Monday, March 27, 2017

Preaching and Preachers, Chapter 2: No Substitute

"...The moment you consider man's real need, and also the nature of the salvation announced and proclaimed in the Scriptures, you are driven to the conclusion that the primary tasks of the Christ is to preach and to proclaim this, to show man's real need, and to show the only remedy, the only cure for it."
Sin and rebellion is the "ultimate disease" that plagues humanity. Unhappiness, suffering, poverty, social problems are merely the symptoms of the disease. Because man is in darkness because of his rebellion, he is ignorant of his problem and the solution. Therefore, those called by God out of darkness into light are the only ones that have the answer to the real problem. Preachers of the gospel have the answer, and their primary task is to proclaim the good news.

Churches get it backwards. They want to treat the symptoms. They make their primary task about social justice, feeding the poor, volunteer work and then lay aside their real work. When the gospel comes in power, people are changed, and social changes occur. Lloyd-Jones started his career as a medical doctor and uses the example that it is cruel and deadly to treat symptoms when you don't know the disease. You make the patient happy, content, and comfortable while hiding the symptoms that point to the problem. Churches that abandon preaching to make men comfortable are hiding the symptoms of their sin and withholding the cure. We have the answer - the gospel of Christ. And yet so many ministers of the gospel spend so much time and energy devoted to temporal and earthly matters. At the judgment seat, all our political efforts and candidating for this party or that will be burnt up in flames.

Lloyd-Jones has an interesting take on listening to messages in other mediums (radio or book). Especially since his messages are available for download. I heard an interview about the Doctor that his messages were recorded so he could use those for the basis of books, not to be listened to by the public. I believe that the message of the gospel should be broadcast by whatever means we have available to us, but it is a poor substitute for church. There is something spiritual that happens when God's people meet on the Lord's day and hear the Lord's Word from the Lord's servant that you cannot reproduce on MP3. I have to disagree with his perspective, but I do see his point. If you listen to a recorded sermon you can shut it off if you aren't "enjoying" it and that isn't how you listen to sermons. 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Notable Quotables 3/24/2017

The evidence of God’s Word is CONFIRMED in our hearts by the real experience of faith.
“This evidence is gloriously confirmed by present experience, which adds to the documentary evidence that wonderful directness and immediacy of conviction which delivers us from fear. Christian experience is rightly used when it helps to convince us that the events narrated in the New Testament actually did occur; but it can never enable us to be Christians whether the events occurred or not. It is a fair flower, and should be prized as a gift of God. But cut it from its root in the blessed Book, and it soon withers away and dies.”
J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism

All that worship for nothing.
"I believer there ought to be a preparation before the Lord's Supper. I don not believe in Mrs. Toogood's preparation, who spent a week in preparing, and then finding it was not the Ordinance Sunday, she said she had lost all the week."
C.H. Spurgeon, The Remembrance of Christ, New Park Street Sermons, vol. 1, sermon 2

 Phatic Hiatus, indeed
"The cardinal difficulty,'said MacPhee, 'in collaboration between the sexes is that women speak a language without nouns. If two men are doing a bit of work, one will say to the other, 'Put this bowl inside the bigger bowl which you'll find on the top shelf of the green cupboard.' The female for this  is 'Put that in the other one there'. And then if you ask them 'in where?' they say 'in there of course'. There is consequently a phatic hiatus."

CS Lewis That Hideous Strength

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Jesus Alone

The book of Hebrews is a brilliant epistle. The author points us to Jesus and then expounds the superiority and exclusivity of Christ as the only way of salvation. If you read the book of Hebrews in one sitting, you can see the flow and get the overarching theme: Christ is superior, Jesus is the way. But, if you slow down, and examine word by word and line by line, you see the depth of theology and meaning in the text. Notice one small section of the books first sentence: “when [Jesus] had by himself purged our sins, sad down on the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3b).
Jesus purged our sins. Jesus cleansed us from our guilt and transgression against God's law. Christ Jesus took our sins, bore them and removed them from us as far as the east is from the west. Jesus, by himself, purged our sins. The Old Testament tells the story of thousands of priests and thousands of years of sacrifice and offerings; yet the sum total of all those offerings  could not, once and for all, deal with sin. There were many priests who had daily priestly tasks. Yet Jesus, by himself, dealt with sin, once and for all. 

Jesus purged the sins by himself, without your help. The priests could not do the job alone. It was not physically possible for one man to do everything that needed to be done in the service. One man could not provide all the animals and offerings, and then offer all the sacrifices, be the judge of controversies, keep the cities of refuge, judge case of leprosy, pray and bless the nation and provide the spiritual needs of the people, just to mention a few. Jesus, by himself saved us, without your assistance. He did not need your opinion or your help. He doesn’t need you to offer your good works along with His. Jesus fully and completely and perfectly saves. There is no other way of salvation. Jesus is the only way.

Jesus sat down at the right hand of the Father. When a priest walked into the temple, he would pass the altar, the table that held the shewbread. The smell the incense wafted from the altar and the lights flickered from the lamp-stand. He would gaze upon the veil that separated him from the Holy of Holies, and once a year, would enter and behold the ark of the covenant. But what he did not see was a chair. There was not a seat to rest or a throne to sit upon. The job of the priest was never done. But Christ, after he purged our sins, rose from the dead and ascended on high. And he sat. He sat down because the job was finished. He sat down because the victory was won. He sat down at the right hand of the Father because the wrath of God was satisfied, sin was paid for, and the work of redemption was accomplished.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Preaching and Preachers on sale

If you don't have Preaching and Preachers, the Kindle version is on sale right now for $3.99.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Preaching and Preachers: Chapter 1, The Primacy of Preaching

What is the job of the church? What should we be doing? Preaching and Preachers, chapter 1, The Primacy of Preaching, Lloyd-Jones makes the Scriptural case that the primary task of the church is preaching.
"…the work of preaching is the highest and greatest and the most glorious calling to which anyone can ever be called." And that "…the most urgent need in the Christian church today is true preaching; and as it is the greatest and most urgent need in the Church, it is obviously the greatest need of the world also."
But, if this is true, why has preaching suffered a downward spiral in so many churches? Why is there a decline in great preaching? Lloyd Jones says the problem is threefold:

1.       Decline in the belief of the authority of Scripture
2.       Men want to be 'pulpiteers' rather than preachers
3.       Men don't understand what a sermon is.

Great preaching, or great speaking for that matter, depends on great themes. He says that as preachers relinquish confidence when men drift from the authority of the Bible, they forfeit power in their preaching. They begin to "suggest" rather than proclaim. Style is more important than substance, and sermon is a dirty word. I've noticed this among the big-named evangelicals giving "talks" at their conferences. Sermons might offend and preaching is foolish, so they'll "talk".  He also pointed to "personal counseling" as a result of bad preaching. That people believe that they need  more personal attention and that their problems cannot be dealt with from the pulpit. What I think he means, is that people think that their problems are so unique that a sermon could never address their problems. For example, they are not covetous, but their desire for things has its root in some story from their childhood and how much they were hugged as a toddler. Whereas a sermon on covetousness and a call to repentance would not make the people unique snowflakes, but categorize them as sinners among sinners. Thus, the rise of personal counseling for their unique and special "issues". Sometimes (often?) the answer is: You are sinning. Stop it.

The second section of the chapter deals with the positive; preaching must be the most important thing. Not politics, not social justice, not trending topics, but preaching. He provides many examples of Jesus leaving crowds who wanted their needs fulfilled, but going to the next place to preach and teach. His miracles were signs, but not the primary purpose. He moves from our Lord's example to the apostles example in the book of Acts, showing that preaching was their mission and anything else was a distraction that would sidetrack them. The same is throughout the history of God's people.

"What is it that always heralds the dawn of a Reformation or Revival? It is renewed preaching."

Friday, March 17, 2017

Notable Quotables 3/17/2017

The preachers dilemma (Isaiah 6:9-10)
"[Isaiah] in fact, faced the preacher's dilemma: if hearers are resistant to the truth, the only recourse is to tell them the truth yet again, more clearly than before. But to do this is to expose them to the risk of rejecting he truth yet again and, therefore, of increased hardness of heart. It could even be that the next rejection will prove to be the point at which the heart is hardened beyond recovery. The human eye cannot see this point in advance; it comes and goes unnoticed. But the all-sovereign God both knows it and appoints it as he presides in perfect justice over the psychological processes he created. Ti was at just such a point that Isaiah was called to office. His task was to bring the Lord's word with fresh, even unparalleled clarity, but in their response, people would reach the point of no return. The imperatives of these verses (Isaiah 6:9-10) must, therefore, be seen as expressing an inevitable outcome of Isaiah's ministry (cf. 2:9). And, of course, so it turned out to be, as is made clear in chapters 7-11. These were the days in which the decisive was spoken and refused. [G.A. Smith said] 'Opportunity in human life is as often judgment as it is salvation'.
J. Alec Motyer - The Prophecy of Isaiah
 North, to Alaska
"Alaska has long been a magnet for dreamers and misfits, people who think the unsullied enormity of the Last Frontier will patch all the holes in their lives. The bush is an unforgiving place, however, that cares nothing for hope or longing." 
 Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

Not a trick.
To be the Messiah who fulfilled prophecy, Jesus would have to hail from the line of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, and David—but not Jeconiah (Jer. 22:24–30). He would have had to be born of a virgin, in Bethlehem, under Gentile rule, before the fall of Jerusalem and 400–some-odd years after the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem after the Babylonian Captivity.1 All of this, for starters, was required to fulfill the pattern of OT Messianic prediction. And Jesus did tick off every one of those items, simply by being born when and where and to whom He was born. Nice trick, given that these are particulars over which no mortal has the slightest hint of control. Thus, it couldn’t have been a trick. 
The World-Tilting Gospel by Dan Phillips
Zeal for Knowledge
"It may be that the enormous amount of controversy which marks this age, has insensibly dried up our spiritual life. We have too often been content with zeal for orthodoxy — and have neglected the sober realities of daily practical godliness." 
Holiness by J.C. Ryle 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Parables and a Blue Dress by Lewis Kiger

Augustine, an early Biblical scholar who was an educated man, and normally quite level-headed in his approach to Scripture had some eccentric ideas when it came to interpreting parables. For example, in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (found in Luke 10:25-37) he tendered some interesting, or perhaps more accurately, outlandish thoughts; as to how the narrative is to be understood.

Rather than taking a simplistic approach to understanding the parable, instead he submitted that in the story; the "certain man" represented Adam. While Jerusalem symbolized the garden and Jericho signified the moon. The thieves who stole from the man stood for Satan and his demons. The priest and Levite (in the Parable) denote the Old Testament laws and sacrifices. While the inn, where the man is dropped off, represents the church and the innkeeper is surmised to be the Apostle Paul...and the outlandish list goes on.

No wonder the average man says he cannot understand the Bible when such things are conjectured by those behind a pulpit. When those who handle the Bible fail to make the plain truth, the main truth – we distort both the author’s intent and the hearer’s ability to comprehend the lesson.

William Barclay rightly said of Augustine’s analysis: “One thing is quite clear about an interpretation like that. No one on earth could produce it unless he sat down in a study and worked at the parable for hours and days together. For that very reason it is obviously the wrong interpretation.”

Readers, please remember – that Jesus tells the story He does, when He does for a specific reason. He is addressing a specific crowd about a specific subject. The parables were spoken and not written (at that time) and were not meant for the hearer to go home and theorize or allegorize, but rather to drive home a certain point, or illustrate a certain behavior at that moment.

Sadly, most of us in the ministry, in an effort to “bring something new,” have succumbed to just this type of eccentric interpretation. Yet, when we go further than the speaker ever intended with our exegesis, we have unwittingly become authors rather than interpreters.

A pastor friend of mine shared this with me a few years ago- and I’m sure he heard it from someone else…but it has been immensely helpful to me:
IF, IF Jesus was teaching about the brevity of life and the importance of making good decisions – and then spoke this parable: “Once there was a little blonde girl in a blue dress kicking a pink ball in her front yard while her parents were sitting on the porch watching. When all of a sudden, the ball rolled out into the street and when the little girl gave chase; she was struck and killed by a black Cadillac.”
Preachers, theologians, and scholars would all sit around debating what the little girl’s blonde hair and blue dress represented, or what her pink ball was actually a symbol of. We would hear things like; her blonde hair represents worldliness, and the parents denote the church, and her chasing the pink ball is symbolism for fleeing from the will of God. While the black Cadillac signifies death or chastisement, and so on…
When all along – the real lesson is; DON’T CHASE A BALL INTO THE STREET OR YOU MAY GET HIT BY A CAR!

So often, when interpreting portions of Scripture, this is our great failure. The temptation exists to make everything something it isn’t, and miss what it really is. Remember, (in my make-believe story) the Lord was teaching about the uncertainty of life, and making good Biblical decisions. He WAS NOT talking about materialism, church discipline, or blonde hair…but rather, life is fragile and you need to make wise decisions.

Yet parables are not the only victims of such poor practices when it comes to Bible interpretation. Far too often, well-meaning Christians make egregious errors when it comes to understanding and explaining God’s Word.

I humbly caution Bible teachers and preachers, not to go beyond the simple and direct interpretation of Holy Writ. If we seek to go further than this, we can easily distort the Inspired Text and misconstrue God’s Divine Intent.

I pray that God will help us all to stay true to the Heavenly-sent, Spirit-inspired meaning of the Scriptures and not get lost in the endless and bizarre maze of deciphering what GOD really meant, if He didn’t mean what He said.

The Lord willing, I intend to submit editorials over the next few months about the parables of Jesus, and I hope that it is helpful and beneficial to all who read. But I have no intention of trying to decipher what “blonde hair and blue dresses symbolize” …my magic decoder ring is broken anyway.

Memorial Heights Baptist Church

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Interpersonal Communication - Tuesday with Timothy #62

1 Timothy 5:1-2  Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren; The elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity.

Paul has written sort of a godly interpersonal communication admonition. Regardless of how well we may preach or how tight our doctrinal statements are, you still need to communicate those truths to God's people. The pastor is merely an undershepherd, a servant in God's house, dealing with the souls of God's people. He is not the Lord and master, but a herald and one commissioned with the oversight. God has called the man, and the church has called the man to this position of oversight and authority. Paul is continuing to expound on how everyone ought to behave in the house of God, so he instructs Timothy how he is to treat those members of the church he cares for.

In this verse, we have a wide array of people in different stages of life. Notice that Paul is assuming that there will be the old an the young together in the church. Paul's answer was not to have a 8am service for the traditional worship and 10am service for contemporary.

First, the elderly men. This isn't the office of elder, but men who are far from chronologically challenged. The word translated rebuke is only found in the New Testament this one time, and its general usage was to "strike" or "lay blows upon"*. So, don't beat up the old guys. However, since we've already established that the pastor should not be a fighter (1 Tim 3:3) I don't think that Paul telling us not to punch the elderly. This stronger word is a metaphor. It isn't that the pastor is to never rebuke anyone that is drawing social security, or that the elderly are always correct, but the pastor needs to deal with people as individuals. The elderly men in the congregation deserve respect and Timothy needs to treat the elderly men in the congregation like they were his father. With honor, with dignity, and with respect. It's not that he should not correct, but he should take care how he corrects. I know that it happens, but I've never been a member of a church where the pastor was the oldest member. I once had a pastor, who Solomon might have described as hoary headed. Even then, there were a few members that still thought him to be that "young man" who was just barely in his 60's.

Does this mean that the elderly are never wrong? Of course not. Neither does it mean that once you get to a certain age, you can do whatever you want. But you cannot deal with all people exactly the same way. Treat the elderly women like mamma, and the young men and young women like siblings. Don't think about the young men as your servants or rivals, but your brother. Look at the young women like sisters, not objects.

*Vincent's Word Studies, Marvin R. Vincent, D.D.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Preaching and Preachers, the preface.

I'm planning on working my way through Lloyd-Jones Preaching and Preachers  again. I'm always trying to read through some book on preaching and I like to read through the classics over and again. This time, I'm going to try to post a few thoughts on each chapter. If you have never read it, here is your chance to grab a copy and read along with me.

In the preface, Lloyd-Jones makes the case why we should listen to him. The book was originally a series of lectures given to Westminster Seminary. It's the fruit of 44 years experience in the ministry. It's always good to sit and listen to experienced men give wisdom from what they have learned. I know it is hip to read the latest ministry book written by the new cool rising star pastor who reinvented the wheel. But how about we sit and listen to men who have walked with God faithfully for decades and learn from them?
"Some may object to my dogmatic assertions; but I don not apologize for them. Every preacher should believe strongly in his own method; and if I cannot persuade all the rightness of mine, I can at least stimulate them to think and consider other possibilities. I can say quite honestly that I would not cross the road to listen to myself preaching, and the preacher whom I have enjoyed most have been very different in their method and style. But my business is not to describe them but to state what I believe to be right, however imperfectly I have put my own precepts into practice."
I think this is an important point. I have strong opinions on preaching; but if you preach, you should have strong opinions on preaching as well and should be able to defend them or at least give a reason why. Preaching is important enough to care about and important enough to want to be better than we are right now.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Belisarius by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I am poor and old and blind;
The sun burns me, and the wind
    Blows through the city gate
And covers me with dust
From the wheels of the august
    Justinian the Great.

It was for him I chased
The Persians o'er wild and waste,
    As General of the East;
Night after night I lay
In their camps of yesterday;
    Their forage was my feast.

For him, with sails of red,
And torches at mast-head,
    Piloting the great fleet,
I swept the Afric coasts
And scattered the Vandal hosts,
    Like dust in a windy street.

For him I won again
The Ausonian realm and reign,
    Rome and Parthenope;
And all the land was mine
From the summits of Apennine
    To the shores of either sea.

For him, in my feeble age,
I dared the battle's rage,
    To save Byzantium's state,
When the tents of Zabergan,
Like snow-drifts overran
    The road to the Golden Gate.

And for this, for this, behold!
Infirm and blind and old,
    With gray, uncovered head,
Beneath the very arch
Of my triumphal march,
    I stand and beg my bread!

Methinks I still can hear,
Sounding distinct and near,
    The Vandal monarch's cry,
As, captive and disgraced,
With majestic step he paced,--
    "All, all is Vanity!"

Ah! vainest of all things
Is the gratitude of kings;
    The plaudits of the crowd
Are but the clatter of feet
At midnight in the street,
    Hollow and restless and loud.

But the bitterest disgrace
Is to see forever the face
    Of the Monk of Ephesus!
The unconquerable will
This, too, can bear;--I still
    Am Belisarius!