Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Healthy Church, part 3

(We are summarizing Mark Dever's little book What is a Healthy Church over the next several weeks. These articles appear in our weekly Forerunner at First Baptist Church, Thomasville.)

The second mark of a healthy church (congregation), according to Dever, is “biblical theology”.

He writes, “That’s why a second essential mark of a healthy church is sound biblical theology, or theology that’s biblical. Otherwise we will interpret individual verses to mean whatever we want them to mean.” (p. 70)

See, we are all theologians--everyone. The question is not whether we are theologians, but what kind of theologian are we and from what frame of reference or foundation do we build our theology.

For the ccongregation (the people of God in all her endeavors as His people) to be healthy, our theology must be grounded in scripture--the whole of scripture.

Here is a good paragraph: “Soundness is an old-fashioned word. Yet we should cherish soundness--soundness in our understanding of the God of the Bible and his ways with us. Paul uses the word “sound” a number of times in his pastoral writings to Timothy and Titus. It means “reliable,” “accurate,” or “faithful.” At root, it is an image from the medical world meaning whole or healthy. Biblically sound theology, then, is theology that is faithful to the teaching of the entire bible. It reliably and accurately interprets the parts in terms of the whole.” (p. 70)

Sometimes we are going to disagree on points of theology, even though we are reading the same bible, even among believers in the same congregation. So, how do we deal with those disagreements.

The following paragraph may be helpful: “There’s a principle running through all of this: the closer we get to the heart of the faith, the more we expect unity in our understanding of the faith--in sound biblical doctrine. The early church put it this way: in essentials, unity; in nonessentials, diversity; in all things, charity.” (p. 72)

Personally, I might nuance that just a little bit, particular when discussing issues within a local congregation, but it’s still a good place to start.

Now, a question: what kind of theologian are you? From what foundation do you build your theology---the bible or something else?

Always a challenge to remain faithful to the bible in the midst of our chaotic world; therefore, hold fast because you are held fast.

Healthy Church, part 2

The first mark of a healthy church, according to Dever is “expositional preaching.”

He writes, “Expositional preaching is the kind of preaching that, quite simply, exposes God’s Word. It takes a particular passage of Scripture, explains that passage, and then applies the meaning of the passage to the life of the congregation.”

Expositional preaching is more about “how a preacher decides” what to say. What is the thing that drives the sermon? Is it the text or something else? This is not a matter of style, Dever says, but rather a matter of the “biblical content” of the sermon itself.

Expositional preaching is taking the subject from the text for the sermon; then taking the structure of the text about the subject for the structure of the sermon. Notice, everything is tied back to the text itself. Dever says it this way: “the point of the passage is the point of the sermon.”

The fundamental assumption behind this approach to preaching/teaching is the assumption that we believe God has spoken to us in his Word and that he has a particular message for us in his word. Every word, phrase, and sentence is “God-breathed” from the Holy Spirit. The purpose in this method of preaching is to get at what the author intended under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

A “steady diet” of expositional preaching/teaching fosters a hunger for “hearing” from God through His Word, not just a man’s opinion about His Word. Then, God’s Spirit uses his word to cultivate spiritual growth in His people.

There you go...a summary of Dever’s first mark of a healthy church. There are other methods of preaching/teaching that can be beneficial to congregations, but it seems to me that this approach helps people, including the one speaking, that we are after what God says rather than what man says.

Now, you can test your pastor. Does he preach expositional sermons? (Please be kind, I’m still learning)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Giving, Generosity, Greed, the Gospel, and the Glory of God

Establish some Baseline Biblical Truths (overarching realities)
  • Loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength includes the use of money. (stewardship)
    • Matthew 22:37-40 - And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets."
    • Matthew 6:19-21- Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
    • where & how we spend our money is a reflection of what we value
  • Everything we are and have been given is a gift from God and for God - including money.
    • if the commandment is the hub of stewardship, this would be the ball-bearings
    • money - a tool for the glory of God given from a generous heart
    • stewards of what belongs to God, including money
    • Psalm 24:1 - The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein
    • 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 - Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
  • Because of what God has done for us in Christ Jesus, He deserves the best of what we have been given.
    • giving generously is an expression of worship; response of worship; gratitude; love; adoration; allegiance; loyalty; devotion
    • Romans 12:1- 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.
  • Pursuing after money for its own sake with a greedy heart is sinful and idolatrous.
    • Matthew 6:24 - No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
    • 1 Timothy 6:6-10 - Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

Big Idea for Today (2 statements constitute the big idea)
  • The purpose for giving in the NT was to meet the needs of people and to further the gospel.
  • The teaching of the NT on money focuses more on the “why”, “where”, and “how” of giving rather than on a percentage.

Questions (giving - includes money, but is so much more than money)
  • Why do we give? Motivation
    • Gospel - 2 Corinthians 8:9 - For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.
    • Love - 2 Corinthians 8:8 - I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.
    • Needs of others - 2 Corinthians 8:13-15 - I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness 14 your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. 15 As it is written, "Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack."
  • Where do we give? Investment
    • needs & mission of the local congregation - Acts 2:44-45 - And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
    • needs of the community - Luke 10:35-37 - And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, 'Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.' 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?" 37 He said, "The one who showed him mercy." And Jesus said to him, "You go, and do likewise."
    • needs of our partners in the gospel - Philippians 1:3-5 - I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.
  • How do we give? Attitude
    • In proportion to how God prospers - 1 Corinthians 16:2 - On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.
    • In response to God’s giving of Jesus - 2 Corinthians 8:9
    • With a cheerful heart - 2 Corinthians 9:7 - Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
    • with a generous heart - 2 Corinthians 9:6, 10-13
      • ESV 2 Corinthians 9:6 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.
      • ESV 2 Corinthians 9:10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way for all your generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. 12 For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. 13 By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others,

Questions for Reflection
  • Does our use of money reveal an unhealthy (idolatrous) attachment to this world and the things of this world? (1 John 2:15-17)
  • Does our use of money reveal a heart that seeks first the kingdom of God or our own kingdom? (Matthew 6:33)
  • Does our use of money reveal that Jesus, the Gospel, and the Great Commission are central priorities in our life?

It is the gospel that sets us free from the entrapment to the love of money and its snares. In the gospel we find our greatest treasure in Christ rather than anything that money could buy on this earth. And, therefore we are set free from trying to find our comfort and status and worth and value in money or what money can buy. Therefore, we seek to use money as a tool that God has entrusted to us for His glory to meet the needs of others and the for the furtherance of the gospel, to extend the kingdom of God that is based upon generosity rather than our own kingdoms that are based upon selfishness and unhealthy worldly attachments and pursuits.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Minding our Mind: Thinking for the glory of God

We are in a series on Sunday morning on Stewardship. Today, we dealt with the command to "love the Lord our God with all our mind" or thinking for the glory of God. Here is a modified outline. If you need more, just let me know.

We began with a quote by David Horner (my pastor in college): "What and how we think has been shaped by the world around us far more than it has been by the Christ within us"

Why does our mind matter to God?
  • Because of our human make-up
  • Because of the exhortations in scripture
  • Because of the way God works in our sanctification
  • Because of the current religious/spiritual climate in our culture
  • Because of the deceptiveness of Satan

What does it mean to love the Lord our God with all our mind?
  • Thinking deeply about God - his purposes, ways, nature, character
  • Cultivating a biblical worldview - informed by scripture; frame of reference being the bible - thinking Christianly & biblically; evaluating, filtering, & assessing all that we are being fed through the lens of scripture;
  • Guarding against wrong ways of thinking - being on our guard against false teaching & unbiblical worldviews & philosophies that contradict God’s revelation

How do we cultivate a mind ready for action?
  • “set your hope fully on the grace that will brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” - the gospel; all of it - death, burial, & resurrection of Jesus and its implications; the ground & foundation of godly thinking for the glory of God
  • Saturating our minds with scripture
  • Prayer - relying on the HS of truth
  • Reading books that deepen our understanding of God
  • Willingness to be stretched, even challenged in “how” we think about things

What are the results?
  • a developing of Spiritual discernment - growing in our ability to discern truth/error, right/wrong, good/evil; making righteous judgments grounded in the truth of scripture; God’s ways/world’s ways
  • A thinking faith - a mind ready to interact with and even confront the ideologies that are prevalent in our culture that are contrary to scripture (more application of this tonight)

What areas of life can we apply this exhortation?
  • Psychology/psychiatry - man is basically “good at heart”
  • Modern self-esteem movement - premise of ourselves being the “center” of the universe
  • Theological persuasions - prosperity gospel
  • “Best Selling” books - The Shack; The Secret, anything by Bart Earman or Eckart Tolle

What are some resources?
  • Tim Challies - The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment
  • James Emery White - A Mind for God
  • John Piper - Think

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Healthy Church, part 1

In Mark Dever’s little book, What is a healthy church?, he begins by defining church and then defining a healthy church.

Church is people. It is not an organization, though it is organized. It is not a club, though there are “members”. It is not a building, though church meets in buildings, usually. Jesus didn’t die for brick and mortar.  Church is people; it is a specific group of people. “It’s a people--the new covenant, blood-bought people of God” (p. 34, Healthy Church). Church is the people of God--gathered and scattered--under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the head of “the church”, not organization, but people.

I like this: “a group of pardoned rebels whom God wants to use to display his glory before all the heavenly host because they tell the truth about him and look increasingly like him [Jesus]---holy, loving, united.”

So then, what is a healthy congregation (church)? I’m going to use the word “congregation” to refer to what we usually label a “local church”. Dever would answer, “A healthy church [congregation] is a congregation that increasingly reflects God’s character as his character has been revealed in his Word.”

The word healthy “communicates the idea of a body that’s living and growing as it should” (p. 39). There are different ways to measure healthy growth, so please don’t automatically assume that “growth” means “budgets, buildings, and bodies”. That may or may not be the case. For more study on that, read Revelation 2 and 3 where Jesus writes letters to the seven churches. We might be surprised. In the language of the conversation a friend of mine and I were having today, it’s probably not a good idea to use the world’s scorecard (or our version of the world’s scorecard) to measure the health of our congregations.

It just hit me----how does healthiness relate to faithfulness?

Next week, mark 1 of a healthy church according to Dever - “expositional preaching”.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Gift of Womanhood

How God uses women of faith to influence those around them through their faith...

1) A sincere faith (2 Timothy 1:3-5)

2) A living faith (Titus 2:3-5) - discipling; living; influencing future generations

3) A believing faith (Hebrews 11:11) - story of Sarah - lived in faith based upon the character of God, specifically his faithfulness

4) An obedient faith (Hebrews 11:31) - story of Rahab, the prostitute; picture of God's grace

Ladies, God has uniquely called you and gifted you to leverage your influence for the kingdom of God. Embrace that calling.

God bless you!