Thursday, July 3, 2014

King Jehoshaphat & 3 Examples of Godly Manhood


Ahab king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat king of Judah, “Will you go with me to Ramoth-gilead?” He answered him, “I am as you are, my people as your people. We will be with you in the war.” And Jehoshaphat said to the king of Israel, “Inquire first for the word of the LORD.” Then the king of Israel gathered the prophets together, four hundred men, and said to them, “Shall we go to battle against Ramoth-gilead, or shall I refrain?” And they said, “Go up, for God will give it into the hand of the king.” But Jehoshaphat said, “Is there not here another prophet of the LORD of whom we may inquire?” ~ (2 Chron. 18:3-6)
This is an interesting story to say the least, but let’s look at it for the purpose of viewing three (3) applications for godly manhood.
1. Godly Men Are Uniters, Not Dividers.
Even though King Ahab is far from the godly example of Jehoshaphat, he would be our example of someone who left the faith. Nonetheless, Jehoshaphat sees that they are neighbors, originally of the same covenant, and brothers. Therefore, godly manhood recognizes the greater good and hopes to quell division. As Jesus stated, “Blessed are the peacemakers…” (Matt 5:9). Israel and Judah had been at war for generations, since Jeroboam and Rehoboam.
Ahab was an interesting character to say the least. As the Scriptures reveal, “Ahab did more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him” (1 Kings 16:33). Yet, when he humbled himself before God with weeping and sackcloth, God saw his heart and delivered him (1 Kings 21:29). It is most likely that his evil wife led him astray. Regardless, perhaps Jehoshaphat saw the same heart? Either way, a godly man is one who wants to unite people, not bring division. In a way that we may apply this—how do we conduct our business—by trying to rule and reign over people or do we seek input and advice? People who are good leaders know how to unite people.
2. Godly Manhood Seeks Prayer Before All Things.
Ahab’s desire to convince Jehoshaphat to engage in a war with Ramoth-gilead doesn’t trump Jehoshaphat’s faith in the LORD.  A godly man knows that God orders his steps and he is content with walking in those steps.[i] Jehoshaphat shows us the importance of making godly decisions. Whenever we are about to be involved with something that we are not certain, or that may have consequences beyond our knowledge, it is imperative to seek the Lord. Needless to say, all things should be brought to the Lord first, but especially when we come up against life changing decisions. Godly people seek God.
Whether in your occupation, neighborhood, or community, before you dedicate yourself to a task or project, make sure that God is involved—even if it’s tearing out a new kitchen, making a community playground, or taking an promotion. These decisions will have an impact not only on you, but others around you. Seek God before all things.
3. Godly Manhood Displays Wisdom & Discernment
Ahab can see that Jehoshaphat is a godly man, so his intention is to bring about “prophets” that will speak for God. However, Jehoshaphat’s spiritual antennae go up, as he notices that something just isn’t right about these so-called prophets. Whether Jehoshaphat visibly observes something or has a gut feeling, he employs wisdom and discernment. He asks Ahab, “Is there not here another prophet of the LORD of whom we may inquire?” (18:6). Out of four HUNDRED men, Jehoshaphat doesn’t trust their intuition or their prophetic prowess. As it happens, Jehoshaphat was correct, as the story unfolds, but suffice it to say that godly manhood takes wisdom and discernment, and in this regard, specifically, spiritual discernment because it pertains to his and other people’s lives.
The message here relates to us in several ways. Let’s say that everyone in your office, family, or neighborhood is on board with a decision, this doesn’t mean that you throw out discernment or have to be the staunch lone vote. Who knows? Maybe you are the one person that staves off a disaster for the business, home, community, but Jehoshaphat was still asking about godly advice. Wisdom will ask for more time when important matters arise. A simple response as, “Can we take some time to pray about this first, or to seek someone who has been though this situation…” is using discernment. As well, spiritual discernment is vital sometimes and you may need to seek a mentor, pastor, or elder; the point, use the resources that you have. You wouldn’t build a house with only wood, screws, and a rock, but you’d wait until you had the correct tools.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Are Sunday Youth Sporting Events Destroying Child-like Faith?


Here’s the straight black-and-white answer you’re looking for, yes! There would be no need for this article had the answer been no—but emphatically and undeniably, Western culture has morphed into Sunday morning sports instead of Sunday morning worship, fact. I can recall a time when Blue laws existed and there were no stores open on Sunday—and I’m not that old. However, that is not the soap box that I’m jumping on and the question of legalism will be thrown out the window quickly—it’s a straw man argument. As Leonard Ravenhill stated, “When there's something in the Bible that churches don't like, they call it 'legalism.'”

There’s a major problem with culture, we all agree; however, are believers to adhere more to sports or to provide the example of godly leadership, integrity, and more importantly, obedience to Christ and His Church? Missing a Sunday service for vacation, getting some much needed sleep, or perhaps even someone taking a job when unemployed, those things we understand are going to happen—and once again we agree that it’s not about getting a gold star for attendance. And assuredly, we all agree that salvation does not come by attending church—we all believe in Christ’s efficacious work on the cross for our salvation. And there are no “buts,” added in.

The argument I am making now is that we are teaching an entire generation that church membership, or even attending church is not merely second fiddle—but there is no fiddle! OK, I’ll say it; youth sporting events on Sundays are destroying the children’s faith. We’re producing idolatry, lacking fellowship, and setting bad examples. They are growing up with these three huge mistakes, presented to them by us—their parents, as if these three things are edifying and good. Here are my three observations:

(1) Producing Idolatry

Children are being taught that there are way more important things than to worship Christ. Now, before you grab the argument, “I love Jesus, the soccer field is my church,” let’s be real for a second. Let me get on the soapbox. Jesus was the One who instituted the church—He’s the One who invented it, heads it, and upholds it, as well as directed its mission and gathering. I’ve never seen communion presented at the soccer field, nor have I heard Scripture being taught, nor songs of praise—maybe you have—but it’s still not church because the focal point is not Christ—but to get Christ out of the way, so that the game can occur.

I once had a seminary professor in evangelism declare that it was OK to skip church for sports, as long as you were “missional” and led the team in prayer. Seriously? While yes, that may be evangelism—it’s not church! And don’t throw the “where two or more are gathered” erroneous interpretation at me either, please. My rant is real because I love Christ’s church—if you do not love Christ’s church then you cannot love Christ—since He is the head (we’re connected). The sport becomes idolatry—putting something before God. We’re teaching the children that baseball is more important than Christ—so years down the road when they want a job, a boyfriend/girlfriend, family, and the ball games are done, try and explain why the church is important to them again? As Charles Spurgeon said, “Train up a child in the way he should go - but be sure you go that way yourself.”

The problem is that the baseball, football, soccer, or any sporting field, or even the dance studio, or whatever activity, you hold higher than the church; you have created an idol for your child. Honestly, anytime we place ourselves as the number one reason to attend church, we miss the point and are idol building. When we make ourselves more important than Christ’s command and the people of God—to edify, love, pray, cry, grow, and live within Christ—then we are saying I’m a Lone Ranger, I can do it alone—cut off the body—keep the head. But Christianity was never designed to be solo—but corporate fellowship.

(2) The Absence of Fellowship

The absence of fellowship is a major American dilemma. The problem is that some parents think “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so,” is all they need to know. The parents are aiding in the destruction of their children’s faith—they are not building them up, but building up idolatry. Fellowship is not only about intimacy, sharing, and caring, but it’s about encouraging others in community worship. Worship does not necessarily mean song, but our actions and the way we live the gospel. By pulling our children from church fellowship, making sure they make the game, the logic comes across to them as “If I say it’s more important than church—it’s OK.” But that logic will break down because it’s subjective at best—the foundations and boundaries of living the gospel are gone.

As well, fellowship attendance is important to the one who comes and is struggling. They see you across the aisle—they see your smile, your presence—iron sharpens iron. Perhaps you’re struggling and share of your busy schedule? “How do you cope,” they inquire, and then you realize that your response was their God-confirmation. They needed YOU. We are unified as a whole body, not churches of one. Fellowship informs the child that God has not left them alone—He gave them the church, to get through life, its pain, its suffering, its heartaches, along with their anxieties.

(3) Setting the Wrong Example

Needless to say, we’re setting the wrong example to our children and to the community. I get it, you will say, “But, I’m one person, if I pull my son or daughter out of this or that sport, no one will care and they may lose an eventual scholarship!” Once again, is the scholarship more important than Christ and His Church? We cannot just worship the head and cut off the body—it’s unified. We’re telling the world that we agree and we adapt and we like it. We like a severed Christ.


Here’s the next argument, but I go to church on Wednesdays instead—look, it’s all justification. Only you know your heart and if you’re one of the ones who brings your kids to sporting events instead of Sunday worship, first (1) I don’t condemn you, I pray for you, second, (2) the inevitable will happen when your child walks away from the faith—I pray that I’m wrong, and (3) lastly, you have created a subjective environment for your child to base his or her life choices on the matter of personal importance. In the matter of Christianity, that does not bode well. Please, heed the warning, love Christ, love the church, love your children; they’re the next generation to receive the baton of faith—let’s help them be the men and women of God that He intends. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Imputation & The Gospel


The impue-what? I hope I didn’t lose you already!

You may be thinking, “Seriously? Is this a theology lesson?”

I recall in my undergrad studies, literally hating theology—I remember telling my wife how “dumb” it was. Little did I know I would receive a dual Masters, with the one of the degrees in theology. Why? Why such a drastic change from loathing it to loving it? It certainly was not the riveting textbooks, or the sessions of mono-toned lectures; no, it was the idea that everyone has a theology—they just don’t know it. Secondly, I learned some invaluable concepts about my faith in Christ, the Gospel, and the reasons why I believe what I believe. Theology literally opened up the Scriptures for me. And so, I pray that this is not some boring reading, but an engaging and Spirit-led challenge for you to grow in your faith. This post will not be exhaustive, nor is it intended to be. Its intention is to illuminate you with the doctrine of the imputation and it’s correlation with the Gospel.

So, since this will be somewhat short and precise, I only want to focus on two verses of Scripture: Romans 5:19 and 2 Corinthians 5:21; these will be our springboard to launch us into what the imputation is and what it has to do with the Gospel.

What is the Imputation?

            First and foremost, we begin by giving the word a more workable definition. We don’t walk around the twenty-first century talking about imputation—it sounds like someone needs their leg cut off. As well, sometimes a modern definition of a word can throw us off, which is exactly what you would find if you looked up the word imputation—as it can mean an accusation, reproach, or a charge against someone. That’s not what the Biblical doctrine means. When we talk about the imputation of Christ it is not a thing, but an event.
Just to make this easier, let’s give our word a new label, just for our understanding—let’s call this word, “counted.” Now, I don’t want you to be thinking of the word counting, in its present tense, as if it’s still happening, but at totaled sum or a calculated amount. For instance, if you needed a new TV, you find the one you like, pick it out, calculate the total amount due, and then go to the register. However, if you don’t have cash, you will use your credit card—right? Then, the amount for the TV is “counted,” on your card. But, you technically did not pay for the item—yet, but you’re driving home with it, putting it on the wall (an epic new flat screen!), and watching it—although, you have never made one payment—hence, it is “counted” as yours.  
            Now, let’s add to this and say that by some crazy stroke of luck, unbeknownst to you, your credit card company, feeling generous (as if), gives you a credit in the exact amount of the flat screen TV—the amount then that was once “counted” as yours, on your statement, is now nullified—meaning, you don’t own the debt, but you still get to watch the TV and possess it! Sounds great, right?
 Well, this is the rudimentary concept behind the imputation. The doctrine states that Jesus took our sin upon Himself, and then put into our account, righteousness instead. Likewise, the Apostle Paul explains to the Roman Church, “For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous” (Rom 5:19). Because of Adam, all of mankind has been born into sin, as Adam was the head of humanity. Rightly so, Jesus Christ, the only man to have ever defeated death, by being raised to life, conquered death and became the first-born of righteousness.  All who proclaim by faith that Jesus is Lord are saved by that faith and “counted” (there’s our word) as righteous. It is not that believers are righteous, but that they are “counted” as righteous, or declared righteous by God, through the work of Christ.  

“For our sake [God] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in [Jesus] we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21).
            The penalty for the sin of man then was grievously put upon Christ (2 Cor 5:21; c.f. Col.1:14; 2:14-15), while His righteousness was placed upon us, or put into our account. The analogy of the flat screen is applied to show that while we did not pay the penalty for our sin, it was paid by Christ; while we possess righteousness, it is not our own, but His.

What Does the Imputation Have to do with the Gospel?

Paul’s letter to the Roman Church carries a continuum of thought from the beginning. He begins chapter one by acknowledging that all of mankind knows about God, but suppresses the truth (1:18). They either have a moral law written upon their hearts (2:14-15) or possess the written Law (ch.2). Then, Paul “levels the playing field” leaving no man righteous or justifiable of sin before God (ch.3); meaning, no amount of works can declare any man righteous before God. Paul then continues his argument founded upon on righteousness based on faith for both Jews and Gentiles—excluding works, providing examples of Abraham’s faith and righteousness (ch.4). Paul proceeds by examining justification by faith (a one-time action of Christ) and then accordingly, he finally addresses the imputation of sin by one man Adam, and the imputation of righteousness by one man, Jesus Christ (ch.5). Moreover, Paul shocks his Jewish audience in 5:20, by stating that the Law came into existence to increase transgression, to show that grace “super-abounded” hyperperisseuō.

Grace. This is not some word which merely means that we’re off the hook or that God loves us, or that we no longer endure judgment, but Paul’s illustration paints a picture that all of humanity—whether with the law in their heart (knowing it’s wrong to kill, steal, lie, etc.) or by the adherence of the written Commandments, no one is justified by their actions; no one has an excuse as to whether or not they’re a sinner—the law (in the heart or written) proves to all of us that we are in need of a Savior and not only for salvation, but the need to be washed from the sins, so that we can come into union with a holy God. This is where the Gospel and the imputation intersect. Without the grace of the Gospel, which tells us that we all were sinners and that none of us came to faith in Christ without the power of the Holy Spirit, and then the imputation—that teaches us that man’s works are not capable of bringing us into union with a holy God—we see that they must be united and simultaneous acts—both of God.

The fact that God grants grace and that God alone gives us the ability to be declared righteous is something which should place us in awe of a great and loving God. To think that not only God’s desire was to save sinful man, but also to declare him righteous by placing Him in unity with His beloved Son, shows us an incredibly intelligent and amazing Creator. The Gospel and the imputation express that God wants relationship with His creation—His people. That God would pull the sin from man’s account, nail it to the cross (Col.2:14) and place it in Christ’s account, then in the same fashion, take Christ’s righteousness and put it into the believer’s account (2 Cor 5:21) is far from this human mind to understand all of the complexities, but I do comprehend its worth and grace. Thanks be to God for His love, mercy, and relentless pursuit of sinners. Thank God for the Gospel. Thank God for the imputation—so that I can have fellowship with Him.


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Why Become a Church Member?



            “Why become a member of a church, I attend the service isn’t that enough?” This is an actual question that I have heard. I want to explain how, as a Pastor, I respond to such a claim. Let me break this down into four apparent areas of confusion. I should also mention that this thinking is based mostly from the American/Western culture and without backing that up with firm data, it may be more conjecture and observation; however, it is a mindset in churches that I have been involved with and comments heard among other pastors. One should also know that this article is not intended to be exhaustive, but to address some elementary thoughts pertaining to church membership. And so, what is the importance; I mean, why join?
  
It’s Not All About Me

            The letters which Paul wrote to the Christian churches all had an underlying thought—unity in Christ. Basically, the people were to be unified together as a whole and think less of themselves than others. It was also evident that these churches, some more than others, had dysfunction to some degree or questions regarding either doctrine or theology. Some churches even had dissension among the members. It seems today that we’re in the same boat—meaning, things haven’t changed much. However, instead of looking at the body of Christ as an imperfect bunch of hypocrites, we need to view it as a growing, breathing, living body of individuals that also are growing. What does that mean? It means that while the body grows, so does the spiritual walk of the individual—they are simultaneously developing. To think that infants remain infants is absurd thinking; of course they will grow—they will grow in stages: first the infant, then the toddler, the adolescent, and on and on until adulthood and even until the golden years of maturity.

So, to think that the Church does not need members of spiritual wisdom—assuming you are not showing up because you are wiser than the others, is assuming incorrectly. The church needs all stages of believers to continue thriving. Think about it, if the Church were filled with all mature believers, would they have the zeal and passion of the new believer? Probably not. However, if the Church were filled with all new believers, would it have the wisdom and maturity to shield from false doctrines and theology? No, it would not. Therefore, all are required not only attend, but become “koinonia” with the Church. The abiding presence of Christ is recognized in the Greek term, koinonia, to be intimately a part of Christ’s fellowship. Fellowship is membership; otherwise we’re talking about being an acquaintance, and abiding.

It’s a Living Body

All of the body parts equal the whole. Each person is uniquely gifted. Paul expresses this thought to the Corinthian Church (1 Cor 12), that each believer plays an important role within the body. The body of Christ is not some institution or organization, but a living breathing organism, glued together by the Holy Spirit of God (Eph 1:13). Besides the command to “not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb 10:25), is the understanding that if the hand decided not to become part of the body, we would say that’s absurd too. Well, it is. What we do not find in Scripture are people from the Antioch Church saying, “I’m going to worship with the Church at Stephen’s house today and next week the Church at Priscilla and Aquilla’s?” We don’t see the Church in Jerusalem having people go to Antioch to worship either, and while that may seem like an argument from silence, we do have many writings regarding the early church and their fervor to worship with one another and die for one another. I’m not saying that we don’t have more choices today, we do, but my point is that each person became a member of their local church and served it, as serving Christ.

Pastoring the Flock

            As an under-shepherd, Christ is the true Shepherd, how can a pastor pray and watch over a sheep, which has no intention of resting with the flock? He cannot. Of course, the inevitable phone call will come in, “Miss Sheep’s sister’s friend’s cousin was just admitted into the hospital, are you going to make a visit?” To which the Pastor scratches his head and thinks, “Who is Miss Sheep?” Forget about the actual person in the hospital for a second, the pastor doesn’t even know Miss Sheep because she has not taken the time to enter the fellowship as a member, but visits from time to time. This takes advantage of the pastor, making him no more than a sheep and a goat herder; not that visitation isn’t a gift, and edifying to all, it is. But don’t miss the point, a pastor cannot possibly know who is in the flock if they are not a member and more than likely, no one in leadership is praying for them. They’re merely a drifter, a church shopper, or a Lone Ranger, and do not understand the importance of having Biblical leadership watch over their very souls for protection. As disciples of Christ, believers are expected to be under the leadership and mentoring of a pastor/elder. The pastor’s position is one which is to be taken seriously, if he acknowledges God’s call in his life. But a pastor is not a watchman of a sheep that is not of his fold, nor wants to be corralled.

Covenant

            While I placed covenant last, it should be first. The underpinning of our relationship with Christ is based upon covenant. It should not surprise you then that our relationship, to love and be one with another and in Christ, is about covenant. The fact that we are baptized into one body and also partake of communion with one another, leads us to understand that the Church is in covenant with one another and with Christ. A covenant is an oath, a bond. When a believer becomes a member, he or she pledges to have the same bond into the mystical union with God and one another—we become one as a living body. To stand outside of this covenant is merely to be an observer, which people can do prior to joining. For this reason, the early church had membership services on Easter, to welcome in the newly baptized and those who went through teaching about the church—this is why some churches have membership classes. But why is this important or necessary you may ask? If a person never becomes a covenant member of the family of God it does not jeopardize their salvation; true, but it does jeopardize their well-being, spiritual growth, development, and ability to intrinsically unite with Christ, through Christian brotherhood (i.e. bonding). 


May the God of all peace give you understanding and wisdom and bring you into the fellowship of believers, where you are. God’s blessings!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

3 Reasons Why a Church Wants a Good Preacher and Not a Good Pastor


I thought it would be informing to help identify what the differences are between preachers and pastors. This is not exhaustive, just a basic look at how and why some churches choose to pick the person who fills the pulpit. Also, this will provide a reason why so many churches have revolving doors, regarding pastors. So, let’s take a look at three reasons why a church wants a good preacher and not a good pastor. 

#1 A Preacher Brings an Audience

The good preacher presents a message each week which is vibrant and sounds great—he will eventually bring in a crowd. This person tells the people what they want to hear and is a great orator. However, this is not the main function of a pastor—even though it is a major aspect of the position, there are differences between preachers and pastors. While pastors should be trained in preaching and know how to deliver a message, the bottom line is not people in seats, but the Word of God in hearts. Most churches seek a person who can preach the paint off of walls, while neglecting the importance of the pastoral role—to guide, direct, and lead the people; this includes from false doctrine, theology, and also in the roles of the Church as a whole and within culture and society.

#2 A Pastor is a Shepherd

The Shepherd has a rod and a staff. Many evangelicals do not like discipline, or being told they are wrong. Let’s face it, with so many mega churches, denominations, and church plants today, believers can basically survive under the radar. So, some churches do not want to offend those visiting with a message of sin or the Gospel. If this occurs, it is time to get rid of the shepherd and find another preacher. It is even noticeable that some churches subconsciously will drive out good pastors because they adhere to either biblical teaching, traditions, or are leading the church into an area that is uncomfortable. Shepherds do that sometimes—they lead their flocks into unfamiliar territory or un-comfortability. But a good shepherd knows that he is teaching the flock and helping them to grow, spiritually and emotionally. A good preacher may know how to speak the truth, but a good pastor sees the truth and expose false teaching.

#3 No Trust in the Shepherd

            For the pastor to lead, he must be able to lead with trust. If the church does not follow the vision, teaching, or leading of the shepherd then the shepherd is no longer a shepherd, but a preacher and a goat herder. The church that does not trust the leadership of the pastor, never intended to be lead, but to lead—this happens far too often. When there is a lack of trust for the pastor, he cannot lead anywhere except where the sheep are familiar with going. This leads to complacency, lethargy, and spiritual purgatory. However, there are a few church congregations that are more than happy to lead. I’ve heard of one pastor who was told by a prominent member, “I was here before you got here and I will be here when you leave.” There is absolutely no place for that comment or person in the Church of Christ—a complete lack of trust and respect for leadership.


So, before you choose the next person to fill the pulpit, ask yourself the question; do you want a good preacher or a good pastor?