Thursday, March 18, 2010

I Am Not Ashamed

"Those who objected to the Christian gospel ridiculed it, mocking it because of its absurdity. For there is nothing more ridiculous than the word of someone who preaches that the Son of God was born and brought up by Jews, who rejects neither the cross nor death, who says moreover not only that Christ rose from the dead but that he ascended to heaven as Lord of all, that he will raise everyone else from the dead, and other things the apostles preached. The pagans mocked these things and ridiculed them, thinking that they would make the apostles shut up. Therefore Saint Paul, feeling obliged to reply to this opinion of the apostles, began his teaching thus: I am not ashamed of the gospel."
- Gennadius of Constantinople, Sermons

(From The City)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Portrait of an Unhealthy Church Attender

I've been teaching a series on being healthy church members. Came across this video on Dan Phillips' blog, and was really irritated by it. Irritated not just because "Ronnie" is so irritating, but because it points out all the stuff I've been teaching correctives to. Take a look and see if you can spot the marks of Ronnie's unhealthiness when it comes to church, and Jesus Christ for that matter.

Ever met a Ronnie?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Testing My Ministry Motivation

Been pondering this short snippet of a quote by Charles Haddon Spurgeon:
"This shall be an infallible test to you concerning anyone’s ministry. If it is man-praising, and man-honoring, it is not of God."
One of those statements that it's really easy to apply to others, isn't it? No problem looking at ministers and ministries, large and small, and pointing out just how man-centered they seem to be. Plenty of that kind of evangelical-in-name-only kind of stuff going on wherever one looks today. And to be fair (to all of us), that kind of evaluation of ministers and ministries is right an necessary. It's part and parcel of contending for the faith. As those who have received and been entrusted with the eternal truths of the gospel of Christ, to do less would be failing to fulfill our duty and calling.

But, on the other hand, what about me? This question that the prince of preachers poses goes to the heart of motivation in ministry.Why do I do what I do when it comes to my personal Christian ministry? I believe I've been gifted and called to be a teacher of God's word, a belief that has been confirmed many times over the years. I get great joy and personal reward in engaging in this ministry, in a variety of contexts. The most personally rewarding experience for me in the ministry of the word is when I see someone grasp a Biblical truth and the implications of that truth, and respond accordingly. You know, the so-called "aha moment", the light bulb going on, that sort of stuff. That's one thing that always stokes my fire for continuing to teach and disciple Biblically.

But along with that often comes some sort of response along the lines of "Wow, you are such a great teacher." Or "I really love your classes, I get so much out of them." Or some other adulatory utterance directed toward me. Now, this is not an everyday occurrence, for sure. I'm probably overstating the case even now. But it does happen. And the answer to the question Spurgeon poses come back to: is this what motivates me to teach the Bible? Is my motivation, at its root, sourced in this affirmation of those whom I minister to? Or is it based in faithfulness to The One whose name I minister in? Is it for the praise of men, or is it for the pleasing of my Lord?

But the toughest part of this statement is Spurgeon's conclusion. For if my motivation, my focus, my whole reason for doing what I do comes back to seeking praise and honor for me rather than for Him, then the so-called ministry I engage in is mine alone, and devoid of any power or blessing from God. And if that's the case, then it's really not a "ministry" at all, is it? Ministry is serving Christ's people for His glory, not for mine.

This is something that I have to constantly pay attention to. And I'm sure most of us engaged in any kind of service to Christ do too. Our hearts are so easily deceived, and our need for affirmation so strong. I need to continually check my motives, and be seeking my affirmation not from any man or woman, but from the God Man, and only Him. Faithfulness demands it.

Monday, March 8, 2010

"We Are Not Figure Skaters"

An excerpt from Phil Johnson's message at the recent Shepherd's Conference. (You can find the whole sermon here):

Pulpit Highlights - Phil Johnson from Grace Community Church on Vimeo.

Phil's comments regarding the expectations of postmodern evangelicals of their pastors is right on. So many in today's congregations want a man who is primarily "relational", while others are rightly most concerned with finding a strong Biblical leader. But the need and calling is for a man who is a solid Biblical shepherd leader and expositor, as well as a man of compassion and who cares for the flock. Too often these are seen as mutually exclusive traits, when in fact they are the picture of the complete man of God.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Biblical Evangelism Anyone?

Working on a lesson about healthy church members being Biblical evangelists, I posed a question: “How does a Biblical understanding of the gospel and a Biblical understanding of conversion impact our understanding of evangelism?” The last two lessons in this series have been addressing just these two themes – a Biblical understanding of the gospel of Christ, and a Biblical understanding of conversion. So just how do these two foundational building blocks of gospel ministry affect the way we understand our mission as ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20)?

What is evangelism? It’s the heralding of the message of reconciliation of lost sinners to a holy and righteous God through faith in a perfectly substitutionary sacrificed Son and expressed in a life of obedience to Him. That in a nutshell is the evangel, the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ. That, and only that, and all of that, is the propositional truth that must be communicated. There are many methods, approaches, tactics and strategies for doing so, but all of those methods must include a clear communication of these core gospel truths or they are not evangelism. This is why so-called lifestyle evangelism or “witnessing with our lives” may be helpful, but is not evangelism. Sharing our testimonies of God’s grace in our lives through Christ is a good and right thing to do, but it’s not evangelism. A Biblical understanding of the gospel requires that those objective gospel truths be clearly communicated. A Biblical understanding of the gospel, then, impacts the content of our evangelism. It defines the message to be proclaimed.

So what then about conversion? How does a Biblical understanding of conversion impact how we do evangelism? When we understand that conversion, in Scriptural terms, is far more than what we often strive for today, it transforms our view of what the objective of our evangelism is. Praying to “accept Jesus into your heart”, signing a card, walking an aisle, “making a decision”, are all too often viewed as the sign of successful evangelism. But none of these popular ideas and terms are even close to being found in the Scriptures. They tend to put our focus on closing the deal and getting a name on a card or a profession of faith. But the Biblical model of conversion is far, far more demanding. A profession of faith without a corresponding confession of life is in fact a dead profession, according to James chapter 2. The Scriptures constantly use terms of repentance (metanoia) and conversion (strepho) when referring to coming to saving belief in Christ. Not just profession with the mouth, but confession with the life through surrender to Him as Lord (Romans 10:9-10). So then, a Biblical understanding of conversion impacts the objective of our evangelism. We seek to see God make converted disciples, not simply gain professions of faith.

Does this Biblical informing of the content and objective of evangelism match what’s seen in much of postmodern American evangelicalism? Sadly, no it does not. A widespread superficial understanding and communication of the gospel, combined with a decision-focused objective in conversion, is producing generations of professed Christians who at best have a tenuous hold on eternity, and at worst (and more likely) are still in their sin and given false assurance of salvation.

As Thabiti Anyabwile states in his excellent little book, What is a Healthy Church Member?, “Apart from a Biblical understanding of conversion and evangelism, a church member will be most unhelpful in completing the churches mission of making disciples.” God, save us from being unhelpful to your work in building Your church and Your kingdom. Give us a solid reliance on the understandings of the gospel of Christ and the nature of true conversion that You reveal to us in Your word. And give us unwavering confidence in Your power to save Your elect by Your gospel. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” – Romans 1:16.