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What’s In Your Pulpit?

May 22, 2017

“What you win them with, you win them to. What it takes to attract them is what it takes to keep them.” Dr. Les Ollila said this many times. His words continue to be a necessary reminder for ministry today.

The problem with attractional church tactics is that people are drawn to the gimmicks, the shows or the performance instead of the Word of God. Any showman can draw a crowd. Offer the right things and people will flock to the performance. Yet what happens people are brought in with laser shows, rock bands and catchy gimmicks? What happens when the entertainment is turned off and truth is preached?

This is no hypothetical question. Churches across America have discovered the attraction that brings people through the door has to continue or they will not return. As a result, the message becomes less and less about the Word. The speaker begins to incorporate all kinds of tricks and gimmicks into his message. The sermon gets shorter and shorter, is filled with anecdotes, movie references, video clips and offers a promise that Jesus will make everything better. The sermons are crafted to appeal to what the audience feels like they need to hear. Instead of giving “attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine” the preacher gives attendance to appeal, relevance and audience. He promises solutions to marriage, financial, employment, political, social and personal problems. In the end the preacher has to tailor the message to appeal to the crowd in the same way as the gimmicks that brought them through the door.

The preacher of God’s truth has no business tailoring God’s Word to appeal to the natural desires of his hearers. The pastor must practice the pure teaching of pure truth without error, selfishness, sin or wordliness. The teaching of God’s truth is a serious undertaking. The teaching of Biblical truth must be done with gravity, dignity and honor. The doctrines of the Bible must be presented in a way that shows the true seriousness of the subject. This cannot be done when the pastor appears on stage in a cloud of smoke accompanied by the blasting of a heavy metal song. This does not happen when the sermon series is based on the latest Superman movie.

The truth of the Bible is eternal truth. Bible truth is serious condemnation and glorious promise. The Bible contains the truths of our Great God and Creator. It is the truth of our Savior and Coming King. It is the truth of sin, of sacrifice, of punishment, of promise, of transformation and eternal realities. These are not the kind of things that are explained by a youtube video of a dancing cat or by expositing the latest popular TV show. The Bible’s truth requires teaching of the Biblical text. The message of the man of God must be the message of the eternal Word of God. God does not appoint pastors to indulge the whims of the hearers. God appoints pastor to preach His truth.

The Marvel of Unbelief

May 18, 2017

The first act of worship recorded in the Bible was the offerings given by Cain and Abel. Abel believed God and offered an acceptable sacrifice. Cain did not. Though only a little while after creation and the curse of sin one-fourth of the human population already began to refuse to worship God as He commanded. Cain did not refuse to worship God because he lacked knowledge. Cain knew God was real. Cain knew God was the Creator and Ruler. Cain knew God required sacrifice and obedience. Cain knew God punished sin. Cain rejected all that knowledge to pursue his own way. When God spoke directly with Cain exhorting him to turn from sin Cain refused and turned further from God.

The people destroyed in the flood were not destroyed because they did not of God. Every generation up to and including that of Noah’s father Lamech would have been able to hear of the Garden of Eden, of sin and the curse of sin from Adam himself. Despite the opportunity for knowledge and despite the worship of God by Seth and his righteous descendants the world revelled in all manner of debauchery and violence. They refused God. They refused the message of salvation preached by Noah. They continued to rebel against God despite their knowledge of Him and His ways.

After the flood humanity banded together in direct violation of the commands of God. Man determined to build a tower lest they be spread across the world. Noah and his sons were still alive to teach the command of God and to warn of the consequences of disobedience. Humanity disregarded God and attempted to unite his strength against God. Humanity did not lack knowledge but faith.

God brought Israel out of Egypt by a series of horrible plagues. The plagues showed the futility of the gods of Egypt and the power of the God of Israel (Exodus 9:13-16). The Egyptians saw these mighty plagues. They knew the source of them. They did not repent and turn to God. They demanded to be eased of their suffering, but few believed God.

The Israelites saw the plagues of Egypt, the miracles, the parting of the Red Sea, the manna in the wilderness, the rivers of water from a rock and the glory of God visibly present before them day and night. They heard God speak to Moses and saw His glory on Mt. Sinai. They knew more about God than any other people at that time. They received the Word of God and the Law of God. Within days of leaving Egypt they began to rebel. They made idols. They grumbled. They complained. They threatened God’s chosen man. They refused to enter the promised land and then when God told them they couldn’t have it they decided to try to go in anyway. A generation of Israelites saw the power of God and refused to believe Him.

The book of Revelation is filled with terrible catastrophes. God’s holy wrath is poured out on a world that has once again united in rebellion against Him. Despite the obvious supernatural power at work mankind will refuse to repent. (Revelation 16:21) Even when the Son of God appears in His glory the world will continue to oppose him. Humanity will have the gall to attempt military opposition against the God of heaven. Clearly the problem is not insufficient information.

The problem of unbelief is never a lack of information. All creation declares the glory of God. Every person on the planet always sees vivid testimony of the powerful Creator God. Every person has enough knowledge to direct them towards God. Few believe. America is filled with churches. But millions of Americans drive past churches every day. Few stop to learn truth. America is filled with the Bible and the gospel witness. Few hear or obey.

Unbelief is a spiritual problem, not an intellectual one. Unbelieving man has rejected the available knowledge of God. Man’s hardened heart and blinded eyes darken the mind. Wisdom is rejected and folly revered. The solution to the problem of unbelief is the same it has always been. Unbelieving man does not need to hear the truth communicated in newer, more creative ways. Modern man does not need the message tailored to his desires. Men will never believe just because the gospel is presented to them in the right fashion. “There is none that understandeth, there none that seeketh after God.”

The solution to the problem is the same as it has been since man sinned. The gospel. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth.” The unbelieving world needs the Spirit empowered declaration of the gospel. Though many reject the gospel it must be given over and over again. None will believe unless “the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.”

A Little History

May 14, 2017

Mother’s day in America finds it beginnings in the Civil War. The author of The Battle Hymn of the Republic became so distraught over the bloodshed and death of the Civil War that in 1870 she issued a Mother’s Day Proclamation calling for mothers around the world to put an end to war. She continued to press for this mothers day of peace to become a national holiday. It lost steam in a few years, but a group in West Virginia led by Anna Jarvis continued to celebrate a variation of mothers day in an effort to reconcile families and friends that had been divided by the animosities of the war.

In 1908 Anna Jarvis died. Her daughter began an active campaign for Mother’s Day to become an official holiday. On May 10, 1908 the first Mother’s Day celebration took place at a Methodist Church in West Virginia. That same year the YMCA requested a bill be introduced to make Mother’s Day a national holiday. It was defeated that year but the next year every state in the Union had Mother’s Day celebrations. In 1912 West Virginia became the first state to officially recognize Mother’s Day and in 1914 President Woodrow Wilson declared the second Sunday of May to be a national holiday in remembrance of mothers.

Anna Jarvis did not remain content with this for long. What she had meant to be a simple day of remembrance was taken over by retailers. The holiday soon became seen as a way to sell an abundance of flowers and chocolate. Soon the lady who fought to get Mother’s Day recognized was fighting to stop what it had become. She failed in that but left a lasting legacy of a national day in which we stop to remember our mothers and to express our appreciation to them.

Evidence of Genuine Salvation

May 11, 2017

The child of God will show the genuineness of his salvation by the way he lives. The Bible describes at least seven different things that will be true of the Christian. Those who do not possess these characteristics should be prompted to evaluate the authenticity of their profession of faith.

Not everyone will possess these things to the same degree. No one will possess them perfectly. The practice of these evidences is not necessary for the keeping of salvation. The Christian does not lose his salvation by failing to maintain these Biblical disciplines. Though salvation is not dependent on living a transformed life the child of God will know the transforming work of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Some Biblical marks of genuine salvation are:

  • The genuine Christian is honest about his own guilt before God. He does not deny his sinfulness. Salvation is not possible apart from confession of one’s sin and the saved person will continue to acknowledge his sinfulness. (1 John 1:6)
  • None can be saved who deny that Jesus is God. Those who profess salvation and deny the deity of Jesus or who later reject His deity show they are not truly saved. (1 John 2:23-24)
  • Salvation comes through faith that trusts God entirely for salvation. None can be saved who rely on anything (like goodness, church or religious ritual) in addition to God for their salvation. The child of God trusts Jesus alone to be saved and continues to trust God for his salvation. This saving trust in God grows into an ongoing confidence in God that continues throughout life. (1 John 5:12-15)
  • At salvation the Holy Spirit immediately takes up residence in the child of God. The Holy Spirit produces in the Christian a desire to obey the commands of God. The child of God wants to obey and grows in obedience to God. He lives in righteousness and rejects sin. (1 John 2:4; 3:3-10; 3:24; 5:18)
  • The New Testament commands for Christians are summed up in the command Jesus gave, “love one another”. (John 13:34) The child of God loves his fellow Christian. His love for others results in a natural obedience to all the other New Testament commands. (1 John 2:9-10; 3:10-18, 23; 4:8-5:3)
  • The culture and kingdoms of this world are under the dominion of Satan. The child of God has been delivered from the tyranny of Satan and from enslavement to the world. He no longer loves the things of this world but loves the things of God. (1 John 2:15-17)
  • Because salvation comes through the hearing of the Word of God, the believer desires to know more of the Word. The genuine Christian has a hunger for the Bible. (1 Peter 2:2-3)

Salvation is not at all of man’s doing. The ultimate evidence of genuine salvation is the promise and assurance of God. The Holy Spirit works in the heart of the Christian to give confidence of salvation. When the believer is living in sin or neglecting basic Christian disciplines his own heart will convict him and rebuke him. The feeling of assurance may be lost, but in the end God knows the true condition of the heart. Confidence in salvation is not measured by a person’s feelings, but by the promises of God found in His Word. (Romans 8:16; 1 John 3:20-21)

No Creed but the Bible

May 10, 2017

Some churches claim they have no creed but the Bible. This creed is always untrue. Every church has a body of doctrine which acts as the standard for ministry, membership and teaching. Professing no creed by the Bible is a confusing creed that ultimately does disservice to the pastor and church members. With no creed but the Bible the church is left without a clear guide for growth.

Having no creed does not mean the church has no body of beliefs. The church has not written down its faith. The absence of a predetermined set of commonly held beliefs leaves significant opportunity for leadership to misuse its responsibility as doctrinal gatekeepers. The lack of a statement of faith makes it much more difficult to hold pastors and other leaders accountable for their beliefs. Often the pastor becomes a standard to himself unaccountable to anything but his own determination of what is true and what is important. The admittance of members becomes dependent on undisclosed and possibly uncertain standards of faith. Visitors and prospective members are unclear about what the church believes. The absence of a statement of faith leaves teachers with no clear doctrinal guideline for their teaching. The absence of a clearly defined creed hinders the church’s ability to teach truth and hold others accountable to the truth.

The motivation for a clear doctrinal statement is not pugnaciousness or exclusivism. The goal is charitable clarity about the things the church holds dear. A clear statement of faith communicates to a culture of obfuscation and self-determination of meaning the most important beliefs of a church. These clear statements define the parameters of faith within which a person must fall in order to belong to the local body.

Because the goal of a doctrinal statement is the faithful communication of truth it should be historic and up to date, theologically precise and easily read, thorough and concise. The church’s doctrinal statement should be no more technical than absolutely necessary. The truths conveyed by the doctrinal statement should be communicated in terms understandable to the reader.

Statements of faith that are outdated, too brief or confusing are of little use to the church. Church history is replete with excellent statements of faith. Theological institutions and certain churches have the theological and intellectual resources to craft well-written statements that cover the important matters of faith. These doctrinal statements can provide a useful tool to guide a church in developing its own statement of faith. Basing a doctrinal statement on an existing statement of faith can be helpful, but a church should be careful to avoid just copying and pasting from other documents. Besides potential copyright infringement and plagiarism careless cutting and pasting can unwittingly propagate errors, include details unnecessary for a particular church’s doctrinal statement, create a disjointed statement and overlook unique areas that should be addressed in the particular church’s doctrinal statement.

A good doctrinal statement covers the fundamental doctrines essential to salvation: the doctrines of God, the Bible, sin and salvation. A good doctrinal statement addresses significant doctrinal matters that require agreement for the church body to function together harmoniously. A good doctrinal statement provides clear statements regarding issues which may become centers of controversy. In America the church constitution also provides legal protection by clearly laying out the church’s position on certain contentious cultural issues. A good doctrinal statement helps to ensure clarity about the core beliefs of the church to aid the understanding and growth of its members, attenders and visitors.

Gracious Living

May 8, 2017

America is divided by the clash between competing cultural and ethical ideals. The nation’s moral foundation has long been eroding. The last decade has shocked many with the suddenness of the moral collapse. Some feel a bit of relief that the events of the last six months have (maybe) slowed the descent of the plummeting morality. Christians are right to hold a deep concern for the moral direction of nation. Christians should do everything possible to see America turn to God and walk in righteousness.

The situation facing American Christianity s is not at all new. The challenges confronting believers are not even the worst ever faced by Christians. When the church began the sexual ethic accepted in the Roman Empire would embarrass or offend most Americans today. The religious ethic of the Roman Empire prized the acceptance of many different religions. Monotheism and religious exclusivism were viewed as anti-Roman bordering on seditious. Despite these obstacles God chose to send His Son into the Roman Empire. Jesus sent His disciples out into Roman Empire to preach the gospel. The results speak for themselves. Christianity infiltrated and reshaped the Roman Empire. Christianity still stands long after the Roman Empire crumbled. The New Testament reveals God’s strategy for confronting and changing corrupt cultures.

The letter to Titus was written to guide in the establishment of healthy churches in the middle of a diseased culture. The principles in Titus are those which will further the work of the gospel. Titus answer the question, How do Christians live in this world in a way that upholds and supports the gospel?

Godly character is essential to gospel expansion. Godly character is becoming to Scriptural truth. The life which confronts corrupt culture is one which is lived in a manner fitting to the profession of salvation. If the culture is going to be changed Christians must live lives full of grace and godliness.

Decorum is the carrying of oneself in a way that is appropriate to the setting or the person’s station in life. A man in tuxedo on his way to a black-tie dinner should not stop in the driveway to change the oil in his car. To do so would be unbecoming behavior. Entering the dinner with grace and thoughtfulness is appropriate for the man in that setting. Likewise some behavior is unbecoming to the gospel and some behavior is fitting to the gospel. The believer’s new life in Christ places demands and expectations on his daily life. The Christian is dressed in the righteousness of Christ. He must act in a way fitting to the glorious raiment that is given him. Titus 2:2-10 spells out the behavior proper to the high position of the child of God.

The Christian who lives according to gospel decorum will show the true greatness of the doctrines of the Bible. Sobriety and godliness will present the church of God as something different, something worthwhile, something with a powerful answer to the problems of this age. America and the church need Christians whose lives are becoming to the gospel.

What Church Would Jesus Attend?

May 4, 2017

If Jesus were to conduct a personal evaluation of churches in America what qualities would He praise? What things would He value as most important for the continued progress of the church? What does Jesus look for in a church? The Christian need not wonder what Jesus values in a loca hurch. The New Testament contains His evaluation of seven churches in western Turkey.

Late in the first century, decades after the majority of the apostles had been martyred, the churches of Asia Minor received a progress report. At the beginning of the book of Revelation Jesus included a personal letter to seven churches. In those letters He warms them of sin, praises them for obedience and exhorts them to faithfulness.

Jesus praises the church in Ephesus for its good works, its intense labor in the ministry, its perseverance despite difficulty and its rejection of false apostles. The Ephesian church received commendation from her Lord because it was doctrinally sound and steady in the work.

The church in Smyrna suffered through persecution and physical poverty. Despite intense spiritual conflict it remained faithful to Christ. Though some in the church were killed for Jesus’ sake, the church did not waiver. The Smyrnan church was approved by Jesus because of its faithfulness.

The church in Pergamos endured despite intense opposition from powerful religious forces. Though they suffered persecution and martyrdom they continued to uphold Jesus and were recognized by Him for their allegiance.

The church in Thyatira was noted for its love, service, faith, patience and good works. They increased in these graces and receive the commendation of Jesus. Though some in the church had turned to false doctrine, those who had not received encouragement from Jesus to continue holding on to truth.

The church in Philadelphia was weak. Despite it’s lack of power it remained steadfast to Jesus in the face of persecution from the Jews. They kept their commitment to Jesus and were assured that He would keep them.

Jesus values doctrinal integrity and faithfulness. He desires His church to retain a firm hold on Biblical doctrine, especially to the truth of who Jesus is. Jesus values a church that declares Him to be God the Son the promised Savior of men. Jesus values steadfastness in the face of opposition and persecution. Those who preach Jesus will be hated by Satan and the world he controls. Opposition, slander and persecution will come at those who uphold Christ. Jesus values a church that continues to elevate Him despite the disapproval of the world.

Jesus values growth in Christian grace, virtue and service. The church Jesus values is not just doctrinally faithful. The church in Ephesus was rebuked by Jesus. Despite her commitment to truth her love had waned. The church Jesus values applies Biblical doctrine to its service, its gathering and to the life of its members. It is active in good works. It is loving. It serves. The church Jesus values takes its Christianity out of the church building and lives it out in the streets.

What do you value in a church?

Wonderful Words of Life

May 1, 2017

The Bible is the perfect Word of God and is profitable for you to teach you doctrine, to rebuke your sin, to correct your way of life and to teach your righteous living.

The Bible is all you need to be completely equipped for every good work.

The Bible is God’s perfect Word. It is more pure than 24 karat gold.

The Bible gives wisdom, it makes the heart rejoice, it gives light to the understanding, it is eternal, entirely true and entirely righteous. It is more desirable than gold and sweeter than honey.

The Word of God sustains the believer in trouble, it guides the Christian through life, it gives understanding, it blesses those who obey it, it cleanses the life, it guides the path, it gives hope and it comforts the troubled.

The Word of God is the source of spiritual life. It is wonderful.

To Be?

April 27, 2017

“Be the church.”

Christian’s must do more than attend church they must be the church. Christian’s must be the church in the community. The Christian must be the church to the poor, the hurting and the unlovely. The admonition is a compelling call for Christian’s to be salt and light in the world. Except for one little difficulty. The individual Christian cannot be the church. The Christian is a part of the church but he is not the church.

By living a Godly Christian life the believer reflects the glory of God and the fullness of salvation to the eyes of a world blinded by Satan. The Christian should show the world the grace of God. He should live in a way that is fitting to the glorious doctrines of God’s Word. (Titus 2:1-10) By living an honorable life the unsaved will see the Christian’s good works and glorify God (Matthew 5:16; 1 Peter 2:12) Yet doing these things is not being the church to the world.

The world needs to see the individual Christian being Christlike and the world needs to see the church being Christlike. The lost need to see that believers are part of a body that loves its members. “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:25) The world does not see Christian love for other believers unless those believers are together through good times and bad. The world does not see the body of Christ when it only sees individual members. “For the body is not one member but many.” (1 Corinthians 12:14)

In the New Testament the church is always the assembly. From the very first time Jesus mentioned the church the New Testament exclusively describes the church as a gathered community. The church is not a collection of believing people spread throughout the city. The church is an assembled body of believers. The church is never an individual member. Your finger is part of your body, but your finger apart from your body is not you. It is just a finger. The Christian apart from the body is not a church. He is a Christian. The church is a gathering of believing people into one place.

Be the church. Be the church by covenanting yourself to a local assembly of believers. Be the church by assembling every week with the body you have joined. The gathering together is a wonderful privilege for all Christians. Why try to go it alone when God has graciously designed a body for you to be a part of? The gathering together is a wonderful privilege for every Christian. Why neglect your gifts and miss out on service when God has created a place for you to show your love to other Christians. Gather with the church to be encouraged, trained and prepared to serve Christ in the world.

Leave the church gathering to go into the community serving others, glorifying God and preaching the gospel. The child of God must be a Christian wherever he goes, but he can only be the church when he is gathered with the church.

Feasting on the Lamb

April 24, 2017

“But when the Christian gets the blood sprinkled, that is not all he wants. He wants something to feed upon. And, O sweet thought! Jesus Christ is not only a Saviour for sinners, but he is food for them after they are saved. The Paschal Lamb by faith we eat. We live on it. Is not Jesus Christ thy daily food? And even with the bitter herbs, is he not sweet food? Some of you, my friends, who are true Christians, live too much on your changing frames and feelings, on your experiences and evidences. Now, that is all wrong. That is just as if a worshipper had gone to the tabernacle and began eating one of the coats that were worn by the priest. When a man lives on Christ’s righteousness, it is the same as eating Christ’s dress. When a man lives on his frames and feelings, that is as much as if the child of God should live on some tokens that he received in the sanctuary that never were meant for food, but only to comfort him a little. What the Christian lives on is not Christ’s righteousness, but Christ; he does not live on Christ’s pardon, but on Christ; and on Christ he lives daily, on nearness to Christ. Oh! I do love Christ- preaching. It is not the doctrine of justification that does my heart good, it is Christ, the justifier; it is not pardon that so much makes the Christian’s heart rejoice, it is Christ the pardoner; it is not election that I love half so much as my being chosen in Christ ere worlds began; ay! it is not final perseverance that I love so much as the thought that in Christ my life is hid, and that since he gives unto his sheep eternal life, they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of his hand. Take care, Christian, to eat the Paschal Lamb and nothing else. I tell thee man, if thou eatest that alone, it will be like bread to thee—thy soul’s best food. If thou livest on aught else but the Saviour, thou art like one who seeks to live on some weed that grows in the desert, instead of eating the manna that comes down from heaven. Jesus is the manna. In Jesus as well as by Jesus we live. Now, dear friends, in coming to this table, we will keep the Paschal Supper. Once more, by faith, we will eat the Lamb, by holy trust we will come to a crucified Saviour, and feed on his blood, and righteousness, and atonement.”
– Charles Spurgeon