Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A Case For Christian Merriment at Christmas

It is a time-honored tradition when a college football home team unexpectedly wins a game or snaps a long losing streak, for the jubilant fans to storm the field and tear down the goal posts. Sometimes, this sacrificing of the goal posts can actually upstage the actual game, particularly when the goal posts are snapped like a wishbone and taken to different places on campus or the city as souvenirs. I wonder what a similar celebratory activity from God’s people during Christmas would look like? I mean, God has become a human in the person of Jesus! A celebration on a grand scale is in order, don’t you think?! In reading the nativity narratives, you are left with the distinct impression that the celebration of the birth of Christ was open-throated, loud, and filled with merriment. There is this palpable lively, festive, lighthearted, and cheerful spirit exuded from each of the nativity actors announcing the Advent of the Christ. We hear a lot about the “spirit of Christmas” this time of year. The spirit of Christmas according the Scriptures is a spirit of mirth, joy, and celebration. The angels announced to the shepherds, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people” (Luke 2:10b). “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying. ‘Glory to God in the highest!’” (Luke 2:13-14).  John Piper reminds us: “The whole Christian message from beginning to end is good news.” Is that the spirit of Christmas that we demonstrate? Is it possible that we get more lathered up about what department stores or cafés are saying “Merry Christmas!” rather than just being merry Christians? Consider.

The gloom is gone!
Do you remember the scene in Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe in which Mr. Tumnus is crying? Lucy asks him why he is crying. Mr. Tumnus responds by saying that he has taken service under the White Witch. Lucy inquires about who the White Witch is. Mr. Tumnus then informs Lucy that the White Witch is the one who rules over all Narnia and that it is she that makes it always winter and never Christmas. Nearly eight-hundred years before the birth of Jesus, a prophet named Isaiah described the world, like Narnia, as one of gloom, darkness, and winter all year long. But, he announced that the gloom would be eliminated when the Child that was to be given was born.

“But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtalis, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light: those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. You have multiplied the nation: you have increased its joy: they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this” (Isaiah 9:1-7).

The essential Christmas announcement is the message of the Gospel (good news) that a Savior has come. This announcement was not, as some misunderstood, that the Assyrians would be defeated. Rather, it looked forward to the day when the Light of the World would minister around the Sea of The Galilee and bring light to very dark human hearts. In other words, this announcement was about dispelling moral, spiritual darkness rather than political oppression. (Matthew 4:12-17) So the “spirit of Christmas” is the gloom is gone! Do we as Christians sometimes get our cues more from the Scarlet Letter than from passages like Isaiah 9 and Luke 2?  Do we communicate through our spirits that Christianity is essentially sour and dour and about rules, regulations, and the absence of joy? What about joyfully celebrating the announcement that in the bleak mid-winter, when all creation was groaning, in darkness, and frozen as a stone, that a Light was breaking forth in a stable? Are we gloomy or merry Christians?

Joy has come!
You probably noticed that Isaiah used two illustrations about this joy and merriment that has come to God’s people at the birth of Christ. He says “they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest.” Now, most of us are not as familiar with an agrarian society as the original readers would have been accustomed to. Most of us get our harvest at the local grocery store’s vegetable counter. However, the illustration pictures the joy of the first produce coming from the garden. It illustrates a joy of knowing that all your needs were met. The next metaphor is “as they are glad when they divide the spoil.” Here the prophet paints the picture of the joy that would come at the sharing of the bounty from a defeated foe. The feeling of this joy is one of security, knowing that your enemies were defeated. This is the joy that has come! Joy of provision. Joy of security. Isn’t this joy reflected in our Christmas carols that we sing during the Christmas season? “Joy to the world, the Lord has come!” Fundamentally, Christianity is about human beings being brought into the joy of knowing God and being loved and accepted by Him! It’s Christmas!  The angels are singing! The bells are ringing! And we should feel like shouting “Joy to the World!”  Jesus is born! Are you a merry Christian?

Merry Christmas comes from Merry Christians
How can we communicate that gladness, cheer, and mirth?  Here are three ideas.

1.     Meditate on the Good News of the Incarnation until your heart is glad. Do this by reading the Nativity narratives in Matthew 1 and Luke 2 during the month of December. Listen to Christmas music that stirs your heart! 

2.     Participate in the celebration! – Light up your house! Set up your Christmas tree! Participate in giving gifts. Stimulate a spirit of celebration around your home through fun traditions, meditating on the Christmas story, and creative ways of giving to others.

3.     Attend your church family’s special Christmas meetings! – The Good News should be heralded louder and clearer from the church gathered than at any other place. Invite a friend. (BTW-There is great Christmas worship planned for December 20th and then, again on Christmas Eve, December 24th. Plan to be there!)

There is no more gloom! There is no room for any Christian to be a scrooge. Off with the “bah humbug” and on with the celebration! Remember, the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are the most important events in the history of the world, and we should celebrate them with cheerfulness as those who know their true meaning best! There is a time for fasting and feasting in the Christian life. Christmas is a time for feasting and celebration! Merry Christians!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Worship and Music Philosophy of Trinity Baptist Church

Pastor Brian Fuller and Pastor Kyle Harding

We long to see Thy churches full,
That all the chosen race
May with one voice, and heart and soul,
Sing Thy redeeming grace.
̶ Isaac Watts

True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him (John 4:23). This is an amazing singular text in which we are told of something specific that the Father is seeking. God the Father is seeking worshipers who offer truthful and spiritual worship. Below is our imperfect attempt to submit to the Scriptures and the Spirit in offering collective worship at Trinity Baptist Church like our Heavenly Father is seeking.

As your pastor, I am willingly tasked to feed you, to be an example for you, and to oversee your spiritual welfare. That spiritual oversight includes seeking to protect you from carnal debate and unnecessary division over personal applications, extra-biblical teaching and personal tastes (I Timothy 1:3-7).  Currently in our ministry, there continues to be regular discussion and questions about the topic of worship and music.

          In an effort to emerge from the smog of the Worship Wars, we offer you our Worship For’s. We believe it will be more beneficial for our church family to have clarity as to what we are for rather than simply what we are against.  

Pastor Kyle and I have co-authored this article.  To assist you in knowing who is writing, I have placed a BF in front of my comments and KH next to Pastor Kyle’s comments. Consider the following:

We Are for Scripturally-Regulated, Gospel-Centered Worship

KH - The consummation of the Gospel (the sinless life, vicarious death, and triumphant resurrection of Jesus Christ) abolished for all time the sacrificial system and rites of the Old Testament and ushered in a new era of worship (Hebrews 10:9; John 4:21-24).  The Word of God has laid out general truths about corporate worship that His church is to follow in this age of grace.  Our desire at Trinity is to include in our Lord’s Day worship those things that God instructs His church to practice in their gatherings – this principle is called the Regulative Principle of Worship.  Simply put, our order of worship will include the reading, praying, singing, and preaching of God’s Word (Acts 2:42; I Timothy 1:8, 4:11-16; II Timothy 4:1-2; Ephesians 5:18-19; Colossians 3:16).  We will also observe the ordinances of Communion/Lord’s Table and Believer’s Baptism on a regular basis (I Corinthians 11:17-26; Acts 41; Roman 6:3-4).  Because the truths of the Gospel have transformed our view of worship (Romans 12:1-2; Hebrews 12:22-24, 13:15-16), we seek to lay out an order of service that allows us to be reminded of these truths every Lord’s Day morning.  The basic content of our worship gatherings will include songs, prayer, and Scripture readings that allow us to be reminded of who God is (adoration), who we are (confession), what we have in Christ (assurance of and thanksgiving for pardon), and what we need to do (dedication).  There is also a time of instruction from God’s Word.

BF - These elements of Scripturally-focused and Gospel-centered worship are now reflected in our church bulletin’s order of service for us to follow each Lord’s Day. This serves us wonderfully as God’s people seeking to offer worship to our Father that is truthful and spiritual. On a personal note, I would like to just add that I have never, in my personal Christian experience, looked forward to worshiping together with God’s people like I do each Lord’s Day at Trinity. I am observing weekly that this kind of Scripturally-regulated and Gospel-centered worship provides spiritual equilibrium to God’s people (Psalm 73:17) and creates awe and conviction in the hearts of unbelievers (I Corinthians 14:24-25).

We Are for (very!) Congregational Singing.

KH - The only time music is mentioned in a gathering of believers in the New Testament church is in the context of congregational members singing to one another (Ephesians 5:18-19; Colossians 3:16).  In following with the Regulative Principle of Worship, the majority of the musical portion of our worship services will include the whole congregation singing together. 

Because of our desire to include as much congregational participation as possible in our musical worship, we will seek to use the musicians (voices, piano, orchestra, and other instrumentalists) that the Lord has given us to support the voice of the congregation.  Our rehearsed musical groups will dedicate time in their rehearsals to prepare songs that they can sing and play with you, not just for you.  This builds within our congregation the expectation that all the music within our worship services is selected with a specific purpose in mind and that they will be the main participants in the musical portion of our collective worship.  Whenever songs are selected that do not include congregational participation, they will be used to fill a specific role in the service, even to help teach a new song to our congregation.   

BF - You can expect, then, that our instrumentalists and vocalists will be endeavoring to employ their gifts not to entertain us by their excellently trained voices or instrumental skills, but rather to stimulate us to sing vibrantly as a congregation.  We will choose both old and new songs, hymns and spiritual songs that our congregation can sing truthfully and vibrantly. In a nutshell, we are committed to the primacy of congregational singing in our musical worship.

We Are for Affirming Truth.

KH - The Scriptures are clear that God is Truth and everything that He has revealed about Himself is true (John 14:6, 17:17; Hebrews 1:1-2).  Any truth that is spoken or written belongs to God; in fact, His Word even contains quotes from secular sources (Titus 1:12-13; Acts 17:18).  Concerning the songs that we sing in our services, we desire to take the biblical and historical approach that what is sung is more important than who wrote it or performed it.  For historical perspective, consider the following quote from the preface of the hymnal that C.H. Spurgeon compiled for his congregation:

The area of our researches has been has wide as the bounds of existing religious literature, American and British, Protestant and Romish ancient and modern. Whatever may be thought of our taste we have used it without prejudice; and a good hymn has not been rejected because of the character of its author, or the heresies of the church in whose hymnal it first occurred; so long as the language and the spirit commended the hymn to our heart we included it, and believe that we have enriched our collection thereby. The range of subjects is very extensive, comprising not only direct praise, but doctrine, experience, and exhortation; thus enabling the saints according to apostolical command to edify one another in their spiritual songs.

If we were to scour the authors and composers of our own hymnal(s), we would find that many songs that we sing were written or composed by people that we would not agree with on issues of doctrine, church polity, and lifestyle, among other issues.  The historical practice of hymnal compilation, and subsequently the singing of the church, is to select songs from various sources that allow participants to fulfill the biblical obligations of church music: to teach and encourage one another with the truths of Scripture (Ephesians 5:19). 
This filter of selecting music for our worship services places a priority on lyrical content.  This not only fills our corporate gatherings with rich Gospel truths, but it also equips the saints with truths to arm themselves with during the week.  The songs that we sing should be able to bring comfort for trials, provide armor for temptation, and cause remembrance of our position in Christ.  Songs built on trite repetitions and cursory views of God and the Gospel do not provide these. 

BF - For the sake of clarity, the source or association of a particular song will not be a factor in our decision for offering a musical selection to our people. Who penned the lyrics, whether it be Saint Francis of Assisi or Chris Tomlin, Fanny Crosby or Laura Story, matters little, while what they have penned (the text) is very important.

In conclusion, I want to appeal to all of our folks with a few pastoral comments:

·      This is the worship and music philosophy position of your pastors. A position represents a set of principles or a biblical sieve that we are able to run all of our worship selections and practices through. A position is different than a direction. A direction represents an intentional (and often secretive) movement towards a destination through incremental steps. You can visit sermons and blog posts by me and Pastor Kyle, here, here, here, and here to see that this has been, and continues to be, our position. While it would be naïve to think we will all agree, we hope that you will be able to see that our positions stand under the scrutiny and tests of the Scriptures.

·      This is the worship and music philosophy for our worship gatherings. The principles in this article assist us in selecting and ordering our collective worship services at Trinity Baptist Church. As your pastors, we are also concerned about all the media you allow into your and your family’s ear and eye gates (II Peter 2:7-8). We will continue to warn you and your children that the Evil One desires, through our desires, to conform us to the thinking of this present age (Romans 12:2; I Pet. 5:8). Such conformity is spiritual adultery and destructive (James 4).  However, we affirm that specific musical stylistic elements have neither been condemned nor commended in the Scriptures.  So individual decisions regarding musical style are in the category of things doubtful or indifferent (I Corinthians 8-10; Romans 14) and should be engaged in with Christian love and deference.

·      This is the worship and music philosophy built upon our understanding of the Scriptures. Here we stand.  No doubt, some confusion has been created by many of us pastors having had little to say about the topic of New Testament corporate worship while saying much about stylistic and associative aspects of musical selections. Such a myopic approach has created confusion. One thing, it creates the impression that acceptable worship and acceptable style are synonymous. And that leads one to further think that worship is really just about music and singing. While music and singing are important aspects of collective worship, there is much more to spiritual and truthful worship. Also, to monopolize our teaching regarding worship on the topics of style and association (which the Scriptures have next-to-nothing to say) is to skew the proportionality the Scriptures give to other aspects of truthful and spiritual worship. It has been helpfully stated:

“The degree to which you emphasize what the Scriptures do not emphasize, is the degree to which you will neglect what they do.” [i]

·      True biblical unity is founded upon Truth and the speaking of that Truth to one another.  Ephesians 4 teaches us that the unity that we have as the Body of Christ is built upon seven doctrinal acclamations (Ephesians 4:4-6). It is a Spirit-created unity through the Gospel that we are tasked with endeavoring to maintain (Ephesians 4:3). It is important to remember as believers that there is a difference between our comfort zone and our consciences. Our conscience can be re-informed biblically. Our comfort zone has to do with background, personal tastes, and a host of other fluid variables. I appeal to all of our church family to heartily participate in truthful and spiritual worship for the glory of our heavenly Father. Please communicate with me (bfuller@tbcnh.org) and Pastor Kyle (kharding@tbcnh.org) with your questions. I exhort you to resist the sinful temptation of selfishly boycotting songs during our collective worship service, or dividing and debating by sinful communication but rather to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).

How Sweet and Awesome is This Place

How sweet and awesome is this place
With Christ within the doors,
While everlasting love displays
The choicest of her stores!

Here every bowel of our God
With soft compassion rolls;
Here peace and pardon bought with blood
Is food for dying souls.

While all our hearts and all our songs
Join to admire the feast,
Each of us cry, with thankful tongues,
“Lord, why was I a guest?

“Why was I made to hear Thy voice,
And enter while there’s room,
When thousands make a wretched choice,
And rather starve than come?”

҆Twas the same love that spread the feast
That sweetly drew us in;
Else we had still refused to taste,
And perished in our sin.

Pity the nations, O our God!
Constrain the earth to come;
Send Thy victorious Word abroad,
And bring the strangers home.

We long to see Thy churches full,
That all the chosen race
May with one voice, and heart and soul,
Sing Thy redeeming grace.

Isaac Watts, Hymns and Sacred Songs, 1707.

[i] Conley, Drew. www.hamptonpark.org. Music Philosophy and Practice

Monday, October 12, 2015

Essentially Literal: The ESV @ Trinity

       It has been my privilege to preach and teach from the King James Version of the Bible at Trinity Baptist Church for nearly seventeen years as youth pastor and now senior pastor.  In 2002 I was introduced to the “essentially literal” English Standard Version of the Scriptures. It rather swiftly became my preferred translation for private study, family altar, and counseling. However, having “cut my teeth” spiritually on the King James Version, I, like many in our church, have a fondness and appreciation for its beauty and accuracy. Yet, desiring to “read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly,” (Nehemiah 8:8b), I believe that Trinity Baptist Church will be best served by my preaching from the English Standard Version. I believe that we should transition to the English Standard Version of the Bible because of its accuracy, clarity, consistency, and beauty.

Accuracy – An “essentially literal” translation

     Modern translations of the Scriptures, like the ESV, are based upon an eclectic or critical text of manuscripts. The primary benefit to that textual foundation is that these manuscripts are older and closer to the time of the actual writing of the original autographs. I believe that the availability of more manuscripts and the age of manuscripts for modern translations compared to the limited and later manuscripts available for the translation of the King James Version benefits us with a more accurate, attested translation.

     In addition, the English Standard Version translators sought to follow a formal-equivalency (word-for-word) translation philosophy rather than a dynamic-equivalency (thought-for-thought) approach. Truthfully, it is nearly impossible for one language to be translated into another language in a wooden, word-for-word, literal translation. So, we should consider all English translations of the Bible in somewhat of a spectrum between the dynamic, thought-for-thought and the formal, word-for word poles. It is really more a matter of gradation. So, it is actually difficult to see exactly when one translation crosses the line from formal to dynamic equivalency.  There are a host of modern translations, however, that have opted for dynamic equivalency as their translation philosophy. This is not a wholesome translation philosophy in my opinion. We read commentaries for interpretation help, not our Bibles. I appreciate the ESV for allowing the ambiguities, difficulties and ancient idioms to shine through in an essentially literal way so that we can be confident of its accuracy.

“The ESV is an ‘essentially literal’ translation that seeks as far as possible to capture the precise wording of the original text and the personal style of each Bible writer. As such, its emphasis is on ‘word-for-word’ correspondence, at the same time taking into account differences of grammar, syntax, and idiom between current literary English and the original languages. Thus it seeks to be transparent to the original text, letting the reader see as directly as possible the structure and meaning of the original.

In contrast to the ESV, some Bible versions have followed a ‘thought-for-thought’ rather than a ‘word-for-word’ translation philosophy, emphasizing ‘dynamic equivalence’ rather than the ‘essentially literal’ meaning of the original. A ‘thought-for-thought’ translation is of necessity more inclined to reflect the interpretive opinions of the translator and the influences of contemporary culture.” - Preface to the English Standard Version

Clarity – Archaic language has been brought to current usage.

     The King James Version of the Bible was translated in 1611. Since that first printing, there have been several updates and revisions. Most of us own the 1769 edition of the King James Version which updated some of the archaic language of the 1611 edition.  The English Standard Version provides clarity of the English language that is readily understood by English speakers. Because of the clarity of the English Standard Version, the time-consuming explanation of outdated words is immediately removed from the preaching moment. Such clarity also benefits private reading and Bible study because of the plainness of speech.

     Our desire for clarity goes beyond our desire to edify believers through intelligibility (I Corinthians 14). We have a passion for clarity in evangelism and discipleship as well. As new believers are born into the family of God, we desire for the clarity and plainness of the Scriptures to assist them “like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation” (I Peter 2:2). The English Standard Version speaks the Word of God to men as they are.

“The church of Jesus Christ must constantly pursue reformation. Any body of believers that is bound by its heritage, however splendid that heritage may be, has already begun the drift to heterodoxy. The church must be being reformed. And the sole basis for such reformation is the Word of God. In the hope that God will again visit His church with renewal and life nurtured by the Scriptures, I applaud every effort to put those Scriptures, in quality vernacular translations, into the hands of men and women everywhere.”  D.A. Carson

Consistency – As much as possible, uses the same English word for recurring original words.

     Paul told Timothy to “follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me” (II Timothy 1:13). The ESV, like the KJV, has consistently preserved the great doctrinal words of our faith like grace, faith, justification, sanctification, redemption, regeneration, reconciliation, and propitiation.

     Also, the ESV, as much as possible, uses the same English word to translate a recurring Greek or Hebrew word. The King James Version translators, in contrast, use more of a variety of English words for recurring original words. The ESV’s more consistent approach, aids the reader in seeing the words the Holy Spirit chose to repeat and emphasize in a given passage or Book of the Bible.

     Finally, when an Old Testament passage is quoted in the New Testament, the ESV translators seek to repeat that passage in a similar way that it was translated in the Old Testament. This gives the ESV a remarkable translation consistency.

“Therefore, to the extent that plain English permits and the meaning in each case allows, we have sought to use the same English word for important recurring words in the original; and, as far as grammar and syntax allow, we have rendered Old Testament passages cited in the New in ways that show their correspondence. Thus in each of these areas, as well as throughout the Bible as a whole, we have sought to capture the echoes and overtones of meaning that are so abundantly present in the original texts.” - Preface to the English Standard Version

Beauty – Simplicity and dignity of expression.

     The beauty of the KJV language and expression are acknowledged by all who have read, memorized, taught or preached from it. In fact, that beauty of language is one of the most feared “losses” in changing translations. That brings us to another important reason to appreciate the English Standard Version. The ESV translators sought to continue the King James legacy of beauty of literary expression while at the same time reflecting the word-for-word accuracy of a very formal equivalent translation, The New American Standard. I personally believe the ESV achieved those goals. The clearest way to observe the ESV translators’ efforts to maintain that beauty of the King James is to compare “all-time favorite passages” like Psalm 23, John 3:16, or “the Roman’s Road.” These verses have very little literary changes to them so that memorizing them is almost an exact replication of the King James Version’s quotation.

     It is for these reasons that we will transition to preaching and teaching from the English Standard Version of the Bible this coming Lord’s Day, November 2, 2014. While I will be preaching and teaching from the ESV, we encourage you to continue to enjoy the translation that bests assists you in being a “self-feeder.” Just like we have been opposed to King James Version Onlyism, we are also opposed to English Standard Version Onlyism.

     If you were not able to participate in our ten-week study on this topic, and you still have questions about this transition, I hope you will visit the sermon section of our website and listen to each of the messages. You can also contact me with any questions that you have anytime!

Do not give them a loaf of bread, covered with an inedible, impenetrable crust, fossilized by three and a half centuries. Give them the Word of God as fresh and warm and clear as the Holy Spirit gave it to the authors of the Bible. . . . For any preacher or theologian who loves God’s Word to allow that Word to go on being misunderstood because of the veneration of an archaic, not-understood version of four centuries ago is inexcusable, and almost unconscionable.” - Edwin H. Palmer

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Itching Ears and Q-Tip Teachers

Four Signs Your Ears Are Itching

It is pretty much the same in every pastor’s study. You begin to weigh what you are going to say during your upcoming sermon. How will this enter the ears of my people? Will it please them? Bore them? Irritate or even anger them? Will this cause them to like and affirm me? This strong temptation to preach to people’s felt-needs is nothing new. “An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely . . . my people love to have it so” (Jeremiah 5:30-31a). In his last letter to his protégé, Timothy, the Apostle Paul sought to encourage him by reminding him that there would be an epoch during the last days in which God’s people would no longer endure sound doctrine. Instead, they would begin to search for teachers that would scratch their itching ears. We are living in such a “McChurch Age.” This is an era in which believers who don’t like the way their pastors/teachers are serving it up keep shopping. How do you know if you have “itching ears”?

1. You can no longer stomach sound doctrine.

“For the time is coming when people will not endure ‘sound’ teaching.” (II Timothy 4:3a). Timothy is evidently experiencing a moment in the church life at Ephesus in which some of the members are growing weary of his preaching and teaching. They are no longer being able to “hold on to” or “bear under” (endure) “sound” doctrine. The word for “sound” is the Greek word from which we get our English word “hygienic.” The idea is “healthy doctrine.” Apparently, a section of the membership of the Ephesus Baptist Church was becoming weary of the expositional, verse-by-verse sermons from their teaching elder, Timothy. Rather, they were clamoring for the more popular eloquence of the Greek orators who were energizing, humorous, topical, and more engaging to the community. More likely than not, there were also some at Ephesus who wanted Timothy to be more dogmatic in rants on their particular positions or “issues.” After all, the church at Ephesus was known for its separatism (albeit unloving) (Revelation 3). Those with itching ears begin to be irritated, frustrated, and bored with the careful, steady diet of sound doctrine.

2. You begin to look for teachers that will tell you what you want to hear.

“But having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” (II Timothy 4:3b).  Marvin Vincent said it aptly, “If people desire a calf to worship, a ministerial calf-maker is readily found.”  In this current age of the consumer, people are beginning to view their church membership as little more than a previous favorite restaurant. So, their dissatisfaction with sound doctrine leads to them “shopping” for the teacher/preacher that will tell them what they want to hear. Pray for your pastors. How tempting it is to become a Q-Tip preacher that tickles the ears of the flock! To tell them what they want to hear. To preach what you know will get an “amen” or more money in the offering plate.

3. You find teachers who are primarily concerned about relevancy.

Perhaps the current climate could best be described like the description of the Athenians – they “spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new” (Acts 17:21). Ministerial students in seminary today are being taught how to engage a yawning, indifferent audience. They are being mentored with the consumer mindset that is premised on the thought that we are competing for customers. Preachers are being taught to attempt to become somewhat of an amalgamation of a stand-up comedian and a clinical psychiatrist so that they can touch all the felt-needs of the congregation. They weave in a few cleverly spun Scriptures with some emotive self-help tips that leave the hearer feeling completely scratched. The pragmatic pressure of this “how you grow a church” is intense,
mainly, because it works. Sadly, when we find teachers that only are concerned about speaking to our felt-needs, they will not “preach the Word . . . reprove, rebuke and exhort” (II Timothy 4:2).

4. You find teachers who will preach about issues that you agree with. 

Often times, we hear about “itching ears” and “Q-Tip Preachers” who tickle the ears of their audience and we immediately imagine those kinds of teachers/audiences only as being those gathered in large stadiums to hear “health and wealth” or those who are part of liberal churches that do not believe in the inspiration of the Scriptures. However, do we realize that we can have “itching ears” and/or be “Q-Tip Preachers” and still preach hard on certain sins? Itching ears means that I want to hear preaching and teaching that tells me what I want to hear. So, if I want to hear a preacher preach “hard” against the evils of contemporary worship, modern translations, social drinking, worldliness, etc., I have “itching ears” as much as the guy who wants to have his felt-needs scratched. If I love it when sins “I don’t struggle with” are preached against, can I humbly admit that I, too, have itching ears? If I am thrilled when the self-righteous are “hammered,” am I not also having a teasing Q-Tip applied?

Truthfully, we all have itching ears. What will remedy our malady? Only the wonderful ear oil of the Spirit that gives us ears for sound doctrine!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Bind Us Together, Lord!

I am working through one of my all time favorite books, again, with our summer pastoral interns. It is D.A. Carson's A Call To Spiritual Reformation. It has been recently re-formatted as Praying With Paul. This book has served me in a variety of ways. One of the most significant is to help me form the predominant emphases in my Christian pursuit, my parenting and my pastoral ministry. It has assisted me in answering the question, "what should I really be emphasizing?" I have learned(mostly the hard way) that in direct proportion to emphasizing what God does not emphasize in the Scripture I equally de-emphasize what God does emphasize in the Scriptures. If I get lathered-up about non-essentials, I will end up making little of the essentials. Paul prayed for the things that mattered. Paul interceded to the Father on behalf of God's people for the necessary.

Another vital, framing lesson from this commentary on the prayers of the Apostle Paul is the true nature of Biblical unity. Confessedly, for much of my Christian life and ministry I had a very immature, shallow view of Christian unity. I thought it was agreeing or being "like-minded" on every hot-button, secondary and questionable issue. In II Thessalonians 1:3 the Apostle Paul says:

"We ought always to thank God for you brothers, and rightly so because....the love every one of you has for each other is increasing."

Consider Dr. Carson's excellent exposition of this increasing of Christian love and unity:

A close-knit society with shared ideals and goals frequently finds it relatively easy to foster love, tolerance, and inner cohesion Whether we think of the local rock-climbing club, the regional football team, or a socially cohesive local church, a certain amount of fraternal depth is common enough. Of course, such groups may run into terrible division over power politics or a disruptive member or a nasty bit of nepotism, but some measure of transparent love is not all that unusual in such groups. 

Ideally the church is different. It is made up of people who are as varied as can be: rich and poor, learned and unlearned, practical and impractical, sophisticated and unsophisticated, aristocratic and plebeian, disciplined and flighty, intense and carefree, extrovert and introvert-and everything in between. The only thing that holds such people together is their shared allegiance to Jesus Christ, their devotion to him, stemming from his indescribable love for them. 

That is why it is always wretchedly pathetic when a local church becomes a cauldron of resentments and nurtured bitterness. This pitiful state of affairs may erupt simply because there is very little at the social, economic, temperamental, educational, or other levels to hold people together. Therefore, when Christians lose sight of their first allegiance, they will squabble. When social or racial or economic or temperamental uniformity seems more important than basking in the love of God in Christ Jesus, idolatry has reared its blasphemous head. (Emphasis mine) When protestations of profound love for Jesus Christ are not mirrored in love for others who profess to love the same Jesus Christ, we may legitimately ask how seriously we should take these protestations. 

Bind us together, Lord!

Oh how good it is
When the family of God
Dwells together in spirit
In faith and unity.
Where the bonds of peace,
Of acceptance and love
Are the fruit of His presence
Here among us.

So with one voice we’ll sing to the Lord
And with one heart we’ll live out His word
Till the whole earth sees
The Redeemer has come
For He dwells in the presence of His people.

Oh how good it is
On this journey we share
To rejoice with the happy
And weep with those who mourn.
For the weak find strength
The afflicted find grace
When we offer the blessing
Of belonging.

Oh how good it is
To embrace His command
To prefer one another
Forgive as He forgives.
When we live as one
We all share in the love
Of the Son with the Father
And the Spirit.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Looking For a Few Good Men

The first challenge that we learn of in the early church was that the Grecian widows were not receiving their regular ‘meals on wheels’.  There were apparently complaints registered that revealed a real need for a system to be created that would faithfully meet these dear ladies’ nutritional needs. The Apostles, the sole spiritual leaders of the infant church realized that if they surged to the rescue they would leave their priorities of prayer and the study of the Word. “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.” (Acts 6:2) What was the solution to this inaugural issue in the early church? Deacons! The word in the original that is translated deacon is “diakonos.” The word literally, as it is used in Acts 6, means to be a “table waiter.”  These men were just like Jesus who, “came not to be served, but to serve and give his life a ransom for many.”

            This year will mark thirty-five years in which the Lord has given Trinity Baptist Church good men to serve. We will vote next Sunday, June 7th. When the apostles were challenging the early church about choosing men for this new office of the local church, they said that they should fixate on their spiritual qualifications and godly character. With that in mind, let’s be careful not to yield to worldly spirit in choosing our deacons. Here are some things to avoid.

Don’t vote for men simply because they are popular.
Even the godly man, Samuel, had to be exhorted by the Lord about how he assessed men for their qualification for service. But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”(I Samuel 16:7) Popularity is not a vice in and of itself. But, conversely, it is not a sign of spiritual qualifications. Let’s go deeper in our selection than just rushing to vote for those who are well known in the congregation. Servants are most often behind the scenes, outside of the public eye.

Don’t vote for men simply because they want to preserve the past.
Disregarding the past is arrogant.  Living in the past is fatal. Rehoboam actually divided the kingdom as he listened to his peers who advised him to dig his heals into the past(I Kings 12). Wisdom is not always found in freezing an era. Be cautious of all of our tendencies to drizzle a romantic glaze on our past.

Don’t vote for men that have a political aspiration.
Living in a Democratic-Republic is pretty awesome, isn’t it! Praise God for the land of the free and the home of the brave! However, I have discovered that some folks incorrectly view the office of the deacon as a sort of representative church government similar to our US Houses of Congress.  They begin to think of their deacons as representatives that seek to lobby for certain special interest groups within the church body. Or, even worse, some seek to “politic” and promote themselves into the office of the deacon.

Don’t vote for men simply because they have deep pockets.
God has given financial means to men and women who are incredible blessings to local church families and para-church ministries. Yet, in evaluating who we should vote for as a deacon, a person’s “bottom line” should not even enter our minds.

So, what should we consider when voting for deacons as we avoid these unbiblical concepts?  Great question! Please read Acts 6 and I Timothy 3 asking these questions:

  • Is this man full of faith?

  • Does this man have self-control?

  • Is this man full of the Spirit?

  • Is this man double-tongued?

  • Is this man addicted to alcohol?

  • Is this man greedy or dishonest?

  • Does this man seek to walk with a pure conscience before God and with others?

  • Has this man demonstrated a servant spirit in our midst in the past?

  • Is this man a “one-woman man”?

  • Is this man leading his family in godliness?

  • Does this man’s wife have self-control?

  •  Does this man’s wife slander or gossip?

  • Is this man’s wife faithful in all things?

Now, what is the result of avoiding these pitfalls and searching for these godly characteristics in choosing deacons?  My friends, here is what can happen!

“And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly!”  How’s that for incredible, God-blessed, results?! May the Lord bless our ministry, once again, with such servants! Amen and Amen! 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Seven Signs Of a Committed Church Member


My brother and I had at least one functional set of Tinkertoys during most of our childhood. Tinkertoys came in a foot-long tin tube. The conerstone of the set was a wooden spool that had holes drilled in it. Tinkertoy sticks were included in the set along with caps, pulleys and couplings that you could use to “tinker” with as you built. To tinker with something is to “experiment with” or “test” something. Tinkering is the polar opposite of commitment. In Acts 2:42-47 we get a peek at the early church that has just been animated and empowered by the Spirit of God on the Day of Pentecost. These believers were not tinkering with church. They were committed. What were these vital signs of committed Christians?

1. Love Bible Study. Love Preaching. (“apostle’s teaching”)
Committed Christians gather to hear the Bible preached, taught and to discuss applications of the Bible. They come to church with a notebook and pen rather than a scorecard. As they diligently peer into the Word, they have very little time to stair at the clock. And, committed Christians don’t need to view Chariots of Fire in order to place Sunday services over sporting events. Committed!

2. Participates in small groups and one-on-one fellowship. (“fellowship”)
Committed Christians love being with other Christians. They love being with Christians in small group conversation or just over a cup of coffee. These times of sharing apart from the “big room” provide opportunities to practice the “one anothers” and to discern spiritual needs and burdens. Committed!

3. Makes prayer meetings a really big deal! (“prayer”)
Churches with committed Christians have robust participation in prayer meetings. Committed Christians instinctively know that the church that prays together stays together! These folks don’t dodge prayer meetings by hiding in the shadows and fringes of a church foyer.  No, they make praying with their church family a priority. Committed!

4. Fights for commonality & unity. (“had all things common”)
Committed Christians “wrestle” for unity. They pursue peace. Paul said to the Ephesians to “endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Committed Christians know that they will have to literally “wage war for peace.” That war is often internally as they deny themselves, defer to the preferences of others, and refuse to speak or think evil of others. Committed!

5. Gives generously.(“with glad and generous hearts”)
When the Spirit of God indwelt these believers it appears their clenched fist became an open-hand. Committed Christians understand their faithful giving supports their ministry locally and their missionaries globally. But, it wasn’t just their tithes, they used their talents to meet the needs of others. Committed!

6. Worships Passionately (“praising God”)
Committed Christians “enter His courts with praise.” Staging and mood lighting aren’t needed to stimulate spiritual and truthful worship. Spirit-filled believers sing! Spirit-filled believers sing and praise passionately. Committed!

7. Shares the Gospel Regularly.(“day by day those where being saved”)
No church is a committed church that is disobedient to the great commission. No Christian is a committed Christian who is disobedient to the great commission. Committed!

If you can’t do these seven things in your present local church, leave.
Whenever a newborn baby is born, vital signs are checked. These seven vital signs should be present in a Spirit-filled local church. If you can’t happily do these seven things in the local church you are presently attending, you should leave. Prayerfully seek a local church that you can commit to. Friend, don’t attend a church simply because of the presence of friends, family or long-held traditions. If you can’t be committed, leave, and find a church where you can stop tinkering and be committed!

Come, all Christians, be committed
To the service of the Lord;
Make your lives for him more fitted,
Tune your hearts with one accord.
Come into His courts with gladness,
Each his sacred vows renew,
Turn away from sin and sadness,
Be transformed with life anew.

Of your time and talents give ye,
They are gifts from God above;
To be used by Christians freely
To proclaim His wondrous love.
Come again to serve the Savior,
Tithes and off'rings with you bring.
In your work, with Him find favor,
And with joy His praises sing.

God's command to love each other
Is required of every one;
Showing mercy to one another
Mirrors His redemptive plan.
In compassion He has given
Of His love that is divine;
On the cross sins were forgiven;
Joy and peace are fully thine.

Come in praise and adoration,
All who in Christ's name believe;
Worship Him with consecration,
Grace and love you will receive.
For His grace give Him the glory,
For the Spirit and the Word,
And repeat the gospel story
Till mankind His name has heard.