Why You Should Attend a Simeon Trust Workshop on Biblical Exposition

By Pastor Isaac Stuart

I had the privilege of attending a Simeon Trust workshop this past November in Youngstown, Ohio. I had never heard about the Charles Simeon Trust until Dan Stegeman told me about this workshop on expository preaching last summer. I believe whole heartedly in expository preaching for two reasons. First, it combats the Biblical illiteracy problem we have in the American church. Secondly, along the same lines, it addresses the bad theology that is prevalent in the church as well (i.e. the thinking that “God helps those who helps themselves” and much more). Expository preaching helps people understand the Bible and helps build their thinking and their lives upon God’s Word. I found the Simeon Trust workshop helped equip me even more as a young expositor.

In the teaching times, I was reminded of some very important tools that help in expository preaching. In one of these tools, called the “melodic line,” you look at your passage of Scripture from the perspective of the whole book. Another important reminder was how the entire Bible points to Jesus and the Gospel and how I need to think about how the passage, no matter where it is located, points to Jesus. But the biggest thing I took away from this workshop was during the small group times, where we looked at a particular book of the Bible and applied the principles we learned to that book. In Youngstown, we looked at the book of Judges. As we worked through different passages in that book, I came to a new appreciation for the book of Judges and I saw how a pastor would be able to preach through some of the harder sections of Scripture.

If I had to sum up the Simeon Trust workshop in a few words, I would echo what one of the leaders called these workshops, “A preaching tune-up.” Just as our cars need a tune-up to run well, we as pastors need a tune-up in our preaching to make sure that we are effectively communicating the entire Gospel of Jesus Christ. In order to do this, we need to make sure that we are not adding to Scripture or taking away from Scripture, but that we are holding to Scripture and allowing God to work through His Word to change people’s lives. I would encourage you to consider going to a Simeon Trust workshop. You will not be disappointed and you will be reminded of the great task we have as pastors to faithfully teach God’s Word to those God has entrusted to our care.

My Visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame

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Back in March of 2015, I travelled up to Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary (near Boston) to complete my thesis defense for my doctoral program. After 3 years of work, I now had to stand before my professors and defend my thesis. That sounds scary, but my professors were really great and it was a fun experience (and I did actually pass). On my drive up to Gordon Conwell, I remembered from earlier trips that the road I was travelling on (I-88) was pretty close to Cooperstown, NY, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame. I debated in my head whether or not to stop, but in the end, I opted to go and visit the famous town and its museum.

 

Growing up I was a huge fan of baseball. I watched game after game of my beloved Toronto Blue Jays. Over the years I also become familiar with the history of the game. This all combined to make my experience at the Baseball Hall of Fame a memorial one for sure. I will never forget visiting the Babe Ruth exhibit. The amount of newspaper clippings and relics and memorabilia to do with “the Babe” was staggering.

 

But as I think back on my experience of visiting the Hall of Fame, I was struck by just how quiet and low key it was. Cooperstown is a sleepy little town and the day I visited, there weren’t many people there. Things no doubt pick up in the summer, but it was kind of dead that day with barely any visitors. The other thing was, I didn’t actually meet any Hall of Famers. Of course, many of them (like Babe Ruth) are dead and gone, but many are still alive and they don’t visit too often. They have lives of their own and probably only come back on special occasions. I enjoyed myself and I am glad I went, but frankly, the place was kind of dead and lifeless. It is really just a hall filled with memorabilia and plaques and things of that sort.

 

For the past several weeks, I’ve had the great privilege of taking our church through Hebrews 11. This Faith Hall of Fame is in fact much different than any earthly Hall of Fame. The very first person mentioned in Hebrews 11 is a man by the name of Abel. I won’t go into the full story of Cain and Abel, but it does say in Hebrews 11:4, “And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.” So even though his brother brutally murdered him and his life ended prematurely, he left a powerful legacy….a legacy of faith. This is a legacy that even murder could not stamp out.

 

As a pastor, people often ask me what heaven will be like. And while Scripture does tell us much, there are a lot of unknown details when it comes to heaven. However, I will say this. Heaven is a world of love and a world of life. It is just the opposite of hell. Hell is a dead and dreary and lifeless place whereas heaven is a world of love and happiness and life. This is exactly what we would expect from our Creator God. The very first verse in the bible tells us, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Over the course of 6 days, God created everything in the universe, including Adam and Eve. In the time since then, God has never stopped creating and forming and as Romans 4:17 puts it, He “gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.” In fact, God’s greatest work of creating is regeneration. Regeneration is God’s work of salvation through faith whereby He brings life to dead sinners. Peter puts it this way: “According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3)

 

All that to say that when the redeemed of the Lord get to heaven, they will find it to be a place filled with life. Unlike the Hall of Fame, they will meet person after person who is alive like never before. Paul writes, “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling” (2 Corinthians 5:1-2). The lesson being, don’t get too fixated upon this earthly life. Rather, we should long for our heavenly dwelling. We should fix our eyes upon Jesus and seek the things that are above. Jesus puts it best in Matthew 6:20: “lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven.”

 

 

The Simplicity of Evangelism

A few days ago Steph and I were watching our favorite series of missions videos called Dispatches From the Front when something really caught my attention. The host Tim Keesee was traveling around the country of Albania looking at how the gospel is advancing in a big way – praise God! He mentioned how one of the pastors used a simple strategy to reach people for Christ. Here’s how it goes:

  1. Pray
  2. Meet people
  3. Tell them about Jesus

As I pondered this, I was struck by the simplicity of it all. Pastors and church leaders today are bombarded by “how-to” methods and strategies to plant churches, evangelize, disciple, and grow existing churches. We have more books and more information on how to “do church” than ever before, but most would agree that the church is weak and anemic and in need of revival.

A few questions come to mind: Are we complicating the biblical mandate to go and reach the lost, preaching the gospel of grace? Are we relying more on strategies and fads than trusting the power of prayer? Have we shied way from developing new relationships with people and fostering already existing friendships? And have we become tongue-tied when it comes to telling people the glorious gospel of Christ? I fear the answer to these questions is probably “yes” for most of us including myself.

I trust this will give us all a little food for thought. “Knowing Christ” (Philippians 3:8) is far and away the greatest thing in the world and we are not meant to keep the good news to ourselves. May we be like the two blind men Jesus healed in Matthew 9:31: “They went away and spread his fame through all that district.”  Amen!

Loneliness and the New Year

When I was in college, I had the opportunity to attend the Urbana Student Missions conference in Urbana, Illinois (now held in St. Louis). Urbana is a tri-annual conference that hosts thousands of students from around the world. This was a great experience and I look back on it with fond memories, however I will never forget how it ended for me. The conference takes place over the last 5 days of December and on the last night, as the conference concludes, attenders bring in the new year together. Depending on your personality, being in an arena with 20000 people bringing in the new year sounds kind of exciting, don’t you think? But I will never forget the feeling of loneliness that swept over me as the clock struck 12 and people started hugging and high-fiving. I had come to the conference by myself and didn’t know anyone else around me, so I naturally felt alone at this moment where normally you are surrounded by friends and family. The whole conference I was totally fine being alone (I’m more of an introvert), but at that moment, even though I was surrounded by thousands of people, I felt alone.

 

I had to chuckle to myself when I thought about how different this past new year was compared to the one I described back in 2003. Steph and I put the kids down at 8:30, we were in bed by 10:30, and we slept our way into the new year. In the morning I told the family…..Happy New Year! All that to say, at this stage of our lives, we don’t feel the need to be part of a big shindig to bring in the new year.

 

Remembering my Urbana experience was a reminder to me, however, that loneliness is a real problem for many, especially around the holiday season. Just last week a friend of mine confessed that as he took inventory of his own life, he realized that he didn’t have many close friends. He has a lot of acquaintances, but not many real, genuine friendships. Without question, he is not alone (forgive the pun). I’m sure there are a number of reasons that people (including Christians), struggle with loneliness and I believe that social media is one of those reasons. For example, we can have hundreds, and even thousands of Facebook “friends” but still struggle with friendship. Often, we are more comfortable communicating with someone through the medium of a screen rather than in person. It’s a crazy new world that we live in, and one that is not necessarily conducive to fostering genuine, meaningful relationships.

 

One of the Proverbs tells us: “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24). These bosom-buddy, kindred-spirit, blood brother type of friendships are a rare commodity today. Sometimes the “man of many companions” scenario looks attractive, but if we were honest with ourselves, we would admit that we would rather have a few close friendships than dozens of superficial friendships. Deep down in our hearts, I think most of us long for a “David and Jonathan” kind of relationship (see 1 Samuel 18:1-4) that goes deep and stands the test of time. These relationships can be tough and messy at times, but everyone would agree they are worth it.

 

In this new year of 2018, let me encourage you to fight loneliness in four ways:

 

  1. Draw near to God (Hebrews 4:16, 7:25, 10:22) and grow in your relationship with the One who is a friend of sinners (John 15:15).
  2. Work hard to invest in a few close, meaningful friendships. Identify these true friends and then strive to serve them, bless them, and love them (John 13:34-35).
  3. Ask God to help you appreciate and invest more in your family. Truly, “family” is a wonderful gift of God and as Satan tries to rip our families apart, we must grow stronger and closer together.
  4. Get plugged into the Body of Christ – the family of God here on earth. The Church often gets a bad rap these days, but it is the institution that God created to represent Christ to the watching world (Hebrews 10:24-25, 1 Peter 2:9-10). We would do well to attach ourselves to what God is doing in this world through His Church.

 

Happy New Year!

Merry Christmas 2017 from the Stegeman Family

Just wanted to take this opportunity to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas. It is hard to believe that another year came and went, but here we are in December, less than a week away from Christmas. With us having youngsters, you can just imagine all the changes that that occur over the course of a calendar year. Steph and I are continually amazed at how fast the kids grow and learn and develop. It is truly amazing.

Last week Jeremiah (our youngest) turned 3! Our little man is growing up, not to mention our three older kids. We praise God for the blessing of family. If you prayed for us over the past year, we so appreciate your prayers. As we think of it, we will also try to hold you up in prayer. We wish you all the best in the coming year and may you pursue Christ with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.

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Let me leave you with a couple Scripture verses and a quote from J.I. Packer’s classic book Knowing God. Truly, Jesus is the man who was born to die and we praise God for the marvelous gift of His Son.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)

14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:14-18)

“The Christmas spirit does not shine out in the Christian snob. For the Christmas spirit is the spirit of those who like their Master, live their whole lives on the principle of making themselves poor  – spending and being spent – to enrich their fellow humans, giving time, trouble, care and concern to do good to others – and not just their own friends – in whatever way there seems need.” J.I. Packer

When a Church Closes Its Doors

Last week our family had the opportunity to go to a play in Dubois, PA. We had a wonderful time watching “Anne of Green Gables” and the gal who played Anne was simply superb. As you might have guessed from the above picture, the play was in an old church which was converted into a theatre in the early 90’s. For over 100 years, this structure had served as the meeting place of a Baptist Church, but unfortunately the church had to close its doors.

 

This same tale has been told thousands of times in thousands of communities all over the place. These church buildings typically are either abandoned, bought by another church, or like the Baptist church in Dubois, bought by a business or community organization to be used for something else. As we sat waiting for the play to begin, I thought about all the preachers who had served this local church over its century-long existence. I also thought about all the people who attended and served this church through the years. As I processed this, I couldn’t help but lament over the closing of this church and the many others that have suffered the same fate.

 

My point is not to be overly sentimental and nostalgic about this sad reality, but to make the point that American and Canadian churches are closing like never before. I don’t have any national statistics for you, but I do know that in my own district (the Western PA district of the Christian and Missionary Alliance), we have suffered the loss of at least a dozen churches in recent years. Surely, there are a number of reasons for this, but the fact is, it is happening. While there is tremendous growth in other parts of the world (something we can praise God for), the North American Church is at best stagnant and more likely, in decline.

 

This is probably nothing thing new for most of you. You don’t have go very far in communities both big and small to see what I have just described. For years, we have been told that the church in North American is declining in the same way the church in Europe has been for last half century. The secularization of the culture is now being reflected in several different ways, including church attendance. I guess the big question is……how are we to respond to this? Let me suggest three things.

 

It’s Not All Bad

 

It would be easy to think that any church closure is a bad thing, but that’s simply not the case. In some cases, it is a reason to rejoice. Sadly, there are a lot of churches today that are preaching a false gospel, holding to unorthodox theology, using unbiblical practices, and serving as really bad witnesses for Christ in their communities. That may sound harsh, but it is the unfortunate reality for many churches. These so called “churches” are bound to die and the sooner the better.

 

On the flip side, there are a lot of good, solid churches that are healthy and thriving. We can praise God for this and pray that these churches would continue to grow and multiply and be faithful to the teaching of Scripture for years to come.

 

Join a Good Church

 

You have heard the saying, “the best defense is a good offense.” Like most sayings, there is some truth in it. Perhaps the best way to prevent future church closures is by having strong, healthy, biblical churches in the present. If you are not already, attach yourself to a good, bible believing, gospel preaching church. It always surprises me the number of professing Christians who are not part of a local church. Many of them have been hurt in the past by negative experiences and I don’t want to in any way minimize those experiences. However, the church is the Body of Christ here on earth. The church is where and how God has chosen to display Christ and His glory to the watching world. Joining a local church allows you to worship, to grow, and to serve in a corporate body of believers. In Hebrews we read things like, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25). This is a remarkable passage and it reminds us that when the people of God come together, it has a way of strengthening and encouraging us. On the other hand, when we start to view church as optional, our churches are weakened. If you get enough people with that same mindset, inevitably you start to see churches closing their doors.

 

If you are not already, my advice is to get plugged into a church. Your participation and involvement really matters! See to it that you are regularly fed by God’s Word and available to serve in any way you can. Churches are always looking for volunteers and there are dozens of different ways you can serve and use your gifts to the furtherance of Christ’s church.

 

Pray……for Churches, Pastors, and New Church Plants

 

As I said earlier, while there are a lot of bad churches, there are also a lot of good churches and we need to be in prayer for these churches that are being true to God’s word. No doubt you will pray the most for your own local church (that’s natural and healthy), but also be in prayer the churches in your area. I know for a fact that pastors and church leaders of neighboring churches would greatly appreciate your prayers. Each week in our church bulletin we list a local church and pastor to pray for. This is a reminder that we are all on the same team. The apostle Paul keeps it short and sweet when appealing to the Thessalonian believers: “Brothers, pray for us” (1 Thessalonians 5:25).

 

Lastly, we need to pray for new church plants in our area and around the world. As I said earlier, it is sad to see churches close their doors, but often just around the corner, God is birthing something new and exciting. There has been a revival of church planting in recent years, but that doesn’t mean church planting is easy. I learned a long time ago that I was not cut out to be a church planter, but God does call some to this critically important ministry and we need to pray for these church plants as much as we can. 

The Strangest Marriage Proposal…..Ever

This past month marked 10 years since Steph and I were engaged. It has been an amazing journey for the two of us, and I am thrilled that the Lord has blessed me with such a wonderful wife. With it being 10 years since our engagement, I got to thinking about how it all went down.

 

Steph and I started our long distance relationship back in April of 2007 (how we met is another story altogether…..I will save that for another time). I was in seminary in Vancouver, BC while Steph was in Ohio just starting off her counselling career. With there being 2500 miles that separated us, we had a lot of really long phone conversations, a lot of emails, and I took three trips out to Ohio. Then in early November of 2007, Steph was finally able to make the journey out to Vancouver to visit me and see where I was studying in preparation for pastoral ministry.

 

For a few weeks prior, I had been planning my proposal. Steph and I had talked a lot about marriage and we were already starting to plan for our wedding, but I had led her to believe that I wouldn’t propose until February. Everything was planned out perfectly……I thought. After picking Steph up at the airport, I would propose in my borrowed Dodge Caravan. I attached the ring to a string and tied the string to the sun visor on the passenger side. I knew it was going to be a great engagement proposal and a great surprise for Steph!

 

As I drove down to the airport in Bellingham, Washington, I was excited. I had no idea what the Lord had in store for us, but I knew Steph was the woman for me. I arrived safely and in plenty of time, and now all I had to do was wait for my future bride. Steph had managed to find a $10 direct flight from Columbus, Ohio (seriously….. a $10 flight – look up “Skybus” if you don’t believe me). When she arrived, we hugged and kissed and made our way back to the van. Here is where things started to get interesting.

 

When we got in the van, the first thing I told Steph was that she had something on her face. I told her she should look in the mirror so she could get it off. Of course, she didn’t really, but this was a way to get her to pull down the sun visor and look in the mirror. In retrospect, telling your girlfriend and future wife that she has something on her face right after a 5 hour flight is not the nicest thing, nor is it the best plan to start off a proposal. Not surprisingly, Steph was embarrassed, but she went ahead and pulled down the visor to look in the mirror. As she pulled down the visor, the ring on the string came down and landed pretty much where I wanted it to land……right in front of her face. Remarkably, Steph didn’t notice it. As I watched this play out, I was almost in shock. My perfect proposal plan wasn’t working out as planned. The only thing I could think of to say was, “Steph you still got something on your face.” Even more embarrassed, Steph looked back toward the mirror and this time she saw the ring! Presumably, this should have been where I started in with my perfectly worded proposal, but I was so tongue tied that I said nothing at all. Steph, on the other hand, simply said, “really?” We hugged and kissed and laughed and I put the engagement ring on her finger. Whew! Soon were on our way up to Vancouver.

 

So it was that through these unpredictable happenings, that we were engaged on November 8, 2007. And while it’s probably not the strangest engagement proposal ever, it is rather comical that I never actually asked Stephane to marry me and she never actually said “yes” or “no.” I guess Steph’s “really?” was all we needed. I got the outcome I was looking for and that’s all that mattered. The next 8 months would be a long wait for us, but on July 26, 2008, we were married and we have enjoyed a very happy marriage. I praise God for giving me Stephane as a wife.

 

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a helper fit for him.” Genesis 2:14

He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord. Proverbs 18:22

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Ephesians 5:25-27