Physically Healthy and Spiritually Bankrupt (weekend repost)

“It is no secret that Christ’s Church is not at all in good health in many places of the world. She has been languishing because she has been fed, as the current line has it, “junk food”; all kinds of artificial preservatives and all sorts of unnatural substitutes have been served up to her. As a result…”

Read the rest here:Physically Healthy and Spiritually Bankrupt

Physically Healthy and Spiritually Bankrupt

“It is no secret that Christ’s Church is not at all in good health in many places of the world. She has been languishing because she has been fed, as the current line has it, “junk food”; all kinds of artificial preservatives and all sorts of unnatural substitutes have been served up to her. As a result, theological and biblical malnutrition has afflicted the very generation that has taken such giant steps to make sure its physical health is not damaged by using foods or products that are carcinogenic or otherwise harmful to their physical bodies. Simultaneously a worldwide spiritual famine resulting from the absence of any genuine publication of the Word of God (Amos 8:11) continues to run wild and almost unabated in most quarters of the Church.”
–Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Toward an Exegetical Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), 7-8.

Dr. Kaiser’s quote is a good reminder for those of us that are leaders in the church and will be stepping into pulpits and classrooms this coming Sunday. Serve a hearty meal of the Word to God’s people. Leave out the artificial fillers, by-products, dyes, and chemicals. Give them rich doctrine, deep theology, and filling and nutritious worship. Point them to God and leave them with a sense of awe. Make it your goal to have the best fed sheep in town who long to hear from God and love to sit at His feet.

Putting the Word into Practice

We are called by Scriptures to do and observe all that the Bible teaches. So, as a people who desire to be not merely hearers, but doers, I give these five applicational thoughts about how to “use” the Bible more effectively.

By saying this, I don’t mean that we should jump from reading to application. There is a very real danger in doing this improperly. There needs to be serious study and understanding of what the Bible meant to its original context and to its original audience. But in a sermon, your pastor/expositor has done this (or should have), and now, on Monday, we need to know how to put what we have learned into practice.

  1. Notate. Take note of application given in sermons you hear. Literally take notes! Look for what God would have you DO with his Word. Don’t just collect biblical information. Then, go back and review your notes, praying for help to obey what you have seen that he wants you to do.
  2. Saturate. On your own, re-read your Bible with an eye for application. This means that you need to know how to find universal principles in the Bible. These are truths that are good in every time and every culture. They are also consistent with the whole Bible.
  3. Categorize. Take those universal truths and begin categorizing them into useful headings as you see the need for them in your own life. Begin by setting up categories for your roles in life–Bible verses for you as a Father/Mother, as a husband/wife, as a son/daughter, as a Christian, as an employee, as a neighbor.
  4. Organize. Put Scriptures (and the principles that they speak of) in categories that will lend themselves to your use–such as pride, humility, gossiping, the tongue, hope, fear of man, decision making, forgiveness, etc. Some of these will be more useful to you than others, so be sure to put them on a list that you can tuck into your Bible, or even write into the end papers of your Bible so they are handy whenever you need them.
  5. Apply. Now, when you are having a bad day with your mouth, for example, or you keep hurting others, or maybe you’ve lost your temper–you can turn in your Bible and meditate on what God’s Word says about that issue and what you need to do. As you do this over and over, you will not only begin to remember where to go without having to look at the list, but you will slowly memorize those verses and have them available for those times of temptation when you don’t have your Bible handy.

It’s not brain surgery or rocket science, but it does take discipline and effort. Jesus said for you and I to “do and observe” His Word. If you claim that the Bible is truly your authority, then you need to know it so you can obey it. If not, then you are merely a hearer of the Word and not a doer–fooling yourself. May we never find ourselves there.

Thus Sayeth the Lord: Why We Preach the Bible (weekend repost)

When stripped down to our historical foundation, IFCA International is a Bible movement. Our churches and ministries exist to preach Christ crucified (1 Cor. 1:23), a prospect that has never been acceptable to the world and is rejected by the apostate church. Like the Apostle Paul, we do not shrink from declaring the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). We believe that God has spoken without error and that His Word has never failed. We believe that the Word of God rules over the Church and God’s people, and that this authority extends to all humanity whether it accepts it or not. We believe the Bible, and this should have a direct impact upon how we minister in the preaching of the Word.

Read the rest here: Thus Sayeth the Lord: Why We Preach the Bible

Thus Sayeth the Lord: Why We Preach the Bible

When stripped down to our historical foundation, IFCA International is a Bible movement. Our churches and ministries exist to preach Christ crucified (1 Cor. 1:23), a prospect that has never been acceptable to the world and is rejected by the apostate church. Like the Apostle Paul, we do not shrink from declaring the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). We believe that God has spoken without error and that His Word has never failed. We believe that the Word of God rules over the Church and God’s people, and that this authority extends to all humanity whether it accepts it or not. We believe the Bible, and this should have a direct impact upon how we minister in the preaching of the Word. 

Why do we preach the Bible, and even more specifically, why preach expositional sermons? Why take the pains to study deeply and move book-by-book and verse-by-verse through the Bible? Many answers could be given to answer these questions, but I’d like to give three reasons that center around the nature of this divine Book that has been handed down to us from God.

It Declares with Divine Authority

When a preacher stands in the pulpit, he has no inherent authority. His authority is derived from God alone. Those who demand respect and unquestioning obedience simply because they are a pastor or preacher have more in common with the Roman Catholic Pope and a cult leader than the Apostles of Christ (Mk. 10:42-45). The faithful preacher of the Word shepherds through the teaching of the Word of God. Our Savior demonstrated this in his ministry with such power and grace that it is worth noting four examples of when Christ used the same biblically derived authority that is available to all Christians.

Authority in Denouncing the Enemy: Challenging the Son of God (Matt. 4:1-10)

The Apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:17 that the Word of God is the Sword of the Spirit. Because of this, we should not be surprised to see our Savior use the Sword not only in His teaching and discipling, but also in His direct confrontations with Satan himself. Although Christ has all authority to command Satan in any way He desires, Jesus ended each targeted attack of the enemy with the words, “It is written…” (vv. 4, 7, 10). Of all the options available to the Son of God, Jesus chose to wield the Sword of the Spirit against the Enemy. We do not have any power in ourselves to fight the enemy. We must follow the example laid down by our Lord and take the Word of God and use it to call out evil in all its forms so that those who have come under its sway might bow the knee to Christ.

Authority in Decrying the Legalists: Challenging the Lord of the Sabbath (Matt. 12:1-5)

When the Pharisees brought charges of unlawful Sabbath breaking against the disciples, Jesus once again turned to the Scripture to silence their accusations. Whereas the legalists were quick to point to the Law regarding the sin of harvesting on the Sabbath, Jesus responded to their legalistic error with the cutting words, “Have you not read…? (vv. 3, 5). In pointing to the Word of God, Jesus demonstrated the authority of the Word of God itself. Then, with Scriptural precision, Jesus referred them to Hosea 6:6 to learn that what God wants is not only obedience, but also mercy. This powerful response could not be overcome because Jesus’ challenge stood firmly upon the Scripture itself.

Authority in Discerning Application: Challenging the Traditions of Men (Matt. 15:1-9)

When the Pharisees and scribes once again attacked Jesus, this time through the actions of his disciples regarding the traditional cleansing ceremonies of the elders, Jesus turned the tables on them and immediately challenged them from the Scriptures. They had quoted the tradition of the elders and demanded to know why Jesus did not respect such traditions. But Jesus stated with great boldness his biblical reasons for not following these traditions, “For God commanded…” (v. 4). By placing this debate on the uneven footing of the traditions of men versus the commandments of God, he declared these men hypocrites—and then used the prophet Isaiah to show that the Word of God condemned them for this sort of vanity and pride. The traditions of men are not equal to Scripture and even useful traditions must submit to the authority of the Bible.

Authority in Declaring Orthodoxy: Challenging the Resurrection (Matt. 22:23-33)

When the Sadducees stepped up to try and overthrow Jesus’ popularity, they brought a theological challenge that was probably successful in silencing other opponents. These men who denied the resurrection brought a question which they couched in pious references to the teaching of Moses (v. 24). These deceivers thought their question would silence Jesus and show Him to be the uneducated man they thought Him to be. Jesus once again directly refuted them with the Bible, saying, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” (v. 29). He then referred them to Moses, this time to Exodus 3:6 where He destroyed their argument by pointing to the present tense of the verb in that verse that demonstrates that there is a resurrection of the dead. Jesus proved that although the Sadducees said that they accepted the writings of Moses, they had not read carefully enough what God had said (v. 31)! When we say that we believe in verbal plenary inspiration, we mean that every word in the Bible is inspired by God. That includes the grammatical tenses of the verbs too!

The herald of the gospel must stand upon this same authority. We must declare the truth of the Word of God when we proclaim that Christ has won the victory over sin and death. We must courageously face off with legalists who seek to place a yoke of burden onto people by adding law to the gospel message and some who add the traditions of men on top of the gospel, taking away the freedom we have in Christ. We must declare with the authority of the Word the fundamental truths of Scripture when men want to deny doctrine, thereby silencing the deceptive hiss of the Serpent. In ourselves we have no authority, but wielding the Bible, we have authority that comes from heaven itself! 

Many times, the reason that sermons lack power is not because the Word is ineffective. Instead it is because Scripture has been given second place, with primacy given to a heavy dependence upon devices that we think will make our message more effective—quotes from commentaries and so-called authorities, emotional appeals and stories that seek to move the hearer, and exegetical data that would better be called a seminary lecture, delivering dry, passionless facts that don’t seek to affect the heart and the conscience, along with the mind. When the pews begin to empty, we either blame the people, or the Word. But there is power in the Word.

It Demonstrates Divine Power

If we understand that all of unregenerate mankind has been blinded by Satan (2 Cor. 4:4) and are dead in their trespasses and sin without Christ (Eph. 2:1), and that even after we have come to know Jesus as Savior we are still in need of the Spirit’s illuminating power (1 Cor. 1:12-13), then we also will understand the need for the divine power of the Word that can overcome the devastating spiritual effects of the Fall.

The Power to Open Blind Eyes

In the aftermath of the resurrection of Christ, there was a lot of confusion among the disciples of Jesus. They had begun to recall the words of Jesus about His rising from the dead, and they had also heard the seemingly outrageous stories from the women who said they saw angels who told them about the risen Christ (Lk. 24:1-9, 22-24). As two disciples puzzled over the events of that first Easter morning, they moved along the road to Emmaus where they encountered a fellow traveler, the resurrected Christ, who was veiled to their eyes.

As they spoke to Jesus, they explained the confusion and the promises and the grief they shared over having lost their dear Master. Jesus gently rebuked the men (v. 25) as He explained from the Old Testament how the Scriptures needed to be fulfilled concerning the Messiah (v. 27). After Jesus’ sudden self-revelation and departure, these two men discussed what they felt as the Scriptures were opened to them: “They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”” (Lk. 24:32, ESV). Their experience was not simply an emotional response, but the active working of the Spirit in revealing truth to their blind eyes, which now could see.

Another example of such power to open blind eyes can be seen along a riverside just outside of the city of Philippi where the Apostle Paul and his team proclaimed the gospel message to a small group of women who had gathered there to pray on the Sabbath (Acts 16:11-13). As Paul preached, Lydia’s eyes were opened by the Lord, causing her to pay attention to the message that Paul preached. Immediately she was changed as she gave her life to Christ. She was baptized and hosted Paul and his companions in her home (v. 15).

Why do we preach the Bible? Because it is the only means that God has given us to open blind eyes. 

The Power to Bring Revival

Our God is not a genie that we can simply schedule when we want Him to show up. Biblical revival cannot be stirred up by man, for “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”” (John 3:8, ESV). But this truth does not mean that there are not elements of true, biblical revival that accompany God’s work in bringing about a genuine work of God. The Old Testament gives a few prominent examples of revival that came to the people of Israel, and each one was accompanied by the proclamation of the Word of God. I want to highlight two of those examples so that the power of the Word might be shown in how God brings about genuine revival.

Josiah (2 Kgs. 22-23)

Having found the Book of the Law while making repairs to the Temple, King Josiah was undone when it was read in his presence. As he listened to the reading of the Book of the Law, the king began to see more clearly how disobedient Judah had been in God’s eyes (vv. 10-13). After seeking the prophetic Word of the Lord, Josiah was humbled, and he actively began seeking to eradicate the wicked idolatry that had been rampant in his kingdom. Along with cleansing the land of false worship, he also sought to restore the approved worship that the Word of God directed to his people. Think about it, the Word wasn’t preached, it was simply read. No fancy outlines, no illustrations or catchy titles or PowerPoint slides. The Word was read, and the Spirit did His convicting work in Josiah, moving him to reform the whole kingdom. 

Ezra (Neh. 8-9)

Under the leadership of Ezra, the priestly scribe, and Nehemiah the governor, the returning exiles longed to hear from the God of their Fathers as they had begun to see their need to be a separate people from the pagans all around them. God had begun to restore the nation, but not without challenges from their enemies. And so, as Ezra opened the Law and the elders explained its meaning to the people (8:3), the people began to sense their spiritual thirst and their parched souls began to be refreshed as the Spirit began to move them to understand the great and tender mercy of their God (8:9-12). Following a short time of rejoicing, the people began to reinstate the holy practices that had been long lost and forgotten (vv. 14-18) and began to openly confess their sin with grief and contrition (9:1-4). The brokenness of the people led to worship that was filled with confession, restoration, cleansing and rejoicing. The power of the Word had broken the hardest hearts and restored them like nothing else could.

In the modern church today, there are all sorts of man-made methods and programs that seek these kinds of results but fail to make any lasting change. Pragmatism, that philosophy that seeks to determine value based upon the success or failure of end results, is not a Christian concept. Where was the pragmatism in the prophet Isaiah when God said to Him, ““Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” (Isa. 6:9–10, ESV)? There was no revival in the land, but God still called for faithfulness in the ministry of Isaiah.

And where can we find a pragmatic approach in the ministry of Jeremiah, the weeping prophet who mourned over the sins of God’s people for their sin, but was mistreated and scorned and seemed to have been ignored by nearly everyone (Jer. 38:6)? And what about the testimonies of those spoken of in Hebrews 11:36-38?

Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” (Heb. 11:36–38, ESV) 

There is still power in the Scripture, and it is to be preached whether revival comes or not, because Scripture carries with it a divine duty for God’s people.

It Demands Divine Duty

The hard soil of men’s hearts is not something unique to the 21st century. It is as old as humanity itself. This fact needs to sink into the heart of the pastor who is looking for low-hanging fruit when he seeks a ministry. God has not called most of us to a large pulpit ministry, nor world-wide fame. But He has called every one of His ministers to faithfully proclaim the Word wherever we are sent. Hard hearts, gang violence, poor attendance, meager offerings, inadequate facilities, nonexistent leadership, are all realities that can make ministry challenging, but none are reasons to walk away from a church or a community. As a matter of fact, all of these are reasons that a faithful Bible preaching, gospel-saturated church is needed in that place. The marks of this divine duty require us to preach faithfully, preach plainly, and preach patiently.

Preach Faithfully (Ezek. 2-3; 2 Tim. 4:1-5)

Facing the rebellious nation of Israel, the Lord clearly told Ezekiel what he must do, “And you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house.” (Ezek. 2:7, ESV). Over and over again, Ezekiel was told that Israel was a rebellious house, impudent, stubborn, and hard-headed. And yet, his instructions were clear, speak God’s words to them. Though they would not listen, and though they were so hard in heart, it did not change the directive—be a watchman (3:17) and speak the words of impending judgment (v. 19) no matter what. Faithfulness is what God requires (3:19, 21).

As the Apostle Paul faced his own death, he exhorted Timothy to continue to persevere in the ministry of the Word in season and out of season. For Timothy, Paul’s imprisonment and coming death was a very real illustration of the threat to the gospel ministry. Paul didn’t instruct Timothy to move to a safer territory nor did he instruct him to avoid suffering, but instead encouraged him to keep preaching even when people will no longer endure it and that this might include the need to endure suffering for the sake of Christ. Paul was faithful to preach the whole counsel of God and he would receive his reward in due time (2 Tim. 4:7-8).

Preach Plainly (1Cor. 2:1-5)

Plain preaching is not the same as bland preaching, nor does it mean to preach simplistically. Paul’s desire to give Jesus Christ all the glory required him to make sure that his own preaching did not put the spotlight on his considerable education, gifts, and talents. Although the so-called super-apostles had a low view of Paul’s presence and preaching ability (2 Cor. 10:10), he placed his full dependence upon the power of God’s Spirit working through the Word of God. In doing this, Paul put the cross of Christ on full display. Plain preaching is not flashy, gimmicky, or self-seeking. Simply put, plain preaching is Spirit-empowered, not man-centered. The Puritan Richard Baxter wrote, “It is no easy matter to speak so plain that the ignorant may understand us, so seriously that the deadest heart may feel us, and so convincingly that contradictory cavaliers may be silenced.”[1] 

Preach Patiently (2 Tim. 4:2)

Our duty to preach the Word must be done with the reminder that we do not preach ourselves nor do we preach our words. Pastors are under-shepherds that are to lead without being domineering. We are to be loving examples to the flock that has been placed in our charge (1 Pet. 5:2-4). This means that we must teach the Word of God with the patience of our Master (2 Tim. 4:2), and that is easier said than done, particularly when we are facing the growing challenges of ministry today. Nevertheless, we must teach and preach with great patience, waiting upon the Word and Spirit to do their mighty work.

Although the reasons that we preach the Word could be multiplied, these three should stand out for us—it is our authority, our power and our duty. And as we faithfully proclaim the Word, we can expect that it will do its mighty work of reviving the soul and enlightening the eyes (Ps. 19:7, 8). The benefits of doing so will manifest themselves in due time, showing us that as we sow the seeds of the Word into the hearts of our congregations that all our efforts are profitable (2 Tim. 3:16-17), and will accomplish the will of God in the end (Isa. 55:11).

As William Gurnall wrote a long time ago, “The Word of God is too sacred a thing and preaching to solemn a work, to be toyed and played with.”2 May we pick up our Swords and faithfully execute the ministry that the Lord has called each of us to do, for His greater glory and for the good of the Church. 

ENDNOTES:

  1. Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life, (Reformation Heritage Books, Grand Rapids, 2012), 695.
  2. Ibid., 685.

Originally published in the VOICE magazine, Nov./Dec. 2019. Used by permission.