March 31, 2016

Throwback Thursday: Against the "Sinner's Prayer"

Throwback Thursday is a series of posts, wherein I will on (some) Thursdays post a piece of writing from back in the day. Generally not from this blog. I will edit lightly for readability, but my intention is to allow each piece to stand basically as written. Over the years my mind has shifted on many things, as my knowledge of life, the Scriptures, and myself has grown. I'm not in the business of hiding this fact, so these will probably (at least on occasion) contain some things which even I think are crazy.



Originally Posted on Facebook as: Some musings on Salvation...
February 9, 2010
Just to preface, well...I was going to write a disclaimer trying to explain where I'm coming from, mostly because I'm assuming there will be a lot of people (many of whom I respect and look up to) who disagree with me on this; but it's not worth it to write a disclaimer, haha. Get mad at me if you want, I don't really care. I just hope it gets you to thinking for yourself what Scripture actually says on this subject instead of just leaning on how you've always "felt" or been told, or whatever. Cause whenever I bring this subject up I get a lot of opposition based on people's notions of how they think God would feel, or what's fair, or whatever. I'm saying junk that, and just read the Book. Let Him tell you the answer. I'm just here to get ya thinking.


I'm pretty sure everyone has heard an "altar call". Heck, I've made altar calls "come foreword, confess you're a sinner, and Jesus will save you from Hell"...really? Now before you start screaming heresy and tune me out, keep reading. The more I read and study Scripture, and the more I look back over my own life, the more I question the whole idea of the "sinner's prayer" being necessary for salvation. And here is why-I don't see it in Scripture. I just fail to find where there is anywhere that the Bible tells us to pray a salvation prayer. There are calls for repentance, and calls for confession...but what is the context? Let's look at two of the main passages that people use to support this nearly universal assumption among believers...both being found in Romans chapter ten.

Romans 10:9 (NIV)-That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.


Romans 10:13 (NIV)-for, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."

Now that right there sounds pretty pro-sinner's prayer. Confess and believe, call on the Lord. The basic elements of your cookie cutter confession. But how does that fit with the context, not just of the passage, but of Scripture, specifically the NT, as a whole?

Now it really does seem cut and dried without the context of Romans ten, so lets look at what that is. The context is, Paul is speaking about there being no distinction between Jews and Gentiles. The church at this time was deeply divided along racial lines, with many Jews claiming that as God's chosen people they were better than Gentile believers, or that they even had exclusive rights to Salvation, with Gentiles being left out in the cold. Paul quotes the OT book of Joel here, to make the point that all are equal through the blood and redeeming work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Another key to understanding this passage is that terms here for "confess" and "call" are deeper than a simple cry of desperation or panic, but a deep seated acknowledgement of Christ's Lordship. I.e., Jesus isn't a life preserver we throw on to save us from Hell, He is an Almighty God to whom we pledge our allegiance. Crying out to Him and confessing our need of His redeeming work is a result of that.

So what does the Bible say about this? I want to focus on two passages here. First,

Romans 8:28-30 (NIV)- And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

We usually stop at verse 28 here, for the benefit of our Hallmark card Christianity, and it's a nice comfy verse for use in many different areas. But I think when we relegate it to that we miss out on a lot of its true power. First off it's not just saying for those who love Him. It says "those who love Him, who have been called"...thus implying that in order to truly love God, one must first be called of Him. In verse 30 it gives us an "order of events" so to speak, predestined, called, justified, glorified. Nowhere in here is there a mention of our need to accept a gift, no mention of our "participation", if you will, at all. Keep that in mind as we examine the next passage.

Ephesians 2:8-10 (NIV)-For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

By grace, through faith...that is not of ourselves. Interesting. Here it says it is faith that saves us, but we don't have that faith. Even the faith itself comes from God. And not of works, lest anyone should boast. And the more I think about it, the funnier I find it. People who insist on a prayer will still insist that it's by grace and we can't do anything for it...well what is prayer but a work? It may look a little different, but really, if it's what we're counting on to save us, what is the difference between that and giving money to good causes, donating time, helping the needy, etc? I think the moment we start placing our Salvation in our own hands, even to such a "small" extent, we are treading some gravely dangerous ground. And again, I just don't see any evidence of it from Scripture.

So how does that affect us? I suppose what I've presented here is a somewhat Calvinist argument, and one of the major issues people have with many Calvinists is that the don't do evangelism. They are content to just sit back and watch people live horrible lives without sharing the hope of Christ because "their fate is already decided". Two issues here.
One-to anyone who is sitting on their hands and watching life go by in the name of "trusting God"-get off you lazy butt and read your Bible. Then do what it says, because you are in sin.

James 1:21-25 (ESV)-Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

James is calling Christians out here, to not be people sitting on the sidelines but (I love how the English Standard phrases this one) a doer who acts. Doer who acts. Get it in gear, God has called you to a lot more than a life of complacency. This is where works comes into play, not as a means of Salvation, but a result of it. The very LEAST that we owe Christ is a life turned over completely to Him living in submission and humility.

Second issue...I question evangelism as it stands today, in the general sense. And you might ask, but isn't that what the great commission is about? Well...is it really? Modern evangelism is usually centered around organized events aiming for crowds and numbers, trying to draw people in to "make commitments" for Christ. Well here's a simple truth-in our human state we can't commit to Christ. Not until we have His presence in us is that possible. (1 John 4:9,10) So what does the great commission say?

Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV)-"...Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
And here's what I want to focus on here-He says make disciples. Not converts, disciples. Baptizing them and teaching them everything He commanded. Interesting. Maybe Christians need to quit worrying about holding giant evangelistic events, and instead of focus on building relationships with people so that if God does choose to reveal Himself to them, we will be in a position that we can encourage and disciple them. So that's what I've been thinking about. Maybe, just maybe, if we quit trying to get people to say a prayer, and instead lived transformed lives for Christ and in turn disciple those around us in order that they might do the same we would quit getting empty commitment and start seeing some life change.
AMPing up the Bible study.  Heck yes.
AMPing up the Bible study.

March 30, 2016

Throwback...Wednesday: "To: Alex"

Monday, March 28th marked six years since one of the best people I have ever known left this world for the next. I still miss him. Here's what I wrote six years ago today.

Originally posted on Facebook as "To: Alex" March 30, 2010
Flamin' Joe's runs, pool nights, going to the casino to eat at 1 am, and a million other things we did. The long chats about women, good beer, cigars, the good old days of football, what we were gonna do with our lives, and what God had been teaching us...yeah, gonna miss those. I didn't even realize how much you had touched my life until I drove to town today and realized almost every place I looked I had a memory with you there, and I could hear your voice making wise cracks the whole way. Life just won't be the same without you, man.

I want to thank you for being the friend you were. No matter what was going on in either of our lives, I knew I could turn to you when I needed someone to listen, bounce an idea off of, or just BS with. You always had an open ear, and an open mind. People like that don't just happen along every day. I'm sorry I never made it a point to say any of this while you were here...wow, I dropped the ball. I wasn't always the friend I should have been, I said things I shouldn't have, and kept quite when I should have opened my mouth. But ya put up with me anyway, and I thank you for that. You were always there, always caring, always understanding. I wish I had been the same to you, I'm gonna take a cue from your play book there and try to live that out in my other friendships. This world needs more people who care.

One other thing I want to thank you for, that really hit me tonight. Thank you for being a wise-ass. I got to thinking the first time I got up to give a message/testimony as WWR, and I was petrified and had no idea what to say when you piped up "why don't ya start with your name"...despite the fact that everyone in the room knew me...totally got rid of the nerves, and ever since preaching has been a passion of mine, I really feel it's where God's leading me...and I would still be scared to death and afraid to try it again if you hadn't been you and helped me relax. That single, seemingly stupid moment, may very well have changed my whole life. I owe ya. Well, for that and a million other things.

I could ramble on for days, but your attention span is too short to read much more so I'll sum it up with the simple fact that I'm gonna miss you. Like freakin crazy. I love and care for you as much as I ever have for anyone, and I just thank God that He gave me the chance to know, even for a little while. Yeah, the pain is horrible...but the memories were worth it. I love you man. Peace.

Will

March 28, 2016

Commonplace Monday #27

"Grace teaches us that God loves us because of who God is, not because of who we are."
Phillip Yancey

Commonplace Monday is a series of posts wherein, on Monday mornings, I share short quips, sentences -perhaps as much as a paragraph- which I have collected in my various commonplace books and files. If I wrote down or recall where it came from I will certainly give attribution. However, sometimes I write down things and not where they came from. So if you see anything like that here and recognize it, that's what comment sections are for. 

March 27, 2016

A different perspective.


Originally Posted on Facebook, April 21, 2008 at 1:20am
So, I was sitting in Sunday School today and we were talking about Christ's resurrection, and how having four different accounts is important. And the question came up as to what the reasons are for having multiple accounts. And of course everyone gave the obvious answers. Multiple (non-conflicting) accounts prove to us that the story is true. Different accounts bring different facts to the forefront. Multiple writers give us at least one we can relate to in either a social, economic, or spiritual way. And while all this stuff is good and true, something else stuck out to me, especially as I read the different accounts.

Everyone one of the gospel authors (and for that matter, all the different authors in the Bible) have different writing styles. Which I love. Most days I'm fairly analytical and detail oriented, so I tend to get more from Luke. But there are other days when I'm more emotional, and at those times I seem to get more from John's gospel. And there are other times when I glean more from Matthew or Mark. I guess what I'm trying to get at, is that not only do all the writers have different perspectives, they have different ways of getting those perspectives across. And different people are going to be hit in different ways by that.

It really gives me a great appreciation of God and His amazing love and knowledge of us. He knew beforehand that I was gonna need to see things in a different light one day than the next. And he provides me with all these different "versions" to glean from.

I don't know if that makes any sense, or if it's just gibberish. But it was just one of those cool things about God that I felt like I needed to share.

March 22, 2016

Review: The Case for the Real Jesus

The Case for the Real Jesus: A Journalist Investigates Current Attacks on the Identity of ChristThe Case for the Real Jesus: A Journalist Investigates Current Attacks on the Identity of Christ by Lee Strobel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Strobel interviews a number of experts in relation to current attacks upon the trustworthiness of the Bible and the Christian faith. Quality answers, clearly presented in Strobel's journalistic style.

View all my reviews

March 21, 2016

Commonplace Monday #26

"The essence of sainthood is expiation."
Nero Wolfe [protagonist of Rex Stout's book, Fer-De-Lance]



Commonplace Monday is a series of posts wherein, on Monday mornings, I share short quips, sentences -perhaps as much as a paragraph- which I have collected in my various commonplace books and files. If I wrote down or recall where it came from I will certainly give attribution. However, sometimes I write down things and not where they came from. So if you see anything like that here and recognize it, that's what comment sections are for. Anyhow. Hope you enjoyed week's installment.

March 20, 2016

Solitary Man


Lone scrub oak, among the stones
No trees for miles, but here you grow

Among the rolling, broken hills
Land untamed, devoid of frills

There's grass around, and flowers, too
Deep green and gold against the blue

Rocks hewn, not by a mortal man
But by Creator's omnipotent hand

Grey clouds conceal the ev'ning sun
Its daily course, the light has run 

As hours flee you're left to stand
Lone oak, the solitary man



This isn't the tree I was thinking of, but close enough.

March 17, 2016

Throwback Thursday: Broken, Limp, Useless

Throwback Thursday is a series of posts, wherein I will on (some) Thursdays post a piece of writing from back in the day. Generally not from this blog. I will edit lightly for readability, but my intention is to allow each piece to stand basically as written. Over the years my mind has shifted on many things, as my knowledge of life, the Scriptures, and myself has grown. I'm not in the business of hiding this fact, so these will probably (at least on occasion) contain some things which even I think are crazy.


Originally Published on Facebook as "It's just what came out."
April 1, 2008 at 1:17am
This is somewhat disjointed, and incoherent, but it's just what came out of me the night we got home from MWSB.

Have you ever wanted something above all else
Spent time, money, energy, and whatever else you had to acquire it
Then thought you had it
Only to be stripped, the result tugging at your soul

Oh God, I lie here broken, limp, useless
Crying out to you for my strength and my every need
Lord, I offer nothing, because I have nothing
I'm powerless on my own, I don't even have the strength to serve you
God, I need it all
Not just strength in serving you, but strength to serve you

Save me, oh Lord
You are the only one who can deliver me from myself
Thank you for being my everything

Matthew 6:33,34- "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about it's own things. Sufficient for the day is it's own trouble."

Ecclesiastes 3:1- "To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven."

Review: Shattered Dreams: God's Unexpected Pathway to Joy

Shattered Dreams: God's Unexpected Pathway to Joy Shattered Dreams: God's Unexpected Pathway to Joy by Larry Crabb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Larry Crabb is never an author I would have picked up if it weren't for being required to read one of his books (The Burden's Off) in a counseling class. I struggled to read that book and did with this as well. His writing style grates on me. That said, this book is well worth reading, because Crabb has hard words for our comfort-seeking, pain-avoiding, dream-chasing, pseudo Christianity. What ought we to most desire? God. But we waste our time chasing lesser things.

View all my reviews

March 14, 2016

Commonplace Monday #25

"Autograph your work with excellence."
Dave Donnerberg

Commonplace Monday is a series of posts wherein, on Monday mornings, I share short quips, sentences -perhaps as much as a paragraph- which I have collected in my various commonplace books and files. If I wrote down or recall where it came from I will certainly give attribution. However, sometimes I write down things and not where they came from. So if you see anything like that here and recognize it, that's what comment sections are for. Anyhow. Hope you enjoyed week's installment.

March 08, 2016

Review: Is There Anybody Out There?

Is There Anybody Out There?: A Journey from Despair to HopeIs There Anybody Out There?: A Journey from Despair to Hope by Mez McConnell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was gut-wrenching, painful, and absolutely fabulous. The story of God's grace to place hope into the most difficult of circumstances shines through in Mez's story. His reflections on and criticisms of church-as-it-is-today were also helpful, if hitting painfully close to home.

View all my reviews

March 07, 2016

Commonplace Monday #24

"Sometimes I find that the best thing I can do for someone is not giving the right answer, but asking the right question."
Dave Kraft

Commonplace Monday is a series of posts wherein, on Monday mornings, I share short quips, sentences -perhaps as much as a paragraph- which I have collected in my various commonplace books and files. If I wrote down or recall where it came from I will certainly give attribution. However, sometimes I write down things and not where they came from. So if you see anything like that here and recognize it, that's what comment sections are for. Anyhow. Hope you enjoyed week's installment.

March 05, 2016

When God Speaks

On more than one occasion I have heard or read a quip to the following effect, "If you want God to speak to you, read the Bible. If you want Him to speak audibly, read it out loud." It gets me every time. I love the snarky, and helpful, rebuttal it contains of a certain type of subjectivism which wants more from the Christian walk than prayer and Bible reading. More than talking to and hearing from God? More than conversing with the Creator? Come on. So I appreciate the quip. However. 

I do think it could be made more Biblical. It would look something like this:
If you want God to speak to you, read the Bible. If you want to hear Him audibly, hear the Bible preached.
The centering of Christian experience upon the personal Bible reading time is a rather modern development. It requires a few things which for most of church history simply have not been the case (this point is largely drawn from the observations Carl Trueman, Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia). First, it requires the ability to read. Most Christians throughout the past 2,000 years have not been able to do so. Can't go read Our Daily Bread if the words on the page are meaningless to you. Secondly, even if you could read, you need to be able to purchase books, which were incredibly expensive. Books have largely been, until the last couple hundred years, a luxury of the rich. My personal library is twice the size of the one owned by Jonathan Edwards, the premier Theological and Philosophical thinker in American history (probably not half as good as his library, but still, twice the volumes). This testifies to how cheap print is in our day. Third, you need to have leisure time. Many people throughout the history of the Christian church have been peasants who worked all day, every day, just to survive. Perhaps the only exception would have been Lord's Day rest. As 21st Century Americans, we simply don't understand how simple and lazy our life is. We invent distractions to keep us feeling occupied and busy all day, Facebook, ESPN, MTV, Youtube, movies, Twitter, etc, all exist to distract us from the fact that we don't have to do hardly anything to survive compared to our ancestors. In many places throughout time and geography, folks have scraped out a meager living for 35 or 40 years and then died.

You have the ability to own and read a Bible. And you have the time to do so. These are immeasurable privileges for which we should thank God. We ought to take advantage of them and spend as much time in His written word as we possibly can. But, if God in His providence knew that many, perhaps most, people would never be able to read His word for themselves, how did He ordain for His word to go forth?

Timothy, Preach the Word!

I want to direct your attention to Paul's second letter to his much younger friend, Timothy. In 2 Timothy 3:12-17, we read the following:

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
Many of you will be familiar with these verses, particularly that bit which begins, "All Scripture is breathed out by God..." Here we see the ability of God's word, its broad and varied usefulness. It is profitable for teaching, for reproving, for correcting, for training in righteousness. All to the end that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. Should we expect less from the very words of God Himself?

Paul is drawing a contrast here for Timothy, between those in the world who will persecute Christians, go from bad to worse, deceiving others whilst being deceived themselves; and Timothy, who is to continue in what he has learned, continue in what he has firmly believed. And it is in the words of this book, this useful, God-breathed, Christ-revealing book, in which Timothy has rooted his life.

But Timothy is a pastor, so he has responsibilities beyond his own life and doctrine being preserved from the evils of the world. He has a flock to shepherd, and how is he to make use of this word in doing that? To this Paul turns next.
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.- 2 Timothy 4:1-5
What does Paul give to Timothy here? A call to small group Bible studies? Encouragement to start some 1-on-1 discipleship? A charge to more counseling appointments? Well, not to disparage any of those things (from which I have received great personal benefit), but, nope. He unfolds in chapter 3 what the word of God is and is for. Here he tells Timothy the proper pastoral response: Preach the Word! The call could not be more clear. To charge him in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing, and by His kingdom. That's a strong charge. To do what, again? To preach.

I'm not Timothy, nor am I a pastor

So, you're not a pastor. Neither am I. While we may not participate in the act of preaching itself, it has a very deep relationship to us, for it is directed toward us. We need to hear this: preaching, contrary to what some might say in our anti-authoritarian day, is a means of communication open to all who are willing to hear (provided, of course, a common language). Our attention spans may be shorter than ever, our eyes may be used to the sensory scintillation of screens, and our ears unaccustomed to that which is not synthesized and smoothly produced. But you are a human being, a word-maker and word-receiver, and preaching is accessible to you. That is why Paul, in Romans 10, ties preaching directly with the going forth of the Gospel:

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
 How can we hear, how can we believe, without someone preaching? Paul's obvious point: you can't. That's not to say people aren't saved through the means of personal evangelism, books, reading His word for themselves, tracts, etc. The main instrument is His word, not a preacher. But the primary way which I believe the Bible lays out that word going forth in convicting, comforting, saving, sanctifying power is through preaching. This, again, does not disparage any of those other things. But it does establish a primacy of preaching in the church and Christian ministry. And it should have a very deep impact on how I, as a Christian layperson, view my experience of Christ and His word.

Concluding and applicatory thoughts

1)
We need to receive with meekness the implanted word (James 1). Insofar as the preacher is faithful to the text, he is God's own mouthpiece. I think that is one of the most important sentences I've ever written, so let me say it again: Insofar as the preacher is faithful to the text, he is God's own mouthpiece. In light of this, do we head to church expecting to hear from God? I would guess that the honest answer for most of u would be "no", and I believe there are two primary reasons for that.

a) Humility is almost absolutely foreign to us. We don't desire to be told how to live, what to believe, what to think. But the very act of sitting under preaching is an act of implicit submission to the preacher; and more fundamentally, to the authority of God being exercised through the preacher to proclaim the very word of the Living God to us. If we are unable to submit to this, how are we to submit to anything?
b) We come to God with "humble" expectations...i.e., we come trying not to expect too much. We seem afraid to expect God to speak through His word. God doesn't actually do that sort of thing today, does He? This could, for some of us, be a misapplication or perversion of cessationist thinking. Cessationism being the belief that certain "sign gifts" such as healings, tongues, prophecy, etc, ceased with the closing of the canon of Scripture and the death of the original Apostles. But while believing that such signs are not for today we can make the mental error (and a grave one) that simply because God chooses not to reveal Himself and His power in certain ways today means that He doesn't still actively work in our hearts, minds, and lives. 
We need to remember that God's primary work in this world is the bringing of Himself glory through the calling, redeeming, and sanctifying of a People, a Bride, for Himself, and that He sent Who into this world to accomplish that task? The Word. The Word of God, the Second member of the Trinity, became flesh and dwelt among us. We have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. And how do we come to know this Living Word of God? Through the written word of God (look back up at the 1 Timothy 3 passage; see also John 6). Do we think that the God who became flesh, who sent His Spirit to dwell within us as believers, cannot take the words which that same Spirit inspired and force them into our hearts, between the joints and marrow of our bones, and apply them at an individual level through the preaching of His word? I want to challenge you to this: expect God to speak through the preaching of His word. He doesn't disappoint. 

2) We need to reorient our mindset toward what is important in church. Are music, prayer, the way we celebrate communion, etc, important things to think about when we pick a church to call home? Of course. But this one thing rises above the rest: Is the word preached? Frankly, I am not even terribly concerned with whether the preacher is particularly skilled; I am gravely concerned as to whether or not He is faithful to the word of the Living God. I am fortunate to be involved in a church where both things are true. But let me be clear: there are many skilled speakers in this world and in our churches who don't preach the Bible, and they will do nothing but tickle ears straight into Hell. Far better to sit under  man who knows nothing of homiletic form, has little for rhetorical skill, but deeply loves, trusts, and knows the Book and the God of the Book.

3) We need to pray for and encourage ministers of the word. Do you pray for your pastor(s)? Speak encouraging words to them, or write the occasional, "thank you" for their service to God's flock? 1 Timothy 5:17 says that elders (pastors) who rule well are worthy of double-honor, particularly those who labor in preaching and teaching. Think of practical ways to show these men honor.

4) We need to continue our spiritual disciplines, but with a heavier emphasis on meditating upon, believing, and applying the specific truths preached from week to week. Think of a church where even a fifth of the people were focused upon taking something from that week's sermon and applying it to their lives. Think about your own life if you were to do that. Not that the sermon is a self-help talk. Don't make that mistake. Preaching is proclamation, first and foremost of the Gospel, which is news to be believed. The Gospel is news to be believed. This is why we can't live the Gospel, because you don't live the news that you hear. However, it is the sort of news which, if believed, must change how we live. This is a primary burden in books like James and 1 John, chapters like Romans 6 and Galatians 5, etc. We believe what we hear, the Good News of Jesus Christ, and we live changed lives.

5) We must come with brains engaged. Does this talk of coming to hear God mean we simply swallow everything the preacher says without thinking about it? No! In Acts 17:10-12, Luke commends the nobility of the Bereans for examining the Scriptures to see if what Paul was teaching as the truth. Note however, it was from their eager receiving of the word that they we checking things out. They weren't trying to tear apart what he said to look for holes in his argument or deficiencies in his theology. They simply wanted to be sure he was right before they took it to heart. That is the sort of noble, humble, mental engagement we need. We need to think hard about what is preached, and if what is said holds up against the strong light of God's word, it is incumbent upon us to accept and receive this truth with gladness.

6) What does this mean for preaching and teaching which is available on the radio, TV, iTunes, and streaming online? The access we have today to some of the world's greatest preachers, even dead ones, is astounding. You can go to places like Desiring God, Grace To You, or MLJ Trust and listen to flat our incredible preaching that is edifying, helpful, wonderful. But is it the same thing as gathering with God's people week after week to hear the word of God spoken through the man behind the pulpit? I want to consider briefly another passage from Paul, this in his first letter to Timothy, chapter 4, verse 13-16:
Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
Again, Timothy is a pastor and Paul is instructing him in his duties here. Devote yourself to reading God's word, exhorting by it, teaching it. Don't neglect this gift given to you. Practice this, immerse yourself, so that all may see your progress. Guard, Timothy, your life and doctrine closely. Persist in this, for you'll save the lives of yourself and your listeners. What sort of assumptions underlay this? Here is a big, glaring, shining one: the people hearing Timothy will actually be able to see his life. There was tangible verification that the man preaching was indeed Biblically qualified for the position. There was some degree of relationship and pastoral care which connected words to the reality of life here and now. I can turn on the radio or my phone and hear great preaching. But only in the gathered congregation of God's people with a man standing before me in the pulpit may I hear preaching to me. This difference is hard to adequately express in words. I'm coming closer here than I have in the past, but I'm still at the grasping-at-straws point in my articulation. 

Please do not misunderstand me, I am profoundly grateful for the teaching resources like those I linked to above. But we must not, we cannot, allow these to replace hearing and receiving the word of God preached in the local congregation. 

This lived dynamic is also what makes me very leery of things like video sermons, video multi-site churches, video curriculum, and even (to a lesser extent) any large church where the pastor can essentially be invisible to the people. The living dimension, the relational dynamic, these are essential background pieces to the effective preaching of the word. 

Finally

What, in the end, is the point? God speaks through the preaching of His word. Beg Him, plead with Him, to speak to you through the preaching of His word. He will answer. 

March 03, 2016

Throwback Thursday: Stumbling on Works

Throwback Thursday is a series of posts, wherein I will on (some) Thursdays post a piece of writing from back in the day. Generally not from this blog. I will edit lightly for readability, but my intention is to allow each piece to stand basically as written. Over the years my mind has shifted on many things, as my knowledge of life, the Scriptures, and myself has grown. I'm not in the business of hiding this fact, so these will probably contain some things which even I think are crazy.


Originally Published on Facebook as, "I just felt like writing..."
April 14, 2008 at 2:24am
I don't know why. I don't really feel like I have anything to say, but maybe some intelligable gibbersh will come out.
I guess I'll talk about core group tonight. We went over the first two chapters of Romans. And it kinda struck me in verse 5 of Chapter two when Paul says, "But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God." I have always heard about doing good and storing up treasures in heaven. But that was the first time I had thought about storing up judgment for oursleves. I guess it's just one of those verses you read a thousand times before you actually read it. And it really made me pause. All of those times I have hardened my heart to God, and done things I knew were wrong, I was storing up judgement for myself. And yet I don't have to pay for them, because of what Christ has done (1 John 3:5). 

It's really convicting for me when I think about it. Christ gave absolutely everything for me, not just physically, but allowed Himself to be shunned by God, so that I could be free from sin. Yet I choose to harden my heart to Him and heap up "treasures" of judgment for Christ to pay for. Really great way of showing my gratitude, isn't it? Maybe instead of taking his sacrifice for granted I should spend more time thinking about it. I don't know. I mean I have to be breaking his heart every time I sin. He laid it all out for me, yet I spit on that. Why? Why would anyone in their right mind not gladly accept what He has done, then follow it out with action? James 2:17,18 say "Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, 'You have faith, and I have works.' Show me your faith without works, and I will show you my faith by my works."

I guess I stumble when I get too caught up in works. But then I go to the other extreme where my works are severly lacking. I really need to find that balance where I'm trusting God and it's coming through in my actions.

March 01, 2016

Review: The Little Way of Ruthie Leming

The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good LifeThe Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life by Rod Dreher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Part memoir, part biography of his sister, and most generally a reflection on life in a small town with its benefits and limits. Or, perhaps I should say, the benefits of its limits. I loved this book. While I can't relate to the experiences of major public success in any field, I could certainly connect to the sense of feeling out of place in the place that ought to be "home." I enjoyed Dreher's prodding into the causes and cures of the misplaced-ness. And of course, the story of his sister's life and death is both heart-warming, and heart-breaking.

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About Me

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I love Jesus, my wife, and my kids. Writing and teaching are two things I have a passion for. Gardening and fishing are cool, too. I blog @ willdole.com, you can reach me @ contact@willdole.com