Monthly Archives: September 2014

A Pastor’s Job: Burning Hearts for God

Pulpit View of Sanctuary This past Sunday, I preached about who the true leaders are in the economy of God’s structure for the church.  Paul tells Titus that the reason he left him in Crete to set the church in order.  How?  By establishing elders.  The term presbuteros indicates a presiding over an assembly—the leader of God’s people, the church (Titus 1:5).  In 1:7, Paul also indicates that elders are overseers of God’s people as well, thus serving as their primary stewardship.  Elders (a.k.a., pastors) are to “hold to the trustworthy Word as promised” (1:9) both personally and pastorally. 

Recently, I’ve been perusing The Pastor as Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor by John Piper and D.A. Carson.  In this book, the authors continue to reinforce the notion what Paul indicates in Titus 1:5-9, that the primary stewardship of a pastor is the preaching and teaching of God’s Word.  Below is a particular excerpt from Piper that particularly caught my attention.  I shall read and heed:

The Bible tells us in Ephesians 4:11 that Jesus has given to his church pastors and teachers.  And it tells us that these pastors and teachers should be “able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2).  They should be good teachers.  So all of us pastors should be thinking, God is giving me as a gift to my church.  And he is telling me, The way you will be a gift to your church is if you are an effective teacher.

I think that implies that the ordinary member in the pew needs help understanding their Bible.  If the sheep were able to understand their Bibles, God would not have given shepherds who had to be apt to teach.  The shepherds would just read the Bible on Sunday morning, and the people would see and feel all they need to.  No teaching or preaching required. But that’s not how Jesus set it up.

So the pastor’s job is to look at the Bible and work hard to understand what’s in it, and then work hard to make it understandable and applicable and compelling to our people.  The story in Luke 24:32 should ignite in every pastor a passion for Bible exposition that captures the mind of his people and makes their hearts burn.  The men on the Emmaus Road said, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”  A few months ago when I read that, I wrote in my journal, “O God, make me that kind of teacher.  I want the hearts of my people to burn as I open to them the Scriptures.”

That’s what thinking and understanding and teaching (scholarship) are for:  burning hearts for God.

(John Piper, The Pastor as Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor by Piper and D.A. Carson, pp. 60-61.)

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A Much-Needed Trait for Pastors and Christians Alike

Churches go through challenges.  While that’s not a newsflash to most, the actuality of journeying through them is not a picnic (both pastor and parishioner alike).  Currently, our church is going through a season of cash flow issues, but we also feel led to move forward with a remodel of our preschool area.

People possess different personalities: some possess great faith and optimism, while others come across as rather pessimistic.  The former can be classified by the latter as Debbie Downers, while the latter may look at the former as those with their head in the clouds, not dealing with reality.

Christians in general and pastors especially need to possess a much-needed trait as both move forward in whatever venture:

A realistic optimism.

This means that Christians need recognize the reality around them, but not be ruled by the eye but by the ear.

The eye looks and says,

  • “I don’t see how this will happen.”
  • “The budget isn’t allowing it.”
  • “If you ask for this special offering, it will take away from the general offering.”
  • “It can’t be done.”

God gives us the eye to diagnose the issues surrounding us, so the eye has some value!  A decided, steady realism must mark the Christian in evaluating our respective situations, then taking the proper steps to help remedy that situation.

But if the eye predominates our evaluating processes, and the eye alone, what results is fear, doubt, and panic when challenges arise; and pride, arrogance, and placidity when few challenges exist.  Each of these, God calls sin.  They do not belong in Spirit-led people.  In seasons of challenge as well as calm, we do not and must not identify ourselves strictly by what we see, but by what we’ve heard and know.

We are people of the ear, listening to God’s Word about God’s nature, God’s will, and what needs to happen among God’s people.  If He accomplished the forgiveness of our sins via Christ on the bloody cross and raising Him from the dead, He can handle whatever other issues in which He’s leading.

Does this not mean that deal with reality?  Yes–by faith, not by fear.  The only fear that should mark a Christian is a fear (a reverence, an awe) before the living God in Christ.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

 

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SBC Executive Committee Disfellowships “Third Way” Church—Why?

The Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee has voted to disfellowship New Heart Community Church in La Mirada, CA, due to their position to “affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior,” which violates Article III of the SBC Constitution.  Danny Cortez, the pastor of New Heart, advocates a “third way” in which their leaders can hold varying perspectives regarding same-sex marriage, the Baptist Press reports

BP also reports that Cortez attended the Executive Committee meeting, addressing both the by-laws and administrative committee—both of whom prayed for Cortez and his church.  The vote to disfellowship was unanimous.  Cortez endorsed homosexuality back in February, causing a ripple effect and thus this addressing of the issue at the Executive Committee. 

In reality, the SBC EC had little choice.  Southern Baptists have long stood on the biblical truth of one man-one woman union in marriage, and will not change that direction anytime soon—for which I am grateful.  This will not be the last church to come to such conclusions—and it’s not the first.  But through this, we see patterns that have plagued churches faithfulness to Scripture throughout history—and New Heart’s position is no exception.

People first, Scripture second.  Cortez shared that “I recently became gay affirming after a 15-year journey of having multiple people in my congregation come out to me every year.”  The danger for all pastors is to look at people’s situations, then judge whether the Scriptures ties in to the ‘reality’ of their situation.

An appeal to biblical ‘context.’  In Cortez’s February 2014 sermon, he argued “Romans 1 does not condemn all homosexual acts but only those committed in a spirit of violence or unbridled lust. He said modern homosexual relationships are different from the ancient forms of homosexuality Paul was referencing” (BP).  Let’s look at the passage to which he refers:

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another,men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

One does not need to know Greek to recognize that Paul (and ultimately the Holy Spirit) does not give any distinction—especially the distinction of ‘a spirit of violence or unbridled lust.’  The act of homosexuality itself is a shameless act.  It’s a difficult task to appeal to context, especially when every portion of Scripture looks at homosexuality as harmful to self and soul (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21, etc.). 

The core principle is a failure to honor, thank, worship, or acknowledge God” (Romans 1:18-32).  Appealing to context is a way to lessen God’s clear Word for personal and ‘loving’ purposes, thus taking away the necessary accountability needed. 

The pattern continues in that those who disagree with Cortez’s stance reflect a lack of love for homosexuals.  Do we want an ancient document like the Bible to squelch the love we should have for those, even loving them to the point of affirming their lifestyle choice?  

Then there’s a stark denial of orthodox truth.  I echo Frank Page, EC President:  we love all with the truth, and pray for those who say they love Christ but turn from His Word to repent.   God calls pastors to serve as stewards of the truth of God’s Word—not to find a third way between holiness and sin.

Mike Routt, fellow Colorado pastor who serves as chairman of the SBC EC as well as pastor of Circle Drive Baptist Church in Colorado Springs, rightly said, “”Mr. Cortez, the issue is not just about homosexuality.  It is about the collision of our orthodox faith and your radical theology. We advocate Jude 3: Contend for the faith that was once entrusted to the saints. You advocate reinterpreting the faith that was once entrusted to the saints.”

So from an associational level to a state convention level to now the Executive Committee, the SBC continues to take a necessary stand.  The enemy’s arrows may come, but here they stand.  I know a number of men serving on that committee, and they’ve stayed consistent and true to their love of Scripture and the Savior it proclaims. 

Again, I’m grateful!

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The Most Popular Book of All Time Infographic

The Bible
Source: ChristianUniversitiesOnline.org

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How Marvelous are the Works of the Holy Spirit

The titles given to the Holy Spirit must surely stir the soul of anyone who hears them, and make him realise that they speak of nothing less than the supreme Being. Is he not called the Spirit of God, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, the steadfast Spirit, the guiding Spirit? But his principal and most personal title is the Holy Spirit.

To the Spirit all creatures turn in their need for sanctification; all living things seek him according to their ability. His breath empowers each to achieve its own natural end.

The Spirit is the source of holiness, a spiritual light, and he offers his own light to every mind to help it in its search for truth. By nature the Spirit is beyond the reach of our mind, but we can know him by his goodness. The power of the Spirit fills the whole universe, but he gives himself only to those who are worthy, acting in each according to the measure of his faith.
Simple in himself, the Spirit is manifold in his mighty works. The whole of his being is present to each individual; the whole of his being is present everywhere. Though shared in by many, he remains unchanged; his self giving is no loss to himself.

Like the sunshine, which permeates all the atmosphere, spreading over land and sea, and yet is enjoyed by each person as though it were for him alone, so the Spirit pours forth his grace in full measure, sufficient for all, and yet is present as though exclusively to everyone who can receive him. To all creatures that share in him he gives a delight limited only by their own nature, not by his ability to give.

The Spirit raises our hearts to heaven, guides the steps of the weak, and brings to perfection those who are making progress. He enlightens those who have been cleansed from every stain of sin and makes them spiritual by communion with himself.  As clear, transparent substances become very bright when sunlight falls on them and shine with a new radiance, so also souls in whom the Spirit shines become spiritual themselves and a source of grace for others.

From the Spirit comes foreknowledge of the future, understanding of the mysteries of faith, insight into the hidden meaning of Scripture, and other special gifts. Through the Spirit we become citizens of heaven, we enter into eternal happiness, and abide in God. Through the Spirit we acquire a likeness to God; indeed, we attain what is beyond our most sublime aspirations.

— From Basil the Great’s On the Holy Spirit—c. AD 375

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Need a Daily Dose of Greek?

If you’re like most pastors, you may have lost the shine on your knowledge of Biblical Greek.

But my former seminary colleague and now Southern Seminary Professor, Dr. Robert Plummer, has a new website called A Daily Dose of Greek,” where he provides videos for beginners as well as daily two-minute videos for pastors and seminary graduates to help shake the rust off.

Check it out here.

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Why Did Saul’s Name Change to Paul in the Scriptures?

If you read through the book of Acts, you’re introduced to a man by the name of Saul of Tarsus in Acts 7:58, where he appears during the execution of Stephen.  In Saul’s zeal, he sought to exterminate all believers of “The Way”—that is, Christians.  “Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison (Acts 8:3).

Christ transformed Saul in Acts 9, then after a number of episodes with the Apostle Peter (Acts 10-12), Saul reemerges with his friend, Barnabus, in Acts 12:25:

And Barnabus and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had completed their service, bringing with them John, whose other name was Mark.

Soon, the church at Antioch commissioned them by the Holy Spirit, were sent off to minister to the Gentiles, to which Christ called him as well (Acts 9:15-16).

It’s in the next scene that we see an interesting verse:  “But Saul, who was also called Paul . . .” (Acts 13:9). 

I’ve heard over the years that Saul was his pre-Christian name, but Paul served as his ‘Christian’ name.  Yet, Luke (the author of Acts) used Saul’s name after his conversion—so much for that theory. 

The truth is, since Saul was a Roman citizen, he possessed a Roman name as well—Paul.  So, Paul used this name for his ministry to the Gentiles, who would receive him

So, for what it’s worth, that’s the short answer. Paul is not his ‘Christian’ name, but his Roman name. He was still ‘Saul’ when he returned to synagogue in his hometown.

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When My Heart, Satan, and Christ Ask Me the Same Question: My “Conference” Before the Conference

In leading up to this conference in Trinidad and Tobago, I am having a conference of my own in my own heart and mind.  As I type this, I’m  sitting in a rather spacious area in Panda Express (I know, I know–but every time I fly, I get a craving for orange chicken and fried rice).  But it’s not just here with my belly animatedly settling my lunch. 

It happened on the plane here to Houston. 

It happened sitting at Denver International Airport. 

It happened yesterday in making my final preparations. 

In fact, it began happening as soon as I accepted the invitation to come speak.

In fact, it all comes down to one basic question–a question that, in a sense, both God and the devil and my own heart ask from significantly different angles:

“Who are you to be doing this conference?”

In my own heart, I ask, “Who are you?”  I question my own preparedness, my own qualifications, my own abilities, and how the folks will receive this rather controversial talk on the ever-popular prosperity ‘gospel.’  See?  Even me putting quotes around ‘gospel’ is provocative–how will this go over?  Oh, the issues that rattle around in the heart of man.

The devil asks, “Who are you?”  You are a sinner. So many failings.  So many things you could have done better for the Kingdom.  See?  Another missed opportunity to share the gospel.  See?  Doing 55 in a 45 mph zone.  See?  Another pastoral duty you should have attended to.  No wonder the devil is called the accuser of the saints (Revelation 12:9-10).  If I listen to him, I’d never stand behind a pulpit again–and maybe that’s His aim.  Fear, discouragement, never being good enough to call myself “Christian.”

Then Christ comes along and asks, “Who are you?”  You are my child.  I bought you and redeemed you with My own blood.  I fulfilled the law on your behalf because your righteousness was as filthy rags (Matthew 5:17; Isaiah 64:6).  I am just, but also the justifier (Romans 3:24) that took your sin not because of you, but in spite of you and because of my everlasting love for you.  You were sinking, but I set you upon the solid rock (Psalm 40:2; Matthew 7:24-27).  You are mine, and I am yours. 

It’s now fighting back tears in this Panda Express, I realize I am who I  am because Christ is who He is. 

May God give the people in Trinidad half as good a conference by His Spirit as He’s given me. 

Thank you, Lord Jesus.

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How Interstate 70 in Colorado Reminds Me of My Father’s Care

As I type this, I am home about three hours after an overnight to a place in the Rockies—Glenwood Springs.  That’s hot springs, by the way.  This trip was scheduled months ago for my mother-in-law’s trip to Colorado, and also for her birthday (and a significant one at that).  Yet, due to some family matters, my mother-in-law could not come, but also my wife had to fly back to Kentucky to be with her family.  It was a no-brainer.

So, what about the trip?  I put in a call to cancel it, but my wife, mother-in-law, and four kiddos talked me out of it.

So, once church was over and our people left to their respective Labor Day weekends, we piled in the Honda, dropped off the dog at a church member’s, dropped Hannah’s bird off at another member’s and off we went.

In God’s gracious providence, I’m so glad we did.  The last few weeks have been quite frantic from a number of angles—more so than usual.  And those weeks made life at the house simply about getting things done.  “Homework done?”  “Shower done?”  “Did you brush your teeth?  All of them?”  “Done picking up your Legos?” (Hey, when there’s lots to accomplish, grammar flies out the window, right?)   Thank our Heavenly Father for a backyard and a soccer ball, else we’d be up a tree—all work and no play.

But we swam, played mini golf, at some fun cuisine, watched The Hobbit, walked around a neat little city.  What a treat!  Vacations are about being with people you’re with every day, but getting to know them all over again.  God has blessed me with four incredible children.

And the best part was yet to come.

Interstate 70 in the Rockies is a windy, up-and-down venture that would be awful if it weren’t for the majestic scenery.  Every turn brought about another wrinkle in the creative work of a God who knows beauty.

And then I began to realize something—certain turns in life over the past few weeks would certainly be ranging from pretty good to down right rough if it weren’t for the majestic providence of my caring Father.

In Romans 8:26-30, Paul writes:

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because[a] the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,[b] for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

We are weak.  We suffer due to the curse of sin in the world!  We all long for the redemption of our bodies, for what went wrong in the Garden by the first Adam to be remedied in that great City by the Second Adam (Romans 5:12-21; Revelation 21-22).  But in the meantime, God’s Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We don’t always pray rightly, but the Spirit intercedes to give us what is right according to the will of God.  Then that precious Romans 8:28 comes in—for Christians, God is working all things for our good.  Why?

Christians are called by the Spirit to salvation (John 3:3-7; John 6:60-66).  His work even before we came on the scene was to make His elect in the image of His Son!  Foreknown, predestined, called, justified, glorified—worked out before the foundation of the world with the end being as if it were already secured.  We may not understand this, accept this, like this, or believe this is the method, but there it is.  God is working all things for our good so that we will be conformed to the image of His Son.

Every turn on I-70 showed me more of God’s beauty.

Every turn in my Christian walk shows me more of God’s beauty.

He’s working all things for my good and His glory—not because I’m any good, but because He chose me by His grace and in spite of my sin!

Indeed!

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