The Blessing of Sound Theology

One of my favorite “Peanuts” comic strips features Lucy and Linus standing inside their home on a rainy day looking out the window. As she looks outside, Lucy says to Linus, “Boy, look at it rain...What if it floods the whole world?” Linus quickly responds, “It will never do that...In the ninth chapter of Genesis, God promised Noah that would never happen again, and the sign of the promise is the rainbow.” A relieved Lucy then says, “You’ve taken a great load off my mind.” My favorite part is the final frame when Linus turns, looks at Lucy, and says, “Sound theology has a way of doing that!” Indeed it does!

Much of the confusion and worry that Christians deal with on a regular basis would disappear if they were grounded in sound theology. In fact, the Apostle Paul, understanding how important sound theology is in the life of the church, encouraged young Pastor Titus to “teach what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). This is the cure for worldly worries because it gives believers a better, more biblical perspective on their situation. A few verses further in Titus, the Apostle Paul adds that the teaching of sound theology “[trains] us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:12-13). Again, sound theology takes undue focus off of worry and worldliness and places it on hope and holiness.

The necessity and significance of sound theology in the church and the life of the Christian cannot be overstated. This is why every Christian should seek a church in which sound theology is regularly taught. Solid preaching goes a long way in pointing believers to the cross and building a strong foundation of theology. In fact, Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones once said, “[I]t is preaching alone that can convey the Truth to people, and bring them to the realisation of their need, and to the only satisfaction for their need.” Solid preaching and sound theology do not remove all of your concerns, but they sure do minimize them and help you through them.

Here’s the takeaway: Make sure you’re in a church that is teaching sound theology, and then make sure you are doing your part to become grounded in that theology. Don’t settle for mediocrity, and pray for discernment to know the difference between solid and shoddy theology. Not every preacher, teacher, or book will fill you with healthy spiritual food. If you consume “junk food” theology, you will end up spiritually sick. Sound theology is a blessing, and it will indeed “take a great load off your mind.”

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More Than Petitions

The power to pray is one of the great blessings given by God to the church. On our knees in prayer is where we converse with the God of the universe. Just like any relationship, though, our relationship with God must be nurtured. Through prayer we begin to know God better as His Word forms and guides our times of communion with Him. Furthermore, prayer is a vital part of how God helps us understand ourselves better. This one-on-one time with God, then, is formative in our lives as He directs us through the process of growing in Christlikeness.

This aspect of prayer where God works change in us is too often neglected in the prayer life of Christians. The typical mode of prayer is to take our list of petitions before God and plead for His intervention. Surely our petitions are not too big for God, nor are they too petty for Him to consider, but there must be more to our time of prayer. In Tim Keller’s recent book, Prayer, he addresses this concern. Keller wrote, “Though prayer is a kind of artillery that changes the circumstances of the world, it is as much or even more about changing our own understanding and attitude toward those circumstances” (31).

Make no mistake, prayer powerfully changes circumstances in the world. God is pleased to answer our petitions in many cases. However, the mature Christian understands that God, for His own sovereign purposes, does not respond to every prayer in the way we desire. That’s okay; God always does what is right and good. While our circumstance may not always change through our prayer, our attitude should be transformed every time. Many times the more important part of our prayer is not that God grant a change in circumstance, but that He helps us see how the circumstance can be formative in our Christian life.

If God never allowed His children to endure difficult times, He would be impeding our sanctification. Believe it or not, we need God to say “no” to our prayers sometimes so that we can grow in faith. In this I am reminded of a quote from Bruce Ware that says, “God is more concerned with our character than with our comfort, with our holiness rather than our happiness.” The next time you go before God in prayer, seek a change in your attitude toward the circumstance more that you seek a change in your circumstance. You just might find yourself growing in godliness through the process.

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Take Up Your Cross!

Our Lord Jesus Christ declared to the crowds of people who were following Him, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). In essence, what our Lord is asking His followers to do is to go against their very nature in order to walk a path that is marked by suffering. This is not comfortable, easy, or natural, but it is the way of discipleship because it was the way Christ Himself walked. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is well-known for his reflections on this subject in his book, The Cost of Discipleship. He reveals that we can know suffering as a “word of grace” that comes to us in the midst of discipleship. How? It is through denying self and “looking only unto him.” Bonhoeffer explains:

To endure the cross is not a tragedy; it is the suffering which is the fruit of an exclusive allegiance to Jesus Christ. When it comes, it is not an accident, but a necessity. It is not the sort of suffering which is inseparable from this mortal life, but the suffering which is an essential part of the specifically Christian life...If our Christianity has ceased to be serious about discipleship; if we have watered down the gospel into emotional uplift which makes no costly demands and which fails to distinguish between natural and Christian existence, then we cannot help regarding the cross as an ordinary everyday calamity, as one of the trials and tribulations of life. We have then forgotten that the cross means rejection and shame as well as suffering.” (88-89)

Much of the American church is unfamiliar with this kind of talk, for “taking up our cross” has been a task of minimal expectation for most Christians. The church (and our nation) is in desperate need of true disciples of Jesus who will passionately pursue Him knowing that they run headlong into the face of rejection, shame, and suffering. The cross cannot be separated from discipleship if we are to truly experience the presence of Christ in our lives. And in His presence cross-bearing becomes joy unspeakable. Bonhoeffer adds, “Discipleship means allegiance to the suffering Christ, and it is therefore not at all surprising that Christians should be called upon to suffer. In fact it is a joy and a token of his grace.”

When the Church discovers the joy of Christ in “taking up our cross,” then and only then will we see revival take place. I confess this to be a hard lesson to learn and a difficult path to walk. Will you pray with me that God would grant us the grace necessary for each of us to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Christ?

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We Must Warn the Perishing!

Has the Church of Jesus Christ lost its zeal for evangelism? Of course this is a rhetorical question since any honest person would have to answer in the affirmative. The Church has indeed turned its gaze toward the pews filled with saints and has almost forgotten to lift its eyes to the fields that are white for harvest (John 4:35). Churches are certainly called to feed and equip the saints, but the people of God must also catch a glimpse of the need for evangelism in a world teeming with lost and dying souls.

The Western Church needs to be filled with a sense of urgency to make Christ known, pleading as the Apostle Paul did in 2 Cor. 5:20, “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” We know that the gospel message is the only hope of salvation for a lost world (Romans 1:16). How is it, then, that we keep this message to ourselves? Shall fear, inconvenience, or laziness prevent us from proclaiming the hope of Christ to a world without any real hope? May it never be! Even as I write to challenge other believers, I am convicted that we are not concerned nearly enough over the eternal judgment coming to those who perish without Christ.

Charles Spurgeon’s passion to evangelize the lost shames me as I consider how often I am intentional about evangelism. Spurgeon was not content with watching the lost multitudes around him enter a Christ-less eternity. His exhortation to Christians stings deep, “If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for.”

I often wonder if a lack of zeal for evangelism is reflective of a person’s view of lost people or of their love for Christ. Surely it is the latter. When our passion for Christ burns white hot, we will also have a passion for bringing more lost people to worship our Lord and Savior. Evangelist D.L. Moody once declared, “The world has yet to see what God can do with a man fully consecrated to him. By God’s help, I aim to be that man.” May each of us also fully consecrate ourselves to God that we may give Him passionate worship and faithful service in proclaiming His Good News of salvation.

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A Prayer for Our Nation

The following is a guest blog post by Keneta Wolfenbarger praying for revival in our nation.

We---America---have become a Babylon in my lifetime. “I am, and there is none besides me.” (Isaiah 47:8 & 10). “No one calls on His name or strives to lay hold of Him.” (Isaiah 64:7) He isn’t reaching out to this nation anymore or calling out to us (v. 7: hidden His face from us), but 2 Peter 3:9 says, “He is patient with us, not wishing anyone to perish.” Oh, dear Lord, do not lose Your patience with the people of this nation. Do not give up on us! “…for I called but you did not answer, I spoke but you did not listen. You did evil in my sight and chose what displeases Me.” (Isa. 65:12) Please continue to call us and speak to us! Yes, dear Lord God Almighty, You are being defied on the hills (65:7), You are being ignored and pushed aside, and it breaks our hearts! The work of Your hand is ignoring You (64:8) and believing that the clay is more worthy than the Potter. We have placed ourselves on display and proudly show our sins as if they are wonderful to behold. Dear Father, You tell us in 2 Chronicles 7:14, “If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” Dear Lord, You clearly state that if we Christians---we who are called by Your name---will humble ourselves and seek You and pray, You will hear us. You will forgive us and heal our land. Almighty God in heaven, we do that now. We admit that we are sinners, that we think too much of ourselves and about ourselves. We do what is evil in Your sight and think that You won’t notice. Please, please forgive us and help us to do better. Please do not hide Your face from us, but continue to be patient with us! In the name of Your precious Son, we pray, amen.

“Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy. He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:18-19 NKJV)

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“Come Out of the Cave, Elijah!”

The following is a guest blog post by Keneta Wolfenbarger.

            Evil Jezebel, wife of Ahab (one of the kings of Israel) wanted Elijah dead. Sound like the plot of a police show on t.v.? Well, there’s more.

            When Elijah found out, he was afraid and ran. Discouraged and exhausted in the desert, Elijah asked God to take his life. After God sent an angel to feed him and give him water, Elijah traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mount of God aka Mount Sinai.

Okay, let’s put the pause button on. Elijah was afraid for his life, and he traveled 40 days and 40 nights to Mount Sinai. Why? Well, Moses met with God there. That’s a good reason to go there, isn’t it? Let’s take the pause button off and see what happened.

After Elijah arrived at Mount Sinai and went into a cave, God asked him what he was doing there and then told him to “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” I sure would be excited and scampering out the opening of the cave, wouldn’t you?

We’re then told that the Lord passed by the cave. A heavy-duty wind broke up the mountain, and then there was an earthquake and a fire followed by a “low whisper.” When Elijah heard the whisper, “he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.”

Okay, let’s stop right here. This is when I always ask myself, “What would have happened if Elijah had stood on the mount before the Lord like God told him to do instead of staying in the cave? What wondrous things did Elijah miss because of his fear?” And I can’t help but ask, “What caves are we hiding in, and what are we missing in our walks with God by hiding in those caves?”

We all love the story of Peter climbing out of the boat to walk on a stormy sea to Jesus. And he was doing a good job of walking on that stormy sea until he took his eyes off Jesus. That’s when his fear set in. It’s true, we’ve got to get out of our boats if we’re going to walk stormy seas for Jesus, but it’s also true that we must stay focused on Him. Jesus Christ is our Captain, our Anchor, our Compass, our reason for climbing out of our boats and out onto the crashing waves---so why would we want to take our focus off Him?

Like the hemorrhaging woman, we should crawl in the dirt to touch the fringe on the cloak of Jesus; like Mary Magdalene, we should cling to Him with every ounce of energy in us. Why? Three words: faith, love, obedience.

May we come out of our caves, climb out of our boats and reach out for Jesus!

-kkw- (“Soli Deo Gloria”)

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The Danger of Saying, “I’m Too Busy to Serve in the Church”

You’ve heard the statistic quoted many times, “Twenty percent of the people in the church do eighty percent of the work.” I don’t know if anyone has actually done the calculations on this, or if it could even be done, but I suspect the old maxim holds true. It is not my purpose to debate the actual numbers, because I think most of us understand well enough that a handful in any given church are carrying the majority of the ministry and service load. Why is this the case?

No one I know comes right out and declares, “I just don’t care about the ministries of the church, so I don’t serve.” Usually the response is more like, “I am too busy to serve in the church right now.” Trust me, I get that! Most of us are extremely busy. We work full-time, shuttle kids back and forth to practice and games, look in on elderly parents, try to get a little housework in here and there, and so on. Yep, all this adds up to a busy life. However, here is the thing most people do not consider: The “twenty percent” are busy people too. Andy Stanley makes the point rather well, “Too busy to serve at your local church? FYI: Every Sunday you attend your local church you are served by very busy people. Get involved!”

Well, the truth is we all know that Christians ought to be serving in the ministries of the church in some way. The Apostle Paul told Timothy not to neglect the gift he had (1 Tim. 4:14), and just to be clear, all Christians have been given a gift with which they can serve. In his letter to the early Christians, the Apostle Peter said, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace...in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:10-11). We can safely say that not serving God and His church displeases God and certainly does not bring Him glory.

As a pastor, I sometimes feel the urge to try to do everything myself so I don’t have to plead with people to come on board and serve. While this may seem to be the easier model (until burnout sets in), it is not the biblical model. The Apostle Paul made this point quite clear in Ephesians 4:11-12 when he wrote, “And [Christ] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” Easy or not, a pastor’s calling includes “equipping the saints for the work of ministry.” That will never be a simple task, but it is one to which I must be faithful.

Some time ago, Bill Hybels famously quipped that because the church is called to “steward the transforming message of Christ” we can rightly say that “the local church is the hope of the world.” The church is neither a country club nor the Rotary Club. The local church is in the business of worshiping and evangelizing and discipling and serving. What is missing right now is the “eighty percent” who are bringing no glory to their Lord because they are “too busy to serve the church.” Perhaps it is time to reevaluate your schedule (or your children’s schedule) in order to be intentional about serving. Health and extenuating circumstances aside, a Christian who does not serve in the ministries of the church is not a spiritually healthy Christian. Consider your part in helping the local church truly be “the hope of the world.”

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Do I Need the Local Church?

Sometimes I wonder what Christians are thinking when they decide (consciously or subconsciously) that they do not need the church. More than once I have had people tell me that they can worship, serve, and grow in godliness from the comfort of their own living room without the church. I often want to seriously ask these people, “Okay, so how is that working for you.” My suspicion is that these individuals are indeed not worshiping, not serving the Lord, and not growing in godliness in their experiment with “Lone Ranger Christianity.”

The truth is, we are not meant to sojourn through this life without the fellowship, edification, accountability and so on that we receive as a member of a local church. If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that we are spiritually feeble and weak-willed at times. This is why the local church is crucial to our walk with Jesus. The author of Hebrews knew this to be true when he wrote, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25). When you forego church attendance, you are most certainly slipping away from God. An extended absence might just reveal that you do not have a real relationship with Christ.

In reality, Christians need the local church. No, it’s not perfect, but it is God’s plan for you and I to grow and serve together. In his book, Deliberate Church, Mark Dever made this point well when he wrote, “While our individual walks are crucial, we are impoverished in our personal pursuit of God if we do not avail ourselves of the help that is available through mutually edifying relationships in our covenant church family.” You need the local church, and it needs you. Make a commitment to your local church. Become a member, find a place to serve, and be faithful.

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Prayer of Francis of Assisi

The Prayer of Francis of Assisi has been on my mind a lot lately. I particularly like the song by the Ragamuffin Band that is based on this prayer. Honestly, I have no idea if Francis, who was born in the twelfth century, actually penned the prayer, but I find it to be a good reflection of my heart’s desire when my heart is set on Christ.

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

The thought of being an instrument in the hand of Mighty God ought to excite the soul of a child of God. The Apostle Paul considered this to be an honorable pursuit. He wrote in  2 Timothy 2:21, “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.” In His divine wisdom our Heavenly Father uses human vessels to perform works of grace and mercy in the lives of others, but only if we have allowed ourselves to be formed into useful instruments by the Spirit of God and the Word of God.

Let us not settle for being broken and worthless vessels when we can be fine-tuned instruments of the Divine Master. Let us not shrink back from Kingdom service and instead allow the King to wield us as an instrument of His love. Maybe you think you are only an ordinary instrument without any special usefulness. If so, you are missing the point. The chisel in my toolbox is only a tool of destruction in my hand. However, in the hand of a master craftsman, the same chisel is an instrument of precision and quality. Remember this: Our usefulness for “every good work” is never as much about the instrument (us) as it is about the One controlling the instrument (God).

So, what is your prayer today? Would you dare offer up the prayer of Francis and risk be taken up as an instrument in the hand of God? As you surrender to Him, may He use each of you far beyond what you could imagine.

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A Question About Deacons

Leading a local church can sometimes be a tricky thing to do. A pastor desires to be led by Scripture in all things, which is much easier to do when an issue is beyond dispute in the Bible. However, we know that many issues arise in the local church for which Scripture provides no explicit direction. In this case the church looks for implicit direction from Scripture and God-given wisdom in order to make decisions.

One of the topics that can raise questions for a local church is the election of deacons. Since the church that I am privileged to pastor is in the process of electing deacons (which does not happen too often), some questions have naturally arisen. Scripture can help us answer many of these questions, and my preaching has been dedicated to pertinent Scripture passages during the weeks leading up to our deacon nominations.

One question has arisen, however, that is not addressed anywhere in Scripture. I will, therefore, seek to answer that question here. The question is, “What should the church do about men who are ordained as deacons in one church and later leave that church to join our church?” Another way to phrase this questions is, “Should any ordained deacon who joins our church automatically be appointed to the deacon body of our church?”

In some churches, where a strong denominational hierarchy exists, this question might be answered by saying, “Yes, the ordained deacon would be appointed to the deacon body in the new church.” However, in our Southern Baptist church, we believe in the autonomy of each local church. In fact, Article VI of the Baptist Faith and Message (2000) reads like this:

A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the two ordinances of Christ, governed by His laws, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by His Word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth. Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes. In such a congregation each member is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord. Its scriptural officers are pastors and deacons. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.

Though our local church cooperates with thousands of other Southern Baptist churches, we are still autonomous. We have only Christ as our head and the Word of God as our sole authority and guide. We see precedent for this autonomy many places in Scripture where individual churches appoint elders and deacons, discipline members, and send out missionaries (Acts 6:3-6, 13:1-3; Matthew 18:15-17). Acts 6:1-7 is particularly instructive with regard to deacons (though the title “deacon” is not used). When the deacons were chosen by the Jerusalem church, the Apostles called the whole church together so the church body could choose the deacons. After the church made its decisions, the Apostles accepted the decisions and appointed the deacons.

Following the example of the Jerusalem church and the other churches we see in Scripture, we should affirm the right of each local church to elect their own deacons. Our church is under no obligation to appoint a man to our deacon body simply because another autonomous church elected him to their deacon body. Ideally, the most qualified men in the church are selected to serve as deacons. Biblically, the decision is in the hands of the local church body.

Again, as a Baptist church that takes local church autonomy seriously, no decision or distinction made by another local church is binding upon our church. Let us pray and allow the Spirit to guide our deacon election. If we will do this, we can have confidence that our election process will honor Christ. We never have perfect wisdom or always make all the right choices, but our church must unite together trusting God’s will to be done.

 

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