Monday, December 31, 2012

Warfare Praying

Pray then in this way:
Our Father who is in heaven,
hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done, on earth
as it is in heaven.
Matthew 6:9-10

I always get amused when I hear the term "warfare praying," like it is some type of special praying, praying specifically designated for the spiritual battlefield.  When people use that term I think they are missing something, something noted in the verses above.  

When giving instructions on how to pray, Jesus states that we are to request that the Father's will be done on earth as it is being done each and every moment in heaven. Think about it, each and every prayer should include the request or should be prayed in light of the Father's will being carried out here on earth.  If that is how we are to pray, each and every prayer, and it is; then each and every prayer is a prayer of spiritual warfare.  

The minute we pray for God's will to be done we are praying against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places, as they are always all out against the will of the Father.  The minute you pray for the Lord's will to be carried out in your life, the life of the church, or the life of your friends and family, then you have entered into the spiritual fray.  If you pray for His will on the mission field, you are praying against the will of the enemy.

The Lord wants us to pray for His will to be done.  Our prayers for His will to reign supreme is a prayer against the evil one and all of his schemes, and are used by God as a means by which His will is carried out.  

If this is the case, and it is, then we must realize that each and every prayer that is prayed  for the will of God to be accomplished will have spiritual opposition, because our adversary and God's adversary does not want the will of God to be done....ever.  

So, with this in mind, let us pray in a more informed way, and with greater understanding of exactly what is taking place when we pray for His will to be done.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Pride and Humility

...God is opposed to the proud, 
but gives grace to the humble.
For though the Lord is exalted,
yet He regards the lowly, but 
the haughty He knows from afar.
James 4:6, Psalm 138:6

Here are ten things the Bible teaches us about pride and humility. 

  1. Pride ultimately exalts itself over God, and humility ultimately makes itself low before God.  
  2. Pride pushes God away, while humility draws near to God.  
  3. Pride depends on itself, while humility depends on God.  
  4. Pride boasts on itself, while humility boasts on God.  
  5. Pride credits itself, while humility credits God. 
  6. Pride follows its own path, while humility follows God's path.  
  7. Pride is self-seeking, while humility is God-seeking.  
  8. Pride always leads to disobedience, while humility always leads to obedience.  
  9. Pride is the opposite of godliness, while humility promotes godliness. 
10. The proud will be destroyed from the earth, while the humble will inherit the earth.

Friday, December 28, 2012

A Working Definition of Legalism

Legalism is a morality, a code of conduct,
which holds to a form of godliness, which 
smells of religion, which promises acceptance;
but ultimately is not grounded in Christ, in 
His person and His completed work.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Whitefield and Pastoral Leadership

In his biography of George Whitefield (Volume II page 155), Arnold Dallimore gives us some insight into George Whitefield as a leader.  

...Whitefield did exercise an effective leadership of this movement.  It was not, however, a leadership by domination and the giving of commands; rather it was one of affection and example.  Most of the exhorters had been converted under his ministry and looked on him, as many of them stated, as a spiritual father   In turn, holding him in such high esteem and seeing in him an embodiment of so much of their own Christian ideal, they delighted to be his co-laborers and to co-operate with his plans.  Whitefield was inflexible in matters of moral rectitude and expected the men to maintain a life of strong Christian discipline and tremendous activity, but in general his relationship with the people and exhorters throughout his movement was by his heart-felt concern, his unfailing encouragement, and his personal example. (Italics mine)

If you think about it, this is where pastoral leadership, spiritual leadership starts.  And these elements should never depart or be de-emphasized.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas and the Incarnation

As we celebrate the incarnation, the appearing of God in the flesh, I thought this quote from Charles Spurgeon would be appropriate, both for its profundity, and its succinctness.  It is taken from Steve Lawson's book The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon page 91.

"He is not humanity deified.
He is not Godhead humanized.
He is God. He is man. He is all
that God is, and all that man is
as God created Him."

And because Jesus Christ is both God and man, He then is solely and uniquely qualified to be the the Savior. The Word became flesh. He was the only begotten God, the Savior born for us in the city of David, Christ the Lord.  So along with the angels let us praise God by saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased." (Luke 2:14).  

Let us preach this Savior and His salvation.  Let us tell the world of the appearing of the grace, kindness, and the love of God for mankind in the birth of Christ.  For Christmas is the heart of the gospel message.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Collision of Wills

The following is a re-post.

Jonah, what an enlightening, delightful, powerful, compelling, and convicting book. Immediately in Jonah 1:2-3 we see a collision of wills between God and Jonah and we see this highlighted in the call of God to Jonah, "Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it." and Jonah's response...He rose flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. Jonah was not being reluctant, he was being rebellious. His disagreement with God (Jonah 4:1-2) turned into disobedience to God, and he fled just as far in the opposite direction of Nineveh as he knew to go.

Jonah's fleeing from God was his way of avoiding God because he did not want to do what God had called him to do. God's call to Jonah exposed an area of Jonah's life that needed to be brought into submission to the Lord, and the limits of his obedience were exposed. This is an object lesson for us. Why?.....There are many times when we have a collision of wills with God, and every collision of our will and His will reveals the limits of our obedience. The limits of our obedience are always being exposed and tested, just like Jonah.

In times like these when our will has collided with God, and we are wrestling with God and ourselves, there are some things we need to remember, things that we observe in the book of Jonah:

1. That God's will is always perfect and pure....ours is neither.

2. When our will is not lined up with God's will, it will always be selfish and self-seeking.

3. The imagined cost of obedience is always overshadowed by the real cost of disobedience.

4. Disobedience is always more costly and the consequences are more severe.

5. While obedience may cause some distress, disobedience leads to disaster.

6. Your disobedience does not happen in a vacum, but will always affect those around you, those whom you are connected to.

7. When you are being disobedient don't be beguiled by the "providential" escape provided by the circumstances.

8. Most often the means of escape our circumstances seem to supply is actually the means of God's discipline, God's chastening.

9. When we are being disobedient our paradise becomes purgatory and our pleasure becomes pain.

10. It is always better to trust the Word of God rather than to trust your own heart.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Reminding, a Pastoral Responsibility

In Titus 2:15-3:1a, Paul lays out for us several responsibilities for the Pastor in regards to his preaching.  All of the verbs here are present imperatives, which mean they are ongoing commands, not just for Titus but for everyone who occupies the pulpit.

If you have studied what are called the Pastoral epistles of Paul, and followed his ministry through the book of Acts, most of what is listed here should not come as a big surprise, in fact, the commands are the usual suspects when it comes to preaching the word of God.  We understand that we are to be continually speaking the word, and with the word to be continually exhorting and reproving.  We understand that when we speak the word we are speaking it under His authority, and therefore with His authority.  We also know of the importance of never letting anyone disregard or blow us off as we deliver His word.  However, have you ever thought about how a part of our responsibility as a pastor is to be continually reminding our people about what the word says?

That's what Paul says right there in the very first word of verse one of chapter continually reminding them.  It is the last of the commands, and magnifies and reinforces all the others.  When you remind someone, what you are doing is bringing to their remembrance something that they already knew.  It is not giving them new knowledge, but is the re-giving them of something already taught.  It is the re-telling of Biblical truth.  It is the re-explaining of Biblical principles.  Reminding is for remembering and therefore reinforcing.  What are we to remind them of?  What the Scriptures say, and what they already know to do in light of what the Scriptures say.  We are commanded to remind, so it must be important.

The Lord is big on reminders, from Genesis all the way through the rest of the Bible.  We have memorials and altars.  We have covenant reminders.  We have feasts that were to be held every year, and rituals to be continually followed (Hebrews 10:1-3).  In the New Testament we have the Lord's Supper, which is to remind us of His death and our covenant with Him.  In baptism we are visibly reminded or our union with Christ and our new identity in Him.  So why is reminding so important, and why does He remind us so often?  So we won't forget or be neglectful.

There are three primary words in the New Testament that are translated remind:

The first is hupomimnesko, and it just simply means to remind, to bring to remembrance.  We see this word use in II Timothy 2:4-14, II Peter 1:12-13, and the purpose of being reminded here is to remind them about the things concerning salvation and sanctification.  In II Peter 3:1 it is so that they would be stirred up to remember the Scriptures.  In Jude 1:5 it is used so as to remind them about the judgment of God upon those who do not truly believe.  In Titus 3:1-2 it is used to remind them how they are to be behaving as Christians.

The second is anamimnesko, which means to remind again, to re-remind, if you will.  It is used in
I Corinthians 4:17 it is used to remind them of Paul's example, his teaching and its uniformity.  In II Timothy 1:6 it is used so as to strengthen and encourage Timothy.

The third is epanamimnesko, which means to strongly or greatly remind, so as to never forget.  Paul uses this word in Romans 15:15-16 to tell them that he has written this great epistle to them so that they will never forget the gospel.  In other words this epistle was written so that the gospel would be forever etched in their minds.

Additionally, in Philippians 3:1 we see Paul telling the Philippians that to write the same things again is a safeguard for them.  So we see that reminding is also for our protection.

So we see here in these verses some of what reminding is intended to accomplish.

You see, going to church, studying the Bible, and listening to sermons is not always about hearing or learning something new, but many times it is to be reminded of what we already know. We are never too old in Christ or too old in years to learn something new, and we will never reach a place where we have heard it all or know it all.  However, we will never reach a point or ever reach an age where we won't need to be reminded. You see, so much of our Christian life is about being reminded.  We, being the weak frail creatures that the Scriptures tell us that we are, need to be reminded. We need to be reminded so we won't forget.  We need to be reminded so our faith will be reinforced and strengthened.  We need to be reminded so as to be refreshed when we grow weary.  We need to be reminded to be reproved for not doing what we know to do.  We need to be reminded so as to be revitalized so we will fight the good fight and press on in our faith.  We need to be reminded so we can be restored when we have been wounded or brought low.  We need to be reminded so as to be renewed to a greater state of Christlikeness.  Sometimes we just simply need to be reminded that we need to be reminded; and, if you think about it, many times we are the most blessed by hearing a truth that we already hold dear.

So, fellow pastors, let us not forsake, neglect, or forget our responsibility to remind our people about what the Bible says.  Let us not be afraid to remind, for we are in the reminding business.  Those of us who preach should love to tell the story, again and again.  Indeed, that is our charge.

And how is the best way to do this, so that it doesn't grow stale from the repetition?  Preach through the Bible verse by verse, book by book.  This is one of the beauties and benefits of  sequential expository preaching.  This way you will present the same truths and cover the same themes, but in different contexts and from different angles; and, in doing so, the gospel will be kept fresh, both for you and for your people.


Monday, December 10, 2012

A Monday Morning Word of Encouragement to Pastors

There is a sense in which putting together a sermon is much like editing a movie.  Just like much of what is shot for the movie is left in the computer or cutting room floor, so it is for a sermon.  After prayer and study a preacher almost always has to leave out thoughts, insights, and information either because they do not fit the context of the sermon, or he just doesn't have room to fit them in.

There is also the preaching moment, which sometimes is editing on the fly, in which the preacher adds things he did not intend to say and had not thought about, or leaves out things he had intended to say, things that he considered important and necessary,  things that were even in his notes or preaching manuscript.

In either of the above scenarios the preacher can always second guess himself, and get into the, "Oh, I could have said this...Oh, if only I would have said that... Oh, I should have said with himself, and many of us do.  Now, I am not saying the preacher should never examine his sermons or think critically about them, or that we should not get upset in those rare occurrences (and they should be rare) when we preach that uninspired and unaccompanied by the Spirit clunker of a sermon; BUT I am saying that at some point we have to trust the Lord with His superintending of the process of preparing the sermon and His superintending our preaching of the sermon.  If we are working hard in the preparation and are praying for His illumination, His revelation, His guidance, His making His thoughts our thoughts and His words our words, then we must trust Him with what is left in the study and with what actually comes or doesn't come out of our mouth when we are delivering His word.

When we know that we have done the best we could, then we must trust the Lord that it was enough; and that just as the Lord took the fish and the loaves and fed the five thousand, He will take our meager thoughts and words and by His power multiply them to feed those to whom we preach.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Christ, Our Example

but so that the world may know that I love the Father,
I do exactly as the Father commanded Me.
John 14:31a

As Christians, we know that Christ is our model, our exemplar, and as such view Him as the example of how we are to live our Christian life.  While this is true and right, what we miss so often is that He is the model for how our relationship with our heavenly Father should look, as well.  

I don't know if you have ever thought about what your relationship with God should look like, but to know what it should look like you have to look no further than Christ.  In going through the Gospel of John, you will see Christ in a much more personal way than in the other gospels, and one of things you will notice about Him is His relationship with the Father; and how He fulfills all righteousness by first fulfilling the greatest commandment, which is to love the Father above all else.  

Loving the Father was His greatest desire and was the springboard for all that He did.  As you go through the Gospel of John you will come across verses that give you insight into His love of the Father and how that is manifested in His life here on earth.  Let's look at some of them:

John 4:34 Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish all His work.
John 5:19 Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son does in like manner.
John 5:30 I can do nothing on My own initiative....I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.
John 8:28b-29...and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father has taught Me.  And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.
John 12:49-50 For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak.  I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me.  

So we see in these verses that the things Jesus did were what He saw the Father doing and the things He said were what the Father gave Him to say.  We also see that what sustained and nourished Him was doing the will of the Father, and that He always did what pleased the Father.  And what was His motivation, His foundation, if you will, for this great desire to please God and accomplish the Father's will in His life.  We see it expressed in John 14:31 above. Out of His great love for the Father came forth the desire to please the Father, and the desire to please the Father manifested itself in His obedience to the Father.

And what kind of obedience was this? It was a loving obedience.  It is obedience that was born out of love and its accompanying desire to please the One who is the object of that love.  My friends, it is to be the same for us.  Our obedience to the Father should not be a legalistic obedience or the obedience of duty or the obedience of fear, but an obedience that springs forth from a heart full of love for our heavenly Father.  In fact, our obedience is directly connected to our love.  This is why Jesus told His disciples (and is meant for us, too), "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments."  Jesus could make this statement without the slightest twinge of the guilt of hypocrisy, because that is exactly what He did.

So let us love the Father and the Son by being obedient to them, and may our obedience to them be an obedience born out of love; and may our love and its obedience know no bounds.


Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The Surpassing Value

More than that, I count all things to be loss in view
of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus
my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of
all things, and count them but rubbish so that 
I may gain Christ.
Philippians 3:8

The other day I was thinking about my relationship with Christ, and how its value far surpasses anything else; and how He is worth the sacrifices I make for Him   And in the process of thinking about this, I had a scene come into my mind.  A scene that comes up occasionally when thinking on sacrificing for the Lord, and how He is worth sacrificing for.  It is a scene from my own imagination, that came about as a result of reading a missionary biography a few years back.  I wish I could remember the missionary's name, and where I read it, but here is the gist of it.  

There was a family that felt led of the Lord to go and witness to the natives of the New Hebrides, and were dropped off on the island to begin their ministry.  The inhabitants were cannibals, and were fierce warriors.  Over the next couple of years the children and the wife died and were buried, and the father/husband slept on their graves every night for fear that the cannibals would dig up their graves.  This man would later remarry and return to the island to continue to share the gospel with these people.  Of course, there is more to the story, but the scene that keeps coming to my mind is one where this man, having given up all his possessions, comforts, and security to come to this foreign and hostile land; and then losing his entire family, is alone in the darkness and stretched out over the graves of his wife and children.  And in my mind the man is proclaiming to the Lord, "You are worth it!  You are worth it!"

My friends, I don't know what you are giving up to serve the Savior.  I don't know what sacrifices you are making or have made; but I do know this, "He is worth it!  He is worth it!"  He is worth the work of our faith and the labor of our love.  He is worth the taking up of our cross. He is worth the suffering of shame for His name sake.  He is the pearl of great price who is worth all of what we have.  He is the One who paid it all, and so He is the one who is worth it all.  Let us take our lives and offer them up, so that along with Paul, we too may gain Christ and may be found in Him on that day. 

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Spiritual Insecurity

This is a repost from 2007, that I thought would be timely.

In 1964 Martin Lloyd-Jones preached a series of sermons over 21 consecutive Sundays on the topic of spiritual depression, its causes and its cure as he had noticed how many Christians seemed spiritually depressed, and even the great preacher himself had dealt with a season of spiritual depression. It seems to me that in our new century we are seeing another issue that is pervasive in Christianity in our country and that is spiritual insecurity. This spiritual insecurity is becoming a polluting, corrupting, and paralyzing force in the life and faith of the body of Christ. Sad to say many who are insecure spiritually are so because they do not have the Spirit, but there are also many others who are believers who are struggling with being insecure in their faith.

I do believe that one of the factors contributing to this is the postmodern age in which we are now living. With its emphasis on uncertainty, its elevation of personal experience as the arbiter of truth, and its deconstruction of all truth claims, it is easy to see why those who have succumbed to this way of thinking and viewing life would be insecure. The church has always been in danger of being influenced by the surrounding culture and its accompanying philosophy; and the more immature the church, the more immature the believer, and, therefore, the more susceptible they are to adopting the cultural mindset of the day. Take, for example, what we see addressed in the books of I Corinthians and James.

Another contributor to this spiritual insecurity is the lack of the knowledge of God. It is sad, yes tragic, that many Christians just do not know God very well. II Peter 1:2-3 tells us that grace and peace are not just given, but multiplied to us in the knowledge of God and His Son, Jesus Christ; and that we have been given everything pertaining to life and godliness through this true knowledge. In Hosea 4:6 God tells us "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge." Then in Hosea 6:3 He exhorts us, "So let us know, let us press on to know the Lord." Since the Scriptures are true, if Christians are insecure in their faith, their relationship with the living Lord, then they must not have much of the knowledge of God and His Son that multiplies grace and peace in their lives. The lack of the knowledge of God is destroying His people and His church in America today, and can be directly related to the preaching to felt needs and the therapeutic gospel that have been in the main for the last 20 years. It may seem odd that self help, feel good, Jesus loves you for who you are sermons would not make people feel more secure in their relationship with God, but the key to security in any relationship is an intimate knowledge of the other party in the relationship. When preaching and church life are all about you, and teaching about God and His salvation are absent,  then how can you ever know about God?

Finally, the third contributor to this spiritual uncertainty comes from the proliferation of Arminian and Semi-Pelagian (you can look these up at views of the role of man in his salvation and sanctification, from "getting himself saved" to "keeping himself saved." When man takes the responsibility for his salvation, and the working out of that salvation, upon his own shoulders he will never feel adequate for the task. For deep down in his soul he is all too aware of the sin that so easily entangles him, and his own lust that entices and carries him away. Without a solid foundation built on the doctrines of grace and the sovereignty of our great and merciful God in our salvation, from its beginning to its end, man is left to rely only on the strength of his own arm,the power of his own piety......and, for all of us, our faults and foibles are ever before us.

Where are you today, my friend? Are you struggling with being secure in your relationship with God and living the life of faith? Are you plagued with doubts and uncertainties? Confess this to God, cry out to Him for relief, for peace in your soul, and rest for your heart. In Jeremiah 33:3 He tells to call upon Him and He will show us great and mighty things which we do not know, which, I believe, are the things of God Himself. According to Jeremiah 9:23-24 God wants our only boast to be that we know and understand Him. If that is what He wants then He has provided the means for that to take place, and those means are the Word of God and the Spirit of God. In fact, in Jeremiah 1:12, He tells us that He personally watches over His word to make sure it is fulfilled, that it is carried out to the fullest. Start your journey to spiritual security by reading the Psalms and in each Psalm mark with a colored marker each verse that tells you something about God. Meditate on these things and ask God to reveal to you deeper insight about that aspect of His nature and character.  Read the first nine verses of I Peter, and Ephesians 2:1-9, and reflect on the great salvation that God Himself has provided for you.  In Jeremiah 29:12-14 He has promised to be found by us when we search for Him with all our heart. Take Him up on that promise today.