The Four Major Questions the Reformation Answered in a New Way

Last year was a landmark year for Protestant Christians. People from all over the world gathered in big groups and small groups and everything in between to recognize the achievements of the Reformation. This reached a climax on October 31, which marked the 500thanniversary of what many call the start of the Protestant Reformation. On that day in 1517, Martin Luther famously nailed his 95 Theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany. That event, though unbeknownst at the time, would go on to change the world.

 

Even though last year’s anniversary celebrations garnered a lot of attention, I believe that most Christians still don’t know what the Reformation was all about and why it was so revolutionary. I recently stumbled across a very helpful quote from historian Bruce Shelley that explains what was at the heart of the Protestant Reformation. It helps us understand what Luther and the many other Reformers were protesting against. Here it is:

 

Martin Luther….. “took four basic Catholic (Roman Catholic) concerns and offered invigorating new answers. To the question, how is a person saved? Luther replied, “not by works but by faith alone.” To the question, where does religious authority lie? he answered, “not in the visible institution called the Roman church but in the Word of God found in the Bible.” To the question, what is the church? he responded, “the whole community of Christian believers, since all are priests before God.” And to the question, what is the essence of Christian living? He replied, “serving God in any useful calling, whether ordained or lay.” To this day any classical description of Protestantism must echo those central truths.” (page 257 Church History in Plain Language – 4thedition, by Bruce Shelley)

 

We could take a lot of time to unpack the significance of these new answers to truly foundational questions. However, we will save that for another blog post at another time. I will commend to you the study of church history and the study of the Reformation in particular. This was titanic movement and work of God through the means of ordinary men and women. It is certainly something we can celebrate and praise God for, even centuries later.

 

 

The Parable of the Seed Growing and the Miracle of Regeneration

I was privileged to spend my growing up years on a farm in Saskatchewan, Canada. My Dad was a grain farmer and I got front row seeds to watch him as he undertook his farming enterprise. In the spring, my Dad started by preparing the ground – tilling it up getting it ready for seeding. Then came the actually planting part. With the aid of modern equipment, billions of little seeds found their way into the ground. But then after the rush of getting the crop planted, things rapidly slowed down. Most of what you do over the summer is wait…..and watch…..and prepare for the harvest.

Jesus told a parable in Mark 4 that is unique to the gospels and powerfully illustrates the miracle of salvation. He said, “The Kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

In this passage, Jesus did what he often does, and that is to use an agricultural illustration in order to illustrate truth. Of course, agriculture was a touch-point to the culture, much more so than it is today. And Jesus’ basic point is that when you plant a seed in the ground, remarkably…..it grows! Most of the time farmers and gardeners take this for granted. They know that it is going to happen, but they can’t explain why or how it does happen.

Have you ever stopped to think about how amazing it is that seeds grow? Why is it that as soon as you put this little seed in the ground and give it some water and sunlight that all of a sudden it starts to grow? It is a miracle! In our day and age, scientists can explain incredible complexity, but yet how do you explain the miracle of growth. I guess in one sense, you can’t. It is simply beyond human comprehension. In other sense, we as Christians can say – it’s a God thing.

This same is true of regeneration or “the new birth.” God gives spiritual life to those who are dead in their trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1). God doesn’t do this because of any worth or merit on the part of the sinner; He does so simply because of His grace and mercy (Ephesians 2:8-9). I would add that God does this on the basis of the worth and merit of Christ and His atoning sacrifice on the cross.

In this parable, the farmer represents the evangelist and the seed represents the gospel. And what is crystal clear is that the farmer doesn’t make the seed grow. Rather, he goes to bed and meanwhile, remarkably, the seed grows all by itself. That is why we would say that regeneration is a God thing. As Romans 1:16 says: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” Notice how it is not the power of the evangelist. It is not his persuasive words that cause another person to be born again. No, it is the power of God. It is God and only God “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist,” (Romans 4:17) who can work such a miracle in the heart of a sinner.

By way of application, rejoice in your salvation! The Bible says, “yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:18). Along with that, as you spread the seed of God’s word, always keep in mind that it is not in your power to save the sinner. It is only the power of God and the atoning sacrifice of Christ that have the power to save. So……go humbly and confidently and be about the work of your Master.

Some Lessons Learned From 10 Years of Pastoral Ministry

Hard to believe, but this past May marked my 10thanniversary in pastoral ministry. This has been a deeply gratifying and rewarding experience and I am grateful to God for His call upon my life. While in some ways I am still just a beginner in ministry, there have been many lessons learned during my first decade in ministry. Let me share a few with you.

The centrality of prayer.

Ministry makes huge demands upon the pastor and his family. There is always something more to do, and because of all the busyness, it is often prayer that gets left out. This is unfortunate and can be quite damaging over time. Therefore, the pastor must ensure that prayer is built into the daily rhythms of his life. I am very thankful for a church that holds me and my family up in prayer, along with other friends and family members that do the same. Ministry is war and without prayer the minister is headed for trouble.

People grow through the Word of God.

I guess I am a slow learner, but it took me a while to realize that the Word of God is absolutely central to our growth in Christian maturity (see Matthew 4:4 1 Peter 1:22 – 2:3). I see pastors all the time relying on gimmicks and programs and more gimmicks – things that promise to make disciples and fulfill the Great Commission, but in the end, only disappoint. Shepherds must ensure that the flock is well fed so that they can grow and flourish in the Lord. It is only through faithful and consistent Bible teaching that this can happen. There is simply no substitute! The sooner we learn that the Word of God is sufficient (2 Timothy 3:16-17), the sooner we will see gospel growth in our churches.

The Need for Patience and Perseverance.

I grew up on a farm and I know the importance of patience when it comes to sowing and reaping. The farmer plants his crop in the spring but has to wait several months until the fall to harvest it. If people grow through the Word of God (as we have just established) then it will require patience over the long haul. Pastors must commit themselves to diligently and faithfully teaching the Word of God year after year after year. In due time, there will be an abundant harvest, but it takes patience and perseverance. No doubt, there will be times of trial, disappointment, setbacks, and who knows what else, but we must persevere in the strength that only Christ can provide The words of Paul are especially helpful: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up (Galatians 6:9).

The importance of one-to-one discipling relationships.

I love the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8. When Philip found the eunuch reading Isaiah 53, he asked, “Do you understand what you are reading? And he said, ‘How can I unless someone guides me?’ ….Then beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:30-31, 35). Although this was more of an evangelistic encounter, there is no question the church needs more of this today. And it all starts with pastors. The pastor must set the tone when it comes to mentoring and discipling relationships in the church. This sets in motion what could be called the multiplication process where disciples make more disciples. Paul told Timothy, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). The pastor can’t disciple everyone, but he can train a few who will train a few, etc. etc.

The Church needs to be the church.

What is a healthy church? I suppose there are a few ways of answering this question, but one indispensable quality of a healthy church is love among the brethren (John 13:34-35). Plain and simple, within a healthy church, people care for one another, serve one another, love one another, etc. etc. This love that marks every true church is present because Christ first loved us (1 John 4:19). When we begin to understand the love of God in Christ in our own lives, we can’t help but love one another.

What a valuable asset my wife is.

Steph is my most trusted friend and counselor and has been an immense help to me in ministry. Pastors (and husbands in general), thank God for your wife and treasurer her, for she is an incalculable blessing.

Family ministry is a critical part of the Pastor’s job.

When I started off in pastoral ministry, it was around the same time that Steph and I got married. We had two years of marriage to get to know one another and settle down in life and ministry, but then the Lord blessed us with children. And not just one, but twins to nurture and care for! For those first few years of being a Dad and being a pastor, I felt a strong tension. I always felt like I needed to be at the church or out and about doing ministry but at the same time I wanted to be at home with my family. Finding the right balance was a real challenge for me.

In the providence of God, a fellow pastor gave me some wise counsel. He reminded me that an important (even critical) part of pastoral ministry is to shepherd your family. In the qualifications given for elders and overseers, Paul writes, “He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Timothy 3:4-5). What a great point the apostle makes! Paul is not suggesting we should spend all our time at home, but he is saying that key aspect of the pastors’ ministry is to his family. It is never a good idea to neglect your family in the name of “I’m just doing what God has called me to.” Clearly, that is not a way to find success in the eyes of the Lord. Rather than seeing your family as a hindrance to your ministry, see them as your ministry. This was a big paradigm shift for me, but it has made a huge difference for me as a husband, father, and as a pastor.

Conclusion

What a joy it has been to serve the Lord as a pastor for these 10 years. No doubt I could share more lessons, but this post is already a little lengthy so I won’t keep you any longer. God has been faithful (as always) and I praise Him for His grace to me and my family.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ministry of the Holy Spirit: Lessons from John 14-16

A couple weeks ago I was teaching on the ministry of the Holy Spirit and I was struck by just how much we learn from John 14, 15, and 16. Of course, the whole Bible contains lessons about the Spirit, but we learn more in this portion of Scripture than anywhere else. Here is a sampling which I trust you will find encouraging in your walk with the Lord.

  1. God the Father will send the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ name (14:16, 14:26, 15:26)
  2. The Holy Spirit is called the Helper, Advocate, Counselor, Comforter (14:16, 14:26, 15:26, 16:7)
  3. Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as “another Helper” (14:26). The first, of course, was Jesus.
  4. The Holy Spirit will be with believer’s forever (14:16)
  5. Also called the “Spirit of truth” (14:17, 15:26, 16:13)
  6. The world cannot receive the Holy Spirit because it does not know Him (14:17)
  7. The Holy Spirit dwells within believer’s (14:17)
  8. The Holy Spirit will teach believer’s all things (14:26) and guide then into all the truth (16:13)
  9. The Holy Spirit will bring to our remembrance all that Jesus says (14:26)
  10. The Holy Spirit will testify on behalf of Jesus (15:26)
  11. Jesus will send the Holy Spirit (see the connection with #1) (15:26, 16:7)
  12. The Holy Spirit will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment (16:8)
  13. The Holy Spirit will not speak with His own authority (16:13), but with the authority of God.
  14. The Holy Spirit will declare to believer’s the things that are to come (16:13)
  15. The Holy Spirit will glorify Christ by declaring the Word of God (16:14)

Two bonus lessons: The Holy Spirit is God (who else could do all of the above) and the Holy Spirit is a person (the pronoun “he” is used throughout John 14-16).

There are NO Atheists

Recently I found myself watching a debate between Doug Wilson and the now deceased Christopher Hitchens. I must admit, I couldn’t help but be impressed with Hitchens. His knowledge of history, science, philosophy and literature was impressive. Obviously I don’t agree with the conclusions he draws, but he was clearly a brilliant man. As I watched Hitchens and Wilson, it occurred to me that no matter what Hitchens labelled himself, in all reality, there are no atheists. Think of what the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 1:

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! 

We live in a very secular culture, and yet most people still call themselves “theists.” In other words, the majority of people still believe in a personal God, who created and sustains all things. So what are we to make of the minority who call themselves atheists? According to God’s word, they are deceived having “exchanged the truth of God for a lie.” Evidently they are blinded to reality, and have become “futile in their thinking.” They refuse to see what is “clearly perceived……in the things that have been made.” Deep down in their heart of hearts, they know that there is a God, who created and governs all things. They just refuse to accept what is so obvious and clear and plain to see. As the Psalmist puts it, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). God has stamped his signature upon this whole universe and upon the confines of human heart. You simply can’t miss it! You can’t miss Him! Therefore, as another Psalm puts it, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.'” Scripture doesn’t mince words – everyone who denies the existence of God and the reality of God……is a fool. 

I don’t accept the notion that there are atheists. No one can stop a person from using that label, but it is not a truthful statement. Having said that, let’s do all that we can to point everyone to the truth of Christ’s gospel, including atheists. Bottom line…..people need the Lord. We have a message, we have a mission, and we need to pray that God would open the hearts of those who are blinded to the truth. Paul’s words to the Colossian believers are a fitting way to conclude: “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person ” (Colossians 4:5-6).

Stop saying “I’m fine!”

We have all heard it before. You pass someone you know and ask them, “how’s it going?” or “how ya doing?” Answer: “fine.”  Or….. “I’m fine thanks.” There are other go-to responses to that question, but “I’m fine” tends to be among the most popular. Steph and I had the opportunity to attend a pastors conference this past week and one of the speakers made an offhand remark about the meaning of “fine.” He said that it really stands for:

Fouled up, Insecure, Neurotic, Exhausted

We all laughed, but we also recognized the truth that he was hinting at. Fine really doesn’t mean fine. It often means I could be doing a lot better…… I’m struggling…… I have a lot of problems that seem insurmountable, etc, etc. Now, just to give a little disclaimer, often when someone asks how we are doing, they are not looking for us to unload all of our troubles on them. Nor are we. But you would admit that we have the tendency at times to be dishonest in our assessment of ourselves. It is human nature to want to put on a good front and project a stoic, “got it all together” image of ourselves. But one of the things that should characterize us as Christians is our desire to be real and transparent and genuine.

One of the major themes in the Bible is that of loving and caring for one another. God never designed the Christian life to be an individual, lone-ranger kind of thing. God designed the Christian life to be a community project where we share one another’s burdens and constantly point one another to the power of the Gospel. The Church of Christ is a wonderful gift! Brothers and sisters in Christ are a wonderful gift! But in order for this gift to work, we must be real with one another.

The next time someone asks how you are doing, don’t feel like you have to tell them how fouled us, insecure, neurotic, and exhausted you are. Simply do your best to answer honestly and accurately. Along with that, remember what an amazing gift God has given us in the Body of Christ and seek to attach yourself to that Body. Find people that you can minister to and people that can minister to you.

“And let us consider how to stir one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:4-25)  “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” (Romans 12:10)  “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2)

 

On Preaching – by H.B. Charles Jr.

Last fall I had the opportunity to attend a Simeon Trust Workshop on Biblical Exposition in Youngstown, Ohio. At the workshop we were all given a copy of a book by H.B. Charles Jr., simply called On Preaching. I heard H.B. speak at the 2017 TGC national conference, and he recently preached at T4G, so I am certain his name will be familiar to many of you. H.B. Charles is an outstanding expositor of God’s word, and this book is a distillation of his pulpit wisdom and skill. It is interesting to note that On Preaching began as a series of blog posts, but I am delighted that H.B. had the vision to turn them into a book. In light of that, you won’t be surprised to hear that this is not an in-depth treatment of preaching, but it is a highly practical sketch.

 

On Preaching is broken down into 3 parts, and 30 short and easy to read chapters. Part 1 deals with Preparation for Preaching and looks at such topics as training, finding time to study, using a sermon calendar, and the all-important aspect of prayer. Part 2 concerns the actual Practice of Preaching. Here, H.B. dives into some of the nuts and bolts aspects of preaching including such topics as outlines, titles, introductions, transitions, illustrations, conclusions, and preaching without notes. Finally, part 3 looks at Points of Wisdom for Preaching. Such things as being yourself, developing your style, being consistent, pulpit plagiarism, and being a guest preacher are covered in this section. As you read through this book, it will become clear that H.B. has thought a lot about preaching and particularly, what makes for good preaching vs. mediocre or even bad preaching.

 

Perhaps the best two chapters in the whole book are the first and the last. In chapter 1, aptly titled Preach the Word, the author powerfully reminds us that we are to preach God’s word and not our own. Much of what accounts for modern preaching is really not preaching at all. Why? Because the preacher has substituted his own word for God’s word. H.B. writes, “Paul’s charge to Timothy is the Lord’s charge to every preacher: Preach the Word! This divine command obligates us to preach; moreover, it specifies what we are to preach: the Word. The importance of preaching rests in its content, not in its function. Our preaching is not the reason the Word works. The Word is the reason our preaching works.” Amen! The book concludes with a chapter titled The Bottom Line in Christian Ministry. The author reminds preachers that we have been charged, by God, with this most important of all tasks. Therefore, “The goal of Christian ministry is that you may be approved by God.” In a similar cord, he writes, “Make it your ultimate goal to hear the Master say, ‘Well done.’”

 

There are no shortage of preaching books today, but for both the seasoned expositor and the beginner, On Preaching is chalked full of wisdom and advice that will aid in your development as a preacher. In both the macro and the micro areas of preaching, I am certain this book will help you think through your craft in order to better communicate the Word of God to your listeners. Reading this book only fueled my desire to become a better preacher and I think it will for you too. In short, I would highly commend On Preaching to you.