Friday, February 29, 2008

Global outreach celebration

On Wednesday night, I and three other members from our church had the privilege of going down to Immanuel Baptist Church in Highland for their annual Global Outreach (GO) Celebration. As Southern Baptists, it can be difficult to break through the barrier of security and the sheer volume of missionaries (over ten thousand) to actually feel personally connected with what God is doing around the world. But Immanuel Baptist does a fantastic job through their GO Celebration of bringing global and North American missions down to a local church level. Last year, through this event, we met the Phams, who are currently studying in Costa Rica and have become ministry partners and life-long friends.

During Wednesday's service, more than 50 missionaries from around the world introduced themselves on stage. We had a time of praise and worship, prayer, missions reports, and a sermon. The special speaker was Ken Whitten, pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church in Tampa, Florida. He brought a passionate charge on the world's need for the gospel, and the importance of following God's call upon our lives. Perhaps the most touching moment for me was his opening slide show. It flashed up on the screen five different faces per second. Then the narrator said that at this mind-spinning rate, it would take 35 years to see every face in the world! What an urgency and overwhelming task we have to reach all the lost souls of this earth with the gospel of Jesus Christ. So many are dying every day without any knowledge of Him. Oh, that the Lord would call up more laborers into the harvest!

After the service, there was a reception in the fellowship hall, and all the missionaries had display booths for their respective ministries. I had the privilege of seeing a number of familiar faces. It was great to see Jerry Barnwell again, a young man I met a year ago at a Strategic Partner Consultation. Jerry is media team leader for the Central & Eastern Europe region. It was also a blessing to see Chris C. again, who is finishing up stateside assignment before returning to the Pacific Rim. I was honored to make some new friends as well, like Kerry & Mauri Johnson, who are missionaries in Mexico; and Tim Wicker, who serves in Russia and was featured in the 2007 video on the Udmurt people.

Wednesday was a wonderful night. I only wish more of our folks - and folks from other churches - could have attended. Immanuel Baptist does us a great service by putting on this program. I hope to be able to attend each year.

You may notice I've added a sidebar with up-to-date news stories from the International Missions Board. I hope this will be one more way of staying informed of how God is at work globally, and how we can pray specifically for our missionaries and lost people groups around the world.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Defining marriage, part 3

As I already discussed here and here, the California Supreme Court will conduct hearings next Tuesday, March 4, to decide whether it is “constitutional” to restrict marriage to the union of one man and one woman. Similar debates have been taking place in other states across the country.

Although we hope and pray the Supreme Court will uphold the traditional definition of marriage, we also know there’s a good chance that Prop. 22 will be overturned, and that a “same-sex marriage” provision will quickly follow from the state legislature. For this reason, is promoting the “California Marriage Protection Act.” This initiative would put a constitutional amendment on the November general ballot that would add, once-and-for-all, the following statement to our state law: “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”

Getting a constitutional amendment on the November ballot will not be easy. The first step to qualify is the collection of almost one million signatures between now and April 2008. You can support this initiative simply by signing your name on a petition form, and then spreading the word for others to do the same. The forms can be picked up at a distribution center in your area, or can be received by mail by using the online request form.

Here are five reasons I support a marriage amendment that would protect the traditional definition of marriage:

  • For the sake of obedience. As I explained in my previous post, marriage was instituted by God, and was clearly limited to one man and one woman. Any deviation from this pattern is disobedience to God. No one, including the state or federal government, has the prerogative to tamper with this fundamental, God-ordained institution.
  • For the sake of homosexuals. God calls me to love my neighbor (Matt. 22:39). This love should be merciful and unconditional. But love does not mean I remain silent when my neighbor stumbles into harm's way. It means I look out for him, try to help him, and promote what would be in his best interest. Because homosexuality is morally wrong, psychologically harmful, and biologically dangerous, I cannot condone this behavior. Rather, love motivates me to help homosexuals by protecting and rewarding traditional marriage.
  • For the sake of children. If same-sex marriage is approved, then homosexual couples will have more opportunity to become parents through adoption, surrogate mothers, and in-vitro fertilization. This would produce an imbalanced and unstable home life. Many boys without dads will become effeminate and lack discipline; many girls without dads will search for male affection from other sources. Many boys without moms will lack gentleness and respect toward the opposite sex; many girls without moms will lack emotional support and adequate training toward becoming a wife and mother. Every child needs and deserves both male and female role models, which are best provided by a father and a mother. There is also some evidence that homosexuality is more likely to lead to sexual abuse in the home.
  • For the sake of the church. If same-sex marriage is approved, then pastors and churches can expect to be increasingly penalized for “discrimination” and “hate crimes” under the guise of “civil rights.” Pastors might face imprisonment for declaring homosexuality a sin, or for refusing to conduct same sex marriages. Churches and religious organizations might be required by law to hire homosexuals or host homosexual weddings, even if it violates their religious convictions. One such incident already took place in New Jersey, where a Christian camp lost their tax-exemption status for refusing to host a same-sex civil union ceremony on their property.
  • For the sake of society. Once traditional marriage has been re-defined, there would be no moral absolutes in the area of sexuality. Same-sex marriage would pave the way for legalizing other behavior such as polygamy, incest, and bestiality. After all, how could you prevent two women from marrying one man, if they both comply? Why couldn’t a person marry her dog, if they have a mutual affection for one another? And what if a person wanted to marry a tree in their front yard? (Is this entirely far-fetched among some environmentalists?). A marriage amendment ensures these other relationships and bizarre acts would at least never be confused with marriage.

California is known for her beautiful beaches, picturesque coastlines, and rugged cliffs. But if you spend any time driving the California coast, you’ll quickly appreciate the guard rails. These steel rails prevent many drivers from veering off the road and plummeting to their death. In the same way, a marriage amendment is a kind of “guard rail” for society. It should be maintained by the government to prevent people from carelessly driving off the edge of certain moral boundaries. If, on the other hand, California overturns Prop. 22 and approves same-sex marriage, it will be like dismantling the guard rail and painting lines that head right off the edge, leading countless people to their demise. The results would be devastating.

For the five reasons listed above, I support a marriage amendment. And if you are a registered voter in California, I encourage you to sign the Protect Marriage initiative. Of course, this initiative cannot produce genuine reform in the hearts and lives of people or society. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ can do that. But by supporting this marriage amendment, we can take a simple step that will honor God’s clear definition of marriage, slow the pace of moral decline, and preserve a society where the gospel can be freely shared for generations to come.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

February pictures

Here are some February highlights, including more photos of our newest arrival!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Is seminary important?

The longer I'm in pastoral ministry, the more thankful I am for my college and seminary education. At times, it felt like an endless journey of one semester after another. The classes, reading assignments, papers, and exams never seemed to let up, and there was no end in sight. But just like driving across the Great Plains of the Midwest, if you persevere by the grace of God, you do eventually arrive on the other side. It was a total of ten years from the time I started college and sensed God's call into ministry, until the time I actually finished seminary and began serving full-time. But I don't regret it for one minute. It was an investment that reaps daily dividends.

If you're wondering whether you should pursue further theological education, which seminary to attend, what degree to get, how to prepare, and how to survive, then here are some articles that will prove very helpful:

Owen Strachan, Seasons of a Seminarian

B. B. Warfield, The Religious Life of Theological Students (1911)

Helmut Thielicke, A Little Exercise for Young Theologians (1962)

John Frame, Learning at Jesus’ Feet: A Case for Seminary Training

John Frame, Studying Theology as a Servant of Jesus

Reformed Theological Seminary’s pre-seminary reading list (short version and extended version)

Irvin Busenitz, "Training for Pastoral Ministry," ch. 7 in Pastoral Ministry, edited by John MacArthur (click here
to open in Libronix)

There is also a blog called designed to give practical wisdom on this subject, and to help students avoid burnout and finish well.

Some of these would make very good devotional reading. And since every pastor is a life-long student, it wouldn't hurt any of us to go back and read these articles from time to time.

(HT: Justin Taylor)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Welcome, Heidi Amelia!

Heidi Amelia Jones was born at 3:11 this morning. She weighed in at 7 lbs., 4 oz., and is 20.25" long. Mama and baby are both doing well. We are so blessed.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Knowledge, love, and obedience

Pop quiz: Which of these is the primary cause of our salvation: our intellect, our emotions, or our will? How are they related? Which one should we appeal to in evangelism? William Hendriksen, commenting on John 7:17, answers this question with a profound analysis of these human experiences of knowledge/love/obedience. The quote is a little long, but it is rich and rewarding.

Jesus says in John 7:17, "If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself."

Hendriksen comments:
If there be no true desire to obey the will of God as expressed in his Word, true knowledge (both intellectual and experiential) will not be found. This introduces the interesting question: Just how are the various elements of Christian experience related to each other? In general it may be said that according to the teaching of Christ and the apostles, knowledge (concerning Christ and the facts of redemption: implying, of course, a knowledge of misery) comes first. When we try to trace our love for God in Christ to its source, we discover that it resulted from the contemplation of the facts of the Gospel and from our interpretation of the significance of these facts. Nevertheless, we hasten to add: knowledge as such never produces love. It results in love when the Holy Spirit applies this knowledge to the heart; i.e., when he created in the heart a response to the love of Christ, the knowledge of which is already present in the mind. Now this love, in turn, expresses itself in deeds of obedience: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." The fundamental relation between the three is, therefore: a) knowledge, b) love, c) obedience. Cf. John 17:26; 14:15.

Yet, this representation is in need of qualification. Each of the elements (knowledge, love, obedience), once present in any slight degree, enriches, intensifies, deepens the others. There is a constant interaction, each influencing the other two. In fact, the three are so closely related that none is complete in and by itself alone. Thus, not only does knowledge, applied by the Holy Spirit, lead to love; but love, in turn, is the indispensable prerequisite of full-grown knowledge. Hence, at times we find the opposite order: instead of, we find love...knowledge. Cf. Eph. 3:17. Similarly, instead of the order according to which obedience is last (as in John 14:15), we also find the order in which it is first. This, of course, is the way in which the sequence is expressed in the passage which we are now studying (7:17): "If anyone is willing to do his will, he shall know concerning the teaching whether it is of God or whether I am (merely) expressing my own views." Here we have: 1. obedience (willingness to do God's will) and 2. knowledge.

The only logical conclusion, in view of these various and (at first glance) seemingly (though never really) conflicting representations, is this: when we speak of knowledge, love and obedience, we are not thinking of three altogether separate experiences, but of one single, comprehensive experience in which the three are united in such a manner that each contributes its share, and all cooperate unto man's salvation and God's glory. This experience is personal in character. Hence, we can no longer speak of the primacy of the intellect or of the primacy of the emotions or of the primacy of the will, but of the primacy of the sovereign grace of God influencing and transforming the entire personality for the Glory of God. (William Hendriksen, The New Testament Commentary on John, Vol. 2, pp. 6-7)

Friday, February 15, 2008

Using illustrations

One of the distinctives of John Calvin’s preaching was his use of “vivid expressions.” Steve Lawson explains,

Calvin used vivid expressions to enhance imagery in his listeners’ minds. John Leith notes, ‘His sermons are replete with metaphors, comparisons, and proverbial images and wisdom that appeal to the imagination.’ Most frequently, he used figures of speech drawn from Scripture itself, but many of his images had military, judicial, natural, artisan, or academic connections, and he often used common expressions drawn from routine conversations in everyday life. While humor was scarce in Calvin’s pulpit, he used stimulating language and biting sarcasm that was sure to draw a smile or shock the listener – and leave a lasting impression. (The Expository Genius of John Calvin, p. 89)

I've noticed firsthand just how effective a timely illustration can be in sermon delivery. Sometimes, a story or word picture produces that “aha” moment when a point suddenly clicks, and the listeners finally understand. At other times, illustrations have an almost hypnotic power to draw back the drifting attention of the audience. Furthermore, they can help set a doctrinal truth into “concrete” by giving something tangible and memorable for the congregation to remember, meditate upon, and discuss long after the sermon has concluded.

Illustrating is an art that every Bible teacher and preacher needs to develop. It’s definitely an area I want to keep improving in. Here's my basic process for crafting an illustration:

  • Step 1 - Study to understand the meaning of a text.
  • Step 2 - Discover the timeless truth(s) of that passage.
  • Step 3 - Brainstorm and try to draw parallels between that spiritual truth and the physical world. It could be anything from nature, history, sports, current events, a book or movie, a hypothetical story, personal experience, etc. At this point, I will often enter my “timeless truth,” or a key phrase or idea, into Wikipedia and just see what stories pop up. I will also draw upon recent stories and events I’ve read on or in World Magazine. A simple Microsoft Access database has proven a good “file cabinet” for cataloguing stories and quotes that I discover and would like to use later.
  • Step 4 - Hone in on the one parallel that seems to most effectively illustrate the point.

For example, this last week I preached on the closing verses of John chapter 6:

  • Step 1 - This passage describes how and why the crowds begin to leave Jesus. Peter confesses Christ as the “Holy One of God.” And Jesus reveals that one of the Twelve is going to betray Him.
  • Step 2 - The stark contrast between Judas, Peter, and the crowds remind us that not all people will accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Some will believe, while others will tragically reject Him. We should each examine ourselves, that we are true disciples of Christ - like Peter. The regenerative work of the Holy Spirit is a mystery, which reminds me of Jesus’ statement in John 3:8 “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
  • Step 3 - The recent tornadoes in the Midwest were a powerful demonstration of the random and unpredictable nature of tornadoes. Some buildings were totally demolished, while others nearby were left unscathed. These tornadoes parallel the spiritual truth that God works in mysterious and unpredictable ways.
  • Step 4 - One place that was particularly effected by the tornadoes was Union University in Tennessee. I talked about the damage, then connected this to John 3:8. This became my opening illustration for the sermon in John 6:59-71. We prayed for the faculty, staff, and students of Union, and then I launched into my sermon.
So, now it’s your turn, teachers and preachers! I would love to know, what realms and experiences do you typically draw from? How do you maintain variety? What resources have you found helpful? How do you file illustrations for later?

Fridays are often dedicated to practical church ministry issues. If you have a question or suggested topic for the future, please email me.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Defining marriage, part 2

Last week, I explained that the California Supreme Court will be deciding next month whether it is constitutional to define marriage as between one man and one woman. Although our state passed a law back in 1977 defining marriage as between one man and one woman, and although the public strongly affirmed this definition in Prop. 22, the mayor of San Francisco and the district Superior Court have more recently rejected this definition. Now, the matter is to be discussed at the highest court in our state.

But what’s the big deal, anyway? Why should same sex marriage be prohibited? Isn’t homosexuality a private matter of sexual preference? There are several reasons I strongly believe the traditional definition of marriage should be upheld at the state and federal level. But today I will give you just one – the biblical one.

“Wait a minute,” you may say. “I don’t believe in the Bible. I’m not even a Christian. Why should I care what your Bible says about homosexuality?” Well, since this is my blog, and since I am a Christian, and since the Bible is the Word of God, sufficient for all matters of life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3), it’s only natural that I would begin with what the Bible says about this important issue. Even if you don’t agree with the Bible, I hope you would grant me the courtesy of listening to what I believe, and to see where my beliefs originate from.

I believe that from the very beginning, God defined marriage as between one man and woman. While still in the garden of Eden, God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18). And who was that perfect compliment to Adam? A woman, named Eve, who God perfectly created and presented to Adam for his wife:

The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.” For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:22-24)

This design of one-man-one-woman marriage appears again and again throughout Scripture:

  • Proverbs 5:18 promotes exclusive marital devotion when it says, “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth.” (Tragically, Solomon did not follow his own advice!).
  • Jesus upholds God’s original intention for marriage when He says, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his Father and Mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matthew 19:4-6). In other words, God Himself is sovereignly responsible for bringing a man and woman together permanently when they are married.
  • The Apostle Paul reveals that the husband-wife relationship is a reflection of an even deeper and more profound spiritual relationship: that of Jesus Christ and His Bride, the Church (Ephesians 5).
  • And then of course, we are reminded of the sanctity of marriage in Hebrews 13:4: “Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.”

This last passage in Hebrews reveals that divine judgment awaits those who alter God’s design for marriage and sexual intimacy. It specifically mentions the sin of fornication and adultery, but homosexuality could be added to this list as well. Just as God makes clear that monogamous, heterosexual marriage is morally right, so He declares unequivocally that homosexuality (and every other form of sexual deviancy) is morally wrong:

  • In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Paul asks, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.” Then the Apostle adds this glorious reminder, “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified…” (v. 11).
  • In 1 Timothy 1:9-10, homosexuality is equated with lawlessness, sin, rebellion against God, and behavior which is “contrary to sound teaching.”
  • Romans 1:26-27 says that God is judging a society when He gives them “over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error” (Romans 1:26-27).
  • And we dare not forget God's swift and severe annihilation of Sodom and Gomorrah because “their sin was exceedingly grave” (see Genesis 18-19).

While California - and other states - deliberate over the definition of marriage, God has already made Himself abundantly clear. Marriage is restricted to one man and one woman. Any alternative is a sin against God and worthy of His wrath. However, the great news is, forgiveness is freely available through Jesus Christ. God sent His one and only Son to die for all sinners, including homosexuals! By turning from our sin and trusting in His atoning death and victorious resurrection, we can find cleansing and forgiveness, no matter what sin we have committed against God!

The Southern Baptist Convention says it well in their official position statement: “We affirm God's plan for marriage and sexual intimacy – one man, and one woman, for life. Homosexuality is not a ‘valid alternative lifestyle.’ The Bible condemns it as sin. It is not, however, unforgivable sin. The same redemption available to all sinners is available to homosexuals. They, too, may become new creations in Christ.”

Let’s be praying for our state Supreme Court justices as they prepare for this debate, and also for groups like the Campaign for California Families as they make a legal case for traditional marriage. But even more importantly, let’s reach out with genuine love and compassion to our homosexual friends, and offer them a freedom and forgiveness which are only available through Jesus Christ.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Calvin's high view of scripture

I have recently been reading through a short book called The Expository Genius of John Calvin, by Steven Lawson. Here are a couple quotes I've appreciated on Calvin's high view of Scripture, why Christians should always remain students of the Bible, and why pastors should devote themselves continually to the ministry of the Word.

"We owe to the Scripture the same reverence which we owe to God because it has proceeded from Him alone, and has nothing of man mixed with it."

"Wherever the gospel is preached, it is as if God Himself came into the midst of us. It is certain that if we come to church we shall not hear only a mortal man speaking, but we shall feel (even by His secret power) that God is speaking to our souls that He is the teacher. He so touches us that the human voice enters into us and so profits us that we are refreshed and nourished by it. God calls us to Him as if He had His mouth open and we saw Him there in person."

These words remind me of Paul when he commended the Thessalonians: "For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe" (1 Thess. 2:13).

What a privilege to have this precious book, where God Himself speaks! May our souls pant for it day after day, as a deer pants after the water brooks.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Defining marriage, part 1

The San Francisco Chronicle reported yesterday that our California Supreme Court is preparing to discuss whether it is "legal" to prohibit homosexual marriage.

Since 1977, California law has specified marriage as between one man and one woman. This traditional definition was strongly affirmed by the public in 2000, when Proposition 22 was passed. Also known as "The California Defense of Marriage Act," Prop. 22 simply stated,
"Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."

However, both California law and Prop. 22 came under attack in 2004, when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom ordered the county clerk to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. These licenses were quickly overturned by the California Supreme Court, but it became obvious that this issue was not going to go away.
In 2005, the San Francisco Superior Court Judge ruled Prop. 22 unconstitutional, but one year later, the First Disctrict Court of Appeal overturned this ruling.

The debate over the definition of marriage has been gradually building up steam since that time. In December 2006, the California Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, and now it seems that a court date of March 4, 2008, has finally been set. It is expected that if the Supreme Court overturns the 1977 Law and Prop. 22, the California legislature will quickly pass a new law defining marriage as being between "two persons."

Next week, I will discuss why this issue has profound significance for a California pastor like myself, and what we should do to preserve the traditional definition of marriage. Let me say at the very outset that I am not attacking homosexuals as persons. I affirm their rights as citizens of the United States, and men and women created in the image of God. I have been personal friends with a number of homosexuals, and have always sought to treat them with great courtesy, dignity, and love.

Nevertheless, as both a Christian and a pastor, I am called by God and compelled by conscience to honor the clear teaching of Scripture and lovingly declare homosexual behavior as sinful and dishonoring to the Lord. Furthermore, I believe that expanding the definition of marriage to include same sex couples would have a deleterious effect on society. But more on that next week.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Why I'm encouraged after Super Tuesday

I'm encouraged today. Not because my preferred candidate picked up a lot of delegates yesterday (he didn't); and not because Reagan conservatism achieved a great victory yesterday (it didn't); and not because our next President will be a highly qualified person of character and experience (they might not be). Rather, I'm encouraged today because this world is not my home. My citizenship is in heaven, and my Lord Jesus Christ is a perfectly righteous King, seated firmly today upon His throne! What's more, my King is coming again soon!

In the midst of political turmoil and uncertainty, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 gives me four reasons to be encouraged:
  • I am encouraged by the coming return of Christ. "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God" (4:16). Oh, how I long to hear those three triumphant sounds - the shout, the voice, and the trumpet! I keep my ears and eyes open, because those sounds mark the arrival of my Lord. Arthur Whiting says, "The Savior is the One for whom the saints long, and He alone can meet their heart-hunger."
  • I am encouraged by the coming resurrection of the dead. "And the dead in Christ will rise first" (4:16). The resurrection of the dead is certain, because Christ's resurrection is accomplished. We may not know yet exactly what our resurrected bodies will be like, but this much we know, "that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is" (1 John 3:2). What a glorious day that will be! But something else will immediately follow...
  • I am encouraged by the coming rapture of the living. "Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air" (4:17). One moment, we will be walking on this earth, and the next moment, we will be suddenly "snatched up" or "seized" faster than a special forces rescue operation. This is a mystery previously unrevealed to the church (1 Cor. 15:51-52).
  • I am encouraged by the coming reunion of all believers. We "will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord" (4:17). We will be united together with other believers, once and for all, with loved ones past and present who have trusted in Jesus as Savior and Lord. Finally, I will be able to spend unhurried time with spiritual heroes like my Grandpa and Grandma Goodrich, Hal Kemper, John Bunyan, and so many others.
For all of these reasons, I am greatly encouraged, even after Super Tuesday. Yet as long as Christ has me on this earth, there is still work here to be done. Many more must hear the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ, and prepare for the coming of the King!

...We wait for the Lord, our Beloved,
Our Comforter, Master, and Friend,
The substance of all that we hope for,
Beginning of faith and its end;
We watch for our Savior and Bridegroom,
Who loved us and made us His own;
For Him we are looking and longing—
(Annie Johnson Flint)

Monday, February 4, 2008

So that no man may boast

While studying for my sermon last week in John 6, I was struck afresh by just how foolish and offensive it must seem to believe in a broken, bloodied, crucified Messiah. Yet that is precisely what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:23: "But we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness." Just a few verses later, Paul declares,

For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)

As I read these verses last Saturday night, it occurred to me they really do summarize my salvation, and explain God's whole redemptive history recorded in the Bible.

Why did God set His favor on an obscure Chaldean named Abram? Why did God choose a lowly, young shepherd boy named David to become king of Israel? Why did he use a harlot named Rahab? Why did Jesus minister in the rural region of Capernaum? Why did He choose lowly fishermen for disciples?
Why did the Messiah arrive in a manger, and why did He die on a cross? Because again, and again, and again in the Scriptures, God chose the foolish, and the weak, and the base, so that no man may boast. God alone deserves the praise and glory for my salvation. His redemptive story, from beginning to end, is an exciting drama of mystery and grace!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Is church membership necessary?

Have you ever wondered why some churches emphasize membership? Here are nine reasons I believe church membership is important:
  • The early church kept track of its members (Ac. 2:41; 5:14)
  • Church leaders need to know who the members are (Acts 20:28, 31; John 10:14)
  • Members need to know who their fellow members are (Rom. 12:4-8; Heb. 10:24-25)
  • The community needs to know who the members are (Ac. 5:13)
  • It protects the concept of a regenerate church membership (2 Cor. 6:14)
  • It provides clear boundaries and consistent requirements for all members
  • It makes church discipline possible (Mt. 18:15-17; 1 Cor. 5:12-13)
  • It has historical precedent. By the beginning of the second century, churches required new believers to become “catechumens” before they could be baptized and become full members. During this time, they were taught doctrine and Christian living. This period lasted up to three years!
  • It just makes good sense (compare any business, hobby club, or any other organization which keeps track of its members).
As Mark Dever explains, “A recovered practice of careful church membership will have many benefits. It will make our witness to non-Christians more clear. It will make it more difficult for weaker sheep to go straying from the fold, while still considering themselves sheep. It will help to give shape and focus to the discipleship of more mature Christians. It will aid our church leaders in knowing exactly who they are responsible for. In all of this, God will be glorified” (Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, 38)

New Blog

Today I'm closing up shop and launching a new blog called Pinch of Clay. You can visit it by clicking here . Please stop by and...