Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Foundations for Godly Living

Romans 16:25-27 "Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, 26 but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; 27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen."

Introducing four foundations for Godly living
As you study Psalms 109-111 and Romans 16 together, you discover four foundations for Godly living: 
1. God's Sovereign Goodness
2. God's Inerrant Word
3. Blood Redemption 
4. The Spirit-led heart.  

Foundation #1 God's Sovereign Goodness
On the first read through of Psalm 109 and 110, it may appear that both are opposite, since the Psalmist is being oppressed by his enemies in 109 and seeing prophetic fulfillment in 110.  However, upon closer inspection, you discover God's Sovereign Goodness as preserving the writer in 109 and being the source of Psalm 110.  It is in Psalm 111 that you see such goodness praised, as well as see His Sovereign Goodness  closing out Romans 16.  

Foundation #2: God's Inerrant Word
By beginning with God's Sovereign Goodness as the first foundation for Godly living, we move onto the second: God's inerrant Word. The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 states - "The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God's revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter." Psalm 109-111 makes direct or indirect reference to God's covenant to David in 2 Samuel 7:8-16.  The Loving kindness of God shown in that passage sustains the Psalmist in 109, enables the Psalmist to the see Christ reigning in 110 and causes him to praise God in Psalm 111.  

God's inerrant Word is the source of the Gospel of salvation spoken of in Romans 16:25.  If the Bible were not the inerrant Word of God, we could not trust it to relay accurately the Sovereign goodness of God, His dealings with men like David nor trust that the Gospel woven throughout its pages was of saving value.  Christian growth requires an inerrant Bible revealed from the Sovereignly Good God revealed in its pages.  

Foundation #3 Blood Redemption
The third foundation, blood redemption, is looked forward to Psalms 109-111 and spoken of in Romans 16.  Psalm 111:8 for example reminds us of God sending His redemption and Romans 16:25-26 states that the Gospel would not be possible without God having sent His Son.  Hebrews 12:2-3 underscores the priority of Christ's accomplished work for the Godly life: "fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."  So in seeing those three foundations for Godly living: God's Sovereign goodness, Inerrant Bible and Blood redemption, lets look at the final foundation: Spirit-led heart.  

Foundation #4 Spirit-led heart
The Spirit-led or Spirit-filled life is what gives the basis for Christian experience following salvation.  The Holy Spirit is the One who led the Psalmist to write what He wrote under the unique grace of Divine inspiration.  The Holy Spirit enables the saints of God to have glowing testimonies like the ones mentioned in Romans 16.  You and I today enjoy the Spirit's ministry of illumination as He leads us into the scriptures and His ministry of sanctification that cleanses us to make us more like Jesus.  By the Spirit's leading we are becoming in experience whom God has declared us to be in position: children of God and co-heirs with Jesus Christ. (Romans 8:16-17)  These are the four foundations for Godly living. 

Monday, June 29, 2015

Pause and wait to hear God in the face of incomplete information

Genesis 37:5-8 Then Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. 6 He said to them, “Please listen to this dream which I have had; 7 for behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and lo, my sheaf rose up and also stood erect; and behold, your sheaves gathered around and bowed down to my sheaf.”8 Then his brothers said to him, “Are you actually going to reign over us? Or are you really going to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words." 

A Divinely given dream in the Bible is God's Sovereignly laid-out plan for you in seed form. Joseph is the premier dreamer in the book of Genesis. Undeniably Jacob, his father, had experienced visions and dreams (Genesis 28). However, Joseph not only had far more dreams, but he also had been gifted by God to interpret them. We can observe Joseph's youthful ambition in relaying his dreams to his family as a show of pride or unthoughtfulness. The account of Joseph's life (Genesis 37-50) would entail God taking this "dreamer" and shaping him into a man of God who would rule over the souls of men and become one of the most humble men of integrity in the Bible. 

Life is full of incomplete information
The responses of the brothers and Jacob represent reactions in the face of incomplete information. Joseph relayed dreams that were God's declared future in seed form. They didn't have the complete picture, only a fleeting glimpse at best. Perhaps you have faced such a situation where you are presented with incomplete information. Think about the following examples that feature incomplete information. One of your parents tells you that a tumor has been found. The doctors do not know yet how big it is, what kind it is or whether it is malignant or benign. Another example: you're driving to the airport to pick up your mother, and the gps unit loses the signal. Hours from home, knowing that you must arrive at the airport on time, your heart rate quickens due to incomplete information. Or how about decisions needing to be made about your future? You have a situation wherein quick, big decisions have to be made and you have to solve problems that are impacting many people? In the face of incomplete information, what do you do? 

How we may typically respond in the face of incomplete information
As young Joseph re-told the tale of his dream, (which featured in symbolic language his family bowing to him), the response of his brothers is told in Genesis 37:8 "Then his brothers said to him, “Are you actually going to reign over us? Or are you really going to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words." When you read that verse, does it seem that the brother's reaction is overboard? You and I may be quick to look harshly at the brother's reaction until we realize in the larger context, Jacob had favored Joseph above them (Genesis 37:3); Joseph had developed into quite a vindictive tattle-tell (Genesis 37:2) and their hatred had been developing over time due to Jacob's preferential treatment of Joseph. (Genesis 37:4) 

When we arrive at the scene of Joseph's dreams and the brothers' reaction, we begin to understand. The reaction was knee-jerk and, in the brothers' estimation, more than deserved. What other choice was there than to hate Joseph? There was another choice that Jacob would make, which we will see in a little bit. 

Two choices in the face of incomplete information: push on or pause?
In all of these hypothetical scenarios, the pressure of needing 100% certainty in the face of less than 100% information brings about the need for "pause". Joseph's brothers did not choose to "pause". They chose to push on ahead and not wait to listen to God. However, Jacob's response was different, as seen in Genesis 37:10-11 "He related it to his father and to his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have had? Shall I and your mother and your brothers actually come to bow ourselves down before you to the ground?” 11 His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind." 

At first, it appears Jacob is going to go the route of his other sons - that is to say - the natural, fleshly response. Jacob at first strongly rebuked Joseph. However, verse 11 then says: "but his father kept the saying in mind". Quite literally, Jacob chose to avoid reacting prematurely in the face of incomplete information. His questions about the dream's meaning and as to whether or not they would be bowing down to Joseph only highlight Jacob's desire to have certainty and answers. Despite his efforts, no quick answers were forthcoming. And so Jacob chose to "guard the matter in his heart."

Jacob chose to pause and hear God. The carnal flesh wants to react. Jacob in his spirit man or heart (the part of you that is transformed in saving faith) saw that what was not needed was an immediate response. We as 21st century people of God are too prone to reacting on impulse and not considering the need to pause to hear God. Isaiah 30:15 levels the following indictment against ancient Israel: "For thus the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, has said, “In repentance and rest you will be saved, In quietness and trust is your strength.” But you were not willing." Philippians 4:6-7 tells us - "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." The flesh prefers to operate in self-sufficient certainty. We want to have all the answers now and if we don't have them, we then choose knee-jerk reactions. Certainly not having all the information we would desire can lead to panic. It is in those times we search desperately for something to grab hold of to steady our walk. 

Jesus exemplifies pausing, waiting to hear God in the face of incomplete information
When no answers are available, or when the picture of the future is incomplete, what do you do? Pause. Wait. Listen for God to speak to you in His Word. Jesus gives us the perfect example of pausing and waiting to hear His Father. Mark 1:35-37 states: "In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there. 36 Simon and his companions searched for Him; 37 they found Him, and said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You.” Jesus would often dissappear in the midst of "business". How could He? Yet, Jesus knew that the power to do the ministry and live His life in human flesh came from His intimate association with the Father. Jesus gave us an example to follow in this area of "pausing and waiting to hear God". Jesus in His humanity experienced incomplete information about the timing of His return. (Matt 24:36; Mark 13:32) Despite not knowing the "day nor the hour", Jesus never one time exhibited panic. Even during His crucifixion, Jesus knew all things were in the Father's hands. You and I can have perfect peace in knowing God has all things in His hand even if we don't fully understand all things. (compare Isaiah 26:3) In the face of incomplete information, Jesus had cultivated a heart that perfectly knew when to pause, wait and listen for God. Jacob did that, and you and I dear Christian need to do that as well in times where information and news is incomplete. 

Closing thoughts
Today we considered the importance of pausing and waiting to hear God in the face of incomplete information. Life is characterized by incompleteness. Planning is important. Intelligence about what the next step is prized as a precious commodity in uncertain situations. But what do you do when the answers you crave are not forthcoming? Do like Jacob and do like Jesus - pause and wait to hear God. Ponder. Meditate on the scriptures. Take a spiritual breather. Trust God in that He is the answer to all your questions. 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The 3 seasons experienced in the Christian life

Autumn Attractions & Fall Foliage
Luke 10:38-40 "Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. 40 But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” 

Why do most places on planet earth experience seasons? Seasons occur as a result of the tilt of the axis of the Earth in her orbit around the Sun. As we make our journey around the Sun at a speed of 16,000-17,000 m.p.h, our Earth's axis and its North and South Poles are tilted 23 1/2 degrees toward or away from the sun, resulting in our familar seasons. As the Christian makes it their aim to set their life in orbit about Jesus Christ, seasons occur. In reading through the accounts of Mary and Martha in the Gospels, we discover a sequence of three such seasons of the Christian life outlined for us. At times Mary is the focal point of the narratives and at other times Martha receives the attention of the inspired text. In John's Gospel, both sisters eventually receive equal focus, showing us that in the eyes of inspired Holy writ, both sisters exhibited commendable faith in our Lord through their contrasting expressions of faith. Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 3:1 "There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven." Today's post briefly details three seasons of the Christian life as witnessed in Luke 10:38-42; John 11:21-40; 12:1-6.

Point of Application:  
The seasons of the Christian life are designed by Jesus to draw us closer to Him.

Waiting Season. Luke 10:38-42

Luke 10:40-42 records Jesus saying to a bustling Martha regarding her waiting sister Mary - "But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered and said to her, Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; 42 but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” 

What is the value of waiting on God? Why this season? From this account and other passages, we can note the following observations on the season of waiting. First, waiting teaches us how to focus on God. Luke records how distracted Martha was, however Mary was sitting calmly at Jesus' feet. When we are brought into a season of waiting on God, our options seem to be limited. We may take that to mean God had placed us on the shelf. However all He is doing is getting us to focus more on Him. 

A second observation to be made about waiting is that we get the chance to grow stronger in God. Jesus told Martha that Mary had chosen the "good part". Isaiah 40:31 reminds us: 
"Yet those who wait for the Lord Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary." 

Then a third observation about the benefit of waiting on God is in atuning one's heart to the voice of God. Waiting gives us extra time to get in the scriptures, search them desperately and hear God speak through them. When it seems all has shut down and we are going nowhere, a conversation with a stranger or godly advice from a wise Christian friend and attune us to God's voice. Hearing is one thing, listening is another. Hearing means I acknowledge audible sound, however listening strains to hear the nuances of what is being said and results in later action. So let us recall that: The seasons of the Christian life are designed by Jesus to draw us closer to Him. We have looked at the waiting season, now lets see a second, namely...

Trusting Season. John 11:21-40

In both John 11:26 and 11:40 we see Jesus challenging Martha to trust or believe in Him with regards to His identification as the Resurrection and the Life and His power to affect the raising of her brother from the dead. God will at times engineer circumstances to make the possibility of trusting Him seemingly more difficult. Why is that? Because true faith cannot grow unless it is tested. Proverbs 3:5-6 states: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight." In John 11, all evidence appeared contrary to what the outcome was going to be: namely Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. The seed of faith was planted by Jesus in Martha's heart. Seeds and their fully grown counterparts can look so different. Martha understood what resurrection meant within the context of her Old Testament understand, yet he perceptions were incomplete. The Mediator of the New Covenant was not only there to complete what she lacked, but to bring to pass what faith was telling her: "you brother will rise again". Trust was being tested. Only in the context where mistrust is so easy can trust in God be shown genuine in the heart of the true saint of God. So let us recall again that: The seasons of the Christian life are designed by Jesus to draw us closer to Him. We have seen the season of waiting, then trusting, and now let us consider the third, namely....

Ministering Season. John 12:1-6
In this final episode featuring both Martha and Mary, we find both of them serving Jesus in their own unique ways. John 12:2-3 records - "So they made Him a supper there, and Martha was serving; but Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him. Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume." Martha served the table in the realm of the practical and Mary served in the realm of prayerful. Both types of ministry are needed. Mystics and practical realists are necessary for any ministry and the Christian life to function. The food Martha had prepared would be necessary to physically strengthen our Lord for what would be His final week prior to the cross and empty tomb. Mary's preparations would leave with the Master the scent of worship that would waft its way through the temple grounds and to the cross. Ministry is the means by which we aim to get ourselves and others more focused upon the Master. 

Final Observations:

Today our main point of application was: The seasons of the Christian life are designed by Jesus to draw us closer to Him. When we consider these seasons, we must not think of them as occuring in order or in a very specific sequence. If anything, much like the seasons of the year, oftentimes we can experience a warm day in the winter, a cloudy day in the Spring, a wet season in the summer and a shortened fall blending into a long winter. Some areas of our globe seem to experience all the seasons at once or perhaps two or three and a shortened version of another. Clearly Jesus was challenging and commending these sisters in various aspects of their discipleship journey with Him. By the time you arrive in the final scene depicting them in John 12, though both are different and though both have experienced differing blends and orderings of the above mentioned seasons, the result is achieved - a closer walk with Jesus Christ.  

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Shepherding Christ's Church includes enduring to the end - 1 Timothy 4:16

1 Timothy 4:16 "Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you willensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you."

Today will conclude what has been our blog series on the subject of "shepherding Christ's church". Our aim has been to understand the five responsibilities a pastor has per what Paul writes in 1 Timothy 4. Thus far we have considered the pastors shepherding responsibilities as including:

1. Exposing Error. 1 Timothy 4:1-3
2. Emphasizing Doctrine. 1 Tim 4:4-6
3. Exemplifying godliness. 1 Tim 4:7-10
4. Excelling in preaching. 1 Timothy 4:11-15

Today we want to wrap up things by consider how when shepherding God's flock in the local church, the pastor needs to endure, running the race of faith. Since the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy & Titus) are written to pastors and church members alike, this means by extension, the church membership needs to endure and run the race of faith.

Shepherding Christ's church includes Enduring to the end. 1 Timothy 4:16
As a pastor, when I consider what we have been discussing these past several days, as well as our main subject for today, I recognize how much I need to grow in all that has been explored. When I write what I write in these blogs, I do not claim to have arrived nor do I assert that I am already practicing these things perfectly and completely. 1 Timothy 4:1-16 is the measuring rod for every pastor. In one respect it can be overwhelming to try to measure up to the tall order of commands issued forth by Paul in these verses. 

Timothy was no novice. He undoubtedly had demonstrated his loyalty to Paul in his missionary journeys and had come to the point where he was now assuming a pastoral position at one of the leading churches in the ancient world - Ephesus. Still, Timothy had never pastored and thus was in the "deep end of the pool" so-to-speak. I'm certain he too felt this sense of inadequacy as he read this letter mainly addressed to him. 

Thankfully, as a pastor, I know that my own love, level of practical righteousness, will-power and so-called talents will wilt in the face of these commands. I'm thankful because it is to my Chief Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, that I look. The greatest thing my church needs is Him - His righteousness, will, unlimited grace and glory. As a pastor, I don the garments of his righteousness and lean on those in the practice of the Christian life. His love flows through me, a dry river bed. His will works through my otherwise impotent will to achieve His desires. 

When Paul wraps up what he has written in 1 Timothy 4:16, he urges not only pastors, but church members to focus on two main areas in their Christian lives and ministries. The first area is "take heed to yourself" and the second is "and to your teaching". 

As a pastor, if I fail to take stock of where I am spiritually and forget who I am and Whose I am, I will do as James writes in James 1:23-24 "For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was." The failure to do self-examination in the Christian life is among the leading reasons for moral and spiritual failure. To endure the hardships that afflict both the inside of the heart and the outside pressures of this world and the kingdom of darkness, a pastor must know who he is as a man of God. 

A good question to ask yourself, whether as a pastor or as a person in the pew is: "am I keenly aware of the 'shadow-side' of my soul wherein dwells the left-over residue of sin from my pre-conversion life?" Like a dish sitting on a counter that has not yet been washed, the remaining remnants of food can become poisonous. Daily the dish must be washed. In like manner, both pastors and people in the pew need the daily bath of God's Word, time in prayer and simple obedience to God's leading by the Spirit. In the monthly or periodic life of the local church, participation in the ordinance of the Lord's table ensures we are reminded once again of Whose life we digest on a daily basis. The bread and fruit of the vine signify the reality of the believer's relationship with Christ. Abiding in Him is a daily reality and thus we must take heed to ourselves. 

So then how do we describe and nourish this first part of 1 Timothy 4:16 to "take heed to ourselves"? The second part is where we find the answer in the command: "take heed to your teaching." As we have explored in previous posts, regular exposure to sound doctrine is the chief way in which we gain nourishment for endurance in the Christian walk and ministry. As we have noted in past posts, doctrine is not only concerned with pouring data and information into the mind. 

Undoubtedly cultivation of the Christian mind is where true spiritual growth begins. (see Matthew 22:37-39; Mark 12:30-31) Yet like a pond needing an outlet, if doctrine only remains in the mind, stagnation can result. The conscience is the proper creek bed that takes what is in the mind and brings it to the heart. The heart (which in the Bible represent the causal center of a person, including thinking, feeling and willing) is the control center that weighs what has been poured into the mind. Essentially, whatever the mind has deemed to be the greatest good, the heart sends forth the conviction that the instruction must needs be carried out. (see Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Matthew 22:37-39; 1 Corinthians 2:10-13; 14:15; Ephesians 1:16-18; Jude 1:20-23). 

Taking heed to doctrine entails both studying the writings and books of those gifted by God to unpack the historic truths of the Christian faith. Good theology not only ignites the mind but must result in right practice. This is why Paul closes out 1 Timothy 4:16 with these words: "for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you."
Such efforts encourage the pastor and the people to both endure: endure hardship, endure what can be at times misunderstandings and to endure the weariness of the flesh, this world and the kingdom of darkness. We need to take heed to ourselves and we need sound doctrine. Both the pastor and the people need to work together in enduring for the sake of Jesus. 

Closing thoughts
We have considered five responsibilities that pastors have in shepherding the flock of God in the local church. The first and second of these had to do with exposing error and emphasizing sound doctrine. Darkness needs to be dispelled by light, and sound doctrine, rightly applied, enables the pastor and the flock to see the damaging effects of false teaching. 

The third responsibility is in the area of example. Lest a pastor lives before His people what he is preaching in the realm of his personal life and family life, his efforts will be in vain. Example reinforces the nails of truth and ensures they stick in the wood of Christian faith and practice. 

The fourth area of pastoral responsibility has to do with excelling in one's preaching. I aim to do it better next week than I did this week. Relentless pursuit of excellency in preaching is not for my sake, but for the Lord's glory. God's people deserve good preaching. God has ordained by the preaching of the Word to bring about conversions and to encourage the saints. 

Then finally, the pastor must endure. Both the shepherd and the sheep are called to run the race of faith together. We must take heed to ourselves and to the teaching of the Word if we expect to run the race of faith swiftly and strongly. My prayer is that these posts have informed and illumined those aspiring to pastoral ministry, those who want to know how to pray for their pastors or those who truly love the church for which Christ shed His blood and ever reigns as its Living King.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Shepherding Christ's Church Involves Excelling in Preaching - 1 Timothy 4:11-15

1 Timothy 4:11 "Prescribe and teach these things."
I begin today's post with this quote from author Marshall Shelly: "Farmers plow their lands, plant their seed, and then go home to bed, awaiting God’s germinating laws to work. Surgeons only cut; God heals. I must give my full energy to doing my part in the pulpit, but the ultimate success of my preaching rests in God." The past few days have been devoted to posts featuring what it takes to shepherd the church of Christ. That-is-to-say, what responsibilities does a pastor have to his congregation? Paul lays out certain responsibilities in 1 Timothy 4, with three of them having been already covered:

1. Exposing error. 1 Timothy 4:1-3
2. Emphasizing doctrine. 1 Timothy 4:4-6
3. Exemplifying godliness. 1 Timothy 4:7-10

Today's post deals with the fourth major responsibility of a pastor aiming to shepherd Christ's flock, namely the need to excel in preaching.

Pastor's need to excel in their preaching. 1 Timothy 4:11-15
In this 21st century church-world, the concern for preaching, and good preaching at that, seems so often relegated to a "secondary" place in the life of the church. Other types of ministries and programs are touted as the cure-alls to preventing the church from dwindling and sagging. Certainly reaching out to people in the church and in the community is necessary for the local church and emphasizes the reason for her place in this world. However God has ordained that preaching of the Word be ever-central to the Word-ministry of the local church. Pastors wear many hats. They are expected to juggle numbers, organize committees and have know-how on everything from buildings to counseling. However, the pastor's two chief tasks in his tenure at any church are loving the people and preaching the Word.

Paul makes several statements that suggest the need for the effective undershepherd to excel in his preaching. When I say "excel in one's preaching", I'm not saying to excel for the preacher's sake, or the people's sake, but for the sake and glory of God. Improving in one's preaching is described in these verses as a mark of maturity and growth. Notice what Paul states in 1 Timothy 4:15 "Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all." We can break down this verse into three clauses that reinforce to preachers and churches to excel and encourage their pastors to grow in the preaching of the Word.

a. "Take pains with these things.."
The underlined words "take pains" is translated the following ways in other English versions: 
"Practice" ESV, LEB, RSV
"Meditate upon" KJV 1900, AV 1873
"Be diligent" in NIV
"Give your complete attention" NLT
"Meditate" NKJV
"Put ... into practice" NRSV
"Take pains with" NASB95

The priority of improving in one's preaching and taking the opportunity to preach whenever one can is the point of this first part of the text. This author sees the move towards preachers preaching once a week or in one service a week more of a liability than a benefit. Some readers may disagree with me on this point. Whatever reasons may be presented for lessening the amount of preaching that goes on in a local church in favor of other formats, the difficulty lies in ignoring what we see in 1 Timothy 4:15. Preachers need to be preaching multiple times in order to improve in their delivery and for their people to get nourished and molded by the Spirit of God into the image of Christ.  

b. "be absorbed in them". 
This phrase in the original language could just as easily be translated "be in these things". Preaching is not what I do, preaching is what I am. Any preacher will tell you that what he does is not a job, not a duty, not a "check-off list" item. Preaching is the calling to which he was born-again to do. Where the sermon begins and the preacher ends no one can tell. If the preacher is as "absorbed" in the preaching as the texts commands, he will be living what he preaches. Meditating on whatever text the sermon is to be based causes the preacher and the sermon to be one. Though I as a preacher can never reach the level of flawless delivery, should I not aim for it nonetheless? When I preach, I preach for the King. His glory, His audience consistitutes this holy mandate to be absorbed in the process of preparation for preaching and the delivery and application of every sermon. 

c. "so that your progress will be evident to all."
Again we are looking at 1 Timothy 4:15 to understand the necessity for preachers to excel in their preaching. Progress in one's preaching ought to be measurable. The "progress" or "advancement" being touted in this part of the verse speaks not only to sermon delivery, but quality of godliness, pastoral care and level of devotion to Christ. Out of all the people that ought to be changed by the preaching of the Word is the preacher himself. Daily, week, monthly and yearly time spent in the field of God's Word ought to produce fruit. I would hope that anyone who has been listening to me preach for a period of time could honestly say that things have improved. 

Is there always room for growth? Absolutely! Which is why preaching is a thrilling desparation. Preaching is a thrilling event in that the God of glory sees fit to broadcast His voice through His Words by means of preaching. The Divine visitation of Christ by His Spirit in preaching is the epicenter of true Christian devotion. However, for the preacher, preaching is desparate in the sense that lest the Spirit attend the exposition and lest the preacher lean on the scriptures, no power, no transformation and no salvations will occur. This phrase "thrilling desparation" is for me the closest way I can describe what it is like when I preach, teach a lesson or do a devotional. 

Closing thoughts
Today we considered how shepherding Chris's church involves exceling in one's preaching. As we close, let me suggest five ways in which a pastor or preacher of the Word can practically excel in their preaching:

1. Listen to other preachers. When listen to other preachers, you can learn a lot. Listening improves your ability to communicate.

2. Read sermons. Websites such as "" contain all the sermons preached by one of the best living preachers today, Dr. John MacArthur. Transcripts of all his sermons are available. I would encourage anyone to start there to see how a master preacher articulates his sermons.

3. Pray about your preaching. Pray before, during and after your sermons

4. Listen to your sermons. This may be painful and ackward, but hearing yourself gives you the opportunity to figure out how you can do it better the next time.

5. Get feedback from others. This is perhaps the most difficult method of exceling in our preaching, since we fear what others say about it. Nonetheless, a trusted person can give you invaluable feedback. Don't solicit feedback to make yourself feel better nor to measure how successful you are. Rather, use feedback to do as the text says, "to make your progress evident to all.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Shepherding Christ's Church Involves Exemplifying Godliness - 1 Timothy 4:7-12

1 Timothy 4:7 "But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness."

In this series thus far we have been interested in understanding the five responsibilities of pastors for shepherding Christ's local church in 1 Timothy 4. Two functions have been explored in the past couple of posts:

1. Shepherding Christ's Church involves exposing error. 1 Timothy 4:1-3

2. Shepherding Christ's Church involves emphasizing doctrine. 1 Timothy 4:4-6

Today's post expands beyond the pastor's pulpit to the type of life he leads. 

Shepherding Christ's Church involves exemplifying godliness. 1 Timothy 4:7-12
At the heart of any pastor's ministry is the need for cultivating godliness. As the old saying goes: "if you take care of the depth of your relationship with God, He will take care of the breadth of your ministry." 1 Timothy 4:7-10 lays out three principles for both pastors and parshinoners to apply in understanding the need for godliness.

1. Godliness is commanded. 1 Timothy 4:7
1 Timothy 4:7 states - "But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness". Any pastor can "network" and "rub elbows" with the right people to gain popularity, however godliness takes work and sadly is not prized. The noun translated "discipline" comes from the Greek word whence derives our English word "gymnasium". Godliness is not optional, but is necessary. A pastor who may not start out with a strong sermon delivery can still be looked to for leadership if he is striving to discipline himself in godliness. I was just reading today of another pastor's moral failure in a major church in our nation. The article noted his speaking ability and the hopes had by many that his fresh ideas and youthfulness would lead the declining church. As wonderful as that can be, if we as pastors or church members fail to make godliness our chief priority, all the eloquence in the world won't demonstrate the reality of the sermons we preach. 

Heeding the command to be godly requires a close walk with the Spirit of God (Galatians 5:16; Ephesians 5:18) and relentless pursuit of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). Paul's command to Timothy to reject "myths" and "old-wives" tales is a command we see repeated several times in the New Testament. (1 Timothy 1:4; 4:7; 2 Tim 4:4; Titus 1:14; 2 Peter 1:16). Whatever the exact nature of these influences might had been, we can say at bare minimum that the pastor must not let his conduct be informed by what is most popular, most gratifying to the flesh or self-promoting. In all honesty, if pastors expect the flocks assigned to them to be godly, they too must heed the command of God to do the same. Truth is the nail that holds our faith together and example is the hammer that drives it deeper into the wood of life. So pastors must exemplify godliness because it is commanded, but notice a second truth about godliness in these verses...

2. Godliness is beneficial. 1 Timothy 4:8
1 Timothy 4:8 states - "for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come." True godliness ought to be pursued not only on the level of what one "ought to do", but moreso with the aim of what one "should desire to do". I'm so thankful for 1 Timothy 4:8, because we are reminded of the fact that godliness pays out greater dividends than whatever investment we may contribute. Godliness is not just about "sweating and gritting our teeth". Godliness, or to put it another way, "practical rightousness", relies upon the credited righteousness of Jesus Christ given at saving faith. As a pastor, the need to love the unloveable or do the things that many people would rather not do requires a heart not rooted in just my own practical righteousness alone. If I attempt to be an example to the flock on the basis of my own practical righteousness without reliance upon Christ's righteousness, I quickly lapse into self-righteousness. Rather than serving with a heart of gladness, I serve with the secret desire to be patted on the back or to gain the approval of people. 

As Paul uses the metaphor of physical exercise, we all know how beneficial physical activity of any sort can be. However in a comparative sense, physical exercises profits very little in comparison to the spiritual discipline associated with godliness. As I rely upon the righteousness of Jesus Christ, the awareness of who I am in Him and the ultimate destiny of being with Him in eternity increases. The greatest pastors I have ever known did not pastor merely out of duty, but out of delight for their Lord. Their earthly life and activities were flavored with the sweet savor of Christ and His kingdom. (compare 2 Corinthians 2:14-17) So godliness is needed in pastoral ministry and pew-life because it is commanded and beneficial. Now let us note one last principle assocated with the need to exemplify godliness...

3. Godliness cultivates hope. 1 Timothy 4:9-10
One of the clearest summaries of the Person and work of Jesus Christ is found in 1 Timothy 4:9-10 "It is a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance. 10 For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers." As I have talked to many pastors over the years, and even in my own time as an undershepherd, the question will inevitably arise: "is it worth it?" Paul describes his efforts and the efforts of anyone in Gospel ministry by two words translated in our text as "labor" and "strive". The first word  "labor" could also be rendered "struggle, toil, weary hard work". Ministry is hard work, often exhausting and sometimes more draining than rewarding. The second term "strive" is even more striking. This verb in the original language is where our English word "agony" derives. At times ministry can be literally "agonizing". 

Such negative sounding language is mentioned by the Apostle to convey the oft-times reality of the Gospel ministry. However, such "striving" and "laboring" is driven not by duty, nor guilt, nor "tyranny of the urgent", but hope. As we strive to be godly, we discover that hope is pursued and ends up being the main engine of all godly living by both church members and pastors alike. 

As we noted a moment ago, 1 Timothy 4:9-10 gives us one of the clearest summaries of the Person and work of Jesus. The phrase "living God" speaks of His Deity as God manifested in the human flesh and the Lord over His church. (see 1 Timothy 3:15-16) Secondly, the clause "who is the Savior of all men" speaks of Jesus' work in its historical reality being sufficient enough to save all people. The atoning work of Jesus Christ grants space of repentance for all people so that all can hear the Gospel. Then lastly, the closing phrase "especially of believers" gives us the focus and definiteness of the atonement. It is both universal in its appeal for all men to believe and repent and be saved and yet specifying in its effect, granting a definite application and effect of true salvation to those who believe.  

Closing thoughts
As the Pastor preaches and lives out the Gospel everyday, his acquaintance with the Christ of glory only increases his hope. Hence exemplifying godliness is needed because it is commanded, beneficial and cultivates hope. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Shepherding Christ's Church involves emphasizing doctrine - 1 Timothy 4:4-10

1 Timothy 4:6 "In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following."

Paul instructs his young protege Timothy to prepare himself for what will be his pastoral tenure at Ephesus. As Paul instructs Pastor Timothy, we find five key responsibilities that describe what it takes to shepherd or pastor the local church. We considered yesterday the first responsibility of a pastor shepherding Christ's church - namely exposing error. We noted three "isms" that must be guarded against and exposed: spiritualism (opening oneself up to false doctrine, spiritual darkness); egotism (ministries centered around personalities or approaches that base the ministry on people's preferences) and  ritualism (a Christianity that is performance based or centered around religious ritual). Exposing error is thus the first responsibility a pastor has according to 1 Timothy 4:1-3. Today's post will feature a second responsibility - emphasizing sound doctrine.  

Shepherding Christ's Church Emphasizes Sound Doctrine. 1 Timothy 4:4-6
1 Timothy 4:6 tells us: "In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following." When Paul wrote "these things", he was pointing out to Timothy what he had instructed him about in 1 Timothy 4:1-5, namely to expose error and emphasize sound doctrine. 

Sadly today many churches and many Christians frown on doctrine. Doctrine is viewed as something that unnecessarily divides Christians from one another. Most would even say "it doesn't matter what you believe, as long as your sincere." Within these verses we discover that doctrine is necessary for spiritual nourishment. Other scriptures explain how important sound biblical doctrine is to the Christian life:

Doctrine promotes healthy Christianity. Acts 2:42; Ephesians 4:14; 1 Timothy 1:19; Hebrews 13:9

Doctrine protects against error.
2 Cor 2:17; Col 2:8; 2 Timothy 2:14, 3:13; 1 John 4:3

Doctrine points us to Jesus Christ
Matt 5:19; Matthew 28:18-20; John 14:21-23; 1 Cor 3:11; Titus 2:11-14 

Doctrine promotes evangelism
Romans 1:1-4; 1 Peter 3:15; 1 Timothy 1:19

Out of all the scriptures that speaks on the important connection between practical living a doctrine, none perhaps is more clear than Titus 2:10 "not pilfering, but showing all good faith so that they will adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect." This particular verse is so important because it shows how beautiful Christianity can be when it is living out the doctrines of the faith. Doctrine is the pearl necklace that drapes itself around the church. So having labored about importance of sound teaching from the Word of God, what are some of the doctrines needing to emphasized by the pastor who shepherds Christ's church every week? In 1 Timothy 4:4-6 we find four such doctrines:

a. Creation - 1 Timothy 4:4 "For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude."

b. The Bible - 1 Timothy 4:5a "for it is sanctified by means of the word of God"

c. Prayer - 1 Timothy 4:5b "...and prayer". 

d. Person & Work of Christ - 1 Timothy 4:9-10  "It is a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance. 10 For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixedour hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers."

When I think about these four areas, they are among the major battlefields that Christians experience the greatest attack. The relentless pursuit of evolutionary theory and naturalism postures itself as an alternative to the doctrine of creation. Many Bible Colleges, Seminaries and even some denominations have fallen for the temptation to mix together evolution with Biblical creationism. The danger of course is the erosion of Biblical authority in favor of taking one's cue from current scientific inquiry. Arriving at the truth not only requires sound answers, but also the right questions. Creation insists that the questions of "who made everything?" and "why is there something rather than nothing?" be included in among two other questions asked by science: "how does it all work?" and "what is happening?" Sadly, non-creation ideas eliminate the first two questions.

The second doctrine, the Bible, is under more assault today than ever before. Persistent denials of not only inerrancy, but even the Bible's clarity in expressing itself require a response from pastors who shephered their flocks. 

The third doctrine, prayer, is attack more so with the lack of practice. Satan's strategy here is to convince Christians of either praying less or not praying at all. 

Then the final doctrine that Paul commands Timothy to emphasize is the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. We can never separate the Person of Christ from the work He achieved. The current trend among skeptics is to deny the historical existence of Christ. The pastor's responsibility is to preach, teach and proclaim Who Jesus truly is. The other heresies of denying either His Deity or humanity persist. Every generation of pastors must expose such errors and emphasize what the Bible truly teaches. The work of Christ in regards to not only His atoning death on the cross but His physical resurrection must also be defended and proclaimed. 

Closing thoughts:
Today we considered the second area every pastor must shepherd in the local church, namely the area of emphasizing sound doctrine. We saw that Paul mentions four key doctrines: creation, the Bible, prayer and Jesus Christ. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Shepherding Christ's Church involves exposing error - 1 Timothy 4:1-3

1 Timothy 4:6 "In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following."

These next few posts will represent what is close to my heart. Before I ever blogged or wrote, I had and still to this day proclaim God's Word as a pastor. My calling into ministry occurred when I was seventeen years of age. It had been the start of the school year for me as a senior in highschool. God had been stirring me and led me to pick up my Bible and begin reading. I had been a Christian for a little while, however that night in September was where God led me to 2 Timothy 4:2 which plainly states: "Preach the Word". The words lept off the page and into my heart. As God would have it, I began receiving catalogues from various schools, among which was a particular Bible College. Once enrolled in the fall of that year, I discovered in the following months that God was specifically calling me to be a pastor, an undershepherd of His flock. 23 years later, God still has me preaching His Word. My family and I are at a wonderful church in Oklahoma that I have been pastoring for four years. 

Reflecting back on those formative years and the time in-between, then-and-now, drives me to this text in 1 Timothy 4. What does it take to shepherd Christ's church? Paul instructs his young protege Timothy to prepare himself for what will be his pastoral tenure at Ephesus. As Paul instructs Pastor Timothy with regard to his duties, we find five key responsibilities that describe what it takes to shepherd or pastor the local church. I will list them out, and then we will consider the first one in today's post. Shepherding Christ's church involves...

1. Exposing Error  1 Timothy 4:1-3
2. Emphasizing Sound Doctrine  4:4-6
3. Exemplifying godliness  4:7-12
4. Exceling in preaching 4:13-15
5. Enduring to the finish 4:16

So if a pastor is going to shepherd Christ's church, he must first of all....

1. Expose error. 1 Timothy 4:1-3
1 Timothy 4:1-3 is diagnosing the general course of history from the days of the Apostles until now, with particular emphasis upon the time leading up to the coming of Jesus. Other places in the Bible warn of what will be the pattern of "falling away" or "apostasy". Such a pattern of false professors of the faith is called "the apostasy" in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:1 that this same time frame will be characterized as "difficult times". Peter in 2 Peter 3:13 and Jude in Jude 1:18 both describe how there will be "mockers, following after their own lusts." The prophetic portions of the Bible predict this tragic mass-defection by pretenders of the faith and alarming increase of false teachers in passages such as Daniel 11:35 and Matthew 24:5ff. 

As we look more closely at 1 Timothy 4:1-3, three classes of error are mentioned and merit the pastor's role in exposing such errors.

a. spiritualism. 1 Timothy 4:1
1 Timothy 4:1 states - "But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons." This first type of error is very interested in the invisible realm, but is not affirmative about God's existence nor the authority of our Great God and Savior Jesus Christ. It must be made clear that any doctrinal teaching or religious instruction that is not supported by scripture is nothing less than demonic. So what is meant by the term "doctrines of demons" in 1 Timothy 4:1? Deuteronomy 32:17 states - “They sacrificed to demons who were not God,To gods whom they have not known, new gods who came lately,
Whom your fathers did not dread." 1 Corinthians 10:20 explains further - "No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons." The Apostle John writes in 1 John 4:1 "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world." 

Today's culture is replete with example after example of false religions and teachings what run counter to scripture. Movements such as Wicca attempt to access the supernatural via the natural realm and effectively by-passing believe in an all-powerful God. The most dangerous sort of spiritualism is when paganism is mixed with Christianity - as in the case of Mormonism. The good under-shepherd must expose errors like spiritualism. Now notice a second type of error mentioned in 1 Timothy 4:2...

b. Egotism  1 Timothy 4:2
The false teachers described in 1 Timothy 4:2 are those who live as hypocrites, liars and as those who have "seared their conscience". To sear a conscience is to deaden it to the Spirit's conviction and any sense of remorse about sins done to oneself and others. 2 Timothy 3:1-5 explains this error in detail - "But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. 2 For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money,boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents,ungrateful, unholy, 3 unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good,4 treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these." When I say "egotism", this is an error that focuses on personality driven type ministries or self-centered Christianity. Whenever a church or preaching ministry becomes more about the preacher than the Word and Jesus that he preaches, the error of egotism has infected his heart. On the pew side of things, so-called "seeker sensitive" movements that build their ministry approach around the needs of so-called "seekers" are what I would classify as "egotisitical". We don't build our churches ministries around "felt needs" of unbelievers, nor around the preferences of Christians. Ministry should never be about the preacher or his agenda. All ministry must be focused around Jesus Christ and His Word. The only seekers are those who have already been converted. Whenever we adopt the methods of catering to a category of people that is not even Biblical, we end up trying to please people and give them what they want. This was the error developing at the church to which Paul wrote and characterizes our age. Pastors must expose the errors of spiritualism and egotism. However, there is one more error that must be exposed by faithful undershepherds in the local church, namely...

c. Ritualism. 1 Timothy 4:3
1 Timothy 4:3 reveals - "men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth." The church over her history has drifted into two directions when the preaching of the Word of God has lost its place. The first is what we already noted above - spiritualism. Included in that ditch are attitudes of speculation and unbridled interest in the experiential over the doctrinal. 

The second ditch is what we can term "ritualism". Unbelievers and the natural, carnal flesh default to trying to please God by way of performance. Man-made religion will develop elaborate rituals and multiple-step methods to try to attain peace and favor with God. In Paul's day, there were groups who were teaching that genuine favor with God entailed abstaining from certain things, attaining certain mystical insights of knowledge or totally ignoring the physical in favor of the spiritual. Such teachings would eventually lead to the heresy later called "gnosticism". Thus, in attempting to emphasize on the spiritual, these forerunners of the Gnostics believed it didn't matter what you did in the body, since the soul was all that counted. Thus in this twisted belief system, one could commit immorality and yet claim to be moral!

Ritualism today appears highly formalized systems that attempts to get one to God through participation in a system. Roman Catholicism for example mixes together genuine Christian belief with ritualism, resulting in the Roman Catholic Church functioning like a substitute Jesus. The evangelical scene has its own version of ritualism by way of cramming in busyness and "business", making the church function as a business that measures one's proximity to God by how much one does. 

Performance driven Christianity results when two things diminish: preaching of the Word and focus on the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Are we saying that churches should not have fellowshipping times, outreach and Bible studies? No. But whenever our churches operate in the extreme on the belief that offering more activities will draw in more people, and makes what we do the drawing card, rather than what Christ has done, ritualism will not be far behind. 

Closing thoughts
To be a faithful pastor who shepherds Christ's church, errors such as spiritualism, egotism and ritualism must be exposed. Thankfully, this first responsibility of the pastor is not the only role. There are four other roles that will be considered in future posts. Today I will close with these words from 1 Timothy 4:6 "In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following."