Pastor You Must Be A Theologian (Part 1)

Of interest to many pastors, ministry leaders, and church support organizations is the rise in the number of people who consider themselves to be “nones” and/or “dones.”  The “nones” group is comprised of people who respond to questions related to religious affiliation with “none.”  The second group is comprised of people who are “done” with the Church as an institution.  It is not my intention here to detail and discuss the myriad reasons for these responses.  I mention them because I think they share a common root cause.

A large percentage of the nones have never darkened the door of a church.  Their knowledge of Christianity is based solely on what they happen to observe on television or hear their friends or family discuss.  The dones are on the other end of the spectrum.  They have for the most part been raised in the Church, have been active in various roles, and still profess faith in God even though they no longer attend any Church services.  Many opt instead for home fellowships or other gatherings of believers in an informal setting.

What do these groups have in common?  Simply they both want a message that matters and neither group is hearing one.  The nones among us are not necessarily anti-Christian.  Indeed spirituality is at an all-time high in America so there is a large percentage of seekers among the nones.  Unfortunately the modern Church is more concerned with feeding God’s people the latest self-help pop psychology wrapped in Christian garb than it is teaching God’s Word faithfully book by book and chapter by chapter in a systematic and comprehensive fashion.  The competition is fierce in the self-help category with the likes of Oprah, Chopra, and Osteen carrying the day. No wonder nones aren’t listening to the religious equivalent of this group of new age icons.

The dones likewise long for a clear declaration of God’s truth through a matter-of-fact exposition of the text.  A large number of pastors have rejected a deep dive into the Scriptures and an equally challenging presentation of the biblical texts.  Their weekly offering of the Word falls well short of being spiritual food and nourishment for God’s people. This is so because God must be the focus of our exposition and Christ the answer to the issues we face. When the focus becomes people, their problems, and the steps they must take to regain their happy life, a concoction of spiritual poison has been brewed and dispensing that week after week will guarantee a Laodicean church.

King David declared in Psalm 19:7 that “the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.”  This entire chapter is devoted to general (v. 1-6) and special (v. 7-13) revelation.  The point in verse eight is that God’s Word is sure because it is trustworthy.  It is trustworthy because it corresponds to reality.  In other words, God’s Word speaks with razor sharpness concerning our common human condition and provides the same clarity when it comes to what remedy He has provided for us.

Pastors, it is time to scale again the mountaintop of biblical exposition and declaration.  God has called you to that task, He has supplied you with all you need to perform it, and the people He has entrusted to your care must have it. We are called to be theologians and shepherds not a self-esteem masseuse or motivational coaches.

This is the first installment in a five-part series entitled “Pastor You Must Be A Theologian.” Stay tuned for more.

Men – Pray For Your Wives (Part 2)

In part one of this series I introduced the idea that as men we must pray for our wives. I discussed the great need we have as men to pray for our wives with the right attitude.  That right attitude is an understanding that as the leaders of our families we must model the actions and words we desire to see in our wives.  This means when we pray for our wives we must be prepared to change.

Men when we pray for our wives to be all that God wants them to be our heart attitudes toward her will change.  Has there been strife and discord in the relationship?  It is impossible to hold onto a hurt while praying earnestly for God to move and work in our wives. And when we do ask God to move in our wife’s life, He will begin by showing us what part we must play in that process.

This will also draw our attention to her needs, desires, strengths, and weaknesses.  We will begin to see where we can step in and offer help or volunteer to take something off her plate. Guys, I don’t need to remind you that we can get caught up in our busy lives of work, schedules, and deadlines, not to mention the children’s activities and church related events.  It is easy to forget that our wives have struggles too and would see your unsolicited offer to help as a huge encouragement.

In this process of praying for our wives we will experience change in our own attitude and we will begin to sense our hearts being more closely aligned with our wife’s heart. Men, it is a commonly accepted truth that women seek a deeper emotional bond with their husbands, deeper than many men realize.  You’ve been put on notice now; so what are you going to do in response?

Being a godly husband is a daunting task when rightly understood.  Our role is to provide strong, consistent, righteous leadership that demonstrates patience under fire, kindness as a first priority, and perhaps most importantly self-control.  Being a husband does not give you the title of dictator nor the authority to “lord” it over your wife; if those are your behaviors, you are sowing to the wind and as the Bible says you will reap a whirlwind of trouble.

In the next installment in this series I will talk about how your treatment of your wife is a mirror into your heart.  Stay tuned for Part 3 of “Men – Pray For Your Wives.”

God bless you today as you seek Him.

Christmas – What Are We Celebrating?

My preparation for this year’s Christmas Eve service took me to the normal places – Luke 1, Luke 2, and Matthew 1. But then I went to some unusual places in relation to our celebration of Christmas – Matthew 20 and 26, and Revelation 19.

We are all familiar with the Gospel accounts written by Matthew and Luke; the birth announcement, the responses of Mary and Joseph, the angelic worship and pronouncement of joy and peace to a needy world.  The Christmas story of the Christ child is a much-needed reminder of God’s love for His creation day by day.

But this is only part of the Gospel story. Yes God sent His Son to bring joy and peace to mankind. But how was that accomplished in the birth of Christ?  The birth of Christ was the announcement of the coming of the King.  But it also announced the commencement of God’s Genesis 3 plan – Jesus was born to be the Redeemer of a fallen mankind. This is where the Church must remember to place the emphasis.

This reminder however, creates a bit of uneasiness in much of the Church today. That uneasiness is the sad fruit of the Church having forgotten its mission.  The Church should not be focused on making sure people can feel the emotional warmth of a good nativity story and nothing more.  As Erwin Lutzer said recently, “Are we really at a place where we think we have won something because Target employees say ‘Merry Christmas’”?

The Gospel story includes Jesus’ testimony that “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28).  That is the point Jesus made clear in the Upper Room on the night of His betrayal at the hands of Judas.  Read these words again only now through the lens of the Christmas story.  “Drink from it all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it with you in My Father’s Kingdom” (Matt. 26:27-29).

When we consider Jesus’ view on the purpose of His life we see clearly it always pointed to Calvary and beyond. The beyond He describes as God’s eternal Kingdom. Please note in the Mathew 26 passage above that Christ’s followers will celebrate with Him at another supper.  This brings us to Revelation 19.

What we find in Revelation 19:1-9 is a picture of a celebration in heaven. This is the same celebration Jesus spoke of during the Last Supper.  Note what exactly is being celebrated: (1) Verse 1 – God Himself – “Hallelujah” means praise be to Jehovah. (2) Verse 1 – Salvation – the fact that God has provided and those in attendance have received. (3) Verses 1-3 – God’s glory in His works. Then, (4) Verse 6 – God Himself again as well as God’s reign/rule over His creation. (5) Verse 7 – God’s faithfulness to fulfill His promises. This is the Marriage Supper of the Lamb where all those who place their faith in Christ will be in attendance. Finally, (6) Verses 8-9 – God’s grace and mercy in offering forgiveness of sins through faith in the finished work of Christ.

This passage chronicles the futures of both those who place their faith in Christ and those who do not. In light of this, what should be our response as believers in Christ?  Should we be satisfied with a culture that allows us to place nativity scenes in public places or that permits our children to sing Christmas Carols during school plays? What exactly have we won in those things?

I want to suggest that we focus our attention on other things.  I believe God’s people must get the message right for ourselves first and then we must speak and live this message to our culture.  This will require honesty followed by repentance and confession for having fallen short. Our lives will be fundamentally changed.  For example, since God is worthy of being worshipped and will be for all eternity as Revelation shows us, are you doing that day by day?  Are you striving for godliness in all that you do?  In every relationship, at your place of employment, in your every word and deed are you making God glorious?

Secondly, the saints in Revelation 19 were worshipping God because of His reign and rule in power and might. Is God reigning and ruling in your life with power today?  Is God your sovereign Lord?  Here’s one very simple way to know – do you have peace and are you at peace?  Do you live day by day under the authority of God’s peace and are you actively pursuing peace with His people? Remember the angelic announcement in Luke 2? Note specifically verse 14 – “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”  Friends, if you are resting in the sovereignty of God you will be at peace even in the most trying struggles.

Third, note that the saints are offering God praise and are worshipping Him as a means of glorifying Him. “Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him.” Are you living day by day for the glory of God?  I did not ask if you are doing stuff for God. God is not interested in your stuff nor your activities offered to Him as a cheap substitute for yourself.  King David realized this misguided attempt to please God by confessing, “For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and contrite heart, O God you will not despise” (Psalm 51:16-17). God has called each of His children to set aside their own kingdom building activities and join in His Kingdom building.  Every choice we make every day is focused either on our own little “k” kingdom or God’s big “K” Kingdom.

Revelation 19:7 gives us a fourth point to consider this Christmas season. As God’s people our rejoicing and gladness is a result of the relationship by faith we have with Christ our Lord.  This relationship requires that we make ourselves ready for this great celebration to come.  Is that our focus? This relationship with Christ should fundamentally change how we view life.  Are we focused on making ourselves and others ready for the day described here? Shouldn’t all our relationships be cultivated with the love of Christ in mind?

Finally, this passage offers us a beautiful picture of God’s grace and mercy. Note verse 8 – “It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean.”  The “her” friends is the Church, you and I, the saints of Christ. God extends His grace to us and having received His forgiveness we are transformed from the inside out by receiving a new heart capable of loving God and people.  This transformation occurs in several contexts.  Positionally we are transformed from enemies of God to children of God and joint heirs with Christ.  In life through our experiences we grow in holiness.  This is the process often called experiential sanctification. This means day by day we are being made ready or being prepared for the events we read about in Revelation 19.

This is a picture of the meaning and purpose of Christmas. Christ born to be the Redeemer of fallen mankind.  His work of redemption in this world is not limited to a manger in Bethlehem but instead comes through Calvary’s cross and an empty tomb.

The Christmas season is a critical time to understand afresh your calling as God’s children as well as the mission He has called you to.  Will you shoulder the mantle of Christlikeness to a world desperately needing to see Him?  Will you humbly submit yourself to the One who redeemed you with His very life? Will you lay hold of the things that have eternal importance today?

We sang this third stanza of Robert Robinson’s classic hymn Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing yesterday.  I offer it here as a fitting benediction and for your meditation as a reminder of the things we celebrate every day not just during the Christmas season.  God bless you today as you seek Him.

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.


Men – Pray For Your Wives (Part 1)

Today I want to speak directly to men. Guys, let’s talk about prayer. No, this isn’t a beat-down or a shame-fest meant to cajole you into spending more time in prayer.  The congregation I have the blessing to pastor, knows that this is not a tactic I employ.  Shaming people into doing something never works in the long run.

Instead men, I want you to consider why you should pray for your wives AND more importantly, what your frame of reference should be.  A recent article on this subject got me thinking about this topic and provided a great example of the right approach to praying for our wives.

What is that right approach?  Simply this – men we are to pray for our wives so that we can be changed.  I can almost hear all the “what?” questions right now.  “What do you mean pray for my wife so that I can change?”  “She is the one that needs to be changed!”

Here is a spiritual principle to try on guys – you only have control over your responses. You cannot control the responses of other people. In fact, you will never see the changes you want in your wife until you become the change you want to see.  The old adage that warns not to point fingers at others for their faults because there are at least three fingers pointing back at you comes to mind here.

So, how does praying for your wife with the proper attitude change you? Because praying for your wife with the right attitude will soften your heart.  I know this is true from personal experience.  You cannot honestly pray for someone you are mad at or aggravated with. I have counseled many men over the years to put this principle to the test. My counsel to them has been this – the next time you and your wife find yourselves in a discussion that is heading “out of bounds,” have the courage to stop, look your wife in the eyes, take her hands, and say “let’s pray.”

When you pour your heart out for your wife, when you seek God and ask Him to encourage her to be all that she can be in Him, I guarantee you God will show you ways that you are hindering her in that quest. Men, we are sinners and more often than we want to admit, we display a callousness toward them that really undermines the very character qualities we desire to see in her.

I will focus on this subject in four additional posts. We will continue this conversation about the great need we have as men to pray for our wives. Look for Part 2 in this series soon.

May God richly bless you today as you seek Him.

The Ethics of Naturalism Are Unnatural

Two scenes from a movie I recently watched got me thinking about the ethics of naturalism.  Hollywood veteran Sylvester Stallone starred in the movie “Cliffhanger” and the suspense in the plot enabled it to live up to its name.

For those unfamiliar with this movie Stallone plays a trained mountain rescuer who along with fellow rescuer, actor Michael Rooker, are tricked into aiding a fugitive gang who have managed to steal several hundred million dollars from the Federal Reserve but during their escape by airplane are forced to crash-land in a desolate mountain range.

Playing a convincing role as the cold-hearted villain was actor John Lithgow.  The two scenes that caught my attention happened within minutes of one another.  The first scene showed one of Lithgow’s gang murdering a rescue helicopter pilot played by Ralph Waite.  In shock and dismay over this cold-blooded act, Rooker screams, “he never hurt anyone.” In other words, Waite did not deserve to die. Lithgow without missing s beat, in an equally cold-blooded line only remarked, “how touching.”

The second scene moments later featured Lithgow murdering his female companion to gain leverage in a struggle with his co-conspirators to maintain control of the quickly evaporating escape plan.  Just before Lithgow murders his female companion he asks her if she knows what the greatest virtue of love is.  Before she can answer Lithgow answers for her by whispering in her ear, “sacrifice.” He then promptly murders her.

This is a violent movie but is candid in its portrayal of man’s dilemma ethically speaking.  These two scenes clearly demonstrate the great paradox that man faces when trying to explain and live an ethical life apart from belief in God as the moral law giver.  In the first scene Lithgow exhibits a naturalistic worldview, one completely in-line with a Darwinian evolutionary view. Being heartbroken over the death of a friend is nonsense to Lithgow and thus his “how touching” remark.  Clearly implied is the rest of the statement that could be stated: “how touching and how utterly stupid.”

Contrasting that naturalistic ethic Lithgow espouses a different ethic in the second scene in justifying his murderous behavior.  Where did he find any ground for love as sacrifice?  These two scenes present ethics opposed to one another.  Perhaps the writers of this movie script meant to mock the Christian ethic of God as moral law giver.  I think a better explanation is that they intentionally portrayed where mankind is left if God is indeed dead.

The truth is that naturalism cannot provide an ethical foundation for love, sacrifice, compassion or anything human beings are said to need to survive as communities and nations. Naturalistic ethics that speak of these qualities have smuggled Christian theistic ethics into their system without due recognition because of course that would betray their underlying beliefs.  They cannot admit to what they claim does not exist.  This makes naturalism’s ethics quite unnatural.

When God is declared dead there is only one place man can turn for the source of ethics – himself.  This opens the floodgates for all forms of abuse and evil.  The twentieth century alone provides testimony to the validity of this truth.

Friends, I encourage you to continue to stand firm in your faith and in your testimony.  What your family, friends, and neighbors need today are answers to the myriad contradictions they encounter every day, not the least of which is the convoluted ethics of naturalism.

This is A Transforming Moment waiting to happen.