10_200_300I recently began reading volume 1 of Albert N. Martin’s Pastoral Theology in which he speaks to the calling and godly life of the pastor. Martin quotes James Stalker concerning the inner life of the pastor:

Perhaps of all the causes of ministerial failure the commonest lies here; and of all ministerial qualifications this, although the simplest, is the most trying. Either we have never had a spiritual experience deep and thorough enough to lay bare to us the mysteries of the soul; or our experience is too old, and we have repeated it so often that it has become stale to ourselves; or we have made reading a substitute for thinking; or we have allowed the number and pressure of the duties of our office to curtail our prayers and shut us out of our studies; or we have learned the professional tone in which things ought to be said, and we can fall into it without present feeling. Power for work like ours is only to be acquired in secret; it is only the man who has a large, varied and original life with God who can go on speaking about the things of God with fresh interest; but a thousand things happen to interfere with such a prayerful and meditative life.

We are so constituted that what we hear depends very much for its effect on how we are disposed to him who speaks. The regular hearing of a minister gradually form in their minds, almost unawares, an image of what he is, into which they put everything which they themselves remember about him and everything which they have heard of his record; when he rises on Sunday in the pulpit, it is not the man visible there at the moment they listen to, but this image, which stands behind him and determines the precise weight and effect of every sentence which he utters. [Pastoral Theology, 16-17; James Stalker, The Preacher and His Models, 54-55, 167]

On Sunday, I began a sermon series in Hebrews. One of the points I made was that how we hear what God has spoken is conditioned by our view of the God who has spoken: the higher our view of the God of the Word, the higher our view of the Word of God. Conversely, the lower our view of God, the lower our view of His Word. This is especially true concerning the man who stands every Sunday to proclaim what God has said in His Word, for in doing so we are presenting God himself to His people. And we can only do that as we have immersed ourselves in God and His Word and as God and His Word fill us. Simply put, we can not expect our people to hear what God has said and to obey it until we have first heard it and obeyed it. Until or unless that has taken place, you are not prepared to stand in His holy pulpit. Martin mentions what was said of an old divine: “He fed you with his doctrine, and edified you by his example. He wooed for Christ in his preaching, and he allured you to Christ by his walking.” Martin concludes, “It would be a cause of great praise to God if we go to our graves and have people say this about us!” (p. 16). I heartily agree!

May God help us, prepare us, and embolden us to be faithful to Him and to His Word – to be hearers and doers! And sheep – be always in prayer for your shepherds…

Certainly these are sad times for American politics. But is we love our nation and our neighbors, this American sadness should only redouble our resolve. Our nation needs us. So let’s put our Christian faith to work.

41pitzwfqzl-_ac_us218_We do live in turbulent times – perhaps the most in my lifetime. There is no part of our lives, regardless of political persuasion, race/gender issues, religious identity, or moral and family values, that is not under attack. This is what Bruce Ashford addresses in Letters to An American Christianwritten to a hypothetical college student named Christian who attends a liberal university and majors in, of all things, political science and also interns for a cable network. Ashford coaches Christian to steer clear of both the secular progressivism of his professors and the secular and often radical of conservatism of his family, especially ‘Uncle John.’

Ashford’s hopes to remind readers of two important truths: we cannot afford to shrink away from our earthly citizenship, and we cannot afford to lose sight of our heavenly citizenship.

He accomplishes this by honestly and straightforwardly assessing where:

  1. Conservative Christians often are 1) misunderstood because they present their case clumsily or forcefully, or 2) disregarded because they are overzealous or come off as ignorant.
  2. Liberal and progressive secularists are, well, liberal and progressive secularists.

Ashford addresses the following topics and hot-button issues of our time with Christian:

religious liberty, free speech, women’s rights, social injustice, political correctness, big vs. small government, Constitutional interpretation, gun control/ownership, marriage/family, immigration reform, nationalism, just war theory, gender identity, environmentalism, fake news, and Christian political involvement.

Each letter to Christian offers an excellent introduction to and overview of each topic and will serve the reader well in that fashion, prompting further study on each issue. I found this to be an easy and simple read, one that I would recommend passing along to other Christians to inform and educate – and perhaps humble as well. It will also be useful in sharing with liberals/progressives who often misunderstand what we are trying to portray on social media outlets and 30 second sound bytes – and sometimes harshly. This book will help the Christian to live an earthly citizenship in a heavenly way.

John Newton ‘On Family Worship’

Posted: Wednesday, May 9, 2018 in Family, Pastoral, Seasonal

With the coming of Mother’s Day this Sunday, and Father’s Day soon to follow, I thought the following from John Newton might be a helpful encouragement for families:

Happy is that family where the worship of God is constantly and conscientiously maintained. Such houses are temples in which the Lord dwells, and castles garrisoned by a Divine power. I do not say, that, by honouring God in your house, you will wholly escape a share in the trials incident to the present uncertain state of things. A measure of such trials will be necessary for the exercise and manifestation of your graces, to give you a more convincing proof of the truth and sweetness of the promises made to a time of affliction, to mortify the body of sin, and to wean you more effectually from the world. But this I will confidently say, that the Lord will both honour and comfort those who thus honour him. Seasons will occur in which you shall know, and probably your neighbours shall be constrained to take notice, that he has not bid you seek him in vain. If you meet with troubles, they shall be accompanied by supports, and followed by deliverance; and you shall upon many occasions experience, that he is your protector, preserving you and yours from the evils by which you will see others suffering around you. [The Works of John Newton, vol. 1, ‘On Family Worship’, 158-9]

Doubt – The Killer of Trust

Posted: Tuesday, May 1, 2018 in Counseling, Pastoral, Scripture

And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. And he asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” [Mark 9:14-24, ESV]

I can identify with this story, as a sheep and as a shepherd. It describes what I find in many believers, mature and immature alike. I find it at times in my own heart. In my years of shepherding, I have noticed that one of the greatest enemies the believer has is doubt, the ‘if you can’ mentality of the father in this story. Doubt leads to despair, and despair to hopelessness, hopelessness to unbelief. Ultimately, doubt robs faith and destroys trust.

However, this does not need to be the case, especially in light of what the believer has in the promises of God, in the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit living within. If you struggle with doubt (or even if you don’t) consider these words from John Newton, who himself struggled with this enemy called doubt.

His name is Love. He looks upon us with compassion; He knows our frame, and remembers that we are but dust; and when our sins prevail, He does not bid us to despond—but reminds us that we have an Advocate with the Father, who is able to pity, to pardon, and to save to the uttermost. Think of the names and relations he bears. Does he not call himself a Savior, a Shepherd, a Friend, and a Husband? Has he not made known unto us his love, his blood, his righteousness, his promises, his power, and his grace—and all for our encouragement? Away then with all doubting, unbelieving thoughts; they will not only distress your heart—but weaken your hands.

Take it for granted upon the warrant of his Word, that you are his, and he is yours; that he has loved you with an everlasting love, and therefore in loving-kindness has drawn you to himself; that he will surely accomplish that which he has begun, and that nothing which can be named or thought of shall ever be able to separate you from him. This persuasion will give you strength for the battle! This is the shield which will quench the fiery darts of Satan! This is the helmet which the enemy cannot pierce! Whereas if we go forth doubting and fearing, and are afraid to trust any farther than we can feel, we are weak as water, and easily overcome. Be strong, therefore, not in yourself—but in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.[http://www.gracegems.org/Newton/001.htm, Letter 2]

So, instead of doubt, instead of the ‘if you can’ idea about Jesus Christ, have this mind:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. [Romans 5:1-5, ESV]

3 Evangelical Graces: (3) Hope

Posted: Tuesday, March 20, 2018 in Scripture, Sermons

We give thanks to God always… constantly bearing in mind your… steadfastness of hope.” (1 Thessalonians 1:3)

We use the word “hope” rather casually in our culture. Rarely do we ever use it in the biblical sense. When we use the word, it often takes the form of wishful thinking. “I sure hope this tastes OK”; “I hope I do well on this test today”; “I hope the weather is nice today,” etc., etc. But used in this way, “hope” designates uncertainty as to an outcome. There is no firm conviction concerning our future. We just “hope” it turns out all right.

But when Paul, Peter, and others spoke of “hope” they were describing a confident expectation, a joyful anticipation. They had in mind a settled attitude of hope, not one that is somehow determined in the future, but one that is settled already, even from before the foundation of the world. When we approach hope in this way, then the events and circumstances of this world lose their hold on our lives. We do not base our hope on things that are uncertain, but those that are certain. We are not affected inordinately when things or going well or when things are going bad because our hope is not in temporal things but in eternal things.

There are two things this type of hope brings to us. First, it enables us to wait. Paul was thankful for the “patience” or “steadfastness of hope” these at Thessalonica demonstrated. Paul understood this perhaps better than anyone other than Christ.

Philippians 1:20-26 – 20 According to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. 23 But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; 24 yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again.

According to Paul’s own testimony, what was the source of Paul’s patience in regards to his calling – his hope in Christ, a hope he wished to convene to those at Philippi and beyond as long as the Lord left him on this earth.

The same is true for us today. William Jay, the nineteenth century English minister, put it this way, “Christians, you must not be impatient if you desire heaven and are assured of it, but all the days of your appointed time you should wait, till your change come.” [William Jay, Withhold Not Thy Hand, 426] We are to live out our days, if we truly be in Christ, patiently waiting for His return for us or our home going to Him, whichever occurs first. That is our hope. God’s covenant promises are bestowed on those who are patient (Heb. 6:15).

The second thing this “hope” does is prepare us for suffering. Again, Paul wrote elsewhere, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18). In light of what awaits, the believer is buoyed up by this hope, resilient to the persecution and suffering because he knows how it will turn out in the end. “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17).

The “hope” the believer has in the return of Christ and in receiving His glory is expanded on by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:13ff – “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.” He goes on to describe what the Lord’s return will be like. While there are a variety of interpretations of these verses, we cannot lose sight of the fact that Paul wrote these words to comfort them, and us, concerning the fact of the Lord’s return and the glory that awaits those who patiently wait and endure suffering for Him. Peter had a similar admonition. In writing to those who were in the midst of suffering, 1 Peter 1:4-5 reminded them of the hope that was already theirs, 4 “an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

Are you steadfast in “hope” today? is your assurance of what awaits eternally bound up in and with your only hope, which is Christ and Christ alone? Are you uncertain about what tomorrow might bring? Then as you meditate on Christ this Resurrection season, remember this: Because He lives, I can face tomorrow… Because He lives, all fear is gone… Because I know He holds the future, and life is worth the living just because He lives.

3 Evangelical Graces: (2) Love

Posted: Friday, March 16, 2018 in Scripture, Sermons

“We give thanks to God always… constantly bearing in mind your… labor of love.” (1 Thessalonians 1:3)

The Christian knows that the world has a much different definition and practice of “love” than God has in His Word. The world confuses or conflates love and lust. True love thinks of others before self, while lust always thinks of self before others.

However, there are different types of this other-oriented love in the original New Testament language, which was written in koine Greek. These are: phileo (brotherly love), eros (romantic love), storge (a love for family), and agape (divine love). It is this agape love that Paul commends the Thessalonians, a love for which they labored. Agape love is born from above, given by God with Trinitarian implications in the life of a believer. It is a “willing, self-giving sacrifice” of love (John MacArthur) and this is something that an unbeliever simply cannot have or practice – not even inconsistently – since it is a gift of God only to those who are His children.

Love is the greatest of all virtues in Scripture. Jonathan Edwards said, “Let a man have what he will, and do what he will, it signifies nothing without charity; which surely implies that charity is the great thing, and that everything which has not charity in some way contained or implied in it, is nothing, and that this charity is the life and soul of all religion, without which all things that wear the name of virtues are empty and vain.” [Charity and Its Fruits, 3-4]

Paul addressed this love in his other letters…

Colossians 3:12-14 – 12 So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved (1 Thess. 1:4 – “Knowing, beloved of God, His choice of you”), put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. 14 Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.

1 Cor. 13:13 – But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

And Peter in 1 Peter 4:8 – Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.

How is this love shown in the life of the believer? Matthew 22:36-39 – 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And He said to him, “‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ 38 This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’”

That is the baseline for the believer, the summum bonum, the supreme good of the Christian life. The “great” commandments reflect two things:

First, a love for God. It is obedience to the first tablet of the Law out of the sheer joy we have in being the child of God. It is the love for God in the heart and mind of one who has the love of God shed abroad in their hearts, who has truly been loved by God. Those who have experienced the love of God then long for communion with Him, they love His Word, they worship and adore Him, they pray Adoring Him, Confessing to Him, Thanking Him, and Supplicating to Him – asking for His good wisdom and provisions. J. C. Ryle spoke to the necessity the love of God that is then marked by a love for God:

The charity of the Bible will never be found except in a heart prepared by the Holy Ghost. It is a tender plant, and will never grow except in one soil. You may as well expect grapes on thorns, or figs on thistles, as look for charity when the heart is not right. The heart in which charity grows is a heart changed, renewed, and transformed by the Holy Ghost… Such a heart is deeply convinced of sin… Such a heart is deeply sensible of its mighty debt to our Lord Jesus Christ. It feels continually that it owes to Him who died for us on the cross, all its present comfort, hope and peace. If it can do nothing else, it strives to be like Him, to drink into His spirit, to walk in His footsteps, and, like Him, to be full of love . . . Love will produce love. [Practical Religion, 174, italics mine]

Second,  there will be a love for others. In Galatians 5:13, Paul proclaimed, “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Then in Ephesians 5:2 – “Walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” This sacrificial love, love for others first, for their joy and benefit, not your own, is at the very heart of what it means to be a Christian. This is what Jesus taught in John 13:34-35 – “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love one for another” (foot washing in beginning of John 13).

We also see this from John in 1 John 4:

1 John 4:8 – The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

And especially love for the brethren – 1 John 4:19-21 – 19 We love, because He first loved us. 20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.

There are a couple of things this does not mean:

(1) Love does not mean that you must always approve of another’s actions.
(2) Love does not mean that you must always agree with another all of the time.

But when Paul thanked God for the love at Thessalonica it was because their love was evident. They demonstrated love when they did not approve of another’s actions; they knew how to love when they disagreed. He was not referring to something easy or potential but tough and real. It was a “labor of love.” It was hard work, but it was joyful, self-giving work. Notice how he put it in 4:9ff:

1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 – 9 Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; 10 for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more, 11 and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, 12 so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.

Inside and outside the church, the Thessalonians were making a determined effort to love the unlovely just as Christ loved us and died for us when we were unlovely. Christ made us lovely, and if we are walking in love by the Spirit then we are both loving and lovable.

3 Evangelical Graces: (1) Faith

Posted: Friday, March 9, 2018 in Scripture

“We give thanks to God always… constantly bearing in mind your work of faith.” (1 Thessalonians 1:3)

In one of the most significant moments in the history of the church, the Reformers concluded from Scripture alone that justification was through faith alone, sola fide. In other words, saving faith or justifying faith is by grace alone through faith in Christ alone apart from our works (Ephesians 2:8-9). Faith is the means or the instrument that God  has provided to bring us to Christ, and faith, in fact all of salvation, is a gift of His grace.

However, the Reformers also rightly concluded and proclaimed that though we are justified by faith alone, we are not justified by a faith that remains alone. James was clear, James 2:17 – “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.” The problem for many interpreters comes with James 2:24 – “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” However, when we consider James 2:26 – “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead,” we see James in this discussion was looking at works of faith as evidence that one is in fact alive in Christ. By his works of faith he is shown to be righteous. Hence his conclusion, James 2:20 – “Faith without works is useless.” Or as the late songwriter Rich Mullins put it, “Faith without works is like a song you can’t sing, it’s about as useless as a screen door on a submarine.”

It is this sanctifying “work of faith” that Paul says he often remembered about the  Thessalonians in his prayers. What did their “work of faith” look like? What had Paul heard back from Timothy while he was in Athens (see 3:1-2, 6) that spurred him to write these things? There are two things to consider concerning this “work of faith.”

First, the “work of faith” is a trusting work. Faith is taking hold of all that God has done in and through Christ. It is trusting in God and His way of salvation, Christ finished work, rather than in our own works. Christianity alone provides the only hope for a desperate people. All other world religions are based upon the works of man, which are nothing more than filthy rags in God’s sight. The Christian can have hope because his faith is in the merits of another, the righteousness of Christ. If your trust is in anything or anyone other than Christ alone, then you should examine yourselves to see if you are even of the faith. In our pluralistic age, we are led to believe that all roads lead to salvation. As long as you are seeking to do good then everything will be all right in the end. But that is not  what Scripture says, Scripture that proclaims the redemptive history of man in Christ alone from beginning to end.

However, flowing from this initial faith is a real trust in God and unwavering commitment to Him that is evident in the life of one who has totally submitted himself to the righteousness that God has provided in Christ. It is to live as Proverbs 3:5-6, 5 “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” One writer put it this way: A true church is made up of people who have faith in Jesus Christ. People without such faith are not Christians, and any collection of individuals without it, however religious they might be, is not a church. Faith includes the idea of confidence; it is convinced that Jesus can be trusted. [J. Philip Arthur, Patience of Hope: 1 & 2 Thessalonians simply explained, 25 – italics mine.]

Of course, the works that stifle this faith are born out of doubt. We see this in Matthew 14 in the story of Jesus and Peter walking on the water:

Matthew 14:28-31 – 28 Peter said to Him, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” 29 And He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

So, here Paul commends the Thessalonians for their confidence in Christ. They were  struggling. They were being persecuted by the Jews and others. There were probably times that even we could identify, times where they did not know whether they could make it through the day. The trials and sufferings, their persecutions seemed more than they could bear. But they did not doubt! They trusted God. They walked by faith and not by sight – not a blind faith, not a let go let God faith, but a trusting faith. They believed God!

Second, the “work of faith” is a battling work. One of the titles that Paul used of the early church believers was that of “soldier” (Philippians 2:25; 2 Timothy 2:3,4; Philemon 2). Paul calls the soldier to put on the full armor provided by God (Ephesians 6:10-17). As such, the believer is called to battle, as Paul put it, to “fight the good fight, keeping faith” (1 Timothy 1:18). The work of faith is a battle: a battle against the flesh (Romans 7 & 8); a battle against the devil, who is called our “adversary” (1 Peter 5:8), and a battle against the world, over which the apostle John reminds us that we are “conquerors” or “overcomers,” 1 John 5:4 – “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.” Then in Revelation each of the seven churches is called to “overcome” and the promise of the inheritance is granted to those who do so (Revelation 2:7,11,17,26; 3:5,12,21; 21:7).

This is exactly the faith that Paul had heard from Timothy concerning the saints at  Thessalonica:

1 Thessalonians 3:1-8 – 1 Therefore when we could endure it no longer, we thought it  best to be left behind at Athens alone, 2 and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith, 3 so that no one would be disturbed by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this. 4 For indeed when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; and so it came to pass, as you know. 5 For this reason, when I could endure it no longer, I also sent to find out about your faith, for fear that the tempter might have tempted you, and our labor would be in vain. 6 But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you, 7 for this reason, brethren, in all our distress and affliction we were comforted about you through your faith; 8 for now we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord.