Glorifying God Together
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Zach Putthoff

Zach Putthoff

Tuesday, 18 July 2017 23:57

Making the Most of Sunday

Sunday is a big day in the life of God’s people. Since the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, Christians all over the world have made it a practice to meet together every Sunday for corporate worship and mutual encouragement. It is the “Lord’s Day” (Revelation 1:10), the first day of the week, set aside by the church to commemorate and to celebrate God’s grace given to his people through the risen Christ. From the earliest days of the church, Christians have met together to worship the Lord and encourage one another on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2).

We all know, however, that there is nothing magical about going to church on a Sunday morning. Though Christians throughout church history have testified to the importance of Lord’s Day worship, I suspect that any Christian reading this post could share of any number of times they have gathered with other believers on the first day of the week and have found it less than encouraging and refreshing. For some, a refreshing Lord’s Day may not be a very common experience.

Every Christian knows what it’s like to meet with God’s people on a Sunday morning and walk away feeling more burdened than you did before the gathering, or perhaps even discouraged. We know what it’s like to sing songs that we’ve sung before and feel remarkably unmoved. We’ve all listened to sermons and Bible lessons that, even though accurately and faithfully communicated were easily forgotten and had little to no measureable impact upon us. We’ve tried to pray with God’s people while wishing that we could be out at a restaurant eating a delicious lunch in preparation for a nice long nap. Man, Sunday naps are the best.

All indications these days point to the idea that Christians are finding less value in Lord’s Day worship than ever before. Where Christians used to attend church three times a week, now many are hard pressed to find time for three church gatherings a month. And this in a day when churches are trying harder than ever before to make things easy on their people; offering shorter worship services at more convenient times, incorporating entertainment and amusement into their worship services, and making every effort to let people know that they can come and go as they please with no real accountability.

This, I firmly believe is a great part of our problem. For a long time and in a number of ways, a lot of us have been trained to think that Lord’s Day worship is an experience that we are meant to consume, rather than an exercise that we are meant to participate in with all of our hearts. The ironic thing is, the more we approach the Lord’s Day as consumers, the less spiritual benefit we will ultimately derive from our corporate worship gatherings.

It is not wrong to desire refreshment and encouragement from our weekly Lord’s Day gatherings with our brothers and sisters in Christ. That’s much of what the Lord’s Day is for. But, to derive those benefits on the Lord’s Day, we have to put in some earnest effort.

The purpose of this post (after that long introduction) is to offer counsel to those who desire to make the most of Sunday – hopefully pointing us in a direction that will make Lord’s Day gatherings all the more profitable for each of us. To that end, I offer these nine suggestions. Don’t worry, we’ll move quickly through each of them.

First, show up regularly, insofar as you are able.

This really shouldn’t need to be said, but I actually think that it might. You can’t expect to gain much from gatherings with your church family, if those gatherings aren’t really a priority in your life. If optional activities and commitments are consistently leading you away from your church family on Sundays, you are going to quickly become less and less able to discern the real value and importance of the Lord’s Day.

One thing is clear, if you don’t show up, you won’t gain any benefit from a gathering of God’s people on the Lord’s Day.

Second, come praying that God will be glorified and will bless his people as they worship him.

“You do not have, because you do not ask,” James says (James 4:2). Could this be a primary reason that we could walk away from our Lord’s Day gatherings unmoved and noticeably unchanged? I can’t help but wonder. If we want to see God glorified in our church and see souls blessed as a result of our gatherings, we need to be asking for these things in prayer.

To see God glorified in the church is a work of God. Jesus himself taught us to pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9). That is we are to ask God to so move in the hearts of people, that he receives all the glory in the church and in the world. Could it be that the reason God is so often not treasured in our hearts as a result of gathering with our church family, because we simply have not asked him to cause us to hallow his name?

Similarly, the blessing of God’s grace and peace is God’s to give. “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:7). What wonderful things to pursue in gatherings with God’s people, but let us not take them for granted. We ought to ask God for these blessings as we come together with our brothers and sisters on the Lord’s Day.

Third, remind yourself as you walk in the doors of your church of how unworthy you are to come to God on your own, and give thanks to God for his wonderful grace in Christ that has brought you near to him.

How easy it is to forget the privilege that it is to come before our holy Creator with songs and prayers, and to hear his holy Word – and walk away unscathed! On the Lord’s Day, God invites us as his people to come together before him, despite our sins and our half-hearted efforts toward holiness, along with our many hypocrisies and our spiritual apathy – and because of the blood and righteousness of his Son, covers our weak offerings of worship with his grace, receiving our songs and hearing our prayers and allowing us hear his Word by grace and grace alone.

That God would invite us, a remarkably fallen people, to worship him and receive the encouragement of his Word is a miracle of grace. And it may help us significantly to remind ourselves of that every Sunday morning.

Fourth, listen attentively to God’s Word as it is taught and preached.

This is a simple point, but important nonetheless. A Christian can’t expect to be greatly blessed by the ministry of the Word on a Sunday morning (or any other time) if he is not actively engaging with the Word as it is being proclaimed. If you desire to be blessed under biblical preaching and teaching, don’t check out when the Word is being preached and taught to you. Work hard to pay attention. Have your Bible open. Take notes if that helps you retain and respond what you hear. Prayerfully consider how to apply what you are hearing. Give thanks to God for the privilege of hearing his Word as you’re hearing it proclaimed.

And, be careful not to be critical of those who are preaching and teaching the Word to you. Discipline yourself to be fed by solid biblical content, whether that content is delivered to you in an especially engaging way or not. Learn to be easily blessed by faithful biblical teaching and preaching.

Fifth, energetically engage in corporate singing. Sing loud and from the heart.

Repeatedly in the Psalms, God’s people are called to sing unto the Lord; to set the truths he has revealed about himself and the desires of our hearts to melody as an act of worship unto him.

Consider these verses in the Psalms and what they tell us about the importance of singing to the Lord.

“Sing praises to the LORD, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name” (Psalm 30:4).

“Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises!” (Psalm 47:6)

“It is good to give thanks to the LORD” and “to sing praises to [his] name.” (Psalm 92:1)

“Oh sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth! Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.” (Psalm 96:1-2)

Singing songs of praise, thanks, and even lament unto the Lord is an opportunity for God’s people to force the truths that God has revealed about himself out their mouths, so that their hearts might submit to those truths humbly and sincerely. So, singing loud and from the heart is an important way to make the most of Sunday.

Sixth, look out for people to serve and encourage.

As we meet with our brothers and sisters in Christ on the Lord’s Day, let’s be careful not to forget the words of Hebrews 10:24-25: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

In those words we find a major reason for gathering together with other Christians on a regular basis in our local churches; to provoke one another to stay faithful to the Lord and one another, and to encourage one another to persevere through difficult days while we wait for Jesus to return.

So then, when we head to church on the Lord’s Day, it’s incumbent upon us to look out for opportunities to do this for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Inevitably, these opportunities will come, so we need to be ready. Can you imagine what a Sunday in your local church would be like if every member came ready to serve and encourage others? How rich and refreshing our Lord’s Day gatherings would be.

Seventh, stick around after the official gathering ends, if you are able.

There is a reason it’s called the “Lord’s Day” and not the “Lord’s Morning” or the “Lord’s hour or two.” A very natural way to receive an even greater blessing on Sunday is to spend more time with God’s people after the time of corporate worship has ended. So, don’t always leave immediately if you don’t have to. Go out to lunch with a group of people from your church. Have them over to your house or go to a park. Just do something beyond the whole church gathering if you are able to maximize the benefit of the Lord’s Day.

And when you get together, talk about the ways in which you were blessed, encouraged or challenged that morning. Take a moment to give thanks together for your local church and for the kindness God showed to you that morning in the gathering of the saints and the ministry of the Word.

Beyond that, have fun together. Watch a football game. Play games and laugh together. Eat some good BBQ or whatever floats your boat. Enjoy God’s goodness to you and rejoice in it together.

Eighth, determine to make some specific application as a result of your time with God’s people under his Word.

James makes it very clear: It is the “one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, [who] will be blessed in his doing” (James 1:25). If we want to be blessed as a result of hearing God’s Word proclaimed, we have to be committed to responding to it in obedience and faith.

Every encounter with God’s Word brings with it a great responsibility; a responsibility to respond to God with our sincere “amen.” We exist by the Word of the Lord and are sustained by the Word of the Lord, but it is not enough to simply hear his Word, we must respond to it and act in light of it. Otherwise we have heard his Word in vain. So then, making the most of Sunday necessarily involves actively putting God’s Word to use.

Finally, worship the Lord throughout the rest of the week.

If a person is not worshipping the Lord in his day to day life, why would he expect to profit a great deal from a weekly worship gathering? Truly, he really shouldn’t. Don’t expect your love for Christ to be stirred up on Sunday morning, if your life is consumed with everything but Christ the rest of the week.

A vital and growing walk with Jesus is undoubtedly the most critical way to gain a blessing from the Lord’s Day. It is the Lord’s Day, after all. Those who have no vital relationship with the Lord Jesus are not likely to find an entire day devoted to him to be of any particular value. Without question, a God-centered and Gospel-saturated gathering of Christians can do a great deal to fuel the flames of our love for Christ and lead us into fellowship with him throughout the rest of the week, but neglect of personal fellowship with Christ during the week can also numb the heart to the blessing of the Lord’s Day. Walking with Jesus during the week prepares us to make much more of Sunday than we would be inclined to do otherwise.

I pray at least one or two of these suggestions are helpful to you as you consider how to make the most of Sunday. The Lord’s Day is truly a gift to us as God’s redeemed people. May God give us grace to find an ever increasing blessing in it until Jesus returns and every day becomes the Lord’s Day.

Thursday, 14 January 2016 00:02

The Kind of Teaching We Need – Part 3

In my previous two posts, I’ve tried to demonstrate from Scripture the kind of teaching and preaching that we need as a church in order to grow in Christ-likeness and in faithfulness to God. And as I’ve indicated, I believe that is the subject of Paul’s instruction to Titus in Titus 2:15.

“Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you” (Titus 2:15 ESV).

From this straightforward instruction, I’ve drawn two points of application for us so far.

First, we need Gospel-centered teaching; a kind of teaching that clearly emphasizes the grace of God in Christ despite our sins and the grace of God in Christ to overcome our sins. We don’t need checklists. We don’t need life lessons. We need Christ. And so, we need a kind of teaching that centers upon the good news about him.

Secondly, we need steady Gospel-centered teaching. We need a kind of Gospel preaching & teaching that is relentless in its effort to bring the Gospel to bear upon all kinds of situations, scenarios, and people. Those who preach and teach the Scriptures in the church should seek to overwhelm their hearers with the awe-inspiring magnitude and all-encompassing relevance of the Gospel.

Today I want to look at a third application we must consider. It is that we need authoritative Gospel-centered teaching.

We need authoritative Gospel-centered teaching.

Let me try to unpack what authority and Gospel teaching is all about. I believe the big point in Titus 2:15 regarding authority and teaching is that authoritative Gospel-centered teaching begins with recognizing the source of a teacher’s authority.

Teaching with all authority is not about a kind of authority that a preacher or teacher has by virtue of his position. No one in the church possesses inherent authority over anyone else in the church. Those who are responsible to teach the Gospel do not have the right to rule over people like a king would rule over people. The authority that Gospel teachers and preachers possess is a very specific kind of authority.

When Paul says, “speak the Gospel and exhort with the Gospel and reprove with the Gospel…with all authority,” he is not saying, “Tell people what to do, where to go, what to do with their lives, whom they should marry, how they should spend their money, what they should enjoy for entertainment, whom they should vote for, and what they should eat or drink.” He’s not saying that at all.

No, when Paul says this, he is commanding Titus to teach and preach the Gospel as one who has been commissioned by God himself to speak on behalf of God to his people.

Look at how this works. In Titus 1:3, Paul said that he had been entrusted with the preaching of the Gospel “by the command of God our Savior.” Then in 1:5, Paul says that he has entrusted Titus to carry on his mission in Crete. So, God commands Paul to take the Gospel out into the world, and as Paul does that, he appoints others to carry on this same mission. So, as one commentator says, “Titus’ authority to teach and correct the congregation, which is an extension of the apostle’s, is established, by way of transference or participation.” All the commands to Titus flow out of God’s commands to Paul in 1:1-3.

So, the reason that Titus (and others responsible for teaching in the church) must labor to serve the church with authoritative Gospel-centered teaching is because Jesus ultimately has called him to do so. Jesus has commissioned him and so he must not give up. He must not fail to give this kind of teaching, even in the face of opposition to this kind of teaching, because Jesus is the one who has called him to carry out this ministry and Jesus is the only one he will be accountable to on Judgment Day.

Paul roots his words in 2 Timothy 4 in that very reality, when he says to Timothy, “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.”

In other words, Titus is to teach with all authority because the One who has ultimately commissioned him to teach has all authority. Authoritative Gospel-centered teaching begins with seeing yourself as a servant of God and his Word, and as one who exists to please and glorify Jesus Christ. It begins with knowing where your authority comes from. Truly biblical preaching and teaching flows directly from this understanding.

This is what we should want from those who teach the Word in this church, starting with those who preach and teach the Word to our church as a gathered body; we want men who understand the weight and the seriousness of proclaiming the Gospel to the church – and who feel the commanding authority of Christ thrusting them forward to say what they say, to teach the way they teach, and to live the way they live. We should not want teachers and preachers who seek to please the masses, but men whose sole concern is to please the One who has enlisted them into the ministry of teaching and preaching.

Authoritative Gospel-centered teaching is not about convincing your hearers that you are an authoritative teacher; it is about pointing your hearers to the One who has all authority in heaven and on earth. It is not about teaching in such a way that people think you are a really gifted teacher – it is about teaching in such a way that people see that Jesus is an amazing Savior and the sovereign Lord over all things. The authority of the message is not in the messenger, but in the One whom the message is all about. And so, Gospel preachers and teachers must make it clear that the matters on which they speak are not the kinds of things you can casually take or leave.

I believe this is why Paul says what he does in his final command to Titus here in Titus 2:15. “Let no one disregard you.” Paul is saying to Titus, “Treat the Gospel as a matter of ultimate importance. Don’t let people shrug it off casually. Don’t present the Gospel as a light and inconsequential sort of thing. And don’t live in such a way that people could justifiably accuse you of not really believing it, such that they would have reason to reject your Christ.”

Why would he say this? Because the message of Christ and Him crucified is the only message in which the saving power and sovereign authority of God is unleashed in the hearts of those who believe in Christ. If people reject Jesus and his Gospel; they have rejected the only way to be saved and sanctified.

And yet, these days, the idea of authority in preaching and teaching gets a really bad rap, even in the church. In an effort to sound less dictatorial, some have opted to approach the task of preaching and teaching God’s Word in a less authoritative manner. As a result of this, sermons in many churches have become “talks” and “conversations,” preachers have become “speakers,” and the proclamation of the Word has been moved to the outer edges of the worship service. The idea behind all of this being that such changes might appeal to and be more palatable for those who are turned off by more authoritative preaching and teaching.

However, even the “speaker” giving a “talk” in a conversational and non-confrontational manner for 20 minutes in the most “relevant” and seeker-sensitive church service is speaking with authority. He’s merely appealing to his own authority; the authority of his own ideas and opinions, rather than the authority of God’s Word.

And ironically, such talks are far more dictatorial than a sermon where the Bible is opened and the preacher seeks to proclaim the meaning and importance of what a particular passage says. This is because the preacher who is afraid to appeal to the authority of God in Scripture, instead of saying “this is how you must think and live, because God says so,” can only say, “this is how you must think and live, because I say so.”

The fact is that every preacher and teacher preaches and teaches with authority. The only question is where the authority of what a preacher says comes from. For the one who opens up the Bible and seeks to clearly communicate its meaning and importance to the people, his authority is an actual authority that comes from directly from God. But, for the one who seeks to speak with a less-authoritative voice, his authority is an artificial authority derived merely from the ideas in his own head.

And so, lest we be fed with the individual opinions of talented speakers, let us always demand to be fed in an authoritative manner, directly from the Word, by those who have voluntarily placed themselves under its authority in the way they think, live, preach and teach. And by that authoritative preaching and teaching, we will grow up as a church into all that Christ wants for us to be as his church.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015 18:21

The Kind of Teaching We Need – Part 2

Last time, I made the case that the kind of teaching we need as a church is what could be referred to as “Gospel-centered teaching”; a kind of teaching and preaching that magnifies the grace of God in Christ as the grounding reality of all of life; a kind of teaching and preaching that focuses on the Gospel of Christ and the implications of the Gospel upon the lives of Christ’s followers.

This kind of teaching flows directly out of the intended purpose of the Bible and follows the pattern of teaching given to us in the Bible, which is God’s own personal Word to His people. When the discouraged disciples encountered the resurrected Jesus (unknowingly, at first) on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24, Jesus opened their blind eyes to the significance of his life and death by taking them through “Moses and all the Prophets” teaching them “in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).

From Jesus in Luke 24, we learn a lot about what the Bible is NOT. The Bible is not a collection of moralistic instructions for sinners, despite the way it instructs us in morality. The Bible is not a mere theological textbook that seeks to answer all of our curious questions about life and about God. Furthermore, the Bible is not a creed or statement of faith that simply teaches us what we need to believe.

Instead, from Jesus in Luke 24, we learn that the Bible is God’s revelation to us of his unified plan for all of history to unite all things in heaven and on earth in and under Christ. It is the absolutely true, divinely inspired, and inerrant record of how God will be glorified for eternity in the midst of His redeemed people who have been saved by His grace through faith in His Son. And at the center of that story, is Jesus and the Good News about him.

Additionally, we are also taught that the Scriptures are totally sufficient for leading sinners to a saving knowledge of Christ and for teaching them to live godly lives in light of what Christ has done for them in dying for their sins and raising from the dead. This is exactly the point of the Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 3:14-16 where he says to the young pastor, Timothy…

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (ESV – italics mine).

Never are the people of God to move on from the Bible, which means never are we to move on from the Gospel and the implications of the Gospel upon our lives. The unpacking of the Gospel and its implications from the Bible, is sufficient to make us wise for salvation and equipped for every good work.

But this is essentially just a restatement of what I said last time, as we reflected on Titus 2:15, which says, “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you” (Titus 2:15 ESV). There Paul is addressing another pastor, a church planter named Titus who was responsible for building up a number of churches on the island of Crete; commanding him to build up the church(es) under his leadership by serving them a steady diet of strong, Gospel-centered teaching.

We need this kind of teaching…desperately. We cannot grow spiritually without it.

But what we also see here in this simple and potent verse is that a mere sprinkling of this kind of teaching throughout the church is not enough. We not only need Gospel-centered teaching…

We need steady Gospel-centered teaching.

Here’s what I mean by “steady” Gospel-centered teaching. I’m talking about a focus needed from those who are responsible for teaching the Gospel and its implications in the church, that guards those teachers from becoming content with merely presenting sermons, and lessons, and public statements, and that drives them to bring the Gospel to bear upon all kinds of situations, scenarios, and people. I get that from what Paul says to Titus here when he writes…

“These things speak and exhort and reprove…” There is a progression to the commands given there. The first thing Titus is to do is “speak” the Gospel. The word simply means “to speak.” Teachers in the church are to talk about the Gospel and its implications. It’s a pretty simple concept, really. They are to talk about it with people in public teaching and in private conversations.

The second thing Titus is called to do is “exhort” people with the Gospel. This word is notably stronger. It has the sense of “to urge” or to “call to action.” It can be used in more negative contexts, where the urging is with someone who needs correction – but it is also used in much less negative contexts, where people just need encouragement; not just a pat on the back, but real substantive encouragement. Titus is called to call people to action with Gospel centered teaching. Not simply to talk about it. Not simply to teach it as fact. But to call people to respond to it appropriately.

The last thing that Titus is supposed to do here is “reprove” people with the Gospel. This is obviously a stronger word than the previous two, and probably has to do with those situations where Titus will face opponents of Gospel teaching, which typically rejects one of the two fundamental aspects of true Gospel-centered teaching – namely “grace despite sin” or “holiness by grace.”

When people want to deny the importance of living a godly life, and want to settle for a cheap grace that has little to no impact on the way we live our lives – they must be shown the error of their ways. And when people want to emphasize the necessity of godliness to the exclusion of our depravity and our need for God’s grace – they too must be shown their error. Gospel-centered reproof is an essential ingredient of a healthy church. Without it, churches become, in the words of Al Mohler, “little more than voluntary associations with a steeple.” The Gospel is important enough to step on people’s toes when necessary, and teachers in the church (particularly pastors) must be willing to do so.

Paul gives a similar command to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:2. There the command is: “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.” The idea there is the same as in Titus 2:15. The church needs steady Gospel-centered teaching.

The Apostle Paul is actually a great example of what this should look like. He set a wonderful example for this kind of patient, enduring, faithful, steady kind of teaching – and passed on the baton to many others along the way – as we see in his parting words to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20.

In Acts 20:18-37 we read, "You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, 21 solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. 22 "And now, behold, bound in spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. 24 "But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God. 25 "And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will no longer see my face. 26 "Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. 27 "For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. 28 "Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 "I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 "Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. 32 "And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 "I have coveted no one's silver or gold or clothes. 34 "You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. 35 "In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'" 36 When he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37 And they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him…”

What a scene. A steady Gospel-centered teacher, giving his life to find ways to pour the Gospel into the same group of people, day and night, for three straight years – in good times and really bad times – whether what he said was immediately accepted or not, and despite the hardship it brought him upon him; who’s faithfulness and steady teaching has won the trust of his hearers, has raised up men to take on the responsibility for furthering the Gospel, and has built in the hearts of God’s people a genuine love for Christ and for one another. All of that is the fruit of steady Gospel-centered teaching.

The church needs this kind of teaching. Our church needs this kind of teaching. And the reason is because our fundamental needs never change. Whether we’re in the dark valleys of suffering and pain or on the mountain tops of joy and satisfaction, our fundamental needs remain the same. No matter what we’re going through, we need to be taught and reminded and then taught and reminded again of the grace of God in Christ despite our sins, and the grace of God in Christ to overcome our sins. No matter what we’re going through, we are in need of being brought back again and again to the greatness of the grace of God in Jesus. As Paul said in Acts 20, those realities – “the word of his grace” is the thing that is able to build us up and give us the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. And so, those who are responsible for teaching in the church just need to stick with the Gospel.

As the old hymn so rightly puts it, “Through many dangers toils and snares we have already come. T’was grace that brought us safe thus far, and grace will lead us home.” Grace has brought us safe thus far, and grace will lead us home.

May those of us in this church who are responsible for teaching the Gospel here never become satisfied with the level to which we have taught it – and may those of us who hear that teaching from week to week never become satisfied with the level to which we have heard it.

We’ll consider the third aspect of the kind of teaching we need, next time.

Wednesday, 09 September 2015 01:41

The Kind of Teaching We Need – Part 1

Few things are as essential to the health of a local church than the right kind of preaching and teaching. As proper nutrition is essential to physical health, so the right kind of teaching is essential to the health of God’s people in the local church.

And yet, the matter of biblical teaching is far more serious than the matter of one’s personal diet. You can eat Doritos and drink Dr. Pepper in moderation and be perfectly in bounds of the wisdom of Scripture, but you’ll never find God giving freedom to His people to enjoy and embrace the spiritual junk food of fat-filled, sugar soaked teaching and preaching. Rather, He commands them to expect much better from those who teach them.

As a result, I’d like to spend a few posts reminding all of us of the kind of teaching and preaching we should expect at Shepherd’s Community Church. What kind of teaching do we need?

The question is answered for us very clearly in a letter of the Apostle Paul to a church-planter named Titus, a man who had been commissioned to bring young, unsettled, and vulnerable churches on the island of Crete to spiritual health and vitality. Specifically, the question is answered for us in Titus 2:15, where Paul commands Titus:

“Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you” (Titus 2:15 ESV).

In the context of the letter as a whole, what Paul is calling Titus to do is to build up the church under his leadership by serving them a steady diet of strong, Gospel-rooted teaching; what today is often referred to as ‘Gospel-centered’ teaching.

And herein we see the kind of teaching that we need to grow spiritually as a church. Specifically, we see three characteristics to desire in the teaching we are giving and receiving at SCC. We’ll look at the first characteristic today.

So, first of all, to put it simply…

We need Gospel-centered teaching.

When Paul says in Titus 2:15, These things speak and exhort and reprove…” he is talking about the things he has already covered, particularly in Titus 2:2-14. And what has he said in those verses? Basically, he has commanded Titus to teach his church to live in such a way that brings glory and honor to Jesus (vv. 2-10) in light of what he has done to save us from our sins (vv. 11-14).

Bringing health to the local church requires teaching, but not just any kind of teaching, and not teaching on just any topic. Rather, leading a local church into spiritual health requires teaching that emphasizes the importance of living in such a way that brings glory and honor to Jesus – in light of the greatness of what he has done to save us from our sins. This is what you could call “Gospel-centered teaching.”

Gospel centered teaching is specific in its content and does two things. First, it grounds the Christian life in the riches of what God has done for us in Christ. That is, it magnifies the grace of God despite of and in the face of our sin. These things unpack what is often referred to as the “indicatives” of the Gospel; all that God has done for His people in Christ.

But secondly, truly Gospel-centered teaching calls people to a kind of living that shows Christ to be glorious. That is, it magnifies the power and intention of God’s grace to break us from the chains of our sin and enable us by His grace to live godly lives; what are often referred to as the “imperatives” of the Gospel. True Gospel-centered teaching proclaims as Bryan Chappell puts it, “grace despite sin” and “obedience through grace.”

Paul proclaims both of those things here in Titus 2:2-14 – though in reverse order. In 2:11-14 he emphasizes the grace of God despite our sin (“for the grace of God has appeared…”; i.e. the embodiment of God’s grace has appeared in the person of Jesus) – and in verses 2:2-10 he emphasizes the need to live lives of self-control and obedience as a response to God’s grace in Christ. Both “grace despite sin” and “obedience through grace” are equally emphasized by the Apostle.

Teaching that neglects one of these things or the other, presents a Gospel that J.I. Packer says is not “fully dressed.” He writes, “Our preaching and teaching of the Gospel…must include teaching the godly manner of living that accords with the sound doctrines of the Gospel.” (Packer, Grounded in the Gospel, p. 100)

In Titus 2, Paul is offering to Titus a pattern of teaching that he wants Titus to follow in his own ministry, and then in 2:15 basically says, “Just keep stressing these things! Keep on proclaiming God’s grace despite our sin, along with God’s grace to overcome our sin – distinguishing the indicatives of the Gospel from the imperatives of the Gospel – but also rooting the imperatives of the Gospel in the indicatives of the Gospel.” In other words, “Keep showing how God’s commands that teach us to live self-controlled and godly lives flow out of the grace God has given us in Christ.”

One of the main reasons this is so important, is because people desperately need to see that the commands of God are not the means to get right with God, but rather are the natural responses to receiving the grace of God that is in Christ.

Counterfeit Christianities say, “I obey God, therefore he accepts me.” Biblical Christianity says, “God has accepted me, therefore I obey him.” When you strip the commands of God away from the saving work of God in Christ, those commands quickly start to seem arbitrary and pointless (which they would be apart from the Gospel). However, when you begin to see the commands of God in light of the saving work of God in Christ – those commands become the sweet expressions of grace from a gracious and loving God who wants what is best for us and is committed to our eternal good; who is not out to squelch our joy, but to increase it for eternity.

I love to listen to teachers and to learn from other brothers and sisters who love to ground the commands of God in the saving work of God in Jesus, because, what I find that happens in listening to these brothers and sisters is that my love for God and my sensitivity to what displeases him increases. Why does this happen? Because they are pointing me to the grace of God in Christ – which alone has the power to change my heart. So, as they point me to Christ and his saving work, I find my heart being changed, along with my attitude toward God’s commands, and I find a renewed and increasing love for God driving out my love of sin.

So, focusing on the Gospel and the implications of the Gospel upon my life shows me that obedience is a very good thing, and not a bad, burdensome, or boring thing.

In light of what God has done for me in Christ, it makes sense why he calls me to love him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love my neighbor as myself. In light of the Gospel, it makes sense why God calls me to run from temptation and to pursue purity of heart and mind. It makes sense why God calls me to make war against sin and to live a self-controlled, upright, and godly life in this age while I wait for Jesus to return. When I see that the intention of God’s grace is not merely to free me from the penalty of my sins, but also the power of sin over my life, then I can understand why God calls me to live out that freedom in my day to day life, and it makes me want that freedom all the more.

And that’s why giving adequate focus to the Gospel and its implications upon our lives is such an important thing to the health of our church. If we focus merely on the grace of God despite our sins – we could easily become a really loose and licentious group of people who love our sins and who make sin look more attractive than the One who died to save us from it. But then, if we focus merely on the grace of God to overcome our sins, we could fall off the other side and become a group of proud, legalistic and self-righteous religious people who make it seem like grace is not really needed to be right with God. And falling off either side would be really sad and tragic.

But teaching that gives adequate focus not merely to the greatness of God’s grace despite our sin and God’s grace to overcome our sin – but to the practice of rooting God’s grace to overcome our sin in the amazing grace of God despite our sin – protects us from falling off either side of that boat.

And we have God’s promises that if this kind of teaching is unleashed in our church; we’ll see God save sinners and change lives for his glory. We’ll see our own hearts changed and new affections growing within them. We’ll see our kids saved and transformed into hard-following disciples of Jesus. We’ll see disciples made. We’ll see leaders raised up. We’ll see missionaries and pastors and teachers raised up from within our ranks. We’ll see people pursuing holiness and loving one another. If we remain committed to this kind of teaching, we’ll see a real, New Testament, Christ-loving and Gospel-centered church built right here – and God will get the glory!

We need teaching that focuses on the Gospel and its implications for our lives. That’s the first thing we see here. We’ll consider the second thing next time.

Thursday, 05 February 2015 20:13

Trustworthy Resources - Volume 1

Today’s post is for the purpose of pointing you to some of the best online resources available to Christians seeking to grow in their knowledge and love for God and His Word. With the internet ever-expanding, it can be difficult for Christians to discern which of these resources are the most trustworthy.

Below is a list of some of the websites I make use of most consistently and would most enthusiastically recommend. Referring to these websites is not intended to convey agreement with everything in them; but where our church would disagree with the materials on these sites, those disagreements would be around secondary issues. In other words, though there may be points of disagreements, those points would not be regarding matters of first importance, namely the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Here they are, in no particular order.

Grace to You: The preaching and teaching ministry of John MacArthur.

John MacArthur is the pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, CA, where he has been preaching the Word of God faithfully for over 45 years. Over six years ago, Grace to You graciously decided to release over four decades worth of MacArthur’s sermons and offer them free to the public, opening up a vast library of expository sermons, devotionals, and articles for the benefit of any student and lover of the Scriptures.

Together for the Gospel: A biennial conference begun in 2006 to serve one main purpose: to encourage other pastors (particularly) to stand together for the same gospel.

This conference began as a simple friendship between four pastors and theologians; Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, Albert Mohler, and C.J. Mahaney. Longing to see pastors and Christians united in the Gospel, despite their differences over secondary doctrines, Dever and company decided to start up a conference where pastors and other church leaders could be encouraged to stand firm in the faith and in Gospel-centered ministries. Their website hosts edifying messages over the last 9 years (5 conferences in all), preached by each of these men and a number of their friends, including John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, John Piper, and Matt Chandler, among others.

Monergism.com: Excellent library of resources from an historic Reformed perspective.

This very helpful website exists, as the website states, “to aid in the growth and maturation of the worldwide Church by making available a wide array of free resources that support the historic, Reformed Christian faith, combat doctrinal error, and stir the flame of devotion which a right knowledge of the Savior must produce.” At monergism.com, you’ll find a whole host of resources from saints all throughout church history, including sermons on every book of the Bible, online commentaries, free electronic books, and a number of historic theological articles.

The MLJ Trust: A collection of 1600 sermons from the late Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

David Martyn Lloyd-Jones was a greatly influential 20th century Welsh Protestant minister, who for nearly 30 years ministered the Word of God faithfully at the Westminster Chapel in London. Lloyd –Jones was a prolific expository preacher and a great collection of his sermons can be downloaded for free at this fantastic website.

The Gospel Coalition: A broadly Reformed network of churches encouraging and equipping churches to carry out faithful Gospel-centered ministry.

In a relatively short period of time, The Gospel Coalition website has become one of the largest online resources with trustworthy biblical content. At the site, you’ll find a number of helpful blogs, access to the online theological journal Themelios, a large library of sermons, and conference messages from the past several years. You won’t exhaust this resource any time soon, so the sooner to begin, the better.

Challies.com: The online home of blogger, author, and pastor Tim Challies.

For several years now, Tim Challies has been faithfully offering solid and inevitably helpful daily content for Christians to read and enjoy. Challies has proven himself to be a trustworthy source for original content as well as for pointing Christians to other trustworthy resources. This blog is worth taking a look at on a daily basis.

The Pyromaniacs: The excellent blog of Phil Johnson (Executive Director of Grace to You – see above), Dan Phillips (Pastor of Copperfield Bible Church of Houston, TX), and Frank Turk (a regular guy with a secular job, and a fantastic Christian writer).

If you’re looking for dainty, soft, sensitive, chicken soup for the soul kind of stuff, you probably won’t like this blog. However, if you’re looking for years of straight, biblical, faithful instruction on a variety of issues, from guys who are more interested in telling you the truth than they are in making you feel good, then this is a blog you should definitely spend some time reading.

At some point I will try to follow this post up with another one, sharing another list of trustworthy resources for you to enjoy. But, this should keep you busy for now.

Happy reading, friends!

For many Christians, a church’s success is a matter of simple mathematics. The more people, the better. If attendance and giving numbers are going up, God must be pleased. And if those numbers are going down, well…you get the picture.

I wish I could say that I’ve never played the numbers game myself, but I can’t, because I do, quite often actually.

Yes, I admit that an ever-changing portion of my Monday morning mood is influenced by the attendance and giving numbers of our church the day before. When the numbers look good, I tend to go into my week feeling encouraged. And when the numbers look less than good, I have to ask the Lord to guard me from becoming discouraged.

However, various circumstances in my life and in our church have led me to do some serious thinking and biblical contemplation over the issue of church numbers. This post is my attempt to summarize most of the big things that I have learned, and continue to learn (as I need frequent reminding), hanging my thoughts on some of the larger principles I see in Scripture. I hope they will be profitable to you as well.

Here they are, in a particular, but non-essential order.

1. Numbers are not spiritually irrelevant.

I admire those good and well-intentioned men who encourage pastors to not care at all about numbers. There is a part of me that wishes I could be more like them. However, I am not convinced that God would have us care nothing about the number of people being reached and cared for in and through our churches. In fact, it seems that if we truly care about seeing the Gospel of Christ spread to as many people as possible, and if we care about the souls of men, then there doesn’t seem to be a way to think so little about numbers – because those numbers represent actual people.

This is why I believe, for example, that when we read of Jesus in Mark chapter 6 feeding a great multitude of people; we are not simply told that he fed a great multitude. We are instead told that he had fed some “five thousand men” (not including women and children). That is, Jesus and/or the disciples counted the people. But why? Because they were market-savvy, pop-culture experts who cared nothing for truth and everything for results? No, rather because Jesus saw that multitude full of “sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34). At least five thousand sheep, to be specific.

This is also why, for example, that when NT church was born in Acts chapter 2 at Pentecost, we are not just told that a bunch of people got saved. Rather, we are told that “about three thousand” (Acts 2:41) people came to Christ under the Spirit-empowered preaching of the Apostle Peter. The numbers there in Acts 2 are significant because of what they represent. Luke describes them very specifically. “And there were added that day about three thousand souls.” The number is significant because souls are significant.

There are other places we could look, but you get the idea. The number of people being reached and cared for in and through our churches is not irrelevant, because people are not irrelevant.

At the same time…

2. Numbers are not easy to interpret.

That is, the numbers game is not a matter of simple mathematics. This is where I think a lot of Christians would do well to stop and evaluate how they think about the issue.

Many assume that if a church is growing numerically, then it is a sign of God’s blessing; a sign that the church is doing something right. However, it is not only the question of whether a church is growing numerically that is important. The how’s and why’s of church growth are at minimum just as important as any other question regarding church growth.

Churches that experience numerical growth need to ask a number of questions to interpret that growth properly. For starters, are they growing because they have gone soft on the Gospel? Are they growing because they are refusing to confront serious issues in their attendees? Are they growing because they preach hard to the choir and soft to the prospective member?

In other words, why are people coming? Are they coming because they are getting the truth, or because they are hearing what they want to hear? Are they coming because they are coming under conviction under the courageous preaching of the Word of God or because they are made to feel comfortable in their sin? Surely, if it is the latter, the numerical growth of that church is not a sign of God’s blessing.

In fact, the Bible I read warns churches of a trend that is said will increase as the return of Christ draws ever-nearer. The Apostle Paul talks about it in 2 Timothy 4 when he writes to Timothy the young pastor, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:2-4).

Therefore, it would seem that there is a common kind of numerical growth that occurs, not as a sign of God’s blessing, but as an indication of spiritual compromise. That deserves some serious meditation.

Conversely, Paul’s words to Timothy also indicate that as the days approaching the return of Christ march on, there will be a kind of numerical shrinkage in the true church as well. That warrants some careful thought as well.

Now, my point in saying these things is not to say that all numerical growth is bad (remember point #1) or that all numerical shrinkage is good (see the following points). Rather, it is to say that numerical growth is not easy to interpret. A lot of people simply assume without any serious thought that if a church is growing, God must be very happy with that church. I am simply arguing that this assumption is wrong and leads to shaky conclusions.

I’ll try to break this point down in the next two points.

3. Bigger is not necessarily better.

This clearly follows from the previous point, but I’d like to expand a bit here. Here’s how (I think) we know when numerical growth is not necessarily a good thing. Bigger is not always better.

Bigger is not better when people are leaving their otherwise faithful churches to join yours simply because they like your church better. Bigger is not better when you are stealing sheep.

Bigger is also not better if there is not a team of qualified pastors in your church who are able, equipped, and available to care for the souls of everyone coming to your church. If the growth of a church has clearly exceeded the ability of the pastors to care for the flock, it is not a good thing.

Bigger is also not better if the growth is due to a professional model of ministry that relieves the saints of the responsibility to do ministry themselves. So, to get personal; if people are coming to our church because they find it easier to be consumers, it is not God’s affirmation of our ministry.

And as I said before, bigger is not better if the growth is due to a church’s compromise on the hard truths of Scripture. If the bad news that must precede the Good News is never being preached, you can be almost certain that your growth is not a healthy kind of growth.

As I see it in Scripture; there are two kinds of numerical growth that a church should desire. The first is growth by way of genuine conversions, where unbelievers hear the Gospel and are brought under the authority of the Word of God by the Holy Spirit, who makes them to be born again and grants them faith in Christ alone for the forgiveness of their sins and right standing with God, and who then are instructed to go into the waters of baptism to publicly identify with Christ in his death and resurrection, and are then joyfully added as members of Christ’s universal and local church. This is the best kind of numerical growth any church can experience.

But a second kind of growth that I think the church is right to pursue, is the kind of growth that occurs as they seek to gather up Christians who are not in healthy church situations or who have found themselves looking for a new church for good reason. Churches should be on the lookout for Christ’s true people who are lacking a biblically faithful church to call home.

Beyond that, I can’t really think of a kind of numerical growth that Scripture would lead us to care about.

Bigger is not necessarily better. Yet, at the same time…

4. Smaller is not necessarily better either.

Some Christians take great pride in being a part of a small church, feeling that they are part of a rare faithful remnant. And while faithfulness to Christ is certainly rare in our fallen world; I’m not so sure it’s quite as rare as this remnant might think.

Rather, the smallness of a church could very well indicate a number of spiritually troubling things. It could indicate that the church doesn’t really care for souls outside of their safe little gathering. It could mean that they are unloving, or that they are lazy in evangelism, or that they preach weird and wacky things. The smallness of a church could mean that it is not focused on obeying Christ by heeding the Great Commission.

Furthermore, the smallness of a church could also reveal that the church is not actively dealing with conflict in a biblical and peace-making kind of way. It could mean that they’re comfortable with divisions and strife, and don’t care when people leave. The smallness of a church could indicate that the church isn’t really that concerned about being a healthy church.

So, while bigger is not necessarily better; smallness should not be seen as a badge of honor either.

However…

5. Smaller is not necessarily worse.

Smaller is not a sign of God’s displeasure with a church if that church is seeking to grow through practices clearly assigned to them in Scripture; serious biblical preaching, passionate pleading over souls, and courageous personal evangelism, to name the top three. If a church is focusing hard on being faithful regarding the depth of her ministry and sincerely seeking to trust God with the breadth of her ministry, it is not a bad thing. Far from it; it is a sign that the Spirit of God is truly at work in that church.

Furthermore, smaller is not necessarily worse if the lack of growth is giving time and opportunity to the pastoral team to adequately care for the souls who are already in the church. I feel that this has been a blessing God has given to our church over the past couple of years. We have not seen any real kind of numerical growth (we’ve lost some and gained some). But the lack of growth has enabled our pastoral team to better care for the saints who are already here, as well as to prepare for any growth that God may grant to us in the future by raising up other leaders.

But beyond these things, there is simply no guarantee in the Bible that if a church is faithful to its God-given mission that God is going to grant great measures of tangible fruit to that church. The only thing that God guarantees to His faithful people is hardship! “Indeed,” the Apostle Paul says, “all who live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Not surprisingly, these words echo the words of Jesus, who told His followers, “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33).

Tribulation and the presence of Christ in that tribulation. Those are the only things promised to Christ’s faithful saints.

And so, smaller may not necessarily be worse. It may just be evidence that the Word is true.

6. Supernatural growth is supernaturally produced.

Far beyond numerical growth, the Scriptures would lead us to care most about true spiritual growth. And spiritual growth is supernatural growth. It is only produced by the Spirit of God. What kind of growth am I talking about?

Well, let’s first consider a kind of growth that sees a person brought from spiritual death to spiritual life. This is the “growth” of conversion, which is a lot less like growth and far more like a resurrection. I’m not talking about mere professions of faith; but actual conversions; whereby a person is made a new creature by the power of the Holy Spirit. I’m talking about the new birth, where the heart of stone in a sinner is replaced with a heart of flesh that is sensitive to God and His ways; a heart that as a result clings to Christ the Son of God in genuine faith to save him from his sins, to make him right with God, and to guard his soul in life and in death. We should be praying and working to see this kind of “growth” take place.

But beyond that, I’m talking about the kind of growth whereby a Christian is transformed more and more into the likeness of Christ. The kind of growth that takes place as a Christian regularly encounters the glory of Christ in His Word and is changed increasingly by the Holy Spirit as a result of those encounters, making that sinner more and more like His Savior.

I’m talking about the kind of growth that sees Christians growing in Christ-likeness also growing in love for one another; genuinely learning to lay down their lives for the good of their brothers and sisters in Christ. A growth where Christians are learning to forgive one another, as the Lord has forgiven them; where Christians are seeking peace and genuine unity with one another as they speak the truth into each other’s lives and extend patience and grace to one another in love.

I’m talking about the kind of growth where a Christian becomes more and more concerned for the state of lost souls; souls that apart from the grace and power of Christ will suffer an eternity in hell under the righteous judgment of God. A growth where Christians grow in grace toward those on the outside of their assembly and where they are seeking the eternal good of their neighbors.

The growth of a church is about so much more than a growing number of butts sitting in chairs or pews. It is about lives being changed through encounters with the living Christ that are blessed by the power of the Holy Spirit.

And “this [kind of growth] comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18). There are no shortcuts to it. The only way to see this kind of growth is to plant and water with and according to the Word of God, trusting that God will do what only God can do: “give the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6, 7). And that growth may or may not have any drastic affect upon a church’s numbers.

7. Success is about far more than numbers.

While giving attention to various tangible metrics may be helpful to a church that is seeking to honestly evaluate the success of its ministry; those tangible metrics are not everything. True success is ultimately measured by whether a church has sought to be faithful to the Lord Jesus and truly obedient to His Word as they have gone about life and ministry as a church.

Has the church sought to give glory to God as their Creator and Redeemer in Christ? Has the church sought Spirit-produced Christ-likeness by giving prayerful attention to the Word of God in private and as a gathered body? Has the church sought to be centered around the glorious reality of God’s grace in Christ as revealed in the Gospel? Has the church sought to be a place of loving, truthful companionship and partnership in Gospel ministry? Has the church sought to spread the Gospel as far as the Lord would allow? Have they sought to faithfully share the Gospel to as many people as the Lord would grant? Have they sought the glory of Christ above all things?

If a church can answer “yes” to these questions (not as if they’ve done these things perfectly; but as if they’ve done them sincerely), that church is a success, no matter the numbers.

Now, I only pray that God will give me faith to believe these things more consistently. Lord, hear my prayer.

Thursday, 11 December 2014 02:52

Two Big Reasons God Became Man

In the Gospel of Luke, we read:

“Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:11-12 ESV).

These well known words are the heavenly announcement of the Incarnation of the Son of God. Here in Luke 2, the angel is announcing the birth of Israel’s Savior and Hero. However, the announcement is quite unexpected; not that the baby will become a great and powerful leader; but that the great and powerful leader of the Jewish people had become a baby. Christ, the Lord, had been born. God had become a human being.

The Incarnation of Christ is one of the critical doctrines of biblical Christianity. Without it, the Bible tells us, there is no hope for salvation from sin, death, and the righteous judgment of God. But why is God becoming flesh so critical to our salvation?

Many things could be said in an answer to this question. Truly, there are many reasons God became man in the person of Jesus Christ. Yet, I appreciate two of the reasons emphasized by Puritan Thomas Watson. Those two reasons can be summarized with two words; propitiation and imputation.

Propitiation: Christ became man in order to make propitiation for our sins.

In other words, the Son of God became man in order to satisfy the wrath of God toward us for our sins. Christ had to take our sins and the wrath of God toward us for those sins on Himself at the Cross, so that we would not be judged for those sins eternally in hell. He came as a man to die as a man. And he died as a man to make God propitious toward sinners.

This is exactly what the writer of Hebrews says in Hebrews 2:17. “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”

Thomas Watson summarizes it this way:

“Was there no other way to restore fallen man but that God should take flesh?...God saw it to be the best way for our redemption, that Christ should be incarnate. It was not fit for any to satisfy God’s justice but man; none could do it but God; therefore Christ, being both God and man, is the fittest to undertake this work of redemption…”

And later,

“Christ took our flesh that He might take our sins upon Him, and so appease God’s wrath. The weight of the whole world’s sins was upon Him” (Watson, A Body of Divinity, pp. 192,194).

Imputation: Christ became man in order to have His righteousness imputed to us.

That is, Christ came to earth as a man to obey His Father perfectly as a man, so that the Father could treat us as obedient people. His obedience is credited to those who trust in Him, so that God may treat us not only as if we have never sinned, but as if we have always obeyed.

The Apostle Paul unpacks this idea in different ways. He puts in this way in Romans 5:18: “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.”

And again in 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

I love how Thomas Watson explains this awesome truth. He writes,

“Christ took our flesh that He might make the human nature appear lovely to God, and the divine nature appear lovely to man. When we fell from God, our nature became repulsive to him; no vermin is as detestable to us as human nature was to God. It was so vile to God that He could not endure to look upon us. Christ, taking our flesh, makes this human nature appear lovely to God. As when the sun shines on the glass it casts a bright luster, so Christ, being clad with our flesh, makes the human nature shine and appear amiable in God’s eyes. And Christ, being God incarnate, makes the sight of Deity not formidable, but delightful to us” (A Body of Divinity, p. 194).

It’s no wonder why the angels were so excited to announce the truth of God becoming man. And, I’d say that it’s worth some celebration on our end as well.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014 18:43

A Prayer for the Lord's Supper

A few weeks ago, we prayed this prayer together as a church family as we prepared to remember the death of Jesus our Savior by eating bread and drinking juice in the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper.

It is a prayer from a book of Puritan prayers called The Valley of Vision. That little book has enriched my prayer life more than any other book (next to the Bible, of course). If you don’t have it, I would fully recommend getting it.

Below is the prayer, which I modified a bit for gathered church setting. I would encourage you to pray through this prayer next time you prepare to remember the death of your Savior in the Lord’s Supper.

God of All Good,
We praise you for this reminder of the finished work of Christ.
Teach us to see in it Your loving purposes and the joy and strength of our souls.
You have prepared for us a feast; and though we are unworthy to sit down as Your guests, we wholly rest on the merits of Jesus, and hide ourselves beneath his righteousness.
When we hear His tender invitation here, and see His wonderous grace, we cannot hesitate but must come to You in love.
By Your Spirit enliven our faith rightly to discern and spiritually to apprehend the Savior.
While we gaze upon the emblems of our Savior’s death, may we ponder why He died, and hear Him say,

"I gave my life to purchase yours,
presented myself an offering to expiate your sin,
shed my blood to blot out your guilt,
opened my side to make you clean,
endured your curses to set you free,
bore your condemnation to satisfy divine justice."

O may we rightly grasp the breadth and length of this design, draw near, obey extend the hand, take the bread, receive the cup, eat and drink, testify before all men that we do for ourselves, gladly, in faith, reverence and love, receive our Lord, to be our life, strength, nourishment, joy, and delight.

In the supper we remember His eternal love, boundless grace, infinite compassion, agony, cross, redemption, and receive assurance of pardon, adoption, life, and glory.

As the outward elements nourish our bodies, so may Your indwelling Spirit invigorate our souls, until that day when we hunger and thirst no more, and sit with Jesus at his heavenly feast. (From The Valley of Vision, pp. 360-361)

Saturday, 30 August 2014 16:21

The Gospel and Personal Relationships

You and I are social beings by nature. We have been made that way. The very fact that we exist testifies to this fact, since life itself is conceived socially. Just as the human race could not succeed without social interaction, no single human being could either. Even the crazy mountain man that hasn't seen another human being for twenty years is a social being. He just interacts with animals and inanimate objects, instead of people.

Our desire for friendships then, is a natural, God-given desire. This, I believe is at the root of what God meant when He said in the Garden, "It is not good for man to be alone." Despite the perfect goodness of the original creation itself, it all would have shriveled up and died if man were not given the opportunity to exercise and display that goodness with others like him in open, honest, and loving relationships and partnerships with them.

This is one of the things that makes the scene of Genesis 3 so tragic. After rebelling against God in the Garden, Moses writes that the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. (Gen 3:7-8 - ESV).

What was the immediate effect of their rebellion? Immediately their eyes turn inward. Self-interest. Self-protection. Self-esteem. Self-consciousness. Self-absorption. Immediately, Adam and Eve go from being wrapped up and interested in the other – to wrapped up and interested in themselves. The immediate affect of their sin was distance in their relationship. And then, although they are now divided in their interests regarding the well being of the other, they are yet united in their interest to hide from God.

And so goes the human race into centuries upon centuries of broken, difficult, tragic, and altogether less than ideal relationships.

But, this is one of the tragic effects of man’s fall into sin that is reversed by the Gospel. Consider what John says in 1 John 1:7

"…if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin." (1 John 1:7).

This verse is worth a closer look.

“Fellowship” could be described as deep, meaningful, loving, sacrificial, and mutually beneficial relationships. One of the things I think John is arguing here, is that the Gospel and living according to it is the basis for true friendship.

Pastor Tim Keller has said on different occasions that religion says, "I obey, therefore I am accepted." Christianity says, "I am accepted, therefore I obey." This is Gospel living in a nutshell. This kind of living builds the only true foundation for the kind of relationships we all long for. The greatest hindrances to deep, meaningful, loving, sacrificial, and mutually beneficial relationships are absolutely demolished by the Gospel.

Think about it. What are some hindrances to our relationships? I can think of four immediately.

First, there is THE HUNGER FOR ACCEPTANCE. The Gospel of Christ rescues us from the dominating urge of human acceptance, which always leads to meaningless pretense. If my goal is to have you accept me in my relationship with you, then I will do whatever it takes to impress you to the point of accepting me – which means that I will probably only show you the good things in my life and will somehow find a way to hide the things that I think could make you reject me. Why be pretentious to gain acceptance with you if I know I am accepted by God, who sees me as I am?

The hunger for acceptance is also destructive in another way. It also leads me to reject you if I do not believe you are clearly accepting me. You see this all over today – and all of us are guilty of it to some degree. You don’t like me? Fine! I don’t need you anyway! We base our acceptance of others on whether or not we are convinced they have fully accepted us.

The Gospel reshapes our values here, such that our concern is no longer to prove our self-worth to others, nor is it to receive affirmation of our self-worth from others as the basis for our relationships. If I believe the Gospel, I can be honest and vulnerable with my friends, knowing that I do not ultimately need their acceptance to feel secure and at peace and I can love my friends whether or not they fully accept me, knowing that I have been accepted by the One who matters most. The Gospel secures me in my own skin, enabling me to not merely enjoy relationships, but to actually lovingly invest in them.

A second hindrance to true friendship is that of SHALLOW INTERESTS. We become friends simply because our kids are in the same school, or because we like the same sports team, or because you have cool things and I like cool things. The Gospel creates an interest in things that truly matter – freeing us from relationships based on shallow points of interest or agreement. It actually protects us from thinking that the silly, glad-handed, light-hearted interactions we have with one another are actually friendships. It keeps us looking for the real thing, and guards us from becoming satisfied with counterfeits.

Then there is the issue of PRIDE & PREJUDICES. The Gospel rescues us from looking down on one another – and from being intimidated by one another. It tells us there is no hierarchy of holiness. No totem poles. No caste systems. No straight to heaven routes for some, and long waits in purgatory for others. No system of perpetual reincarnation for those who just can’t seem to get it right. No critical members of society (unless by critical members of society you are referring everyone). No babies worth keeping and others worth destroying. The Gospel tells us that the great problem in this world is us. All of us. We are all on the same level; all sinners in need of the sovereign grace of God; all desperately and helplessly bound to our sins apart from that grace; and all of equal value and importance. Prejudice in every form hurts people and kills relationships, but the Gospel kills prejudice in every form.

And finally I think of the relationship killer of SELF-PROTECTION. The Gospel frees me from my “need” to protect myself (I continue to learn this). I feel the need to protect myself because I am afraid of what you might do to me if I don’t. This leads me to do a lot of the same things that my hunger for acceptance leads me to do. I only stick my neck out there so far. I only let you in so close. I only give so much. But, why must I be so guarded and afraid of being hurt if Jesus has taken my greatest possible suffering on Himself. If my greatest risk has been perfectly and completely mitigated by Christ at the Cross and I know that I will never be destroyed utterly; what do I have to fear? If God is for us, who can be against us?

And so, if we walk in the light…that is, if we are living lives that are consistent with the Gospel of God’s grace in Christ; examining ourselves according to the Scriptures; being honest about our personal walks with God; not trying to project inaccurately positive images to others; living open lives before God our only true Judge, leading to open lives before others – then, we can have the friendships we have always longed for – or at least pave the way for them. The fellowship of the Garden will be restored one day to a state far beyond what it ever was and we can begin to experience that restoration now, in “little things” like our relationships.

The invitation has been officially extended. Come walk in the light and experience Gospel-sustaining fellowship with God’s people.

This is the first post in a series devoted to explaining some of the foundational commitments of our church.

At SCC, we are committed to what is called “expository preaching.”  This is a kind of preaching that seeks to simply explain the meaning and relevance of the Bible.  G. Campbell Morgan once said that the sermon ought to be simply “the text repeated more fully.”

In expository preaching, the preacher begins with a passage of Scripture, prayerfully studies that passage of Scripture in its historical, grammatical and theological contexts in order to discern what it means, and only after that seeks to communicate the meaning of that passage (first) and the implications of that passage (second) accurately and effectively to the congregation.  What this means is that the focus of the sermon is dictated by the focus of the particular passage(s) the preacher is preaching from.  He is not to use the text to communicate his own ideas.  Rather, he is to communicate the meaning and relevance of the text itself, as it is the inspired and inerrant Word of God. 

In other words, the preacher’s job is not to create nor cook the meal, but simply to serve it up faithfully to the people. 

We believe that this is not merely the job of the preacher, however.  It is the job of anyone who preaches or teaches God’s Word in any context. 

That’s why, as you participate in our worship service or in one of our smaller groups or studies, you will probably quickly notice that when it comes to our teaching, we stick to the Bible.  We do this because we believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God and because we believe that what we all desperately need is to hear from God.   So, rather than seeking to help people with our own opinions, and stories, and creative ideas; we seek instead to accurately understand, carefully explain, and skillfully apply the truth of the Bible.

As a result of these things, you will hopefully notice at least a couple of things about the teaching that takes place throughout our church. 

First, because our goal is to preach and teach the meaning of the Bible, our teaching will also be Christ-centered.  That is because Jesus Christ is the central character of the Bible (Luke 24:25-27) and the full revelation of God as God in the flesh.  So, we try to faithfully focus our teaching (as a pattern) upon the truth of God as revealed in and through Jesus, because the only way to truly know God is through him.  What that means is that you will hear a lot about Jesus at our church.  Any teaching that does not point people to Jesus is not truly expository teaching. 

And secondly, we also try to faithfully and skillfully apply the truth of the Bible to our daily lives.  We don’t believe our job is to offer mere commentary upon passages of the Bible, but to connect the dots from the ancient text to our daily lives here in the 21st century.  So, in our teaching we will also seek to emphasize what the appropriate responses are to the truth of who Jesus is and all that he has done for us by his grace.

In doing these things our desire is simply to let God speak for Himself. We believe that He has made Himself known in the Bible, that the Bible is God’s very Word – and that when His Word is accurately preached and taught, it is God Himself who is speaking. And God is the One we all need to hear from.

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