Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Attack of Sin

Sin attacks humanity at its very foundations, at the level of what motivates us and what ends we strive for; it shapes the very structures of society and of the philosophies which justify those structures; it strives continually to remake us in its own image; and unless we can see the difference between the kind of values instilled into us by the world and those which the Bible would have us develop, we are doomed to be forever caught in a web of worldliness that dishounors God.

Carl Trueman
Reformation: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow
Page 57

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Being Thankful

When you are out and about in your daily life and you look at the lostness of the people around you and sense their spiritual darkness and see their spiritual blindness, it should cause you to be thankful for your own salvation.  You had nothing more to offer God than those lost in the darkness of their own sin; and, in fact, you were just as lost in the darkness of your own sin until the Lord shined the light of the gospel into your heart and the One who is the Light came and took up residence in your heart.  Your inner man was just as dead and lifeless without God and without hope, and without the spark of eternal life until the Holy Spirit moved upon you and you were born again to a living hope.

It is He, the One who has created all things and holds all things together, whose throne stands alone in the heavens, who has declared the end from the beginning who has called you with a holy calling and adopted you as his sons and daughters to be His heirs alongside His only begotten Son, and has given you His kingdom as your inheritance, that loves you who was as unlovable, rebellious, and just as much His enemy as those around you who are now His enemies.  It is He, the One who stretched out the heavens, laid the foundation of the earth, calls each star by name, and has formed your spirit within you and fashioned your heart....Yes, it is this very One who has loved you with the same love with which He loves His Son, who has placed you into Christ, raised you up from death with Him, has seated you in the heavenly places with Him, and who will pour out the riches of His grace upon you for all eternity.  This is the One who has lavished upon you all the lovingkindnesses of salvation while you were so undeserving.

Thinking about the greatness and wonder of our salvation, and understanding that the only thing that separates us from the myriads around us every day who are lost in their sins, is the love of God for us, should elicit the most profound thanksgiving from the very depths of our being.  Thank You Lord!  Thank You Lord! Thank You Lord! It is not enough, but all that we can say.  Let us enter into His courts with abundant praise, and His gates with joyous thanksgiving this Lord's day as we ponder anew the greatness and wonder of His saving us.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

We Need Grace

We need grace, grace in abundance, because we have been called to do the be like God, and commanded to do the Him with all our heart, soul, and strength; to love our neighbor as our self; and to love one another as Christ loved us.  We are to be holy as He is holy, to walk as He walked in Christ, to be imitators of God and Christ, to not return evil for evil or insult for insult, to walk the extra mile, to turn the other cheek, to treat others as we would have them treat us, to live as He would live, to love as He loves, to put others ahead of ourselves, to say no to each and every temptation, to live for Him and not ourselves, to put Him ahead of all others, to please Him and not ourselves, to do all that we do for His glory and proclaim His excellencies.

Fortunately, what God requires, He supplies; and He does that in and through grace...this is the essence of grace.  In Romans 5:2 we see that we stand in grace.  In Romans 5:17 we learn that we have been given an abundance of grace.  In Romans 5:20 we understand that where sin abounds grace abounds all the more.  In I Timothy 1:14 we see the Lord's grace is more than abundant with the faith and love found in Christ Jesus.  In II Corinthians 9:8 we see that God is able to make all grace abound to us; and in II Corinthians 12:9 we learn that His grace is always sufficient as His power is perfected in our weaknesses.  In II Corinthians 3:5-6 we discover that our adequacy is from God as He has made us adequate as servants of the new covenant.  In Philippians 4:13 we see we can do all things in Christ who strengthens us.  In II Peter 1:2 God reveals that grace is multiplied to us in the knowledge of Him and His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  In Ephesians 2:8 we have the truth that we are saved by grace.

Yes, friends, we need grace to make it.  We need grace to do and to be all that God has called us to do and to be.  Thanks be to God who has lavished the riches of His grace upon us so that we can be all that He has called us to be, so that His purpose will be accomplished in us.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Pastoral Counseling--Marital

In the last post about pastoral counseling I talked about identifying the core sin in the life of the person who has come in for counseling, and how important it was to identify it quickly.  Again, I am certainly not holding myself out as an expert on marital counseling, but the same approach should be used in marital counseling as well.  However, in most cases, when counseling about marital issues-which are really relationship issues-you will find two sins that tend to be the core sins in most instances.  They are selfishness and unforgiveness, and they seem to be at the root of most of the marital/relationship issues that I have encountered.

Let's face it, we are all selfish pigs to one degree or another, or in one area or another.  You have your area(s) and I have mine.  We have all brought our areas of selfishness and selfish attitudes into our marriage relationships, and when selfishness exists and is not dealt with or given up, then conflicts are a natural result.  Selfishness is a relationship inhibitor, and extreme selfishness is a relationship destroyer.  James speaks to the origin and destructive power of selfishness in 3:13-4:3 of his epistle.  What I have found during the years is that selfishness is at the root of most marital conflicts.  Whenever you come across the-"I want my way!"-"I want what I want when I want it!" attitude during the counseling sessions, then understand you are staring selfishness in the face; but realize that it is also expressed in much subtler ways; and when you uncover the selfishness you may also discover that the ways that were used as a child to get what was wanted accompany the selfishness into the relationship. 

How do you deal with selfishness when you find it during the counseling sessions?

1. Identify it, and point it out.  Many times the people you are counseling are so used to being selfish, they won't realize their own selfishness unless someone points it out.

2.  Call it what it is...sin, and get them to acknowledge that it is sin.  Use the verses in James to show where it comes from and its destructive effects.

3.  Go to Philippians 2:3-7 to show them selfishness has no place in the life of the believer, and that we are commanded not to be selfish.

4.  Take them to I Corinthians does not seek its show them that selfishness is an expression of a lack of love, and that love is the higher way.

5. Use II Corinthians 8:9, Romans 15:2-3, Philippians 2:3-5 to show them the attitude that Christ had, and as such it is to be our attitude.

Will following these steps automatically solve the conflict?  No, because selfishness is so ingrained in us that it is hard to root out; but if the people you are counseling want to be more like Christ, want to grow in their faith, and truly want the conflict(s) resolved, this will start them down the right path.

Unforgiveness is the other sin that causes much damage in marital relationships.  Who of us has not been wounded in one way or the other by words, actions, inactions, or attitudes of our spouse?  Who of us has not wounded our spouse by our words, actions, inactions, or attitudes?  What brings healing to these situations?  Confession and forgiveness; and ultimately it is not the confession that brings the healing, but the forgiveness by the one offended, regardless of whether the offending party has confessed and apologized or not.  Unforgiveness is the root of bitterness (Hebrews 12:15) and just as the verse points out, it defiles many as bitterness leads to wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice (Ephesians 4:30), which are always destructive forces in a relationship.

How do you deal with unforgiveness?  Actually, this one is usually easier to spot and point out as most people know when they are being unforgiving.

1. Just as in steps one and two above, unforgivness must be identified and called for what it is...a sin.

2. Take them to Matthew 6:12-15 and Matthew 18:21-35 to show them God's view toward their unforgiveness, His command to forgive, and their personal consequences (in addition to the marital conflict) of being unforgiving.

3. Take them to Hebrews 12:15 and Ephesians 4:30-31 to show how unforgiveness not only grieves the the Holy Spirit of God, but how it will poison and defile them and others.

4. Show them in Ephesians 4:30 and Colossians 3:12-13 that we are expected to be as forgiving towards others as Christ was/is toward us.

5. Use I Peter 4:8 and I Corinthians 13:5 to show the power of love over unforgiveness, and again that love is the higher way, and since we have the immeasurable love of God already in our heart (Romans 5:5), we have God's love and therefore God's capacity to forgive.

Are there other issues surrounding and connected with selfishness and unforgiveness?  Sure there are, but until you uncover and point out these two issues, you cannot begin to deal with the other issues connected with them; and dealing with these first will make unraveling the other issues easier.

Additionally, we should always watch our attitude and demeanor when counseling.  Remember, we are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), not in self righteousness, not in a condemning way, not to put them down, but to correct them and reprove them for the benefit of their marriage and their relationship with the Lord; and if you can't say it in love, maybe it shouldn't be said until you can.  Truth is confrontational and cuts to the quick, so speaking the truth in love both wounds and heals; and when the people you are counseling know that you love them and have their best at heart, they will be much more willing to receive what you have to say.   Remember, your counseling them is ultimately to further their growing up in all aspects into Him.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Pastoral Counseling--Foundational

I am not going to hold myself out as an expert in counseling here, but I do want to share a bit of wisdom gained from dealing with people, over the years, with their various problems and concerns.  I don't want to call it a short-cut per se, but it does get to the heart of the matter, and the sooner you can get the heart of the matter the better it is for all concerned, and it involves three components.

First, identify the sin at the root of the issue.  Remember, all issues are ultimately spiritual issues, and there is always a sin at the core of each issue.  Sometimes the core sin has led to other sins, and you must cut through these sins to find the core sin, the sin that is begetting the other sins.  For example, one of the most frequent of the other sins is lying, which is occurring  to cover up the core sin. Another example is that many times when someone has been sinned against, it isn't the being sinned against (slander, abuse, defrauding, swindling, etc) that is the issue; but it is the unforgiveness (toward the perpetrator or God, or both) in the victim that is the core sin. Go after finding that core sin like a heat-seeking missile, because it will be the key to bringing healing and closure to the issue.

Second, determine if the person you are counseling is willing to deal with the core sin, willing to confess it as sin, willing to renounce it and repent from it, and willing to let it go.  If they are not willing to confess it as sin, and/or deal with the sin, then no amount of counseling will help them.  Many people who are unwilling to deal with their sin, are what I call chronic counselees; and much like the women in II Timothy 3:7 who are always learning, but are never able to come to the knowledge of the truth, these people (men and women) are always in counseling, but are never able to achieve healing.  Pornography comes to mind, in that many who are involved will admit that it is a sin, but never come to the point where they are wanting and willing to let it go.  Unforgiveness is also a sin that many are not willing to confess or deal with.

 Finally, many times the primary issue is a salvation issue, and we also see this many times in those who are chronic counselees.  There are many who think they are a Christian, who claim to be a Christian, but are not.  These people do not have the spiritual capacity to understand Biblical counseling, nor do they have the spiritual capacity to obey the Scriptures (I Corinthians 2:12-16, Romans 8:5-8), and therefore cannot apply the Scriptures to their life and situation.  In counseling you need to try and determine where the person is spiritually, so do not start off assuming the person is a Christian.  Even though I have listed this last, it something that should be paramount in your mind as you begin the counseling process.  A good healthy dose of the gospel during the counseling process is good for all, both saved and unsaved.  For the saved it is a reminder of what God and Christ have done for them and their standing before them, and for the unsaved it is the key to begin the process of healing that starts with their very own soul (Jeremiah 17:4).

There are many complicated emotional and mental issues that people are dealing with, and I am not making light of them; however, most often, we find that the issues are understood and can be resolved by determining where the people are in relation to the components I have mentioned above.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

By His Word

He created by His Word.
Genesis 1
He rules by His Word.
Isaiah 55:10-11
Jeremiah 1:12
He sustains all things by His Word.
Hebrews 1:3

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Church's First Love

This is a repost.

Revelation 2:1 "To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this: 2. 'I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; 3. and you have perseverance and have endured for My name's sake, and have not grown weary. 4. But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place--unless you repent."

There are many who are concerned about, even bemoaning, the condition of the church in America today, indeed, many would call it the plight of the church in America today. There are those calling for renewal , revival, and repentance. Steve Lawson's sermon "Famine in the Land" from Amos 8:11 ( accurately and vividly portrays what many believe is the true state of the affairs in the church in our land today. The question is how did we arrive at this place, and, then, how do we return? I personally believe the answer is quite simple, and is plainly revealed in the verses in Revelation quoted above. The church in America has left its first love, and needs to return to the pinnacle from where it has fallen.

Who is the church's first love? Why, it is none other than Christ, Himself. In studying church history it appears that leaving its first love is a problem that has plagued the church, in every country, in every age, and is a root of many of the problems in each church era. For some reason Christ falls out of favor, and is not esteemed as highly as he should be. Much like a marriage relationship where the spouse becomes taken for granted, and almost becomes a second thought to all the activities in which the family is involved, with there being more of a fidelity to the relationship than to the person. This is the problem Jesus addresses to the Ephesians. They were doing many things right, but their attention, their admiration, their adoration was no longer fixed upon Christ. This is very much like the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42 in which Martha was distracted with all her preparations, all the things she deemed necessary, while Mary had chosen the good part, Jesus Himself, to occupy her attention.

In II Corinthians 11:3 Paul gives the following admonishment to which we would do well to pay attention, "But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ." I believe the church in America has become distracted with many things and its attention, admiration, and adoration are no longer fixed upon its groom, its head, its first love, Christ Jesus. Its concern is no longer Christ, but social activism (both at home and abroad), political activism, denominational issues, the surrounding culture, relevancy, life change, family issues, and, yes, even itself and its own ambitions. All of these things are not necessarily bad in and of themselves, but they are less than the best, which is Christ Himself. They are where we have fallen, and the church has been deceived into putting its attention and devotion upon these instead of Christ.

The moment we take our attention off of Christ and put it on anything else, yes, even Christian activity, we have left Christ and have fallen to a lesser state. Christ is the author and perfecter of our faith, He is the center and focus of our faith, He is the One upon whom our faith rests, He is the One who is the hope of our glory, He is the One into whose image we are being conformed, He is the One whom we will be like when He comes again, and He is the One against whom we will be ultimately measured. The strategy that Satan uses against the church is to divert its attention away from Christ and direct it to churchy/religious activity, like the things I have mentioned above. Anything, as worthy as it may seem, as necessary as it may sound, that takes our attention and devotion away from Christ hinders our faith, weakens our faith, stagnates our faith, dilutes our witness, strips us of spiritual power, deceives us into thinking we are bearing fruit for Christ while, in actuality, we are not; and brings upon us the rebuke of Christ and the removal of our lampstand. When the church's lampstand is removed it means that it no longer has the life of Christ within it and, therefore, has ceased to be His light to the world (John 1:4). It then holds to a form of godliness with no attending power, and to put it in a trendy term, it is engaging in a dead orthopraxy. Jesus alluded to this in John 15:4-5 when He said, "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing." You can not abide in Christ if he has ceased to be the object of your devotion.

This will be a bold, sharp statement, but one that needs to be thought through. What all false teaching ultimately does is take your attention and your devotion away from Christ and redirects it to something else; so any teaching, any leading in the church, as worthy as it may sound, and as necessary as it may seem, that leads your devotion away from Christ, is false teaching.

In the verses in Revelation above, Christ gives the one and only remedy for this situation we find ourselves in....repent. It is metanoeo in the Greek, and means to reconsider, to think differently, to have a complete about face in the mind so that you have a change in attitude and corresponding action. For us to have this repentance we must see and admit that we have left our first love and have fallen, and when we repent we will change our direction and return to Him from whom we have fallen. Repent church and return your attention, your admiration, and your adoration to Christ. Make Christ the centerpiece of your faith, make Him your end all and be all, make Him the sole object of your devotion, make Him the conerstone and focus of your preaching and teaching, exalt Him above all else, love Him and Him alone with all your heart, mind, and strength; and He will return His lampstand to its place in your midst and accomplish all His good pleasure through you.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Being Under the Influence

One thing we can be sure of:  If we do not actively seek to come under the influence of God's Word, we will come under the influence of sinful society around us.  The impact of our culture with its heavy emphasis on materialism, living for one's self, and instant gratification is simply too strong and pervasive for us to not be influenced by it.  Once again, there is no such thing as a neutral stance on the continuum of influence.  We are being drawn more and more under the transforming influence of Scripture, or we are being progressively drawn into the web of an ungodly society around us.

Jerry Bridges
The Discipline of Grace
Page 171

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Pastor and Faithfulness

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

Boy, there is so much in this verse, but let's look at one particular aspect of it, and that is Paul's faithfulness.  Reading through Acts and the epistles, the one thing that really stands out about Paul is his faithfulness. If you think about this in relation to what the Lord told Ananias in Acts 9:16 about how He would show Paul how much he must suffer for His name's sake, you come away with a deep-breathed wow; because here was a man who was shown up front how much the cost would be, and he counted it (Luke 14:27-35), lived it (II Corinthians 1:2-7; 2:4; 4:7-12; 6:3-10, 7:5-6), and remained faithful to the end (II Timothy 4:5-7).  

The question might be asked, "Faithful to who, faithful to what?"  Obviously, Paul was faithful to his calling, faithful to his ministry, faithful to his friends, faithful to keep his vows, faithful with the treasure with which he had been entrusted, and faithful to the churches.  But his being faithful in all of these areas was the outflow of his faithfulness to the Lord, his Lord; and he never wavered in his faithfulness to the One who had called him to suffer for His name.  Even with his great learning, the great revelations he had been given, and his great gifting, his greatest attribute was his faithfulness.  Without his faithfulness his calling and  all the learning, revelations, and gifting would have been for naught.  Paul understood this and you can see this in I Corinthians 4:2.  

Faithfulness is manifested in many ways in our lives, and manifested it will be.  In thinking about what are the really necessary qualities in a pastor this has to be at the top.  It is nice if he is a good communicator, a gifted expositor, good with people, dynamic, personable, a good leader, educated, caring, and charismatic.  But, again, without faithfulness all these qualities and gifts will be of no use.  Faithfulness grounds the pastor, keeps him steady when tempted, keeps him loyal to his calling, strengthens him when tried, keeps him going when discouraged, keeps him looking to the Lord and not his circumstances, guards him from compromise, gives him a higher perspective on his life and ministry, pushes and pulls him on when weary, keeps his focus on the Lord and not himself, sees him through the storms of life and ministry, empowers him to endure, and keeps him from looking for greener pastoral pastures.  Faithfulness keeps him locked in on following the Lord and His will for his life.  In thinking about it...wouldn't you want to see this in your pastor if you were a church member, wouldn't you want to see this in your servant if you were the Lord?

The Lord regarded Paul as faithful, and therefore placed him into service; not any service, mind you, but maybe the most important role of any of the apostles, certainly the most demanding role, and obviously a strategic role. And in that strange and mysterious dynamic of God working in and through men, the Lord strengthened Paul to remain faithful as Paul was being faithful.  

If we are honest, we would all admit that the struggle with have with faithfulness is whether we are going to be faithful to the Lord and His will, or be faithful to ourselves and our own selfish and egotistical pursuits.  Which one will we be faithful to?  

Fellow pastors and partakers of the pastoral calling, I want to encourage you to be faithful.  Be faithful to the Lord in the living out of your calling, and call on him to keep you faithful; and in your faithfulness you will find Him faithful to you.

What the Church Needs to Grasp

One thing the church needs to grasp 
more perhaps than ever before
is that its current problems are not
the result of failures in technique or
form, but failures of morality.

Carl Trueman
Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow
Pages 29-30

Thursday, May 10, 2012

How Do You Compete with the Megachurch?

As the pastor of a small or smaller church, how do you compete with the Megachurch?  You don't!  The answer is obvious, it seems, as we are not and should not be in a "competition" in the body of Christ.  Our struggle is not against each other (church vs church) but with the powers and principalities, the world forces of darkness that surround us, and the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.  Our struggle is to present the gospel to the unsaved to bring them to Christ, and explain the gospel to the saved to make them more like Christ.  When you are competing with another church or churches, then you are competing based on observables (like buildings, numbers, programs, popularity/notoriety) which have nothing to do with bringing people to Christ, or making them more like Christ; which is the hidden work of the heart.

Here are three other reason's not to compete with the megachurch.

1.  The usual reasons behind competition of this sort are ugly.  Ego, jealousy, bitterness, selfish ambition, anger, revenge, discontent, and the like, are not wisdom from above, but are the wisdom of this world; which is earthy, natural, and demonic.

2. You don't have the resources to compete (money, talent, people, buildings, recognition, and so on).  I watched another local small church use many tactics and gimmicks over the last 3 years to try and compete with a couple of the larger churches; and they spent money they should not have spent, wore their people out, and discouraged themselves in the process.  They now have a new pastor, and the former pastor is working a secular job.

3. Many times competition leads to compromise, sometimes intentional, sometimes unintentional.  The reasons listed in number one above can blind us to the compromises that we make.  Sometimes, yes, even many times, the gospel is at stake.  Compromising on the gospel will soften its impact, dull its sharp edges, or even lead to abandoning it all together in order to be more attractive, less offensive, or more with it. Compromise can lead to ignoring or overlooking or making excuses for sin in the church; and sin not dealt with is sin that begets more sin, as a little leaven leavens the whole lump.

You know, competition for competition's sake is never a good thing.  Emphasis on growing the church instead of growing the disciples will always take a church down the wrong path.  The emphasis in the Scriptures is never on the size of a church, but always on the Christlikeness of the people.  The only church we see commended in the NT epistles is the church at Thessalonica, and its commendation is for its reputation of repentance, faith, and gospel sharing (I Thessalonians 1:6-10).  Even the two churches commended in Revelation were small, struggling, and suffering.

So, if you are tempted to compete, examine yourself to see what your motive is, and ask yourself what would I have to compromise on. Check yourself and be honest with yourself as this may reveal your true priorities in ministry. Remember:

Better is the little of the righteous
than the abundance of many wicked.
Psalm 37:16

Better that this describes your life and ministry. 

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Humility and Wickedness

In the Scriptures, you never see the term humble 
used to describe the wicked.

But the humble will inherit the land and will
delight themselves in abundant prosperity.
Psalm 37:11

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Our Own Opinions?

Our own opinions will never lead us to holiness, 
and without holiness none of us will see the Lord.
Righteousness, the practical out working of holiness,
is not culturally determined, but biblically prescribed.

God, through the Scriptures, has revealed to us
His moral standards.  These standards are absolute
and unchanging because their Author is Himself
absolute and unchanging; unlike our own opinions.