Scriptures

How to Sort Through Why Christians Follow Such an Old Book? (Part I)

The Bible is the very centerpiece of our times of worship together. As a result, the Bible is the very thing that Satan and his followers work to undermine. This scheme is something that Satan works with great skill both inside and outside the church.

The sermon title expresses an oft-asked question: “Why do Christians adhere to such an old book?” One book asked the question, “Why should we believe an ancient book written by dead Jewish males?” Many other pieces of literature were written many moons ago—in fact, some of them we revere in our culture even now. Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey. The Magna Carta. The Declaration of Independence spawned a new republic called the United States of America. Some see the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx as a classic piece of literature that spawned a new worldview of Communism and Socialism. Mein Kampf was Adolf Hitler’s autobiography that laid out his worldview, to the detriment of millions both past and present.

The nature of the Bible is a discussion that is either explicitly or implicitly what the culture and even the church debates. As we think about the Bible upfront, we need to realize that the Bible is just like any other book, but it’s unlike any other book—all at the same time.

How is it like any other book? It uses letters, words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters—and even books within the Book. You see, the Bible is not just a book, but it is a library. It’s like other books in that it contains different literary genres: history and poetry, a unique type of genre called a gospel that gives a bit of Jesus’ life and ministry, epistles (a structure/form of letter during that age), and apocalyptic literature which unveils that which is behind a curtain giving us a peering into heaven. It takes place in history, using times, places, people, events, and the like.

The Bible is unique in that it was written by 40 men over a period of 1500 years and possesses a unity and authority that make it clear that this is a spiritual book. It’s a book not just of information, but God’s revelation for our salvation and transformation through His Son Jesus Christ. Our Baptist Faith & Message 2000 starts off with no question as to where to start with the faith—what God has revealed in the Word of God.

The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.

We see this priority of the Word of God in John 8:31-47 and all that the Word does. While the skeptic questions the Word, our faith is grounded in it.

As you read through John 8:31-47, you see Jesus making a definitive statement regarding those who are Jesus’ disciples.

1.  They believe that God’s Word is the last Word (authority).

Jesus speaks in John 8:32, “If you abide in my word, you are my disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” So we to phrases that Jesus uses that apply to the question that many ask regarding the Scriptures. And here, he employs a type of comparative parallelism:

  • If you abide in my word, you are my disciples indeed.
  • And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.

So Jesus says that his word and ‘the truth’ are synonymous. His Word is the last word. And it is at this very point that the majority of the issues against the Bible arise—the issue of authority. What makes this Book the ‘last word’ on the matter? Is the ultimate message of the Bible about slavery or about freedom?

It’s ultimate message is about freedom—but if the Word of God is not ‘the truth,’ then there would be no freedom to be apprehended from there either! 

In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, the Spirit gave to the Apostle Paul these words:

16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God[a]may be complete, equipped for every good work.

All Scripture is breathed out by God. From Genesis to Revelation, we have the Word of God in our hands. If all Scripture comes from God, and we know that God is holy, perfect, righteous, and just, then the Word would follow suit. 

(Tomorrow:  The Bible is the living Word.)

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“Be Well Instructed in Theology”—a Timely Word from Spurgeon

“Be well instructed in theology, and do not regard the sneers of those who rail at it because they are ignorant of it.  Many preachers are not theologians, and hence the mistakes which they make.  It cannot do any hurt to the most lively evangelist to be also a sound theologian, and it may often be the means of saving him from gross blunders.  Nowadays, we hear men tear a single sentence of Scripture from its connection, and cry, ‘Eureka! Eureka!’ as if they had found a new truth; and yet they have not discovered a diamond, but only a piece of broken glass.  Had they been able to compare spiritual things with spiritual, had they understood the analogy of the faith, and had they been acquainted with the holy learning of the great Bible students of past ages, they would not have been quite so fast in vaunting their marvelous knowledge.

“Let us be thoroughly well acquainted with the great doctrines of the Word of God, and let us be mighty in expounding the Scriptures.  I am sure that no preaching will last so long, or build up the church so well, as the expository.  To renounce altogether the hortatory [giving exhortation] discourse for the expository, would be running to a preposterous extreme; but I cannot too earnestly assure you that, if your ministries are to be lastingly useful, you must be expositors.  For this purpose, you must understand the Word yourselves, and be able so to comment upon it that the people may be built up by the Word.  Be masters of your Bibles, brethren; whatever others works you have not searched, be at home with the writings of the prophets and apostles.  ‘Let the word of God dwell in you richly.’”

— Charles H. Spurgeon, An All Round Ministry (c. 1870s)

Categories: Bible, Expositional Preaching, Rhetoric, Scriptures, Theology | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Book Review: “CrossTalk: Where Life and Scripture Meet” by Michael R. Emlet

Crosstalk One of the more pleasant surprises I’ve had is reading through Michael R. Emlet’s Crosstalk: Where Life & Scripture Meet (New Growth Press, 2009, 212 pp., $15.99).  To be honest, the only reason I purchased this book was because WTS was offering it for $5.00.  This book was an outgrowth of his teaching on biblical interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary.  Far from being a book advocating a cookie-cutter type of hermeneutic text, Emlet goes into some depth about how to apply not just the obvious command texts, but also the not-so-obvious texts as well.

Emlet aims to help the Christian understand the “sweeping story of Scripture” (7) as well as helping the Christian administer the “one anothers” in helping listen to others in their individual stories with an appropriate framework of biblical understanding.  Primarily, he aims to help the reader understand “the beauty of the gospel,” regardless of whether the Scripture is read from the OT or NT.

For in stance, in Chapter 1, Emlet sets the table by having the reader go through some exercises.  He gives particular passages (ranging from ‘easy’ to ‘difficult’) of Scripture, asking the reader to work to apply them.  He then gives particular situations (ranging from black and white issues to more difficult issues with varying nuances), asking the reader to bring in Scriptures to answer those questions.  His point is that we often look to the Scriptures to bring surfacy, cookie-cutter type of answers, when this may not necessarily be the best way to address something.  Needless to say, this piqued my interest.

Emlet outlines what the Bible is not (Chapter 2) by bringing out the common fallacies committed by most people in their approach to the Bible.

  • The Bible is not a book of dos and don’ts.  He notes, “Much of Scripture seems to be descriptive rather than prescriptive. Much of Scripture doesn’t tell us to do anything at all, particularly the historically oriented books. . . . This is one reason why we gravitate to passages that contain commands.  It seems easier to determine what we are to do after studying a verse or passage” (25).
  • The Bible is a not a timeless book filled with principles for life.
  • The Bible is not primarily a system of doctrines.  Emlet warns that if we view the Bible in simple systematic categories, then “the Bible’s wonderfully varied terrain becomes ‘flattened’” (37).

The Bible, rather, is a story of God’s redemptive timeline in how he reconciled a sinful world unto himself, with the pivot point of the Scriptures being Jesus Christ himself.  When this framework is in place, the Christian (and especially the minister) has a more appropriate tool for helping the sinner connect with the Scriptures and the Scriptures to connect with their lives.

He models the necessity for approaching three different groups of people: the saint (“those set apart for him”), the sufferer (since Christians are called to suffer in this world, dealing with the evils from outside themselves), and the sinner (as Christians are faced with the flesh and the evil that comes from within).  The paradigm he uses is grounded around four questions:

  • Where are we?
  • Who are we?
  • What went wrong?
  • What is the remedy?

These questions are so helpful, for they apply not only to the unbeliever as you share the gospel with them, but also for the believer as they seek to connect the Scriptures to their daily lives.

I found this book to be imminently practical.  How so?

First, Emlet implements a decidedly Christ-centered hermeneutic. He notes, “By the mercy of God, this story, this Word, became ours when we were united by faith to our crucified and risen Savior.  It’s his story and it’s our story by virtue of being his” (52)!

Secondly, Emlet seeks to bring everyone he counsels into the redemption narrative of God’s story.

Thirdly, Emlet gives concrete, practical examples of how to use both the easy and the more difficult and obscure passages to minister to people.

I know my reviews may not be as in-depth as some, but I hope that this has whet your appetite enough to invest or at least explore a bit more.

Take a look at this interview with Michael Emlet at CCEF.

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Preaching a Funeral Tomorrow

One of the great privileges I have is coming alongside family members in helping apply the gospel in comfort as they deal with the loss of a loved one.  At my preaching blog, I blogged on the preaching of funeral sermons.  I pray they may be of help to you.  They are things I wish someone had passed along to me as a young minister.

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Another Case For Expositional Preaching

This morning, I had the privilege of preaching from Matthew 6:25-34 on the subject of anxiety.  I mentioned that faith cures anxiety, but anxiety kills faith.  This sermon landed on a Sunday when our church will have a Q&A time concerning the possibility of a new building.  As you can imagine, a lot of anxiety comes with that.  Do we have the money?  Is it really necessary?  With the economy the way it is, is it wise?  The questions and concerns can pile up.

This passage, though next in line in the series on the Sermon on the Mount, landed perfectly because of our God’s sovereign providence.  If we seek primarily the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, then God will take care of the necessities of our life.

Last week, I preached on Matthew 6:19-24 on a sermon I titled “A Better Economic Plan.”  You see, all that week, we saw the Dow drop, and drop, and drop.  God tells us the futility of laying up our treasures on earth because we allow those treasures to govern who we are and what we do.  I did not change my sermon for the occasion–God knew from eternity that our people would need to hear that message that Christ preached on the Sermon on the Mount.

We may believe we know what our people need to hear, but don’t give up on expositional preaching through the text of Scripture.   The Holy Spirit laid out the Scriptures in a certain way for a certain reason, so it would behoove us as preachers to preach them from that inspired layout.

I hope to post more in the future (been a bit sparse over the last two months).  Thanks to those of you who have inquired about this.  It’s encouraging.

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The Razor’s Edge Balance of a Pastor, Part I

Summary: Have the emergent church folks got it right in saying that pastors shouldn’t not exert any type of ecclesiastical authority in the church, or have the more formal churches got it right when they try to separate themselves from their flock? This is the razor’s edge balance that pastors must find.

—————-

First of all, let me say how glad I am to be back. Cindy and I went to Florida to celebrate our 10th anniversary. My sister let us use one of her timeshares at the Ron Jon Cape Caribe Resort in Port Canaveral. Then we went to St. Augustine about two hours north, then we went south to see some old friends in Clewiston. I had the privilege and the honor of preaching at the First Baptist Church of Clewiston where I served as Minister of Music and Youth from 1998-2001.

While down there, I really had an opportunity to revisit the place where God called me into the preaching ministry. I obtained my B.S. in Church Music from Palm Beach Atlantic University in 1994, then went to the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary to obtain my Master of Church Music, which I received in 1997. I went to FBC-Clewiston right after in March of 1998. I planned on having a long and wonderful ministry among those wonderful people.

God had other plans. A call to preach. Back to seminary. Serving in small churches. Children on the way. Times of joy and times of strain. While in Clewiston, we were financially set and were saving money like crazy. Since, with children and school, finances have been ultra-tight. Yet, being in God’s will has been a tremendous blessing and joy.

As I was pondering this, along with a sermon series I’ll be doing on Church Membership, along with my DMin project which seeks to make the case for the local church to take up the mantle of training preachers, I came across again for the first time (you know what I mean, right?) 1 Peter 5:1-4:

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: [2] shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; [3] not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. [4] And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory (ESV).

I asked the flock at Boone’s Creek Baptist Church here in Lexington, KY, to read this passage and craft it into a prayer for me that I would be able to navigate the razor’s edge of pastoring and preaching.

Pray That I Would Shepherd Diligently

Churches and the people of God are often referred to in the Word of God as a flock of sheep. Wiersbe helped me realize that sheep are clean and tend to flock together (a good thing) but have a tendency to stray, desiring to go their own way. Sheep are defenseless and in need of protection.

As so Jesus as our Great Shepherd has placed undershepherds to serve in shepherding the flock of God.Jesus, as he is in heaven working among the churches (Revelation 1:9-20), initiated his church in such a way that he places pastors (undershepherds) to oversee the people of God. Paul tells young Timothy in 1 Tim. 3:1-2

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. [2] Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach.

I would read over this passage and think, “God, no way! Keep me as a music and youth minister, but do not call me as a fellow sinner — and a young fellow sinner at that — to oversee a people.” So for 18 months I wrestled. Yet the Hound of Heaven would not leave me alone! Finally, he brought me to a point where I finally submitted and left Clewiston to return to seminary training and a new area of minister.

Shepherds are not always called on to maintain the peace — sometimes that rod of staff is not just for comfort but for correction! Shepherds of God have a tough balance — pastors are among the sheep as the people of God, but also “over” the flock.

Yet, some pastors swing one way or the other. Some reject having authority, as the emergent church folks tend to do, and say, “It’s not about us having authority, but merely facilitating.” Yet, we are overseers. Hebrews 13:17 addresses this:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

As you can see, it takes prayerful study of God’s Word and a high degree of character to find the God-ordained balance he seeks.

(Tomorrow: Part II — Pray That I Would Shepherd Willingly)

Categories: Bible, ministry, pastor, preaching, Scriptures | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

When Journaling Helps Your Preaching

I have found that one of the best developments in the area of sermon preparation for me is journaling. In fact, I have begun to use a Moleskine journal in order to write out my sermon notes before I even touch a computer. Here’s how one looks:

My Large Ruled Moleskine Notebook

My Large Ruled Moleskine Notebook

My sermon notes on Psalm 23

My sermon notes on Psalm 23

Notes in my moleskine for a recent Deacon's Meeting

Notes in my moleskine for a recent Deacon

Since March 28 (when I began using this type of journal), I have written just over 130 pages in my 240-page Moleskine. How has this helped my walk with Christ in general and my sermon preparation specifically?

  1. I begin reading the text from which I shall preach devotionally. Journaling helps me to read the passage personally so the Word can soak into the fabric of my being. If I expect my people to come before God in his house and soak in the Word being preached, I must put myself before God beforehand so his Word will soak into me. This practice of journaling has really transformed this. I am not merely reading the Bible so I can get ‘stuff’ for my sermon. I’m seeing what Howard Hendricks notes in his book Living By the Book that Bible study is for life-change. With this, I am fully engaged in the “so-what factor” — I always leave room in my entries to seek God in apply His Word, i.e., application, i.e., the ‘so-what factor.’ “This is what the Bible says? Great! So what?” I am able to prayerfully brainstorm some implications.
  2. I think better with pen and paper than I do in front of a computer. In a post at another blog I run, I noted: “Speaking of Moleskine: I am hooked, and I have Joe Thorn to blame for it. I was a Mead Composition Notebook guy, but found that the paper, the wide ruled nature of the layout, and the ease with which it falls apart made me begin to look for other options. So, I tried a Moleskine, and now I love it and am hooked on journaling, especially when it comes to sermon preparation. I find that if I write out my research in this journal rather than type it out on a computer, I absorb the content a bit more and the sermon becomes more personal to me as well.”
  3. It’s portable. I do laptops, but dude are they a burden to carry, especially around an airport. But, if I need to travel and do some sermon preparation, I take my ESV Personal Size Bible, my Large Ruled Moleskine Notebook, my Large 18-Month Moleskine Planner, my Zebra F-301 0.7 mm fine point pen, photocopies of sections of commentaries from which I will be preaching, stick them in a manila envelope, and I am set. Then, when I get to a computer, I can just start typing.
  4. It actually helps my penmanship. Computers not only hinder my thinking, but also kill my penmanship. I am just stunned at how sloppy my writing became.
  5. It leaves a legacy. For more on this, I would recommend reading through Don Whitney’s Simplify Your Spiritual Life. He notes that in 100 years, your relatives may not know about you at all — except if you journal.

Do any of you journal as part of your sermon preparation? If so, what are some methods you use? We can always learn from each other.

Breaking in a new moleskine!

Breaking in a new moleskine!

Categories: preaching, Scriptures | Tags: , , , | 7 Comments

When the Delight of Preaching Becomes Routine

Many times, the rigors of ministry make the primacy of our calling as expositors dim. Here what Spurgeon has to say:

Unless we are careful, we shall be likely to say to ourselves, “Monday evening here again, I must give an address at the prayer-meeting. Thursday evening, and I have to preach, although I have not yet a topic! Sunday morning, Sunday evening; I have to preach again! Yes, preach again! Then there are all those extra engagements; it is for ever preach, preach, preach! I am always preaching. What a weariness it is!” Preaching ought to be a joy, yet it becomes a task. Constant preaching should be constant enjoyment, and yet, when the brain is tired, pleasure flies. Like the sick boy in the prophet’s day, we are ready to cry, “My head! My head!” We ask, “How can we keep up our freshness?” It is hard to produce so much with such scant leisure for reading; it is almost as bad as making bricks without straw. Nothing can maintain us in the freshness of our beginnings but the daily anointing of the Spirit” (The All-Round Ministry, Pilgrim Publications, 1973, pp. 134-135.)

I can entirely sympathize with this, but am continually thankful that God continues to replenish and supply. What steps do you take to remain fresh in your preaching ministry?

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How Preaching the Hard Texts Can Endear You To Your People

Whereas conventional wisdom in most evangelical circles dictates that pastors would do well to avoid the hard texts, my contention is that pastors should never shy away from this.  While the Joel Osteens and the Robert Schullers of the world will shy away from such dealings , I believe that many in our pews are just wanting a pastor who will deal directly with what the Bible says and address the issue at hand.

A case in point: the past two Sundays, I have preached on two rather “hard texts”: one dealing with the role of women in the church, the other on the necessity of giving.  After each of those sermons, one of my deacons came out and said, “Man, I thought you’d be black and blue right now — you really laid it out there.”  But the reaction couldn’t have been different.  By the grace and glory of God, I received thank you’s for being willing to tackle such issues and helping to make things clear.

Why should we preach the hard texts as well as the other types to our people?

  1. Those texts are in the Scriptures! Obvious, yes.  But I have had well-meaning ministers tell me that just because it is in the Bible does not necessarily mean it will be appropriate to preach on.  This is why I make the case for expositional preaching: if forces you to deal with a text that your flesh may tempt you to avoid.
  2. For all the talk about our people despising authority, I believe they are looking for solid ground on which to stand.  We all are.  All this noise about postmodernism winning the day is far too premature.  It may be prevalent, but it hasn’t won anything.  If anything, our culture feels more in the dark than ever because many people’s spiritual journey is leading them down some deadends.  Preachers must never forget the supernatural transformational power of the Scriptures that are breathed out by the Spirit of God himself!   Never give up preaching!  The world may deem it folly, but to those who are being saved it  is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18).
  3. People, especially Christians, long to be dealt with honestly. Many in my generation are becoming angry at the church for their failure to teach them the things of the faith.  They praise God for churches sharing the gospel with them and showing them Jesus, but afterwards they become afraid of being too doctrinal (read: divisive) and therefore they do not “grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).
  4. People feel patronized when pastors fail to deal with a text or issue.  When pastors avoid these texts, they are in so many words telling their people, “You really can’t handle this right now.”  Yet, pastors who stay with their churches and invest their time in their people can take them along slowly and help them step-by-step.  Young pastors especially need to remember that you don’t need to tell them everything you know (or think you know) in one sermon.  Pour yourself out into your people and teach them with patience (1 Timothy 4:13-16).

What do you think?

Categories: Bible, Expositional Preaching, ministry, preaching, Scriptures | 2 Comments

The Driving Question of Faithful Preaching Ministries

I find myself pondering the place of the preaching ministry not just in the life of the church in general, but in my church in particular. Having been here almost five years, I am now seeing the importance and the cruciality of leading from the pulpit. The pastor is the primary vision-caster and mission developer of the church by virtue of his leadership status but also due to his studious diligence in his primary duty, preaching and teaching the Word. In Acts 6:1-4, we read:

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. [2] And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. [3] Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. [4] But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:1-4, ESV).

This oft-quoted passage really stresses the necessity of why “prayer and the ministry of the word” is so important. Prayer crafts our hearts to the framework of God’s will and way. The Word helps give us an objective anchor to the relevation of God through the person of Jesus Christ. The pastor is the intercessor and the point person for each local church assembly to connect with God and then in turn connect God’s people with God’s vision for them.

Ultimately, God’s vision for his church is found in Romans 8:28-29:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, 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.

God’s vision for his local church is to conform his people to Christlikeness. And the preaching ministry should and must drive every person and every other ministry to this pursuit.

Where churches encounter trouble is when we forget the ‘why’ of a particular ministry or program and simply get caught up in the ‘what.’ If a missions program exists, we are tempted to focus on the ‘what’ of that program and how we should have that program because its that program. But when asked ‘why,’ the response can be boiled down to the following: ‘Because this is what has always been done.’ It can be any other ministry in the church.

The pulpit ministry of a church should encourage Christlikeness and challenge the traditions, mindsets, and ministries of the church by asking this question: “How does this exalt Christ, His gospel, and the believer’s transformation to Christlikeness and (to be redundant) holiness?” Pastors must challenge their people in this, regardless of the age or influence of the church. When churches begin to lose sight of this, it is because their leaders have lost sight of this.

So pastors, use the pulpit for not only to faithfully exposit the Word of God, but prayerfully consider how to apply this to your individual people and to the corporate ministries of the church. Evaluate, question, challenge, encourage, love, support, motivate, compel, and pray over everything that takes place under the banner of your local church and, ultimately, the Lord Jesus Christ. Pastors must not be afraid to lead. Hebrews 13:17 says:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

What think ye?

Categories: Expositional Preaching, Gospel, ministry, pastor, preaching, Scriptures, worship | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment