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A Wee Little Man and A Whole Lotta Grace

March 23, 2017

Zacchaeus was a wee little man. Sunday School has driven this bit of trivia into our minds with all the force of a 20 pound sledgehammer. Zacchaeus was a rich little man. Zacchaeus was a hated little man. Zacchaeus was a man considered by much of Israel to be the lowest scum in the whole Roman empire. Zacchaeus was a traitor to Israel who worked collecting taxes for the Roman oppressors. Zacchaeus was an extortioner and embezzler, increasing his riches by every denarius he collected from his own nation over the amount demanded by Rome. Zacchaeus was a villain, backed by the power of the state to perpetrate his villainy among his own people.

Zacchaeus heard Jesus was coming through Jericho. He hurried to see Jesus, but because of the crowd and his world famous diminutive height he could not see. Well, he climbed up in a sycamore tree, for the Lord he really wanted to see. As the Savior passed that way He looked up into the tree and He saw a miserable wretch of a man. He saw a man hated and despised. He saw a man in desperate need of Jesus. Jesus went to Zacchaeus’ home. Zacchaeus did not chafe at the Lord’s imposition, he rejoiced. When Jesus entered Zacchaeus’ home, the vile little man declared his repentance, promising to give half his wealth to the poor and restore four times as much to any he had falsely overcharged.

Zacchaeus was marvelously saved. He received the grace of God that brings salvation. He received the peace of God that is beyond comprehension. Zacchaeus was saved because Jesus came “to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10)

Grace. Five letters that encompass a wealth of blessing.

Grace, the gift of God given to those who deserve it least. Grace, the great riches of God given to the believer to live the Christian life. Grace is an incomparable gift. Grace is always freely given never purchasable at any price.

Grace begins with salvation, but it does not end there. The Bible is “the word of His grace.” (Acts 20:32) Grace is that which enables the Christian walk and gives the ability to obey the commands of God. Grace equips the believer to walk in Godliness and maintain a good testimony in this world. Grace is the strength that enables the child of God to continue to fight and war against sin in this life. Grace is that which overthrows the bondage of sin and gives the ability to live victorious lives. Grace is responsible for the dispersion of spiritual gifts to the believers.

God makes His grace overflow to His children so the Christian will be overflowing in every good work. God’s grace is sufficient in every need and trial. God’s grace makes the Christian’s service pleasing to Him and makes His former enemies acceptable before His throne as members of the body of Christ. God has given to the Christian all these things, and more, according to His wealthy grace.

Healthy Leadership

March 20, 2017

“Everything rises and falls on leadership.”

Good leadership is crucial to any successful endeavor. This is true of secular endeavors. This is especially true of the church. The importance of Godly, Biblical leadership for a healthy church cannot be stressed strongly enough. A church without the right kind of pastor will not be healthy.

An essential quality of a Godly pastor is his relationship to the Bible. The pastor must hold firmly to the Word. The pastor is not an innovator of new doctrines. He is communicator of old truths. The pastor must be committed to the truth of the Word. He must not be bound to a particular tradition nor should he be enamored by every theological fad. The pastor must be always wrestling with Scripture. He must examine every teaching in the light of the Bible. The pastor must examine everything he is taught and everything he teaches to ensure all is the teaching of the Word.

The pastor must preach the truths of the Word to combat false doctrine. The church does not need new doctrines. The unsaved do not need new doctrines. Through sound doctrine the pastor protects the church from false doctrine. The old doctrine that has stood firm throughout the centuries is the doctrine that is relevant to the needs of the church today.

Biblical doctrine is healthy doctrine. Biblical doctrine produces sound churches and strong Christians. By preaching sound doctrine the pastor who remains faithful to the Word calls believers to join him in embracing the Word. The pastor’s task is to remember the truth of the Word that he has been taught so he can call others to truth by the clear presentation of right teachings.

Doctrine is maligned by some, but doctrine is unavoidable. Every author, preacher and speaker holds to a body of doctrine. Not every preacher uses the language of seminary and systematic theology. Some preachers cry out against doctrine. But teaching against doctrine is itself a doctrine. Doctrine is nothing more than teaching. The Bible has a set of teachings. The teaching Christianity needs is the teaching of the Word.

The pastor’s ministry is not all a positive declaration of what is believed. Sometimes the pastor holds to the Word by rebuking those who oppose right doctrine. Careful pastoral teaching declares truth and rebukes error. In the current cultural climate the calling out of error is often greeted with outrage. Even churches that have sound doctrine are often reluctant to hear preaching against false doctrine. This simply must not be. The preaching of truth contains both positive and negative elements. The pastor who holds to the Word will preach both.

The church cannot be healthy without an unwavering commitment to Scripture. A pastor cannot lead a church into spiritual health if he does not hold fast to the Word. The pastor is entrusted with a grave responsibility. The ministry requires much care, diligence, prayer, study and wisdom. He must be a man of the Word.


A Standard of Truth

March 16, 2017

The churches in the New Testament all held to a common body of doctrine. Though false teaching began to appear almost simultaneously with the spread of the gospel, the apostles all preached the same basic truths. These truths are called “the faith.” The New Testament refers to “the faith” in a way that indicates a recognized set of teachings that was the standard to which Christians were expected to adhere. The new Testament faith was larger than the doctrines of the gospel. Unfortunately, in the years since the writing of the New Testament the clarity of the apostles teaching has become confused.

The local church’s doctrinal statement summarizes the Biblical doctrines providing a “faith” to which all who are part of the church should adhere. No church should imagine that its doctrinal statement perfectly or completely captures all crucial New Testament doctrines. The local church should recognize that it is not a perfect receptacle of truth. The local church should be fully convinced of the truth of the doctrines it holds while humbly recognizing other orthodox Christians can, and do, reach different conclusions on important doctrines. The doctrinal statement is the local church’s attempt to give a summary statement of the New Testament faith.

The doctrinal statement is a boundary for church membership because it summarizes those beliefs which one must hold to be recognized as an obedient brother in Christ. Other Christians are still recognized as brethren in Christ, but fellowship is limited because of disagreement over significant doctrines. The boundary set by the statement of faith does not assume willful sin, nor does it presuppose antagonism with those who disagree. A wise use of the doctrinal statement strives to be as charitable as possible by viewing many doctrinal differences as well-intentioned errors. The doctrinal statement should be applied as honestly as possible by recognizing well intentioned error as genuine error that cannot be overlooked.

The New Testament teaches the body of doctrine necessary for unity, growth and protection in the church. Ephesians 4:13 says that God gave leadership gifts to the church to equip believers to do the work of the ministry. The aim of the work of the ministry within the local church is to bring believers into the “unity of the faith”, the “knowledge of the Son of God” and “unto a perfect man”. Maturity in Jesus is evidenced by doctrinal stability and the ability to speak truth in love. A well written doctrinal statement provides the church with a clear guide to promote spiritual maturity within its members.

God has entrusted the church with the responsibility to uphold truth in this world. The statement of faith offers a concise recitation of those truths which the church upholds. The doctrinal statement establishes a written baseline to which the doctrine of all members, teachers and preachers will be held accountable. The confession of faith answers ahead of time difficult questions of the faith, presents a definite stance on doctrinal controversies and helps protect against well-meaning compromises that would ultimately prove destructive to the unity of the church. The statement of faith protects the doctrinal integrity of the local church.

A Healthy Church

March 13, 2017

Paul was commissioned to be an apostle for the purpose of bringing people to faith. His ministry was salvation centered. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul declared the gospel was the first thing he preached on reaching the city Corinth. The book of Acts shows that in every city Paul preached the gospel at the first opportunity. Paul’s gospel emphasis is evident in the letter to Titus.

The starting point of every church is the preaching of the gospel. A healthy church builds on the gospel. When the people of God gather together their purpose is not primarily evangelistic. The Sunday morning service is not outreach. But the church must be preaching the gospel. The gospel must be heard from every pulpit. The gospel must be the message of the church to the community. Every church must have a deep concern with the salvation of souls. Salvation is a major objective of every healthy church.

A healthy church preaches truth for the purpose of changing behavior. Sanctification is a major objective of every healthy church. Truth does not exist in a theoretical world of disattached knowledge. Truth demands a transformation of life. The law of gravity is not just a bare fact. It obliges. Gravity requires every person to behave in a certain way. The law of gravity forbids stepping off the edge of a high building or leaning to far over a cliff lest there be catastrophic consequences. The gospel is not just a truth to be known, it is truth to be obeyed. The same is true with the doctrines of the inspiration of the Bible, the reality of Satan, the promise of Jesus’ return and all other doctrines of the Bible. Truth can not, it must not, be separated from daily living. A healthy church teaches and learns Biblical truth for the purpose of changing the way Christian’s live.

The truths of the gospel include a hope that directs the ministry of the church. Paul preached because he expected of eternal life. 2 Corinthians 4 and 5 demonstrate this. Paul was not overwhelmed by his troubles nor deterred by threats because his hope was heaven. Paul labored to please God because he knew he would one day stand before his Savior. A healthy church shares the Pauline perspective. The focus of a healhty church is not earthly but heavenly. Success is not measured by worldly standards. Risks and rewards are not determined according to human judgment. The goal is not worldly power and influence. The goal of a healthy ministry is eternal good and heavenly blessing. A healty church has a heavenward orientation.

God’s promise of eternal life is communicated to men through proclamation. The message of the gospel and the reception of faith come through the preaching of the Word of God. Recent years have seen an increase of those who do not want to hear preaching. They call for more dialogue. Fewer seem to want to listen. More want a part in the conversation. Conversation is good in its place, but God commissioned His servants to go out and proclaim the gospel. Teaching and preaching, the herald’s monologue, is the way given for making God’s Word known. A healthy church is committed to the preaching of the Word of God.

The message proclamed in a healthy church is the Word of God. The healhty church hungers to hear the Word. Some hunger to hear about the Word, many hunger to hear carefully selected ideas from the, but the healthy church receives the Word. Abandoning the Word for well crafted appeals calculated to appeal to the masses may draw crowds, but it will not produce a healthy a church. The Word of God is the incorruptible seed by which men are saved and it is the pure milk by which the saved grow into Christlike maturity. A healthy church places the Word of God at the center of all its ministry.


Not a Problem

March 9, 2017

One out of every seven Senior Pastors in America is under 40 years old. The average age of the lead pastor is 54 years old ten years older than the average in the early nineties. These and similar statistics were presented by the Barna Group in a recent State of the Church conference. Barna Group president David Kinnaman declared the age of pastors is “one of the most glaring challenges facing the church today.” He also said, “There are now more pastors in the United States who are over the age of 65 than under the age of 40. This is a huge issue.”

What? Since when is age a liability in ministry? To be fair, Barna expresses concern that fewer men are entering the ministry and that older pastors may not be training younger men for leadership. The failure to replace men who are stepping out of ministry is a legitimate area of concern. The successful accumulation of a few score of years should not be.

The Barna Group seems to be operating under the assumption that younger men are better pastors. Older men should retire, enjoy a more relaxed ministry pace and make room for the younger guys to lead the church into the future. The prevailing attitude in the church marketing movement sees the pastor as a visionary leader able to innovate, to take risks and to remain relevant in the community. A man not able to keep up with the ever changing times is going to be limited in his ability to attract the unsaved into the church. A man unwilling to evolve will hold a church back from reaching its full potential. The older pastor should get out of the way to make room for the younger.

In the New Testament three passages define the qualities a pastor must possess. Three books of the New Testament were written to ministers instructing them how to lead the church. The book of Acts and many of the epistles offer multiple glimpses into what the pastor’s life and ministry should look like. Never is youth defined as a necessity for pastoral ministry. Never is youth described as a preference for pastoral ministry. Youth does not disqualify from the pastorate, but age and experience receive the praise of Scripture.

The Scriptural duties of a pastor do not include vision casting, jamming out with the church rock band, sliding across the sanctuary on a zip line or looking awesome in a pair of skinny jeans. What Biblical responsibility can not be accomplished by a pastor in his sixties? The New Testament does not expect a pastor to innovate and take risks in ministry. The only risks pastors are called take are the risks to livelihood, comfort, health and life that may be suffered for Christ’s sake.

The Bible calls the pastor an elder. Though the term is used in a titular, instead of chronological, sense, the obvious implication is a pastor is a man of experience. Abundance of age is not a drawback for the pastor. So what if he is not as active as he was twenty years ago. If he is wiser, more knowledgable in the Word, more devoted to prayer and walking closer with God then the wealth of spiritual insight held by an older pastor is priceless. Any physical limitations an older man may suffer will be more than offset by the wisdom and grace that only comes through decades of faithful ministry.

The church of God must not fall prey to the modern infatuation with youth. Youth is not better because it is newer. Thank God for older, Godly pastors. The benefit of hard earned wisdom and a long time walking with God is far more beneficial to the church than the ability to play football with the teenagers.

If you are a pastor in the Baby Boomer generation and physically able to do the work of the ministry please don’t go anywhere. The church today does not need innovation and risk. The church needs Godly examples of love, faithfulness, wisdom and holiness. Please train faithful men. Train a successor. Please do not let the young guys who think newer is better convince you that for the good of the ministry you should retire. If you are preaching the Word, shepherding your church, praying and growing then do not feel obligated to replace an elder elder with a younger elder.

A Holy Church

March 6, 2017

The church today is being called to fight for social justice, oppose racism and combat poverty. Those focused on transforming culture declare the church cannot be holy unless it is involved in social activism. While these kinds of problems are matters of concern the New Testament never calls for Christians to effect political change.

In previous generations, and still evident in many churches today, holiness is defined by the avoidance of certain evils. Usually this list includes smoking, drinking, gambling, going to movies and dancing. While there is legitimate reason to avoid these things mere avoidance of a few sins is not the true measure of holiness.

The New Testament describes holiness in terms that cuts deep into the heart of man. Genuine holiness is not found in the keeping of a list of rules or in opposing injustice. Genuine holiness is found in the transformation of heart, character, attitude and thought. The holiness of the Christian is to be like the holiness of God. The Christian is to be set apart from the other people of the world hating all sin and loving all that is righteous.

Hebrews 12 describes the holy character of believers within the church. Verses 12-17 describe how Christians are to treat one another. Verses 18-21 warn Christians to care for one another so sin will not gain a foothold in any life. The Christians must show this level of care for one another because we are entered into a covenant greater than the one Israel made with God at Sinai.

What does holiness in the church look like? Holiness encompasses the actions of the believer, and cannot be limited to a short set of specific evils to be avoid. Whether it be fundamentalist taboos or social agendas superficial measures of holiness often become self-righteous moralism that deflects the conscience from the true need of the heart. Holiness is holistic affecting the attitude, mind, emotions, speech and behavior. Hebrews 12 describes holiness as not bitter, not involved in sexual sin and not preferring the possessions of the world to the promises of God. Hebrews 13 describes holiness as loving one another, being generous to other believers, practicing contentment, holding to sound doctrine, praising and thanking God, doing good to others and maintaining Christian fellowship.

Holiness in Christian relationships is a necessity because the Christian has been brought into something higher, something greater, something eternal, something glorious purchased by the blood of Jesus. The Christian is entered into the New Covenant, the general assembly and church of the firstborn in the presence of God. As members of the body of Christ Christians are brought into the new covenant and made recipients of the eternal kingdom of Jesus. Since this glory is ours let us “serve God acceptably with reverence and Godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.”


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Confessions and the Church

March 2, 2017

I am not a creedal Christian. I have never led a church in the recitation of the Apostles Creed. I appreciate the ancient creeds. I have listened to Rich Mullens’ “Creed” many times and am conversant with the content of the major historic creeds. The creeds of the church are useful summaries of doctrine but are not authoritative.

I do not consider myself a traditional confessionalist. I do not cite the Westminster Confession, the Second London Baptist Confession, or the Baptist Faith and Message as an authority on any topic. I appreciate the historic confessions of faith. I appreciate them so much I have worked hard to acquire copies of all the historic confessions of faith. The historic statements of faith are instructive but not authoritative.

I do not consider myself a traditional confessional Christian but I am convinced every church needs to have a robust confession of faith. In this sense I am confessional: A statement of faith is necessary for the church as the doctrinal standard upon which the unity of the church is built. The local church should have a statement of faith that retains historic orthodoxy and meets the needs of the modern church.

The New Testament church was built on a substantial body of doctrine that started with the gospel and included truths about things like church life, future events and Christian growth. A full body of doctrine was recognized as essential for the development of the newborn church. The doctrine taught by the apostles was authoritative over the church. Those who refused to follow the apostle’s teaching, even in areas not obviously related to the gospel, were to be removed from the church. (2 Thessalonians 3:10-14)

Since the days of the apostles a primary aim of church ministry has been the growth of believers into “the unity of the faith”. (Ephesians 4:13) The unity of the faith is more than agreement on the gospel. True believers are already unified on the gospel. The unity of the faith is unity in the larger body of apostolic doctrine. A distinction between basic gospel truths and the full body of apostolic doctrine is found in the book of Jude. Jude contrasts the salvation all believers have in common and the faith which must be earnestly defended. A wise church will provide an understandable summary of the apostolic doctrines essential to unity and upheld by the church.

The doctrinal statement is a brief declaration of the core beliefs of a church. The doctrinal statement should declare the truths necessary to be believed to enter into the kingdom of God and the truths necessary to be believed to enter into the membership of the local church. A good doctrinal statement serves as the theological gateway for membership, sets the standard for all preaching and teaching, provides a platform from which to teach doctrine to the congregation and establishes doctrinal accountability for church leadership.

A well written statement of faith helps promote genuine unity within the local church by clearly teaching the doctrines essential to that church. A discussion of the statement of faith may seem more suited to a seminary classroom than a church service but the possession, instruction, comprehension and application of a good statement of faith can be a source of substantial benefit to the whole congregation.

I had intended to write more, but the entire article was well over 2,000 words long. You don’t want to read all that right now. I will be posting more about his topic in the weeks to come.

To Him be Glory in the Church

February 27, 2017

Be Thou exalted, forever and ever,
God of eternity, Ancient of Days!
Wondrous in majesty, perfect in wisdom,
Glorious in holiness, fearful in praise.

Be Thou exalted, O Son of the Highest!
Gracious Redeemer, our Savior and King!
One with the Father, co-equal in glory,
Here at Thy footstool our homage we bring.

Be Thou exalted, O Spirit eternal!
Dwell in our hearts, keep us holy within;
Lead to Thy home in the life everlasting,
Open its portals and welcome us in.

Be Thou exalted by seraphs and angels,
Be Thou exalted with harp and with song;
Saints in their anthems of rapture adore Thee,
Martyrs the loud hallelujahs prolong

– Fanny Crosby Be Thou Exalted


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Manistique Bible Church

February 23, 2017

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I recently recommended that Manistique Bible Church resume the search for a new pastor. I began serving as an interim pastor in Manistique in 2012 knowing the process was going to take longer than usual. Over the last few years I led the church to rewrite the constitution, to reshape the church government and to recommit the membership of the church. The process took longer than anticipated and then I remained a little longer to help provide some stability after a long season of upheaval.

After all the changes I believe the church is spiritually healthy and ready for a pastor to shepherd them for the next couple decades. In March the church will be meeting to make an official decision regarding restarting the pastor search. Please be in prayer for the church throughout this time.

The final decisions on the entire process have not yet been made, but when the church decides to go ahead with the pastor search my time in Manistique will not be ended. I plan to remain at Manistique Bible Church until they find and install a new pastor. I have no timetable for this process, though a typical pastor search can last anywhere from six to eighteen months.

When the task in Manistique is completed I plan to assist other ministries in much the same fashion as I have done in the past. Though time here was longer than anticipated Body Builders Ministry continues to operate with the same purpose and goals that it had before. By God’s grace we will continue working alongside local churches to build the health and strength of the body of Christ. During the months ahead please pray for Manistique Bible Church and Body Builders Ministry.

Love

February 20, 2017

“But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Galatians 6:14

The faithful preacher promotes Jesus. The godly minister builds a following for Jesus. He who lives to glorify God sets aside his own importance, his own comfort and his own fame for the exaltation of Jesus. The man of God is proud of one thing, the work Jesus has done. A godly preacher does not draw people to himself, he points people to Christ. He does not speak things calculated to appeal to the masses, he speaks things known to be pleasing to God.

These qualities characterize the genuine servant of God. The godly preacher, teacher and Christian boasts in Jesus. He lifts up Jesus as most important. He points others to Jesus. His life and ministry is all about the exaltation of Jesus. The faithful minister loves Jesus most. He speaks those things which lift up the glory of Jesus for all to see.

The Godly minister loves others. He proclaims the truth of the gospel. Jesus is the only means of salvation. The Christian who truly loves others desires for them to know that which is good for them. A false message of salvation may appeal to many people, may make people feel good, may comfort the pangs of conscience and soothe the sorrows of life. What good is that? What good is it to offer some one comfort for their journey to hell? What good is it to make more pleasant the road to eternal torment? Is not such kindness the vilest cruelty? Is that not the most malicious kind of misanthropic villainy? What cruel person loves himself so much he will do anything, even further the damnation of souls, for a brief fame?

Those who truly love others will proclaim the gospel. They will be like good doctors who recognize the best way to health often requires words and treatments that are unpleasant. Christians must be good soul-physicians who seek to lead the lost to the only cure for their the eternal ailment.

The only way for any man to have eternal life is through Jesus. Keeping the law will not save. Not keeping the law will not save. Being religious or “none”, showing devotion or indifference, doing good or evil, embracing one’s identity or denying self will not save. Nothing will save but Jesus. Only the gospel tells how the broken can be healed. The Christian who loves others will proclaim the truth of full salvation through faith in Jesus.

Only Jesus saves because only Jesus accomplishes an entire change in the person. The self-righteous man does not understand this. All false religions fail to recognize this. Most people do not want to hear this. The unpleasant truth that must be spoken is every person is guilty and cannot pardon himself. The forgivness of guilt is not earned by being a better you. The only solution to guilt is found in being made new. Only Jesus can make sinful man a new creature.

Only through Jesus can the heart that was full of sin be washed clean, set apart to God and made righteous before God. This is the message of salvation. This is what a loving Christian will communicate to the unsaved.


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