Where is culture headed for the next decade? And what does this mean for our relationships, jobs, and task as apologists and influencers of the next generation? I recently read the excellent book The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future and want to highlight the twelve trends that the author, Kevin Kelly, believes will shape the future. It’s hard to disagree with his insights ...
Recently, I learned of a book, and for some reason I felt like I knew the author. So I did some searching and found the website for the church where the author now serves. His bio confirmed the connection. He had graduated from Biola University with a B.A. in Music in 2002 . Since the town I call home (Birmingham, Alabama) is where his church is located, I decided to pick up the book, flip through it, and then get together with him so I could congratulate him on his book. For no particular reason, I was not really expecting to benefit from reading the book. My goal was simply to be an encouragement to one of our graduates.
But I did not just flip through the book. I found myself reading each chapter closely because this book was thoughtful, well-written, informative, and full of wise and reflective teaching ...
Dr. John Foubert has been studying pornography and its effects on people for over a decade. I have written and spoken extensively on pornography, so I was eager when Dr. Foubert graciously asked me to endorse his recent book How Pornography Harms. And it did not disappoint. In fact, I would consider an indispensable resource for students, parents, teachers, and pastors to be informed about how pornography is changing the way people think about sex ...
One of the most frightening verses in the entire Bible is Hebrews 12:14, particularly the final phrase: “…and pursue holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.” Yet, like Aragorn’s dramatic words to Frodo Baggins in their encounter at the Prancing Pony in The Fellowship of the Ring, I don’t think we’re frightened enough.
The author’s words are an imperative, and the holiness he is commanding is not the spotless righteousness of Christ imputed to the believer at conversion. Rather, he is speaking of purity of life. Essentially, the writer is telling his audience to pursue Christ-likeness, for without ongoing transformation into the image of Christ, a sinner has no rightful claim on the grace of God. In real life, this means we can go to church, read our Bibles daily, pray regularly, and yet, if we are not being transformed so that our lives reflect Christ’s, as Spurgeon put it, we may prove to be unconverted at last and go to hell on a feather bed.
Given our twin propensities for self-deception and overestimating our own goodness, that passage should shake us up. And if we sneer at discussions of the pursuit of holiness, then dozens of other passages ought to sober us, passages like Romans 12:1-2:
“I appeal to you, therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
But, I don’t think we’re frightened enough, because holiness is not a popular topic among evangelicals today as is evidenced by holiness as a topic missing from much preaching and publishing. As Kevin DeYoung put it in his excellent book by the same title, there’s a hole in our holiness.
But this is nothing new.
J. C. Ryle (1816-1900) wrote his classic work Holiness to address a crisis surrounding the doctrine of sanctification among evangelicals of his day. The rise of Keswick movement, which posited a passive “let go and let God” take on sanctification was drawing many adherents in England. Keswick teaching blunted the nerve that drives the pursuit of holiness, prompting Ryle to write, “We must be holy, because this is one grand end and purpose for which Christ came into the world. . . . Jesus is a complete Savior. He does not merely take away the guilt of a believer’s sin, he does more—he breaks its power.”
Both the Reformers and their heirs, the Puritans, emphasized holiness to a degree that led historians to characterize the Puritan era as most fundamentally a holiness movement. While there are aspects of the Puritans’ lifestyle we have no interest in emulating (we enjoy our electricity and telephones), they taught and modeled holiness with a clarity rarely seen in the history of the church.
In our age of hipster worship services and sermonettes (which Spurgeon once quipped “produce Christianettes”), holiness of heart and life seldom find much traction. Wrote DeYoung, “There is a gap between our love for the gospel and our love for godliness. . . It’s not pietism, legalism, or fundamentalism to take holiness seriously.”
Why? Because God is holy and we are not, yet that seldom frightens us into action. The word “holy” appears more than 600 times in Scripture and, as DeYoung points out, more than 700 times if you include words like sanctify and sanctification. It also warns against worldliness dozens of times. In numerous places including 1 Peter 1:16, God’s Word says “Be holy for I am holy” (says the Lord). The Bible seems to emphasize holiness ad-nauseum, but why don’t we? Heaven and hell are at stake, so why are we not more alarmed? Why does it not drive us to pursue holiness?
I can think of many reasons, but here’s a baker’s dozen:
1. Because we no longer understand the complementarity of law and gospel. Either because the Old Testament is viewed as archaic and useless or out of an underlying fear of promoting legalism, law and gospel are seldom seen together. Yet, as John Bunyan, in The Doctrine of Law and Grace Unfolded, wrote, “If you would know the authority and power of the gospel, labor first to know the power and authority of the law. . . . that man that does not know the law, does not know indeed and in truth that he is a sinner; and that man that does not know he is a sinner, does not know savingly there is a Savior.” Puritan preaching aimed to crush sinners with the law and heal them with the gospel. So must ours.
2. Because 150-plus years of of revivalism has focused on salvation at the expense of sanctification. We tend to preach only half of the Great Commission. Since the Second Great Awakening in the early 19th century, evangelicals in general and Baptists in particular have focused on seeing sinners converted. Without question, this is good and right, but discipleship in terms of progressively being conformed to the image of Christ is not as often emphasized. Jesus’s words “teaching them to obey all I’ve commanded” seem old school and passé, not cool, akin to “churchianity.”
3. Because we tend to celebrate what Christ saves us from (the penalty of sin), but neglect what he saved us to (liberty from the power of sin). Of course we want to escape the wrath of God, but being liberated from bondage to sin doesn’t appeal as much to our innate self-interest.
4. Because when we do talk about holiness, it’s not always grace-driven, but is more often a heart-calcifying legalism or a rigorous moralism/asceticism. Thus, we avoid it because it is impossible. Our situation is well summarized in the words often attributed to Bunyan: “Run John, run, the law commands, but gives me neither feet nor hands…” Too many sermons amount to mere moralism, all caboose and no engine. As DeYoung wrote, “Any gospel which says only what you must do and never announces what Christ has done is no gospel at all.” Indeed.
5. Because, in our noble drive to be gospel-centered, there is a mistaken notion that we should talk about indicatives and not imperatives. Yet woven through the fabric of Scripture is a relentless pattern of indicative followed by imperative. Ephesians is a clear example of this with the initial three chapters setting forth doctrine and the last three chapters carefully lining out “therefore.” If we preach one without the other, we fail to proclaim the full counsel of God.
6. Because of a fear of legalism among younger evangelicals. Small wonder this is true for so many of us. The church in which I grew up was often hijacked by legalism. Still, that should not keep us from preaching the imperatives of Scripture, particularly since the gospel is the catalyst that enables us to keep the commandments of God. Yes, legalism is sub-gospel, but a failure to proclaim the law risks leaving sinners wondering why they need Christ in the first place.
7. Because we don’t talk much about the fear of God. When the Israelites stood at the foot of Sinai, they so feared God they begged for him to stop talking. Well does Paul, in Romans 3, describe our current generation of Christians—“there is no fear of God before their eyes.” We have lost any sense of “reverence and awe” in worship because in our corporate worship and in our overall posture, the Creator is now our buddy. As Michael Horton argues, modern evangelicals approach God with a “greasy familiarity,” much as they might a Facebook friend or a fellow pilgrim in following their favorite sports team. Our God is mostly imminent and barely transcendent.
8. Because of weak teaching on “once saved always saved.” Non-lordship salvation has severed the nerve of holiness. If our decision to follow Jesus punches our ticket to heaven no matter what happens in the days, months, and years that follow, then why fool with the rigors of putting off the old man and putting on the new? There’s little sense of a need to persevere in holiness.
9. Because the god of pop theology is heavy on love and light on wrath. He loves you unconditionally and his job is to forgive. Then what’s to fear? Certainly, God loves his people, but he is simultaneously wrathful against sin. When that’s missing, God’s love gets defined in foggy, frothy, unbiblical terms that tends to terminate on the glory of man. Luther called it a “theology of glory,” one severely at odds with a theology of the cross that commands a follower of Christ to come and die.
10. Because holiness takes time and effort. Many churches prize what I like to call “lightning bolt spirituality.” In a crisis moment, the Holy Spirit strikes you like a lightning bolt and you become 90 percent more sanctified instantly. Sanctification comes through a series of ecstatic experiences sprinkled over the course of our lives. There is little tolerance for slow, steady, daily growth by means of the ordinary means of grace. Plus, those things take effort and a willingness to settle for slow, often undetectable, change over a lifetime.
11. Because of an unbiblical view of Christian freedom. The pursuit of liberty is too often shorn from a simultaneous pursuit of righteousness.
12. Because labeling anything “unholy” seems judgmental and intolerant. An unbiblical equating of love with unbridled liberty and self-expression/self-definition often sits behind this reason. The net effect here is that antinomianism will tend to feel much more like a complement to grace than telling another person “without holiness no one will see the Lord.”
13. Because there are many unregenerate people in churches. The last thing unregenerate people desire is to pursue holiness.
In Holiness, Ryle spends an entire chapter unpacking Hebrews 12:14, and he presents numerous reasons why the imperative contained therein is profoundly sobering. One of them, which that verse seems to be driving at is this:
“We must be holy, because this is the only sound evidence that we are true children of God. Children in this world are generally like their parents. Some, doubtless, are more so, and some less— but it is seldom indeed that you cannot trace a kind of family likeness. And it is much the same with the children of God.”
Let us preach and teach holiness in our churches—we are not fearful enough.
We are living in a time of spiritual and political unrest. As believers, we should be comforted by the reality that we serve a sovereign God and resurrected Savior. It seems that there are many even within the church who are in a continual state of fear and anxiousness or anger and bitterness. I am convinced that we should be crying out passionately for revival, but it often seems we care more about trying to win arguments on Twitter.
Jesus spoke to the church at Ephesus,
But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent. (Revelation 2:4–5)
I believe Jesus is calling the Ephesian church to revival. He is calling them to remember, repent and return to a greater love to Him.
I believe God is calling His church to revival once again. We need a love revival: love for Jesus, love for His church, love for each other, and love for the lost. Not some sentimental, commercial-driven kind of love, but a Holy-Spirit-driven, Christ-centered, Gospel-proclaiming movement of God!
One of my favorite revival accounts is the story of the Welsh Revival of 1904–5. It began like most revivals, with various calls to prayer and a recognition of the spiritual coldness of the day. The revival expanded when a coal miner by the name of Evan Roberts experienced personal revival and began to be used mightily of the Lord. He began to travel from town to town, speaking about the change God had rendered in his life. He began to pray that God would convert 100,000 souls in a six-month period. God answered the prayer, and the newspapers even published the results: 70,000 after two months; 85,000 after five months; and more than 100,000 in six months.
The impact of the revival was noticeable throughout the land in many ways. Chapels were overflowing with attendees; judges were presented with white gloves to signify there were no crimes to be tried; and taverns had to shut their doors because alcoholism was halved.
My favorite account was that so many of the coal miners had been saved, they had to re-train the horses how to haul the coal out of the mines. A manager stated, “The haulers are some of the very lowest. They have driven their horses by obscenity and kicks. Now they can hardly persuade their horses to start working, because there is no obscenity and no kicks.” Even the horses could recognize there was something different about the men who worked in the mines.
Roberts shared consistently what he called “Four Points,” or four requirements, for revival. We understand that revival comes by the power and Spirit of the Lord, but men and women who follow these four points provide fertile ground for such a movement. Roberts shared that one must:
- Put away any unconfessed sin. We cannot expect God to move in power in our lives when we refuse to deal with unconfessed sin. We must confess and agree with God about sin if we expect to grow in our love for Him and for others.
- Put away any doubtful habit. In a culture and even a Christian culture that cries out for our “rights” or liberty, we often forget that we are slaves to Christ. If there is anything that causes us or others to stumble, we need to be willing to quickly put it away. Normally, if you need to ask whether it should be part of the Christian life, it probably is not something that needs to remain in your life. There are many things that are not particularly sinful but have become so in your life because they have grown too prominent in your life.
- Obey the Holy Spirit promptly. If we expect to fall more in love with Jesus and really see revival, we MUST walk in obedience.
- Confess Christ publicly. If genuine revival is to happen, it must be ALL ABOUT JESUS! There is nothing in us that is worth lifting up other than our Savior, who dwells in us!
Will we take Evan Roberts’ challenge? Do we want to please Jesus more than we want anything else? May God strengthen us to confess any known sin, put away any doubtful habit, and obey the Holy Spirit. And may Jesus be high and lifted up!
Information is summarized from Malcolm McDow & Alvin Reid, Firefall (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1997), 275–279.
As cited in McDow & Reid, Firefall, 279.
One of the greatest assets to effective ministry is a positive message coming from the home—specifically a healthy marriage and stable relationships with children. Patterns of dysfunction here can be disastrous. Paul provided for two young pastors, Timothy and Titus, a list of qualifications for church leadership (1 Tim. 3:1-13, Titus 1:5-9), most of which emphasize character qualities. One notable exception is the more visible factor: “He must manage his own household well . . . for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Tim. 3:4-5) ...
As a busy pastor it can be overwhelming to search for the perfect tool to accomplish the tasks you need to get done. This may be simply keeping up with your schedule, communicating with staff and church members, or managing your to-do list. While the tools in this collection may not meet every need, below you will find a few apps and web services that have saved us time (and frustration) and can hopefully do the same for you.
I have been deeply troubled by a possible objection to the Kalam Cosmological argument which I believe is one of the strongest arguments for theism. In what sense can God be thought to exist as a timeless entity? Doesn't the notion of existence itself imply time. I'm not convinced that it is possible for something to "exist" without or outside time.
Should anyone on the other side bring up this objection, I think it would be very hard to refute. I would like to hear how you would answer this objection ...
Recent generations of pastors have suffered from a ministerial identity crisis. Some pastors see themselves as the organizers and promoters or programs to attract more people into the church’s walls while others see themselves as showmen who seek to bring in large crowds with an ever-increasing array of stunts.
What many pastors seem to have lost is a biblical understanding of the role of the pastor. The marketer, the organizer, and the showmen have come in vogue because we have lost our connection with the biblical vision for pastoral ministry.
To regain a biblical view of the ministry, we need to reengage with a variety of biblical texts that show the multi-faceted work of the pastor. While we immediately of the Pastoral Epistles as the first stop on this exercise, we also need to give attention to various Old Testament texts. In particular, the book of Ezekiel gives us three images of the work of the pastor—the watchman, the shepherd, and the debater. This article will focus on the image of the pastor as a watchman.
The prophet as watchman in Ezekiel
In Ezekiel 3:16-21, the Lord introduces Ezekiel to the gravity of his task as a prophet. He tells Ezekiel he is to act as a watchman on the wall, conveying whatever words of warning the Lord delivers to Israel. He will not be held responsible for the reaction of the people. Whether they repent and return to the Lord or continue in their rebellion, Ezekiel’s only task is the delivery of the message. If they do not repent because they ignored the warning, their blood is on their own heads.
However, if they do not repent because Ezekiel did not declare God’s word to them, they will still die. In addition, Ezekiel will hear the fateful words, “his blood I will require at your hands.” He cannot repent for the people or ensure their repentance, he his only responsible to proclaim the Lord’s word to them.
The apostle as watchman in the New Testament
When Paul speaks to the Ephesian elders at Miletus in Acts 20, his words show that he carries this same sense of responsibility before the Lord to convey God’s word to perishing souls. He tells them that he is “innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” In watchman-like fashion, Paul recognized that all men everywhere need to repent, so all need to hear the whole counsel of God. Therefore, he preached this message whenever and wherever he could. Because of this, he was not responsible for what people did with the Gospel once they heard it, but he was responsible to get it to them.
The pastor as watchman in the New Testament
The writer of Hebrews echoes this language in chapter 13 when he tells the believers to whom he is writing that they should obey their leaders and submit to them. Then he says pastors keep watch over the souls of these believers and will give an account. He stresses that church leaders will stand before the Lord and answer to him for how they watched over the souls of the people who were committed to their care.
The Pastor as watchman today
Pastors today also bear this responsibility to act as watchmen on the wall who deliver God’s word to his people and keep watch over their souls. This first manifests itself in three particular areas.
1. Public proclamation
In our entertainment-driven and therapeutic culture, we face the temptation to minimize the preaching of the word for more “exciting” elements and to reduce our sermons to mini counseling sessions that give people practical tips for how to get along in life.
Instead, we must labor to lay God’s word before God’s people in all of its fullness. We stand under the divine obligation to open up God’s word, proclaim its meaning and message, and apply it to the hearts of his people.
2. Personal discipleship
If we exercise our calling as watchman in the pulpit only, we fulfill it only in part. Therefore, we must also carry out this mandate in personal pastoral ministry. Richard Baxter reminds us of this when he says, “You may study long, but preach to little purpose, unless you also have a pastoral ministry.” Baxter does not diminish the role of the pulpit, but points us to the importance of one on one discipleship, encouragement, and discipline.
The faithful pastor meets with people to teach them the Scriptures and help them learn how to follow Jesus with greater faithfulness. He warns brothers and sisters who stray into sin and shows them the beauty of repentance. He also comes alongside the tired and the broken to encourage them.
3. Pastoral watchfulness
The people the Lord has entrusted to our care will often walk through discouragement, pain, and sin without our having any idea what is happening to them. We assume they will come talk to us when things get tough, but experience proves this assumption to be false. Therefore, pastors must go to their people to find out how they can pray for them and how they can help them.
Warn them of dangers ahead
In his book The Shepherd-Leader, Timothy Witmer suggests two questions the pastor can consistently ask that will create opportunities for good discussions. “How are you doing?” and “How can I pray for you?” Often, the answer will be “We are doing great” and “I can’t of think of anything you should pray for us about.” Other times, these questions will be an open door inviting them to tell us about the difficulties through which they are walking. This gives us an opportunity to come in with the encouragement and help that they need. Faithful watchmen must be proactive shepherds.
The greatest dangers that people face are the ones that they don’t know anything about. When the pastor acts as a watchman, faithfully preaching, discipling, and shepherding; he warns people of the danger they face and helps them walk through the darkest valleys.
People often ignore the watchman or disregard his words, but this does not deter the faithful pastor. We pray, we preach, we teach, we disciple, and we ask pointed questions. Then we lie down and go to sleep, trusting the Lord to accomplish his purpose through his Word.
The post Pastor, don’t forget you are a watchman on the walls appeared first on Southern Equip.
Undoubtedly, Christians in America should be commended for the growth of missions in the last two to three decades, and specifically the growth in short-term mission trips (STMs). In 1989, there were 120,000 American “short-term missionaries.” This number has exploded to 2.2 million at a cost of $1.6 billion in 2006. This statistic comes from authors Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert in their somewhat controversial book, When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor … and Yourself. The natural question that the authors consider—and one that we all should as well—is whether we are being good stewards of God’s money and resources with each STM.