Friday, January 29, 2016

Why Every City Needs Healthy Churches Like This... (part 2)

In my previous article I highlighted some of the most important New Testament passages that shape and define spiritually healthy churches (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 2:42; Eph. 4:11-16; Col. 1:28-29; 1 Tim. 3:15, 6:20; and Jude 3-4).  I summarized these jugular texts into four headings: 1) The church’s great commission, 2) the church’s chief priorities, 3) the church’s overarching mission, and 4) the church’s sacred trust.

As we enter 2016 and assess afresh where we’ve been, where we’re at, and where we’re headed it is essential that we evaluate our ministries against the clear backdrop of Holy Scripture (I would encourage each of you to do the same).  Just this month I asked a number of people to answer a survey with questions like: “What evidences of grace did you observe last year that suggests that even after 170 years God is still at work here?  Where do we need to grow the most as a church? What are our most glaring weaknesses? Are we keeping the main thing(s) the main thing(s)?  How can I come alongside you to encourage you and to help expand your ministry efforts?”

By the grace of God, and through many dangers, toils, and snares, the depth and direction of First Baptist, Freeport is back on track.  Having said that, we still have a long way to go!  
As we begin this new year may we say with Paul, “Not that we have already arrived at our goal, but we press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me….One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead!  Let us press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12-14).”

Having mentioned these things, as I look out on the evangelical horizon I sometimes wonder if I’m reading a different New Testament.  From my vantage point, many juvenile churches in America (especially those that are materially prosperous) seem to glory in their shame.  

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Why Freeport Needs a Church Like This...

After 7 1/2 years I’ve come to see that the community in which I reside doesn’t really need me; Having said that, I’m equally convinced that the city of Freeport desperately needs a local church like this (notwithstanding our own warts and blemishes).

As I read and reread the New Testament I appreciate with greater clarity what a healthy church looks like (her priorities, her philosophy of ministry, her overarching passions, her chief goals, her doctrinal standards, etc).

Is it too elementary for me to remind you of what some of those defining marks are?  A healthy church is a Word-driven, Christ-centered, teaching and preaching community of believers wherein sound doctrine is highly prized, Spirit-filled obedience is actively pursued, and where evangelism and discipleship is both modeled and practiced.

We don’t have time to read every biblical proof text but I do want to highlight a few passages:  Every local church that is on point is shaped by the following New Testament passages.  These verses are the spiritual life blood of healthy congregations.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

An Encouragement File (My Encouragement to You)

In seminary one of the most helpful and practical tidbits I received was to keep an encouragement file.  In other words, we were counseled to hold onto encouraging letters and emails from members and former members.  This "encouragement file" is a helpful resource especially during particularly discouraging days or spiritually barren times in ministry.

Yesterday I received a short and sweet card from a long time member.  I particularly appreciated her last line as this is exactly what one hopes to accomplish as a minister of the gospel; (What a privilege it is to teach your flock how great and awesome our God is and to make much of the Lord Jesus Christ).

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Ultimate Measure of a Man

What is generally true concerning all men is especially true of pastor-shepherds.  The worth of a soldier (Christian/pastor) is not determined during times of peace but is proven during times of (spiritual) conflict.

Acts 16:13, "Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong."

Monday, January 18, 2016

Three Characteristics of a Church in Need of Biblical Revitalization

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Many years ago the late James Montgomery Boice noted, "These are not good days for the evangelical church, and anyone who steps back from what is going on for a moment to try and evaluate our life and times will understand that."

In this vein, most churches in America today desperately need to experience genuine reformation and revival.  When I say "reformation" I'm talking about the kind of spiritual awakening that arouses sleepy Christians from their spiritual slumber.  When biblical reformation takes place lukewarm believers/churches once again treasure Christ supremely in their hearts (Rev. 2:1-7), they study the sacred Scriptures with renewed zeal (1 Pet. 2:2-3) and they mature in the faith, growing in biblical discernment along the way (Eph. 4:11-16);  During times of reformation and revival God's people joyfully find themselves praying as a way of life (1 Thess. 5:17); they pursue sanctification and Christ-likeness in the power of the Holy Spirit (Heb. 12:14, Gal. 5:1-6:4); and they faithfully sow the gospel message both near and far (Rom. 1:16).

If these marks describe your congregation pause and thank the Lord right now; (healthy churches are becoming less and less common with each passing generation).  One caution needs to be stated before I write anything else.  Make sure that you are not confusing the size of your church with the spiritual health of your church (because many ministries today that are a mile wide are also an inch deep; see Acts 2:42, Eph. 4:12-16).  A full parking lot or a huge facility/campus is no guarantee of spiritual health and life.

When a real work of the Holy Spirit is taking place lives marriages, families, and churches) are transformed from the inside out.  When this transpires non-Christians often take notice and wonder what in the world is happening over at ____ church (Acts 5:13)?  The early church so impacted the world not because they were so cool and hip (like Hillsong) but because they were so different (in all the right ways).

Over the past few years I've recounted the story of how God used a small band of nobodies (I certainly include myself in this category) to revitalize an historic church to the praise of His glorious grace (we have by NO means arrived as a church but the depth and direction of our ministry is once again in harmony with the clear teaching of Scripture).   As I've stated in previous articles without the Lord's guidance, provision, and protection our toil would have been for naught.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

How To Preach the Gospel (as a Reformed Pastor)

Those who love the doctrines of grace often forgot that it is not theologically incompatible to call sinners to faith and repentance as a dying man to dying men. We are, after all, "ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God" (see 2 Cor 5:11-21).

In the history of the church no one exemplified this kind of evangelistic preaching better than Charles Haddon Spurgeon (note this).  The following sermon from Dr. Lawson is a great example of how to preach the gospel (as a Reformed minister).

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Must Every Sermon Focus on Jesus? By Walt Kaiser, Jr.

In previous blog posts I have asserted that Text-driven preaching is the apostolic mandate for all preachers, in all times, in all places.  We must preach the Word in season and out...(2 Tim. 3:15-4:5).

Elsewhere I attempted to show the proper relationship between preaching and the doctrine of God's sovereignty (read here).  I've also shown how expository preaching is the natural overflow of an inerrant text (here); and have posted a few articles concerning the doxological nature of genuine biblical exposition (see this)... Properly done preaching and singing fuel authentic, corporate worship!  Along the way I have also posted articles about how shallow preaching robs the people of God of spiritual riches.   Many of these articles have arisen out of the overflow of my doctoral studies at the Master's Seminary in expository preaching.

In this vein, one of the most debated issues among evangelical Christians today is "Must every sermon highlight the person and work of Christ if it is to be considered a 'Christian sermon' ?"  Is Spurgeon's quote, "A sermon without Christ is an awful thing" a helpful way to judge preachers and preaching today?  

During Dr. John MacArthur's D. Min lecture series this January he encouraged a room full of fifty pastors to carefully consider Dr. Walt Kaiser's many resources on exegesis and exposition.  Both Kaiser and MacArthur believe that it is the duty of all ministers of the gospel to preach expository sermons that are exegetically driven.  He reminded us that our theology ought to be fruit of a literal hermeneutic and sound exegesis.  So I ask again, "Must every sermon focus on Jesus?"  The following article by Dr. Kaiser is the most helpful summation concerning this topic that I have ever read.  Tolle lege.