Friday, April 29, 2016

Real World Scenarios: How Would You Respond If ____________

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What would you do?

Scenario 1: Two women ask to meet with you. They are legally married residents of your state. They want to meet with you because they would like to start coming to church regularly.  They have been recently listening to your sermons online and like them a lot.  They have two children, one in Grade 3 and one in Grade 8.  They each say that they believe that Jesus Christ is their Lord and Savior.  They wanted to meet to see if it would be OK for them to start coming to church regularly, along with their children.  They want their kids to be involved in the children and youth ministries. 

What do you do next? Why?

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Same Sex Attraction: Is It a Sin?

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I had not heard of the phrase "same sex attractions" (SSA) until I attended a Together For the Gospel conference a few years ago.  During one of the Q&A sessions a pastor addressed the subject is God anti-gay and other questions about homosexuality, the Bible and SSA (I believe Sam Allberry was a guest during one panel discussion). Allberry says that these SSA "are part of what I feel but are not who I am in a fundamental sense.  I am far more than my sexuality."

These questions have been raised again at the Gospel Coalition.  A recent article by Matt Moore titled, How I Discovered True Masculinity set the internet ablaze.

Pastor Phil Johnson of Grace to You responded to this article on Twitter and Facebook with these comments, "Yet another hazy, misleading sophism from TGC. Lusting for something sinful is not “obedien[ce] to God

In one of the threads, someone wrote back: “Desires are neutral until they are used sinfully.” 

To which Phil Johnson provided the following reply.  "This idea is apparently gaining popularity among evangelicals, but it is dead wrong and subversive to genuine holiness.  What is (impure) lust but sinful desire? What does the tenth commandment forbid if not all kinds of desires for things that cannot be righteously ours?

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Christ's Call to Repentance and Reformation

In Pastor John MacArthur's recent T4G sermon MacArthur zeroed in on Christ’s reformational call to the churches of Asia Minor in the first three chapters of Revelation.   In this plenary session Pastor John exhorted church leaders and pastors to call their churches to repentance if need be. “We all like calling the nation to repentance,” MacArthur suggests, “but what about calling the church to repentance?” "Have you ever heard of a church—a whole church—that repented? Have you ever been part of a church that openly, genuinely, and contritely repented for sins against its head—the Lord Jesus Christ?"

This message resonated with me for a number of reasons:  
1) Because that is what happened with the congregation I have the joy of serving in NW Illinois.  It has also happened with other churches and seminaries (note for example Dr. Al Mohler/SBTS and the story of FBC, Durham).   

In our context we examined the Word together and acknowledged areas of faith and practice that were not in harmony with the precepts of Scripture (1 Pet. 4:17).  We confessed these shortcomings and asked God for wisdom, strength, perseverance, and grace to make the necessary changes.  Some of the transformations that have taken place have been recounted in this revitalization blog.  I have also sought to be candid concerning some of the challenges I/we have faced along the way.   Biblical change is seldom easy.  I promise you the last thing Satan wants is to witness a local church return to it's founding principles and to reestablish biblical priorities (Colossians 1:28-29; Ephesians 4:11-16; Matthew 28:18-20).  The Evil One will throw all HELL against such efforts (see articles below; note the lyrics in Luther'sm A Mighty Fortress is Our God).

2) Because Revelation 2-3 is one of the most relevant texts in the entire New Testament and yet it often overlooked.  

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

"Saving A Seminary" (the story of SBTS and Al Mohler and why it matters).

Saving a Seminary was the title of a June 13th World Magazine article with Marvin Olasky and Dr. Al Mohler.  Over the past many years Dr. Mohler has been repeatedly asked how he turned around a once liberal leaning seminary into a bastion of orthodox (biblical) Christianity.  

Mohler has been open and honest while recounting the past and has candidly stated that biblical change doesn't just happen without the shedding of blood, sweat, and tears.  Dr. Mohler has not shared these details in order to present himself as a Christian martyr.  These painful stories remind men that you must be willing to pay a price if God calls you to serve in this type of ministry context.  I have provided plenty of article over the years that emphasize this very point.  This is especially important for pastors and lay leaders who are involved in church revitalization contexts.  We must "consider the cost" before building God's tower.

In view of what God has done in Louisville many leading evangelical leaders have offered praise to God for the reformational efforts of Mohler at Southern seminary.  Dr. Mohler would be the first person to tell you that ONLY GOD can rescue (or turn around) a spiritually sick seminary or church.  Having  said that, the Scriptures also teach that God not only ordains the end He also ordains the means.  In other words, God often chooses to use faithful Christian servants in order to carry out His purposes on earth (see Titus 1:5f; Col. 1:28-29).  In this manner. Dr. Mohler was the primary human instrument that the Lord used to "save" SBTS seminary.

Friday, April 22, 2016

John 17:24-26 (the best B-day present)!

The Lord has provided the best birthday present in allowing me the gift of studying this week and preaching this Sunday John 17:24-26. This prayer of all prayers literally takes your breathe away and lifts you up to the heights of heaven.

John 17:24-16 is Jesus' Prayer for Perfect Unity, Glorious Intimacy, and Unbroken Fellowship!

"One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, To behold the BEAUTY of the LORD." Psalm 27:4.  In John 17:24-26 Jesus ensures His people that this request (Psalm 27:4) will be answered; (for the Father of love always answers the prayer requests of His one of a kind Son).

This is a prayer for unity in heaven for the Church Triumphant in the sweet by and by.  "When we stand in glory/We will see His face/ and there we'll serve our King forever/in that holy place."

Thursday, April 21, 2016

How to Manifest That We REALLY Are "T4G!"

"We are brothers in Christ united in one great cause — to stand together for the Gospel. "I have posted a number of articles where I have asked the question: Are we really together for the gospel?  I pose the question because too often evangelical church leaders do not manifest the fruit of Christian unity and spiritual intimacy.  I am not thinking about the biblical intramural critiques that are given concerning varying theological positions or various approaches to ministry (philosophy of ministry) within our respective churches.  I am also not promoting unbiblical ecumenicalism (such as ECT or Mormon/Evangelical oneness).  I am talking about the way in which we shepherd-leaders receive parting members from other evangelical churches.  Or the effort we make to encourage a fellow shepherd-leader, especially those who are going through a difficult season of ministry.  Or the way in which we come together to manifest our common affection for the true Head of the Church (Jesus Christ).  Or the way in which we support the church discipline efforts of other Christian congregations (Matt. 18:15-17; 1 Cor. 5; Titus 3:10).  Or the way in which we band together after a regional tornado or school shooting devastates our local community.  Or the way in which we pray for other local ministries by name during our weekly prayer meetings.  I am thinking about practical external manifestations of our common salvation in Christ.

One of the things we should pray for is that the 10,000 church leaders who gathered last week for the "TOGETHER for the Gospel" conference will flesh out their Christian unity and their like-minded gospel togetherness in more intentional ways (John 17:20-23). 

These TGC/T4G events don't mean much if our unity only consists in us attending conferences together.  The Bible-centered, evangelical church today is often too independent and is often too self-focused.  Heaven will not be this way so why not enjoy each other's fellowship in the here and now?

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

8 Years-8 Transformations

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In a previous post I highlighted some of the ways God has been refining the Senior Pastor at FBC, Freeport.  Today I want to mention some of the ways God has been refining the ministry.  Over the past 8 years how has God changed and reformed the church itself?

 1) Our worship service is Word-driven and God-centered; (8+ years ago our worship services had become too man-centered; see Gary Gilley's book, this little church went to the market: the church in the age of modern entertainment).  My primary priorities in coming to First were to preach the Word faithfully (establish an expository pulpit), to develop personal relationships (to be a pastor-teacher), to help train men to be effective shepherd-leaders, and to reform our Sunday morning liturgy.  

Paul charged Titus in Titus 1:5 to "set in order what remains" (which suggests he was to put a broken bone back in place) and to appoint qualified lay leaders (elders) who would help this young pastor reform the church in Crete.  Today this kind of local church ministry is often called church revitalization.

In order for a church to go from "embers to a flame" a congregation must humbly acknowledge that they are sick and in need of biblical medicine, that they are lost and need spiritual direction, and/or that they have drifted and need to be brought near to the Good Shepherd once again.  Dr. Harry Reeder makes this very point in his helpful book, "From Embers to a Flame: How God can Revitalize Your Church."

Sunday, April 17, 2016

A "Sign" of the Times

One of the hardest parts of pastoring in prosperous America today is this: the average churchgoer in America is consumer-orientated.  We (consumers) have grow accustom to "having it our way" (almost) all the time.  Now a days we do not even have to purchase an entire album.  We can simply pick the songs that we like and put those tunes on our I-Pod.  When consumers come to church they often expect to hear the music style (and songs) they like.  If they don't like the song they don't "worship;" (some would say they can't worship).

Church leaders today feel this pressure: Give the customers what they want or they will shop elsewhere.  

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Refiner's Fire: How is God Making You More Like Jesus?

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In the 1990's most evangelical churches in America sang the song Refiner's fire.  The familiar lyrics state, "Refiner's fire/My heart's one desire/Is to be holy/Set apart for You, Lord/ I want to be holy/Set apart for You, my Master/Ready to do Your will."

How is God making you more like Jesus (note 2 Cor. 3:18; Col. 1:28)?  If you are in Christ then you are a work in progress (Phil. 1:6).  How is God refining you? (John 17:17-19)

In my heart God has been reinforcing and deepening my convictions in relationship to ministry faithfulness and ministry success.  1 Corinthians 3 serves to remind me that God is not only concerned with the message I/we communicate (1 Cor. 2) but how I/we build (1 Cor. 3) and “do gospel ministry.”  Now it is one thing to exposit a passage of Scripture like 1 Cor. 3:1-15 and quite another thing to flesh out the implications of this text.   The pastoral lessons R. Kent Hughes talks about in his helpful biographical book, Liberating Ministry From the Success Syndrome have been truths God has been teaching me.  God is not only refining FBC Freeport He is refining the minister as well!  Paul came to understand that God allowed "a thorn" in Corinth to inflict the apostle for the sake of his personal growth in godliness (2 Cor. 12).

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Scandal Surrounding C.J. Mahaney and Together For the Gospel.

This past week over ten thousand churchman gathered for the 2016 Together For the Gospel Conference.  I have had the privilege of attending multiple T4G events including the original conference.  Sadly, a lot of attention this year was directed away from the gospel and the Word preached.  Critics of C. J. Mahaney called on the Al Mohler, Mark Dever, and Ligon Duncan to un-invite C. J. from their list of plenary speakers.  Christianity Today ran a story with the headline, T4G conference overshadowed by row over CJ Mahaney presence.  This was certainly not the only article of its kind (note this)

Todd Pruitt (from the Mortification of Spin and ACE) wrote an insightful article wherein he did not question Mahaney's pastoral credentials.  He did question the wisdom of asking CJ to speak in light of the surrounding controversies revolving around Sovereign Grace ministries (which CJ helped found).

The Twin Pillars of the Christian Life

The twin pillars of the Christian life have been rightly identified as the regular intake of Scripture and prayer.  Why are these personal spiritual disciplines so vitally important?

I spend time in the Word every day because I always need His direction.  “Thy Word is a light unto my feet and a lamp unto my path.” I know some men feel they need to separate sermon preparation from their personal devotions.  In my experience I try and commune with God as I prayerfully study, memorize, and meditate upon the Holy Word (note Psalm 1:1-3).  If I am preparing an Awana lesson, a SS study, a funeral message, a counseling session, or the morning expository sermon I believe that I am coming face to face with the perfect Revelation of God.  As such, I ask the Lord to make all of my studies a worshipful experience (like Moses on Mount Sinai).

As I examine the inspired text I am always asking the “so what” question, not simply for the flock’s sake, but for my own sanctification (John 17:17; 1 Pet. 2:2-3).  I need the Word of God to first pierce my own heart (Heb. 4:12) before I “reprove, rebuke, and exhort” (2 Tim. 4:1-5) my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Transformed (from the inside out)!

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"What is your understanding of the gospel?  How has it changed your life?"

The gospel is the good news declaration of what God in Christ has done for undeserving sinners (2 Cor.5:18-21).  According to Scripture, the gospel is “the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16).  As such the free offer of grace should be extended to anyone who will listen (Rom. 1:17; 10:12-17).

When presenting the gospel I sometimes use the familiar God/Sin/Christ/Our Response structure in order to highlight the complete gospel message.  A) God:  Who He is.  B) Man:  His universal problem (sin).  C) Jesus Christ:  God’s gracious solution.  D) Our Response:  repent and believe.  Every gospel presentation needs to clearly communicate that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone (Eph. 2:1-10). 

In Dr. Sinclair Ferguson’s fine chapter in From Heaven He Came and Sought Her, he explains the gospel in four statements. “In Christ, believers are delivered from the guilt of sin (which secures our justification). Romans 3:18-25; Psalm 32:1-5.  In Christ, we are delivered from the wrath of God (which secures our reconciliation). Rom. 5:6-11.  In Christ, we are delivered from the dominion of sin (which secures our freedom from sins reign but not yet its presence).  Rom. 6:18-7:14.   In Christ, we are delivered from the oppression of the powers of darkness.  1 John 3:8; Col. 2:13-15; Heb. 2:14-15.”