Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Transfer Complete

I have completed the switch over to WordPress.  I will no longer be adding new posts to this blog.  Every post that is found here can also be found over here.  Thank you for your patience.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Moving Soon

Hi.  My plan is for this blog to migrate over to WordPress for a variety of reasons.  You can find the new/old blog by clicking here.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Our Congregational Niche

Over the past several years at our congregation we have attempted to research carefully what the Bible says about doing church, what Biblical evangelism and discipleship look like, etc. This post addresses the question, Who are we trying to reach through the various congregational ministries?  We understand that First Corinthians 1:26-29 gives us a summary of our niche.

The typical person we are trying to reach for the glory of God is characterized by the following traits.  This paragraph are include both negative and positive traits.
  • Negatively (i.e. the people we seek to reach for God are not characterized by these three traits)--1:26
    1. Not many wise--not many highly educated or considered by the world to be skilled experts in their field
    2. Not many mighty--not many wealthy or considered by the world to be influential people (movers and shakers) in the community
    3. Not many noble--not many from well-known or considered by the world to be cultured/high society families
[Notice that the Spirit says, "Not many" instead of "Not any".  The letter M makes a big difference, doesn't it?]
  •  Positively (i.e. the people we seek to reach for God are characterized by these five traits)--1:27-28
    1. Foolish--considered by the world to be foolish or stupid
    2. Weak--considered by the world to be weak and inadequate, helpless and feeble
    3. Base--considered by the world to be common, unimportant and insignificant; literally "of no family"
    4. Despised--considered by the world to be of no value, treated with contempt, despised and rejected
    5. Are not--considered by the world to be non-existent in "important" circles
Why are we seeking to reach such people?  That is answered in 1:29

So that no flesh should glory in the presence of God.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

What is the Purpose of Congregational Singing?

(Recently found an unfinished draft of a post from a few years ago. Thought I'd finally pass it along to y'all.)

Ponder the question, "What is the purpose of congregational singing?", and then search your New Testament for God's clear directions concerning music in the congregation of Jesus Christ. Is music to be used to express our individual emotions and affections? Or perhaps music is to be more outward and horizontal in nature, teaching and admonishing other members of the congregation as the body gathers to hear the Word. Read again the passage in Ephesians 5:19 and a parallel teaching in Colossians 3:16. (Don't read the white spaces, please. We've had enough of that already in discussions about music.)

What is surprisingly absent from the Ephesians and Colossians texts? The word "worship" is not found, is it? True, we find Paul and Silas hymning in Acts 16:25, but that wasn't a church service. What about "singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord"? Good question. Let's look closer at that.

Perhaps much of this blustering about music in "worship wars" is really not rooted in Biblical teaching after all. Perhaps if we would get back to the simple basics of using music in the way in which God tells us in Ephesians and Colossians, we would be better off. Music isn't about us expressing ourselves. Music in the congregation is primarily about the individual believers singing accurate Biblical truth about who God is, what God does, what God demands, and what God deserves in such a way that other believers within the congregation are taught and admonished. And when that happens, God is pleased and He is worshiped. Singing "worship music" doesn't necessarily equal worshiping God.

Music may indeed be part of a congregation's worship, but music is not the essence of worship.  Too often singing (or listening to) music during a congregational service is elevated to a position it does not Biblically deserve.  Let us be careful that we utilize music in the manner in which the Owner of the flock intended for the sheep.




Sermon Outlines from John 15-17

I recently added my teaching outlines from John 15:1-17:26 to our congregation's web site. In the next few weeks we plan to begin making MP3s of these sermons available as well.

What a privilege to teach through these final instructions of Jesus to His disciples.  They have impacted me like few other sermons I have taught to God's flock.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

John 17:17 Sanctified in the Truth or by the Truth?

Working through John has been a great joy for me.  Occasionally I have encountered passages that have significantly challenged my previously held positions and forced me to make some changes in what I believe and teach.  John 17:17 is one such passage.

Here we find that wonderful prayer of God the Son to God the Father.  What a privilege to listen in on God talking to God!

The issue is how to translate the prayer request: sanctify them en the truth.  The core of the matters lies with that two-letter Greek preposition en.  Should it be translated "in" [as NAS, NAU, NET, ESV, ASV] or "by/through/with" [as NKJ, KJV, CJB, HCSB, Tyndale, Geneva].  In other words, should the adverbial phrase "en the truth" be understood to refer to location ("in") or means ("by")?

John uses the preposition en 224 times in his Gospel.  Of those 224 times, he places it near a significant action verb 8 times (1:26, 31, 33; 3:21, 23; 17:17, 19; 19:40). In each occurrence, it makes good sense to understand en to be referring to location or sphere.

We also find en followed by aletheia (truth) 5 times in John's Gospel (4:23, 24; 8:41; 17:17, 19).  In each of these, "in the sphere of truth" seems an acceptable rendering.

So, what's my point?  I think that the NAS, NAU, NET, ESV, and ASV have captured the concept well.  This is not sanctification by the truth, but rather sanctification in the truth.  The difference?  The first implies a Pauline-sense of spiritual sanctification unto more Christlikeness by means of the Word.  The second implies a sanctification into the sphere of truth.

In this latter sense, and especially in John 17:17 and 19, it appears to refer to being set apart unto the ministry of the Word. Jesus prays that the eleven disciples would be set apart to God's ministry of the Truth, just as Jesus set Himself apart to accomplish the Father's purpose (17:19). I would suggest that this idea is also reflected in 17:18 where both Jesus and the eleven were sent as authorized representatives of Another.

Therefore, let us not turn to John 17:17 and teach how NT believers are further sanctified in Christlikeness by reading/hearing the Word.  Rather, let us marvel at the Father's grace in answering the Son's prayer that the eleven would accomplish this ministry of the Word as described later on in Acts.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Thoughts on Preaching/Teaching

Paul Tripp has a helpful post on preaching/teaching found here.  I observe that Tripp refers to this as "life-changing preaching."  In one sense, all preaching is life-changing, either for good or for bad. But in another sense, not all preaching is visibly life-changing.

We must be careful, however, that we do not always expect immediate changes when God has more long-term changes intended.  Assuming immediate changes should take place during or after every message will lead to frustration, discouragement, or even anger.

We may begin to grow frustrated with the flock for not responding immediately to this powerful message we passionately preached.  This seems to be judgmental, and eventually this may become adversarial.

We may also begin to focus on ourselves and think that the effectiveness of a message is based upon something we said or did during the message. Or perhaps we will twist it around and thing that the ineffectiveness of a message is based upon something we said (or didn't say) or something we did (or didn't do) during the message.  This is often pride.

We should, however, focus on God, and realize that God works at different speeds in different lives for His glory and their good in His time. We cannot rush God's work.  We rightly condemn certain preachers for manipulating people into making a decision, when in reality no life-change has taken place.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Twenty-seven years ago ...

... I spoke for the first time at Calvary Baptist Church in Sleepy Eye, MN.  Relatively fresh out of seminary (having graduated in the spring of 1985), I came down this smaller southern-MN community of @ 3,5000 to communicate God's Word to His people.  The small church had undergone some difficult times and were, needless to say, in transition.  Little did I know what transitions awaited us in the years to come.

Surprisingly, I was asked to come back and candidate in the Fall of 1985.  Meanwhile, I had declined a gracious invitation to become an associate pastor at a congregation in a large city in Indiana.  I returned to Sleepy Eye to speak once again to the folks of Calvary.  They extended a call to me which we accepted.  We moved from Minneapolis in December, getting settled just before Christmas of that year.

Much has changed over the ensuing years, both with me and the congregation.  For these changes I am grateful.  Some changes came as a result of bad choices and unbiblical leadership on my part.  Some changes brought about additional unforeseen alterations.

So what has changed over these nearly 27 years of shepherding God's flock here at Calvary?

How has the congregation changed?
  1. They have become more Godward in their overall life focus.
  2. They have become more Godward and Bible-based in their decision-making as a body.
  3. They have become more Godward and one-minded in their deliberate, one-another body life.
  4. They have become more Godward and loving in their discipleship, both with unbelievers and believers.
  5. They have become more Godward and husband-led in their home life.
  6. They have become more Godward in their work life.
  7. They have become more Godward in their expectations of their pastors.
  8. They have become more Godward in their prayers and expectations of their God.

How have I changed?
  1. I have sought to become more Godward in my overall life focus.
  2. I have sought to become more Godward in my theology and teaching.
  3. I have sought to become more Godward in my discipleship of both unbelievers and believers.
  4. I have sought to become more Godward in my home life.
  5. I have sought to become more Godward in my shepherding of God's flock.
  6. I have sought to become more Godward in my sermon preparation and delivery.
  7. I have sought to become more Godward in my expectations of God's flock.
  8. I have sought to become more Godward in my prayers and expectations of my God.
Have things changed numerically?  Have things changed financially?  Have things changed musically?  Have things changed in our church affiliations?  Have things changed in the customary American-church expectations? I would cautiously say that those changes are nearly irrelevant.

More members, more money, different songs, or different church connections are really not what we must be about.  Too many think more people or money will make things better. Too many think that changing music styles will make things better.  Too many think that identifying with a different church group will make things better.

What needs to change is my heart before my God and my expectations of my God. Too make changes to be bigger, wealthier, more acceptable to people, etc. is simply self-centered and sinful. God calls us to faithfully please Him for His glory.  As we pursue that goal, changes will take place.  Some will embrace that goal, while others will depart for greener pastures. And that's okay.

May I encourage you today to keep your focus.  Why are you where you are?  By God's design.  Why are you doing what you are doing?  For God's glory and the Godward good of those around you.  Be faithful.  Be Godward.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Labels

Here is my most recent column for the local paper. One needs to understand the background of the spiritual and cultural battle currently taking place in MN to understand the purpose of the article.
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Na├»ve (at best) are those who think that changing the label of sinful behavior legitimatizes that behavior.  Calling lying “creative speech” doesn’t change the nature of the lie.  Calling adultery “fooling around” or “an affair” doesn’t change the immoral nature of adultery.  Calling premarital sex “hooking up” doesn’t change the nature of sexual immorality.  Calling homosexual relationships “marriage” doesn’t change the nature of unnatural sexual activity.

The question arises: Can a homosexual relationship be regarded as legitimate marriage?  No.  The following reasons indicate why that is not possible.

First, God designed marriage.  God married a male and a female.  (See Genesis 2:20-25.)  Could He have done otherwise?  Yes.  But He chose this pattern to accomplish His purpose.  He is the Creator.  It’s His choice.

Second, Biblical marriage normally reproduces more of God’s image-bearers.  (See Genesis 1:26-28.)  Obviously, homosexuals cannot reproduce.

Third, Biblical marriage illustrates the relationship of Jesus Christ with His bride, the church.  (See Ephesians 5:22-33.)  No homosexual relationship can accurately reflect that relationship.

Fourth, Biblical marriage gives necessary structure to a culture.  When Jesus met with the immoral Samaritan woman at the well, (see John 4:5-42) she had already been married and apparently divorced five times.  (There is no indication that these men had died and left her a five-fold widow.)  She was currently in an immoral relationship with yet another man.  Jesus pointedly told her that the man she was living with was not her husband. (John 4:18)  Being in a “committed relationship” is not the same as being husband and wife in God’s eyes.

Recently one homosexual activist stated blatantly that the demand for homosexual marriage was not so much an attempt to legitimize homosexuality but rather to eliminate the whole concept of marriage itself.

Fifth, Biblical marriage is to please and glorify God.  Immoral sexual activity does not please or glorify God.  In fact, the Bible clearly shows us that homosexual activity among females and males alike is one sign of God’s judgment upon a culture.  (See Romans 1:18-32, especially 1:24-27.)

According to Romans 1:26-27, we learn that God has revealed that homosexual activity is actually worship that is creature-centered rather than Creator-centered.  God has revealed that homosexual activity is against His created design for the sexes.  God has revealed that homosexual activity is shameful.  God has revealed that homosexual activity results in homosexuals receiving in themselves the penalty of their error.

Does God love homosexuals?  Yes.  Should Christians love homosexuals?  Yes.  Does God approve of homosexual relationships?  No.  Should Christians stand back and do nothing as a vocal, extremely small minority attempt to redefine vital definitions for our culture?  No.  Does it demonstrate hatred?  No.  It simply shows that you are willing to stand on God’s side of the issue.  Some people may not like that.  One question remains.  Who are we trying to please: God or people?

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Teaching Series in John

Lately I have been planning out the remainder of my teaching opportunities in John.  It seems that I have only 18 sections left (chapters 17-21).  I was asked recently how many messages I have taught so far from John.  I wasn't sure, but my dear wife looked it up in her notes and informed me that I have taught 77 message so far. That means that I should total 95 sermons stretching a little over 2 years. I began back in early September 2010, and am planning to be done sometime the middle to end of December.  Most of my notes on John can be found here, though I have yet to post my notes from John 15-17.  They should be posted sometime near the end of September.

How has God used this book in my own life?
  1. I have an even greater appreciation for the doctrines of Grace (aka Calvinism) than when I began.
  2. I have a greater understanding of the inner workings of the Tri-unity of God, including the submission of God the Son to God the Father by the power of God the Spirit.
  3. I have a greater appreciation of Solas of the Reformation, including the doctrine of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone.
  4. I have a greater appreciation of the accuracy, clarity, and specificity of the original Greek text of John. I normally translate through the Majority Text provided in BibleWorks.
  5. I have a greater appreciation of the patience of God the Father in the gradual development of the disciples of Jesus Christ.
  6. I have a greater understanding of the need of the work of the Spirit of God in and through my own life.
  7. I have a greater appreciation of the work of the Spirit of God in the daily lives of God's people at Calvary (in spite of who their regular human teacher is).