Monthly Archives: July 2011

The Hardest Place in the World to Pray

“American culture is probably the hardest place in the world to learn to pray.  We are so busy that when we slow down to pray, we find it uncomfortable.  We prize accomplishments, production.  But prayer is nothing but talking to God.  It feels useless, as if we are wasting time.  Every bone in our bodies screams, “Get to work.”

“When we aren’t working, we are used to being entertained.  Television, the Internet, video games, and cell phones make free time as busy as work.  When we do slow down, we slip into a stupor.  Exhausted by the pace of life, we veg out in front of a screen or with earplugs.

“If we try to be quiet, we are assaulted by what C.S. Lewis called ‘the Kingdom of Noise.’  Everywhere we go we hear background noise.  If the noise isn’t provided for us, we can bring our own via iPod.

“Even our church services can have that same restless energy.  There is little space to be still before God.  We want our money’s worth, so something should always be happening.  We are uncomfortable with silence.

“One of the subtlest hindrances to prayer is probably the most pervasive.  In the broader culture and in our churches, we prize intellect, competency, and wealth.  Because we can do life without God, praying seems nice but unnecessary.  Money can do what prayer does, and it is quicker and less time-consuming.  Our trust in ourselves and in our talents makes us structurally independent of God.  As a result, our exhortations don’t stick.”

(Paul E. Miller, A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World, NavPress, 2009)

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Categories: America, prayer, praying | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

How Preachers Become Traitors to Jesus

“Paul was a scholar and an orator of the highest degree; he was not speaking here out of a deep sense of humility, but was saying that when he preached the gospel, he would veil the power of God if he impressed people with the excellency of his speech. Belief in Jesus is a miracle produced only by the effectiveness of redemption, not by impressive speech, nor by wooing and persuading, but only by the sheer unaided power of God. The creative power of redemption comes through the preaching of the gospel, but never because of the personality of the preacher.

“Real and effective fasting by a preacher is not fasting from food, but fasting from eloquence, from impressive diction, and from everything else that might hinder the gospel of God being presented. The preacher is there as the representative of God— “. . . as though God were pleading through us . . .” (2 Corinthians 5:20). He is there to present the gospel of God. If it is only because of my preaching that people desire to be better, they will never get close to Jesus Christ. Anything that flatters me in my preaching of the gospel will result in making me a traitor to Jesus, and I prevent the creative power of His redemption from doing its work.”

And I, if I am lifted up. . . , will draw all peoples to Myself” (John 12:32).

(Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest, July 17).

Categories: preaching | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

VBS is Done—Now What?

Vacation Bible School is done at our church (Boone’s Creek Baptist Church).  The months of preparation for the Bible study, recreation, crafts, missions, and puppets were poured into 23 combined hours of children’s and youth ministry this week.  We averaged about 135 with a high attendance of 140.  Four children came to know Christ, many contacts were made, many seeds were planted (1 Corinthians 3:1-8)–and joy filled every heart involved.

So now what?  A number of things I would suggest:

  1. Continue to pray for the children and youth that came to our VBS. Some of the children belong to families at our church, others belong to another church, still others belong to no church.  There is still work to do!
  2. Continue to pray hard for and work hard with our children’s ministry.  We may be tempted to think, “Wow, this is just a once a year thing.”  But our children’s workers in Sunday School, Extended Session, TeamKID work hard for our Easter Egg Hunt, Trunk for Treat, VBS, and a ton of other ministries.  Seriously, it’s a VBS mentality all year long!  Let’s tap into that momentum God has given us!
  3. Pray for us as we follow up, especially on those who made professions of faith.  The next two weeks after VBS are crucial.  Help us to be good stewards of our time and that God would give us the words to say not just to the children, but to the parents and grandparents as well!

What else can you do?

  1. Give us your pictures taken at VBS! We need to preserve these incredible moments.  So if you could upload them to a picture website or copy them onto a disk, we will do the rest! 
  2. Take time to thank a VBS worker, either personally or via Thank You note.  Lots of hard work and preparation went into this, as well as a lot of love.  Christ was truly honored this week through them.

What are some things you would suggest in this post-VBS season at your church?

Here’s another good article on the subject. 

Categories: church, Church Life, VBS | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Stonewall Jackson Honored in an African-American Church?: Deconstructing One Stereotype

manassas 082bThis is a window from the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in Roanoke, VA. On it, it depicts the last words of Confederate General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson: “Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the tree”–spoken on May 10, 1863. Oh, one more thing: this is an African-American congregation! The descendants of this church sat under Jackson’s Sunday School class from 1855-1861 when it was illegal in Virginia for blacks to learn how to read and write, making Jackson a lawbreaker. They were so grateful for his work with them that these congregants chose never to forget the legacy of teaching Scripture. Take a listen.

How do we reconcile this matter?  Listening to many history classes and documentaries, all Southerners were racists and all Northerners were color-blind.  Just the closest of perusals will show a more moderate and middle-ground approach is needed.  To take our 21st century sensibilities and put them on 19th century mindsets is misguided at best, but arrogant at worst.  Few blacks in the North were permitted to vote.  Most people in the North may have believed slavery was oppressive and disgusting, but few believed the African-American on equal ground with the whites. 

Jackson breaks the stereotype by teaching slaves to read and write!  Not every Southerner saw them as animals or inferior.  While this does not excuse the institution of slavery so prevalent in the South, it does shed light that there were good men on both sides, regardless of the goodness of their cause.

Richard G. Williams in his book Stonewall Jackson: The Black Man’s Friend observed:

It has been said that General Jackson “fought for slavery and the Southern Confederacy with the unshaken conviction that both were to endure.” This statement is true with regard to the latter, but I am very confident that he would never have fought for the sole object of perpetuating slavery. It was for her constitutional rights that the South resisted the North, and slavery was only comprehended among those rights. He found the institution a responsible and troublesome one, and I have heard him say that he would prefer to see the negroes free, but he believed that the Bible taught that slavery was sanctioned by the Creator himself, who maketh men to differ, and instituted laws for the bond and the free. He therefore accepted slavery, as it existed in the Southern States, not as a thing desirable in itself, but as allowed by God for ends which it was not his business to determine. At the same time, the negroes had no truer friend, no greater benefactor. Those who were servants in his own house he treated with the greatest kindness, and never was more happy or more devoted to any work than that of teaching the colored children in his Sunday-school.

As deplorable as aspects of this sound (“He found the institution a responsible and troublesome one” . . . “he believed that the Bible taught slavery, etc.”), he was devoted to teach those whom no one else would teach.  And, again, I just find it interesting that an African-American congregation in the heart of the South (Virginia) would put a monument to someone that everyone else all around says hated them because he fought for the Confederacy.  Maybe all the stereotypes we have constructed need to be reevaluated.

What think ye?

Categories: Civil War | Tags: , | 2 Comments

What Should a Pastor Look Like? Part II: Engaged in Apologetics

 

Continuing a series begun a few days ago, I hope to show a perspective on what a pastor should look like based on the acronym of the word ‘pastor.’

  • Preaching and Teaching
  • Apologetics, Engaged in
  • Shepherd of the Flock
  • Training and Equipping Leaders
  • On-Mission
  • Reverent in Worship

Today, I would like to take a look at the pastor’s role in engaging in apologetics.  I will copy and paste an article I wrote back in August 2010 on the Gospel Gripped website on the subject:

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Before we ask the ‘why,’ we must understand the ‘what’ and ‘to whom’ of apologetics. What is it? John Frame defines Christian apologetics as that which “seeks to serve God and the church by helping believers to carry out the mandate of 1 Peter 3:15-16. We may define it as the discipline that teaches Christians how to give a reason for their hope.”[1]

The apostle Peter in 1 Peter 3:15-16 says:

15But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: 16Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.

Based on this definition, apologetics is seen as an offensive and defensive discipline. As an offensive discipline, the Christian is living a life of one who is set apart to the Lord in this world. Christ has unleashed His people into the world to be “little Christs.” Christians also take a defensive position, making a concentrated and intentional defense of the faith “to every man that asketh you for a reason of the hope that is in you” (3:15). Christians must always be aware that, even though they may not have studied the discipline of apologetics, they are showing the plausibility of Christ and Christianity by their words and actions which radiate what lies in their heart (Matthew 12:33-37).

For Whom is this Study of Apologetics?

Christians wishing to engage in this field must know the audience to which they will engage. Apologetics is for both Christians and non-Christians.

Apologetics is for Christians. “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts” (3:15a). To “sanctify” means to set apart for God’s holy use. Yet, the Scriptures show that Christians are “sojourners and exiles” in this world who are to “abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11). Given all the temptations from within (1 Corinthians 10:12-13) and the philosophies and worldviews assaulting Christians from without (Colossians 2:6-15), Christians need strengthening in the hope the have in Christ.

At some point, Satan will come along to plant a seed of doubt in the believer’s mind, having the Christian wonder if the “reason of the hope” they have is truly reasonable.

  • A Buddhist may seem to show how a life of tranquility and meditation will give the Christian the enlightened peace they need to cope with their troublesome situation.
  • A Muslim can appear to demonstrate faithfulness by their prayers and pilgrimages to Mecca a life of devotion and strong conviction, giving tangible evidence of God’s approval to their spiritual lives.
  • A humanist may seem convincing in the midst of a Christian’s harrowing circumstances in which God appears absent.
  • A Darwinist who appears to have “scientific evidence” on his side may seem convincing over and against those who hold to the origin of creation, calling it a myth and a fantasy.

These few examples help clarify the need for Christians to know what the Scripture teaches so as to strengthen the church. Paul warned the Ephesian church to be aware of the schemes of the devil (Ephesians 6:12), and part of the schemes of the devil is to go after our thinking, our worldview. He aims deceive with philosophies and elementary principles by which he may turn eyes away from the person and work of Christ and the “faith once and for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). The area of Christian apologetics aims to help Christians understand what it means for the mind to be given over to the Spirit rather than the flesh or the world (Romans 8:5-8).

Apologetics is for unbelievers. God inspired the Scriptures to show clearly who God is, what He has accomplished in redemptive history, and what He aims to accomplish through His people now. While all people see God’s attributes, giving them no excuse in denying the existence and work of a Creator (Romans 1:18-21), through the Bible God has given us a perspicuous account of His nature, His character, His work—all brought to bear in the centerpiece of the Scriptures, the person of Jesus Christ (Matthew 5:17-18).

The Scriptures serve as a witness to an unbelieving world. As the church lives out God’s will out of loving obedience, the world will see this display. As a result, unbelievers will ask Christians for “a reason for the hope that is within” them. Even in this, they are to respond with “meekness and fear.” Does this mean that Christians are to wither and cower in the face of such questions? Not at all! Meekness means strength under control. ‘Fear’ has to do with reverence before God and before those who may disagree with the conclusions that come from Christian belief.

The apostle Peter informs believers that unbelievers may “speak evil of you, as of evildoers” (3:16). Even though Christians serve a Good God who sent His Good Shepherd to deliver and embody the Good News (i.e., the gospel), an unbelieving world sees the cause of Christ as evil and detrimental to the human race. While many reasons are given by various groups, the last verse of the book of Judges encapsulates this succinctly: “And there was no king in Israel, and everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).

Unbelievers do not simply disagree with the rules and commands of God, they disagree with the notion that we are destitute of any goodness that would commend men to him. Ephesians 2:8-9 clearly shows how people are saved not by what they do, they are saved by what God has accomplished by the gift of grace through Jesus Christ. Jesus began His Sermon on the Mount by saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). Unbelievers may not want to hear of their destitution (even if they are made aware of this “with meekness and fear”), they need to know it but also need to see grace-saved sinners model this with their actions and speech.

The “Why” of Apologetics

After examining the ‘what’ and the ‘to whom’ of apologetics, an examination of the ‘why’ of apologetics must commence. We must examine this because of some who believe that apologetics is unnecessary—and they give pseudo-doctrinal reasons why! Some apologetics skeptics (apolo-skeptics?) have a very high view of the Holy Spirit, with an understanding that the Spirit’s job is to convict and change hearts—something men cannot do. In 1 Corinthians 3:8, “I planted, Apollos watered, but it is God who gives the growth.” Apolo-skeptics rightly assert that no one can change hearts but God, and to work to defend and convince skeptics of Christianity is to take on the Spirit’s role of conversion.

Apologetics advocates would say, “Yes, God causes the growth, but he has given the assignment and the mandate by God to plant and water!” They would remind us that we are to always be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). As an apologetics advocate, Bodie Hodge notes, “While witnessing, remember to be kind and patient. After all, we were each enemies of the gospel ourselves at one point—but Jesus Christ was patient with us and performed the ultimate act of kindness on the cross.”[1] Paul exhorted the Colossian church to “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:6).

To ultimately answer the ‘why,’ one can look at the ‘great’ words of Jesus: the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. First, apologetics is part of the Great Commission. Matthew 28:16-20 contains the final account in this Gospel in regards to Jesus’ aim for his followers:

16Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:16-20).

This account took place soon after Jesus’ resurrection. Given the circus surrounding Jesus’ sentencing and crucifixion, not to mention the brutality of what Jesus endured, many of His followers worshiped him! This was a miracle that made all other miracles pale in comparison! Yet, hanging over verse 17 is this startling phrase: “but some doubted.” Even with Jesus standing before them post-resurrection, some had hearts so hardened that they could not believe He live. Clearly, Jesus intended to show them and all subsequent followers that evangelism and apologetics will go hand-in-hand, even with people who seem to be the closest.

As Jesus began to speak, He did not start with a command, but showed the authority that His Father had bestowed on Him (Matthew 28:18). He then commands that the disciples “go and make disciples”—in other words, the disciples were to reproduce themselves. How?

First, through identification. “. . . baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” This outward sign of baptism demonstrates the inward change of being identified with the Trinity, surrendering their all. To baptize means to immerse. This physical immersion of one’s body into the water is an object lesson of how this individual has been fully immersed into Christ through His death, burial, and resurrection.

Second, through impartation of information. “. . . teaching them . . .” Jesus’ followers have information and content to pass along to others. Jesus showed the disciples that the Christian faith is not merely intuitive but also cognitive. Jude reminded his audience, “Contend earnestly for the faith, once and for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). That article ‘the’ preceding the word ‘faith’ makes clear that the Christian faith is a battery of coherent and perspicuous knowledge.

Third, through the application of the information. “. . . Teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you.” Disciples of Jesus Christ must help others not just learn this knowledge but also apply what they have learned. Having a faith that does not bear fruit is not a Christian faith (John 15:1-8; James 2:14ff).

Greg Bahnsen shows this connection between evangelism and apologetics:

The very reason why Christians are put in the position of giving a reasoned account of the hope that is in them is that not all men have faith. Because there is a world to be evangelized (men who are unconverted), there is the need for the believer to defend his faith: Evangelism naturally brings one into apologetics. This indicates that apologetics is no mere matter of "intellectual jousting"; it is a serious matter of life and death – eternal life and death. The apologist who fails to take account of the evangelistic nature of his argumentation is both cruel and proud. Cruel because he overlooks the deepest need of his opponent and proud because he is more concerned to demonstrate that he is no academic fool that to show how all glory belongs to the gracious God of all truth. Evangelism reminds us of who we are (sinners saved by grace) and what our opponents need (conversion of heart, not simply modified propositions). I believe, therefore, that the evangelistic nature of apologetics shows us the need to follow a presuppositional defense of the faith. In contrast to this approach stand the many systems of neutral autonomous argumentation.[2]

Second, apologetics is part of the Great Commandment. When Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment, he replied:

37And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38This is the great and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).

Why do we defend the faith? First of all, out of love for God, to whom we have surrendered our all (heart, soul, and mind). In loving God with all we have, we live for Him with all we have, desire others to live for Him by repenting of their sin and trusting in Christ, and we long to make sure their views

We also defend the faith by loving our neighbor as ourselves! Ephesians 4:15 says a marvelous phrase: “… speaking the truth in love.” Christians must strike this balance: we lovingly and respectfully speak the truth. Telling others the truth in a Christ-like manner is the most loving action we can perform. Those listening to us may not see us as loving (see John 15:18ff), and we do know that the gospel of Christ is offensive (1 Corinthians 1:18-21). Yet our attitude should exude the love of Christ that the Holy Spirit pours into the hearts of all believers (Romans 5:5). If someone believes and acts in a way that will end in destruction, we must love that fellow image-bearer as God loves them.

In Stephen Prothero’s book God is Not One, he spends time debunking the notion that many atheists put forth in that “all religions are essentially the same, worshiping the same God in different ways.” He calls this “follow[ing] our fantasies down the rabbit hole of religious unity.”[3] He notes too that world religions do agree in regards to ethics, but not on doctrine, ritual, mythology, experience, or law.[4] Yet, each of these religions seeks to answer four issues which will be helpful in sorting out the high watermarks of the particulars of each worldview presented:

  • The problem
  • The solution to the problem, which also serves as the religious goal;
  • The technique which moves from the problem to the solution
  • The exemplar(s) who chart this path from problem to solution.

In aiding the student, I will also implement a paradigm presented by Abdul Saleeb in his lecture on Islam.[5] In this lecture, he outlines four theological issues in which Islam (and I would submit all other religions) differ with Christianity:

  • Their view of God
  • Their view of man
  • Their view of salvation
  • Their view of the Bible

These two paradigms intersect somewhat, not only by comparison but also by contrast. For instance, atheists by virtue of their name do not believe in God, and neither do numerous sects of Buddhism. Their view of God will shade how they view humanity’s problem, which affects their view of the solution, etc.

Finally, each chapter will conclude with how we can interact and interject the gospel into conversations which may arise with those who hold to these respective beliefs. Part of the nature of apologetics is not just knowing deviant and variant gospels, but also knowing the true gospel of Christ.

May God bless you in your quest!


[1]Bodie Hodge, The Authority Test, Part 1: The Christian’s Ultimate Authority. Accessed on 21 July 2010, available at http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/aid/v3/n1/the-authority-test [on-line]; Internet.

[2]Greg Bahnsen, Evangelism and Apologetics. Accessed 21 July 2010, available at http://www.cmfnow.com/articles/PA013.htm [on-line]; Internet.

[3]Stephen Prothero, God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World—and Why Their Differences Matter (New York: HarperCollins, 2010), 4.

[4]Ibid., 3.

[5]R.C. Sproul and Abdul Saleeb, The Cross and the Crescent (CD) (Sanford, FL: Ligonier Ministries).

Categories: apologetics | Tags: , | 4 Comments

What Should a Pastor Look Like, Part I: Preacher and Teacher

Over the next few days, I will be blogging about what a pastor should look like.

My aim is to take the acronym of the word ‘pastor’ and outline what a bare-bones philosophy of ministry should look like:

  • Preacher and Teacher
  • Apologetics, Engaged In
  • Shepherd of the flock
  • Training and equipping leaders
  • On-Mission
  • Reverent in worship

The Preacher and Teacher

In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus told his disciples:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Jesus established his authority by his resurrection (Matt 28:16-17), and then passed the mantle of his ministry on to his disciples with this Great Commission, in which he gives an important rationale for expositional preaching. Leon Morris gives helpful insights into this rationale:

The church’s teaching function is thus of great importance. We teach because Jesus commanded us to teach. . . . But Jesus is not speaking about education for education’s sake. He speaks of the taught as “observing” what Jesus commanded. In other words, Jesus is concerned about a way of life. . . . He continually urges his followers to live in a manner pleasing to God. . . . So there is to be instruction and there is to be purity of life.[1]

This commission points to the nature and purpose of expositional preaching:  preaching under the supreme authority of Christ (28:17) who commanded his disciples to reproduce disciples who, through the public nature of believer’s baptism, identify with the Trinity (28:19). He showed them that making disciples involves teaching the nations to “observe all that I have commanded you” (28:20). Jesus commands them to preach every word and teaching they have heard from Christ. The apostles would accomplish this through the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5, 8).

John MacArthur believes that Jesus gives a twofold mission to the church as they proclaim the Gospel.

Jesus did not spend time teaching in order to entertain the crowds or to reveal interesting but inconsequential truths about God or to set forth ideal but optional standards that God requires. His first mission was to provide salvation for those who would come to Him in faith, that is, to make disciples. His second mission was to teach God’s truth to those disciples. That is the same twofold mission he gives the church.[2]

Leon Morris aptly states, “Jesus is not suggesting that his followers should make a selection from his teachings as it pleases them and neglect the rest. Since the teaching of Jesus is a unified whole, disciples are to observe all that this means.”[3] The Great Commission that Christ gave the Apostles also serves as the commission for all Christians, including preachers in the twenty-first century, in that we are called to preach all that Christ commanded, without exception.

Jesus’ commission to the apostles was a commission to make disciples by the expositional teaching and preaching of God’s Word. In addition, he promised to be with them always, “even to the end of the age” (28:20). Preaching Christ expositionally from the Scriptures will stoke the fires of hatred from this world’s system because the world hated Christ and his message (John 15:18-21). Yet, as preachers continue to make disciples amidst this contentious culture, they do not operate alone—Christ will be with them, empowering them for the task “to the end of the age” (28:20).

John Jason Owen neatly summarizes the teaching and preaching ministry of Jesus and what he passed along to his disciples:

The great fundamental principles of the gospel, which were communicated to them personally by Christ, or through the inspiration of the Spirit, have been handed down in the New Testament to us, so that to the end of time, ministers of the gospel, who go to the word of God for instruction, need to be at no loss on how to train up believers in the way of Christ’s commandments.[4]


[1] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 749.

[2]John MacArthur, Matthew 24-28 in MacArthur New Testament Commentary Series, (Chicago: Moody Bible Institute, 1989), 345.

[3]Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, 749.

[4]John Jason Owen, A Commentary, Critical, Expository, and Practical, on the Gospels of Matthew and Mark (New York: Leavitt & Allen Publishers, 1857), 414.

Categories: preaching | 6 Comments

Our Ears Still Itch: Beware of Pandering to Your Congregation

Trevin Wax of LifeWay Resources, blogs at Kingdom People, and wrote an article in Christianity Today titled “Our Ears Still Itch” (March 2008).  He begins with the verse from 2 Timothy 4:3-4:

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Tim. 4:3-4)

Then he goes on to mention areas most of us would agree with being categorized in the “tickling itching ears” category.  Then he goes on.  Read and heed, dear friends.

The prophet Jeremiah tells us the human heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. We think that if we attend a church where the pastor consistently preaches hard messages with hard truths, we will never succumb to the "itching ears" syndrome. But such is not the case. Paul tells Timothy that itching ears accumulate for themselves teachers who will tell them what they want to hear. Itching ears desire teaching that suits their own passions.

Many laypeople hope to listen to a preacher who every week will tell them what’s wrong — with everybody else.

The congregation of teetotalers wants a pastor who, week after week, condemns alcohol from the pulpit.

The anti-war congregation hopes to hear a rousing sermon against those warmongering conservatives.

The congregation of staunch Republicans smiles as their pastor rails against "the gays" and "the liberals."

The Calvinist congregation wants to hear a theologian/pastor who will preach against the errors of those Arminians.

The congregation of door-to-door soul-winners hires a pastor who will mock the namby-pamby "lifestyle" conversations that pass for evangelism in this day.

The charismatic congregation loves when its pastor tears into the dry, ritualistic worship of their liturgical neighbors.

And the liturgical congregation nods approvingly at critiques of their neighbors who manufacture emotionalism.

Can you hear the hearty "Amens" coming from the pews? Yes, Lord! Thank you for showing us what real Christianity is! Lord, help us not be like those Christians who are too blinded by their biases, who have been co-opted by the culture!

Of course, there are times when a pastor should address the issues above. Church members should expect pastors to preach boldly, to condemn sin, to faithfully exposit the biblical text, and to speak to the current issues of the day.

But let us not underestimate the evil intentions of the human heart. We crave a message that puffs us up. We read Jesus’ parable about the Pharisee and the tax collector and rightly condemn the Pharisee for his pompous prayer, "God, I thank you that I am not like other people — robbers, evildoers, adulterers — or even like this tax collector." Then we thank God that we’re not like the Pharisee.

Ironically, the very message that is supposed to cut us low, the message of the Cross, can be delivered in such a way that people walk out of the sanctuary patting themselves on the back. Thank God I’m not like those people!

Somewhere in the darkest places of our hearts, we take joy in preachers who put us on a pedestal, who remind us who all the bad guys are, and who assure us that we’re okay. We sing and read and preach about grace, but too often, our talk about grace is simply another method of preserving our self-righteousness.

The preaching we listen to on Sundays may be truth-filled and Bible-centered, but if it only points out the problems of everyone else in the world, it misses its target. Our ears are tickled, but our hearts are unchanged. Ear-tickling preaching may step on toes, but they’re never the toes of the people in the pews or the pastor in the pulpit.

Next time, your pastor preaches a challenging message that convicts you of sin, say "Amen." If your church is not of the Amen-shouting variety, meet your pastor at the door and offer a word of encouragement. Allow the Sword of God’s Word to perform surgery on our own hearts before wielding the Sword in the faces of everyone else.

What are your thoughts on this?  Do we find ourselves carving out in our minds things we love to hear, and disparage other issues brought up that we don’t think are important?

Categories: preaching | Tags: , | Leave a comment

VBS, Here We Come!

Travel with me back to the year 1894 to a small town in Hopedale, Illinois. A Sunday School teacher and public school teacher by the name of D.T. Miles felt that having one hour of Sunday School each Sunday was not enough time to adequately teach the Bible to children. To remedy this problem, she started a daily Bible school to teach children during the summer. The first one enrolled 40 students and lasted four weeks, being held in a local school which was used for classes and a nearby park used for recess.

In 1898 Eliza Hawes, children’s department director at Epiphany Baptist Church in New York City, started an “Everyday Bible School for slum children in a rented beer parlor in New York’s East Side. Hawes continued her efforts for seven years.

Dr. Robert Boville of the Baptist Mission Society, became aware of the Hawes’ summer program and recommended it to other Baptist churches. Boville established a handful of summer schools which were taught by students at the Union Theological Seminary. During one summer, one thousand students were enrolled in five different schools. In 1922, he founded the World Association of Daily Vacation Bible School.

One year later, Standard Publishing produced the very first printed VBS curriculum. Enough material was provided for a five-week course for three age levels (kindergarten, primary, and junior).

Today, Vacation Bible School (VBS) is practiced by most every church all over the country! For one week during the summer, children of all different ages come together for missions, crafts, recreation, puppets, snacks, and Bible stories to help them engage and learn about our Savior, Jesus Christ! For many children, this may be the only time during the year where this concentrated effort of hearing about Jesus takes place. Each of us have to be aware of where our children are.

At our church (Boone’s Creek Baptist Church) we are starting our Vacation Bible School this week under the theme “Big Apple Adventure: Where Faith and Life Connect.”  Please pray for our children that come in in the morning and our teens that show up in the evening; pray for our workers that God would use them mightily; and pray we would be sensitive to the Holy Spirit as we pray God draws many to Christ. 

What about your VBS?

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Getting Ready for Sunday: How Firm a Foundation

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
You, who unto Jesus for refuge have fled?

In every condition, in sickness, in health;
In poverty’s vale, or abounding in wealth;
At home and abroad, on the land, on the sea,
As thy days may demand, shall thy strength ever be.

Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.

When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

Even down to old age all My people shall prove
My sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;
And when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,
Like lambs they shall still in My bosom be borne.

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.

(John Rippon, 1787)

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Music Friday: Waltz for Debby by the Bill Evans Trio

In the 1990’s, I wanted to play like Bill Evans (1929-1980).  Here he is with Chuck Israels playing an amazing solo on bass. Bill was one of the first to give each part of the trio equal time rather than simply supporting the lead piano. 

For the record, my wife is not a jazz fan.  She doesn’t understand why I enjoy this music so much.  Evans exuded creativity—even genius—with the piano. While you may not hear what I hear in this piece, let me know the types of music that spark your creativity.

Here are the lyrics:

In her own sweet world
Populated by dolls and clowns
And a prince and a big purple bear
Lives my favorite girl.
Unaware of the worried frowns
That we weary grown-ups all wear.

In the sun she dances
To silent music-songs
That are spun of gold
Somewhere in her own little head
Then one day all too soon
She’ll grow up & she’ll leave her doll
And her prince & her silly old bear.
When she goes they will cry
As they whisper good-bye
They will miss her I know
but then so will I.

Then one day all too soon
She’ll grow up & she’ll leave her doll
And her prince & her silly old bear
When she goes they will cry
As they whisper good-bye
They will miss her I know
But then so will I.

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