Monthly Archives: August 2013

If We Handle the Depth, God Will Handle the Breadth

Every so often, I’m asked the question, “Pastor Matt, how big do you want our church to grow?”  It’s a fair question.  I’ve found that some pastor and church members in our American churches …

  • Would love to have a megachurch (1000 or more attendees); or…
  • Would love to stay the size they are so they could still know everyone.
  • Would love to reach their specific, desired, yet unspoken demographic (in other words, if you are a white, upper-middle class, traditional, suburban church, then some would love to reach those that would perpetuate that culture.  All others need not apply, so to speak). 

All of these (and I know there are others) would have various strategies implemented in order to see this happen. 

What about me, you ask? 

I communicated something that I heard a number of years back that really chimed with me, but I do not know where this originated:

If we are faithful with the depth, God will take care of the breadth.

The depth of what?  If we are faithful in teaching the depth of Scripture and discipling our people into applying the depth of Scripture into their lives, then our faithfulness to this will bring about a spiritual growth that God may well turn into numerical growth. 

You see, if God changes us in Christ Jesus, then the fruit of the Spirit will be borne in us.  We will begin taking Jesus, if you will, out of the building and into our homes, our workplaces, our schools, into the streets and the marketplace.  We will see firsthand that God keeps His promise, and his steadfast love does indeed endure forever (Psalm 136). 

We will begin to see the reality of the local church’s core purpose, as stated in Acts 2:42-47:

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Lots happened: awe came on every soul, people tracked with each other belief-wise, they helped each other as the need arose, and praises came from His church.  Where did it start?  They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 

Listening to the Word, investing in His people, partaking of the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper, and prayer. 

If we plumb the depths of this prescription, everything will reverberate (to borrow Jonathan Leeman’s term) from there both inside and outside the church walls–then God will handle the breadth as He sees fit. 

If God does expand the breadth and grow us, what’s next?  Stay tuned!

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God Called Them?? The Scandal of the Christians Messengers

The foolishness and weakness of the message of Christianity is couple with the foolishness and weakness of those God calls—at least by the culture’s standards.  By God using those whom the culture deems foolish, this not only brings glory to Him alone but amazes a world that God will do so much through so little!

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

The messengers’ and the message are scandalous. Again, their message was offensive, foolish, and undignified—they did not talk publicly about crucifixion.

We are the called—the Christians are ones whom Christ has called! What do these Christians look like? The wise? The strong? The elite? Look at what He says:

Not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

While some were wise, powerful, and elite according to what the culture deems so, the vast majority of those God called to salvation are considered castoffs and no-accounts by the world. Just as a crucified Savior didn’t look like much, neither do many in the church look like much in the world. What the culture chases after, we do not, for we see it for what it is—passing away and destructive.

But in an amazing cosmic turn of events God will use the fools of the world to shame the world. And who will get the glory? God will in Christ Jesus. The wisdom that this world lines out, will be made into nothing, and the nothingness the world sees of our message will be made into something! Every part of the Christian message is seen as silly—from God creating out of nothing to God using a crucified Son to impart life! But this is how it is! Only God could keep His law (which Christ as God the Son accomplished for us), and a Man had to be sinless in order to stand in our place to take our sin (and Christ as the Son of Man accomplished this).

  • Do you believe you must be a mental specimen for God to use you?  Do you believe that because you have that degree, you are more than qualified to serve God because of our strength, wisdom, and the letters behind your name?  (“God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise… .”)
  • Or maybe you don’t have the degree—so do you believe God uses you because you’ve been to the School of Life, so to speak?  You may have wisdom, ‘common sense,’ a good know-how about how things work in this life—do you believe God called you because of your street smarts?  (“Not many of you were wise according to worldly standards… .”)
  • Do you believe you have to be a physical specimen for God to use you?  You may say, “I’m feeble, struggling with all sorts of physical issues.  I’m not up to it—God can’t use me.”  (“God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.”)
  • Do you believe God uses you because of your family heritage?  Do you believe that since you have an esteemed family line, even an esteemed family line in Christian and church circles, that of course He will use you.  (“ … not many were of noble birth…”)
  • Do you believe you need to adapt the gospel message of a Virgin-born, crucified, buried, risen, and ascended Christ who will return one day to judge the living and the dead—all because the culture may be offended by such a notion?  (“God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are.”)

Yes, we messengers know what we are up against—but we also know Who is for us.  And He will receive the glory. 

Be encouraged, church!  The world tells us we are silly, foolish, weak, and to stay on the sidelines.  Yet we know that God has called us for such a time as this, regardless of what those around us say.  He will use us for great things for His glory and the good of all who listen to the message of the cross.

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The Scandal of the Christian Message

Recently, a news item is buzzing around the evangelical world and is starting to make it to the secular media—and the buzz surrounds a phrase of a hymn recently written by Keith and Kristyn Getty. The Presbyterian Church USA, a more liberal-leaning denomination, recently decided not to include the hymn “In Christ Alone” by the Gettys based on one phrase: “Till on that cross as Jesus died/The wrath of God was satisfied.” They wished to put in an alternate line of “the love of God was magnified,” but the copyright holders declined this request. The committee failed to reach a 2/3 majority to include the hymn. In a statement they gave on August 9, 2013, they noted: “The absence of one text, however popular, should not be construed as a failure to address this theological theme.”

Yet, another decided to chime in on this—this one from within the Baptist fold. Bob Terry is the editor of The Alabama Baptist newspaper who, in an editorial on August 8, echoed much of the concern that came from the PCUSA:

“Some popular theologies do hold that Jesus’ suffering appeased God’s wrath,” Terry wrote. “That is not how I understand the Bible and that is why I do not sing the phrase ‘the wrath of God was satisfied’ even though I love the song ‘In Christ Alone.'”

After recognizing that the Scriptures do teach on this subject of God’s wrath, Terry continues:

“Yet there remains a question about whether God was an angry God at Golgotha whose wrath had to be appeased by the suffering of the innocent Jesus,” Terry wrote. “Sometimes Christians carelessly make God out to be some kind of ogre whose angry wrath overflowed until the innocent Jesus suffered enough to calm Him down.”

When you think of this line, what comes to your mind? You may be thinking, “What’s the big deal? It’s just a line in a song.” Others of you may be thinking, “I always heard that God was a God of love—what’s with this wrath business? That’s very offensive.” Others of you may be thinking, “Yes, God’s wrath and justice—He needs to teach a lesson to those sinners out there.” And the beat goes on.

The fact is, there is a key doctrine in Christianity that all believers must embrace in order to understand the gospel and God’s saving work on our behalf. The term is substitutionary atonement. It means that Christ atoned/paid for our sins in our place. He died a death that we should have died as a punishment for our sins against God on our behalf, so that we might live a life that we did not deserve, but do by His mercy.

And this, my friends, was, and is, and always will be a scandal both to the world and to those who identify with the church. The fact that God’s wrath needed appeasement at the cost of His only (innocent) Son to pay for the crimes I committed—and that this is something Christians should exult in?

Friends, the message of the Cross, and those who are called to preach it, are scandalous to the world, but that scandal brings salvation!

1. The message of the cross is scandalous (1 Corinthians 1:18-25).

Read with me 1 Corinthians 1:18-25:

18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.19 For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

What is a scandal? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines

3 a : a circumstance or action that offends propriety or established moral conceptions or disgraces those associated with it

b : a person whose conduct offends propriety or morality <ascandal to the profession>

4: malicious or defamatory gossip

5: indignation, chagrin, or bewilderment brought about by a flagrant violation of morality, propriety, or religious opinion

The message of the cross is foolishness to the world. It’s offensive. Some even say that the cross of Christ is immoral! One sign that you know someone is not in right standing with God is that they see the preaching of the cross as folly. First, consider the nature of the cross. In that culture, one did not speak of the cross in polite company. Ravi Zacharias reminds us:

Crucifixion was humiliating. It was so humiliating that the Romans who specialized in the art of torture assured their own citizenry that a Roman could never be crucified. But not only was it humiliating, it was excruciating. In fact, the very word “excruciating” comes from two Latin words: ex cruciatus, or out of the cross. Crucifixion was the defining word for pain.

In 2013, the cross holds a meaning of salvation, eternal life, and is used liberally in church décor, as well as in polished silver and gold jewelry around the neck. To the mind of those who lived during Jesus’ time, this would be a shock of the first degree. The indignity, humiliation, and agony that a crucifixion brought was not something to celebrate, nor elevate—much less to show that this is the power of God to those who are being saved.

You see, in that day, the method of speaking meant more than the substance of the message. Ordinary men using ordinary language to elevate an awful issue. Our day is similar in mindset to Roman times. The method trumps the message. If you can say something well, for many it doesn’t matter what you say, it’s in how you say it. Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton are deemed excellent speakers for their ability to engage their listeners. Others have had more trouble, and many have lampooned those troubles!

The Apostle Paul knew that many enjoyed the oratory of the speakers of the day. But he lets them know where the power comes from.

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony[b] of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men[c] but in the power of God (1 Cor. 2:1-5).

How did Paul come across? No lofty speech or wisdom. In weakness and in fear and much trembling—with words not in plausible words of wisdom. But why? Our faith is not in men’s wisdom, but in God’s power. And this is how God operates: in verse 21, it says that “it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.”

To take this a step further, go to verse 22. We have three groups of people Paul addresses: Jews, Gentiles, and the called.

The Jews demand signs, which we see from Jesus’ ministry. They perpetually wanted Jesus to provide signs that His qualifications as the Christ passed their test. The sign of Jesus dying on the slaughterhouse of a criminal cross and being raised from the dead was not a sign for them of their Savior and Lord.

The Gentiles thought that this was foolish, nonsense, and silly. Not much has changed. An article written back in 2013 from Patheos, an atheist website, starts off an article by saying, “I’m afraid that the crucifixion story doesn’t strike me as that big a deal.” He goes on to ask why we should single out this one? And why this death? And why are we held accountable for a sin that the first man did? Plus, some other Roman and Greek gods did way grander things than this!

See? While some see this as offensive and immoral, some see this as silly. But “to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.” So, who are the ‘us’ to whom Paul refers?

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Encouraging Words for Preachers and Listeners

Tomorrow is the Lord’s Day, where believers gather together to worship.  Both preachers and listeners have a responsibility to prepare and engage in the sermon preached.  Here are some links to help in this endeavor. 

For Preachers

Preaching on Sunday?  Read This (Darryl Dash / HT: Challies)

Mediocrity is Not OK (Colin Adams)

How Alistair Begg Prepares to Preach (HT: Colin Adams)

Preparing the Preacher (Robert C. Pitman)

For Listeners

Take Heed How You Hear (John Piper)

How to Listen to a Sermon (Philip Ryken)

Sermon Listening (Mark Lamprecht)

How To Listen to a Sermon—Both Faithful and Heretical (Michael McKinley)

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Friday Funny: The Dangers of Frexting

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The Mile High Preaching Conference is Just Over Two Months Away—You In?

Preaching and teaching the Word is an exciting venture to which our Savior has called us.  So many are hungry for the Word (some without knowing it), and we must put some tools in our toolbox to be engaging with our preaching, all the while helping others to engage the Word—without losing the substance and the Spirit’s intention in inspiring His Word. 

On October 25-26, we will be holding the 1st Annual Mile High Preaching Conference here in South Denver (more specifically, Arapahoe Road Baptist Church in Centennial, CO).  The theme of this conference is: “Preaching That Engages, Preaching that Endures.” 

Our first annual Mile High Preaching Conference in beautiful Denver, Colorado–held on October 25-26, 2013 at Arapahoe Road Baptist Church in Centennial, CO–promises to be a great time for pastors and ministers who wish to be fed and to learn how to best feed their sheep with the pure nourishment from the Word of God in an engaging and enduring way.

Our speaker will be Dr. Hershael York, Preaching Professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY as well as Senior Pastor of Buck Run Baptist Church, Frankfort, KY. He is a gifted preacher and communicator, and has authored an incredibly helpful book, “Preaching with Bold Assurance: A Solid and Enduring Approach to Engaging Exposition.”

We will have three sessions:  one of Friday night at 7:00, and two on Saturday morning at 9:00 and 10:15.  The cost is $10.

I hope to see you there!

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Is Worship About What We Feel, Or What We Know?

Grateful for Alistair Begg’s insight!

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Let It Walk or Let it Fly? In Which Kingdom Are You Investing? (Part II)

“And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box” (Mark 12:41a). 

We must not gloss over this sentence. He took time to sit and to watch people. My father was like that—to give Mom time to go shop, he would sit on a bench and just watch the people. I enjoy doing that when I’m at an airport. But Jesus did not sit just to people watch, he was on a heart watch, checking people’s MO.

The treasury consisted of thirteen brass treasure chests called trumpets, due to their shape—narrow at the top, large at the bottom. According to the Mishnah, each of these chests had a description of what these offerings were for: “Old Shekel dues,” “bird offerings,” “Young birds for the whole offering,’ ‘Wood,’ ‘Frankincense,’ ‘Gold for the Mercy Seat,’ and on six of them, ‘Freewill Offerings.” So during the Passover time, when Jerusalem and the Temple were bustling with people, this area grew noisy with the din of shekels clanging into the brass chests. The longer and the bigger the noise, the more attention it likely drew.

He would watch them, not only the amount they gave, but their body language and betrayed the motive in which they gave it. This especially interested Jesus, but on a more fundamental level: many seemed to believe they were giving their money to God, therefore God should be pleased with the fact!

Yet, Jesus had set up number of truths and principles from other encounters he had, just prior to this incident at the treasury.

In Mark 12:13-17, a lawyer came to trap him, bring to him an image of a coin. The question—“Should we pay taxes to Caesar or not?” Either way he went, he would lose credibility.  He asks who’s image is on the coin. “Caesar’s.” “Render unto Caesar… render unto God.” It hinges on the image. Kent Hughes notes that we are made in God’s mint, with His image imprinted on us. We belong to Him and all that we do and all we have is under his rule.

Later, a teacher came to Jesus and asked him what is the greatest commandment?  “Love God with all you have, love neighbor as self.”  In other words, we love God with all we are, and all we have. The scribe was impressed, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

We belong to Him, and all we have. When we understand from Psalm 24:1 that “The Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,” we agree with Abraham Kuyper who, at his inaugural address at the dedication of Free University, said: “”There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!'”

But the kicker was in Mark 12:38-40:

38 And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces 39 and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 40 who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

Widows, who had very little cultural standing nor legal recourse, had very few options in which to make money. That, coupled with the fact that the scribes could only receive subsidies from the offerings given, would find themselves taking advantage of widows and their piety and generosity, rather than working to alleviate their poverty and want.

So Jesus watches what people do their money, but what His church does with it! How many times have I heard in 20 years of ministry and a lifelong involvement in church life where many stand up and say, “We need to be good stewards of God’s money.” If I were to put subtitles to translate that, the issue would be, “We can’t spend money because we don’t know what the return will be.” It’s like that preacher who said, “Jesus has called the church to walk!” An old deacon would respond, “Let it walk!” The preacher went on, “The church needs to run!” “Let it run!” “The church needs to fly,” the preacher spoke. “Let it fly.” “It’s gonna take money and time for the church to fly.” “Let it walk, preacher. Let it walk!”

Christ is watching what we do with His money, both as parishioners and as leaders of our churches.  Do we treat it as His money?

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What is the Antidote to Anemic Worship? The Answer May Surprise You

Albert Mohler of Southern Seminary gives the answer, and it’s a good one: expository preaching.

If most evangelicals would quickly agree that worship is central to the life of the church, there would be no consensus to an unavoidable question: What is central to Christian worship? Historically, the more liturgical churches have argued that the sacraments form the heart of Christian worship. These churches argue that the elements of the Lord’s Supper and the water of baptism most powerfully present the gospel. Among evangelicals, some call for evangelism as the heart of worship, planning every facet of the service—songs, prayers, the sermon—with the evangelistic invitation in mind.

Though most evangelicals mention the preaching of the word as a necessary or customary part of worship, the prevailing model of worship in evangelical churches is increasingly defined by music, along with innovations such as drama and video presentations. When preaching the word retreats, a host of entertaining innovations will take its place.

Music touches the emotions like few things can.  Songs are packed with chord constructions and changes that can move the heart; they contain numerous memories attached; and they have been used as ammunition in the dreaded ‘worship wars’ that take place among God’s people.

Oftentimes, we come to worship with an idea of what we want, but God in His word tells us what we need—a steady diet of His whole counsel (Acts 20:24-28). 

Pray that your pastors have time to study so that you and the church may be well-fed. 

Pray they would have clear thoughts and clear speech in which to convey His Word.

 

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In Which Kingdom Do You Invest? (Part I)

Jesus spent a great deal of time dealing with the issue of money. This may surprise many of you, but this is the case. We would do well to be reminded that Jesus spoke on money as well as the topic of hell more than any other subject. Are these subjects related at all? Why did Jesus spend so much time on this area of money?

While we will come to Mark in a moment, he spoke in what’s known as the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust[a] destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Later, he drives home the point:

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Matthew 6:19-21, 24).

God gives us what he gives us in regards to His resources, not for us to serve them, but for them to serve the Kingdom of God and to supply our needs according to His riches and glory in Christ. He calls us to invest.

The question that needs addressing is this: In which kingdom are you investing? A number of years ago, someone wrote:

Money will buy:

A bed, but not sleep.

Books, but not brains.

Food, but not an appetite.

A house, but not a home.

Medicine, but not health.

Amusement, but not happiness.

Finery, but not beauty.

A crucifix, but not a Savior.

Someone else noted that nowadays people can be divided into three classes: the haves, the Have-Nots, and the Have-Not-Paid-for-What-They-Haves. Some of you here are enslaved to crippling debt. The average American household’s credit card debt averages between $15,000 and 16,000. You think that isn’t a huge weight? No wonder Jesus says you can’t serve both God and stuff. Where is our treasure?

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