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Without The Text Nothing Means Anything

A vague title, I know but it captures my thoughts at the moment as I am finishing up reading material on my text I am preaching on from Ephesians 4:7-16.  The issue centers around Paul’s apparent use of Psalm 68 to speak of Jesus giving gifts to us.  I have read the six most popular views by commentators and scholars for the fifth time. I have looked at the arguments pro and con from every perspective I can imagine and I step back just shaking my head.  Remember, these are the serious interactions:

One view is that Paul simply is choosing to use the Psalm wrongly and doesn’t care.  He will use the bible as he wishes for his theological interpretations.  A second view make the “argument” that Paul is simply quoting from memory and got bit of it wrong.  Oopsie!  A third tries to say that Paul is taking his quote from the Aramaic Targum.  Unfortunately that was written around the fifth century A. D.  Which reveals that the advocate for this view doesn’t think Paul really wrote it and that it was done much later than any conservative scholar would allow.  Then there is my favorite, a fourth view that says that Jesus ascended into heaven as Jesus and then descended not as Jesus but as the Spirit (read the passage if you are confused, it is 4:9-10).

All of this leads me to my point.  Each of the above views comes because the scholar rejects in one way or another the biblical text as true, trustworthy.  The result is that now the text can mean anything when it is a difficult passage.  Just say that the writer made a mistake or some such drivel.  Once a scholar steps away from the text as being true and right anything can go, it is really only limited to his mind and will.

This is all great for the scholarly world because every time a new view is postulated it gives everyone a lot of new material to work with.  Meanwhile the guy working for Snap-on Tools or the single mother with two children are ignored.  These people for whom Christ died are not fed.  Frankly they are not even in view.

As a pastor who seeks to teach deeply and yet with the purpose of building my church up in truth this sort of stuff is just wearying.  You wade through endless words that are written not out of faith but unfaith, not with trust but in distrust of the bible.

The church does not need another commentary that will fill up the pages with endless arguments that flow from unbelieving minds before the commentator works out his conclusion.  The church needs men who will sift through those who are the doubters and double-talkers and bring to the pastors and students the food from the text, presented as their faithful efforts in presenting the truth as truth.

The Type of Pastor about Whom To Be Concerned

Scott Postma has a great article he posted the other day that I thought was worth my reader’s time. I have argued from the beginning of my ministry as a pastor that the problems in any church ultimately comes because of the leadership.  Perhaps one day I will actually explain that, but right now I have other things I need to do.  Regardless, here is a bit of a taste of his article.  And, by the way, those ten things he lists I agree with in every way.

Abuse, apostasy, and irrelevance are just a few of the words that keep coming up in the search for reasons for the decline. There are a variety of compelling opinions and I even have a few of my own.

But I suggest there is another area of decline more significant and perhaps much less obvious—and one that certainly contributes to the church’s decline in numbers.

And I think its likely a careful analysis would implicate the church’s leadership for this more significant issue.

In other words, I’m concerned about pastors and the role they play in the church’s decline.

By saying so, I’m not suggesting this pastor has it all together. Nor am I trying to cultivate (or ratify) some dishonest skeptics’ hate for the church. Rather, I’m hoping to raise some concerns in a conversational kind of way.

Further, I’m not claiming to be the expert in all church issues. However, I have been in some form of pastoral ministry for the last 19 years and feel I have some measure of insight about the issue.

So in an effort to pursue this conversation in a healthy way, here are 10 pastors I’m concerned about.

Read the rest here.

The Need for Repentance

Yesterday I proposed that repentance is something that is good, or as I said it, the “good stuff.”  My thinking behind this is that often repenting is seen as unpleasant and bad, something to be avoided.  When a person thinks this way then they are doomed in at least a couple of ways.

First, if they are not a Christian then they are simply doomed to a life that will never experience the joy of full forgiveness in Jesus Christ.  They shall remain in their sin and they have only the expectation of the eternal judgment of God that hovers over them.  As Romans 2:4-5 bluntly states it, “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.”   There is nothing in that passage for one who rejects Jesus to hope in.  So when I have a non-Christian who comes to me for help I have limited options.  I must point the person to Jesus Christ as their supreme need.  I can address as well the surface issues, such as drugs, anger, or drunkenness but in the end all that I can offer is behavioral changes that never address the core problem of being enslaved to sin.

Second, if they profess to be a Christian then I must have them realize that to remain in a sin is simply contrary to the gospel.  Paul makes this abundantly clear in Romans six when he states, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?  By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”  He goes on to describe how our union in Jesus Christ causes the dominion of sin to be broken.  To be sure the presence of sin is there, but not the power to enslave you as it once had.  He has given us the Holy Spirit so that He wars against the sin within us so that we do not do as we wish (cf. Galatians 5:16-17).  We have the Word of God that is, in part, given to us to grow with respect to our salvation (cf. 1 Peter 2:1-2).  Therefore, when one tries  to hide the sin or short circuit the process of turning from our sin they are living in a manner that is alien to their identity in Christ.  It is certain that they will lose a joy in their fellowship with the Lord and His people.  It is certain they can expect our Father to discipline them(cf. Hebrews 12:5-7). And it is certain that no change will truly occur for them as they are seeking to do it in their own power.

But if the non-Christian repents, meaning they turn from their sin and their idols to God alone through Jesus Christ then they are finally in a right relationship with Him.  They have now the ability to begin to truly change and grow.  Their sin no longer must have mastery over them.  For the Christian who finally comes to grip that they have given themselves over to a sin, if they recognize the need to repent then much good also occurs.  Though there might be pain, as they begin to sever relationships and activities that must be put away, there is also the encouragement that comes from the Spirit who desires their holiness.  There is a new perspective on life as they turn from a mind set on the things of this age to the hope of eternity where sin is wiped away in its entirety.  They place themselves in the paths where God’s daily, sustaining grace flows rather than the dry wastelands in which they only recently wandered.

So, you need to help a person repent.  The first thing you need to do is build hope in them.  They need to see that repentance really is the good stuff.  Life is found in repentance.  Forgiveness is found in repentance.  Jesus is found in repentance.

Next post will discuss what things you will want to look for with one who says they are repentant.

You Better Be Right If You Want to Preach

An email showed up in my inbox today that made me sit back and take a long, hard examination of my responsibility in preaching.  I won’t discuss the details but the issue centered around a series I did a few years back on divorce and remarriage.  I hated that series and my stomach still gets tight thinking about it.  It is one of those series you need to do but you realize you better do it right because you are affecting people’s lives in a major way.  And the  series did just that for several in the church.

Now the series is in the background and yet it still lives on because of the internet so a certain man listens to it and now writes to me for counsel.  Hard counsel.  I don’t know him, but I am now accountable for him because I decided to preach.  I will respond to him and I think my counsel will be an encouragement to him.  But it makes me do some serious thinking again about the nature of pastoral ministry, especially in the arena of preaching.

Those who read this blog consistently knows I have strong thoughts about the light and frothy preaching that so many practice in my country these days.  For too many, the Sunday gathering of people is more like an event that is planned out to create an experience rather than the careful proclamation of the Word of God to the People of God as they gather in the name of Jesus Christ their Lord.  My personal desire is to cause the people to hear the Word and be confronted with it in such a way as to force them to make a decision each week, “Is this true or not?”

But if you are going to preach you better be right in what you say.  You better work hard on the text of the bible from which you are preaching.  You better be up there in the pulpit with a confidence that you understand the text and you can teach it to the people.  But you also better remember that those people are not there because of you, at least they better not be.  They are there because they are people purchased from their enslavement to sin by the blood of Jesus.  They are His and not yours.  And therefore you better be careful with that thing you call “the Word of God” because that is what it is, God’s Word and not yours.

Realize that those people listening to you are assuming you worked hard on the passage this week.  They are assuming you know what it means and are convinced that they need to hear it and obey it by the power of the Holy Spirit.  And when you preach through the bible you will have to teach on subjects that will affect people in a major way.  How people raise their children, go to work, view their household, think about marriage, interact with people and countless other things will be affected.

So when you say from the pulpit, preacher, that “the Word says. . . .” you better be right because someone there is going to actually act on what you preach.

Now, perhaps I can get back to the sermon I am finishing right now for this Sunday.

Weiner and Elder

I watch with a strong measure of disbelief as the scandal/non-scandal of Anthony Weiner continues to unfold.  He is running for mayor of New York City after resigning from Congress when compromising tweets of himself were discovered.  I could talk about his politics and his positions on issues such as abortion but that would distract from the point of this post.  I read a sad, sordid post from HotAir.com that shows show his sin and folly continues to be exhumed as he runs for mayor.  What is sad is that he appears to be the front-runner for mayor nonetheless.

So what?  Should I be shocked?  Should I be traumatized and cry out for the good ol’ days?  Once again I shrug.  We see the natural outcome of what it looks like when one rejects Jesus, lives in an unconverted state as a slave to sin.  This sort of thing can annoy me, but it doesn’t shock me.  But this cannot be true for the elder of a church.

The bible is clear that though the people and politics that flow endlessly around a Christian may involve much sin, sordid and otherwise; it is not to involve the office of the elder in the Church.  1 Timothy 3, Titus 1 both make clear statements about the man who holds this office.  And if I were to take one key quality that both passages declare it is to be “above reproach.”  Listen, mayors, presidents and your next door neighbor can sleep around, do drug, embezzle, lie, cheat, and even murder.  That is what happens in a broken, fallen world.  But for those men who are converted through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who seek to be elders, the standard is unrelentingly high, he must be above reproach in every way.

I won’t go into all the various qualities of the elder.  I only wish to point out that we should expect high standards from our elected officials but never be shocked when they fail to even try to attain them.  But as Christians we should have no patience and no time for those who seek to be a shepherd of God’s Church who refuses to hold to the standards He has set for those who oversee the Church He bought with His blood.

Faithful Pastoring

I have no idea how I came across this site called Gospel Partnerships but I did and I am glad I did.  In their resources page I was pleased to find a video that was beautiful and powerful in its simplicity.  It is an interview of a vicar St Oswald’s in Newcastle, UK.

What makes it such a good interview?  Because this man chose to take up the challenge of pastoring a church that did not know the gospel.  Here is a story of what the conviction of the power of the gospel and the power of God’s Spirit working through His Word can do.  Such a breath of fresh wind in what is, at times, the stifling air of mega churches and “success” stories.

Can You Keep from Preaching?

One of the blogs I read is done by H. B. Charles, Jr. and I find it consistently sound and enjoyable. His latest post is entitled, “If You Can Keep From Preaching , Do It.” It is a simple post that offers simple, straight-forward advice to young, aspiring preachers.  Here is a small taste of it:

One day, I had a conversation with a friend who was seeking to discern whether the Lord was calling him to pastoral or pulpit ministry. As he discussed it with me, he noted that he had mentioned this matter to me several times before without comment from me. He was right. I hadn’t responded. And I sensed that he was waiting on a response this time.

So I prayed an emergency prayer to God about what to say. And what came to my mind is what my father said to me some twenty years ago about whether I should continue in the ministry: “If you can keep from preaching, do it.”

I was about fifteen years old. And my father had given me the opportunity to preach his 11 AM service. I remember two things about that sermon.

It was the hardest I had ever worked on a sermon.

It was also the first time I received direct criticism about my preaching.

Now I will skip any real discussion about the validity of a fifteen year old preaching.  My point in this post is the common statement that if there is anything else you can do other than preach/pastor you should do it.  The rationale is that pastoral ministry, especially preaching, is hard, discouraging, and not for the faint of heart.  This was said to me and my fellow seminarians on multiple occasions and never, ever did it sound true.

When I personally heard it the first time I immediately thought of the fact that I had just had a very high paying job offered to me in another state for a great salary.  I was good at what I did and a head hunter recognized it.  Later I became a reserve police officer for the city of Glendale, CA and found out I was very good at that job as well and I was asked to come on full time.  Then there was the fact that I was a fully trained baker and had sound management skills in the realm of mid-range restaurants.  My point here is simple.  I could do a lot of different things and even succeed at them.  So was I a fool to press on in pastoral training?  Being stubborn, and noticing that in every case there was never a bible text that drove those comments about not entering the preaching ministry, I chose to push on.

Fifteen years later I am still a pastor, still pastoring the same church, and have no plans to do anything else.  So what do I think of these kind of statements?  I dislike them.  A lot.

I understand what is meant by them, but sadly what is meant is seldom actually said.  They are warning young men to really think hard about what they are entering into.  It is hard.  It is not a place for the wimpy (not if it will be a biblically driven work that is God-centered).  For every “thanks” you will have five criticisms.  Your back will get used to having knives stuck in it, etc., etc., etc.)

Not that it is a miserable because it isn’t.  I am marrying the children of those who were there when I first arrived.  I am helping those young families think through a biblical marriage and family.  I have had the privilege to help heal marriages and weep with those who lost someone.  I am humbled when I watch a person come to saving faith through my preaching and I grin from ear to ear when I watch a man stand up and be a godly man.  Good stuff.  And I get paid to do it.  I am granted hours every week to study and read.  I am entrusted to open the bible and teach it to God’s people.  I wouldn’t trade it for a moment.

But that doesn’t mean I couldn’t, because I could.  And many men I know could as well.  The point is not, “If there is something else you can do, do it.”  It is, are you will to forsake those other things if the gospel ministry requires all of you?  I said, “Yes” many years ago and there are many other friends who have done the same.  That is the question that young men need to hear because, in many ways, there is no going back.

Some Thoughts on 2 Timothy 1:3-5

I have just started into this little book, one I had much anticipation from which to preach.  I leave for a trip to Ireland with my wife due to a gracious gift from our church of fifteen years so this Sunday I will not be in the pulpit.  However, when I arrive back I will have little time to prepare a sermon so I am doing the hard work of exegesis now.

I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience the way my forefathers did, as I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day,longing to see you, even as I recall your tears, so that I may be filled with joy.For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well. (2 Timothy 1:3-5)

Like so many passages by Paul this is deceptively full and rather complex.  It is all one sentence in the Greek and the structure is rather complex.  Essentially Paul’s primary statement is, “I thank God because I remember your sincere faith.”  Everything else though helps paint a picture that introduces the entire book and serves as a way to prepare Timothy to remember who he is in Jesus Christ and what he is called to be.  The following is a few of my preparatory notes trying to sum up the exegesis:

This section is one of those places where the Apostle lays the ground work for much of what follows in the letter.  It is serious yet gentle.  It show loves and yet no compromising with the faith once delivered to God’s people.  It shows honest transparency and need that is refreshing.  And it shows a foundation of deep, God-centered theology from which it is written.  A dying man to the next man in line to live and to die for Jesus Christ. How can you not have tears and conviction?

A Primer on Church Discipline, Pt 5

This will be my final installment on a short series on church discipline.This is a task that is never enjoyable but nonetheless is good and right to do in the sight of God.  We have seen already that it is not optional; rather it is necessary because Jesus commands it.  To refuse to do it is simply sin.  But it is also says that you do not care for the soul of he who sins nor the purity of the church.  Both are serious issues that demand careful rethinking by those who reject discipline within the church.

Today I will give two final points regarding why we should practice church discipline:  The first is that it protects doctrinal purity and the second is that it protects the office of elder.

Two passages come to mind regarding doctrinal purity:

This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have delivered over to Satan, so that they may be taught not to blaspheme. (1 Timothy 1:18-20)

If anyone advocates a different doctrine, and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness,he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions,and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. (1 Timothy 6:3-5)

In the first passage Paul speaks of these two men whom he delivered over to Satan so that they learn not to blaspheme.  What exactly is involved in this is not stated, but it is clear that it was not fun, safe, or minor.  Speaking false things within the church is devastating.  Young believers are easily led astray and non-Christians can be quickly confused.  The church is to be a place where truth is expounded and loved.  It is not to be a place where confusion and lies twist the hearts of those for whom Christ died. As the second passage makes clear, Paul has no time for a person advocating new doctrines that go counter to the Apostolic teaching.  If he doesn’t nor should we.

The final reason for proper, biblical discipline is that it protects the office of elder.  This protection works in two separate ways, both is keeping the office itself pure and in removing an elder who is holding  on to sin and thus harming the church.

Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also may be fearful of sinning. (1 Timothy 5:19-20)

Elders are almost always on the front lines when problems arise.  They are the shepherds of God’s flock.  They are the ones who stick their neck on the line whenever a trouble-maker makes trouble.  And this makes them very vulnerable to unfounded attacks.  It is a grievous thing to readily accept accusations when there are no witnesses.  This is why a church is to take great precautions to protect their elders.  There must be witnesses and if there are not then the accusation is to be discarded.

However, when an elder is found to be in sin, if they do not repent then they are to be rebuked in the presence of the church.  That is a painful reality that is seldom practiced.  Too often they are quietly removed and no one ever really understands what happened.  This leaves open the opportunity for gossip and slander.  It is not an act of grace to be vague about an elder’s on-going sin.  Notice that the purpose for rebuking him publicly is to have the rest of the church fearful of sinning as well.

If churches will take these words to heart they will find perhaps a smaller church, but one that is more serious about pursuing Christ in holiness and a place where purity is valued and one’s spiritual well-being is desirable.

 

Docent and The Pastoral Charge

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman
who does not need to be ashamed,
handling accurately the word of truth.

(2 Timothy 2:15)

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

(1 Timothy 4:6)

I am a pastor of a medium, ordinary church.  Nothing exciting, nothing earth-shattering, just a church filled with people who love Jesus and seek to grow in their faith.  Along with those Christians there are also those who do not know Jesus yet as Lord.  They know it, we know it, and we are thankful for their presence and their desire to hear, consider and by God’s grace, believe.

As a pastor I have many things that pull at me, less now that I have an Associate Pastor who lifts a major load off of my shoulders, but there are still many pressures that are part of the office of ‘pastor.’  The challenge from the very beginning was what was the non-negotiable things that would control my time?  Would it be administration?  How about vision-casting?  Counseling is always a great choice for many need it and desire that face time with the pastor.  Then there is visitation, old-school style.  Why not leadership development?  I could also teach theology classes or there is the ever present need for evangelism.  I could also be the guy in town who specializes in marriages and funerals to pad my paycheck, it just needs a few well-placed phone calls around town.  The list could go on and on, but this is a small glimpse into what a pastor has before him in the way of choices on how he uses his time.  Notice that there is no mention of my wife, nor the four children in my home when I started this pastoral journey.

What was my decision?  It was real simple.  It did not come from a leadership book, no conference revealed it to me, and I didn’t pray for God’s guidance on it.  Simple put, God told me what was my primary focus as a pastor, it was the studying and preaching and teaching of the Word of God.  Not real earth-shattering, but it is the simple will of God that a pastor first and foremost attend himself to the study and proclamation of the holy scripture: “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.  For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:1-4)

All of this introductory material to speak briefly about an organization that is real big in parts of the Evangelical community.  It is called Docent group and it exists to give you a ‘research assistant.’  Mark Driscoll is a big fan of this group and he was the guy who introduced me to them about five years ago. They do all sorts of stuff for the busy pastor.  They will do that nasty work that takes up the time of pastors, like researching a book of the bible, doing your exegetical research or coming up with pithy, relevant illustrations.  Need to read a book but no time for it? No problem, just  pay them and they will read it for you and provide the summary of the book.

So what is the problem?  Simple, busy pastors need to decide that their busyness cannot detract from the central, God-given task of study and sermon preparation.  What stands out for me is that the ones who tend to use this is not the little church pastor who has to do everything, but the large church pastor.  The one who has a large staff that is supposed to free him from all of those problems.  What Docent really reveals is that big church pastors are not necessarily busy with the study and presentation of the Bible to their people, but rather something else, like making the church even bigger.

Carl Trueman wrote a very compelling article on this a short time ago that is worthy your read if you are a pastor or want to be one.  Here is a taste of what he writes:

Finally, once again I find myself worrying about the normative, aspirational model of ministry which this is projecting to men in seminary, looking for a call or in their first charge.

Underlying it all, of course, is American conservative evangelicalism’s dirty little secret: the movement, such as it is, embraces mutually incompatible views of the ministerial calling which presumably must rest on mutually incompatible theologies of ministry.  There are those who think ministry is, above all else, about preaching the word in the local congregation and that that is to be the pastor’s top priority bar none, from the choice of passage to its final delivery.  And there are those for whom ministry is – well, to be honest, I do not really know what exactly they think it is.  I cannot describe it because websites such as this are just more evidence that, whatever it is, I do not have the categories to explain it sympathetically to others.

And while I do not expect major discussion of this by the great and the good on the major webpages in the evangelical world, even if such does take place, I doubt that will come to any decisive or clear conclusion. Too many feudal ties and too much at stake for big tent movements to speak with prophetic or even common-sense voices on this one.   My guess is that, if it is mentioned in some quarters at all, it will be another of those things that people agree to differ on in order to keep the big ticket names on board.  It will have that  ‘Hey, we can face the hard questions but still maintain alliances’ feel.  Asking hard questions is ironically not as hard as it is often cut out to be; giving hard answers usually proves to be quite another thing entirely.

As I see things like this, I remember Dr. Packer’s comments of a few weeks back in giving advice to young ministers: dig deep, dwell deep.

Of course, why bother with all of this deep digging and such when others are happy to do it for you?

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