Pastors, Teach Your People About Suffering

crossYesterday, I preached on the theme of suffering from Matthew 5:10-12, something that I had a chance to consider in the most recent Southern Baptist Journal of Theology. In that journal, I was asked to answer the question: How can a pastor prepare his people for suffering? My answer lists five things that pastors can do.

Below is an abbreviated response to that question.

First, pastors must highlight the theme of suffering in the Bible. Outside Eden depravity, disease, and death are normal. So, pastors must routinely address the origin of suffering, God’s solution, and the means of grace available to pilgrim saints. . . .

Second, pastors must give their people a theology as big as God himself. In other words, for people to suffer well, they must stand on sound doctrine. In particular, pastors must gird their people with a theology that strengthens faith in God’s sovereignty and hope in Christ’s victorious return. While the particulars of suffering are a human mystery, it is vital to reassure believers that their plight has purpose. . . .

Third, pastors must tie all suffering to Christ’s death and resurrection. To every form of suffering, the cross is the answer. On the cross, Jesus bore God’s wrath for our sins and he identified with humanities deepest pain—death. In this act of love, God dealt with the ultimate source of suffering and its deadly effect. For Christians, then, personal suffering is not God’s testimony against us, as it was perceived to be under the old covenant. Rather, in Christ, suffering indicates our fellowship with our Lord (Phil 3:9-10) and God’s fatherly love (Heb 12:3-11). Pastors must remind their people of this regularly. . . .

Fourth, pastors must inform their people about church history. The church victorious stands in heaven awaiting Christ’s return. The church on earth suffers and bleeds. In our Western context, Christians need to hear the stories of faithful saints. Names like Ridley, Latimer, Elliot, and Saint should be as familiar as Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln. . . .

Fifth, pastors must call attention to the persecuted church. In obedience to God’s word (Heb 13:3), pastors must lead the charge in praying for and supplying aid for persecuted Christians. Yet, the ministry of the persecuted church is not a one-way street. We must also champion the persecuted church because we need to see what it means to treasure Christ above life itself. . . .

For more on the subject of suffering, take a look at the new journal. For the rest of my answer, you can find it at the end of the SBJT Forum.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

David Wells, World Vision, and the Need for Truth

wells

In No Place for Truth, David Wells demonstrates how the last two centuries, and especially the last fifty years, have witnessed the evacuation of theology in evangelical churches. He attributes the cause of this theological decline to a number of factors, but two in particular: modernity (with its denial of biblical authority and its elevation of individual autonomy) and modernization (with its increase in technology, urbanization, cliché cultures).

Wells shows the pernicious effect that modernity and modernization have had on the church, and how evangelicals (like the liberals before them) have opted for life over doctrine, and as a result have lost both. His book is a clarion call to return to the Scriptures and to care once again about sound doctrine. Though, this book is short on solutions, it rightly diagnoses so many problems in the church, and causes pastors and churches alike to reconsider what they are doing, or better, what they are believing.

Wells book is full of quotes and insights. Here are a number on the (diminishing) importance of theology among evangelicals. (In trying to get a handle on his thesis, I typed a number of these quotes. Here’s a selection, the rest can be found in this PDF). Continue reading

Divine Weightlessness: The Fundamental Problem in Evangelicalism

WellsThis year, I am reading through David Wells six works on the role of theology in American Evangelicalism (disambiguation: David Wells the South African-born theologian, not the former MLB pitcher). In years past, I’ve read selected chapters from his books, but this year I am taking the plunge and diving into his whole corpus.

For those who are not familiar with Wells, you should be. His six works include

Right now, I’m in the beginning of God in the Wasteland, the sequel to No Place for Truth. In this volume, Wells is trying to answer some of the problems and objections raised in his first volume. In both books, he argues that modernity (a hyper-rational way of thinking about the world) and modernization (e.g., urbanization, technology, consumerism, globalization, etc.) have effectively displaced truth from the church and left it with pragmatism and therapeutic psychology.

Synthesizing those issues, he makes this statement regarding the fundamental problem in evangelicalism:

The fundamental problem in the evangelical world today is not inadequate technique, insufficient organization, or antiquated music, and those who want to squander the church’s resources bandaging these scratches will do nothing stanch the flow of blood spilling from its true wound. The fundamental problem in the evangelical world today is that God rests too inconsequentially upon the church. His truth is too distant, his grace is to ordinary, his judgment is too benign, his gospel too easy, and his Christ too common. (God in the Wasteland30).

Wells assessment was true in 1994 and it remains true today. In most American churches, God is weightless. Churches offer Christianity lite and evangelicals speak of God in worn-out, glib cliches. God’s glory (originally defined in the Hebrew as his kavod, his heaviness) is lacking in churches. As a result, Christians have little ballast to hold them in place, and little grace and truth to see how much culture has shaped their lives and how little Christ has.

What the church needs more than anything today is a vision of a holy and loving God, sovereign over all life and infinitely gracious to send his Son to die for wicked sinners. Going into a century that increasingly marginalizes and ostracizes Christ and his church, we need to recapture the of glory of God, or better we need to be captured by God’s glory.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

How Sheep Can Shepherd Their Shepherd’s Lambs

ImageI am thankful to be at a church that loves our children and encourages me to spend time with them. I have members who ask about the time I am spending with them and have never received a complaint for the time I take with them or the times I bring them with me to ministry activities.

On that subject, the need for churches to care well for their pastor’s children, Chap Bettis has provided seven important exhortations for the way churches can shepherd their pastor’s children. Let me share them with you: 

  1. Give grace to the pastor’s children on Sunday.  
  2. If you have a concern, talk to your pastor about behavior that characterizes the children. But do so with an attitude of loving acceptance.   
  3. Be generous in your praise.  
  4. Limit church criticism and complaint to private conversations among adults.  
  5. Be brave and rebuke the critics. Unfortunately, not everyone in the congregation will follow this suggestion. When grumbling and faultfinding spill over in front of you, speak up.  
  6. Give your pastors room to deal with their children’s hearts. Older children will go through some spiritual ups and downs. How will you think about those bumps? With care and affection? Or self-righteous judgment?  
  7. Give your pastors margin to minister to their families. Children need their father. . . . Even as a church member, you can encourage your pastors to care for their families.

These seven guidelines and the explanations Chap provide come from twenty-five years of ministry with, by God’s grace, children who are not embittered towards the church. 

May God multiply Chap’s testimony, and give pastors church families that shepherd their children well, even as they shepherd their church.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss  

[photo credit: ThomRainer.com]

The Prosperity Gospel: The New 9Marks Journal

prosperityThe new 9Marks Journal released today covering the subject of the “Prosperity Gospel.” In its thorough coverage of the subject, it helps readers discover, analyze, and respond to the many forms of this false gospel, which floods America and pours forth into the world. In it you can find articles from David W. Jones (whose written a book on the subject: Health, Wealth, and Happiness: Has the Prosperity Gospel Overshadowed the Gospel of Jesus Christ?), John Piper, D. A. Horton, and many others. They even included my article, “A Softer Prosperity Gospel: More Common Than You Think.”

Let me encourage you to take some time to read the articles, beginning with Jonathan Leeman’s editorial. Leeman rightly assesses the stock market value of the prosperity gospel and warns us not to buy its goods. Let’s pray that God would open our eyes to see the prosperity gospel pervading our land and enticing our heart, so that we can turn from its idolatrous offerings and find true blessing in Jesus Christ alone.

If you need further reason to read this journal, consider Leeman’s insightful editorial: Continue reading

A Letter to My Church: A Sexual Manifesto on Biblical Holiness

Pastors have a responsibility to teach the whole counsel of God and to help the people of God form a biblical worldview. With this conviction in mind, I will be leading a series on what the Bible says about marriage and sexuality. In preparation for that series, I wrote this letter to our church: ‘A Sexual Manifesto: Embracing the Church’s New Mission.’ Let me know what you think.

If you haven’t noticed, things aren’t the way they used to be.

It wasn’t long ago that the boys’ bathroom was for . . . well, boys. Homecoming queens had to use a razor on their legs (not their face). Marriage was legally defined as the union of a man and woman. And Christians had a place at the table in regards to influencing public policy.

In what seems like the blink of an eye, all of these givens are gone. With more people in Georgia supporting same-sex marriage than opposing it, the once influential Bible Belt is nor more. Christendom as we know it—or should we say, as we knew it—has collapsed. Welcome to the new America.  Continue reading

The Key to Twenty-First Century Evangelism

Last fall, David Mathis wrote an insightful piece on hospitality as the ‘key’ to evangelism in the twenty-first century. He writes,

In a progressively post-Christian society, the importance of hospitality as an evangelistic asset is growing rapidly. Increasingly, the most strategic turf on which to engage the unbelieving with the good news of Jesus may be the turf of our own homes.

When people don’t gather in droves for stadium crusades, or tarry long enough on the sidewalk to hear your gospel spiel, what will you do? Where will you interact with the unbelieving about the things that matter most?

Invite them to dinner.

For several of us in Childers’s class, the lights went on after his dramatic revelation. Biblical texts on hospitality were springing to mind. A theme we’d previously thought of as a secondary fellowship-type-thing was taking shape as a significant strategy for evangelism in a post-Christian milieu. Continue reading

To What End Is The History of Israel?

John Bright, a noted Old Testament scholar who influenced the likes of Graeme Goldsworthy, concludes his massive book, The History of Israel, with these insights about the history of Israel:

The history of Israel would continue in the history of the Jewish people, a people claimed by the God of Israel to live under his law to the last generation of mankind.  To the Jew, therefore, Old Testament theology finds its fruition in the Talmud.  The hope of the Old Testament is to him a thing yet unfulfilled, indefinitely deferred, to be eagerly awated by some, given up by others (for Jews are probably no more of one mind where eschatology is concerned than are Christians), secularized and attenuated by others.  Thus the Jewish answer to the question: Whither Israel’s history?  It is a legitimate answer and, from a historical point of view, a correct one–for Israel’s history does continue in Judaism.

But there is another answer, the one the Christian gives, and must give.  It is likewise historically legitimate, for Christianity did spring from the loins of Judaism.  That answer is that the destination of Old Testament history and theology is Christ and his gospel.  It declares that Christ is the awaited and decisive intrusion of God’s redemptive power into human history and the turning point of the ages, and that in him there is given both the righteousness that fulfils the law and the sufficient fulfillment of Israel’s hope in all its variegated forms.  It affirms, in short, that he is the theological terminus of the history of Israel.  It is on this question, fundamentally, that the Christian and its Jewish friend divide. . . . History really allows no third answer: Israel’s history leads straight on to the Talmud—or the gospel.  It has in fact led in no other direction (John Bright, The History of Israel2nd Ed., 467)

Whether one is inclined to affirm Covenant Theology or some form of Dispensationalism, three things stand out in this quote and are worth noting about the relationship between Israel and the Church.

Continue reading

Acts: On Mission with the Triune God

[This is the most recent "Feeding on the Word" article for our church newsletter].

In most Bibles, Luke’s second book is entitled, “The Acts of the Apostles.”  However, as many commentators have noted, a more accurate title would be “The Acts of the Holy Spirit” because it is the Spirit who is responsible for convicting, converting, and creating the church. Yet, even this title is insufficient, because it tempts us to think that the Father and Son are absent. Thus, a better title might be, “The Acts of the Triune God Through the Church of Jesus Christ.”  While lengthy, such a title rightly emphasizes God’s work in and through the early church.

With this trinitarian framework in mind, lets consider how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit work together in Acts to convert sinners and create the church.

Continue reading

Service That Pleases the Lord

Repeatedly in Scripture, God calls his people to fear, worship, and serve Him.  In Exodus, Moses records that Israel is redeemed in order to serve the Lord.  So does Titus 2:14, which says that Christ redeemed a people who are zealous for good works.  Likewise, Paul says that those who were once slaves of sin are now slaves of righteousness (Rom 6:17-19).

These verses give us a starting place for understanding how we should serve.  But we need to dig a little deeper to understand how God intends for us to serve him.

True Service Is Radically Dependent on God

First, we must serve God as those who abide in Christ.  Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches; if a man abide in me, and I in him, he will bear much fruit.  Apart from me he can do nothing” (John 15:5). We cannot serve unless we are getting are united to him.  God does not commission us to go and do great things for him.  He calls us to join him in his work; he gives us his Word and his Spirit; and he expects that we would daily feed on his grace and truth.

Second, we must come to get before we give.  We are leaky buckets and we need to be filled with the Spirit of God daily.  Too many churches have a history of putting people in places of service prematurely, and sadly these young believers never grow up (cf. Heb 5:11-6:3).  They burn out, fade out, or just eek it out.  Instead, churches need to do a better job shepherding the hearts of their servants so they serve out of overflow.

Third, service is as an extension of worship.  Church work should never detach itself from or replace worship.  Worship must always be the fountainhead of good works.  In fact, when Christians lose an appetite for worshiping God and put in its place works of service, their soul will soon shrink.  And what’s worse—they may not even be aware of their deadly condition.  By contrast, those who enjoy the Lord most are ready to serve—just as Psalm 100 indicates.

Psalm 100: A Hymn of God-Pleasing Service

In this hymn of praise, the Psalmist calls believers to “Make a joyful noise to the LORD!”  Thus, service falls under the banner of praise and worship.  Verse 2 extols: “Serve the LORD with gladness!” which presumes that joy is not self-generated but is a result of feasting on the grace of God (Ps 16:9-11; 32:11).

Verse 3 continues, “Know that the Lord, he is God!  It is he who made us, and we are his sheep; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.”  In this verse, there are a number of things that inform our service before to God.

First, you and I must “know” the Lord.  This is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian.  We do not know God like we know long division; we know God as a lover knows his beloved.  This personal knowledge requires conversation and the sweet exchange of personal knowledge.  Thus, if we are to serve God rightly, it must flow from love to him.

Second, God is our maker and we are his sheep (v. 3b).  We cannot serve unless he empowers and leads us.  In John 10, Jesus as the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep, describes how his sheep “go in and out and find pasture” (v. 9).  Applied to the question of service, this bucolic scene pictures God’s people feeding from the Lord and then going out to serve him.  Extremes fail in both directions.  Sheep who only feed grow lethargic and fat, while sheep who busy with empty-hearted service grow anemic and irritable.  Service needs sustenance, and true servants learn how to live on and for God.

Third, the location of service is in the presence of God.  In Israel, this was the temple courts (v. 4), but today, with God present wherever his saints gather, the location is the gathered church.  Many good Christians give their attention to ministries outside the church, but rarely should these Bible studies, missions, and para-church ministries overshadow service to the local body.  God has given Spiritual gifts for the upbuilding of his church (1 Cor 12:7), not other invented forms of ministry.

Last, thanksgiving is the fuel that drives God-pleasing service.  Psalm 100 describes thanksgiving as both a condition and a command (v. 4).  It is not an optional aspect of service; it is a requirement.  When Christians do service with ungrateful hearts, they do a disservice to God and those whom they serve (cf. Deut 28:47).  God’s people are a thankful people—thankful for the forgiveness and love found in Christ.  Those who please God with their service are effusive in their thanksgiving.

Overall, there is no greater gift than knowing God.  And by divine design, that knowledge leads to effervescent service.  Sometimes suh service is hard, even painful and deadly, but on the whole, the promise of serving with God brings the greater reward of resting with Him when the age closes.

This is our calling.  As you come to church this Sunday may you come thirsty for Christ, but may you also come with towel and basin ready to meet the needs of others.  In embracing such service, you are not only becoming like Christ, you are pleasing your heavenly father, who has redeemed you, given good works to do, and supplied you with his Spirit to accomplish those good works.  Rejoice in the Lord and perspire in his work—this is how we please God with our service.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss