Friday, September 19, 2014

Creative Preaching?

I had several thoughts converge when I saw this ad, and none were complimentary. However, I do think this ad captures the essence of what is misdirected, ill advised, bad, and just plain wrong with what is coming out of so many pulpits across our land today. There is indeed a pressure from the masses, a II Timothy 4:3-4 type of pressure, for the pastor to be fresh, creative, original, and entertaining with his messages, or else the crowd is off to the one who will meet their demands; and what is also implied in the II Timothy passage is that there will always be pastors who are eager to give the masses what they want.

This pressure from the masses is in conflict with the charge to the preacher in II Timothy 4:1-2 to preach the word in season and out, rebuking, reproving, correcting, and instructing.  Somehow, you can't entertain and rebuke simultaneously; creativity and correction just don't go together; and instruction in godliness doesn't meet felt needs...especially the modern crowd's need to feel better about their bad self.

There is always a temptation for the pastor to play to the crowd, which involves ignoring what they need in order to give them what they want.  Advertisements like the one above certainly aid in the succumbing of the pastor to that temptation.  You will also notice that they want to help you be creative and fresh, for a price. Brothers, let's call that what it is. That is not ministry, that is merchandising.  

In II Corinthians Paul defends his preaching to the Corinthians against the charge that he was personally unimpressive, unskilled in speaking (not eloquent in the manner of the day), and he had nothing to say that was worth listening to. (It makes me wonder if Paul had the church at Corinth in mind when he penned those verses in II Timothy.)  If you read through both epistles to the Corinthians you will discover that in Paul's preaching to them, he gave them what they really needed to hear, not what they wanted to hear.  He was determined to know nothing among them but Jesus Christ and Him crucified, He brought them the gospel, He laid out Jesus Christ as the foundation of their faith, His message and preaching were not of eloquent persuasion but demonstrated the power of the Spirit, He preached God's wisdom instead of man's, and lived out before them what he preached to them.  He never worried or fretted about being fresh or creative, but in preaching Christ to them he gave them the full counsel of God.

Brother pastors, let us not fall prey to the siren call of the shallow silliness of the day, let us not succumb to the temptation to be fresh and original, let us not be led astray by the enticement of slick advertisements that play on our insecurities; but let us remain faithful to our charge to handle the word rightly, let us preach it faithfully, let us preach it boldly and unapologetically, and let us preach it in the power of the Spirit so that we will have no regrets when our work is tested by fire in that last day, and we will  receive our full reward.

Monday, September 15, 2014

His Goodness and Ours

Psalm 119:39b...Your ordinances are good.
Psalm 119:68 You are good and do good, teach me your statutes.

Why would the Psalmist ask the Lord to teach him His statutes?  So that he may be good and do good just like his heavenly Father (Matthew 5:48), as it is from His statutes that he learns what is truly good.

Father, this day, this week, this month, fulfill our every desire for goodness, and attend our works of faith with Your power so that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ will be glorified in You and You in Him.  Amen. (II Thessalonians 1:11-12)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Sunday and the Word of God

The Word of God is meant to be a blessing
to the people of God.  So, this Sunday, sing it,
read it, preach it, and pray it.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Forgiveness for the Sake of His Name

Our sins have been forgiven for the sake of His name (I Jn 2:12). We must therefore forgive others for the sake of His name (Mt 5:43-45).

Saturday, September 06, 2014

The Greatest Message

and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be
proclaimed in His name to all the nations...
Luke 24:47

The most exciting, the most glorious, the most gracious,
the most wonderful message in the world, is that God
forgives sin.  And He has provided forgiveness for sin
 for all who call out to Him, by not counting our sins  
against us (II Corinthians 5:19), but by counting
 them against Christ. 
(II Corinthians 5:21, I Peter 2:24, Isaiah 53:8)

So today, right now, seek Him while He may be
found, call upon Him while He is near, for He
is gracious, ready to forgive, and will 
abundantly pardon.

And for those of us who have been abundantly
pardoned, let us abundantly rejoice!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Measuring Your Ministry

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me,
because He considered me faithful, putting me into service.
I Timothy 1:12
(italics mine)

As pastors, our desire should be to be faithful, not successful!  Too much, pardon me...way too much... emphasis is put on a pastor being successful.  Pastors grade themselves, and are graded by others, on the success of their ministry, instead of the faithfulness of their ministry.  There are conferences, seminars, magazines (Leadership), blogs, articles, and websites that are devoted to the pastor's success. There are secular standards of measure that are used such as numbers, growth, baptisms, budget, missions involvement, influence, twitter followers, website or blog hits, and the like.  And, yes, the more 'spiritual' will talk about how true success in ministry is measured in spiritual terms, or how you can't measure success because it is spiritual; but the problem is that the stress is still on being successful.

I cannot find one scripture in the entire Bible that refers to a pastor being successful.  In fact, the Bible never stresses the success of the pastor, but stresses the faithfulness of the pastor.  For example see I Timothy 1:12 above and listen to I Corinthians 4:1-2 "Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.  In this case moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found (pistos) faithful/trustworthy.  

This is why we never find any Scriptures where the Lord is measuring our success, but we see where He is always measuring our faithfulness, our trustworthiness.  For example:
Luke 16:10 He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing will be unrighteous in much. For us as pastors we see this principle in Luke played out in Matthew.
Matthew 24:45-46 "Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time?  Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes."  And we see this illustrated vividly for us in a parable of the kingdom, Christ's kingdom, in Matthew 25:14-30. In this parable we see the Master leaving and entrusting his possessions to his slaves, and in verses 21 and 23 we see His commendation upon His return, "His master said to him, "Well done good and faithful slave, You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your Master." Christ has left this earth for a while, and has given us pastors charge over His possessions (His people, see I Peter 2:9, Titus 2:14). His concern, as so wonderfully illustrated in the Scriptures above, is for us to be faithful with what Has given us, and He has not entrusted everyone with the same amount.

You see, when you try to measure success, the only true way to measure is if everyone is given the exact same ministry, the exact same gifting, the exact same set of circumstances, and so on.  But the Lord has not seen fit for it to work in that way.  In addition to the verses listed above in Matthew consider this in Romans 12:3-6 "For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.  For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly; if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith. So there is no standard by which we can all be measured, except our faithfulness.  So as we have seen in Matthew (and also in Luke 19) when the Lord measures "success," He measures it by faithfulness.

What we are concerned about in our ministry will be what we emphasize in our ministry. When our concern is our success, then success, in whatever way we measure it, will be the emphasis; and if success in ministry is our goal, then our ministry automatically becomes about us and our goal(s) and not about the Lord and the accomplishment of His purpose(s).  

As indicated above, the Lord is using us (talking to pastors in particular here), to accomplish His purpose(s). We are the tools, the means, the vessels that He has chosen to use, but it is Him that is accomplishing His purpose(s) through us.  When we put the emphasis on our success, it then becomes us achieving our goals with the Lord's "help."  When the emphasis in on our success, the Lord becomes our means in accomplishing our goals instead of us being the means of the accomplishment of His eternal purpose; and, in effect, the Lord becomes our servant and we cease to be His; and thus, the glory is no longer the Lord's but ours. This is very subtle, but it is rampant in the ministry here in the states, as we have corrupted the ministry with the American success syndrome. In considering this, let us look at a few Scriptures that can give us the right perspective on this: 
Psalm 127:1 Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman keep awake in vain.
II Corinthians 3:4-6 Such confidence we have through Christ toward God.  Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit...
I Corinthians 12:4...the Spirit gives the gifts
I Corinthians 12:5...the Lord gives the ministries
I Corinthians 12:6...our God causes the effects
II Timothy 2:21 Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor; sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared (made fit) for every good work.
II Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves.

How these verses work together in a gospel ministry is illustrated in these mysteries:
Mark 4:26-28 And He was saying, "The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows--how, he himself does not know. The soil produces the crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head.
I Corinthians 15:10 By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove in vain (because Paul was faithful), but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I but the grace of God with me.

Brother pastors and fellow Christian workers.  Let us no longer be slaves to the secular success syndrome that has crept into the church and try to measure our ministries by artificial and arbitrary standards. Let our concern not be for our success, but for our faithfulness; and therefore let us seek to be faithful in the task, the great and noble task, of expanding the kingdom which was begun in Christ and will be culminated in Christ when He returns and rules.  Let our success be found in our faithfulness to the Lord and to the ministry to which He has called us and has equipped us and gifted us to perform; and let us keep our hands firmly on the plow as we follow His path and pray for His will to be done and not our own.

Friday, August 08, 2014

God's Perpetual Care

There was a popular song a few years back by Third Day, the foundation of which was Psalm 36:5-6.  I wish whoever had written the lyrics had gone ahead written about the rest of that section so that we could see more of the beauty and perpetuity of God's care for us.  The following are the verses 5-9 of Psalm 36, with the heading of each verse giving us an area of God's care that is highlighted in that verse.

In God we have:

35:5 Your lovingkindness, O Lord, extends to the heavens, Your faithfulness reaches to the skies.

36:6a Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains; Your judgments are like a great deep.

36:6b O Lord, You preserve man and beast.

36:7 How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings.

36:8 They drink their fill of the abundance of Your house; and You give them to drink of the river of Your delights.

36:9a For with You is the fountain of life;

Spiritual Sight
36:9a In Your light we see light.

And Father, we pause now, and give You thanks for Your wonderful and marvelous provision.  We thank you that You are able to do abundantly more than we ask or think, and that You do just that in the lives of Your children.  Thank you for our daily bread, the cleansing from sin, and the availability of Your ear.  Bless Your name now and forever.  Amen.