Monday, August 31, 2015

Rethinking Biblical Application (pt. 1)

Photo Credit:
One of the areas of Christian living that believers seem to prize the most is biblical application. Evangelicals hope whatever they are investing in, be it a Christian book, a sermon, or even a blog article is "applicable to their everyday lives." In other words, why am I in this Bible study, listening to this sermon, sitting in these counseling sessions, attending this small group Bible study, etc, etc ? What difference does this truth bear in relationship to the here and now? How is this going to impact my everyday life?  On one hand, these are important questions for preacher(s) and hearer(s) alike.

James 1:21-25 reminds us of the listener's responsibility in the process of biblical change. But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. (See also Martha Peace's put off/put on study of Ephesians 4).

When it comes to listening to sermons however one of the most common misconceptions is as follows.  When a believer feels convicted (or encouraged, or challenged) during the message they often wrongly equate this feeling with biblical "application." During sermons that are especially application orientated it is not uncommon for a church member/attendee to thank the preacher or Sunday School teacher on the way out the door. "Great study today pastor!"  In this context it's very tempting for everyone to go home assuming all is well; but is that what James 1:21-27 teaches?  Is feeling convicted over our sin during a message the same thing as repenting and putting on the graces of Christ?  Is feeling encouraged about the "peace of God which surpasses all understanding" as the preacher waxes eloquently on Philippians 4:6-7 the same thing as appropriating Christ's peace (John 14:27) in the midst of uncertain circumstances?  Is feeling strongly about biblical church discipline (Matt 18:15-17; 1 Corinthians 5), the same thing as applying these principles when doing so upsets the financial apple cart?  Is feeling especially challenged about the mandate to evangelize the lost the same thing as sharing the gospel with an unsaved neighbor?   No, it is not.

Friday, August 28, 2015

2 Disturbing Trends Within American Christianity (and a Solution)

Photo Credit:
When I evaluate the contemporary church I notice many disturbing trends.  In the interest of time allow me to mention two:

1)  The Continued "Juvenilization" of American Christianity

Or to borrow the verbiage of another commentator, "When are we going to grow up?  We are all adolescents now."  This same writer goes on to describe a typical worship service in America, noting "The house lights go down. Spinning, multicolored lights sweep the auditorium. A rock band launches into a rousing opening song. 'Ignore everyone else, this time is just about you and Jesus,' proclaims the lead singer. The music changes to a slow dance tune, and the people sing about falling in love with Jesus. A guitarist sporting skinny jeans and a soul patch closes the worship set with a prayer, beginning, 'Hey God …' The spotlight then falls on the speaker, who tells entertaining stories, cracks a few jokes, and assures everyone that 'God is not mad at you. He loves you unconditionally.'

After 'worship', some members of the church sign up for the next mission trip, while others decide to join a small group where they can receive support on their faith journey. If you ask the people here why they go to church or what they value about their faith, they'll say something like, "Having faith helps me deal with my problems."

A few paragraphs later the author notes, "Juvenilization is the process by which the religious beliefs, practices, and developmental characteristics of adolescents become accepted as appropriate for adults. It began with the praiseworthy goal of adapting the faith to appeal to the young.... But it has sometimes ended with both youth and adults embracing immature versions of the faith. In any case, white evangelicals led the way."

Thursday, August 27, 2015

IS Bigger ALWAYS Better? 5 Simple Steps To Maximize the Growth Potential of Your Church.

Photo Credit:
If pastoring a large evangelical church was the main goal of my ministry what would I do differently

That's a very good question.  

My short answer is I'd heed the counsel of the "church growth" experts and marketing gurus as closely as I could.  In order to attract more people I would pay much closer attention to the trends of the culture, especially to the mainstream Christian subculture, and I would adapt my ministry practices accordingly (I'd become a Christian pragmatist).  That means my pulpit ministry would need to complement "the Juvenilization of the church." 

Here are a few things I would specifically do IF pastoring a large church was one of my chief goals (please view this as a pastoral parody):

1) I would Preach Shorter Sermons

We live and minister in a "sound bite" culture that is increasingly technology-orientated.  As such, people have shorter attention spans (or so we're told).  Did you know that on average people check their phones 110 times a day?  Many, if not most Americans, take their entertainment, their recreation, and their hobbies very seriously (our Daytimers and credit card statements often reveal what our heart treasures the most-per Jesus' words in Mt. 6:21).  Suffice it to say, lengthy expositions of Scripture are quite passé.    

Besides, modern churchgoers have busy schedules to maintain.  Worship services need to be crafted in such a way so as to not interfere too much with the activities listed above (which partially explains why some evangelicals offer Saturday & Monday night services and even "church online").  At the end of the day since "1 Peter 2:2-3 Christians" are often few and far between one should tailor their messages accordingly.  The shorter the better!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Lord (Still) Provides

The way the Savior takes care of His own is worthy of many articles.  This past week our family was reminded afresh that the Lord (still) provides.   Please take a moment and read this brief testimony of thanks.

This winter our furnace stopped working.  For Midwesterners that is actually a very big deal.   The repairman said because of the age of the unit combined with how much money the parts/labor were that the best option would be to 'bite the bullet' and purchase a new HVAC unit.  Six thousand dollars later we had a warm house again.  This massive bill meant that our tax return was spent before we even received it.  We pastors count on those annual tax refunds.  This also meant that our savings account was almost completely depleted (which does not take much).  I am sure many of you can relate to this.  Living paycheck to paycheck is truly nothing to complain about.  It is hard enough to manifest total reliance on God when we have a week's worth of food in our pantries (which is true of most Americans).  This explains why we rarely, if ever, pray "give us THIS DAY our daily bread."

Anyways, just this week we had some more unexpected expenses involving automobiles, home repairs, and few other things.  Sometimes all the planets in life seem to collide, don't they?  I wrote the following text message to my brother in Christ and deacon chairman Dick Hunziker. Tires are apparently below legal driving limit.  Wash machine not working (again) and we're still recovering from the cost of replacing the furnace and air conditioner this winter.  Prayer welcomed.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship

I was greatly blessed this summer to have a D. Min class with one of the most faithful Old Testament scholars in contemporary evangelicalism, Dr. Daniel Block.  I received so much helpful instruction from Dr. Block's lectures on Ruth and from his recent book on Worship (For the Glory of God), that I decided to highlight some of this material with my own congregation during our adult equipping hour.  The following is a review of Dr. Daniel I. Block's book on Recovering A Biblical Theology of Worship.  I encourage you to get a copy as a Christmas gift for your pastor(s) this year as well as read this book for yourself (Romans 11:36).

Daniel I. Block.  For the Glory of God:  Recovering A Biblical Theology of WorshipGrand Rapids: Baker, 2014. Xix + 410 pp. (cloth) $34.99.

Over the past few decades “worship wars” have been fought in the American evangelical church.  Tragically, “Instead of worship uniting God's people, conflicts over worship have often divided them (2)." In response to this, much ink has been spilled in effort to help believers think biblically with regards to this important and sometimes explosive subject.  Into this crowded arena of ideas enters Daniel I. Block’s treatise on biblical worship. 

Over the course of seven decades, Block has witnessed God’s people at worship in many forms and styles around the world (xiii).  These experiences caused Block to ask a host of questions about the nature of true worship.  Such as, “what kinds of worship are appropriate?  More specifically what kinds of worship represent true worship of the one true and living God?” (xiii)  Block presents a scholarly work, inviting Christians of all stripes to recover a biblical theology of worship as we approach our Creator God with “reverential acts of submission and homage” (29).

Friday, August 21, 2015

A Plea for Biblical Preaching (Dr. Schreiner)

 A Plea for Biblical Preaching
Excerpts from Dr. Thomas Schreiner

Photo Credit:
"It seems that almost everyone trumpets the importance of expositional preaching, and yet genuine and powerful expository preaching seems to be in short supply. Too often the text that is read before the sermon is abandoned or distorted when the preacher arises to proclaim the word. I am reminded of an exposition I read on Acts 27 where Paul’s shipwreck on Malta was used to say that we all need to take vacations. Paul would be rather surprised, to say the least, to discover that his trip to Malta was being likened to a Mediterranean cruise. Similarly, I heard a sermon on the many sufferings Paul experienced in his ministry on 2 Corinthians 11:23-29. One of the lessons drawn for the people was the need to eliminate busyness in our lives to reduce stress. I wondered what the preacher could be thinking. Paul catalogs his sufferings to show his devotion to Christ, and there is not a hint that he thought he was doing too much! Or, how many sermons contain striking alliteration, but the main points do not match what the biblical text actually says? 

One reason for the decline of expositional preaching is lack of faith.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Greatest Single Need of the Church Today is __________

Over fifty years ago Merrill F. Unger made a plea for expository preaching: The greatest single need of the contemporary church is undoubtedly the strengthening of the local pulpit.  This fact is not difficult to realize in the light of distressing present-day conditions in this phase of the Christian ministry and in view of the key place pastoral preaching holds in the carrying out of the divine program.  The progress of God's work depends primarily on the local church, and the local pastor has the most strategic position for weal or woe in this important activity.  In no way can the individual pulpit be strengthened for its momentous task than by a diligent return to the Bible injunction: 'Preach the Word.' The benefits of such a ministry are incalculable."

L. Scott Kellum goes on to say, "The good news is that many people seem to have convinced conservative evangelicals of the primary place of such preaching in the pulpits.  Unfortunately, few do it well."  To which Dr. Thomas Schreiner adds, "It seems that almost everyone trumpets the importance of expository preaching, and yet genuine and powerful expository preaching seems to be in short supply."  "

I concur with both Unger and Schreiner, in this regard, Kellum  adds.  Sequential (verse-by-verse) expository preaching is best for the steady diet of the believer.  Tragically, "those who preach the Word with skill and power are few and far between."

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

"Endure Hardship as a Good Soldier" (2 Timothy 2:3)

Some people have asked why I started writing personal reflection pieces on the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of church revitalization ministry?   If you allow me to summarize the larger context it will hopefully shed some light on how "Post Tenebras Lux" started and why I write what I write here.

I grew up in a loving Christian home in a solid, small town Bible church. One does not realize what an amazing privilege this is until you experience the new birth, grow in discernmenand come to understand just how undiscerning, shallow, and immature most evangelical churches in America are.  A. W. Tozer warned us many decades ago of a new wind blowing across the fields of the church, 'If I see aright, the cross of popular evangelicalism is not the cross of the New Testament. It is, rather, a new bright ornament upon the bosom of a self-assured and carnal Christianity. The old cross slew men; the new cross entertains them. The old cross condemned; the new cross amuses. The old cross destroyed confidence in the flesh; the new cross encourages it'

While growing up as a elder's/pastor's kid I watched my dad persevere through some very trying times in some very difficult church ministry contexts.  In many ways Kent Kolstad is the kind of shepherd-leader I am striving to be.  Despite these hardships my parents never stopped loving the local church (As a footnote, my parents now serve in a wonderful church context in Arkansas).

Monday, August 17, 2015

"Therefore, We Do Not Lose Heart...(Don't Give Up)!"

Having observed the American church for most of my life as a pastor's kid and upon completing my first decade of pastoral ministry I have learned that most shepherd-leaders face far more attacks from "worldly Christians" then they ever do from the outside world.  The epistle of 2 Corinthians is case and point.  If I am being honest with you however it is only recently that I have come to appreciate the pathos of this glorious letter.  Sure I understood Paul was "depressed" and that his ministry in Corinth had come under heavy fire from within but I did not understand why this fearless leader was so discouraged and heartbrokenWhat gives Paul?  Weren't you the apostle who told others to, "Act like men and to be strong and courageous(1 Cor. 16:13)?!?"  Why then did you retreat from Corinth like a puppy dog with his tail between his legs (2 Cor.1:23-2:4)?  How come you sent someone else to interact with the congregation on your behalf?   That does not sound very manly.   Why so many tears (2 Cor. 2:4; 12:19-21)?  Do you think you have it worse off then Jeremiah, besides, haven't you endured much greater suffering than this?  If you were actively trusting in Christ than why did you still "have no rest in your spirit? (2. Cor 2:13; 7:5-6)?  Why do you appear to threaten this immature and fleshly congregation of what will happen if they don't repent, submit, and make things right (1 Cor. 4:21; 2 Cor. 13:10)?  Isn't this approach a little heavy-handed and/or domineering?  And why do you invest so much ink talking about all the things "you have endured for sake of God's elect" (2 Cor. 4:8-18; 2 Tim. 2:10)?  Isn't your list of what you've been through in 2 Corinthians 11 a little "self-serving?"  Finally, why are you even defending the integrity of your ministry and the validity of your apostolic authority (2 Cor. 11:1-12:21)?  Shouldn't ministers of the New Covenant just be faithful and leave our reputations and ministries in God's hands?   Suffice it to say, it took over twenty years for me to understand and appreciate the agony of Paul as expressed in the raw letter of 2 CorinthiansExperience is often a wonderful teacher (painful as she sometimes is).

Thursday, August 13, 2015

How New Covenant Believers Relate To Old Testament Law?

Photo Credit:
Perhaps more than any other genre in Scripture the place of the “Law” in New Covenant preaching is the most challenging, demanding, and controversial.  Many different solutions have been proposed with various degrees of overlap between the major camps.  Certain Reformed Baptist preachers following the pattern of the Westminster Confession of Faith divide the Mosaic Law into three categories: moral, civil, and ceremonial. Many in this camp argue that the civil and ceremonial laws were fulfilled in Christ but that the moral aspect of the Mosaic Law is still binding.[1]   New Covenant theologians and Progressive Dispensationalists often teach that the entire Mosaic Law under the Old Covenant was fulfilled in life, death, and resurrection of Messiah Jesus. New Covenant believers are now under the “Law of Christ.”[2]  Some in the Classic Dispensationalist camp teach that the “law of God” and the “law of Moses” are one and the same and that no distinction between them is justifiable.[3]  A few Classic Dispensationalist also believe that New Covenant believers are now under grace (without law).  Such statements, without appropriate qualifications, have been rightly labeled “Antinomian.”[4]  Finally, the Theonomist camp rejects the traditional Reformed belief that the civil laws of Moses have been abrogated.  As such Theonomists believe that the moral and civil law codes of Moses remain in effect today.  Suffice it to say, before “preaching Law” the student of Scripture needs to have some understanding of the proper relationship between the Old and New Covenants.[5]  Without a larger understanding of biblical and systematic theology a preacher may teach a variation of "Theonomy" or "Antinomianism" and not even know it.

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Mandate For Expository Preaching

Photo Credit: Lukas Van Dyke (Shepherd's Conference)
A.          Expository Preaching Mandated (Lecture notes from dr. Steve Lawson)

When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; or He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes (Matthew 7:28-29).

These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you (Titus 2:15).

·               This truth led John Calvin to say: Let the pastors boldly dare all things by the Word of God, of which they are constituted administrators. Let them constrain all the power, glory, and excellence of the world to give place to and to obey the divine majesty of this Word. Let them enjoin everyone by it, from the highest to the lowest. Let them edify the body of Christ. Let them devastate Satan’s reign. Let them pasture the sheep, kill the wolves, instruct and exhort the rebellious. Let them bind and loose, thunder and lightning, if necessary, but let them do all according to the Word of God. [1]

·               This understanding of the preacher’s role produced a pro found sense of humility in Calvin as he rose to preach. He saw himself as standing under the authority of the Word. As Hughes Oliphant Old explains:

“Calvin’s sermons . . . [reveal] a high sense of the authority of Scripture. The preacher himself believed he was preaching the Word of God. He saw himself to be the servant of the Word.”[2]

Friday, August 7, 2015

Life Lessons

Photo Credit:
A friend suggested I read this article today and I am glad he did. Even though I have only completed ten years of ministry I can "amen" most everything that Brian Croft wrote as he reflected on twenty. By the grace of God (1 Cor. 15:10) some of these lessons have been consistently fleshed out in my life, and/or in the life of First Baptist. However, some of the lessons Pastor Croft has learned are still a ‘work in progress’ in my heart/ministry and/or in the lives of our leadership/congregation. No pastor and no local church is perfect. I am convinced that the foundation, direction, and the philosophy of ministry at FBC is biblical.  We are moving in the right direction and we are growing spiritually in the Lord.  In view of this we must keep pressing on toward the goal of the upward calling. Providentially, God has provided in supernatural ways to keep this local church afloat financially during dry seasons and difficult times.  Let us keep our eyes on the Author and Perfecter of our faith

The following lessons were most encouraging:

1. God’s Word Is Sufficient to Build Christ’s Church

On my first Sunday as senior pastor, I sat alone in the sanctuary wondering if the doors would be open in a year. I realized all my cleverness and worldly wisdom couldn’t stop the decline. But I knew God, by his Spirit and through his Word, was sufficient to build and revitalize his church. Over a decade later, I’ve watched him do this very thing.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Famine in the Land (The Dearth of True Bible Exposition)

 If the following definitions rightly reflect the sense of what true exposition of Scripture is then we must admit that there is a dearth of true preaching in America today.  It is no exaggeration to declare that there's a serious famine in the land! (Amos 8:11, “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD, “when I will send a famine on the land— not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD).  The devastating draught conditions in California is a microcosm of what is true spiritually throughout the United States.

In some cities and countries famished Christians (1 Peter 2:2-3) cannot find preaching that satisfies the deepest longings of their soul.  Grace To You says that they receive phone calls every week from people who want meaty exposition like what they hear on the radio (MacArthur, Lawson, Begg).  They long for this kind of feeding from the pulpit because they want to grow in the knowledge and grace of the Savior (note Colossians 1:28-29)

In other places, faithful expositors cannot find a "Christian" community that is really interested in the meat of God's Word.  In many cities, churchgoers are more interested in finding a casual atmosphere with musical styles that appeal to their personal tastes than they are in sound doctrine and the true exposition of Scripture.  Is it any wonder then why shallowness (Heb. 5:11-14) and biblical illiteracy so dominate the landscape of American Evangelicalism?  One would never know it but "spiritual immaturity" and the "lack of discernment" are not badges of Christian honor (note Ephesians 4:11-15). 

If reformation and revival is to take root in the Christian church it will be ushered in with a return to this kind of preaching (see below).  As the Reformer's rightly noted, "As the pulpit goes, so goes the church!"  To this end we labor, strive, and pray.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Theology on Fire!

Maintaining Balance
Expository Preaching 

         These extremes need to be avoided like the plague.
1.      1.  All Exposition, No Preaching  (EG. all information, no exhortation, and very little transformation; this kind of preaching produces tadpole Christians with big heads and little bodies. Cerebral preaching-produces full heads/empty hearts; or all hearing but little doing; or enlarged brains but paralyzed feet/hands)  
2.            All Preaching, No Exposition  (all theatrics and no theology; this preacher fills the building and the building is full but the preacher never fills the pulpit).

B.           Merging Together Exposition and Preaching (a perfect marriage)

1.            Paul: “Preach the Word”

Preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2).   Biblical preaching involves teaching but it is not just teaching.  We are called to herald the word.  We have a message from the King!  Do a word study on the Greek word kerusso if you are still confused

2.            The Puritans: “Fire in the Pulpit

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

What Is Expository Preaching? (Dr. Steve Lawson)

I.             the essential terms

A.          The Word “Expository”

 ·               According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word expository means “a commentary, explanatory, instructive, informative, the setting forth of principle themes.”

 ·               Expository emphasizes the kind of preaching that, first and foremost, explains the God-intended meaning of a passage of Scripture and, then, shows its relevance in daily living.

B.           The Word “Preaching”

 ·               The word preaching must also be understood. We are not addressing mere exposition teaching, but expository preaching. Those two words—expository teaching—would be redundant, having essentially the same meaning.

 ·               Expository preaching indicates that the exposition must come with a delivery that has a particular authority and passionate tone to it that accompanies preaching. It describes the presentation of the truth that is marked by all that the word preaching involves.

 ·               The word preaching means that the Scripture must be proclaimed in the power and energy of the Holy Spirit.

 ·               Preaching involves all the various elements of proclamation, declaration, confrontation, correction, persuasion, passion, consolation, exhortation, invitation.