Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Thanksgiving Every Day

Every day is a day to be thankful.  Every prayer is an opportunity to thank the Lord for who He is and all that He has done.  Thank Him today for His goodness.  Look around you, at your life, and take notice of His bountiful goodness to you.  He is good and he does good.  He withholds no good thing from those who walk uprightly.  He is good even to unkind and ungrateful men.  Every good thing given comes from Him. 

When we think of good, the Lord should be the first we think about.  Don't fall into the trap of taking your life and the goodness intrinisic in it for granted.  Look at it with eyes of faith, the eyes of a grateful heart.  Look intentionally for all the goodness He has done for you; and then Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise.  Give thanks to Him, bless His name. For the Lord is good;  His lovingkindness is everlasting and His faithfulness to all generations. Psalm 100:4-5

Thursday, November 05, 2009

God of the Possible and Impossible

...with God all things are possible.  Matthew 19:26

For nothing will be impossible with God.  Luke 1:37

With Him all things are possible, and with Him nothing is impossible.  Pretty much sums it up, doesn't it?   In these two verses God has covered the fact that He can do anything and everything, and there is nothing He can't do.  The thing is, do we really believe it?  Is our faith too short when God hasn't answered our prayer or a situation is taking longer than we think it should to play out or resolve itself.  Because if the verses above are true, and they are, then the issue is our faith in God, and not God's ability. So, instead of throwing rocks at God, maybe the rock needs to be self-directed.

The Bible is filled with examples of God's ability, God's power.  In fact, we are told that no purpose of His can be thwarted (Job 42:2).  So why do we tend to sell Him short and have our faith fall short?  Let's give consideration to a few reasons.

1. God's timetable does not meet our own, and we have to wait longer, sometimes much longer than we think we should.

2. The situation is not resolving like we want it, or our expectations are not being met.

3. We have presupposed that our will or desire is His will.

4. We have confused our will or desire as His will. 

5. We try to impose our will on the situation.

6. We bow to the pressure of others or the situation.

7. We forget that God uses times like these to test our faith.

8. We forget that God uses times like these to strengthen our faith.

9. We forget that with God there is never a plan B, but it always has been and always will be plan A. In other words, God never has a contingency plan, because He never needs one.

10. We forget that God works at the speed of life, and at the pace of people, yet He is never slow.

11. We forget the real issue is never with Him, but always with us, as these situations usually highlight.

12. We really don't believe that God is who He claims to be, and can do what He has said He can do.

13. We don't want to deal with our sin that stands in the way.

I am certain this list is not exhaustive, but this is enough for us to think about.  How about you, my friend, did you find yourself on this list?  The real issue facing us in believing God, is surrendering our will to His.  So many times the issue in trusting God is trusting Him with the outcome, even if it is not what we want.  Let us bow our hearts in submission to His will and trust Him to do the impossible, for all things are possible with Him.


Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Worshiping in Spirit, Truth, and Reverence

There is a tension, even to the point of conflict, between many in the church as to what constitutes proper praise and worship. You could generally divide these folks into two camps, those who follow the regulative principle and those who follow the normative principle. The regulative folks prescribing that God has laid out in Scripture what He requires and will accept in worship, and everything that is not in Scripture is forbidden. The normative folks prescribe that whatever is not prohibited in Scripture is permissable in worship. The are extremists in both camps from those who will only sing acapella from the Psalter to those who have a solo guitar riff with strobe lights and smoke, singing the Doobie Brothers as part of their worship. You go from the legalists to the libertines with all staunchly defending their position. So how do you determine what is permissable, what is pleasing to God, what brings Him satisfaction?

First, I think we need to take a step back to look at the whole of the landscape to determine what is the proper attitude we should have about this. There is a principle regarding Christian liberty in the practice of our faith in Romans 14:1-15:6, that is summed up in Romans 14:23...and whatever is not from faith is sin. I believe that God gave us this principle because for all of us, our definition of correct, or right, or proper is the way that we would do it. So there is some leeway, some room, and some forbearance to be given to one another in worship styles, music, and methodology. A good example of this is my friend, pastor Andrei, of Vision of Christ Church in Lviv, Ukraine. I preached at his church twice, once for a week on Covenant, and again over a long weekend on The Spiritual Life of the Church. This is a Charismatic church, and they speak in tongues during the prayer time in the service, and I am anything but Charismatic. At the end of my second time with them, as we were having dinner together at his home, Andrei turned to me and asked, "Does it bother you that we speak in tongues?" And I told him no, it did not bother me. To which he replied, "Good, because it doesn't bother us that you don't." So let us not look with contempt at one another, or judge one another because of differences in worship styles or methodology (Romans 14:3).

Secondly, let us acknowledge that there are guidelines for our worship of God, and God has been consistent with those guidelines through the ages. We can find these guidelines summed up in John 4:23-24 But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and truth. (Italics mine) So we have defined for us who a true worshiper is, and how a true worshiper worships; and we see that God Himself seeks such people to be His worshipers. So worshiping in spirit and truth is how God wants us to worship and is His parameter of what He considers proper. 

In Isaiah 29:13 God condemns the Israelites for their rote reverence of Him.  They were going through the motions but were devoid of the Spirit.  So even though what they practiced was according to truth, it was spiritually empty.  In Job 42:8 we see that worship that is acceptable to God is based on saying what is true about Him.  So proper worship must be both from and through the Spirit, and must be based upon what is true and right.  There are many hymns and praise songs/choruses that are filled with incorrect theology that do not meet this criteria

Thirdly, we see another guideline in Leviticus 10:1-4. God only accepts worship that treats Him as holy and honors Him as God.  Spirit led worship will always approach God as holy and honor Him as God.  Proper worship always pictures God as set apart, as holy, and properly reveres Him as God.  We see how a cavalier attitude and lack of reverence towards God in the Corinthian church led to many being weak, sick, and number of them sleeping (dead).  Yes, I know it was for taking the Lord's Supper in an unworthy manner, but the partaking of the Lord's Supper is part of our worship.  This shows us that God is just as serious about being treated as holy and being honored by the church as He was with the Jews in Leviticus 10.  This is what He expects from His people; and it makes me wonder if there are many in the church today who are weak, sick, or even sleeping because they worshipped (approached) God in an unworthy manner.

Fourthly, we see five principles at work in Colossians 3:16.  One, it should be word based.  Two, worship should be participatory.  Three, worship should be more than one dimensional, containing Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.  Four, it should be jointly edifying.  Five, it should be God directed.

On being word based, the word of God is the truth, so if we want to worship God in truth, the foundation of our worship should be His word.  It should dwell richly in us and be sung in Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

On being participatory, the pronouns you and your in this verse are plural, so this is something that all that are gathered together should be doing. So it should not be observatory, but participatory.  Any style or methodology of worship that prevents or hinders the joint participation of the gathered believers should be eliminated.  Now this does not rule out solos, etc., but corporate worship is just that, corporate worship; and the style and methodology should promote and encourage corporate participation.

On being more than one dimensional, there is a richness and balance in the types and styles of songs, and this balance should be part of the corporate worship experience.  It will cover all aspects from the richness of deep theology to soul stirring melodies.  It should take us from the depths of love to the heights of joy while covering everything in between. 

On being jointly edifying, as we sing His word together we are teaching and admonishing one another.  There is an edifying power, and edifying effect on each other as we sing together or are sung to by soloists, etc.  The word put to music will not return empty or void, without accomplishing all that God desires, and He desires for us to play our part in the dissemination of His word.

On being God directed, as this is the most important of all the principles.  All worship should be God directed.  It should be about God, focused on God, taking our attention away from ourselves and focusing it on God...His greatness, His majesty, His power, His love, His care, His grace, His provision, His faithfulness, His mercy,  and all that His is and all that He does.  This is a time for us to corporately present ourselves and our sacrifice of praise to God Himself before His throne.  It should be a transcendent time in the presence of God for all who are gathered together.

We obviously have guidelines, but within the guidlines we have freedom, Spirit directed freedom which will always have the truth for both its anchor and its guide.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Vision Casting, God's Way

Vision-casting is a term that has been in vogue in much of churchdom over the last few years. In fact, if you read many blogs or articles, you get the sense that any pastor that is worth his salt now days has this at the top of his priority list; and that it is a must if you are being the kind of pastor you should be.

In a recent paper by Tim Keller on how size affects church behavior, he posited that once a church gets to a certain size then the pastor should have staff in place so that he can spend his time vision-casting. Another popular blog that I check on from time to time recently posted a list they had run across of the top 10 attributes needed in a church planter, and number one was....vision...you must have it and be able to sell it. Two years ago I watched a video of a church service from a up and coming SBC church in South Carolina and whole service was about this vision that God was birthing in the pastor for the new and improved direction for the church. What was he doing? He was selling his vision to the church. I listened to a staff member of another church talk about what his responsibilities were, and how his performing his duties were enabling the lead pastor to spend more time vision-casting, as this was so important for this pastor to be doing. I use these examples to show how vision-casting is ubiquitous in the church and no section is immune to it.

What is vision-casting you might ask? Boiled down to its essence, it is nothing more than strategic planning. It is a business model and practice that has been co opted by the church and made to sound like it is indispensable for building and pastoring a church. Now don't get me wrong, some planning and thinking through critical issues regarding his church is needed by every pastor; but it is not the most important thing he does, and I don't believe it is even near the top of the list.

As pastors, if we truly need to have a vision for our church, would it not seem logical, even important, to see if the Bible gives us information or instruction as to what God's vision for the church is, so that we can then implement that vision. Knowing, after all, that it is His church, not ours, so any vision we have for the church must be in keeping with His vision.

In looking into the Scriptures for what the Lord's vision is for His body, what we find is His vision for the body is intrinsically tied to His vision for each individual believer, as He wants the same for each and every one of us. What is God's vision for each one of His children? It is Christ! Romans 8:29 tells us "For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren." This is God's vision for each believer, to become like His Son. Let's look at Ephesians 4:13 and 15 to see what His vision is for the individuals who make up the church, "until we all attain to ...the knowledge of the Son of God to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. ...we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ."

Christ likeness is the vision that God has for all of us who are His beloved children, and He will accomplish that in our lives. Philippians 1:6 says this, "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." And I John 3:2 gives us this promise, "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."

What is the means through which God will accomplish His vision for us while we are here in this world? It is the teaching and preaching of His word. And reading through Ephesians 4:11-16 you see that God has given pastors and teachers as the main means to carry out His vision of Christ likeness. Let's look at some verses that show us what Paul, the ultimate pastor, has to say about his responsibility in the carrying out of this vision. I Timothy 1:6 he says this, "The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith." In Galatians 5:19 he puts it this way, "My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you." Finally, look at his God given vision for each person in Colossians 1:28-29 "We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works in me." Notice how the phrase every man is used three times here in admonishing every man, teaching every man, so that we can present every man. And what is the purpose for which Paul labors and strives in this admonishing, teaching, and presenting every man? It is so that every man may be presented complete in Christ, fully Christlike, lacking in none of the attributes of Christ. In other words, Christ fully formed in them and them fully conformed to the image of Christ. Did Paul tell Timothy to be spending his time vision-casting? No, he told him to study to show himself approved, to preach the word in season and out, to guard the treasure entrusted to him, and to entrust it to faithful men who would do the same. It is the word of God that God uses to conform us to Christ. In fact, it is the the word put to music in Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs by which we are to teach and admonish one another.

My fellow pastors and teachers, is Christ likeness your vision for your church, for each and every member of your church, each and every person that the Lord has allotted to your watch care? When you spend your time vision-casting, is this vision of Christ in each of your people the vision that comes to your mind? If not, may I dare suggest that your vision is not God's vision. If you are spending time envisioning and planning for anything else other than this then you are wasting your time; and it is time that cannot be redeemed and effort that will be wood, hay, and stubble before the judgement seat of Christ. You will have labored in vain, you will have envisioned in vain if this is not your vision for your church.

In envisioning and planning, everything that the church does should be subservient to and facilitate reproducing Christ in each and every soul brought under and assigned to its care. In Matthew 28:19 Jesus commissioned the church to make disciples, not build ministries. Pastoral vision casting should be concerned with accomplishing God's vision as He has laid it out in Scripture, not coming up with unique and clever concepts to build ministries or attract crowds. As pastors, God's vision should be our vision. We are not allowed to have our own vision for the church, or to make the church according to our vision. If you will make God's vision your vision you can trust Him to build His church, and you will have built for eternity and upon His word, which is the only sure and lasting foundation.

See also: A Vision of Christ
http://morris-pressingon.blogspot.com/2010/01/romans-829-for-those-he-foreknew-he.html

Friday, October 02, 2009

Trust and Obey

...the consequences of faithfulness
are for God to determine,
not for us to anticipate.
Ian Hamilton
Banner of Truth
October 2009
Page 18

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Ground of Our Reconciliation

Propitiation is the ground from which reconciliation occurs.
Reconciliation can not take place until the wrath of God
is satisfied and removed.
In Christ our reconciliation takes place,
because on Christ the wrath of God stored up for us,
was removed from us, poured out upon Christ,
and God's wrath was satisfied once for all at the cross.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Affliction

Affliction. The very word conjurs up unpleasant images, such as pain, misery, and oppression, No one really likes that word, especially when it relates to themselves. Yet, most of us have been the objects of affliction, have gone through times of affliction, or will soon be afflicted. As Christians, how should we view affliction?


As always the key is in the Scriptures. First, we need to start with the knowledge that affliciton is not random. Psalm 103:19 tells us that the Lord's sovereignty rules over all; and Romans 11:36 tells us that all things are from Him, through Him, and to Him. So we see that there is not situation that the Lord is not sovereign over, and does not pass through His counsel. A few years ago, Pastor James Boice of the historic Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, was diagnosed with liver cancer already in an advanced stage. In his last address to his beloved congregation he said, "I know that many of you are praying for my healing, and I appreciate that, but let us remember that the same God we are praying to for my healing could have kept me from getting cancer." Dr. Boice understood the sovereignty, the Divine providence of God in the affliciton that had come upon him.


Secondly, since affliction is not random, and is under the aegis of God, it should not surprise us when it happens. I Peter 4:12 tells us to not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon us, as though some strange thing is happening to us. James 1:2 tells us that trials will come upon us; and I Peter 1:6 tells us that trials are necessary. So to think that our life will not have times of afflicition and suffering is not reality. The direction or source of the afflicition may be a shock or a surprise, but not the affliction itself. There is a well known pastor who many years ago was in a staff meeting and was in the middle of telling his staff how thankful he was for them, and how much he appreciated their friendship when one of them replied, "If you think we are your friends, you've got another think coming," and the entire staff resigned and left, as that staff member had secretly engineered a revolt against him. Needless to say, he was devastated; and at his church that day is referred to as Black Tuesday.


Thirdly, since affliction is not random, and is under the aegis of God, it must, it does have a purpose. Affliction is purposeful, it is useful, both to God and for us. I Peter 1 and 4 tell us that trials prove out the genuineness and the quality of our faith. James 1 tells us that affliction produces endurance, and that endurance makes us more mature and complete in our faith. Afflicition does not come upon us because of the whimsy of God, or because God is being capricious. It always has a higher aim, an eternal benefit. God's dealings with us are not just for the here and now, but also for the hereafter, as He has our eternal good constantly in His mind. To paraphrase I Peter 1:6-7, at the revelation of Christ we will not stand before Him empty handed wondering if we will be accepted, but will have a faith in hand that has been put to the test and found to be the real thing. This proven faith will then be the source of our praise, honor, and glory. Afflicition is the red badge of our faith. Also, Psalm 119:75 says, "I know, O Lord, that Your judgments are righteous, and that in faithfulness You have afflicted me." Affliction from God always has a purpose, a good purpose, and it is because of God's faithfulness that He brings it about.


Fourthly, there are some present benefits to affliction, as well. Psalm 119:67 says, "Before I was afflicted I went astray, But now I keep Your word." Affliction brings us back in line with the word of God. So we need to examine ourselves in light of our affliction to see where we might have gone astray. Psalm 119:71 tells us, "It is good for me that I was afflicted, That I may learn Your statutes." Through affliction God teaches us His word, and we see so many times that in the midst of affliction God's word comes to us to teach us, to comfort us, to direct us, to sustain us. It could be something new and unlearned from His word, or it might be something we already know that comes to us; but in and through affliction His word becomes part of us, a part of the fabric of who we are.


Finally, note that in verse 71 the Psalmist says it is good for us to be afflicted. We know that God's purposes are good, but we also get some insight into why affliction is good from the word itself. This Hebrew word for affliction, along with a few of its close cousins, means to find oneself in a stunted, lowly, humble position, or to be brought low. Why is it good for us to be in this lowly humble position? Because that is when we are most receptive to the Lord, and when we walk the closest with Him. It is when we are humble that His grace is most available. It is when we are humble that we see our need and His supply. It is when we are humble that we are the most cognizant of our sin, and the most repentant. It is when we are humble that we are also the most dependent and the less self-sufficient. It has been said that if dependence is your goal, then weakness is an advantage.


The two examples I used above were both pastors, and that is intentional. Pastors are afflicted, and it is good for them to be afflicted, just like everyone else. In fact, it may be more needful for us to be afflicted. If you have read about life of Calvin, who many consider the greatest theologian/pastor of the church, you read of a life of almost constant affliction, but also a life greatly used of God. The genesis for this post comes from what I have been thinking about over the last several days. As you may know, I am bi-vocational and last week was a difficult week workwise, plus my son made a trip to the Urgent Care center to have stitches in his chin. Then on Sunday morning while preparing the location where we have church, I stepped off of the stage while looking another direction, tore ligaments in my ankle, and had to be taken to the emergency room. During the incident and since then, the word of God has come to my mind...it is good for me to be afflicted, in faithfulness God has afflicted me, don't be surprised at the ordeal, consider it all joy that you are being matured and completed, trials are necessary, trust in the Lord God with all your heart and don't lean on your own understanding, God is able to work all things together for good for those who love Him, His power is perfected in weakness; and another from Psalm 119:65 "You have dealt well with Your servant according to Your word.

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune may appear random, and even unfair, to the world; but for us as children of the living God, we can rest assured that they have passed through the counsel of God for our ultimate good and His ultimate glory. So, my friends, let us give thanks unto the Lord when affliction comes our way, because it is indeed good for us to be afflicted.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Thought for the Day

Knowledge and practice are the hand-maidens
that accompany spiritual growth.
Both are necessary in keeping spiritual growth
on the right path.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Being Thankful

Being a pastor does not give you a pass on messing up. Today was one of those times for me as I had asked one of the men in our church to give the opening prayer for our service today. Sure enough, when it was time for us to start, I had a brain freeze and hopped right up, gave the opening prayer, and started the service. In fact, my brain was so frozen that when he gave me a confused look it still did not register. However, this was not as bad as the time I called a men's group breakfast meeting and forgot to set my alarm.

When talking about it after church he made the comment to me that if he thanked God for everything he should thank Him for, he would be praying for a couple of hours. How true that is for all of us. So much to be thankful for, from our beginning to our finish, for all that He has worked together for our good, for daily mercy and grace, for the totality of our salvation, and well, for everything. God is transcendent in that all things are from Him, through Him, and to Him. To Him be the glory in all things.

One of the distinguishing marks between a believer and a non-believer is thankfulness. Romans 1:21 tells us, For even though they knew God, they did not know God or give thanks... Thanklessness is a hallmark of the unbeliever, and we see here in Romans giving thanks to God and honoring God go hand in hand. To give thanks to God is to acknowledge that He is God and that He is the source of blessing. It is acknowledging that it is His hand which provides, and His will that decrees. Thankfulness acknowledges dependence upon God and God's supremacy. To be thankful to God then is an affront to the pride of man. We see this in Deuteronomy 8 when God warns the Israelites not to forget Him when they experience abundance in the promised land, because the temptation would be for them to think that it was their power and their strength that made them their wealth, instead of acknowledging that it was God who was giving them the power to make wealth.

But in Colossians 2:7 the believer is described as one overflowing with gratitude. So in our lives there should be a great abundance of gratitude, gratitude directed towards the Lord; and it is out of this gratitude that God is also praised, and in this gratitude and praise God is acknowledged as being who He is...God. We see this in Psalm 100, italics mine:

Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth.
Serve the Lord with gladness;
Come before Him with joyful singing.
Know that the Lord Himself is God;
It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;
We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving
And His courts with praise.
Give thanks to Him, bless His name.
For the Lord is good;
His lovingkindness is everlasting
And His faithfulness to all generations.
The Scriptures talk about the sacrifices of thanksgiving and the sacrifices of praise. The two really do go together. You can not and will not praise God if you do not have a thankful heart. It is out of thankfulness that praise springs forth. However, thankfulness is not in the heart of the unredeemed. A good example of this is in the parable of the talents in Matthew 25. Let's look at the attitude of the man to whom the one talent is given. Matthew 25:24 "And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, 'Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you had scattered no seed." Telling isn't it? Especially in the light of the other two men, as their response was to acknowledge that it was God that had entrusted the talents to them. Pretty graphic example of Romans 1:21, and the hardness of man's heart towards God.
But even as believers, we tend to take ownership of our lives and the blessings from the hand of God. For all of us, Deuteronomy 8 is never far off from our heart if we don't remain diligent in reminding ourselves that all we have is from the Lord, and practicing thankfulness.
What about you my friend? Are you thankful? Are you as thankful as you need be? Let us take the time, let us make the time, let us pause now, and be thankful and give thanks and praise to Him from whom all blessings flow.
Sorry for the run on paragraphs at the end, but I am having trouble with the posting mechanism.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Thought for the Day

We must understand the love of God
against the backdrop of the sin of man,
and, personally, our own sin.
It is only then that we can most fully understand
and most greatly appreciate
how truly marvelous, extravagant, and abundant
His love for us is.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Thought for the Day

Indwelling sin unmortified
will make the best grow careless,
...we may lose a sense of how
displeasing sin is to God.
Iain Murray
Heroes, page 292

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Great Day

What a great day we had today, Sunday, August 16th, 2009. We had our first baptismal service today. We baptized three young ladies, young mothers, young wives; all of whom gave great testimonies to the grace of God in their lives. What a joy, both as their pastor and as a fellow believer, to share in their joy on this occasion.

Another joy was in the fact that the men who baptized them were not only church members, but men who have been active in their lives and instrumental in where they are spiritually (obviously we are not Landmark). One of the men baptized two of the young ladies, his daughter and her friend. The other man was the father-in-law of the one he baptized. In my pre-baptismal counseling with these women, each one of them commented individually on how much they appreciated these men, and their spiritual influence on them. These men were intentionally active and influential in the spiritual lives of these young women. Yes, God is sovereign in salvation, and sovereign in the means of salvation, but we must do our part as well.

We baptized in the swimming pool at the home of one of our members. Each of the young women gave a short testimony and then was baptized. Following their baptism I gave a short word aimed at the unbelieving family members present and an exhortation to our church family, and then we had a fellowship meal. There was a joy present that you could both see and feel.

One of the common elements in each testimony was the fact that all of them had been baptized as younger teenagers, but had come to the realization that they had been saved much later, with two of them being saved within the last six months. This is such a common testimony for so many, and, in fact, is my testimony along my wife's. We, the church, do such a disservice to people in our rush to get them to say the prayer, walk the aisle, so we can count them as one of our converts. Each one of these ladies told me that they never really understood what they were doing, but assumed it meant they had become Christians, because they were baptized and became church members. Thank God for His sovereignty in our salvation, because we can rest fully assured that if we are His, He will save us; but, with that being said, woe to those who give people false assurance and a false notion that they are truly saved, or do not give a clear and precise explanation of the gospel that will cause a person to truly know where they stand in relation to God, and exactly what saving faith is.

It reminds me of a time many years ago, at another church, when we were gathered for an outreach meeting and the two associate pastors were trying to teach people how to lead others in the sinner's prayer. When I asked them to show from the Scriptures where anyone had ever prayed to be saved, or where we were told to get people to pray the sinner's prayer so that they would be saved; they acted like I had thrown a bucket of cold water on the whole group. Of course they could not do so and finally admitted as much, and then continued on with what they were doing. I wish I could say this was an aberration, but it is not. In fact, two of the young ladies that were baptized today were baptized in that church under the ministry of one of the associate pastors I mentioned above.

Getting the gospel right is important, life-altering important, and we must be sure that the gospel we present leaves no doubt in the person's mind concerning the reality of their position before God.

I got off track here, as this is something that I am passionate about, but God is sovereign and God is good, His lovingkindness is everlasting, and this was a good day, no, a very great day, as we were able to share and rejoice with these precious ladies the goodness of God in saving them and making them His own.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Thought for the Day



The basis of the fear of the Lord
is understanding the soul's plight
before a just and holy God.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Friday, July 17, 2009

Being Holy

I Peter 1:14-16
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy."

Holiness is indispensable for all who are truly Christian. Even the term Christian, which means little Christ, evokes the notion of holy behavior in following after the behavior of Christ. In his first epistle Peter goes on to say that we are a holy priesthood and a holy nation offering up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God, and proclaiming His excellencies. We can not do these apart from being holy...in all our behavior.

As pastors:

1. Do we rise up each day prepared to do battle against indwelling sin putting to death the deeds of the body (Romans 8:13), and putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness (James 1:20)? Have we grown comfortable or desensitized to our own sins and therefore indulge the desires of the flesh and the mind? Is personal holiness, practical holiness, growth in sanctification important to us, and is our own Christ likeness important to us? Are we presenting a clean vessel to the Lord for Him to work through (II Timothy 2:21)? Are we identifying, acknowledging, confessing to the Lord, and repenting of our sins? Have we determined to do battle with besetting sins, putting them to death, so we may have spiritual victory in our lives? The issue is not the temptations, nor the struggle with sin, but are we having victory over sin. Can we say we are an example to our flock in this area of our Christian life?

2. Do we exhort our people to holy living themselves? Do we stress its importance, for now and for eternity? Do we remind them of their calling as a holy people of God, those who bear His name and represent Him before men and angels? Do we lay before them the truth that a little leaven leavens the whole lump, and that their sin affects the body of Christ? Do we explain to them that the consequence of not being conformed to this world, but being transformed by the renewing of their mind is holiness, Godliness, Christ likeness? Have we taught them to pray,"Lead me not into temptation (lead me away from temptation), and deliver me from evil (do not let evil have its way with me)," because their spirit is willing, but their flesh is weak? Have we stressed to them that a true Christian can not have an habitually sinful lifestyle (I John 2:9-10)? Have we told them that the Word of God, the Spirit of God, and prayer to God are the keys in their battle against sin? Have you reminded them that true Christians have been freed from slavery to sin to be slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:17-18)?

Sin is the greatest weapon of the enemy, Satan, it is what he tempts us to do. Sin itself is our enemy as it seeks to master us (Genesis 4:7, Romans 6:14). Sin interferes and interrupts the work of God. Through my sin and your sin we wound other Christians. Sin quenches and grieves the Spirit, it puts us at odds with God and brings His displeasure and discipline. Sin hinders us and makes us less useful and less effective in kingdom work, even to the point of our being put on the shelf (disqualified/I Corinthians 9:27). Sin destroys trust and relationships, and brings about death (James 1:15).

Brothers and sisters, let us take holiness seriously. Let us strive together to be found as Christ was found, holy, blameless, and above reproach. Let us attack sin and be ever vigilant against it. Let us be holy as He Himself is holy, and live in the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

Father, forgive us our sins, cleanse us from all unrighteousness and defilement, make us conscious and sensitive to the sins we tend to ignore, help us to repent and draw close to you. Thank you that we can come boldly to Your throne, the throne of grace, beside which stands our great High Priest and Advocate, Your Son the Lord Jesus Christ, and receive forgiveness, mercy, grace to help in our times of need, and power for holy living. Thank you for the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit, and keep us filled with Him so that we will not give in to the desires of our flesh and mind. Bless your Holy Name this day and forever more. Amen

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Milestone II

Last month we passed our second anniversary as a church. In reflecting on this last year and then over the last two years I am filled with a sense of awe, thankfulness, and appreciation. The Lord has continued to bless us and confirm to us that this indeed has been His calling to us. My wife, Angie, teaches the children during the church time and so she wants to listen to my sermons later in the week, and likes for me to listen with her. I can tell you from listening to myself, that it is obviously the Holy Spirit at work, because it sure isn't my preaching; and despite my preaching people are faithful and we have continued to grow. But in thinking about it, that is the way it should be because, ultimately, it is the Lord who promised to build His church; and from I Corinthians we know that the Spirit gives the gift, the Lord gives the ministry, and God causes the effects. All of us are just vessels of clay that the Lord has graciously let participate in the accomplishment of His great eternal purpose.

We have continued to add families to the church, not in a great amount, but steadily as we have been adding a new family about every three months. In April we moved out of our house and are meeting in the Young Life building. The Young Life staff were very supportive and gracious in letting us use their building and we are only paying them $300 per month for the use of their facility. It is a perfect fit for us, at this point in time, and allows us some room for growth.

Spiritually, people are growing in their faith and in their knowledge of God and of His Son. Many have shared with me what the Lord is doing in their life; and one lady, who doesn't like to talk in front of people, shared with the entire church what the Lord has been doing in her life over the last year and half she has been coming to our church. Along with this we are having our first baptismal service next month. What a joy to be a part of this, and it has been one of the confirmations that we are doing what the Lord has called us to do.

One of the highlights of the last year was taking two of our men to the Shepherd's conference, along with my friend Ron from Dallas. This was their first real exposure to ministry of that quality and spiritual power, and it made quite an impact on them. Both are looking forward to returning next spring. This was the third year for me to attend, and each year a question I have had concerning ministry has been answered as a result of the conference.

I finished Colossians last fall, then preached through Jonah (personally convicting), then followed Jonah up with a topical series on love, then started preaching through the Gospel of John (what a delight). After finishing the prologue of John (first 18 verses), I am taking a break from John and preaching a series on the church which covers the function of the church in its outward expression toward God (I Peter 2:4-12), in its inward expression towards the members (Ephesians 4:7-16), God's gifts of enablement (I Corinthians 12, Romans 12, Ephesians 4, I Peter 4), church leadership (I Timothy 3, Titus 1), and the ordinances of the church (their role in the life of the church). Once I finish the church series it's back to John.

There are unique challenges to being a bi-vocational pastor and church planter, but the Lord's grace is always sufficient. With that being said, we are looking forward to this next year and seeing all that the Lord has in store for us at Grace Covenant Church.

Thought for the Day

Truth is only rightly believed
to the extent that it is embodied in life.
Iain Murray
Tabletalk
July 2009

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Way to Heaven

Matthew 7:13-14
Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide
 and the way is broad that leads to destruction,
 and there are many who enter through it.
 For the gate is small and the way is narrow
 that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

GPS units are great gadgets to have. You can be anywhere at anytime and they can tell you the best way to get to your destination, guide you at every turn, and tell you how long it will take you to get there. Why, some can even guide you around construction or traffic jams. They are great for the directionally challenged, to look up addresses, or to guide you in unfamiliar surroundings. Most people trust them implicitly, and they are a great tool to get you to your destination.

For all men, for all time, there is an ultimate destination. In fact, I believe that all men want to arrive at the same place, and that place is heaven; and we all start from the same place, lost in the darkness of our sin.

In the middle of that darkness, in that state of lostness, God has given a GPS to direct us to heaven, and that is the Bible. It shows us the way, it explains to us the journey, it tells us the smoothest path to take, it tells us how others before us have made the trip, it tells us what is required to get to our destination, and best of all, it tells us what God has done in Christ to not just make our final destination possible, but certain. It tells us that Jesus has gone before us as our forerunner to prepare a place for us, and is coming back for us so that we can be with Him where He is. Jesus, Himself, tells us that he is the way so that we will follow Him; and tells us that He is the gate so that we will enter through Him. So even though the path is narrow, it is not hard to find nor is it unmarked, as God has shown all men where it is by raising Christ from the dead.

God has given man a clear map to his final destination replete with warnings not to take the wrong path. So how come the Scriptures tell us that many will follow the wrong path and that many will enter the wrong gate? It is man's sinful pride and arrogance that keeps him lost and on the wrong path. You see, even though all men want to go to heaven, whatever their version of that is, they all want to get there by their own way, through their own means, in accordance with their own desires. This is the broad path that leads to destruction. Christ is the Light, but men won't come to him because of their sin. The Word is a lamp unto their feet and light unto their path, but because of their sin they either won't read it or they scoff at it.

Man wants heaven on his terms not God's. Proverbs 14:12 tells us, "There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death." Man's way is broad because it encompasses anything and everything that makes man feel good about himself. Man's way is the Villa del Muerte, the road of death and destruction of the soul.

God in His grace and mercy has not only provided the way for us to go to heaven, but has communicated to us through His Son the way of life so that we would find life, life everlasting. Jesus has said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me."

If you are not following Christ, come to Him today. Turn from your own path, the path of folly, and follow Him. He will not lead you astray, but will guide you safely away from destruction and on to the narrow path that leads to life. Remember, both paths have the same sign posted, "This Way to Heaven" but only one will take you there. Choose the path of life today, forsake your way and follow His.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

A False Notion of Spiritual Leadership

You know how things seem to come in bunches, or as some say in threes. That has happened to me, except the bunches have occured over the last year or so. Even though there were different people involved each time, there was a common theme, a common thought process, a common notion that led to a common result; and, I'm afraid, the common result will have long term spiritual consequences for each of the families involved.

Let me recap a few of the conversations.

First, a man called me who was looking for a church for his family. He asked many questions about what we believe, what kind of preaching philosophy I had, and how we went about doing church. He then went on to explain to me that his priorities in looking for a church were a reformed soteriology, sound doctrinal teaching, and verse by verse expositional preaching. You would think that we would be right up his alley...at least up his alley enough for him to bring his family for a visit. Nope, we did not make it to first base with him. Why? We did not have a youth department for his 15 year old, so she could make some friends at church. So, was his real priorty reformed soteriology, sound doctrine, and verse by verse expostion? You tell me.

Next, a friend who goes to another church calls me and tells me that he has a young lawyer friend, fairly new to Midland, who is frustrated with his church because of the lack of in-depth teaching and had recently left another local church due to false teaching. My friend had told this young man about our church and my view of ministry and preaching, and told me that he was very anxious to meet me; so, we met over golf and finally got down to the nitty gritty conversation right as we finished. What he said about his priorities in looking for a church matched us and his concern for doctrinal purity seemed admirable; but then he showed his true colors. He went on to tell me that he was leaving his daughter in a local private school that is run by the church he left because of the false teaching. He admitted that she was probably getting some of the error in the chapel time, but did not want to take her out of the school because she had made some friends there. I told him that it would be good for his daughter and his other children to understand that right doctrine is important, and that sometimes we have to make sacrifices in following the Lord; and that this would be a good example for them, and a good teaching opportunity for him with them about the supassing value of the Lord in our life, that He is worthy of our sacrifices. By the look on his face you would have thought I asked him to sacrifice his children on the altar of Baal. He changed the conversation and ended it quickly.

Since then I have run into several men whom I have not seen in these last few years. All of them, without fail, told me that the reason they had joined the church they are currently attending is because that is where their children had friends, and the friends were the reason the children wanted to go to that particular church.

Now before you start howling and throwing rocks, let me say that I believe youth ministry is important, very important. We don't have a youth group because we only have one youth, who helps my wife with the elementary children, and this is not uncommon in start-up churches. However, think through this with me, and lets look at what is really going on here. If you asked every one of the men I talked with, they would tell you that they are the spiritual leader in their home. But are they, really? When you make the decision, to go to a certain church because that's where your children's friends are, or because that's where they can make friends, or because if you don't go there your children will be upset, have you really made the decision. No, your children have made the decision for you, and you have acquiesced. In doing this you have abdicated your postion as spiritual leader of the home, and your children have become the de facto spiritual leaders. What is disturbing is that this mindset is not the exception, it is the rule, and has been the prevailing mindset over the last 20-30 years.

One of the alarming statistics that has come out recently concerning the church is that over 70% of children raised in church don't set foot in the door of the church after they leave home. You might be tempted to say that this proves the importance of having your children attend church where they enjoy it, and where their friends are so that they will continue to come. The problem with that line of thought is that this statistic has come after the 20-30 years when one of the prevailing reasons why people attend certain churches is the reason I mentioned above. So, obviously, letting your children go to church where they want to so that they won't have a bad taste in their mouths about church has not worked.

In choosing a church based on friendships or fun, what have you communicated to your children about the real importance of church...worship of God, learning the Scriptures, learning sound doctrine, becoming more Christlike, ministering to others in the body, and service to God? You haven't.

Men, we are called to be the spiritual leaders in our homes, for our families. Spiritual leadership is not choosing a church because your children want to go there because it's fun or because their friends go there; in fact, in exercising your leadership, your children might be disappointed, even upset, because you aren't going where they want to go, but are going where they need to go. It is much like feeding your children. Do you let them eat just what they want to eat, or do you require them to eat what is good for them until they develop a taste for it (even though they throw a fit or pout), and that becomes what they desire and what they will continue to eat after they leave your home. The same principle applies to spiritual things.

Making or keeping your children happy is not spiritual leadership, and the same thing can be said regarding your wife as well. What the men above said about their priorities was not true, their priority was not sound teaching, reformed soterilogy, etc., but it was making and keeping their children happy. Whether it was altruistically the happiness of their children, or selfishly so that they would not have to endure their children's displeasure (or their wife's), I don't know; but in either case it is the wrong motive.

It is not the youth ministry, nor fun, nor their relationship with the church, or their relationship with their friends that will keep your children faithful, it is their relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Exercise your spiritual leadership in choosing a church that is sound in the faith, teaches the Scriptures to all ages, presents the gospel, and is concerned about your children's spiritual growth and faith in Christ. Make sure that these are emphasized in their program, not fun and friends.

Hey, it's lonely at the top, and a little rough at times, too. But that is why we are men, that is the position and role God has assigned to us. Don't let your children down, for now and for eternity, but act like men, be strong, be spiritually courageous, and your children will one day rise up and call you blessed.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

A False Notion of Children's Ministry

This is the first part of a two part post. Really, it is the preamble to the post to follow, and they both deal with false notions. Satan is a deceiver and the father of lies and I believe he has foisted a lie into the minds of parents concerning church for their children.

Have you ever sat and listened to parents as they pick up their children from church? What do you think is the first question most parents ask? Is it. "What did you learn about the Bible today?" Is it, "What did you learn about God or about Christ today?" Are they checking to be sure their children are learning correct doctrine, or about the great men and women of faith in the Bible, or having the gospel presented to them? No, the question most often asked is....."Did you have fun?", followed by... Did you enjoy it?". For so many, their main concern is not the quality of the biblical content and teaching their children are getting, but the amount of enjoyment or entertainment they are getting. Instead of hearing from the parents about the ability of the teachers to communicate spiritual truth, the joy of the Lord, and the love of the Lord, or their care and concern for the spiritual formation and welfare of their children; you hear comments regarding how playful the teachers are or how they get down on the children's level (whatever that means).

Don't get me wrong, I don't think church should be a dour and sour place where your children are screaming not to go back, like they do when you take them to the doctor's office; but the church has bought into and is selling and the parents have bought into and are buying, the false notion that church is all about fun, games, and excitement for their children. And, honestly, many parents expect it to be the same for themselves, as well. So many churches market themselves through the children's programs knowing that if they make and keep the children happy they will keep the parents coming.

For your children the church should be a training ground, laying the foundation of spiritual truth that will give your children the wisdom that leads to salvation. It should supplement and support what you are giving them at home in preparation for a life on their own. There should be the joy and love of the Lord present. It should be enjoyable, but there still must be the goal of the bigger picture of spiritual preparation and spiritual formation. As a parent, your criteria for judging the value and quality of a church for your children, should be based upon what I have just mentioned, not upon the emotional whims of your children or which church is the most Disney-like in its facilities and programs. In fact, this concern about your children having fun communicates to them the church is all about having fun; and this is the false notion that is built into their minds so that the minute it isn't all fun and games, they lose interest.

Step back and analyze what your church is really doing to your children in and through their children's ministry. Look past the all the hoopla, facilities, and hype. Can you discern the eternal values that are intentionally being built into your children, or is the emphasis on the temporal, shallow fun of the world. What do you want them to have? Are things of eternal value what they are really receiving, or have you and your church been deceived by the schemes of Satan to be enamored with fun and entertainment so that you trade the truth for a lie.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Thought for the Day

Your Christian life is not about being the best you, you can be,
but about being as much like Christ as you can be.

Ephesians 5:1-2

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Holiness and Love

At first glance these two Christian attributes would not seem to be closely related. In fact, one might be inclined to ask the question, "What does holiness have to do with love?" or vice versa. A proper response would be, "More than you think."

Matthew 22:34-40 gives us some insight into their connection. When asked by a lawyer which is the great commandment in the law, Jesus replied by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind, and called this the great and foremost commandment, as well it should be. Then He goes on to add something to it, the second greatest commandment. He said this commandment was like the first one and it was, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." which is from Leviticus 19:18, but He did not stop there. He then went on to explain why these two commandments are the two greatest in the Scriptures, because upon them depend the whole Law and the Prophets. The Greek word for depend is kremmanumi, and means to hang or suspend, much like a door hangs or is suspended by its hinge. So as a hinge supports the door and allows it to operate properly, so these two commandments support the Scriptures.

The key concept that binds these two commandments together is love, love of God and love of neighbor. We know that the Decalogue's (Ten Commandments) first four commandments deal with our attitude toward and treatment of God, and the last six deal with our attitude toward and treatment of our neighbor, but the principles put forward here also permeate and undergird the rest of the Scriptures. So, in these commandments we see the essence of loving God and loving our neighbor. Paul gives us additional insight and commentary on these verses in Romans 13:10 where he says, "therefore love is the fulfillment of the law."

In talking to His disciples Christ gives us another commandment concerning love. Listen to John 13:34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another (refering to the brethren), even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. So now we have three commandments concerning our love. One is to love God with all our heart, mind, and soul, two is to love our neighbor as ourself, and three is to love one another (the brethren, fellow Christians) as Christ loved us. In these three commandments we are not only told who to love, but how to love and the extent to which we are to love. We are to love God with all of our being, with the totality of our person, with all that we are. We are to love our neighbor in the same way we love ourself; and therefore treat our neighbor the same way we would we would treat ourselves by giving him the same care and concern we would give ourselves. Finally, we are to love the brethren with the same love as Christ has loved us. We are to walk in love as Christ Jesus loved us and gave Himself up for us, as an offering and a sacrifice to God, for there is no greater love than this, that a man should lay down his life for his friends.

When we are loving God, our neighbor, and each other in this manner then we are fulfilling the Law. The Law is God's standard for righteousness, His measure for holiness. Therefore, when we love as we are supposed to love, we are fulfilling the Law, we are being righteous. So then love is the key to holiness. Understanding this helps us have a more complete understanding of some of Paul's exhortations.

Romans 5:5...the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

I Timothy 1:5 But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart...

I Corinthians 16:14 Let all that you do be done in love.

I Corinthians 14:1 Pursue love....

Ephesians 5:2 and walk in love...

Philippians 1:9 And this I pray that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment.

I Thessalonians 4:9-10 Now as to the love of the brethren.....excel still more.

II Thessalonians 1:3 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethern, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater.

II Corinthians 4:14-15 For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.

And it explains this verse.

I Corinthians 13:13 But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

So if you want to live a holy life, you must love. If you want to grow in holiness, you must grow in love, you must love more and better, you must excel still more in love, you must pursue love, love must control you to the point that all that you do is done in love; and then all that you do will be holy...just like the Holy One who called you.

How do you love like this? Well, of course, the answer is in the Scriptures and starts with Romans 5:5. We will cover that in the next post.