The Problem with Theological Liberalism

51XTJe5SjkL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_As liberal theology diverged from protestantism in the 19th century, it created a crises of authority with Christianity in America. The squabbling over orthodoxy led to theological innovation, which diminished the authority of Scripture, spurred dogmatic doctrinal claims, and revised Christianity with modernism. As the Unitarians such as William Ellery Channing arrived on the scene, later men like Henry Bushnell, often called the father of American liberal theology, would cast a different vision for Christianity. The birth of theological liberalism developed into the prominent social gospel movement of the early 20th century. Gary Dorrien, in his excellent three volume work, The Making of American Liberal Theology, argues that the main premise upon liberal theology is the conviction that Christianity can be expressed without reliance upon an external authority. As enlightenment thinkers probed the Scripture with a critical eye, scholars began to question the veracity of the Bible. Under this pressure, liberalism developed as a third way alternative "between the authority-based orthodoxies of traditional Christianity and the spiritless materialism of modern atheism or deism" (Dorrien, 1:xiii).

This epistemological shift from the authority of Scripture to modernistic rationalism and romantic existentialism brewed tensions between those committed to orthodoxy and those committed to revising Christianity. Both the conservatives and the liberals within the Christian church believed they were protecting the church from the tumultuous shift of modernism. Conservatives resisted the philosophical shift taking place all around them, attempting to use reason to defend their belief in the authority of Scripture and protestant orthodoxy. The liberals attempted to recast Christianity in modern light, in attempts to keep it relevant in a culture that was becoming critical and skeptical about religious claims. All of this came to a head in the fundamentalist-modernist controversy of the 1920s and 30s.

J. Gresham Machen argued in his book Christianity and Liberalism that Christianity and liberalism are not two variations of the same religion, but two entirely different religions, built on two very different foundations. This is the tragic irony of liberal theology, in attempts to shed away the external authority of the Bible they only replaced it with a wobbling authority of ever changing cultural ideals. They've taken the firm foundation of the word of Christ and replaced it with the shifting sands of contemporary cultural whims.

As time has proven, theological liberalism is a failed project. As many mainline, liberal denominations fade into obscurity as their numbers dwindle, we must be reminded of the importance of the authority of Scripture in the Christian church. If the word of God is not the authority, something else will take its place, to the decline and distortion of the church. No third way exists between Christ and the world. The Gospel has always offended popular culture and any attempt to dilute its offensiveness only leads to ruin. As voices within and outside the church continue to urge evangelicals to let go of our authority and trust in the Bible, may we cling ever tighter to the unchanging word of God.

How to Read the Bible for Yourself - Part 2

This is part two of "How to Read the Bible for Yourself". To check out part one of click here.

7. Develop the Daily Discipline of Spending Time with God

This is often called a quiet time. It doesn’t matter what you call it but you need to form the habit of daily spending time with the Lord in word and prayer. Bible study can be like any skill. Practice does make perfect. The more you read the Bible the more you will understand and the new treasure you will discover. Not only do you need the Word for your own soul each and every day, the daily discipline of studying the Bible makes you a better Bible reader.

If you have not developed this habit in your life, this is the most important you need to begin to do immediately. You need to study God’s word daily.

8. Get a Daily Bible Reading Plan

Nothing gets done unless you plan. Sometimes the hardest part about Bible reading is, where to begin. A Bible reading plan moves you through different parts of the Bible at a regular, consistent, and daily pace. It can help chart the course for you in what to read each day. If you just simply google “bible reading plan” you can find hundreds of different types. I’d recommend that you pick one that moves you at a good pace throughout all of the Bible. The discipline of using a Bible reading plan forces us to work through passages we tend to avoid. In addition, it helps us from just jumping to our favorite passages all the time. It helps us to come face to face with the whole counsel of God.

Now how much should you read each day? Well it is largely up to you. I you can only handle a chapter or two a day and you really dig in and study it, than go for it. If you read a brisker paced want to take 8–10 chapters a day, than go for it. There is no hard and fast rule to follow here.

My personal plan, if you are interested, is that I read five chapters every day. Each year I keep a checklist of every book of the Bible. I tend to focus on one book at a time, meaning I’ll read five chapters from it everyday until I’m done with a particular book. When done with the book I check it off and choose which one I’d like to read next.  This why I have a disciplined structure but still freedom in what I will read. I find this is helpful for me to take breaks from certain genres that tend to be a little more taxing. For example a few weeks ago I read through Leviticus. Although reading it was fruitful, It was mentally draining so I jumped over to the Gospel of John which was narrative and a little easier to read. With the plan I use I’m guaranteed to read the Bible once ever year, and it gives me the freedom and flexibility to go where the Spirit leads.

Whatever your plan, the important thing is that you read the Word every day!

9. Apply it to Your Life with Journaling

My thoughts are often clouded and jump all over the place. Writing helps me focus my thoughts. This is especially helpful with studying and applying the Bible. Taking some time after reading a passage and writing about what I learned can be very helpful. Journaling helps me think through how I can apply it to my life. I’d encourage you to try the same. I am a journal digitally and my go to app for journaling is Day One.

10. Memorize Bible Verses

If you really want to learn to read the Bible for yourself, memorize it. When you memorize passages of Scripture you saturate your mind with the Word. The Spirit then can bring that verse in application to your life at any moment in addition he deepens your understanding of that verse. I’d encourage you to make scripture memory a regular part of your time with God. Start off with taking just a verse a week. Rehearse each day and then review weekly.

For those of you that are serious about Bible memorization, let me encourage you to memorize extended passages of Scripture. This is a discipline I began earlier this year and has done wonders in my relationship with the Lord. For how I’ve gone about it check out Andy Davis’ An Approach to Extended Scripture Memorization. Using his method I’ve memorized the book of Philippians and I’m currently working on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7). It takes a good 20–30 minutes for me to reverse and memorize each day, but the fruit it has brought in my life is worth it.

11. Start a Bible Study with your Friends

We tend to have a “just me and Jesus” attitude when it comes to reading the Bible. Yet, Christ has given us the church for a reason. We need one another and often the Spirit teaches us through one another. If you want to learn to read the Bible for yourself start a Bible study with you friends. Meet before work or on your lunch break with some friends once a week just to study the Bible together. You will be amazed as your friends bring new meaning to a text that you largely missed. Reading in community can be an encouragement to everyone, so start a Bible study with your friends.

12. Get Involved in Your Churches Bible Studies

I’m sure your local church involves a lot of different Bible studies. Get involved in them! Listen to how the teachers of the church interpret the Bible. Ask questions, go deep, discuss the Bible with the people in the class. Learn how to read the Bible from other people. It will help you greatly in reading the Bible for yourself!

13. What How Your Pastor Interprets the Bible When Preaching

If you have a good pastor, he carefully teaches the Bible. I preach every week to my people at Forest Hills and I’m not only trying to teach the what the Bible says I’m trying to teach them how to read the Bible for themselves. So when I have a point in my sermon I want them to see that I’m not making it up, and where it comes from in the Bible. Watch how your pastor reads his Bible, listen how he arrives at the main points and learn to study the Bible like your pastor does. Follow his example.

14. See Jesus in Every Text

All of Scripture points to Jesus. To miss this is miss the message of the Bible. Jesus says, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,” (John 5:39, ESV). At another point Jesus on the road to Emmaus showed the two disciples how every Scripture pointed to him. Read your Bible and see how every passage points you to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This doesn’t mean we force Jesus in every passage, but we see how every passage points to him or anticipates him. Much could be said on this point, but for now I’ll point you to a few resources to check out.

15. Read the Bible!

Sounds simple doesn’t it? If you want to read the Bible for yourself, start reading it! If you want to get better at personal Bible study you are not going to get any better at it unless you read it. No one learns how to ride a Bike by reading blog posts, books, and articles on how to ride a Bike. You’ve got to get not he Bike and just start peddling! Bible studies the same way. Start reading the Bible and you will be amazed how God will begin speaking to you through his infallible and inerrant Word.

I hope these fifteen tips have been helpful for you as you try to read the Bible for yourself. What tips would you offer? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!

5 Tips for Preaching through Tough Passages

Recently I’ve been preaching through the Sermon on the Mount with the people of Forest Hills Baptist Church. So far it has been a wonderful series working through some of Jesus’ most well known teachings. However I knew when the Lord led me to this series that there would be some difficult passages to come up. The two I was least looking forward to was on lust and divorce. As a pastor some times you must teach on some difficult passages of Scripture.

The Bible doesn’t always tell us what we want to hear, nevertheless they are all profitable and useful for the building up of the body. Much like the prophet Ezekiel, as a pastor we eat the sweet scroll of God’s word even though it is often a bitter word of judgement (Ez 3:3). All of God’s word is honey to our lips. Yet, the Scriptures function as a mirror. As we hold up the mirror of God’s word to our own hearts and to the hearts of our own people, sometimes we do not like what it shows us about ourselves. The word of God pierces our hearts and exposes our sin (Heb 4:12). It can be an uncomfortable endeavor but yet it is the task of the pastor to teach the whole counsel of God.

Although I am still a young preacher and have much to learn, having recently taught through both lust and divorce from the sermon on the mount, I offer these five helpful principles for preaching through tough passages of scripture.

1. Practice Expository Preaching

In order to preach difficult passages you must get to difficult passages. With the absence of expository preaching it is tempting for pastors to pick hobby horse passages or passages that will merely tickle the ears of the congregation. As a result, consciously or not, many pastors skip over difficult or controversial passages.

Walking through sections of scripture verse by verse is so helpful because it forces us to encounter and deal with difficult passages. My people know we are walking through the Sermon on the Mount and they would notice if we skipped Jesus’ teaching on divorce. No matter how difficult it may be or though I may not desire to preach it, the accountability of my people force me to deal with difficult texts.

Yet, expository preaching can be a safe guard. When you deal with difficult passages in a expository series, it keeps the difficult sermon from sounding like a personal attack from the pastor. No one in the congregation is saying “I wonder why he picked a passage on lust this Sunday? I wonder who was in the counseling room this week?” The church knows this passage is next, so it removes any perceived hostility people may read into the pastors sermon. Thus the sermon becomes less of the words of a perceived vindictive pastor and more the prophetic, authoritative voice of God.

2. Preach in Humility, as a Man Under the Authority of the Scripture.

When I was preaching the sermon on lust, I tried to set the tone for the sermon at the beginning. I knew I was going to be having to deal with some difficult truths and that it was vital for me to be filled with conviction over sexual sin. I knew that many would perceive as strong word as judgmental self-righteousness, which would be the furthest from the truth. So before I got into the meat of the sermon I said,

This morning I plan to proclaim to you harsh truths that you may perceive are announced in judgement and self-righteousness. Hear me carefully before we begin. I speak as a man who is not above this text but stands condemned underneath it. I am a man who is a condemned sinner redeemed and restored by Jesus Christ. As I read Jesus’ words here what shame and dread come upon me. For which of us can here can read these words and not be condemned?

These words helped remind me and my people, that as a pastor I am a sinner who is saved by grace. The only power that enables me to stand in that pulpit without cowering in holy fear is that I’m clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

3. Speak Clearly and with Conviction

Set God’s word loose on your people. Do not be timid or fearful on difficult truths you know your people might not want to hear. So often our fear of men causes us to be timid lambs in the pulpit when we must be roaring lions. When it comes to the sexual immorality of our culture or the no-fault divorces that happen every day, it is necessary to bring a strong word of judgement against sin. However as you do, highlight the Scripture as your authority and not your own opinions.

4. Share Briefly Multiple Interpretations

The teaching on divorce was exceptionally difficult for me, not just because it is a hot-button issue, but because the text is a hermeneutical gordian knot. Many Christians wrestle on what the Scriptures teach on divorce and many books have been written on the subject. The greatest struggle for me was:

  • How much should I share about the debate?
  • Do I want to only share my position and act like the others do not exist?

Those were the sort of questions that plagued me as I was preparing for that sermon.

If you are preaching on such a text it is wise to briefly mention the debate around this text and briefly highlight some of the other views. But spend the bulk of your time proving your position from the text. The pulpit is not the place for an academic lecture on the precise definition of porneia. In fact most of the congregation doesn’t even care, they just want to know what the Scripture says. They don’t want a seminary dissertation on the subject.

5. Give Grace and Preach the Gospel

My great fear in preaching a sermon on lust or divorce is that I sound like some self-righteous right wing bigot. Although there are sections of those sermons where I must come down hard on what God calls sin, I must always point people to the Gospel. Pastor, if you hold up the mirror of condemnation to your peoples hearts you better point them to calvary before you close in prayer. Sins like lust are so pervasive and are hidden deep within our hearts. When you bring those things up to the surface and expose them to the light, it can get uncomfortable and often guilt begins to take over. Yet, I do not want my people to leave my sermon feeling badly over their sin, but gloriously in awe of a God who would save them despite their sin.

I want to leave them with Jesus. I want to point them to the savior who fulfilled the righteous requirements of the Law in their place. I want to point them to the suffering servant who was nailed to that tree for the forgiveness of our sins. I want to point them to the liberator who frees sexual captives and the God who never divorces his adulterous wife. He is the always faithful God who is ready to forgive and restore. When you preach these difficult sermons give your people what they need the most, Jesus.

If you would like to listen to these to sermons you can listen to my sermon on Lust and Divorce. (I'll put up the link to the sermon on divorce as soon as its uploaded)

Pastors, how have you dealt with difficult passages? How do you handle texts that you know will elicit controversy? Share your wisdom in the comments!

6 Ways Pastors Can Lead the Church with the Bible

There is a lot of pressure on Pastors to be leaders. A whole industry of self-help resources and leadership books have risen the past few decades. Pastors are expected (as they should) to be leaders. Despite the wonderful practical wisdom that many of the most popular leadership books teach, a Pastor must always lead the church uniquely from the corporate business types. A Pastor is a shepherd who must lead his people with the rod of God's word.  Paul makes it quite clear what should be the focal point of our leadership in his great charge to Timothy as he writes,

I 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, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Timothy 4:1–2, ESV)

The Scriptures are essential in all aspect of a pastor's ministry, especially in his leadership. How do we preach the word in every aspect of our ministry and not just the pulpit? Shepherding with the Scriptures in hand takes discipline and practice. As a young pastor this is something in which I try to be intentional. I still have great room to grow, but here are some practical ways pastors can lead their people with word of God.

1. Practice Expositional Preaching

True preaching is grounded in the Scriptures. The temptation for many pastors is to shift to a topical model of preaching that focuses more on the congregants felt needs than the Word of God. The best way a Pastor can begin to center his flock on the Scriptures is to lead by example through the weekly sermon. Preach through books of the Bible and refer to the Scripture often in the sermon. Don't just take a verse and launch off on your personal soap box. Do as God has commanded and "preach the word".

A steady diet of scripturally rich expositional preaching will begin to transform church culture over many years. Don't underestimate the cumulative effect of a faithful expositional preaching ministry.

2. Carry a Physical Bible

This may seem a little silly, but it is something I think is important. In a day and age where digital bibles are so readily available it is easy to rely only on a smartphone for the Bible. I love technology. I even use my iPad for all my sermon notes while preaching. Yet I always carry around my physical Bible.

Although the accessibility of digital bibles is wonderful, lugging around a physical Bible communicates something about its value and significance. Carrying a physical Bible around with you communicates to your people the source of your authority in ministry. Our authority as pastors is not in our charisma, knowledge, experience, or skill, but in the infallible word of God. Carrying a physical Bible communicates that to my people in a way a digital version does not.

3. Use the Bible in Pastoral Care

Monday afternoons is the time I go out and visit shut-ins and those who need pastoral care and  I always be sure to take my Bible with me. To go minister to members without a Bible is like a plumber who forgets his wrench or a football player who forgets his helmet. So too should pastors always bring their staff when they go to the flock. Bring the Bible with you.

Towards the end of my visit with the person I always try to finish my time with a church member by opening up the Bible and reading a passage of Scripture. Then we will close our time in prayer. I do this because the Scriptures are relevant in every situation and I want to teach my people to look to the Scriptures in moments of crisis and need. God's word provides reassurance, reminding us of the wonderful promises of God. Whether in counseling, visitation, outreach, or funerals be quick to take your people to the Bible. Lead them with the Scriptures.

4. Open Every Meeting with Bible

Every meeting I lead at our church I open with a short devotion from Scripture. I want to model for our people Scripture's relevance and importance in all situations from finance meetings to deacons meetings. Starting with Scripture also puts things into perspective and reminds everyone that it is on the word of God we must build God's church and we make decisions.

5. Go to the Scripture in Conflict

This one must be handled carefully, but it is vitally important. As in most churches there will be fights and disagreements. When those times come, the pastor must lead with the Scriptures. In those high and intense meetings, know your Bible well enough to counsel from the Scriptures.

You must handle this carefully because you don't want to necessarily beat your people with the Bible to justify your opinions. Yet, going to the Bible when there is a disagreement reminds everyone (including the pastor) that our opinions are secondary to the truth of God's word.

6. Ground Change in the Scripture

As a pastor and leader you must lead your people through change. Whenever a ministry needs to be cut, revised, or started always ground your methodology in your theology. Do your best to explain the "why" and the biblical reason for the change. Show your people important texts that show the urgency or reason for why this change is necessary. Although there may still be resistance, if your people are lovers of the word of God they will be encouraged and obedient.

Shepherding with the Scriptures

Pastors are to be men of the word. The Scriptures must impact how we think about every aspect of our ministries. Bring the Scripture into every aspect of your ministry. Get creative and always be pointing them to the Scriptures. It is in the word of God that tells us about the word who became flesh. Point them to the Bible and you will be pointing them to Christ who is the chief shepherd whom you will be accountable for in your leadership.

How Have you led with the Scriptures? Any tips or practices that I missed? Share your wisdom with us in the comments!

7 Principles for Corporate Worship

Worship in the church has been a topic hotly debated over the past few decades. There has been fight after fight concerning the so called Worship Wars that debate over the style of music.  In addition there is a regular debate about the Regulative Principle. Yes, Scripture should guide our worship practices, but what about the things Scripture does not speak on like projectors for lyrics, fog machines, and even microphones? With all the variance that accompanies church worship, it is vital for churches to define scriptural principles that help them in planning their Worship time together. One of the reasons churches argue so much over worship is because the theological principles driving their worship are never clarified or communicated. As I continue to think through this issue, here are some Scriptural principles that guide me as I think about worship in the church.

1. Worship Should Center on The Word of God

The preached word of God should be the center point of our worship. In most churches, preaching takes up the dominant amount of time in our worship services. The church has a message to be proclaimed and a message that needs to be heard. The Gospel of Jesus Christ must be taught weekly from the Bible. The best method of preaching is Expository Preaching, a method in which the content of the sermon should match up to the content of the Scripture studied. Topical preaching has its occasional place, but the steady diet for corporate worship should be the robust expository teaching of the word of God.

Many think that worship stops after the singing, but no, worship is just beginning. As the preacher stands before the people and heralds Gospel truth and as the people engage with God's word, they must rejoice over the truth along with the preacher. Christians are people who have had their lives transformed by a truth: the good news of Jesus. Therefore our worship must not only be an emotional experience, but a time grounded in the solid foundation of the truth revealed in God's word. However worship centered on the word of God is more than preaching but should be a part of everything we do in worship.  Whether it is influencing the content of our songs, having corporate scripture reading, or even in our prayers, scripture should be pervasive in our worship time together.

2. Worship Should Be Participatory

It is easy for worship to become a spectator sport. A huge crowd gathers into the room to come and watch the show.  We often think of church like coming to a football game where you cheer or criticize the team that is playing, but never participate in the game by stepping on the field. As you sit in your chair, you watch the people on the stage worship but you are just there to spectate. A lot of times churches design their worship services to encourage spectator, consumer Christians by including so many "showy" elements that foster a culture of sitting on the side lines.

This might make me a little bit odd, but this is one reason why I'm not a big fan of special music in churches. I grew up in churches that made this a weekly practice and I've even done a few special musics myself in my day. The special music is when every one sits down, gets comfortable and watches a soloist, a choir, or a musician perform. More often than not, the special music rather than encouraging participation facilitates a distant watching.

Worship should be participatory, seeking to get the people engaged in worship. Participatory elements include corporate singing, corporate scripture reading, the Lord's Supper, prayer, or even sermon notes to help people engage with the sermon message. Worship services should be structured to encourage the worshipers participation in worship rather than encouraging them to be spectators while the "professionals" worship up on stage.

3. Worship Should Be Evangelistic

A key component of worship must be evangelism. There has been vicious debate over what worship should be for, believers or non believers. Well I suggest that the issue is a false dilemma. Worship should seek to both reach the non believer and edify the believers. Every worship service should have a clear, explicit presentation of the Gospel message. Any lost person who happens to visit your worship should be able to walk away knowing how he or she can be saved.

This means that often you have to watch the Christianese that can alienate non-believers. Things must be explained, including the worship order so they can understand what is going on in the service. The non believers should be publicly welcomed and thanked for coming and even addressed specifically in the sermon message. This includes making your church welcoming and hospitable to outsiders, helping them to feel at home when they first come to your church.

4. Worship Should Edify Believers

A key component to worship should be discipleship. The majority of those who come to worship tend to already be believers. They come every week to be encouraged in their walk with Christ and to be fed the word of God for their spiritual growth. Worship should seek to empower and equip believers to live for Christ boldly and confidently. They should leave both challenged and stirred to turn from their sin and live for Christ.

This often comes from the sermon component that seeks to not only evangelize to the lost but also encourage the saints. It is hard to do both simultaneously and some sermons will be catered to one purpose over the other, but we must always try to equip the saints for the work of ministry. This comes through the teaching of the Scriptures (2 Tim 3:16-17). Christians might leave challenged and convicted, but they should always leave in the hope of the grace of God that covers their failures and empowers them to live on mission.

5. Worship Should Be Contextual

Worship should be contextual. Worship will look different in different cultures or in different places. To deny that culture does not influence your worship services is to be a liar. The fact that our worship is in a specific language already contextualizes our service which by default reaches out to a specific culture and alienating others. All of our worship has some cultural expressions that are mingled into our time together. This is not always a bad thing, but it is something we must realize happens.

As a result different parts of our country and even different types of people will connect better with different worship styles than others. It is easy to elevate our personal preferences to THE way people must worship, but we must realize that our preferences are just that – preferences. They are not absolute guidelines to be imposed at all churches in all ways.

The question is how far is to far when it comes to contextualizing our worship? Can worship become showy and worldly? Can you over-contextualize in which you actually sacrifice the message of the Gospel? Yes, all those things are very real dangers. There are lines that can be crossed, often dealing with music, which leads us to the next point.

6. Music Should Have Solid Theological Content

The songs we choose for worship should have robust, rich doctrinal content. One of the great and true criticism of the Contemporary Christian Movement is that the lyrics could be very well about their boyfriend or girlfriend rather than Jesus. They often repeat vain ambiguous phrases over and over that could be about anything.  So often these lyrics emphasize emotionalism but not doctrinal truth. When Christians get together to sing, they should sing about the Gospel. Even the early Christian hymns we have in the Bible like Philippians 2 or Colossians 1 have highly rich doctrinal content.

Thankfully many are moving back to singing songs that have doctrinal depth such as many of the modern hymns such as "In Christ Alone". These are powerful songs, done in a modern or contextual way that engages people in worship while still instructing people in truth. The singing portion of worship can also be a time of great teaching. The people of God should sing the Gospel together, which means we need to make sure we are singing about what Jesus has done and not how much we love of our boyfriend or girlfriend.

7. Worship Should Bring God Glory

The focus of our worship should be about God. We are there to bring him glory, honor, and praise. It is so easy to turn our worship times into moments about us. "What can I get out of it?" is a question many ask when they think about worship. Yet, worship is not about us, but about God. As we read in Scripture about those moments of extravagant worship, it is clear to see who the focus is on.

"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come" (Rev 4:8)

Their attention is totally focused on God and his glory. We come to worship together not to have our ears tickled or to be entertained, but we come to engage in worship with the triune God of the universe. We are there to worship the Father for his wonderful redemptive plan he put in place before the foundations of the earth. We are there to worship the son, for his servitude and humility by taking up the cross and dying in our place. We are there to worship the spirit, which opens our eyes to the truth of the Gospel and empowers us to live for the one true God. This is the worship we must strive for, rigorously God-center and bringing our gracious King glory.

What do you think about these seven principles? Are there any you disagree with or any I left out? Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments!

Pastoral Lessons from the Life of Martin Luther

128756_imagno Martin Luther was a a German Monk whom God used to start the Reformation.  Martin Luther is remembered for many things such as his famous 95 thesis published on October 31, 1517 that went viral.  He is remembered for translating the New Testament into German, the language of his people.  However, one of the most dramatic events in Luther's life was the Diet of Worms.  It was at this meeting that Luther was asked by the Catholic Church leaders to recant all his beliefs such as the justification by faith alone.  It is here that Luther faced with excommunication and possible execution as a heretic, he would have to make his choice.  Luther asked for a night to think about whether he would recant or stand firm on his beliefs.  The turmoil in Luther's soul was fierce that night, and when he arrived the next morning his mind was made up.  Here is what the german monk said:

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures or by evident reason- for I can believe neither pope nor councils alone, as it is clear that they have erred repeatedly and contradicted themselves - I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God.  Thus I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one's conscience is neither safe nor sound.  God help me. Amen.

For those who prefer the movie version of this historic scene you can watch the clip from the 2003 movie Luther. (In the movie version they skip the night he takes to dwell on it)

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5P7QkHCfaI

What lessons can Pastors today learn from the life of Martin Luther?  Well there are more than can be written in this blog post, but let me suggest to you one primary one.

Just like Martin Luther, pastors today must unapologetically stand on the Word of God for all things regarding faith and practice.  There is a temptation for ministers today to let tradition or culture dictate how the church must be.  Pastors must boldly stand on the Word of God, even in the face of incredible opposition.

The Bible will continue to be more and more controversial as our western culture continues to secularize.  Soon, and to some extent even now, faithful pastors will be marginalized for their commitment to the truth of the Scriptures.  Sooner than we think we too must make our stand.  When that time comes we, just as Luther, must make our conscience captive to the Word of God.  We must stand firm on the sufficiency of Scripture and we must do so unapologetically.  God help us.  Amen.

How Can Young Pastors Be Respected?

2227885657_25a043b6e5_b Young Pastors have a challenge.  In their youth and inexperience, they often have to "prove" themselves and often earn the respect of their congregations.  Every young Christian knows and loves 1 Timothy 4:11 "Let no one despise you for your youth but set the believers an example".  The question we should ask is "In what way do I set an example?"  Paul answers that for us, "in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity".  So our lifestyle is a key part of earning the respect of our congregations even though we may be young.  However, there is something very interesting about the context of where 1 Timothy 4:11 falls.  Read the passage again in context and see if you can spot it:

“Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Timothy 4:11–16, ESV)

So 4:11 is set in a context of the ministry of the word.  Timothy is told to "command and teach", devote himself to the "public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching", immerse himself in his teaching gift, watch his teaching, and persist in his teaching.  So how does a young pastor earn the respect of his congregation, by setting an example through his teaching ministry.

For a pastor, the ministry of the Word is central to his calling.  He must build his life and his ministry around the Scriptures.  He must be dedicated in his studies and committed to excellence in his preaching.  As the young man of God proclaims the Gospel through the Scriptures in a Christ like manner, the respect of his congregation will be earned.  He will no longer be despised for his youth, but respected. He will be an godly example to his people.

Jonah Part 3: Jonah's Anger and the Lord's Compassion

 

Jonah is Angry at the Lord’s compassion (Jonah 4:1-4)

After seeing the city of Nineveh repent, Jonah becomes furious.  He was angry that the Lord would show compassion to this city.  In these first four verses, Jonah prays to the Lord.  This is the second of Jonah’s prayers.  The first one in chapter 2, took place in the belly of the fish.  The writer invites us to compare and contrast Jonah’s heart and attitude between these two prayers.  In this second prayer, we see Jonah’s real heart in this whole situation.  We get to see why he really didn’t want to go to Nineveh in the first place.  He was afraid God would be merciful to them.

You see, Jonah knows that God is a merciful and compassionate God.  He gives second chances.  He spares us his wrath.  Jonah prays and says, “I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and relenting form disaster”.  Although Jonah loves this about God when God’s compassion is shown to him (Chapter 2), but is angry towards God when it is shown to Nineveh (Chapter 3).  You see Jonah wants to receive mercy from the Lord, but he doesn’t want God to show His mercy to others, especially the Ninevites.  In verse 3, Jonah gets a little over dramatic and concludes his life is not worth living.  He tells God it is better to die than to live.  Now Jonah isn’t suicidal here, he just is being so over the top it is comical.  He is acting just like a child here.  He doesn’t get his way so he pouts and says life isn’t worth living anymore.  He is trying to manipulate God with his anguish.  He is trying to get God to change his mind.  God responds with just a simple question, “Do you do well to be angry?”  I like the NLT of this verse, “Is it right for you to be angry about this?”  In other words, God is questioning Jonah’s angry.  Jonah why are you getting so upset about this? Why is this bothering you so badly?

The Lord Teaches Jonah to be compassionate (Jonah 4:5-11)

After this prayer, Jonah goes up to the hill to sit down at the east of the city and look over it.  He is waiting to see what God will do with the city.  Jonah seems to be hoping that his manipulative pity party had changed God’s mind.  He waiting and hoping God will destroy it.  As Jonah is sitting there God appoints a plant to spring up. Notice this is the third time God appoints something in the book.  The first time was the the great wind God hurled upon the sea (1:4), the second was the great fish (1:17), and here the plant is the third (4:6).  The text is reminding us of who is in control over His creation, and it is the Lord of hosts.  He sovereignly appoints what he wills, and rules creation.  He can make a plant spring up instantly.  And the plant springs up over the head of Jonah and provides him with comfort.

This plant changes Jonah’s mood.  He goes from being angry, to being glad.  Then, the next day come and God appoints something a fourth time in the book of Jonah.  He appoints a worm to come and attack the plant, so the plant would wither and die.  Then we are told that God appointed a scorching east wind and the sun to beat down on Jonah’s head.  Jonah again gets upset and says that it is “Better to die than to live”.  Again, Jonah isn’t suicidal here, he is just being overly dramatic.

Then in verse 9, God asks Jonah a important question, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?”  Notice the parallel between God’s question in verse 4, in which God questions Jonah’s anger towards Nineveh.  But Jonah says to God, “It is right for me to be angry about this plant, angry enough to die!”  Notice also, that this is the first time Jonah desires that something not perish.  He didn’t care if the sailors perished.  He didn’t care if Nineveh perish.  But when it comes to this plant providing him comfort, he cares greatly that this plant not perish!  Then in verse 10, we get God’s lesson he is trying to teach Jonah.  Indeed, this is the climax of the whole book.

God tells Jonah that he pities this insignificant plant, and should God not pity Nineveh, a city of 120,000 people?  In other words God is telling Jonah, what’s more important a plant or 120,000 people perishing?  The answer is obviously people.  In fact, God closes the book with a peculiar phrase, “also much cattle”.  This is God making a jab at Jonah.  If Jonah will not pity the people of Nineveh, at least he would pity the animals!  If the plant is so important to him, maybe the animals are! God is making a strong rebuke towards Jonah.  Jonah who cared so much for himself, who cared so much for his own needs and comfort, needs to be rebuked.  Throughout this whole book Jonah has been nothing but a spoiled brat.  He wants to receive the mercy of God for himself, but he doesn’t want God to show it to others.  He himself doesn’t want to perish in the ocean, but when it comes to the sailors or Nineveh he could care less.

Now what does this mean for you and me?  When thinking about this book as a whole, and what God is trying to teach Jonah, what does this mean for us.

1. God has Compassion on All People, not just us

People are important to God.  God is determined to get Jonah to Nineveh.  He sovereignly orchestrates creation by appointing it to do his will.  He does all this to get Jonah to Nineveh.  God is passionate about the exaltation of his own name to the nations and to the ends of the earth.

2. We must repent of our self-centered hypocrisy

We must not be like Jonah.  We can’t be self-centered and concerned with ourselves.  We can’t expect to receive God’s grace, but then refuse to share it with others.  Our lives are not about us!  It isn’t about our comfort.  It isn’t about what we want to do.  We exist for worship, and spreading the worship of Jesus to the ends of the earth.  We exist to share the good news of Jesus with everyone!  However, so many of us live lives that are self-consumed.  We think what’s in it for me, or what can I get out of it.  The Gospel runs contrary to our self-sufficiency.  We must turn away from this and lay down our lives for his kingdom.

3. We must be willing to go where God tells us to go

For some of you God is going to ask you to do some tough things.  He might ask you to go some where that you are uncomfortable with.  He might ask you to leave behind home and family.  He might ask you to go to college further away that Wilson Tech.  He might even ask you to go to college out of state.  He might ask you live in another part of the country to be his ambassador.  He might ask you to live in another country to be his missionary.  Or it could be as simply as going to another lunch table or going down the street to your neighbors house to tell them about Jesus.  However, one thing the book of Jonah teaches us, is that we must be obedient to him.  When God tells us to go, we must go.

4. Remember that God gives mercy to those who repent

God is not hesitant to show us mercy.  God is eagerly wanting to show grace to people.  He wants them to come to know the joy found only in Jesus!  The Gospel, the good news of Jesus, is an open invitation to those who are perishing to repent and believe in Him!  Just like the city of Nineveh, destruction is coming to this world.  God’s wrath will be poured out, but through Jesus God’s wrath is placed on Jesus in your place. You can trust in him.  He is our great Savior who is eager to save.  Therefore, repent and believe in Jesus!  Trust in him for salvation.  He is abounding in love and rich in mercy.