Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Church, Spirits and Halloween

Halloween. Can there be a relationship between that day and Christianity? Vic admits that in his early in his early days with Youth for Christ, he participated in attempting to win kids for Christ via the scary traditions of this popular Fall celebration.

Vic testifies to what he and others have seen and heard; things that verify the reality of the spirit world. It's a credible warning to those who may see the spiritual, especially at it relates to Halloween, as nothing more than innocent fun.

It may be tempting to 'cuddle up' to the occult and carnal traditions of the world. After all, we wouldn't want our kids to be criticized if they don't participate, right? Don't be fooled by the candy, costumes and pumpkins. Let the Holy spirit challenge your thoughts and convictions as you join Vic and fellow Crosstalk listeners as they take a look at this crucial subject.

Listen to episode here: The Church, Spirits, and Halloween

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Ideas Have Consequences: When A Nation Rejects God

Ephesians 4:17-21

“This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord that you no longer walk as the other Gentiles walk in the vanity of their mind, having their understanding darkened being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them because of the blindness of their heart who being past feeling have given themselves over to lasciviousness to work all uncleanness and greediness but you have not so learned Christ if it be that you have heard Him and have been taught by Him as the Truth is in Jesus.”


                At this time in the history of the world, Syrians are killing Syrians as the crisis in Syria rages on. The international community almost unanimously acknowledges that the Syrian government has used deadly chemical weapons on its own citizens.  It is also acknowledged that various factions, including Iran, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and other groups have entered into the fray in Syria. The Russians, too, are joining with the Syrian government to keep it propped up. The international news sources have reported with what can only be described as “relief” that the United States has “relented” in making a military strike of some sort on Syria in some as yet unclear “punishment” of Syria and “support” of the forces fighting against the Syrian government.  Apparently, Russia has brokered an agreement between Syria and the United States military and other “global” forces which requires Syria to “account for” and “turn over for destruction” Syria’s allegedly massive stockpile of chemical weapons.

                The United States government continues to lurch seemingly from one crisis to another. Although the continuing resolution necessary to “keep the government open”, and although the United State’s government has now extended the debt limit, which now is in excess of sixteen point seven (16.7) trillion dollars and growing daily, the continuing resolution extends the time only to January 2014.  There appears to be no one capable of leadership, whether one believes oneself to be a Republican or a Democrat, a conservative or a progressive, or any other label which one chooses to place on oneself. Is God’s Word not true when it says: “For the leaders of this people cause them to err; and they that are led of them are destroyed.” (Is. 9:16)?

The United States has taken no action resulting from the murder of our Ambassador in Benghazi, and the killing of the valiant young men who, unlike our so-called “leaders” attempted to come to his rescue.  The United States seems to be unable to determine what its policy is, or ought to be, with regard to the continuing crisis in Egypt.  The United States seems incapable of formulating any policy with regard to Pakistan, Afghanistan, or Iraq.  The continuing development of nuclear weapons in Iran and North Korea, as well as the means to deliver them seems to have completely stymied the American government.

                Many in Congress (both Republicans and Democrats) continue to warn against the “coming train wreck” resulting from the continued, and apparently out of control, spending which makes the continuing mere extension of the debt limit seemingly even more critical because we are spending with borrowed money.  Even though revenues are up, it is as if the coffers used to collect the revenues have no bottom in them and the revenues escape before they can be intelligently spent.  As more and more people realize the truth regarding the so called “Affordable Healthcare Act” (which has now been tagged with the nomenclature of “Obama Care”), it is becoming increasingly clear that it is neither affordable nor providing healthcare which is better than before the Act.  Indeed, the reports have continued to pour in from all over the United States of people who cannot even get on the governmental website in order to determine what their plan and costs are supposed to be.  No one really seems to know what is going on, although nearly everyone is aware of the near universal reports that everybody’s healthcare benefits are going to “increase in price” not decrease- some by as much as 80% or 90%.

                Whether the crises occurring in the American government are based on stupidity or lack of knowledge, is not clear.  One thing, however, is clear.  The present administration and many others, continue to advance and promote the killing of tiny human beings under the banner of “women’s healthcare issues”; continue to promote the advancement of sodomy and ungodliness, under the banner of “same-sex marriages”; continue to advance and promote lewd and lascivious conduct (both heterosexual and homosexual) and is seemingly unable to prevent the random, growing, heinous acts of killings of school children, joggers, and others.  Such random and vicious acts of violence are nearly always met with the same old tired refrain of the  “new need for gun control” and for some new and other way to “prevent these things from ever happening again”!

                All of these things are, however, directly related to the continued ongoing efforts to eradicate the God of the Bible from all aspects of American life.  Bible reading however, in public schools has been precluded. Prayer in public schools has been precluded. The Obama Administration precluded Franklin Graham from speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast.  Even churches in many instances are buying into this secularization of society.  Many churches have intentionally quit preaching the Gospel of Christ; quit preaching doctrine; begun to preach that we all serve the same God and that we need to just “get along”; we must learn to be more tolerant, because we live in a secular society and are even designing worship services for the pagans.  On September the nineteenth in sixteen Jesuit journals worldwide, the new Roman Catholic Pope, Francis, called the church’s focus on abortion, marriage, and contraception narrow and said it was driving people away; Francis has also been reported to have said that Muslim, Hindus, and other faiths all worship the same God that he worships and Francis has even been quoted as saying that atheists if they are good will also go to heaven! My Goodness Gracious!

                The point has seemingly been reached in the United States of America, as well as other countries, where nearly every level of government is antithetical to the God of the Bible and to godliness as proclaimed by the Holy Bible.  Why? What in the world is going on?

                Many in the churches who are in positions to “shepherd the flock of God” are not doing so.  A few years ago in a sermon, commenting on I Corinthians 1:18-28, Alistair Begg, the Pastor of Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio said that we do not expect to hear from the pulpit the following:

                “The bright ideas of men; their rambling thoughts; their theorizing or speculation; their sloganeering or                 manipulation; their tall stories or emotionalism.  But, we expect to hear spirit filled, Christ exalting, Bible based,                 life-implanting instruction, and direction from God, through the words of a spokesman which impresses upon his                 listeners the power of the text and not the performance of the preacher.”

Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd Jones is reported to have said in the late 50’s that “the business of the church and of preaching is not to present us with new and interesting ideas. It is rather to go on reminding us of certain fundamental and eternal truths.”  Alistair Begg quoted Emel Bruner in November of 2005, when he said, “at every period in the history of the church, the greatest sin of the church or the one that causes the greatest distress is that she withholds the gospel from the world and from herself.  She does not know the reason for her own existence and consequently has no real message for the present situation.”  What is going on?

  1. The Explanation:

                The Holy Scripture quoted above from Ephesians chapter four tells us both why the things that we are observing are happening, as well as, giving us the proper remedy to correct the situation.  While the great Apostle Paul was directing his message to the Christians who lived in Ephesus, God’s Holy Word, is also directed to us.  Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.  The Lord God changes not!  We don’t have to come up with some new and innovative plan.  The Lord God has given us the message.  Our job is to be obedient and to proclaim the message!

                The Apostle Paul is also giving us in this passage of scripture what is the life of everyone who is not a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ.  The Gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile (everyone else).  Thus, according to Paul’s great letter to the church at Rome, the preaching and proclaiming of the Gospel of Christ is utterly necessary for one to become a believer. According to scripture in the second chapter of Ephesians, everyone who is not a believer, is “dead in their trespasses and sins; they are by nature children of wrath; they are by nature without Christ; aliens from the commonwealth of Israel; strangers from the covenants of promise; without any hope and without God in the world!”  What an absolute disastorious position to be in.  Thus, what God’s Holy Spirit directed the Apostle Paul to write is an admonition and an explanation.  It is an admonition that those who profess to be in Christ walk not as unbelievers walk. The Apostle explains how it is that “other gentiles” walk which is also the way that any unbeliever walks. What is the unbelievers “walk”?

  1. They Walk in the Vanity of Their Mind.

        This description “in the vanity of their mind” actually means that their minds are empty.  Their thoughts are vain.  In Isaiah fifty-five (55), God admonishes Israel that “your thoughts are not My thoughts saith the Lord, neither are your ways My ways……”  We are told in Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi to “let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus…..”  We are also told in the same Epistle to “think on those things that are true, and that are honest, and that are just, and that are pure, and that are lovely, and that are of good report, and that are virtuous, and that are praise worthy.  This is what we are to think on.  We cannot think on these things unless we have been born again.  Otherwise, we are still “dead in our trespasses and sins”.  We are still “by nature children of wrath”.  As Jesus said, “we must be born again”.  Activity does not make one a Christian, nothing short of the power of God can create a new heart; can cause one to be a new creation in Christ Jesus and can make one to be “born again”.

  1. Having Their Understanding Darkened.

        Their understanding is darkened because they have no light.  Jesus Himself described Himself as “the Light of the world.” He is the True Light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world who place their trust in Him and surrender their will to Him.  Otherwise, because of the fall of man, the disobedience of Adam and Eve, our initial ancestors, every person has in their DNA this so-called “death- gene”.  Every person is by nature a child of wrath.  Every person is by nature dead in their trespasses and sins.  The good news is that God who is rich in mercy with His great love wherewith He has loved us can make one alive in Jesus.  It is important to understand that until that occurs, every person’s understanding is darkened.  They have no light.

  1. Alienated from the Life of God.
        Not only is every unbeliever walking in the “vanity of their mind” that is, an emptiness of the knowledge God.  Not only do they also have their “understanding darkened”, that is, they have no light, they are dead in their trespasses and sins and by nature children of wrath.  But they also are alienated from the life of God.  What this means, is, that they are as scripture describes it, at enmity with God.  They do not have the life of God in them.  It is God’s own life, the divine nature that He puts within His children, as He comes and makes His abode with all those that the Father has given to the Son, that is all those who are born again.  If any man be in Christ he is a new creation, old things have passed away, all things are becoming new.  This is because the Lord God Himself through God the Son and God the Holy Spirit and God the Father comes and makes His abode in His people.  This is what a Christian is.  This is what the believer has to look forward to.  As the Apostle Peter says in his second epistle, “whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these you might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” (II Peter 1:4)  We have become partakers of the divine nature by God’s sovereign work of creation of causing us to be born again.  What a privilege!  This is the life which comes from God. It is the life which God gives.  Pagans, unbelievers, non-Christians, all are utter strangers from that life, entirely separated from it because they are “aliens from the life of God”! They cannot even receive the things of God because such things are spiritually discerned.

                Therefore, what we see happening in the United States of America, in the world as it is reported to us, is no mystery but it’s simply a disclosure that this is natural.  There is no wisdom apart from God.  There is no knowledge and understanding apart from God.  Is it, therefore, any wonder, that we have so many ungodly things happening in our society today?  Men are searching for something.  Mankind is searching for something, but he cannot find it. He has become alienated from the life of God!  Man is given to idolatry.  Man will worship something.  In ancient times, and in some places to this day, men made their own gods.  They made them sometimes out of wood, or, stone or precious metals, but they made their own gods.  Men are still doing that to this day.  Sometimes it is a worship of oneself; a worship of one’s family; a worship of one’s country; a worship of wealth; and, indeed, a worship of anything in an effort to find “happiness”.
                Man is ever-searching for “the unknown god” according to scripture.  The scripture tells us that “the world by wisdom knew not God.”  Man is in effect in this wilderness, in this unhappy life and he is unsatisfied.  He is miserable, he is wretched, and he is alienated from the life of God.  He has, therefore, lost all sense of value and does not realize his own true nature nor what his value is.  Man’s greatest need is his need of God and the knowledge of God and sharing in the life of God!  This is epitomized by the immortal statement of Augustine, speaking of God, “thou has made us for thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee”!  Well, the Apostle Paul also directs in this same passage of scripture the reason that man is alienated from the life of God.  There are two reasons given; (1) ignorance; and, (2) blindness:

  1. Ignorance.

        Why is the unbeliever alienated from the life of God?  First, we see through the ignorance that is in them.  It is ignorance that keeps unbelievers alienated from the life of God.  The Lord Jesus Himself says in the seventeenth chapter of the Gospel of John “this is eternal life that they might know Thee, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent”.  Clearly, we are living in a day and age when you almost have to try not to be informed of all sorts of things.  Television, magazines, newspapers, the internet, all bombard us with information, and yet we see right here in this passage of scripture that the unbeliever is ignorant.  What is it that they are ignorant of?  Obviously, as we see from John Chapter seventeen they are ignorant of God Himself.  They do not know Him.  They do not know the Holy Truth.  They do not know that God has poured out His wrath on all of mankind with a worldwide flood and judged and punished man’s disobedience.  They do not know that God will punish sin and they do not know to flee the wrath of God, much less how to flee the coming wrath of God.  Only the TRUTH will help them.  The Truth, is Jesus Himself.  They must come to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ and surrender of their will to His will.

        The unbeliever is ignorant of the fact that God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal unchanging truth, “bore our sin in His own body on the cross that we might be dead unto sin and alive unto righteousness and with His stripes we are healed”.  They are ignorant of the fact that they must appropriate this great sheer gift unto themselves.  They are ignorant of the fact that they cannot do so through good deeds, organizations, or any other human endeavor.  They must cast themselves upon the Lord for He cares for them.  They must confess their sin, surrender their will to the Lord’s will, and place their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ alone for their salvation.  They are ignorant of all of this.

  1. Blindness of their heart.

        Not only are they ignorant, but they are blind in their hearts.  They are literally blind spiritually, but the blindness that is referred to here is really directed at the hardness of their heart.  The actual word that the Apostle used here is not blindness (although indeed we are blind and dead and can’t hear in our natural unbelieving state) but the word actually means “hardness” or “hardening” according to Dr. D. Martyn-Lloyd Jones.  Lloyd-Jones says that “not merely is the heart hard, it has become callus,” the covering of the heart, the lining, has become thick and hard, endurated and fibrous, it is a kind of medical term.  Because of the blindness or hardness of their heart they cannot hear the Truth, they will not receive the Truth, and they have a stony heart.
The good news is they do not have to remain in that condition.  This is the very essence of evangelism.  Those of us who know the Truth must speak the Truth.  When we realize that the unbeliever is dead.  The unbeliever is blind.  The unbeliever is empty in his mind.  His understanding is darkened.  He is actually alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in him or her because of the blindness or hardness of their heart it directs us to use the correct means of evangelism.  That is, God’s power unto salvation!  The True Gospel of Jesus Christ.  This helps us to connect the dots as to what is going on in America today.  The Gospel is not being preached.  Prayer and Bible reading is outlawed in public schools and rapidly becoming so in public places.  No public statements of God are being allowed.  We have so-called political leaders who are acting as if they do not have good sense (and indeed they do not because they are in the vanity of their minds- their minds are empty!)  Thus we see that throughout the scriptures, both the Old Testament and the New Testament, the heart of the problem in America, as well as around the world, is the problem of the heart.  This condition of the heart is always before us as the ultimate trouble with man who is an unbeliever.  In Ezekiel chapter thirty-six (36) verse twenty-six (26), the Lord God gives the promise of the good news that is yet to come.  “A new heart also will I give you and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.”  It is clearly stated in scripture that the heart is no longer supple, it has become like a stone.  The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews references the exodus and the same condition in Hebrews chapter three (3) where he says:
                        “Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith), today if you will hear His voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness: when your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years.  Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said they do always err in their heart; they have not known my ways.  So I swore in My wrath, they shall not enter into My rest.”
Then the writer goes on to say, “take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.  But exhort one another daily, while it is called today; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin for we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast until the end; while it is said today if you will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation.”  There we see from Hebrews chapter three (3) that the difficulty with the unbeliever is not merely his intellect, but his mind is empty, his understanding is darkened because he does not have the life of God, he is alienated from the life of God because he does not have the life of God flowing in him, he is ignorant of the fact that he does not have the life of God flowing in him and his heart is hard and even if he could realize it he will not receive it.

  1. Destination of the Unbeliever - ETERNAL DEATH:

        On December the second, eighteen fifty-five (1855) at the New Park Street Chapel in Southwark England a young preacher by the name of Charles Haden Spurgeon addressed the passage of scripture found in the Gospel of John chapter five (5) verse forty (40), which says “and you will not come unto Me, that you might have life”.  This description is particularly aimed at the hardness of the heart.  C. H Spurgeon went on to talk about the destination of those who “will not come unto Christ that they might have life”:

        In describing the condition of eternal death, Spurgeon said the following: “Oh! had I words that I might this morning attempt to depict to you what eternal death is.  The soul has come before its Maker; the book has been opened; the sentence has been uttered; “Depart ye cursed” has shaken the universe, and made the very spheres dim with the frown of the Creator; the soul has departed to the depths where it is to dwell with others in eternal death. Oh! how horrible is its position now. Its bed is a bed of flame; the sights it sees are murdering ones that affright its spirit; the sounds it hears are shrieks, and wails, and moans, and groans; all that its body knows is the infliction of miserable pain! it has the possession of unutterable woe, of unmitigated misery.  The soul looks up.  Hope is extinct- it is gone.  It looks downward in dread and fear; remorse hath possessed its soul.  It looks on the right hand- and the adamantine walls of fate keep it within its limits of torture. It looks on the left- and there the rampart of blazing fire forbids the scaling ladder of e’en a dreamy speculation of escape.  It looks within and seeks for consolation there, but a gnawing worm hath entered into the soul.  It looks about it- it has no friends to aid, no comforters, but tormentors in abundance.  It knoweth naught of hope of deliverance; it hath heard the everlasting key of destiny turning in its awful wards, and it hath seen God take that key and hurl it down into the depth of eternity never to be found again.  It hopeth not; it knoweth no escape; it guesseth not of deliverance; it pants for death, but death is too much its foe to be there; it longs that non-existence would swallow it up, but this eternal death is worse than annihilation.  It pants for extermination as the laborer for his Sabbath; it longs that it might be swallowed up in nothingness just as would the galley slave long for freedom, but it cometh not- it is eternally dead.  When eternity shall have rolled round multitudes of its everlasting cycles it shall still be dead.  For-ever knoweth no end; eternity cannot be spelled except in eternity.  Still the soul seeth written o’er its head, “Thou art damned forever.”  It heareth howlings that are to be perpetual; it seeth flames which are unquenchable; it knoweth pains that are unmitigated; it hears a sentence that rolls not like the thunder of earth which soon is hushed- but onward, onward, onward, shaking the echoes of eternity- making thousands of years shake again with the horrid thunder of its dreadful sound—“Depart! depart! depart! ye cursed!”  This is the eternal death.

  1. Destination of the Believer - ETERNAL LIFE:

        The good news is there is not eternal death but eternal life in Christ Jesus. If eternal death is terrible, eternal life is blessed!  Spurgeon, in describing the condition of eternal life said the following:   “There has never been and there never will be a man or woman who came to Christ for eternal life who has not received it who will not have received it, [and indeed Spurgeon went on to say] has not already received it, in some sense, and it was manifested to him that he had received it soon after he came.  Let us take one or two texts-“He is able to save to the uttermost them that come unto him.”  Every man who comes to Christ will find that Christ is able to save him- not able to save him a little, to deliver him from a little sin, to keep him from a little trial, to carry him a little way and then to drop him- but able to save him to the uttermost extent of his sin, unto the uttermost length of his trials, the uttermost depths of his sorrows, unto the uttermost duration of his existence. Christ says to everyone who comes to Him, “Come, poor sinner, thou needst not ask whether I have power to save.  I will not ask thee how far thou hast gone into sin; I am able to save thee to the uttermost.”  And there is no one on earth who can go beyond God’s “uttermost.”
        “Now another text:  Him that cometh to me, [mark the promises are nearly always to the coming ones] I will in no wise cast out.”  Every man that comes shall find the door of Christ’s house opened- and the door of His heart too.  Every man that comes- I say it in the broadest sense- shall find that Christ has mercy for him.  The greatest absurdity in the world is to want to have a wider gospel than that recorded in Scripture.  I preach that every man that believes shall be saved- that every man who comes shall find mercy.  .  If a man is not chosen he will never come.  When he does come it is a sure proof that he was chosen.  I say every man who comes to Christ shall be saved.  I can say that as plainly as you can say it.  “Every man that cometh shall be saved, for no man cometh to me except the Father draw him.”
        “But,” says one, “suppose all the world should come, would Christ receive them?”  Certainly, if all came; but then they won’t come.  I tell you all that come- aye, if they were as bad as devils, Christ would receive them; if they had all sin and filthiness running into their hearts as into a common sewer for the whole world, Christ would receive them.”

Spurgeon went on to say in 1855 that “it is a sin that will always be charged to men; when they will not come unto Christ it is the sin that keeps them away.  He who does not preach that, I fear is not faithful to God in his conscience.  Go home, then, with this thought; “I am by nature so perverse that I will not come unto Christ, and that wicked perversity of my nature is my sin.  I deserve to be sent to Hell for it.”  And if the thought does not humble you, the Spirit using it, no other can.  God humble us all. Amen.”

  1. Come Unto Jesus

We have seen the multitude of problems facing America, and indeed other countries in the world.  We lurch from one crisis to another seemingly with no plan or purpose as to how to solve the problems and how to get out of them.  We have seen that the problems that are facing America are simply the results of the ungodliness that has grown exponentially within our country, as well as other countries.  Identifying the problem also in this case identifies the solution.  “Walk not as unbelievers walk in the vanity of their minds, having their understanding darkened and being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them because of the blindness of their heart.”  The solution is to come to Jesus.  All who will come can come.  Pray that many will come.  Pray for all of those in authority over us that many will come.  Pray that they will surrender their will to the Lord’s will and place their trust in Jesus alone for their salvation.  That their minds will no longer be empty and their understanding darkened.  Pray that God would cause them to be born again and to impart in them His own life and make them partakers of the divine nature.  Jesus Himself said “Come unto Me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me for I am meek and lowly in heart and you shall find rest unto your souls for My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”  (Matthew 11:28-30)  You do not want to experience eternal death.  You do not want to experience the wrath to come.  Flee to Jesus.  And pray that there would be a great awakening in this country and that many would come to Jesus and receive the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

  1. Conclusion
He is able to make all grace abound toward you so that you having all sufficiency in all things may abound unto every good work.  “Now unto Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to God our Savior, who alone is wise, be glory and majesty and dominion and power both now and forever more.” Amen!

Your Friend and Brother in Christ,
Bill Gray

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Strange Fire – A Call to Respond – John MacArthur

Monday, October 21, 2013

First Sermon Jitters: Help for Aspiring Preachers

The first sermon I ever preached was in a little country church close to my childhood home. I think I made three points: 1) Read your Bible. 2) Pray. 3) Tell people about Jesus. After twenty minutes, I had said everything I knew, so I concluded with a prayer and sat down.
Looking back, I realize what a poor job I did. Where did I go wrong? For starters, I just said basic truths but I didn’t really teach Scripture. I made obvious statements, told a few illustrations, and read several different verses to (supposedly) prove my points. Additionally, I was a poor communicator. I spoke in a monotone voice, and most of the time I either looked down at my notes or up at the lights.
But here’s one thing that, by God’s grace, I got right that morning: I tried. I realized I had a responsibility to speak up for God, so I gave it my best. To use a golf analogy, I hit many more hooks and slices than straight shots. In fact, I almost always wandered off into the trees, leaving the people wondering “Where is he going?” Thankfully, I don’t think I hurt anybody with an errant shot. In fact, the “gallery” was quite patient with me, even offering encouraging words as they left. Every teacher of the Bible has to start somewhere, and I’m thankful the pastor of that church gave me the opportunity.
You might be an aspiring preacher who is terribly nervous about the thought of teaching the Bible to a group of people. Perhaps you are a Bible student in a college or seminary preparing to be a pastor, but your opportunity has not yet come. You might be a middle-aged man who has recently sensed that the Lord is prompting you to preach. Whatever your situation, I want to encourage you to give it a try, but perhaps you would benefit from a few tips to make your first experience (and subsequent experiences) go better than mine:

1. Take advantage of less formal teaching opportunities.

I hope you are in a church where learning happens beyond the formal sermon. Perhaps your church has Sunday school or small groups. If so, I’m sure there is an opportunity for dialogue about the Bible in those more casual settings. There’s your chance! I don’t mean that you should all of a sudden stand up in front of everybody and break forth into a forty-minute monologue about the verse or passage at hand. Instead, seek to edify your brothers and sisters by sharing your insights. You may even find out in advance what will be studied, and come prepared to share something that you learned. Speak with zeal, but humbly, seeking to help people. Showing off how much you know is never right (1 Corinthians 8:1).
Where else might you find “less formal teaching opportunities”? The majority of churches are frequently in need of people to fill in and teach the children. This is not an insignificant event—it is vitally important—and kids are often very gracious and patient with teachers. You might find similar grace in a nursing home, prison, and surely in your home during family worship.
Here’s the point: If you desire to teach Scripture, don’t wait around for the pastor’s vacation. He might ask somebody else! Eventually, your opportunity might come, and by teaching in the smaller settings, you will prepare yourself for the bigger venues.

2. Meditate on your text far longer than on commentaries.

Some men are so unsure of their Bible interpretation skills that they too quickly go and look at what others have said about the verse or passage they are to teach. Perhaps they say to themselves, after only a few minutes of gut-wrenching meditation, “Well, I guess I better go see what John MacArthur says. I mean, who am I to say what this passage means?” Who are you? You are a Spirit-indwelt believer who is capable, with some patience and a careful reading of the passage, to understand the Bible without having to be overly dependent upon the gurus of the day.
I only speak from experience, but an easy way to be a dull communicator is to spend too much time reading what others have said about the Bible instead of studying Scripture itself. I agree with J.W. Alexander’s assessment:
  • If an hour is to be spent, either in reading and collating more of the text, or in reading human comments, surely the former is the way which gives more light. What is acquired in this way also makes a peculiar impression, and is more truly one’s own. It also carries with it a savour of divine authority.[1] [2]
This doesn’t rule out the use of commentaries, but it is a reminder that we have God on our side ready to help us understand what He has spoken.
Prayerfully wrestle with the text. Read it over and over and over. Try to determine the author’s burden, and how he supports what he is saying. And yes, glean insights from others, but your listeners will benefit from your teaching far more if you have personally mined the text for its treasures.

3. Teach one thing, not a bunch of things.

My first sermon was about three things, and I’m guessing most people remembered almost nothing. Wouldn’t it be better to drive home the main point of the passage? The key is to make the heart of your message the point of the text under consideration.[2] Have an outline, but be sure the sub-points and illustrations support the main idea.
Also, beware of preaching the point of the passage without reference to the work of Christ. As you call people to obey, remind them that they must look away from themselves to Christ for the motivation and strength to do what God says (Titus 2:11-14).[3] [3]
Rambling off “proof texts” is usually not helpful. I say “usually” because occasionally you will want to help the people see a theme as it works itself through the Bible, but even then, have the verses ready to quote without expecting the people to turn to several different places in their Bibles. Perhaps you might say something like, “I want to read a few verses to support this idea. You don’t need to turn to these verses.”
A thirty-five minute sermon that makes a single point and drives home two or three principles of application would be far better than a fifty-minute sermon which says too much, lacks coherence and a point, and bores the people for the last fifteen minutes.

4. Amplify your comments with colorful words and helpful illustrations.

Consider the difference between these two statements:
Jesus did not spend his first night on earth in a clean place.
Jesus did not spend his first night on earth in a sanitary hospital with nurses checking on Him every thirty minutes.
Both say the same thing, but the second sentence is more colorful and potentially memorable. Jesus was the master of teaching this way, frequently using objects and people around Him to illuminate the truth. He spoke of birds when He addressed the necessity of not worrying but seeking first the kingdom of God. He used the imagery of shepherds and sheep to illustrate His relationship to His followers. He compared sheep and goats when speaking of the final judgment. Jesus was not a boring teacher! We should seek to adopt His methods.[4] [4]
What about using quotes in sermons? I’ve looked back over some of my old sermon notes and realized that I occasionally had two or three sizeable quotes within a single sermon. I’m ashamed to say that I have occasionally added a quote not because I thought it really helped the people understand the passage, but because that section in my outline needed to be longer. I’m embarrassed just thinking about it. Beware of pointlessly using quotes to fill in time. Take special care not to use too many quotations (especially longer readings). Your sermon might go too long, and you will certainly put a few people to sleep!

5. Practice out loud what you will say, as you will say it.

There are at least two benefits to this: First, verbalizing your thoughts is a helpful way to work out and even test what you are thinking. Sometimes what seems solid on paper doesn’t communicate as well audibly. Like the Apostle Paul, we should want to communicate the message clearly (Colossians 4:4).
Second, practicing how to say things can make you a better communicator. Some might argue, “I don’t think the Apostle Paul ever went off into a private place and worked on his voice inflection!” Probably not, though we cannot really know for sure. However, there is no sin in working on your physical presentation. You can trust in the power of the gospel and at the same time work on preaching it well.
Somebody once walked in on me preaching through a passage of Scripture in my office, and I was embarrassed! Looking back, I shouldn’t have been, because I was sincerely trying to get the message right in order to benefit the souls of the people I would address later that morning.

6. If you use notes, don’t constantly look at them.

There are different opinions among good men about the amount of notes (if any!) you should have in front of you when you teach, but most agree with this: Engaging the people with eye contact is vital to the communication process. Bryan Chapell writes, “The eyes can spit fire, pour out compassion, and preach Christ in you . . . . No one else talks to them without looking at them—unless to insult them.”[5] [5]
One of the reasons a preacher might look at his notes too much is because he doesn’t want to get the content wrong. That is admirable, and if we could only choose between hearing the truth versus sitting under a dynamic presentation, we should pick the solid content every time. However, with a little bit of preparation, and by renouncing the prideful desire to be seen as a flawless orator, we can give the listeners biblical content in a way that engages them.

7. Avoid imitating your favorite preacher’s style.

The Internet is jam-packed with free downloadable messages from the most recognized preachers of our day. Perhaps you have your favorites, but beware: If you listen to one man often, when you preach you might find yourself not only seeking to imitate his carefulness with Scripture (which is good), but you may also find yourself attempting to sound like him (not good)!
The next time you are in a room full of people where numerous conversations are happening, notice how many different ways people communicate. Some individuals are very animated, while others are calm. God has created each of us as unique individuals with distinct personalities. The same is true in preaching. Each man should use the voice God has given him, and gestures should be natural, not forced and copied from your favorite preacher. The more you preach, the more comfortable you will become in your own skin. Your idiosyncrasies will shine through, and that’s not always a bad thing!

8. Care for the people you will teach before you teach them something.

I once attended a Sunday morning service at a church in Michigan. After hearing the sermon, I remember thinking, “That was okay.” As I was walking out, I met a few people and was struck by some of the comments about the sermon. Not only did the people say the message was helpful, but almost everybody mentioned how much their pastor loved them. He was not a charismatic expositor, but that didn’t matter. He was known for his extravagant love for the church, which caused the people to listen eagerly and gain far more out of the message than a first-time visitor would. I learned a valuable lesson: Average preachers become powerful instruments in God’s hands when they are known for their love.
Granted, your first sermon may be in front of people you have never met before, but we should all strive to be like that “average” preacher in Michigan. We should be able to say with the Apostle Paul, “Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:8).
Are you known for your love? Do people think of you as a good listener? If you do get to serve your church through your preaching, make sure they remember how you have served them in other ways.

9. Pray.

And I don’t mean right before you preach! That’s a given. I’m talking about being a man who is regularly conversing with the Lord about the passage before him, calling on the Lord for clarity about the text, asking the Lord to write it on his heart, and begging the Lord to grant insight about how to apply it to the people who will receive the teaching.
Jesus, the greatest preacher ever, was a man of prayer (Luke 5:16). We must not be anything less, or else we will be ineffective preachers. J.W. Alexander warns, “Let every preacher despair of delivering that discourse with true, natural, and effective warmth, which he has prepared with leisurely coldness.”[6] [6]

10. Try again.

I hope I’m a better preacher now than when I first preached years ago. I had better be! But I only improved because of taking advantage of subsequent opportunities. I’m so thankful that first congregation was mostly positive toward my efforts, even though I preached a pitiful sermon. Let’s be realistic: Most struggle to preach well at first, and the majority of us will never be invited to speak at a big conference because of our preaching prowess. But that’s okay, because God doesn’t require greatness, just faithfulness (2 Timothy 2:15; 4:1-5).
Keep trying. Work hard to get the content right and the aspects of good communication will probably develop. I say “probably” because there is the possibility that you will consistently struggle in the more formal situations. What then? It might be an indication that your teaching might go better in different settings (Bible studies, counseling, small groups, etc.). Don’t despair, though, because God might have designed you to have a significant impact upon people’s lives one person, or one small group, at a time.
A Final Plea
If you are an aspiring preacher, and the opportunity arrives to open up the Bible and tell people what it says and why it matters for their lives, go for it! If you are a pastor, let me encourage you to give other men in your church the opportunity to teach the Bible. Your willingness to subject the congregation to a beginner may give wings to a life of faithful ministry. Even men who have preached thousands of sermons were given their first opportunity. Pour on the encouragement and see what God does.

Copyright © 2013  Steve Burchett
Christian Communicators Worldwide, Inc.
Permission granted for not-for-sale reproduction in unedited form
including author's name, title, complete content, copyright and weblink.
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Saturday, October 19, 2013

Pastoral Lessons From the Church as a Building

The New Testament often describes the church as a building. Jesus is the “living stone” that makes our foundation, but all believers are also “living stones…being built up as a spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:5).
Paul uses this same metaphor and stresses the progressive nature of it. He writes that believers are “built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (Eph 2:20). But then he notes that, “the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit” (v. 21-22).

In other words, the work is on going. We ARE being built…right now the work is continuing. And if the church is an ongoing building project, that affects the way pastors view their work. In fact, this is exactly Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 3:9-14). The work is ongoing, and that should seriously affect the way pastors view their work.
Here are eight brief ways the building metaphor should affect how church leaders view their ministry:

  1. It’s not finished yet. God is actually working in a supernatural way in our midst right now. His work is on hearts, he is the architect, and he is using the leaders of his church as contractors. In other words, by working with Christians, we are working with God’s building project.
  2. We are all works in progress. The church is built with people, by people. We are the living stones. None of us are completed, and this should cause us to show extreme patience toward others, and extreme urgency with our own sanctification.
  3. Of course there are problems in the church. Because of the ongoing and incomplete work in the church, there are obviously going to be things that don’t work right. If you are building a house and you haven’t turned the water on in the kitchen, obviously the dishwasher is not going to work, so don’t be flabbergasted when you press the start button and nothing happens (or the kitchen floods). In the church, it is a little silly to be shocked that some things are not done well, or not done properly, or are done with faulty motivations. There are going to be contradictions because the work is not complete yet.
  4. The people are all important, in that we are all working to build. We are all on a building committee. The point of all of our theology is to glorify God, but in the church he is glorified on hearts of flesh. In other words, his glory is seen in transformed lives, and thus we pour out ourselves on the work, which is to say that we pour out ourselves in discipleship.
  5. The work is global. The same work is being done in other street corners in your city, as well as other parts of the world. We should realize that not every church (on the outside) looks like ours. But on the inside, there is similarity, because we have the same builder.
  6. The building is historic. We lean on what happened in the past. We are built on the foundation of what has gone before, and thus We have continuity with generations that have gone before us. We are not reinventing ourselves any more than a builder would change his entire approach to construction half-way through a project. We stand on the shoulders of those who were building the same building before we got here.
  7. There is no end in sight. We don’t finish our corner of work and go home. There is always another room to add or another project to finish. In our earthly life, we will not see the finished product. That should (again) give us patience and endurance, as well as a long-term view of our ministry.
  8. Only faith sees the building that God intends. With our own eyes, we cannot see the completed work. But with faith, we know that God is going to be faithful himself to carry the work to completion on the day when Jesus returns. In the meantime, we labor and build by faith, not by sight.
Are there any other implications from the building metaphor that come to mind?

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Critical Value of the Bible – Part Two

Oct NL_0.preview.jpg The entire Bible is prophecy, with God both telling forth and foretelling . God’s telling forth through His prophets includes all that He wants mankind to know and do, including His attributes, His commandments, His instructions, His corrections, His blessings, and so forth.
Beyond the aspect of proving that God exists and that His Word is His direct communication to mankind (as we noted last month), foretelling is a way that God informs and in some cases warns His people of things to come. Two examples among hundreds that could be given from the Old Testament are in Genesis 15, in which God tells an aging Abraham that he will have a son and that his descendants (some 400 years later) will take the land that God promised to him, and  Jeremiah 25, which  contains God’s prophecy of the Babylonian captivity of the Israelites that would last 70 years.
The New Testament contains hundreds more prophecies, many of which have come to pass, with some yet to be fulfilled. They all underscore the critical value of the Bible for the upcoming generation. How so? Well, it’s pretty simple.
If a believer reads the Bible consistently and diligently (meaning seriously, and not in a “here a verse there a verse, whenever the mood strikes” manner) and is not being spoonfed but is feeding himself on the Word of truth, he will be acutely aware of prophetic events when they take place in his lifetime or as they begin to make their appearance. Without such an awareness, a believer becomes vulnerable to seduction by unbiblical movements, teachings, practices, and agendas that may appear to be  good but are, as we are told in Proverbs:14:12,  “…a way which seemeth  right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” Death in Scripture doesn’t always mean physical death, but it does always involve separation. In physical death, the soul and spirit are separated from the body. In the proverb just quoted, it means a separation from the truth.
As a consequence, deception runs rampant because without the knowledge of what the Bible clearly says, a believer won’t recognize the unbiblical agendas mankind is promoting. For example, the world is into different forms of preserving and restoring the planet, from warnings of so-called global warming to the promotion of population control to worries regarding a dwindling food and potable water supply. These issues are high on the world’s agendas because the earth’s survival is their only hope. That’s all that the world has with regard to the future.
Biblical Christians should also have concerns about the stewardship of the land that God has blessed us with, but within the context of what the Bible teaches will take place. Then why do most professing Christians support or conform to various restoration agendas that are at odds with what the Bible teaches?
For example, amillennialists, those Christians who reject the literal thousand-year reign of Christ on this planet, see the earth and the Kingdom in the process of being restored before Christ physically returns. The claim is that Satan has been bound and that things are getting better and better. Amillennialism is the most common eschatological belief among professing Christians. It is the doctrinal view of Roman Catholics, Greek & Russian Orthodox, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Anglicans, Episcopalians, Church of Christ, some Independent Baptists, and most Calvinists (with some notable exceptions).
Kingdom/dominionists, most of whom are charismatics and Pentecostals, believe that Christ cannot return until His Kingdom is restored through an army of new apostles and prophets. They declare that those positions are being filled by the young people of the upcoming generation.
Then there are those Christians who are into other forms of restorationism such as Rick Warren’s Global P.E.A.C.E. Plan, the social gospel of World Vision, and the Religious Left’s socialism (aka Progressive Christianity). The goal is to solve the world’s problems of poverty, social injustice, environmental abuse, and political corruption through religious ecumenism and political activism. As the church seeks to correct the so-called social injustice in the world, there has been an increase in the support of “Christian Palestinianism” by young people. Some very influential evangelical leaders are accusing Israel of being an illegitimate government in the land that belongs to the Palestinians. This is the slippery slope that fosters anti-Semitism. In the words of arch heretic, former Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “We want to see an end of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the oppression of its people.”
The Scriptures are completely barren of support for any of those agendas. What all of these movements have in common is a shared view of the Bible in one or more of the following ways: 1) ignorance of its teaching, or 2) distortion of the Word to accommodate their agendas, and/or 3) rejection of its teachings as God’s words. If a believer is unaware of the eschatology of the Bible (the teachings of the end times, which are hardly complex or esoteric), he or she could find themselves in the position of actually contributing to a program or agenda that is contrary to what the Bible says will take place.
For example, the biblical timetable tells us that the next kingdom on earth will not be the Kingdom of Christ but the kingdom of the Antichrist , which will last for seven years. So, am I implying that some Christians, including true believers, may be supporting the development of the religion and kingdom of the Antichrist? No, I’m not implying such a thing; I’m saying it straight out—because that scenario is already taking place. And the fundamental reason that such Christians have been seduced into working for the Adversary is because they don’t know what the Bible says because they are not reading the Bible. Or they are not believing what they are reading and consequently they are not doing what it says.
In our August newsletter, the feature article is a reprint from Dave Hunt’s book Countdown to the Second Coming . In it, Dave points out some characteristics of the Antichrist that most people don’t realize. The Antichrist won’t first appear as, in Dave’s words, “a sinister man who exudes evil from every pore.” He will be Satan’s human masterpiece transformed into an angel of light and a minister of righteousness, the ultimate false Christ. The Scriptures teach that true believers will be raptured before the Antichrist is revealed—so, no worries, right? Wrong. The preparation of the religion and the kingdom of the Antichrist, which precedes his being revealed, has been in the works since Satan’s deception and seduction of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. And it is increasing in our day at an exponential rate. This is what Jesus indicated would take place when His disciples asked Him about the last days just prior to His coming. He characterized those days with this warning: “ Take heed that no man deceive you ” (Matthew:24:4). In verse 24 He adds, “ For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect .”
Jesus’ words in Luke:18:8 give us further confirmation that the apostasy will be in full bloom at His coming: “ Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth? ” The Apostle Paul gives us a major reason why the apostasy will develop at an astonishing rate: “ For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables ” (2 Timothy:4:3-4). They (meaning some and possibly most Christians) will not endure sound doctrine, that is, the teachings of Scripture. That being the case, they are going to buy into whatever feels right to their flesh. They’ve obviously drifted away from God’s Word (Hebrews:2:1), often a consequence when one’s manner of living conflicts with the Bible’s admonitions. In any case, they have rejected the truth, or they may never have known it in the first place.
Paul’s words of warning to the Ephesian elders (Acts:20:27-31) couldn’t be more applicable for a time such as ours when biblical discernment is more necessary than ever. Let’s consider these verses line by line and pray that the Holy Spirit will help us to take them to heart and show each of us how we can apply them.
27: For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God .
All the counsel of God is found from Genesis through Revelation. If we’re not familiar with it, it won’t help us.
28: Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood .
We may not be overseers of a fellowship, but we might be dads, granddads, moms, grandmas, big brothers, big sisters, aunts, uncles, those who have some responsibility or at least the opportunity of spiritually feeding their own flock.
29: For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock .
The gravity of Paul’s concern here is underscored by his choice of words, inspired by the Holy Spirit: “grievous wolves…not sparing the flock.”
30: Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them .
A mob of highly visible leaders who call themselves evangelicals but who are “speaking perverse things” (unbiblical teachings and practices) are working overtime to draw away disciples after themselves. Many of those who are being seduced are our brothers and sisters in Christ, young and old alike.
31: Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears .
I used to think, Paul…what’s your problem? You don’t have to deal with TBN…Charisma Magazine and Publishing…The New Apostolic Reformation…Christianity Today (or more often, AntiChristianity Today)…so-called Christian Psychology…Replacement Theology…Charismania…Hyper-Calvinism…The Emerging Church…Latter Rain/Manifest Sons of God…Joel’s Army…The Contemplative Movement…The Message “Bible”…The Purpose-Driven Marketing Movement…The Christian Right…The Christian Left (Progressive Christianity, as mentioned) …and on and on and on…. Then it dawned on me what I had missed. It’s not primarily what Paul had to deal with, but it’s his heart in this for his brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s his love for his fellow believers who could be seduced and have their faith shipwrecked and their fruitfulness devastated. That should cause all of us to search our own hearts as the apostasy ensnares believers, particularly those in our upcoming generation. I hope and pray that we will search our hearts regarding Paul’s tearful plea.
I also covet your prayers for the spiritual success of the Bible Survival Series. Obviously, the spiritual outcome for the upcoming generation does not depend upon it. But that’s not our deal—it’s God’s. We are simply planters and waterers. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians:3:7, “ So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase .”
The things that are taking place in the world and in the church do seem, at times, to be overwhelming. That’s because they are overwhelming and the situation is getting worse. But again, that’s God’s problem, not ours. He can handle it. We can’t. He could turn it all around. We can’t. Although I don’t see any indication from Scripture that this is part of His plan before Christ returns, He nevertheless has given us work to do, which I believe is essentially a rescue operation . We’re to go about informing people of God’s truth wherever and whenever He provides the opportunities. It will not be by our own might or power but by His Spirit. Whether young adults or anyone else, we are only going to reach those who are willing to receive the truth. That may mean one or a few at a time, whether it’s believing the gospel for salvation or saving a person from a false teaching that destroys his or her fruitfulness.
Knowing and doing what the Bible says is at the heart of its critical value. Yes, true faith is drying up all over the world, just as Jesus declared would take place prior to His return. On the other hand, the psalmist, in Psalm 1 gives us the prevention program that will keep us spiritually hydrated:
Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish .
The Bible’s encouragement in this psalm or anywhere else throughout God’s Word is not altered by what the world or the Adversary is foisting upon believers. It is only conditional upon a believer’s obedience to diligently and faithfully read and do what the Scriptures instruct. And when that has been done, “...he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season.”    TBC