Monday, July 13, 2015

Recommended Read: Sound Doctrine

Sound Doctrine: How a Church Grows in the Love and Holiness of God. By Bobby Jamieson. Wheaton: Crossway, 2013.

In our day when doctrine is often viewed as boring, divisive, irrelevant, or even more tragic, just simply non-existent, Jamieson's call for churches to give due attention and thereby reap the long-term gains of sound doctrine is like a breath of fresh air!

As part of the 9Marks series of books for "Building Healthy Churches", SD reminds pastors and leaders how doctrine underpins everything in the life of a church. Whether your church directly affirms doctrinal distinctives, quietly affirms doctrinal distinctives, or purports to have no doctrinal distinctives, doctrine will inform and shape each and every congregation. Therefore, as shepherds of God's flock, we should strive to feed, nourish, and grow the people of God on healthy, biblical, sound doctrine.

Jamieson defines sound doctrine as "a summary of the Bible's teaching that is both faithful to the Bible and useful for life" (p.17) Doctrine, then, is how we articulate and apply Scripture to life and faith. Jamieson demonstrates in the opening chapters how doctrine touches all aspects of church life and especially informs how we read and teach the Bible. Both of those points are not to be overlooked too quickly. We don't "do" church or "read" Scripture in a vacuum. We do so from a standpoint, a perspective, underneath of which stands a doctrinal view or presupposition. That underpinning doctrinal viewpoint gets translated into how we interpret and apply Scripture. It is imperative then that we keep allowing Scripture to inform and correct and shape our views into the Bible's view in all matters of life and salvation.

In the remaining chapters, Jamieson demonstrates from Scripture how sound doctrine produces holiness, love, unity, worship, witness, and in the postscript, joy. The very virtues we hope to see flow in our own lives and in the lives of our fellow believers are directly linked to the amount and the kind of doctrinal intake, or diet, we are exposed to.

Doctrine is far from boring; it's essential to living!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Giving Thanks in ALL Circumstances!

In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Paul exhorts us to “give thanks in all circumstances.” Given that not all circumstances are desirable and some are downright tragic and heartbreaking, how can we as believers be a thankful people no matter where we may be in life? Here are a few thoughts that will help nurture an ongoing spirit of thanksgiving in our hearts that is not defeated by temporal, fleeting, present situations.

      1. Note, Paul doesn’t say “give thanks for all circumstances” but to “give thanks in all circumstances.” Giving thanks “in” the trial is not necessarily the same as giving thanks “for” the trial. Many times when God brings us through difficulties, we can look back and see His hand, and see how He has taught us and shaped us for His glory, and on the other end of the trial, we can give thanks for the trial. However, while we are in the middle of the trial, enduring the trial, we are not called upon to necessarily be thankful for the trial itself. There is much for which we can be thankful that will strengthen us to persevere through the trial. We can be thankful for God’s sovereign care, grace, and presence with us in the trial. We can be thankful for the good He will bring out of the trial. Paul was not fond of his “thorn in the flesh” in 2 Cor 12. He prayed for God to remove it, and he called it a “messenger of Satan.” But he could see how God was using this “thorn” for good, and it was the good of the trial for which he could be thankful.
      2. Giving thanks in all circumstances defeats the slithering sins of grumbling, complaining, worry, doubt, and discouragement that are constantly trying to slip into our hearts. If we allow these thoughts room to fester and grow, we become angry, bitter, and miserable. Giving thanks turns our hearts away from these vices and to the goodness and greatness of God, thereby filling our hearts with peace, rest, and joy in tumultuous times.
      3. You can only give thanks in all circumstances by the grace of God, so let us pray for God to give us the grace to be thankful no matter where we are in life.
      4. Circumstances can really wreak havoc on our thanksgiving. Good circumstances often cause us to neglect thanksgiving. Bad circumstances often cause us to forget thanksgiving and for all that we do have for which to be thankful.
      5. Trying circumstances tempt us to give way to emotions, sin, and fleshly reactions. Recalling the faithfulness of our heavenly Father enables us to react in faith, not in the flesh, by clinging to and resting in His promises and His character.
      6. We can only give thanks in all circumstances when Christ is our Treasure because that does a number of things - (1) it cuts circumstances down to size - circumstances change, Christ doesn’t. Circumstances can be good or bad, Christ is always good. Circumstances are fleeting, but they appear monumental. Christ is above our every circumstance. (2) When circumstances rule the heart, we sway in the wind. When Christ rules the heart, thanksgiving is present no matter the circumstances. (3) When Christ is our Treasure, portrayed by giving thanks even in the worst of circumstances, He is greatly magnified and sinners are compelled to see His glory and worth!
      7. The way to be thankful in all circumstances is to be thankful for those things God is doing that are above our circumstances! For example, He is sanctifying us and completely preserving us for eternal glory!! (cf vv23-24)
      8. The next phrase in v18 is a powerful aid in helping us to give thanks in all circumstances, “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” And there it is my friends! The position that outweighs every single circumstance in this life, whether bad or good - in Christ!
        1. Nothing shall separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, neither height nor depth, nor death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor anything else in all creation! Nothing! Rom 8:38-9
        2. Circumstances may crash upon us, beat upon us, nag at us, tear at us, but they will never remove us from our position in Christ. If you are in Christ, you are justified before God - that will never change! You are reconciled to God - that will never change!
        3. So for what do we give thanks while in all circumstances? No matter what we face in this life, we give thanks for all that God is for us in Christ Jesus.

We can take heart this Thanksgiving Day and every day of our lives - we are not just in a circumstance, we are in Christ. We are not defined by our present circumstance, we are defined by our position in Christ. Circumstances may temporarily tear us apart, but they can never tear us away from Christ, and that my friends is reason enough to give thanks in all circumstances!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Taking the Sermon Home

If you are convinced that worshipping together as a family in church is important (like me),

and if you have a preacher who takes a doctrinal stance in his teaching that can be heavy at times as an adult, much less as a child (like me),

then you have probably wondered from time to time how to help your children understand and embrace the sermon (like me)!

I’ve recently began using this method for our family worship and have found it very helpful. I believe it would work for children of any age.

For our family worship on Monday, we review the sermon together. 

  1. First, we sing one of the songs that we sang in church the day before. This helps in a number of ways. It sets the tone for family worship, provides a connection between church and home, and invites the participation of our kids because they choose which song to sing.
  2. Second, I ask general questions to begin jogging our memories. What was the title? text? three points? I follow up with questions like, “What does this word mean?” or “How does that point explain the scripture?” As answers (or blank stares) are given, I am able to clarify anything that was missed or needs further explanation in the sermon.
  3. Third, I go to a deeper level, making sure we have understood the sermon and are seeking to apply God’s Word in our lives. So I ask questions like “What really stood out to you from the sermon?” or “How can we apply this point in a specific way in our lives?” or “How can we pray about this?” These questions help ensure understanding and allow for points of application.
  4. Fourth, as we discuss the sermon, it gives me the opportunity to do what God has called me to do - disciple my children. It opens doors to teach, point out where God is working in our lives, where we need prayer and grace, how we can live for Christ and reach out to others, etc.
  5. Fifth, we pray. I try to include praise for what God has taught us in my prayer. Again, hoping to take every moment as a teaching opportunity.

Whether this simple method or another, I encourage families and couples and singles to take the sermon home, mediate over the text, and seek ways the Spirit may apply the Word of God to our day to day lives.

May the Word of Christ dwell in us - richly!!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

When Jesus Says, "Truly, Truly, I Say to You"

Every word of Jesus recorded for us in Scripture is equally truthful, important, and essential for us to embrace, believe, and pattern our hearts and lives accordingly. Indeed, that is true of all of Scripture. So this post is not about establishing degrees of truth in Scripture. All Scripture is truth. However, there are those occasions when He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you…” What is Jesus conveying in this language, and how are we to respond?

When Jesus says “truly”, He means for us to know that what follows is unquestioned divine revelation to man. He is about to speak absolute, propositional truth, ultimate reality. When He says, “truly, truly”, there is no doubt that He is placing emphasis on what follows and means for every listener/reader to pay special attention. When He says, “truly, truly, I say to you”, He is indicating that He is directly addressing the following truth statement to His listeners/readers. He is not placing truth out in the open in some abstract way for us to ponder or debate. He is calling us to a decision about Him! We should feel the weight and force of those words every time we read them, for as all Scripture is inspired by God, when we read those words, Jesus is directly addressing us, the readers, with absolute, certain truth. Truth that will bear massive consequences in light of how we respond to it.

For example, in John 5:25,28-29 Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live…for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgement.”

Massive, absolute truth given to us by Jesus as recorded in God’s sacred word. How are we to respond? Jesus actually tells us exactly how we are to respond in another absolute, truth claim in the previous verse. In v24 Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life.”

We are to believe, and in believing, we are among those who “hear” and in hearing have eternal life! Jesus leaves no room for the nonsense of postmodernism’s rejection of absolute truth or the so-called streams of Christianity that deny, reject, or refuse to affirm the absolute truth claims of Scripture. Refusing to “hear” is unbelief. Refusing to embrace the propositional truth claims of Scripture are evidence that one remains spiritually dead. 

Life, abundant and eternal, is found only in Jesus Christ. He not only made this claim, but He proved this claim in His life, death, and resurrection. When Jesus says, “truly, truly, I say to you”, we are to hear; we are to believe. In so doing, we have saving, everlasting life in Him! He means for us to do more than merely pay special attention; He means for us to believe and be saved from sin by trusting in Him!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Calling Parents Back to Their God-given Joy and Responsibility

Family Driven Faith: Doing What it Takes to Raise Sons and Daughters Who Walk with God. Voddie Baucham Jr. Wheaton: Crossway, 2007.

This is one of those books that comes along every so often and causes quite a stir throughout the church, not only by its content but also by its implications. To some it sounds so radical, so out of the box, even shocking. In the final analysis though, it is very biblical. The shock value and the wake up call this book represents only goes to show how far we may have moved from a simple and precious biblical standard.

So what's so shocking? Parents are called by God to be the primary disciplers of their children. Now that may not sound so unusual at first glance, but when you begin understanding the ramifications of such a calling, it forces Christian parents to re-evaluate how they parent and churches to re-evaluate how they minister. Now the wide-eyed faces appear!

Voddie Baucham, through personal experience and application of key biblical texts, outlines in this book how taking on the role of primary discipler for his children transformed his life, started the making of a new church model, and calls on all Christian parents and churches to seriously consider how the Bible prescribes raising our children.

In terms of strengths, this reader thoroughly appreciates Baucham's contribution and would highlight at least three. First, Baucham encourages parents to not only embrace the Bible's call to be the primary discipler of their children but he provides anecdotal illustrations to enable parents to catch the vision and begin the journey. Second, Baucham stresses how the church has, even with good intentions, structured itself to allow parents to set aside their role and rely solely on the church. This is not God's will for the home. As parents teach and discipline their children, the church is meant to reinforce and support. Third, since this reviewer was only familiar with the content apart from reading, Baucham's approach was far more inviting, charitable, and balanced than previously suspected. Granted, if one disagrees with Baucham's conclusions, he will be tasked heavily to prove his own point because it is clear that Baucham has carefully thought through any objections. However, the tone is not dogmatic but rather graciously challenging.

No doubt the impact of this book surfaces when you finish reading. Parents will need to think through with much prayer and confidence in Scripture how to discipline, how to educate, and how to disciple their children. This may call for a radical change in priority, scheduling, and perspective. Churches, particularly leadership, will need to think through prayerfully and biblically how it is structured so that corporately and within each ministry the church is supporting and encouraging families. Some adjustments may be minor - some may be massive!

In terms of weakness, there is only one that stands out. Baucham's resulting metaphor for the church is that it is to be a "family of families." While that rightly emphasizes some glaring corrections the church needs to make, it doesn't fully satisfy the NT presentation. It seems that the NT church is rather a brand new family, one composed of families for sure, but one also composed of singles, believing children without believing parents, and believing spouses married to unbelievers. No doubt Baucham and his church has a strategic way to incorporate these into the church, but the metaphor indicates these believers are somehow not "completely" in the church because they are not members of a believing family within the larger believing family of the church. However, to be entirely fair, Baucham acknowledges in his preface that this metaphor was intended to be a statement on the structure of the church, not the nature (p.7). So in essence, this weakness vanishes with this clarification. In the same way, however, the church model, family-integrated church, may unintentionally place an unnecessary burden upon those members who do not fit because they do not come to church as part of a complete believing family unit. The fully family-integrated model could cause frustration for singles, single parents, divorcees, and children who are the only believer in the home. That's not to say these hurdles cannot be overcome through intentional design by the family-integrated church. It is only to say not every believer belongs to a believing family unit. So the question becomes how do these genuine believers, genuine members of Christ's body, fit and feel welcomed into the family-integrated church model. How do you meet them at the "front door" without them turning away from first impressions? Is there some elbow room for these considerations in the FI model? Have these considerations already been acknowledged and alleviated in the FI model?

That being said, the model should not discourage parents and churches from fully examining this book's helpful, biblical corrections and encouragements. Having grown up in the traditional model of church ministry and having in recent years discovered the joys and trials of educating, biblically disciplining, and intentionally discipling my own children, this one is a must read for every parent and church leader.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Avoiding Legalism and Moralism with the Commands of Scripture

Any time we are presented with a list of commands, like the 50+ commands found in Romans 12-14, we are prone to head down one of two dangerous paths: legalism or moralism.

Legalism is the pursuit of keeping a list of commands, biblical or man-made, in order to make yourself right with God. Paul just spent 11 chapters arguing against keeping commands in a legalistic fashion. First, he argues that we are all sinners, so it does no good to try to keep a list of commands to be right with God because we’ve already missed the mark. We can’t undo by keeping the law what we’ve already messed up by breaking it. Second, the Jew already tried the way of the Law, and he is not right with God because he is a lawbreaker. Third, that’s why God made the way of salvation by faith in His Son and not by the law.

So when it comes to the 50 commands in Rom 12-14,or any other biblical imperatives, we must not view keeping these commands as earning salvation or favor with God. If we do so, therein lies an eternal danger. If you think that salvation is in the keeping of the commands, it is possible for you to make yourself obedient to these commands to a certain degree and totally miss heaven.

Moralism is slightly different but just as dangerous and just as prevalent as legalism. Moralism views Christianity as simply a moral code, a list of do’s and don’ts. Moralism is not trying to be right with God by keeping commands, moralism believes it is right with God by simply being a good person. However, the Christian faith is not simply good works; the Christian faith results in good works. The failure of moralism is the absence of viewing good works as being dependent upon faith and grace. In a moralistic view, Christianity is just being a good person. The eternal danger is that it is possible to be a “good person” to a certain degree and totally miss heaven!

So how do we avoid legalism and moralism when it comes to Paul’s list of 50 commands in Rom 12-14 or any biblical commands? 

There is a biblical paradigm found throughout Scripture that gives us the answer. The paradigm is that as God has been so merciful to us in Christ to save sinners, we respond to Him with lives of worship. The commands of Scripture are simply clarifying for us how we worship God with our lives. In Romans 12:1, this paradigm is stated as “the mercies of God” and our response as “living sacrifices.” Remember, Paul calls this our spiritual worship! 

We avoid legalism and moralism by viewing these commands as the way we worship God with our lives, the way we respond to the mercies of God in our salvation. Legalism is not worship. Legalism is not responding to God’s mercies by laying down our lives in humble obedience. Legalism is trying to obtain God’s mercies. Moralism is not worship. Moralism is not responding to God’s mercies by self-denial for the good of others. Moralism is simply abiding by a self-imposed standard with no regard for the worship of God. But when we are in awe of how sinful we are and yet God has been so graciously merciful to us, we respond to His mercies by laying down our lives, resisting the world, and filling our lives with God’s Word. It is not an attempt to make ourselves right with God, it is our willing, proper response for being made right with God. It is not simply being a good person, this life is worship! 

If we approach the commands of Scripture as the way we worship God in response to His rich, eternal mercies to us in Christ, we avoid the eternal dangers of legalism and moralism!!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Divine Mercies Produce Sincere Worshippers

Worship is the willing, proper response of moral beings to the revelation of the Triune God. By divine initiation, God graciously discloses Himself, His purposes, and His will to man. Man, in response to God’s gracious initiation, worships God. This is my understanding of the biblical definition and portrayal of worship. God tells us something about Himself or His acts, and we willingly respond to Him in appropriate ways, which He has also revealed. This is worship.

In Romans 12:1 when Paul says, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the mercies of God” by “mercies” he is referring to our eternal, secure, everlasting salvation! He has been building this case, doctrine upon doctrine, through the first 11 chapters. We are saved because of divine initiation. Our salvation has nothing to do with us because we have all turned from God and rejected His revelation (ch 1-3). Therefore, God is credited with every single aspect of our salvation. He has totally, completely, eternally saved us. He sent His Son to pay for our sin so that we can be saved if we would just believe (ch 3). Having believed in Christ, He sent His Spirit to indwell us as believers and sanctify us as believers that we would no longer serve sin but serve Christ (ch 4-8). He made sure through sovereign election that we would believe because if He did not choose us before time we would never have chosen Him in time (ch 9-11). 

God has been incredibly merciful to us in every phase of salvation. He has acted. He has initiated. Now living our lives as worship to God is our willing, proper response to divine initiation. So Paul says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”