Friday, April 30, 2010

Pure in Heart

This coming Sunday I plan to preach Matthew 5:8, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." In studying for this sermon I read The Sermon on the Mount: The Character of a Disciple by Daniel Doriani. These two paragraphs help us see the importance of being single-minded in our pursuit of Christ in His holiness:

To be pure in heart means to live without compromise. Studies of World War II have shown that some American industries did a profitable business with Nazi Germany until the final stages of the war. IBM and the Holocaust, by Edwin Black, shows that Hitler's regime used American technology to organize slave labor and to manage death camps. IBM facilities operated in Germany throughout the war. Indeed, IBM's chairman, Thomas Watson, received Germany's Merit Cross for his contributions to German industry during wartime. Other researchers have show that IBM was hardly alone. ITT sold components for V-1 "buzz bombs." Ford and General Motors sold trucks; Standard Oil sold oil. RCA, Chase Manhattan, and others did the same, selling what they could. William R. Hawkins says that when national security and profits collide, expect businessmen to be businessmen.

Now so with you, Jesus says. In Jesus' house, men and women seek purity and single mindedness. We shun dual loyalties. We do not serve two masters, God and mammon. To pursue the Lord is to pursue his purity.

Expectations, Fears, and Hopes: Part 2

This is part two in a series of post that I've been thinking about lately in respect to the expectations of pastors. You can read Part One here.

After talking about what I've seen in my limited exposure to churches (primarily in the SBC), I now want to look at the side I'm a little more familiar with. In this post I want to briefly look at the expectations many pastors have on themselves for the church. Before I do, however, I also want to say that while I think this observation is true, I also think there is a growing movement towards a more balanced ministry approach.

I see often times pastors fit in one of two scenarios. The first goes back to what I've heard from several church members in various churches, "Our Senior Pastor is a pastor, but not really a preacher." In other words, he loves us, visits us, cares for us, but doesn't really bring the Word very well. The reason many churches (though not all) feel this way, I think, is because of the way the pastor sees his 'job' before them. I know many pastors who think that is exactly what the people want, therefore that is what they focus on. In these cases pastors often neglect the ministry of the Word and attempt to justify it by saying that the people are most important and that Jesus cared about people. Certainly Jesus cared about people. Certainly people are important. Christ died to purchase 'people' from every tribe and language and people and nation. However, a pastor who places the expectations on himself of being a good 'pastor' without being a good 'preacher' has missed a very important aspect of his calling to the church! We'll examine it more later, but when there arose a need to minister to the widows in Acts 6 the apostles said it wasn't right for them to give up their ministry of the Word and prayer.

The second that I have seen is a reaction to this one. These pastors see that their main calling (and rightfully so) as a pastor is to shepherd the flock through the ministry of the Word. However, often times they think this means that we only prepare sermons in our study so we can preach better sermons. Please do not misunderstand what I am saying there. Preaching is absolutely important! The Lord's Day gathering is crucial for the church and the preaching of the Word must be central to that gathering. The problem is that the ministry of the Word goes beyond that. As I said in part one of this series, the visiting and other aspects of pastoral ministry are important. They are important because they are times of ministering the Word of God to others. The ministry of the Word is not only through public teaching, but also through private teaching. Where I see many of these pastors going wrong is when they neglect actually trying to help their people grow in Christ by getting to know them, holding them accountable, discussing the Bible with them, and encouraging them (even exhorting them!) to get in the Word more.

One of the greatest books on this subject is The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter. Pastors need to examine the Scriptures (which I'll attempt to do in part 3) and see what expectations God has for them in this office. Pastors are called to shepherd the flock that God has given them. This is not something to take lightly brothers. God has placed us in positions that are vitally important to the health of the church, which Christ died to purchase!

My answer based on what I believe the Bible teaches is that this is not an either/or situation. God calls elders/pastors to minister His Word to those who belong to Christ so that they might know Him better and be conformed into His image.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Expectations, Fears, and Hopes: Part 1

This is the first of a series of posts that I've been thinking about lately in respect to the expectations of pastors. It is rooted in the fact that I see a disconnect in many churches between the expectations they have of the pastor, the pastor has of himself, and what the Bible sets out to be the expectations of God for pastors. Of course, there is no way I will be able to do justice in playing out every thought, but I hope to think through a few things.

With that being said, I will begin with what I see far too often in the denomination I am a part of, the Southern Baptist Convention. In our denomination most churches have a Senior/Solo Pastor position which is distinct from every other pastor position in the church. If a church is large enough to support multiple staff, then the Senior Pastor is usually over that staff. The rest of the staff may be called 'pastors', but often they are called 'ministers'. Regardless of what they're called, the 'Senior' pastor has more authority and is still in a position by himself. I see this as a great problem theologically and practically.

Mark Dever has a helpful booklet called 'By Who's Authority: Elders in Baptist Life' that I recommend for those in churches that do not practice a plurality of elders. He can argue that far better than I can in this particular post, so I defer to him for that. There are many other resources out there as well that will argue for a plurality of elders from the Scriptures.

Understanding that I believe a plurality of elders to be the Biblical pattern for the local church will help understand why I also feel the expectations of most churches for their pastors is unrealistic. Again, I will speak mainly from what I see in the SBC. Seeing that many churches have a solo pastor mentality, their expectations are for that pastor to be the one who does all the shepherding. In fact, many churches do not see the ministry of the Word as all that important, as long as he's a good 'pastor'. What is meant by this is that the expectation of many churches is that the pastor be there to pray for them when they're sick, visit them in the hospital, marry their children, bury their loved ones, administrate in the office, be at every church function, and a thousand other things. Are these things bad? Not always, but they should not be the most important thing the pastor does. If he can deliver a good message that is a plus, but that's not what's most important in these expectant churches.

If a pastor gives all his time to doing these things, there will be very little time for the ministry of the Word. I will argue in a couple of posts from now that the ministry of the Word is the main calling of a pastor (and that is good shepherding!), but for now I want to simply say I think the expectations of many churches are not Biblical. After all, can we go to the Scriptures to prove any of those things I just mentioned are of greater importance? Churches need to go to the Bible and see what God calls His elders to do, and let that drive their expectations for him (them!).

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Lloyd-Jones on Being Merciful

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, referring to Matthew 5:7, writes:

This Beatitude follows all the others; therefore I put it in this form. I am poor in spirit; I realize that I have no righteousness; I realize that face-to-face with God and His righteousness I am utterly helpless; I can do nothing. Not only that. I mourn because of the sin that is within me; I have come to see, as a result of the operation of the Holy Spirit, the blackness of my own heart. I know what it is to cry out, ‘O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me?’ and desire to be rid of this vileness that is within me. Not only that. I am meek, which means that now that I have experienced this true view of myself, nobody else can hurt me, nobody else can insult me, nobody can ever say anything too bad about me. I have seen myself, and my greatest enemy does not know the worst about me. I have seen myself as something truly hateful, and it is because of this that I have hungered and thirsted after righteousness. I have longed for it. I have seen that I cannot create or produce it, and that nobody else can. I have seen my desperate position in the sight of God. I have hungered and thirsted for that righteousness which will put me right with God, that will reconcile me to God, and give me a new nature and life. And I have seen it in Christ. I have been filled; I have received it all as a free gift.

Does it not follow inevitably that, if I have seen and experienced all that, my attitude towards everybody else must be completely and entirely changed? If all that is true of me, I no longer see men as I used to see them. I see them now with a Christian eye. I see them as the dupes and the victims and the slaves of sin and Satan and of the way of the world. I have come to see them not simply as men whom I dislike but as men to be pitied. I have come to see them as being governed by the god of this world, as being still where once I was, and would be yet but for the grace of God. So I am sorry for them. I do not merely see them and what they do. I see them as the slaves of hell and of Satan, and my whole attitude toward them is changed. And because of that, of course, I can be and must be merciful with respect to them. I differentiate between the sinner and his sin. I see everybody who is in a state of sin as one who is to be pitied.

pp 86-87

Friday, April 23, 2010

Applying the Gospel

I woke up this morning with a glorious thought. The thought came with mixed feelings as I thought more about it, but nevertheless the overwhelming feeling is gratefulness and joy. The thought was that every sin I will commit today was paid for on the cross by Christ! When the Scripture says, "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God", it means all the sins I have ever or will ever commit. Jesus truly did pay it all!

However, I said there were mixed feelings this morning. While the truth of the gospel needs to be believed and applied in my life today, the fact remans that Jesus DID die for those sins. In other words, I am also broken hearted because the sins I commit today Jesus paid for on the cross. Every time I sin today, tomorrow, and everyday for the rest of my life, is a reminder of the suffering that my Savior, Christ Jesus, went through to purchase me and reconcile me to the Father. That is a sobering thought. That is a heart breaking reality. That makes me want to fight against the inclinations to sin in my own life and seek to obey Him who is worthy.

So that glorious thought this morning comes with joy, and with great sorrow. Thank you Jesus for purchasing such an unworthy sinner!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I'm a Good Person...

Actually, I'm far from a good person. However, that is the thought that runs through our minds often, isn't it? I would never say that of course, but deep down I have the same tendencies as many people. The fact is, I am a sinner and I need the gospel to be applied in my life constantly.

Externally I do seem like a good person to many people. I justify myself by comparing myself to others. After all, if I look hard enough I can find something in anyone and everyone that I'm better at than they are. For instance, I have never actually murdered anyone. I have never actually cheated on my wife. I have never actually done many things that others have done. Of course, anyone familiar with the teachings of Jesus will know I have done those things. The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is very clear that I'm guilty, but externally I still appear better than those who've been caught in such actions. Those are clear examples, but most often that's not where I fall into sin. I usually fall into sin when I start comparing myself to other 'Christians' and see how much better I am. This, of course, is pride and is a great sin. Maybe since I've been educated in the Bible I know more and therefore am better. Maybe since I'm the pastor I'm better and they should all know that. Maybe...I could throw out thousands of examples to make me appear better than others.

The fact is, I'm a very competitive person. Whatever I'm playing, I play to win. Back in the day it was sports. Now it's sports AND church. My pride (competitiveness) wants the bigger church. To be fair (to try to justify), I want the church to be healthy and making disciples of all nations, but I still want the bigger church! I want to be known. I have to fight this temptation daily because it is so clear in my own heart. In fact, it is so strong that I can create this image of myself that externally looks really good. Right there lies the problem. I am a Pharisee at heart. I want the praise of man. I want people to acknowledge me. I want...I want...I want...

What's the answer? The gospel is the answer! Knowledge of a few things is important. Knowledge of God's expectations is important. Knowledge of my own depravity is important. Knowledge of the gospel is important.

First of all, God expects me to reflect His glory in all of life. I am to be holy and perfect as God the Father is holy and perfect. I am to submit my every thought and action to His Sovereign control. But I haven't done this! I have rebelled. When I compare myself to others I may seem like a good person, but when I compare myself before God I realize how utterly depraved I am.

That is the second point. Just because I haven't actually cheated on my wife or murdered anyone, doesn't mean I'm innocent. Jesus is very clear that I have murdered when I've been angry with a brother (which I have been!). He is clear that I have committed adultery when I look lustfully at another woman other than my wife (which I have!). I need to go further still. When I know the expectation of God, and I know how miserably I've failed at glorifying Him in all things, then, and only then, do I start to sense the depth of my depravity. At that point I also begin to realize that though I have not externally fallen into murder, my depravity is such that I am actually capable of murder and many other things.

The third thing I need to know, and this is key, is that Christ died for my sins. The gospel that Christ came and became sin on my behalf is the only answer for fighting against my own flesh that wants to says, "Randy, you are a good person." No! I am not a good person! I am a wretched sinner. I have rebelled against the holy God! I have sinned repetitively and am capable of far more than I may have actually done. If it were not for His grace and His sacrifice, I would have no leg to stand on before the Creator. Jesus became my sin, and through faith in Him, I have been declared righteous. His righteousness has been credited to me!

Knowledge of God's expectations and my failures, joined with the depth of my depravity, leaves me without hope unless the gospel is true. When I begin to realize this in my own life, then, and only then, I may start realizing I am no better than anyone else. I am no better than the one who seems worse than I. I am a sinner, saved by grace, and kept only by the Sovereign King! I need the gospel.

The Answer is Jesus

Last week I was in Louisville, KY for the Together for the Gospel conference. It was a great conference. The messages were fantastic and the music was too. One of the things I loved was the opportunity to see many old friends, and meet many new ones. My first night there I had a chance to meet Jared Wilson and a few other guys. Jared's post from yesterday (well worth the read!) reminded me of one of my points from my sermon this past Sunday at First Baptist.

I preached Matthew 5:6, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied." In this verse, some have argued for a very general application of righteousness. In other words, some have said this is a longing for all kinds of righteousness (including the desire to see righteousness/justice done in our world today). My answer in that sermon was that we are not after changing the way the culture behaves, but rather we are after getting the gospel to those around us, praying the Holy Spirit blows like the wind and opens hearts to believe, and then we will see the culture change. We are not after seeing people 'act' differently, but rather we want to see people changed by the marvelous truth that Christ died for sinners.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Few Quotes for Sunday

This Sunday I plan to preach Matthew 5:6, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied." with FBC. Here are a few helpful quotes for you to think about on this verse and the implications for your life, your church, and the world.

"He means those who desire above all things to be entirely conformed to the mind of God. They long not so much to be rich, or wealthy, or learned, as to be holy." - J.C. Ryle

"If we know our spiritual poverty, if we mourn over our sin, then our hunger for righteousness should lead us to do something to pursue holiness." - Daniel Doriani

"These people hunger and thirst, not only that they may be righteous, but that justice may be done everywhere. All unrighteousness grieves them and makes them homesick for the new heaven and the new earth - the home of righteousness (2 Peter 3:13). Satisfied with neither personal holiness alone nor social justice alone, they cry for both: in short, they long for the advent of the Messianic kingdom." - D.A. Carson

"If this verse is to you one of the most blessed statements of the whole of Scripture you can be quite certain you are a Christian; if it is not, then you had better examine the foundations again." - D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

As I've prepared this message I have realized more and more that I have a long way to go to honor Christ as I should. I pray the Spirit causes me to hunger and thirst for righteousness and that He works in my life to fulfill that desire.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

My Sermons

For those who are interested, my sermons are now uploaded on the right of this page and on the church's website.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Does this Describe You?

From Matthew Henry:
The meek are those who quickly submit themselves to God, to his word and to his rod, who follow his directions, and comply with his designs, and are gentle towards all men (Titus 3:2); who can bear provocation without being inflamed by it; are either silent, or return a soft answer; and who can show their displeasure when there is occasion for it, without being transported into any indecencies; who can be cool when others are hot; and in their patience keep possession of their own souls, when they can scarcely keep possession of anything else. They are the meek, who are rarely and hardly provoked, but quickly and easily pacified; and who would rather forgive twenty injuries than revenge one, having the rule of their own spirits.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Lord's Supper

J.C. Ryle:

The Lord’s Supper was ordained as a continual remembrance of the sacrifice of Christ’s death, until he comes again. The benefits it confers are spiritual, not physical: its effects must be looked for in our inner being. It was intended to remind us, by the visible, tangible emblems of bread and wine, that the offering of Christ’s body and blood for us on the cross is the only atonement for sin, and the life of a believer’s soul; it was meant to help our poor weak faith to closer fellowship with our crucified Saviour, and to assist us in spiritually feeding on Christ’s body and blood. It is an ordinance for redeemed sinners, and not for unfallen angels. By receiving it we publicly declare our sense of guilt, and our need of a Saviour – our trust in Jesus, and our love to him, our desire to live upon him, and our hope to live with him. Using it in this spirit, we shall find our repentance deepened, our faith increased, our hope brightened, our love enlarged, our besetting sins weakened and our graces strengthened, ‘lest of the memory it be made a sacrifice.’