“Man-Church: Preachers”

 

Over the last few weeks a couple of people have asked me what preachers I listen to.  Therefore, because of this and because of the fact that I met with the leader of our men’s ministry yesterday to speak about resources I decided to write a short blog listing some of the preachers I listen to and whose ministries have been particularly popular among young men.  Whilst they are all very different what seems to link their styles is their passionate delivery, their understanding of contemporary culture and their unswerving belief in the authority of scripture.

  1. Eric Mason http://www.epiphanyfellowship.org/resources/sermon
  2. J D Greear http://www.summitrdu.com/messages/
  3. Dr Tony Evans http://www.oneplace.com/ministries/the-alternative/listen/
  4. Craig Groschel http://www.lifechurch.tv/watch/archive/
  5. Matt Chandler http://www.thevillagechurch.net/resources/sermons/
  6. Tim Chaddick http://realityla.com/category/teachings/
  7. Matt Carter http://austinstone.org/resources/sermons
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“Reading the Bible for Preachers and Home Group Leaders”

 

Preamble

As a pastor/teacher one of the sad things for me is the sheer lack of biblical literacy in today’s Church.  In fact, it would be true to say that this even persists among those that have grown up in Christian homes, become Christians at a young age, have attended services for a number of years, have been educated in Bible Colleges, who preach and even carry senior leadership positions in congregations of vast influence.  This is made worse by the fact that the Word of God, particularly in its preached form, is the primary means by which a person is saved and sanctified.[1]  Therefore, this short help is not given as a way to discourage the use of books and video curriculum in our home groups, or to produce preachers and teachers that sound like me, but that the Word of God may prevail; for, as the Pentecostal pioneer Smith Wigglesworth prophesied,: “when the Word of God was wedded to the Spirit of God we would see the greatest revival that the world has ever known”.[2]

 

Coupled with prayer, when approaching the Bible, these 6 questions must be asked:

 

Q1. What does it say? Here you are looking at taking a text and placing it into your own words.  You must stay as close as you can to the original meaning.  Please remember the text can be as long or as short as you want.  Normally though, the longer the text the more difficult it can become.

 

Q2. What does it mean? Since there is no truth outside of context, here you are required to look at the immediate and general context.  If this is unfruitful, or if it is a particularly difficult or controversial text, you must go further afield, beginning nearest the text and working outward (ie. immediate context, general context, book, all books by this author, all books of this genre, the testament and the whole Bible).  Please remember that the Bible often presents truth in tension and therefore we are not permitted to hold firm to the texts that validate our opinion and ignore the ones that don’t.  We hold these together in paradoxical tension.

 

For Further Study: Here you might want to consult concordances or notes (found in Study Bibles), Commentaries, Topical Bibles, Bible Dictionaries, systematic theology, looking at words in the original language or sermons from reputable sources.

 

Q3. What might be the objections?  Since Christianity is a reasonable faith it is able to stand up against doubts and objections.  Identify some of these and then try and answer them; this is invaluable for preaching and teaching but particularly for mission.

 

For Further Study: Whilst all that is needed can be found within the Scriptures, added to the above resources a beginners guide to apologetics might be useful.  These books basically answer difficult questions on topics and texts.  I would also add, for the more seasoned theologians, a perusal of atheistic literature and the rebuttal from Christian apologists.[3]  I normally ask myself how would this sound to Joe average in the pub, a theologically astute convert of the contrary opinion and the highly educated and biblically literate sceptic.  Note to reader: these are not real people but personifying them can be extremely helpful.

 

Q4. What does it teach about God?  Scripture is the self-revelation of God and therefore teaches explicitly and implicitly about Him.  This does not mean that we see what is not there, like reading New Testament theology into Old Testament texts, but it means that even though it might not teach about God per se, the text might illustrate Him.  So, David’s victory over Goliath is not about Christ but could serve as an illustration, in the same way that Samson’s sacrifice helps illustrate Christ’s.  Also the “us” used in Genesis 1:26 cannot be the Trinity (in its original use) because the author and his audience knew nothing of the Trinity nor is this mentioned by any of the New Testament authors.  Nonetheless, in light of the whole counsel of God it serves as a good illustration even though it is not straight from the text and therefore would not be neither authoritative nor convincing to an informed non-Trinitarian.[4]

 

If this is done within preaching, the audience must be made aware of this fact or they will either see your preaching as non-biblical, as it places your imagination over the text, or identify you as someone of great mystical power who is able to see what nobody else (including any of the biblical authors) can see.  The early Church had a name for this, Gnosticism; which was a great heresy.  We, however, can only reinterpret texts or add additional meaning if another biblical author does so.  For an example compare Genesis 19:1-29 and Ezekiel 16:49-50.

 

Q5. What does it teach about man?  Since the Bible has been given to man by God we can find within its pages man’s origin, man’s destiny and what God requires of man.

 

Q6. What are the implications?  We are called to be doers of the Word and not just hearers and therefore, in light of your findings, what are the implications or practical applications in your personal life, family, work or Church?  What might help here is what preachers in the Black Preaching tradition call “experiential exegesis.”  The process in which we find out the meaning of the text is called exegesis.  However, if we place ourselves in the text and look through the eyes of the characters and record how they might feel, or if we take a concrete situation like a person suffering from terminal cancer or a Church suffering from the loss of a key leader, how would they experience the text and how can the Good News of text address their situation.  This is “experiential exegesis” and is a useful process in allowing God to speak from the text.

 

[One paradigm that you might find helpful is the one found in 2 Timothy 3:16 – seeing what truth the passage might “teach,”  or how it might “rebuke,” “correct,” and/or “train in righteousness.”  It would also be helpful here to pray through the text.  The reason this is not included in my exsample is because this was added at a later date.]

 

Here is an example:

 

Q.1 What does it say?  the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.”  1 John 1:7c NKJV

It says that sin can be washed away by Jesus who is God’s Son.

 

Q2. What does it mean?  Well, it appears to mean that the Christian can be free of all sin, and so I have heard it preached, but when we begin to look at the immediate context we find that in the next verse it says “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us”.  So I begin to look at the general context and I read everything before or after it that seems to relate.  Here is an outline I got online.[5]

  1. Introduction: The Reality of the Incarnation (1:1-4)
  2. The Christian Life as Fellowship with the Father and the Son (1:5;2:28)
    1. Ethical Tests of Fellowship (1:5;2:11)
      1. Moral likeness (1:5-7)
      2. Confession of sin (1:8;2:2)
      3. Obedience (2:3-6)
      4. Love for fellow believers (2:7-11)
    2. Two Digressions (2:12-17)
    3. Christological Test of Fellowship (2:18-28)
      1. Contrast: apostates versus believers (2:18-21)
      2. Person of Christ: the crux of the test (2:22-23)
      3. Persistent belief: key to continuing fellowship (2:24-28)
  1. Christological Tests of Sonship (4:1-6)
  1. The Christian Life as an Integration of the Ethical and the Christological (4:7;5:12)
    • . The Ethical Test: Love (4:7;5:5)
      1. The source of love (4:7-16)
      2. The fruit of love (4:17-19)
      3. The relationship of love for God and love for one’s fellow Christian (4:20;5:1)
      4. Obedience: the evidence of love for God’s children (5:2-5)
  1. The Christological Test (5:6-12)
  1. Conclusion: Great Christian Certainties (5:13-21)

 

From this I notice that everything seems to relate to the topic.  Gladly this is not always the case (for example, if you were looking at creation you would only need to look at Genesis 1-3), so I read the book and I see that it is written so that people might test their faith and be sure that it is genuine – this seems to concur with the introduction in my study bible.  I can therefore conclude that Christ frees us from the penalty of sin but the power of sin will not be fully broken until we die or He returns.[6]

 

Further Study:  I identify the topics within my text.  This relates to sin, salvation, the Gospel, the cross and sanctification.  I then read the other passages in my topical Bible and confirm my findings through a systematic theology, sermons from reputable preachers and my commentaries.

 

Q3. What might be the objections?

  1. As a Free Methodist you may have been taught doctrines like sinlessness, entire sanctification and Christian perfection. So, how do you reconcile them here?

 

  • Biblically speaking, we must wed together the Christian perfection teaching with the fallenness of man. This means we arrive at a position that shows Christ has purchased entire sanctification and we must strive for Christian perfection, but in a fallen world, and wrestling with a fallen nature, this will not be a reality.

 

  1. Does this kind of teaching not produce legalism?

 

  • In some groups guilt and condemnation are the order of the day but the Gospel is based upon a new heart and a new Spirit in a new community saturated with God’s grace. Gospel holiness, therefore, moves from “have to” to “want to.”

 

  1. How can Christ be a real man with real blood if it has the power to do this?

 

  • Christ was like us in every way, yet without sin. His blood was human but was taken by God as the payment for our sin and the absorption of His wrath.

 

*Of course we could look at countless questions here, like how can someone know if they’re cleansed from all sin, is it not proud to be assured etc, but these are just examples.

 

Q4. What does it teach about God? It teaches that God has the power to forgive all sins.

 

Q5. What does it teach about man?  Well, since the verse is followed by a verse that says iif we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us”, it shows us that man has a problem with sin and that the blood of Jesus is the answer.  This problem not only separates us from God but from one another so the text is preceded by a verse that says “if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.”  This shows that Christ’s sacrifice helps overcome not only the sins we have committed, or the sins that we are capable of, but also the sins that have been committed against us.  In short, man is riddled with sin and the potentiality of sin, which ruptures His relationship with God, with others and, if we read it in light of the whole Bible, with creation and with ourselves (Genesis 3).

 

Q6. What are the implications?  There are many so I will just give a few:

  1. Man is sinful and prone to sinfulness and, therefore, we must be wise when dealing with others and with ourselves. Do not be fooled into thinking that you are not capable of great evil; ALWAYS put safeguards in place.

 

  1. Since Christ dealt with “all sin,” which includes the sins that have been committed against you, this means that you can move on from bad experiences and not let them dictate who you are or how you feel. The universality of sin helps show that, in some ways, you have to bear some responsibility too.  I was always told that, when conducting marriage counselling, to remember that regardless of the issue and whilst it may be disproportionate in its effect, both parties contribute to a breakdown in marriage even if one person is guiltier than another.

 

  1. As an agent for Christ I am compelled to raise my concerns against injustice within the workplace. I know that this might require me to be covert and blow the whistle on illegal and immoral practices, but if Christ cleanses from sin am I not to do my part in eradicating it in my life, family, workplace and world?

 

Conclusion

While so much more could be said, these 6 questions should be able to help guide your sermon preparation, your home groups or your personal devotions.  I have found they have been able to transform my life and I pray that they would do the same for you.[7]

 

[postscript] I would like to add that one resource I have found helpful is www.freebiblecommentary.org – it’s a little dated but it contains PDF, audio and 30 minute video commentaries through much of the bible and has been personally invaluable for me.

 

[1] Romans 10:14-17, 2 Timothy 3:16 (most people were illiterate so Paul’s charge to Timothy and this verse come before a passage on preaching 2 Timothy 4:1-2).

[2] Prophesied in 1947.

[3] Here are 20 of the best known apologists http://crossexamined.org/top-20-apologists/

[4] Therefore, if you are speaking to an atheist or non-Trinitarian who has been trained in reading the bible look at other texts but use this as an illustration or they could easily pick your argument apart.

[5] http://www.biblestudytools.com/1-john/

[6] The text also deals with Christ’s Sonship but I do not have the time to deal with this.

[7] For sermon preparation I would add illustrations or examples to each of these questions.

What Must I do to be Saved? [Luke 10:25-42]

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Sermon Audio [why not have a listen to the sermon?]

Whilst we often concern ourselves with questions regarding our employment, happiness and appearance, the most fundamental question that can be asked is regarding our standing with God and our eternal destination.  Within this passage, Luke shows us in a masterly way that these can only be obtained by the Law or the Gospel.

 

Love Others [Luke 10:25-37]

25 And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?”

27 So he answered and said, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbour as yourself.’”

28 And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.”

29 But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?”

30 Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. 33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 On the next day, when he departed,[j] he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ 36 So which of these three do you think was neighbour to him who fell among the thieves?”

37 And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

 

Jesus, whilst having a private conversation with His disciples [Luke 10:23-24], is interrupted by a theologian who seeks to test Him publicly by asking Him the deed or deeds that need to be accomplished “to inherit eternal life.”[1]  Jesus replies by asking him his opinions upon the matter, at which point the lawyer responds by a popular summation of the Law – love God and love others.  Interestingly, Jesus concurs, something that He does on another similar occasion [Luke 18:18-21], thereby showing that a perfect fulfilment of Law obtains for man God’s favour and eternal life.  This lawyer, however, is not happy to leave it there, “wanting to justify himself” he goes on to ask Jesus “who is my neighbour?”  It is here that Jesus shares with him a parable, which shows that our neighbour is any person who finds themselves in need, regardless of their race, religion or enmity towards us.

APPLICATION: Despite the fact that many people see Christianity as a regressive force, no one can help but acknowledge that the intrinsic worth of the individual is exclusive to Christian ethics even if the Church has not always practised it.  However, in places and in times in which it has, even “undesirables” like convicts, the handicapped and the mentally insane were treated with a dignity that was almost totally lacking in the so-called bastions of civilisation like Ancient Greece or Ancient Rome.  This week why not look for ways in which we might be a better neighbour for those who are truly in need.  This could be through volunteering within the local school or a charity group for the disadvantaged, visiting people in prison or even offering help the sick or elderly people within our community.[2]

 

Love God [Luke 10:38-42]

38 Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.”

41 And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. 42 But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”

 

Here, Luke to realise that the parable may be misunderstood and lead some towards a works-based-righteousness and therefore places another account into the text to compliment it.  Within this passage, Jesus goes to visit His dear friends Mary and Martha [John 11:5].  In this account, we find that while Mary sits at Jesus’ feet listening to His teaching, Martha is “distracted with much serving,” so much so, that she begins to show contempt for Jesus.  Jesus responds firmly but lovingly, reminding her of the significance of His teaching over good works.  This does not mean that we are to create a false dichotomy between doctrine and deeds [James 2:17-22] like the lawyer did, but it does mean that deeds done without an understanding and love of doctrine can often lead to resentment towards Jesus and sometimes an abandonment of the faith.

APPLICATION: Historically, the Church placed its core doctrine in creeds.  Why not try and memorise either the Apostles’ or the Nicene Creed.  My wife and I merely read the Apostle’s Creed for a 30 day period after our evening meal and unintentionally memorised it, so it might be a lot easy than you think.

http://www.ccel.org/creeds/apostles.creed.html

http://www.ccel.org/creeds/nicene.creed.html

 

Love the Gospel

Whilst a fulfilment of the Law grants eternal life, man in his natural state, is unable to fulfil it and therefore needs somebody to fulfil the Law for him and through him.  This is the Gospel, that Christ did not need to fulfil the Law on His own behalf but fulfilled it on ours, took our sin and transmitted to us His righteousness [2 Corinthians 5:21].  Having done this He fills us with His Spirit which allows us to fulfil it for ourselves [Ezekiel 36:25-28, 2 Peter 1:3].  I am not saying that the regenerate believer will not still struggle with sin though [Romans 7:14-21] but by the power of the Spirit a practical and progressive righteousness will ensue in almost all genuine cases of conversion [1 Corinthians 3:10-15].

APPLICATION: Whilst there are many who regard the filling of the Spirit as some kind of ‘second blessing,’ the Scripture teaches that it is synonymous with genuine conversion [Jeremiah 31:31-34, Ezekiel 36:25-28, John 7:38-39, 1 Corinthians 12:13 and  Romans 8:9] which comes by God’s grace [Galatians 3:1-2] and is followed by subsequent in-fillings [Ephesians 5:18-21].  Therefore, I would exhort you to seek God’s empowerment for holiness daily and receive it by faith whether it is accompanied by an intense emotional experience or supernatural phenomena or not.  True authenticity of the presence of the Spirit will be evident in the way you begin to think and live and not necessarily in sensational manifestations.

 

 


[1] These “lawyers,” “scribes,” or “experts in religious law” belonged to either the Sadducees or Pharisees and were full-time students of the bible, not too dissimilar to our bible college lecturer or theologians.

[2] So as not to disempower people or bring unnecessary risk, please exercise some wisdom because not in need of help is actually looking for help.  I would advise you to take care that your deeds are not misinterpreted as manipulation or interference.  Moreover, I would ask you to exercise caution in lending or giving money particularly if you do not know if it will be misspent or cause offence.  Remember, it is better to give a hand-up rather than a hand-out.

The Cost of Discipleship [Luke 9:57-10:24]

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Sermon Link [why not have a listen to the sermon?]

The German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his exploration of the freeness of grace and the costliness of discipleship, wrote:

“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. … the suffering which is an essential part of the specifically Christian life.”[1]

 This emphasis, however, is sadly lacking within modern evangelicalism.  The fear of legalism and works-based righteousness has produced, instead, an anaemic form of Christianity that might best be described as the Gospel about Jesus instead of the Gospel of Jesus.  I am not saying that discipleship is the way in which we are right with God [Galatians 3:11] BUT that it should be the normal response of spiritual rebirth [Ezekiel 36:25-27].

 

1. The Call to Follow

57 Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, “Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” 59 Then He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.” 61 And another also said, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.” 62 But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”  Luke 9:57-62 NKJV

 

As Jesus is moving from the region of Galilee in the North to the region of Judea in the South He comes across three prospective disciples.  The first, however, whilst he is eager to join has not clearly understood that Jesus has been refused hospitality in Samaria and therefore has nowhere to sleep and is effectively homeless [Luke 9:51-53].  The second man is asked to become a disciple but wants to wait until his father is buried and the third man wants to go home first and say goodbye to his family.[2]  Whilst this may seem harsh to us, what we must remember is that Jesus was in His final year of ministry at this time, which meant there was a sense of great urgency about His mission, an urgency that at times must be present within our own lives.

APPLICATION: Whilst we are weak and fallen individuals unable to follow the call, let us ask that God might give us the grace to count the cost, follow immediately and not look back.  This week look at the different areas of your life; these might include your intellect, time keeping, thought life, your finances, relationships or work.  Ask that God may allow you to see practical ways in which these might be used for His glory; if however, there are areas which do not bring Him glory you must turn your back on these things and begin to follow wholeheartedly.  This will not be easy and therefore must be done in prayer and in the counsel of mature believers.

 

2. The Command to Go

10 After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go. Then He said to them, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves. Carry neither money bag, knapsack, nor sandals; and greet no one along the road. But whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest on it; if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking such things as they give, for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you. And heal the sick there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But whatever city you enter, and they do not receive you, go out into its streets and say, 11 ‘The very dust of your city which clings to us we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near you.’ 12 ButI say to you that it will be more tolerable in that Day for Sodom than for that city. Luke 10:1-12 NKJV

 

Having whittled down these would-be followers to seventyish (the manuscripts are equally divided between seventy and seventy-two) Jesus commissions them for a mission trip.  On this mission trip Jesus gives them a plethora of principles that we can draw for our own lives.  Mission is better accomplished in partnership [v1] and while it is the job of all Christians, most don’t want to get involved so we need to pray for more workers [v2].  It will also involve great danger [v3], a sense of urgency [v4] and a dependence upon God and His people for provision [v5-7a].  It goes on to teach that we shouldn’t keep moving around until our mission is accomplished [v7b], that we shouldn’t be fussy at the provision we are given [v8], that there should be a proclamation and a demonstration of the Gospel [v9] and finally that we should not be embarrassed at God’s righteous indignation of sin [v10-12].

APPLICATION: I would like to encourage you to live missionally as that is what Christ requires of us all [John 20:21].  Please do not make others your pet-project or overwhelm them by becoming annoyingly overfamiliar before you even know them though; this only makes people suspicious of your motives and actually repels people from the Gospel.  Instead, try living more inclusively and developing actual friendships within your neighborhood and workplace; be ready to give an account of your faith, by all means, but please refrain from an aggressive, all-guns-blazing approach.

 

3. The Cause for Celebration

17 Then the seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.” 18 And He said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you. 20 Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but ratherrejoice because your names are written in heaven.” 21 In that hour Jesus rejoiced in the Spirit and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight. 22 Allthings have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.”  Luke 10:17-22

 

The seventy return and begin celebrating their triumph over demons, something the twelve were unable to do earlier [Luke 9:38-41].  Jesus, however, tells them that they must not rejoice in what they do but where they are going, for even exemplary outward service is not an indicator of inner motives or of eternal salvation [Matthew 7:21-27].  Jesus then begins to rejoice at the fact that God Himself is the determining factor of whether someone is able to understand or not understand spiritual truth.

APPLICATION: Having understood this we must develop the utmost humility before God, acknowledging our absolute need of Him for salvation and spiritual revelation for the default position of man is blindness and enmity toward Him [Romans 8:5-8].  Over the centuries, many Christians have found “the Jesus prayer” helpful in developing this posture of humility.  Why not try and pray it throughout the week?

“Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

 

Here is a link to a film about the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

 


[2] The second man’s father may have recently died, been ready to die or may have been in perfect health.  It was the job of the firstborn son to bury his parents.

It’s Ok Not to be Ok [Luke 9:27-56]

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Sermon Link [Why not have a listen to the sermon?]

 

It seems, to me at least, that in so many evangelical churches, positive mental attitude has replaced biblical faith, so much so that many new or biblically illiterate Christians have total misconceptions as to the Christian life, mistaking triumphalism for faith and arrogance for assurance.  This is dangerous, for a Christianity built on such a foundation is often feeble, unrealistic and brings nothing but condemnation.  What is probably worst of all, it neglects the fact that Jesus wrestled with the will of God in the garden of Gethsemane [Matthew 26:36-45], Paul struggled with indwelling sin [Romans 7:14-25], Peter was publicly rebuked because of his religious/racial prejudice [Galatians 2:11-15] and John, on two separate occasions, tried to worship an angel [Revelation 19:10, 22:8-9].

My point is not to commend these things, for in fact, the opposite is true.  It is to highlight these things so that the Christian might not be surprised at the constant battle within his/her own life, a battle that has been permitted by Christ to humble us [2 Corinthians 12:7-10] and cause us to rely upon Him and on one another.  Nowhere can this be more consistently demonstrated than in this particular passage.

Here we see the inattentiveness of the disciples who are sleeping on the mountain of transfiguration [Luke 9:32], saying stupid things [Luke 9:33], unable to cast out a demon because of their lack of faith and prayer [Matthew 17:19-21, Mark 9:28-29, Luke 9:41][1] who refuse to ask Jesus when they clearly did not understand His teaching [Luke 9:44-45] and then argue over who going to replace Him when He died [Luke 9:46-48], something that also happens at the last supper Luke 22:22-24],  not to mention the prejudice they show [Luke 9:49-50, 9:52-54].  My point is that even our so-called heroes in the faith were not perfect men and therefore we should not be surprised when these imperfections rear their ugly heads in us or in other people.  They can and will be overcome.  However, for this to become a reality, our faith must be based on Christ and His work and not on a positive impression of ourselves.

 

APPLICATION: This week I want to encourage you to accept who you are, failings and all, and understand the fact that this was exactly the reason why God chose you [1 Timothy 1:15-16].  Secondly, I want you to begin taking your faith and placing it on Him and upon His finished work and not upon yourselves.  To understand this is to understand the grace of the Gospel, which is that He has chosen you, He will preserve you and He will sanctify you [Ephesians 1:4-5, 1:13b-14].  All you must do, by His grace, is believe it and allow it to be manifest in the way you think and live.

“When Satan tempts me to despair,
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look, and see Him there
Who made an end to all my sin.

Because the sinless Saviour died,
My sinful soul is counted free;
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.”[2]


[1] Whilst “fasting” is a type of prayer and is added in some translations to Matthew 17:21 and Mark 9:39 it is not included within our best manuscripts of the New Testament and therefore should not be considered part of the original text.  This is often picked up within the footnotes.

[2] “Before the Throne of God Above” by Charitie Bancroft

The Soil is Just as Important as the Seed [Luke 8:4-21]

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Sermon Link [Why not have a listen to the sermon?]

Donald McGavran, the father of the Church Growth Movement and a major contributor to the development of seek-sensitive services, said of missionaries:

“They do good work.  They pour out [their] life.  They bear witness to Christ.  They teach and heal men, distribute powdered milk, and demonstrate improved agricultural methods.  But they do all these things, and much more, while their churches grow, if at all, by baptizing their own children.”[1]

Whilst I agree with his belief that the missionary must immerse himself in the culture of the host nation, speak their language; eat their food, live amongst them, use their songs and music styles and communicate the Gospel in words and ideas that can be easily understood by the host, we see that Jesus takes the opposite tack here.  Having totally immersed Himself in first century Palestinian culture and having gathered a significant following, Jesus, by way of judgement, begins to teach only in parables so that his message may be concealed to those who are uninterested and revealed to those who are truly seeking [Matthew 13:34-35, Luke 8:9-10].

In this particular parable, one which seems to be central to our understanding of all parables [Mark 4:13], Jesus begins to tell “the parable of the soils” [the parallels can be found in Matthew 13:1-23 & Mark 4:1-20], a parable which describes four reactions to the Gospel message.[2]

 

1. By The Wayside – The Ignorant Ones

And when a great multitude had gathered, and they had come to Him from every city, He spoke by a parable: “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trampled down, and the birds of the air devoured it… The seed is the word of God. 12 Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.  Luke 8:4-5, 11b-12

Farming, in Israel in the first century, was different from farming in the West today.  All of the various fields were separated by boulders or boundary markers and people would traverse through the fields which would harden the soil and create natural walkways.  When it came to sowing, the farmer would remove the rocks and the weeds and then  scatter the seed before ploughing the ground.  This meant that he might be able to reclaim the soil that had been used as a public thoroughfare.   Sometimes when seed was sown the ground, which had been previously walked upon, was so hard that the seed was unable to penetrate it and therefore was trampled and eaten by the birds of the air.  Jesus uses this as an example of those who are the ignorant ones, those who did not understand the message and were not interested in trying to find out the meaning of the Gospel message [Matthew 13:19].

APPLICATION: Take some time to familiarise yourself with the Gospel.  What does it mean, what does it do, who is it for and how is it made effectual?  You may find it helpful to consult the Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. 82-93, courses like Alpha and Christianity Explored or even speak to some mature believers within your Church.

 

2. On the Rocks – The Superficial Ones

Some fell on rock; and as soon as it sprang up, it withered away because it lacked moisture …13 The ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. Luke 8:6,13

Since it was normal practice for the farmer to remove the stones and the weeds and because the parable does not focus on the sower, Jesus, we can wisely suppose that this was the seed that fell on bedrock.  Israel itself, even to this day I believe, is renowned for large limestone deposits beneath the surface soil.  This seed, then, happened to fall here, and because it couldn’t grow down it went up and looked like it was going to produce a bumper crop but because it had no root it died away.  Jesus compares this with the one who starts his journey exceedingly well but is overcome by temptation.  Having said this, I do not want the reader to think that the Christian life does not involve temptation [Romans 7:14-25] and, God-forbid, failure [1 John 1:5-8] but this is the one who is not, by the grace of God, removing himself from temptation and seeking to overcome it.

APPLICATION: While the bible encourages us to confess our sins to one another [James 5:16], as Protestants, we are often reluctant to do so.  Why not find a mature and trustworthy friend to whom you can confess your major and re-occurring struggles and who can give you good honest advice on how to overcome?  They do not need to know all the details so keep it short and to the point.

 

3. Among the Thorns – The Worldly Ones

And some fell, and the thorns sprang up with it and choked it…14 Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity. Luke 8:7,14

 The third seed probably fell in an area that had already been weeded but because the roots of the weeds had not been fully removed and because the weeds were well established they grew up quicker than the seed and choked it out before the fruit could ripen.  Jesus likens this third group to those who have believed but are preoccupied with worldly things.  Maybe these things are not bad in themselves but the “cares, riches, and pleasures of life” would not let the fruit become productive.

APPLICATION: Chasing and/or living for fashion, family, money, marriage, fame, work, business, hobbies, education and food can all be things that choke out the Gospel seed.  Why not get a copy of Watchman Nee’s classic “Love not the World,” which is available free on e-book and have a read?[3]  Are you someone who lives for this world or one who longs for the one to come?  If you are unsure look at what directs your life, how you spend your free time and how you use your disposal income.  It is often a great indicator.

 

4. On Good Ground – The Genuine Ones

But others fell on good ground, sprang up, and yielded a crop a hundredfold. “When He had said these things He cried, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”… 15 The ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience. Luke 8:8,15

 In Jesus’ day, a good harvest was considered around ten percent; here then we have a supernatural bumper harvest, which Jesus compares to the seed that fell on the good soil.  These are the ones who have “a noble and good heart” [Kingdom character], “keep it” [they persevere] “and bear fruit with patience” [maybe not instantly but eventually they become productive].   It is these who can only truly be considered Christian, something that Jesus brings out in the immediate context [Luke 8:16-21].  This, however, does not mean that we are saved by a transformed lifestyle but it does mean that a changed lifestyle is normative if salvation is genuine [Ephesians 2:8-10] and while there may be exceptions to the rule [1 Corinthians 3:10-15, Jude 1:20-23] unless the seed falls on good ground there can be no lasting productivity and no assurance of salvation.

APPLICATION: When Billy Graham was a young man, a great evangelist called Charles Templeton mentored him and became a close friend.  Charles Templeton was a man who was not only miraculously “converted” but was considered a greater evangelist than Billy Graham at the time.  He went on, though, to renounce the faith and died as an apostate.  While only God knows what happened with the man’s soul, I would challenge you to watch the film, “Billy Graham: The Early Years.”  After watching it, I would ask that you consider recommitting your life to Jesus and asking that he might give you the grace for a full assurance of salvation, victory over sin and temptation and that you might be productive in all the areas of your earthly life.

 

 

[1] McGavran, 1970, Understanding Church Growth: Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids p.54 [brackets my own]

Who’s in Charge, Anyway? [A Reflective Essay]

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A number of weeks ago, during the “Power and the Powers” lecture, I was involved in a rather heated discussion on the concept of the sovereignty of God.  Many things were discussed but the two main points that kept recurring were the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man.  Due to time restraints, the discussion ended more promptly than I would have wished, however, the reason why the conversation went on as long as it did is that the classmate with whom I was “discussing” was unable to hold these truths in dialectical tension.  Therefore, within this essay, I will seek do exactly this.  The reader must be warned, however, that this is no easy task and therefore, like all the great truths of Scripture, the reader is asked to understand this truth as an unfathomable mystery.

 

1. The Sovereignty of God

When discussing the sovereignty of God the Shorter Catechism says:

“The decrees of God are His eternal plan based on the purpose of His will, by which, for His own glory, He has foreordained everything that happens.”[1]

 

Immediately, the reader may be baulking at this whole idea and be filled with a plethora of tragic circumstances and situations, real or imagined, in which he/she is categorically unable to see the hand of God.  This innate response in many places a wedge between the goodness of God and the providential sovereignty of God, a wedge that is neither helpful nor biblical.  No!  If God is sovereign but not good then He is all-powerful but not merciful but if He is good but not sovereign then He is power-less but merciful.  The reader must never be forced into accepting either one of these positions and therefore must hold these truths in tension.

God is both good and sovereign so His relationship to good and evil must be one that is “asymmetrical.  Doctrinally this is known as compatibilism and in its most rudimentary terms means that God is the author of all that is good and, for our good and His glory, permits all that is evil.[2]  This does not mean that God does not hate evil, and that the Church, individually and corporately, must not work against all forms of evil but it does mean that we worship a God who is all-powerful, mericful and can use evil for redemptive ends even if He is not the author of that evil.  In short, this is the God of the Bible.

Scripture clearly teaches that God is in control of creation (Joshua 10:13), Satan (Job 1:9-12), demons (Matthew 8:28-32), salvation (Ephesians 1:4), empires (Daniel 2:29-45), healing (2 Kings 5:14), sickness (John 9:3), life and death (2 Kings 20:1-6).  This gives us confidence because the believer can rest assured that nothing can happen that has not first passed through the counsel of a loving God.  “Oh!” say my detractors, “if God exercises such control over all things then you must relegate man to an agent that is acted upon and so cannot be held responsible for either good or evil.”  While this abominable doctrine may be held by hyper-Calvinists I would be keen to distance myself from it and show that it must be wedded in paradoxical union to the doctrine of the responsibility of man if it is to be truly biblical.

 

2. The Responsibility of Man

Before I begin to look at this, I must state categorically that even though I believe and teach human responsibility, I do not believe or teach that man has free will.  A W Pink puts it aptly when he says:

“Concerning the nature and the power of fallen man’s will, the greatest confusion prevails today and the most erroneous views are held, even by many of God’s children.  The popular idea now prevailing, and which is taught from the great majority of pulpits, is that man has free will.”[3]

Man is bound by the flesh, the world and the devil and may exercise some freedom of will within the midst of his servitude but cannot ever be seen as free.  The believer, however, is bound to Christ and so is free in Him but still subject to His example, led by His spirit and ultimately can only act within the parameters of His will.  Nonetheless, this does not mean that man is not responsible.

This can clearly be seen throughout scripture.  There is Pharaoh whose heart was “hardened” sometimes by God and sometimes by himself, given over to judgment because of the part which he played.[4]  Then there is David who is tested by Satan, under the permission of God, because of his sin, being inflicted with judgment of the severest nature.[5]  Not to mention the man who played the chief role in betraying Jesus.  A man, who helped Christ fulfil his mission (Luke 9:21-22), was filled with demonic power, given ‘permission’ by Jesus (John 13:27) but was still held responsible (Mark 14:21).  My point is that if there was ever a person who might be able to feign responsibility it would have been this one and therefore we can only be left with one conclusion:  That is that man will be held responsible in this life and in the life to come.

Now again this must be balanced with the concept of corporate responsibility, the fall and the role of suffering in the life of the believer but nonetheless it is a fundamental truth that must be constantly reiterated.[6]  Without this truth, man is depreciated to nothing more than a pawn within a cosmic game of chess.

 

Conclusion

While there is no doubt that this topic has been inadequately dealt with, it is my hope that an understanding of the sovereignty of God will invoke an iron-like confidence in the believer, while the doctrine of human responsibility might endear a grace-based humility and passion for holiness.  For me personally it has invoked awe and wonder and has brought about a desire for a life-long understanding of these truths and their practical application for my life and for the purpose of mission.  Something that I will reflect on for the rest of my earthly life.

 

Bibliography

Carson D A, 2006, How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil Second Edition: IVP, Ebbw Vale

Kelly D & Rollinson P, 1986, The Westminster Shorter Catechism in Modern English: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, Phillipsburg

Pink A W, 1961, The Sovereignty of God: Banner of Truth Trust, Guildford

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[1] Kelly & Rollinson, 1986, p.6 (Q7)

[2]“God stands behind good and evil in somewhat different ways; that is, he stands behind good and evil asymmetrically.  To put it bluntly, God stands behind evil in such a way that not even evil takes place outside the bounds of his sovereignty, yet evil is not morally chargeable to him: it is always chargeable to secondary agents, to secondary causes.  On the other hand, God stands behind good in such a way that it not only takes place within the bounds of his sovereignty, but it is always chargeable to him, and only derivatively to secondary agents.” Carson, 2006, p.189

[3] Pink, 1961, p.92

[4] Compare Exodus 7:13 & 8:15

[5] Compare 2 Samuel 24:1 with 1 Chronicles 21:1

[6] For more information on the role of suffering in the life of the believer please study the life of Job, Jesus and the Apostles.