest. They did not view their lives through the typical 9-5 lens. They woke up extremely early to work on sermons. Yet they unashamedly exercised in the middle of the day. They enjoyed walks or lunches with their spouses. And yet at times had dinners with others in the evenings. Instead of viewing their days as two distinct parts, the healthy leaders had a view of their whole life and set their rhythms and schedules to serve both their roles and their families. At the same time, I read stories of ministry spouses feeling neglected and heard many ministry leaders lament the difficulties of exercising with their brutal schedules. So, I stopped viewing my day as two parts (work and family) and started viewing it as one whole.
Disclaimer Alert: This approach requires understanding and support from your supervisor(s) AND should only be attempted if you enjoy work. If you default to being lazy, I don’t suggest asking for this privilege. No one has ever accused me of being lazy (I am so messed up that I feel I have to note that), and this approach has given me freedom with a clear conscience in the following five practical ways.
Can exercise during the day (with a clear conscience)
At one point I would have felt guilty doing so, but now I view this as stewarding my health in order to serve others more effectively.
Can answer emails after the kids go to bed (with a clear conscience)
I always have answered emails after the kids go to bed, but now I do so without guilt. I don’t feel I am “letting work infringe on life” because I don’t view my week that way.
Can read for a sermon on vacation (with a clear conscience)
I used to ban myself from books that could be considered “work” in nature because it was “rest time,” but I enjoy reading books about the Bible, theology, and leadership – so I go for it.
Can start work early (with a clear conscience)
I wake up early. When I viewed my day as “work-life balance,” that was when I was supposed to exercise because “work” was to start later. But I am often most ready to study early in the morning and exercise later in the day helps give me a second wind.
Can spend some extra time with Kaye during the week (with a clear conscience)
If I have several night appointments during the week, I will go to lunch with Kaye during the week or go for a walk with her. I evaluate the week as a whole and try, by God’s grace, to ensure my family gets plenty of me.
Work-life integration has been a better approach for me than work-life balance.

Monday, September 16, 2019

When Your Identity is Wrapped Up into Your Ministry

This issue can often make or break someone in ministry, from Ed Stetzer . . . 

My identity has too often been tied to the successes or failures of the ministries that I lead—and too frequently in unhealthy ways.
It’s easy to find yourself counting heads at church on a Sunday or eyeing up the funds that were raised on any given week, wishing that more was accomplished. I remember times when I mistakenly thought, If I can just get over 200 people this week, then I’ll finally be at peace. Evaluating our leadership capacities can take some ugly turns when done numerically based on factors that are, quite frankly, completely outside of our control.
I’m a highly driven person; quite honestly, it’s that drivenness that has in part helped me be a successful church planter and revitalizer for many years. What’s unhealthy is not the ambition itself, but the ways I let longings for success overtake my heart and mind. Ambitious people become demoralized not when we dream big, set goals, or vision cast but when the realization of these things we fantasize about become essential to our happiness and well-being.
At issue here are some fundamental questions that Christians everywhere—not just in the church—have to answer: What does it look like for followers of Christ to live and work with a healthy sense of ambition? Furthermore, how should we approach failure in light of that?
God wants YOU
Let me start by saying this: It is possible to be ambitious and driven while also being an enthusiastic Christ-follower at the same time. The two are not mutually exclusive.
God has given each of us gifts. Some of us are gifted with patient spirits, others of us can’t help but forge ahead. Some of us are good at managing large staffs of people, others of us are content to follow others and take direction.
Regardless of how these inclinations and abilities manifest themselves in everyday life, if you glean nothing else from this article, hear this: whoever you are, whatever you do, God wants to use you. Yes, you. He wants to show you how to use your you-ness the way he always intended and teach you to leverage your skills and abilities for the building of his kingdom.
Don’t worry about what you’ve been given; think instead about the giver himself and meditate on all the good works that he has prepared in advance for you to do.
His goals, not ours
As I’ve said before, it can be easy for my ambition to get the better of me; I’m wired to want to beat numbers, do better, and track improvements over a period of time.
Often, I think it’s easy for pastors to start thinking numerically about their congregations. We create measures for success that, quite honestly, are not representative of God’s own measures of success for our ministries.
More often than not, the most dangerous part about all this comes when we try to compare our success to that of other pastors and ministry leaders in our communities. When we do this, not only are we trying to ‘beat’ our own numbers, but their numbers as well. This kind of thinking is a slippery slope down the wrong road—it’s most definitely an example of ambition gone bad.
God has called us to live in unity as the body of Christ. Focusing on ways to one-up each other’s ministries is not how we’ve been instructed to go about that.
How do we fix this? Well, I think it starts by looking at our ministries the way that Paul did. We see throughout Acts and Paul’s letters to churches that his ambition is centered around not what he wants to accomplish, but what God has called him to do. In Acts 16, Paul tries to preach in the province of Asia and the Holy Spirit actually prevents him from doing so.
Reading passages like this, it’s clear who is in control of Paul’s ministry: hint, it’s not Paul. Those of us who preach, teach, or lead in the church truly delude ourselves if we think that we are somehow solely responsible for the present, past, or future successes of our ministries.
Our posture should be one of surrender to God who holds all the cards—and parishioners we serve—in his hands. Any ambition we have should start and end with the knowledge of his sovereignty over all the things we so tightly cling to.
At the end of the day, it’s not about our goals, it’s about his. It’s not about what kind of success we imagine, but what he has willed for us to accomplish.
It’s not about our name being made great, but about him being brought gloryAmbition channeled for the glory of God is the only form Christ-followers can ever really strive for and still stand on solid ground.
So, what about failure?
In ministry, there are always ups and downs. In churches particularly, bad Sundays sometimes happen—attendance is low and sermons don’t turn out exactly as we’d originally hoped. This isn’t something to stew over for days or blame yourself about; it’s something to surrender to God.
Self-reflection and occasional critique are important, don’t get me wrong. What’s not helpful is when we allow an obsession with perfection and dreams of worldly success to prevent us from appreciating the ways that God really is at work in our midst.
The truth is that we don’t see the big picture. We serve a God who is sovereign over all things. It’s only through his strength and provision that we are able to accomplish anything of eternal significance in this life.
As the Psalmist reminds us, “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain” (Ps.127:1).
Pastors and ministry leaders: trust that he who began a good work in you and in your organizations will bring it to completion in his good timing.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Preachers, Show Them in the Bible

John Piper has been helpful to me in so many ways over the last twenty-plus years in my thinking, my affections for Jesus, and in my ministry. . .

Expository exultation involves rigorous attention to the very words of the biblical text as a means of radically penetrating into the reality the text aims to communicate.
I am pleading against a widespread kind of preaching that is Bible-based but not Bible-saturated. I am pleading against the reading of a text followed by preaching that makes its points — sometimes very good points actually found in the text — without showing people the very words and phrases from which the points are taken. I am pleading against preaching that fails to help people see how the text actually takes us to the reality that is all-important.
What are the underlying reasons for this conviction that a preacher should show the people from the very words of the text how they can see for themselves the reality he is heralding? I will discuss only two here.

1. Only the Word of God Has Authority

First, the authority of preaching lies in the manifest correspondence between what the preacher is trying to communicate with his words and what the biblical authors are trying to communicate through the inspired words of Scripture. The key word here is manifest. The correspondence between the points of the sermon and the meaning of the words of Scripture should show.
“The words of God are the best means of displaying the glory of God.”
A preacher who does not care if his people believe what he says about the greatest matters in the world is a charlatan. He is playing language games in one of the most sacred places in the world. I assume most preachers who believe that the Bible is the word of God are not charlatans. That is, they take very seriously the calling to say things that people should believe. They want to be believed. They expect their people to believe what they say.

My First Sermon at Bethlehem

The basis for this astonishing expectation is the divine inspiration and complete truthfulness of Scripture. The Christian preacher aims to speak the word of God. He wants to be believed because he is saying what God wants said. In the first sermon I preached as pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church, at age thirty-four, I said,
The source of my authority in this pulpit is not . . . my wisdom; nor is it a private revelation granted to me beyond the revelation of Scripture. My words have authority only insofar as they are the repetition, unfolding, and proper application of the words of Scripture. I have authority only when I stand under authority. . . . My deep conviction about preaching is that a pastor must show the people that what he is saying was already said or implied in the Bible. If it cannot be shown, it has no special authority.
My heart aches for the pastor who increases his own burden by trying to come up with ideas to preach to his people. As for me, I have nothing of abiding worth to say to you. But God does. And of that word, I hope and pray that I never tire of speaking. The life of the church depends on it.

Tell Us What God Has to Say

In that sermon, I quoted W.A. Criswell (1909–2002), who pastored First Baptist Dallas for forty years. I said then, and I believe today, that his words are an admonition to pastors that I think is right on the money, and I take it as a great challenge:
When a man goes to church, he often hears a preacher in the pulpit rehash everything that he has read in the editorials, the newspapers, and the magazines. On the TV commentaries, he hears that same stuff over again, yawns, and goes out and plays golf on Sunday. When a man comes to church, actually what he is saying to you is this, “Preacher, I know what the TV commentator has to say; I hear him every day. I know what the editorial writer has to say; I read it every day. I know what the magazines have to say; I read them every week. Preacher, what I want to know is, does God have anything to say? If God has anything to say, tell us what it is.” (Why I Preach That the Bible Is Literally True)
This means that if the preaching is to claim authority to be believed, it needs to correspond to what the Scripture teaches. But here’s the catch: The desire of the Christian preacher is not that the resting place of the people’s confidence shift from the Scripture to the preacher. He wants them to believe what he says. He wants to have authority in that sense. But he wants the authority to remain in the Scripture itself, not in him and his words.
“My heart aches for the pastor who increases his own burden by trying to come up with ideas to preach to his people.”
This implies, therefore, that the message must not only correspond to the meaning of Scripture but also show that it does. The authority of preaching lies in the manifest correspondence between what the preacher is trying to communicate with his words and what the biblical authors are trying to communicate through the inspired words of Scripture. If this were not so, then on what basis would the people believe that the meaning of the sermon is the same as the meaning of the Bible? They may discover on their own that it is, without any help from the preacher. But why would the preacher want to make it hard for the people to see the correspondence?

Three Reasons Preachers Often Fail

It seems to me that a failure to show the people that the meaning of the sermon is there in the wording of Scripture is probably owing to incompetence, laziness, or presumption. Presumption that his words have enough authority on their own. Laziness because it is hard work not only to see what the text means but also to construct compelling explanations that show that the biblical text actually has this meaning. Incompetence because the preacher simply lacks the ability to show how the meaning of the message actually corresponds to the meaning of Scripture. These are traits that a preacher should not have.
The tragedy that happens over time in a church where the preacher does not give rigorous attention to the words of Scripture to help the people penetrate into the reality it communicates is that the word of God ceases to exercise its power, and the people lose their interest in the Scriptures.
When this happens, everything in the church shifts away from a joyful orientation on the Scriptures. The people cease to be a Bible-guided people. Without the saturation of Scripture, they become increasingly vulnerable to the winds of false teaching, and more subtly, the conditioning of unbelieving society. Their expectations become worldly, and they pressure the leadership of the church to make more and more concessions to what pleases unspiritual people. The preacher may wonder what the problem is, but he does not have to look far. He has not valued the word of God highly enough to make its glorious realities the content of his message while showing the people from the very words of the text how they can see these realities for themselves — and be thrilled.
That is the first reason for the conviction that the preacher should show his people from the very words of the text how they can see for themselves the reality he is heralding. It maintains the authority of Scripture as the manifest foundation for all that is preached.

2. Only the Word of God Awakens Life

The second reason that a preacher should show the people from the very words of the text how they can see for themselves the reality he is heralding is that preaching aims to awaken and strengthen faith in Christ, which the Scriptures themselves are designed to do with greater effectiveness than any message of man that mutes their words and meaning.
The essence of saving faith is seeing the supreme beauty of Christ in the gospel and embracing him as Savior, and Lord, and the greatest treasure in the universe. I say this because, among other reasons, it is implied in 2 Corinthians 4:4: “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” There is a spiritual light that shines through the gospel, and it is the light of the glory of Christ.
“As for me, I have nothing of abiding worth to say to you. But God does.”
Satan keeps unbelievers from seeing this glory. That is why they can’t believe. This is the light and the glory of Christ that a person must see in order to believe and be saved. It is seen with the eyes of the heart (Ephesians 1:18), when the Holy Spirit lifts the veil from our minds (2 Corinthians 3:16). The utterly decisive question preachers must answer is this: How will I preach so as to become an instrument of this miracle? How will I preach so as to awaken faith through a sight of the glory of Christ?

Nothing More Compelling

My answer is that God has given the church a divinely inspired book, which is the consummation of God’s demonstration of the beauty and worth of Christ. It is God’s own complete portrait of the glory of his Son — the meaning of his work from eternity to eternity, and its implications for human life. This divine portrait of Christ is the God-ordained means of creating saving faith. The words of God are the best means of displaying the glory of God.
Therefore, preaching that we hope God will use to create saving faith will not assume that there is a more compelling portrait of the glory of Christ that a preacher can create while sidelining or muting the portrait of Scripture in the words of Scripture. Instead, the aim of the preacher will be to rivet people’s attention on the words of Scripture and through them to reveal the reality of the glory of all that God is for us in Jesus.
Scripture is the divine word where the glory shines. Our aim is to focus people’s attention on that word in such a way that they see for themselves the glory. And believe.