A glorious and difficult task.

Our present society places before us the question, “why do we need ministers and preaching?”  This leads to frustration among many but what really puts pressure on ministers is the very impossible task of preaching.  Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:21, “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.”  Karl Barth put out three points that characterize this difficulty that lies before the minister in a chapter called the “Task of the Ministry.”  He said, “‘As ministers, we ought to speak of God. We are human, however, and so cannot speak of God. We ought therefore to recognize both our obligation and our inability and by that very recognition give God the glory. This is our perplexity. The rest of our task fades into insignificance in comparison.”

First, we ought to speak of God

Often in sermons, there is a failure to point people toward God.  We apply sound biblical principles to everyday life, but we fail to make much of Jesus.  We have taken the aim to help people live better rather than helping them die before God.  What they need is God, and our preaching should contribute to pointing them to Him.

Second, we are human, however, and so cannot speak of God

We are finite creatures talking about the infinite Creator.  He is beyond us in every capacity, even imagination.  To talk about God is beyond our ability and cognition.  We would continually fail to correctly display God by our words.  Barth was famous for simply saying, “God is God.”  In that way, he described God but in reality, did not try to limit God by any human definition.

Third, we ought, therefore, recognize both that we should speak of God and yet cannot, and by that very recognition give God the glory

As God is infinitely above us and the task of preaching is given to us, we should use our voice and opportunity to praise God.  To praise and give thanks is to give God glory.  To proclaim to others the self-revelation of God through the Holy Scriptures and draw them to Him is to bring God glory.  Returning to the first statement, we ought to speak of God.  Make much of Jesus in our preaching.

The Water in Your Marriage 

My wife and I recently celebrated our eighth wedding anniversary.  We had courted several years before we were married.  In our marriage, we have experienced many beautiful moments and challenges.  Three children, a few pets, and plenty of adventure have blessed us in our journey together.  I love her more and more each day (I know that is mushy).

It is interesting is that there is a common misconception that marriage for Christians is no different than unbelievers.  The caveat to the stats is that those Christians most likely to end their marriage are nominal believers.  Meaning, they may identify as Christians but do not actively participate in the faith.  Recent research (click here) showed that “Catholic couples were 31 percent less likely to divorce; Protestant couples 35 percent less likely, and Jewish couples 97 percent less likely” (Stetzer, 2014).  The pastor’s marriage has also been seen as difficult. However, Barna research showed “Most pastors – 96 percent of whom are married – are satisfied with their relationship with their spouse” (2017)

Periodically, I speak with new and veteran couples about their relationships.  When the conversations turn toward my wife and my experience, I share my life verse for marriage.  It came from King Solomon when he was teaching his sons how to live well.

“Drink waters out of thine own cistern, and running waters out of thine own well.” -Proverbs 5:15

Chapter five is one of the few chapters were Solomon seems to focus on one subject.  Yet, a significant portion of all his teaching centers around purity and faithfulness to your spouse.  He geared his instruction toward his sons specifically and his children in general, however, I believe what we see in this passage is helpful to both husbands and wives.

After a simple reading, we quickly note that Solomon is encouraging fidelity.  In light of the whole chapter, the challenge is put forward to be faithful in your relationship marriage.  You will be tempted to stray, but the end is filled with pain.  Remaining faithful in the good and bad has its own reward.  To understand that reward we need to dig a little deeper.

We understand the need of water for the body, and this is why Scripture is full of references to spiritual water for our souls that only Jesus can provide.  Solomon in another place of Proverbs wrote, “As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country” (25:25).  Water refreshes and satisfies.  Marriage is provides the same thing.  To demonstrate this, Barna Research found that 75% of women say their marriage is their strongest form of social support by helping them be satisfied with life, understand priorities, be the best person they can be, set healthy boundaries, live out purpose, and connect to a community (2017).  When we enjoy those intimant moments and conversations we share only with our spouse, we are refreshed and deeply satisfied as our reward.  To be unfaithful will corrupt the waters of our marriage.

Still, there is one more thing that stands out to me in this passage about marriage.  Solomon is keen to use specific words to separate cistern from well.  In the Hebrew, the word he used for cistern (בּוֹר bôwr) can also be translated as pit or well.  Also, the word chosen translated for us as well (בְּאֵר bᵉʼêr), can be translated as a pit.  I like to think that Solomon is demonstrating to different containers for water.  Wells and cisterns both hold water, but, they receive their water in various manners.  A well receives its water from an underground source like a stream or lake.  Well water springs up from itself.  Cisterns, however, must receive theirs from an outside source above the ground.  Typically, brought in by a water truck.  

What I hear Solomon saying, be faithful and enjoy your marriage by pouring your life into your spouse.  The picture is we view self as a well and our spouse a cistern.  If we do not pour our love, energy, time, and focus on our partner, they will dry up.  We will no longer be satisfied with them, and we will try to wander and find other sources to quench our thirst.  Being faithful is also about being intentional.  To have a great marriage, you must continue to invest in your spouse, even after you have said your vows.

References

Barna (2017) The State of Pastors: How Today’s Faith Leaders are Navigating Life and Leadership in an Age of Complexity.  Barna Group

Stetzer, Ed (2014) Pastors, that divorce stat you quoted is probably wrong.  http://churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/163047-pastors-that-divorce-stat-you-quoted-is-probably-wrong.html

Waiting

My wife and I are expecting our third child at any moment.  She will be induced in less than a week, but the waiting is almost unbearable.  The anticipation is growing by each passing moment.  In fact, this week during our Sunday evening service, my friends and I were singing a song during worship when I caught my wife standing up abruptly.  She was going to ask someone a question that she needed an immediate answer, but that was not my train of thought.  I thought something major in this last week of her pregnancy happened.  It was funny, to her.

Life is filled with many moments where patience is a requirement.  I don’t need to list any because our mind at the mere mention of the words patience or waiting triggers personal memories of our own experiences.  Scripture is aware of this need as well and offers encouragement.

“And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” -Galatians 6:9

“But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” -Matthew 24:13

“For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promice” -Hebrews 10:36

“My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers tempations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.  But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” -James 1:2-4

“And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also; knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience, and experience, hope” -Romans 5:3-4

So, what helps us to gain patience?  I want to share briefly about three sources for patience.

Experience develops our patience

Most believers will direct you to Romans 5:3-4 when it comes to learning patience.  Faith grows through real-life situations, and so does patience.  It is one thing to say that you are a patience person and another thing to demonstrate that quality.  The fiery trial that comes up against us is also what tests our faith and patience.  We learn what we are made of in the difficult areas of life and it is through those situations that we are strengthened.

Knowledge informs our patience

Galatians 5:22-23 reveals that part of God’s gift of our salvation, part of the fruit of the Spirit, is longsuffering or what we better know as patience.  For the Christian, we have the understanding that God is in our corner and is providing grace to endure.  Sound theology has a way of bringing us peace because we know the truth and the truth sets us free (John 8:32).  The ultimate source of truth is God’s Word, the revelation of God to mankind.  Through His Word our faith increases, our patience is encouraged, and our hope is confirmed.

Perspective guides our patience

A final source or at least the culminating of the previous two is perspective.  Once we have experienced life and its hardships, the waiting game takes on a new shape.  With the help of God’s grace and His Word, we can begin to see the long view of our life.  The Proper perspective of what’s valuable in life, our purpose, and our eternal future helps us endure.

Is Your Faith Growing Cold?

We are quickly entering into spring revival season.  I am still a supporter of church revivals.  There is nothing wrong with a congregation seeking to set out more time in their schedule for increased spiritual emphasis.  We all need revival at times.  Life has a way of wearing us down.  It is easy to allow our faith to grow cold even in times of joy and peace.  It happened to the disciples when Jesus was with them.  It can happen to us.

Jesus fed his disciples and a multitude with just five loaves of bread and two fish (Mk. 6:31-44).  However, in the midst of the miracle, the disciples were burned out.  Mostly, they were tired.  As we read what takes place, it is easy to notice that the followers are a little grumpy.  But, this was only a small symptom of a worse condition, a faith that had grown cold.  Jesus sent his disciples ahead by boat while he sent the multitudes back home.  The Savior was about to comfort and challenge His disciples.

Mark 6:45-54

“And straightway he constrained his disciples to get into the ship and to go to the other side before unto Bethsaida, while he sent away the people. And when he had sent them away, he departed into a mountain to pray. And when even was come, the ship was in the midst of the sea, and he alone on the land And he saw them toiling in rowing; for the wind was contrary unto them: and about the fourth watch of the night he cometh unto them, walking upon the sea, and would have passed by them. But when they saw him walking upon the sea, they supposed it had been a spirit, and cried out: For they all saw him, and were troubled. And immediately he talked with them, and saith unto them, Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid. And he went up unto them into the ship; and the wind ceased: and they were sore amazed in themselves beyond measure, and wondered. For they considered not the miracle of the loaves: for their heart was hardened. And when they had passed over, they came into the land of Gennesaret, and drew to the shore. And when they were come out of the ship, straightway they knew him.”

They did not recognize Jesus.

We often see the hand of God in life after He has brought us few something.  However, as we go through life our faith increases.  Over time it should become easier to sense the presence of God in our life and the way the Holy Spirit is leading.  Yet, for the disciples, they still did not recognize Jesus who they had already spent a significant amount of time following.  As Jesus came walking on the sea, the reverted to previous beliefs and assumptions.  They had forgotten about Jesus.

They did not expect a miracle.

As Jesus stepped into the boat, the wind and waves were calmed.  Jesus had greeted them, told them to not be fear but to have cheer because He was there.  But, they were looking around, amazed at what had happened.  Almost like they had never seen Jesus perform a miracle.  Not that we should become disinterested with God’s power displayed, but it was more in the sense that the disciples were not expecting a miracle.  Remember, they were toiling in rowing.  We are not shown whether they were crying out to God for help.  They were not expecting assistance.  When we no longer go to God in prayerful expectation, we have grown cold.

Their hearts were hardened.

Scripture finally tells us the problem with the disciples.  They did not consider the miracle of the loaves because their hearts were hard.  Forgetfulness of Gods previous blessings, failure to see His provision at an earlier time has now resulted in a hard heart.  Their passion for God had cooled.  They couldn’t put two and two together, the feeding and the calming had both come from Jesus.  The hardness of their heart had resulted in a barrier to see God move, a failure to move after God, and a failure to reach out in faith.

Why Christian Baptist? Four Reasons.

Last year I wrote a couple of posts about the Christian Baptist Association (What is Christian Baptist? here & here).  This is the association of churches that I have my ordination through and pastor.  There was a time when I was a member of another group of Churches in the local area, but, the Lord led me to move into the same association that I had grown up loving.

The full name of the group is The Ohio Valley Association of Christian Baptist Churches of God.  You can only imagine the questions people have about this long and unique name.  However, that is not where this post will have its focus.  Instead, the focus is on why I find such a deep love for the Christian Baptist.  There are four reasons given here, among much more that I think will help readers to learn more about the Christian Baptist and to encourage my fellow members.

The Bible is our final authority.

It is our conviction that all things must be brought to Scripture.  Scripture is the revelation of the Triune God and any work outside of it is opinion.  It seems that many denominations are moving away from this standard and have elevated personal experience and emotional biases above the Bible.  I have witnessed outside of our association and a few within it, who receive any teaching that labels itself as Christian and balk at any attempt to reconcile it with Biblical teaching.  However, everything we need to know about worshipping God and living Christlike is found solely in Scripture.

We love God’s Word and are fully persuaded of its integrity.  We do not need to add personal experiences or opinions to Scripture to validate it.  Sure, those things are helpful in interpreting, but the Word of God is sufficient in and of itself.

The Holiness Accent

I am not speaking of stereotypical “holiness” groups.  Instead, we preach and teach that Salvation of the person is complete and perfect for making a person whole.  One reason that I hear many of my fellow members give for being Christian Baptist is that “We have the great doctrine.”  What does this mean?  Are we the only group with the right belief?  No, and I don’t believe anyone in the association implies that as well.  We share doctrines with other denominations that are essential for one to be called Christian.  There is truly only One Church, and it reaches across the globe and throughout time.

This section is labeled The Holiness Accent.  An accent is the”accentuated” or distinctive pronunciation in a language.  So, when I speak of my holiness accent, I am referring to my underlying assumptions and inclinations.  The holiness accent does not relate to our focus on external prohibitions of dress and behaviors (though we ought to have a godly lifestyle).  Rather, we accentuate the fact that believers are saved to the “uttermost.”

God does not justify a person and leaves them with their old nature.  Instead, when we are saved we are made new in Christ, and He imparts His nature to us.  Believers do not sin every day when they are entirely given over to be led by the Holy Spirit.  I heard it recently said, “It is our responsibility to keep from sinning, but it is God who gives us the power to keep from sinning.”

In summary, our holiness accent is that we preach and teach that believers can be fully transformed by God’s grace in this lifetime.

Freedom of Worship

There are many expressions of worship.  Shared in Scripture is that God seeks worship from those that are in spirit and truth.   These Biblical requirements for worship can be seen in both spontaneous and planned worship.  However, with planned worship, it is very easy to write God out of the plan and focus on man’s emotional and intellectual experience.  One thing I love about the Christian Baptist Association is that we are not afraid to worship God audibly and visually.  We are not Pentecostal in several regards of expressive worship, but we are certainly not afraid to express our love and thankfulness to God.

Our Heritage

I was raised Christian Baptist (my wife is from the Churches of Christ in Christian Union). However, I did not join one of the local churches at first.  I joined the Kentucky Christian Conference that was based near Morehead, Kentucky.  After a few years, God directed my path back to the Christian Baptist, and I have been here for last eleven years, pastoring one of the congregations for almost nine years and still there.  Now, I am raising my children in the Christian Baptist.

My heritage is in the Christian Baptist, and a significant portion of my family call this association home as well.  Yet, I also share a great love for our more extensive history.  I have studied the history of its coming together in 1931 and the leaders and laity of previous generations.  Listening to stories of past victories, miracles, and blessings that God has brought to pass in our camp meeting and the local congregation have been and continue to be formative in my spiritual walk.

God’s design of the Church

Regardless of whether you are called to pastoral ministry or itinerant (evangelistic travel), it is important that you understand the Biblical foundation and design of the church. The ministry of the church is astoundingly vital to every believer. For those that are homebound, there must be a ministry to show them the compassion of Jesus. To those that say they don’t need to go to church, they sever the head which is Christ, from the body, which is the church. The believer’s who faithfully attend and those that don’t, need to be disciplined. It is even vital to the sinner because the church brings the message of the Gospel to them and witnesses their conversion. The Church is necessary.

The original Greek word for church is “Ekklesia.” It to be “called out” or “separated.” The other Greek word, from which our English word for Church is derived, is “Kuriakon.” It means, “belonging to the Lord.” As a definition, we can define the church as a group of people that have been called out from the world and separated from sin as the Lord’s property. The Bible gives several pictorial illustrations of the Church. It is seen as: (1) the Body of Christ (1 Cor.12:12-31, shows unity and diversity), (2) the building of Christ (Matt. 16:18; Eph. 2:19-22), and, (3) the bride of Christ (John 14:1-3, Eph. 5:25-31, Rev. 19:7).

The church is viewed in Scripture as both universal and local in scope. Universal doesn’t mean that every person in time is part of it, but rather every person that has come to Christ is part of the real Church (Matt. 16:18; 1 Cor. 15:9; Eph. 2:20, 5:23-32). Scripture also recognizes that the real church is divided by geographical locations into individual local congregations. This is evidenced by the various churches in Acts by location, the names of many of Paul’s letter, and the seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3.

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The biblical purposes of the church are first to glorify God (Eph. 3:21). Secondly, it is to edify or disciple believers (Eph. 4:11-12) and purify them (Eph. 5:25-27). Thirdly, to evangelize the world (Matt. 28:19- 20). Fourth and last, to prevent corruption in the world by saturating it with God’s truth and Love (Matt. 5:13-16).

Why do we lack discernment?

When Jesus was asked to speak about the end times, one of the signs He gave was the deception of God’s people (Mt. 24:24).  Other passages warn us of false prophets (2 Thess. 2:3; 2 Tim. 4:1, 3-42 Pet. 2:2, 12-13), Satan (2 Thess. 2:9-12), and personal deception (1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 6:6-8).  How does this deception take hold of believers?  My observation is that Biblical illiteracy, a culture of syncretism/pluralism, and a lack of accountability contribute to those who are easily deceived.

Biblical Illiteracy

Barna Research recently released a stat loving pastor’s dream, Barna Trends 2017.  There are 236 pages of research material.  Part of it is the recent trends in faith, which includes Biblical literacy.  Currently, 57% of the world’s population still do not have a completed translation (Barna, p. 126).  When it comes to Americans approaching the Bible, even though it is more accessible than at any other time (p. 143), almost 30% read it once a month, and another 30% read it one a year (p. 140).

There is plenty of passages that refers to our need to honor and know the Holy Scriptures.  However, we do not seem to care about reading the Bible.  It is easy to be tricked into believing false truths about the Scripture when we do not actually know what is in the Bible.  We listen to a two-minute video and post it to Facebook without thinking about the actual teachings and character of the person we just promoted.  Believers are being deceived by a fancy religious talk by so-called ministers, but yet they do not have the ability or take the time to be like the Bereans when they heard Paul preach.

Acts 17:10-12

And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few.

Culture of Syncretism/Pluralism

Pluralism means a diversity of perspectives, values, beliefs, and practices.  Syncretism is the attempt to combine a plurality of these items into a single system.  The Old Testament contains several examples of Israel’s history where they tried to absorb pagan idols into their practices, only to be absorbed by paganism.  According to the research, 57% of Americans now believe that morality is self-defined (pp. 50-53).  People can adopt whatever beliefs they want from any system available and make their reality.  In research, we call this confirmation bias.  When personal interests get in the way of reason, we become biased to the truths we accept while refusing the facts that are inconvenient.

Our society teaches us from an early age to “be ourselves” and “do what makes us happy,” but this can be against God.  The modern morality in the culture we live says that all religions are valid, choose what you like, and just be a good person.  Christian Scripture does not allow for followers of Christ to agree on with this approach.  Jesus is not another way to God, but the only way.

John 14:6

Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

Lack of Accountability

The mantra of our age sometimes feels like, “Don’t judge me.”  The stats are staggering that we lack a desire to be held accountable.  Barna reported that 89% of all U.S. adults and 76% of practicing Christians believe that “people should not criticize someone else’s life choices” (p. 53).  Also, 37% of Christians believe spiritual growth comes is only on your own (p. 135).  Proceeding from a culture of pluralism/syncretism, we have developed into a therapeutic culture.  We tend to gravitate towards those things that make us feel better about ourselves, even if there is no truth in them.

When someone offers teaching or rebuke that is contrary to our feelings, we take it as extremely negative criticism.  This is why the Word of Faith movement has such a large following (think of most televangelist).  They highlight the power of positive thinking, be positive and your situation will go away is a part of their approach.  The thought process becomes “anyone negative to you is against you.”  Again, Scripture is keen on believers holding each other accountable for what they believe and their actions.

Galatians 6:1-5

Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.  For every man shall bear his own burden.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us not be deceived anymore.

 

References

Barna Group (2017) Barna Trends 2017. Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI.