Here are my notes from the last session of the T4G 2010 conference, a gracious exhortation from C. J. Mahaney to pastors based on 2 Timothy 4:
Some pastors are remarkable gifts to the church, with massive intellects and unusual insights, but most of us are ordinary pastors with ordinary gifts & ordinary areas of spheres and abilities to serve. We’re consistently preaching average sermons Sunday after Sunday, without writing best selling books or having thousands downloading our sermons from around the world or being recognized as we walk down the street. All of us are called and gifted, but not unusually so. But ordinary pastors are predictably tempted to unfavorably compare themselves to these unusual men, and become discouraged. Too often ordinary pastors are discouraged pastors.
To combat this temptation and discouragement, we must turn to a true definition, a true charge, of pastoral ministry. It’s not about gifting or even fruitfulness: all we are called to be is faithful to this charge.
Three Ways a Pastor Can Be Faithful To His Call
One: Be Faithful to the Message 2 Timothy 4:2
Never assume your people have an exhaustive knowledge of the Gospel.
You must resolve to be UNoriginal to remain fixed on the matter of first importance, the Gospel.
The simple Gospel might not look like much, (like one pastor’s first car ( a pink 1957 Ford)), but there is power under the hood. You can say “I can do this! I can preach this Gospel!”
Once Charles Spurgeon’s grandfather remarked, “My grandson may preach the Gospel better than I can, but he cannot preach a better Gospel.”
Faithfulness to the message requires knowing your people, using pastoral wisdom and discernment. That is what Paul means by reprove, rebuke, exhort. You cannot prepare your teaching in isolation from your flock.
Pastoral ministry requires complete patience (verse 2). If we are not patient with our people then we are not being faithful to this charge. Don’t let faith in your people become frustration with your people.
How do you cultivate patience? 1. By marveling at God’s patience with you. 2. By realizing sanctification is a loooong process. 3. By marveling that people who heard you last week actually are coming back to hear you this week. 4. By realizing that many of God’s metaphors are based on agriculture, on timespans of seasons & years. 5. By not assuming you are sufficiently patient.
Two: Be Faithful to your Ministry 2 Timothy 2:5
We are called to relentless faithfulness, today, tomorrow, every day, for all your life.
One of the hardest and most crucial tasks for any ministry is just to keep doing the same things year after year, instead of being distracted by doing “new” or “better” things.
Three: Be Faithful to the Savior 2 Timothy 2:8
Look forward with an eternal perspective to your reward as an ordinary pastor.
On that Day there will be a parade of ordinary pastors, who you have never heard of, who will hear Christ say, “Well done, good & faithful pastor.”
For further reading: Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson by D. A. Carson
This afternoon’s session at the T4G 2010 Conference was by Josh Harris, pastor & author, based on his new book Dug Down Deep: Helping Others Build Their Lives on Christ-Centered Doctrine.
Evangelical Christianity in America today is now characterized as moralistic,therapeutic deism. People think it’s all about doing good things, getting their problems fixed, under the eye of a benevolent but uninvolved God.
The question is: What are we going to do about it? What is our reaction?
Do we see the contemporary Christian landscape as sheep without a shepherd who need the truth?
As we look at luke 6, we see that Jesus faced the same sort of problem that we face today, people who call Him Lord but do not do the things He said. People do not know the Gospel, so they don’t know how to apply the reality of the Gospel to their lives.
What did Jesus do with these people? He spoke grace to them, shepherded them, and that is what we are called to do. Pastors, don’t study Barna, study your people, the individual people that God has brought to you. Here are four points as you shepherd your people in the life-transforming reality of the Gospel.
One: Tell Them Simply
When Jesus spoke to the immature, He spoke simply. Don’t preach your message for fellow pastors. You can feed a child a steak, but if you love him you will cut it up into bite sized pieces.
Two: Tell Them Why
Let them know the real benefits of a transformed life. You can do this without pandering to selfishness. Tell them why doctrine matters to real life. Tell them the storms are coming to their lives, and what they believe about God & Jesus will make all the difference. Show them that we are all theologians. Make them confront the questions: Do you see the foundation you are building on? Do you see how you will be swept away if you keep clinging to your incorrect beliefs about yourself & God?
Three: Tell Them How
The parable of the two houses in Luke 6 shows us a three step process that we should teach and model:
Step One: Come to Jesus– make it clear there is no solid foundation except in the person & work of Jesus. The point of all theological doctrine is to know and obey this Person. Not ritual or rule keeping or anything else: all else is sand. Jesus is the Rock.
What are the popular false foundations in your church, the things that people functionally stake their lives on, have confidence in, even if they would say that Jesus is their Lord? Ask people: What is special about our church? It probably reveals your false foundation. In reality, nothing makes us special, all we have is Christ. Christ is the only foundation. Are we training our people to be most passionate about their relationship with Jesus?
Step Two: Listen to His Words– We serve a God Who speaks. People want to separate doctrinal truth and relational intimacy into two tracks, but correct doctrine is relational. There is no relationship without knowing God. If you want to feel deeply, you must think deeply. The narration of the facts is history; the narration of the facts with the interpretation of the facts is doctrine.
Step Three: Put His Words into Practice– we often see people with foundations of sand as people who do not KNOW doctrine, but Jesus says it is people who do not FOLLOW doctrine.
What do people see as the word picture of sound doctrine? A fight, a trophy? Or building?
Doctrine is for building your life. It has to be put into practice. Doctrine doesn’t end when people shut their Bibles and walk out of the church building.
That’s why Paul said, “Watch your life & your doctrine closely.”. Your life must be a testimony to the importance of sound doctrine.
Four: Tell Them Compassionately
We often learn to rebuke like Jesus but not love like Jesus.
Will we gently and compassionately show them the importance of digging down deep?
Will we be an example with our lives?
My life was changed because I had a pastor (C. J. Mahaney) that not only taught sound doctrine, but lived it and showed me his life, his house that he had built on sound doctrine.
There is a whole generation of churchgoers who have not seen a life based on a solid foundation, lived with humility and integrity.
They need to see such a life, they need someone who will let them inside their house, jump on the floor and see that it really is firm, to see that it stands in the worst of storms. They need to see the value and goodness of building their life on Jesus Christ.
Will you be that person?
Mark Chapter 4:26-29 The Theology of Sleep
My confidence is in the Lord & in His power, not in me.
The thinking that more persuasive words and ingenuity result in more conversions inevitably result in adjusting (and eventually corrupting) the Gospel.
Even though massive crowds followed Jesus, only a few were true believers. In Luke 13:23 one of his disciples even asked about so few being saved. That’s how the flesh always responds to evangelistic disappointment, that somehow the fault must be ours, maybe we are out of touch, maybe we aren’t responding to their needs, we’ve got to change, somehow we’ve got to overcome the sinner’s resistance by repackaging the message.
Entrepreneurial types attempt to change the results by changing the message.
The wonder of the gospel is this: you sow the seed, you go to sleep, and it grows. (Mark 4:27)
The thief on the cross saw a beaten, rejected, half naked dying man on a cross, and believed. There was nothing impressive or convincing in that moment. The only explanation is the Spirit of God. There is no human explanation for the thief’s change of mind, heart & will. In my mind that is the greatest human conversion moment in the New Testament.
We may be the means but we are not the power. We are the secondary agency.
Spiritual regeneration is divinely automatic, but there are certain attitudes that must be present in evangelism: humility, obedience, diligence, confidence.
Humility– in parable of sower there is coming a massive supernatural harvest (100 fold is way beyond humanly possible yields). Note there are no adjectives to describe the sower. No qualifications. There’s nothing in the story about the sower, he just throws the seed. The story is not about the sower.
The seed– the harvest cannot happen without the Gospel. Why did Jesus tell people not to tell people about healings, not to tell people He was the messiah, because the Gospel isn’t miracles, it is the Gospel that Jesus was crucified and risen for our sins, and after that happened Jesus commanded them to preach it to all, for it is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1)
So, the sower isn’t important, you can’t change the seed? What about the soil? Do you try to change the soils? You can’t. So I don’t ever appeal to the emotions or will, because the fallen human soul is a “fertile ground for religiosity”. I always appeal to the mind, to their understanding.
Joy is no indication of saving faith.
True conversion is marked by broken hearted love for God. (Edwards)
Obedience: Parable of the lamp: We are humble because we know we cannot change the heart, only God’s light can. We are obedient because we are the means by which the light comes.
We don’t have the power to change hearts, but we have the responsibility to shine the light that changes hearts.
Diligence: those who sow sparingly reap sparingly. Your usefulness and your eternal reward is proportionate to your diligence.
Confidence: we know that God has already determined the outcome, that the Kingdom will grow & flourish. (parable of mustard seed)
This morning’s first session was taught by Thabiti Anyabwile. He introduced himself by saying: My name Thabiti means “Who’d I tick off to get the 8am time slot?”
Christianity transforming culture is an important & huge idea, but one fraught with complexities and ambiguities and pitfalls.
How do we define culture? What type of culture are trying to influence or engage? Pop, ethnic, political, high, or all of the above?
What is the objective? How do we define when we’ve been successful?
Are these even the right questions? Is engaging the culture even something we’ve been called to do?
While we’re busy engaging the culture, we may miss the more fundamental mission of embodying the Gospel.
His purpose– Colossians 1:24-29 Make the Word of God fully known in order to present the entire church whole, mature in Christ
Paul repeatedly refers to his purpose throughout his epistles
But Paul warns that there can be types of teaching, ministry that sound right but are wrong, making us think that the Gospel is about something other than Paul’s purpose.
How do we prevent such “mission drift?” by ruthlessly rooting our purpose in the Gospel message, in the Scriptures themselves.
Paul writes primarily to the church, not the culture, the redeemed, not the unredeemed.
Paul always pushes the Gospel to its radical implications to the redeemed (like to Philemon), not to a Roman official.
He engages the culture by engaging the church.
How do we get people rooted & grounded in Christ (Colossians 2:6-7)? The simple answer is the Gospel (2:9-15). We need no other philosophy or ideas.
The basic question: are we captured by Christ or captured by the world’s ideas? (Colossians 2:8). Paul sets the Gospel over & against the ideas of the world, it is a Biblical antithesis. There is a dangerous tendency to underestimate the influence of the world on us as we attempt to engage it. Satan is always trying to make the world look innocuous, that there is a spiritually safe, neutral ground between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world. James 4. Friendship with the world is enmity with God. 1 John 2 Do not love the world Romans 12 do not be conformed to the world
A Christian who is unaware of the dangers of the culture is being de-Christianized by the forces of the culture.
Colossians 2:16-23 do not let any religious or cultural practices become your standard, but only Christ.
Every human culture is fundamentally apostate. We are all saved from the apostate culture we were in, and we should be like snakes shedding our old skin of culture.
What does it mean to be God’s people? Does it not mean that God gives us a new culture, a way of acting, relating, being? That is what God did with Abraham and his people. Did that process stop with the people of Israel? Look at what God did in the book of Acts with the church.
Paul is saying, “We were culturally Jews, that was our culture, our practice, but now our practice is Christ.”
Accommodating the Gospel to any culture by necessity must diminish the Gospel.
The true church is multiethnic but not multicultural.
Colossians 3:1-3 set your minds on Christ, not on things of the earth
Earthly gaze results in earthly living, Christward gaze results in Christlike living.
Ok, I promised myself I would not try to blog any of the presentations at the Together For the Gospel 2010 Conference today and instead just focus on listening. BUT…. Al Mohler’s presentation tonight was so full of good information, and I took so many notes, and I thought, “I want to write this down, and there’s just too much information I want to share with people, and it won’t fit on just a facebook status update, and….” So…. here we go…
Tonight’s presentation by Dr. Al Mohler focused on recognizing some of the different ways that the Gospel, Biblical Christianity, gets off track. Just like an airplane can get off track, on a wrong trajectory, and end up crashing, the Gospel message, a person, or a church can also get off trajectory, subtly at first, but eventually with disastrous results. Here is his taxonomy of the different trajectories toward an adjusted, altered, and eventually wrecked Gospel. Everything in “quotes” are exact or nearly exact quotes from Mohler, the rest is my summation and paraphrase of his points.
Liberal theology, neo-orthodoxy, and the like, where in the name of logic and rationalism the Gospel is stripped of anything supernatural. It is “demythologized” so that it can be believed by “modern” man. The result is that “theological liberals want to rescue Christianity, but they instead end up burying it.”
In contrast to modernists that want to establish that Biblical theology is false, post modernists reject objective truth altogether, so that Biblical truth is neither true nor false, but simply has subjective value. “Truth” is considered to be of value simply in its metanarrative meaning. While Biblical theology’s cognitive doctrine is concerned with objective truth, and liberal theology is concerned with existential emotion and experience, post-moderns see doctrine as merely a cultural linguistic system to hold meaning, which can twist and shift into anything they want it to be.
These philosophers are repulsed by Biblical concepts such as hell, depravity, & atonement, so they appeal that there is a “higher morality” than the so-called primitive systems of Christianity. C. S. Lewis referred to this as “chronological snobbery.” (that just because something is ancient that it is inferior) In essence, these philosophers demand that God conform to their own notion of fairness. However, as Dr. Mohler points out, “People want God to be fair, but “Perfect” is infinitely superior to fair, & Perfect cannot be interrogated by fair.” (meaning that our imperfect limited concept of fairness as fallen finite humans cannot judge the fairness of an infinite perfect being)
Where we only find ourselves as sick, but not sinful, and the Bible is self-help, but not a source of external rescue from hopeless depravity.
Ever since Genesis 3 when Adam & Eve tried to make coverings of fig leaves, we have always tried to fix things our way instead of beginning with God’s way. The pragmatists battle cry is “Let’s solve it! Let’s get results!” Truth ends up not being a foundation but only a tool to obtain the desired result. Managerial expertise and methods can produce apparent and quickly gratifying results, but “It produces crowds, but not churches, results, but not regenerations.”
When we lean toward teachings and experiences that have positive emotional reward, but lean away from anything that has emotional cost. This leads to feel-good theology that avoids anything in Christianity that isn’t palatable. (I would add one of my favorite word pictures: no one wants the pain of lancing the boil, but you can’t get real healing without going through that pain.)
Dr. Mohler: “It’s only “Your Best Life Now” if you’re an unbeliever.” John MacArthur in Q&A was even more direct: “It’s the single greatest lie in the church today, it’s the most marketable, it’s Satanic, it’s a Ponzi scheme, it’s preying on the poor.” “If Jesus were here, he would make a whip and go straight to the offices of TBN.”
Embraces only the “good & beautiful” and rejects anything that offends like depravity or atonement, ignoring the fact that our fallen natures cannot be trusted to make accurate assessments of what is truly beautiful about the Gospel.
Dr. Mohler ended by highlighting two factors in doctrinal drift:
Doctrinal Fatigue— having to go against the cultural tide and repeatedly defend Biblical theology over and over can lead to just tiring of it. But fatigue is disastrous to the metal of a bridge, the pilot of a plane, or the pastor of a church.
Embarrassment– of the scandal of the Gospel, so that you progressively let go of doctrines that are uncomfortable to unbelievers. But “The Holy Spirit alone can make the Gospel credible.”
The best safeguard to doctrinal drift? Expository preaching verse by verse through books of the Bible, because you are forced to avoid the temptation to pick and choose easy or safe topics and texts. All you have to do is “open your mouth and let the words come out”– preaching the simple direct meaning of the texts themselves.
You know you’re in for a different kind of book when the author himself says in the introduction, “this is going to be a tough sell.”
So, what is Douglas Wilson, author of a dozen books & one of the sharpest minds among Christian writers today, trying to sell? The view that earth is not “God’s Vietnam.”
The overwhelming majority of evangelical Christians understand the Bible to say that the power of sin & Satan will grow worse & worse in the future, until finally God will suddenly remove all Christians from Earth (“the rapture”) and then inflict terrible judgement on the remainder of the Earth’s inhabitants (“the tribulation”). In fact, many Christians would be suprised to even consider that there might be another interpretation, a radically different interpretation, to all those scripture passages, that was actually the majority view just a few hundred years ago.
Heaven Misplacedis a non-theological, readable introduction to this different way of looking at the Bible, God’s Kingdom, and the future of humanity. Wilson goes through the Bible, from Abraham to Revelation, and lays down a foundation and detailed explanation for the preterist position. In short, preterist theology says that instead of things getting worse & worse, things get better & better, with more and more of the world coming under the influence and transformation of Christ’s kingdom until He one day returns.
Hard sell? Most definitely. What’s worse, most people who would read this book either (1) already agree with Wilson or (2) already have studied systematic theology and have decided against preterism. Still, I admire Wilson for trying, & writing an engaging book that all Christians who are not familiar with anything but “Left Behind” theology should read.
No, that’s not a typo in the title. Yes, I know that needs explaining.
This is actually the first article in a whole series that I am writing as I slowly work my way through A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, a book by Jonathan Edwards, the 18th century philospher, writer, theologian, pastor, and president of Princeton University. A whole group of Christian bloggers are going through this book together, led by Mr. Uber-Blogger himself Tim Challies. I plan not to summarize everything that Edwards is saying in this very challenging and complex book, but each week to take out one important idea that is worth reflecting on and applying to our own lives.
Edwards wrote Religious Affections in the 18th century during what became known as The First Great Awakening. What was The Great Awakening? It was a complex phenomenon, but basically the experience of what it meant to live a Christian life changed radically for many people during that time. People became more emotional, more passionate, and more excited about following God. As a result, many practices both within the church and in individual lives dramatically shifted, and there was much talk as to whether they shifted for good or ill. Edwards wrote Religious Affections to meticulously examine the role of emotion and passion in religion from both a theological, philosophical, and practical perspective. His insight and perspectives on this subject have influenced theologians down to the present day.
What Edwards wrote was no “ivory tower” academic posturing. He was regarded as one of the leaders of the Great Awakening, and took heavy criticsm from both “old school” and “new school” pastors. Many said his appeals to emotion and life change were dangerous and inappropriate. But he also was very concerned about objective truth and maintaining Bible-based doctrine, and garnered himself enemies when he spoke out against pastors and practices that he saw had went too far in their reforms and new ways of doing things.
The book attempts to answer the question “What is the nature of true religion, and what practices actually please God?” He looks at the subject from both a negative perspective (things that may appear to please God but don’t) and from a positive perspective (things that we can assure ourselves truly do please God).
In the book’s preface he explains why he wrote the book. He correctly sees that when people become involved and excited about something new and became emotionally invested in it, the “rose-colored glasses” effect comes into play. People become less concerned about whether what they believe in and practice is Biblical, because it is exciting and seems to work. As a result, wrong and false beliefs and practices creep in unawares, which lead people off track and end up making a mess of everything.
This is a much more serious problem than most people, then or now, give it credit. Edward states:
It is by the mixture of counterfeit religion with true, not discerned and distinguished, that the devil has had his greatest advantage against the cause and kingdom of Christ.
That (like everything else in the 300+ pages in this book) is a mouthful. It’s much easier to say, “Satan loves excited Christians.” Not that excitement is bad, but that it can cloud our vision. Edwards goes on to give a list of all the results of this clouded vision and mixing in of off-track ideas and practices in with the true. Here is my 21st-century re-do of his list:
- Satan loves when people are excited about doing things that they think please God, when in actuality they are displeasing God.
- Satan loves when people think that their souls are in good shape with God, when in fact they are far away from His blessing.
- Satan loves when people forget about what God truly values as pure religion (which the apostle James defined as helping the poor and being holy) because they’re so excited in their religious worship experiences and other “exciting” stuff.
- Satan loves when people get excited and do openly foolish things (like claiming they can heal any disease or raise people from the dead) that give non-Christians plenty of ammo to attack and ridicule what they now see as Christianity.
- Satan loves it when people excitedly think they’re helping God when they’re actually openly working against God, like giving financial support to someone who teaches doctrine that is actually against the Bible.
- Satan loves it as people excitedly promote false ideas and religion and think they’re advancing the Kingdom of God, when they’re actually tearing it down.
- Finally, Satan loves how false doctrine splits churches and denominations and friends, and causes people to spend time arguing with each other. As a result, Satan can influence people to go to one extreme or another, and grow farther apart and farther out of the path of true religion.
That’s a pretty stark list. Read it over again. Think it over. The question we all have to ask ourselves is, “Where have I been guilty of that in the past? Where am I guilty of that now?”
Edwards summarizes his “terrible consequences” of the mixture of truth and untruth in religion by saying:
God’s people in general have their minds unsettled in religion, and know not where to set their foot, or what to think, and many are brought into doubts, whether there be any thing at all in religion; and heresy, infidelity, and atheism greatly prevail.
If we’re serious about loving and pleasing God and advancing the Kingdom, then we need to be serious about getting excited in a good way about it, and guarding our souls from the twin evils of apathy and lack of discernment. As the weeks go by I’ll explore these topics in greater depth.
I recently attended a medical conference where the speaker said, “Do the science of medicine first, and then the art.” By that, she meant that being a wonderful, kind, caring doctor doesn’t help your patient if you don’t know the science of the proper drug to give for pneumonia. The science must come first, to give structure and truth to your actions, and then you must apply this truth (the proper drug) with empathy and compassion to your patient (or she will think you’re a jerk and will not take the proper drug to help her).
I realized that this principle that “science” must precede “art” applies in other human endeavors as well. I immediately thought of painting. There is a body of truth or “science” of painting, such as color, perspective, balance, even mundane things like paint consistency, brush selection, and canvas types. If you simply ignore the “science” of painting and say you are an “artist,” this is the art you will create:
I’m sorry to disagree with you modern art types, but this is not art, this is chaos; there is no structure, no form, no “science” to guide the art and make it truly beautiful.
Compare that cat-scratching to this Renoir:
There is creativity, freedom, beauty, “art” to be sure, but the “art” is channeled, structured, indeed created by staying within the bounds of the “science” of painting composition.
What am I getting at? The Christian life is exactly the same. There is much “art” to living the Christian life; much more than can be written down in a list of rules; much that is dependent on love, wisdom, friends, and the guidance of the Spirit. BUT, the “science” must come first: a solid foundation of understanding God’s written word, the Bible, through correct theology. Did you know that theology was once considered “the queen of the sciences,” for all considered the study of God through the Bible a true science, a discovering and categorizing of truth?
We don’t have to go far to see the disastrous results of the Christian life where the “science” is ignored, or when the “science” is used coldly without regard to the “art” of life. A joyful & beautiful journey of life must begin with the right “map” from the science of theology and walked with constant reliance on the “art” of walking with the Spirit. May you have a beautiful, joyful walk with Christ today.
||You scored as Reformed Evangelical, You are a Reformed Evangelical. You take the Bible very seriously because it is God’s Word. You most likely hold to TULIP and are sceptical about the possibilities of universal atonement or resistible grace. The most important thing the Church can do is make sure people hear how they can go to heaven when they die.
What’s your theological worldview?
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Thanks to John at www.peoplelaunching.com!!
It’s a word that many evangelicals don’t even know the meaning of, let alone practice with their children.
Consequently, a whole generation of young people in Christian homes are growing up without a whole-orbed understanding of what God has spoken to His people.
Don’t just assume that your children will somehow pick up everything they need to know about Christianity: John MacArthur has given us a valuable resource to help us teach our children simply but systematically the fundamentals of the faith.
In about eighty devotions subdivided into sections on God, Creation, Sin, the Bible, Jesus, Salvation, Worship, Prayer, Church, Forgiveness, Evangelism, & Heaven, Dr. Macarthur covers what every young person needs to know. Each devotion begins with a question, like “What should we do when we don’t understand God?” A paragraph-sized answer with Scripture verses, a word scramble, a short prayer, and a suggested activity explain what the Bible says.
Well written, this book can be used as a personal devotion by a young reader or as the basis for family devotions, as I have used the book for years. Highly recommended.
More information on the book can be found at this link to Amazon.com.