Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Politics and the Pulpit

I have been very disturbed over the past many months with the number of pastors who have come out in support of, endorsed, or campaigned for people running for President of our country.  Even if we had two people of reputable character running for president, which we don't, I would not feel any differently.  One of the things that has bothered me deeply, is that when endorsing the candidate they have chosen, pastors and religious leaders act like or make statements to the effect that their particular choice of candidate will deliver our country.  No man or woman, not the Republican, not the Democrat, not the Libertarian, not the Green Party candidate can deliver our country from the morass of problems that beset us, for there is One and only One deliverer, and that is the Lord. 


The root issue in our country is that we have lost our moral moorings.  In other words, the root issue in our country is a spiritual one which is manifesting itself through the different crises we are seeing and experiencing.  The enmity and hatred behind the racial clashes is a spiritual issue.  The sexual assault on college campuses, which has been called an epidemic, is a spiritual issue.  The sexualization of our culture is a spiritual issue.  The degradation of women is a spiritual issue.  The glorification of violence is a spiritual issue. Pornography of every type is a spiritual issue. Drug use and abuse is a spiritual issue. Public anarchy and its manifestation in rebellion against law and order is a spiritual issue.  Heavy handedness by law enforcement is a spiritual issue. Moral relativism is a spiritual issue.  Islamic assault against us is a spiritual issue.  Class envy is a spiritual issue.  Abortion is a spiritual issue.  Human trafficking is a spiritual issue.  Greed and avarice are spiritual issues.  Immorality is a spiritual issue.  These issues are the root causes of the problems that beset our country, and why would anyone think that our political system or a person can solve the basic issues of the human soul, especially those who should know better....pastors and religious leaders, those who are charged with knowing the word of God.


Neither politics nor politicians have the power to deliver anyone.  They cannot empower anyone as they have no inherent power to give. They cannot change the heart. They cannot enlighten the mind nor give eyes to see or ears to hear. They cannot provide forgiveness nor promote mercy or compassion.  They cannot prevent bribes.  They cannot bridle the tongue, season our words with salt, and bring words of peace and healing. Nothing they can do, nothing that can be passed through the system will have any affect on the heart of man.  The best that politics and politicians can do is put a Band-Aid on the symptoms, but they cannot provide a cure for the root problem. Therefore, they cannot fix the mess we are in and there comes a point where the Band-Aids just aren't big enough to cover the wound anymore.  Ultimately, all politicians and elected officials can do is stir the pot; and why certain pastors and evangelical leaders continue to put their faith in a man or woman to right the wrongs and lead us to the Promised Land, and encourage us to jump on their bandwagon and do the same, is past credulity. Honestly, they should all know better; but the very fact that they are putting their faith in man shouts loudly about why the church in our country is in the condition that it is in, and why it has become contaminated salt that has lost its saltiness, and now is only good for the manure pile.


As pastors, our job is not to be political commentators or cultural watchdogs, but it is to be heralds of the Lord God, Himself, by preaching and teaching His unchanging and unerring Word.  There is only one Promised Land for the people to be led to, and that is the coming new heavens and new earth.  There is only one kingdom worth promoting and that is the kingdom of heaven; and there is only one King to pledge allegiance to and endorse, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ.  It is the Lord that removes kings and establishes kings (Daniel 2:21).  It is the Lord that determines the times and boundaries of the nations (Acts 17:26).  There is only One who delivers all men from their spiritual bondage, and it is Jesus Christ.  It is Him and His kingdom we should serve, not the leaders and kingdoms of this world.


Maybe, just maybe, if the pastors and religious leaders would work just as hard and be just as vocal in preaching repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ, the issues troubling our country would be resolved and lessened.  But, that is not as popular nor as easy, and will be met with greater resistance, because of the hardness of the human heart towards the things of God. 


Ultimately, we as pastors need to remember that we are but aliens and sojourners in this world and our time upon this planet is so very brief, and that it is our duty and our charge to lead people up to Christ, not down to the politicians of this world.  It is time for the church in our land to repent of our worldliness and dependency on human solutions to spiritual problems, and it needs to begin with us, the pastors and shepherds of the flock of God.  Let us lead forward in repentance and ask God to have mercy on us and on our nation.  Please, Lord, make it so.











Saturday, July 02, 2016

A Simple Outline of Romans 6-8

In chapters six through eight of Romans the main theme is that of sanctification, the being set apart from sin and set apart to God.  Sanctification, both as a position (being set apart as holy to the Lord) and a process (growth in personal holiness before the Lord), is not a doctrine that is espoused in the church much anymore; but its neglect is to the ruin and harm of the church, as Hebrews 12:14 tells us without sanctification, no one will see the Lord.  So sanctification is obviously a crucial issue for us all, and describes what is to be going on in the life of someone who has been saved.  So this is an important doctrine,a foundational truth of the gospel, and it is important that we understand it.

 There is a flow of thought in these chapters that I would like to give a simple outline so as to  give a handle on what is going on in these crucial chapters.


6:1-10  What God has done for us in Christ
                  The power of sin has been broken, and we are no longer its slaves.

6:11-23 Our response to God's breaking the power of sin
                  We present ourselves as slaves to God, as instruments of righteousness.

7:1-13    Our new relationship to the Law
                  The Law fulfilled its purpose, and is holy, righteous and good.

7:14-25   The presence and pull of sin is still there, and will remain
                  Although sin's power is broken, we must still do battle with it.

8:1-27     The presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
                  The work of the Holy Spirit in the life of someone who is truly in Christ.
               
8:28-39   The purpose and predominance of God
                  The plan and purpose of God is predetermined, cannot be hindered,
                  is carried out in Christ, and we cannot be separated from Him.

What we can see in this outline is that our sanctification begins with God breaking the power of sin, His giving us power over sin through the Holy Spirit, and His purpose for us being impossible to not be carried out.

Obviously, there is much more going on in these chapters, but this will give us a framework from which to view and understand this most important section of what many consider the constitution of our faith.


Thinking of What is Ahead

The completeness of Christ's victory over sin and death
has become ours, and we see it now only dimly; but
when He comes and we are united with our incorruptible
and immortal bodies, then we shall know fully!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

God's Nearness, Our Good


But as for me the nearness of God is my good.
Psalm 73:28

How blessed is the one whom You choose
and bring near to You to dwell in your courts.
Psalm 65:4


But God, being rich in mercy because of His
great love with which He loved us...made us
alive together with Christ (by grace you have
been saved), and raised us up with Him and
seated us with Him in the heavenly places
in Christ Jesus.
Ephesians 2:4-7





God's nearness is indeed our good.  In fact, the closer we draw near to God the better it is for us, and the more joy and delight we have in Him and He in us.  The question, though, for all of us is,  "How indeed do we draw near?" How do we as physical and sinful creatures draw near to the Creator who is Spirit and Holy? 



The answer is that we draw near in Christ.  And how then do we draw near in Christ?  Because we are baptized in Christ (Romans 6:3-4).  We have been placed in Christ through the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and through the Spirit's baptism are united with Him (Romans 6:5); and because we now have a spiritual union with Christ, we remain in Him (I Corinthians 6:17, II Peter 1:4).  This is what water baptism pictures for us, the spiritual immersing of us into Christ by the Holy Spirit, and the subsequent oneness that we have.



The term united in Romans 6:5 is an organic term as compared to a mechanical term.  So instead of being bolted to Christ, or glued to Christ, or welded to Christ we are planted in Christ and grow in Christ, thus picturing a planting and growing together as one.  We are not a part to be added to Christ, nor is He part that has been added to us, but we live and grow in Christ.  It is a picture of a progressive and intimate relationship  



Once again, we see the wondrous provision of God, in giving to us from Himself and of Himself what we cannot possibly provide or accomplish on our own.  Terms such as immeasurable grace or unconditional love do not capture the fullness of what He does for us. So let us rejoice today, and marvel in the nearness we have with the One who has created it all. 








Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Pastoral Leadership and Consistency

Consistency, sounds pretty boring doesn't it?  And, actually, many times it is.  However, when considering traits that should be present in pastors, and required elements for pastoral leadership, this is usually one of the most overlooked. 

There should be a consistency of character, a consistency of philosophy, a consistency of theology, a consistency of mission, a consistency in his walk, a consistency in his preparation, a consistency in his growth, a consistency in how he makes decisions, a consistency in how he deals with others, a consistency in how he communicates, and a consistency in how he expresses himself.  In other words, there needs to be a thread of consistency that permeates who he is, and therefore what he does.

Why is this important?  Because it gives stability to his church, and his ministry.  It gives security to his people, his staff, and the leadership he works with, as it make him reliable, and even predictable.  I once had an upper level manager tell me that his goal was to be so consistent that his people would know the answer before they asked him.  Not a bad trait, in fact, it is a great trait to have.

Think about the comfort and security it gives to those who you work with, do ministry with, and live with when they know they can depend on what they know about you.  Think about the frustration that is caused by having to deal with those whom you never know how they will react, or those who always seem to be changing their mind, ministry direction, or ministry philosophy. 

Have you ever noticed how consistent the Lord is?  We call it immutability or unchangeableness; but have you ever wondered what it would be like to serve a Lord that you were never sure how He was going to react, how He wanted to be worshiped, what His standards for holiness would be, or what His requirements for salvation would be? Would it be a little unnerving, kind of like an eternal insecurity instead of an eternal security?

I take great comfort that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, yes and forever (Hebrews 13:8); that He, the Lord, does not change His mind, and therefore I am not consumed (Malachi 3:6); that with Him there is no variation or change like the imperceptible shifting of a shadow (James 1:7); that even from eternity He is I am (Isaiah 43:13), that of old He founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of His hands.  Even they will perish, but He will endure; and all of them will wear out like a garment; like clothing He will change them and they will be changed.  But He is the same, and His years will not come to an end (Psalm 102:25-27); that His lovingkindness is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him (Psalm 103:17); that He has one eternal purpose that runs through the ages that is carried out in Christ (Ephesians 3:11), and that He has declared the end from the beginning, saying, "My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure" (Isaiah 46:10).  This consistency in the character of God and the acts of God give me security in my relationship with him, it gives me confidence in my relationship with Him, and it strengthens and solidifies my trust in Him.

You see, I believe that as pastors, as spiritual leaders, we must be consistent; and it is us being like the Lord that gives us that consistency. If He is consistent, then we must aspire to be consistent as He is consistent.  The same comfort, confidence, security, solidity, and trust that we draw from our relationship with the Lord because of His consistency is the same comfort, confidence, security, solidity, and trust that our people, staff, and leadership should have in their relationship with us.  Consistency provides the stability that is needed in every leader, and is a key component of pastoral leadership.  Let's aspire to be more like our Lord in this area.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

God's Immutability-The Anchor of My Relationship with Him

For I, the Lord, do not change; 
therefore you, O sons of Israel
are not consumed.
Malachi 3:6 


If you read any book or article on the attributes of God you will find Him described as immutable, and usually they will go on to talk about the unchangableness of His nature and character.  However, the word has a deeper meaning than just being unchangeable, it means that in being unchangeable, one is not capable or susceptible to change.  When you grasp that concept, then considering God's immutability takes on a whole new light.

This means that it is impossible for God to change, impossible for God to be other than He is. There is never the potentiality of His changing in any way, in any measure (James 1:17). His mercy will always be His mercy, His wrath will always be His wrath, His grace will always be His grace, His power will always be His power.  There will never be any diminishment in who He is, because there cannot be any diminishment in who He is; and He cannot be more than He is, He cannot be improved upon, because He is already perfect.  When God tells us that from age to age He is the same, we must understand that from eternity past to eternity future it is impossible for Him to not be the same.  Change in His person, purpose, thoughts, and very nature literally cannot take place.  He is the rock that does not erode, the fortress and refuge that is always secure, the love that will never fail. Therefore, His yes is always yes, and His no is always no; and, therefore, His word never changes or shifts, even ever so slightly.  He is the model of absolute consistency.  He is the same God in the Old Testament as He is in the New Testament.

To me, this is very comforting.  It gives me a deeper trust and confidence in not only Him, but in His word.  It is this unchangeableness that is behind the Scriptures. It is why the Word of God cannot and will not change to meet the demands of the shifting moral climate of each era of the human race.  All of this means that He is absolutely dependable, reliable, and trustworthy.  It means there will be a consistency in His dealings with me, a consistency in His love for me, and a consistency in His patience with me no matter the twists and turns that I encounter in this life.  It is the anchor in my relationship with Him.

So, my friends, let us consider the absolute unchangeableness of this God who has called us and claimed us, who has loved us and blessed us, and who leads us in the paths of righteousness. Let us draw near and draw great comfort in knowing it is impossible for Him to change.


Thursday, March 24, 2016

Salvation and Sanctification

Most people have heard of the three tenses of salvation:

Past...We have been saved from the penalty of sin.
Romans 5:9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.  (I Thessalonians 1:9-10)
Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:1 There is therefore now not condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Present...We are being saved from the power of sin.
Romans 6:14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.
Romans 6:17-18 But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin,you became slaves of righteousness.
Galatians 5:1 It was for freedom that Christ set us free.  (John 8:31-36, Romans 6:5-13)

Future....We will be saved from the presence of sin.
I John 3:2-3 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be.  We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.
(I Corinthians 15:52-57, Revelation 21-22)

In a very similar fashion we also see the three aspects of sanctification. To be sanctified is to be set apart from sin, and set apart to God. It is to be set apart from seeking our own pleasure, our own way, and our own purposes, so as to seek God's pleasure and accomplish His will in all that we do.  It is to be spiritually taken out of the world and placed into Christ.  In a practical sense it is to be repurposed and reoriented.  In a spiritual sense it is to be conformed to the image of Christ.

We are sanctified:

Positionally...we have been sanctified
I Corinthians 1:30 but by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification.
I Peter 1:1-2 To those...who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father by the sanctifying work of the Spirit

Progressively...we are being sanctified and are becoming more sanctified
I Thessalonians 4:4 that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification
Hebrews 12:14 Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.
Philippians 2:12-13 So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear trembling; for it is God who is at work in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
I Thessalonians 4:3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification...
Romans 8:28-29b And we know that God cause all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son...
II Peter 3:17-18 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ...

Perfectly...we will be sanctified
Philippians 1:6 For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.
Colossians 1:28 We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.
I Thessalonians 5:23-24 Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Faithful is He who called you, and He will bring it to pass.
I John 3:2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be.  We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.

Salvation and sanctification are inextricably linked, and you cannot have one apart from the other. God's will for us is encompassed in our salvation and accomplished through our sanctification. Romans 6:22 But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.  Sanctification then is the means by which God separates us from sin unto Himself, first postionally, then progressively, and finally, perfectly.

Where are you in this process, my friend?  Have you been separated and freed from sin so that you do not practice sin as a habit of life and can say no to sin (I John 3:9-10)?   Have you experienced His enabling power so as to do His will (Hebrews 13:20-21)?  Is the growing desire of your heart to please Him all the more (II Corinthians 5:14-15)?  Are you becoming more like Christ in thought and deed (Romans 12:2)?  If so, then praise God for His work in your life.  If not, then confess to God your separation from Him, repent from your own ways and in faith ask Him to save and sanctify you.


Saturday, March 19, 2016

Success(?) in Ministry


We had the great blessing to attend the Shepherd's Conference last week at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles.  It was a wonderful time of preaching and singing and worshiping and fellowship. The theme this year was pastoral encouragement, and each speaker addressed it from different perspectives.  Nathan Busenitz preached an excellent sermon on pastoral success, which I enjoyed; but he did not go quite far enough in his sermon.  I think we as pastors and christian workers, especially in our American context need a paradigm shift regarding how to measure our ministry; and the shift would be from measuring it according to secular criteria to measuring according to Biblical standards. This will cause us to take a closer look at what the Bible lays out as the true measure of a ministry.  Let's take that closer look.  What follows is a repost from a previous blog.



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 (pistosfaithful/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 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 He 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 a ministry, He measures it by faithfulness.

When we measure our ministry and its 'success' by the secular standards mentioned above, then we automatically start comparing ourselves to others, or others to ourselves. This will lead to our either being puffed up or deflated, to our being envious or condescending, to our being bitter, or to our dying a thousand deaths if not enough people show up.

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.