October 1

The Great Importance of Our Belief in Original Sin

Recently I read The Christian Doctrine of Original Sin by Jonathan Edwards, one of the leading pastors in The Great Awakening which occurred in America prior to the Revolutionary War.  Edwards wrote the book because he saw a weakening of the doctrine of Total Depravity in New England churches where he ministered.  If sinners are not radically corrupt, then a radical remedy is not really needed in the gospel of the grace of God.  

 

This concern of Edwards proved true as many of the churches of New England turned to liberal theology and eventually lost the gospel entirely, like the Unitarians.  What do they believe?

 

Unitarians believe in the goodness of human nature, criticize doctrines of the Fall, the Atonement, and eternal damnation, and require only openness to divine inspiration.  (The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, p. 995)

 

I once attended a Unitarian church service where the entire message was about saving the environment with no hint about saving mankind from the ruin of sin.  If you don’t believe that mankind is ruined in sin, why not focus on some other ruin that needs saving?  If people are fine, then let’s try to harness their energies to improve some aspect of life that needs improving.  After the service, we were invited to go on a nature walk rather than go and make disciples.  (By the way, we do have a creation mandate to care responsibly for the earth God has created, but that is a far cry from replacing God with the worship of the earth itself.  That is the inevitable result of denying Original Sin.  We will see no need to be reconciled to the God we have strayed from.)

 

What Jonathan Edwards saw in his Bible is that we are sinners in three ways:  1) We are guilty of Adam’s sin because he was head of the whole human race which God constituted as one.  Romans 5:12 says that when Adam sinned, we all sinned.  Notice the past tense.  It does not say that we sin (present tense), but that we sinned in the past when Adam sinned.  The name Adam is the same Hebrew word for mankind.  Adam represented the whole human race so that his sin was also our sin.  2)  We inherit a depraved nature from Adam with a total bent towards sin and hostility towards God.  Romans 8:7-8 says we are hostile to God, do not submit to God, cannot submit to God, and cannot please God.  Matthew 9:36 says we are helpless, unable to remedy our sinful situation.   3)  We commit personal sin (and can only sin before salvation because our good works are corrupted by wrong motives).  Isaiah 64:6 says that the righteous deeds of the nonbeliever are as filthy rags.  Coming from a polluted source, God sees them as polluted works.

 

Original sin is proven from experience in several ways, even if the Bible did not teach us so.  We begin sinning immediately as soon as we can make our own choices.  The self-centeredness in the youngest child is so self-evident that parents must spend enormous amounts of time counteracting it thru discipline and instruction.  We sin continuously throughout our entire life.  Even the best people get impatient, complain or lose their temper.  Almost no one ever throughout the longest life claims to be perfect.  Finally, we sin progressively worse (unless we are saved and born anew by God’s grace).  The child left to itself becomes progressively worse, not better.  What are the implications of this as Christians for life and ministry?  There are many, so stay tuned for next month’s article when we will explore them.

Your friend, thinking with you, Pastor Brian (:-}).

September 1

Life in the Spirit from Romans 8

Someone has said that if stranded on a deserted island and only one chapter from a Bible washed up on shore, Romans 8 would be the chapter of wish.  It is hard to argue with that choice.  Romans 8 covers in succinct form everything Christians need to know about how the Christian life works.  It covers salvation, sanctification, glorification, the role of all three persons of the godhead in salvation, the place of suffering in the Christian life, the place of good works, how prayer works, and our future assurance of resurrection.  A special focus on our security occurs as verse one assures us of no condemnation and the last verse (v. 39) assures us of no separation.

 

It is instructive that the Holy Spirit is mentioned only five times in Romans chapters 1-7 and only eight times in Romans chapters 9-16 for a total of thirteen mentions in fifteen chapters, but twenty-one times is the Holy Spirit mentioned in Romans 8 alone.  Truly Romans 8 is about life in the Spirit.  Verses 5-11 are about the changes the Holy Spirit makes in believers’ lives so we can live the Christian life.  This is such a contrast with every other religion on the face of the earth.  Verse 3 says, For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.  Every other religion is about what people DO for God to earn His favor.  Christianity is about what God has DONE for us to give us His favor in Christ, and then what His Holy Spirit DOES in us to live the Christian life.  Truly, every other religion is spelled DO, but Christianity is spelled DONE.  And then it is spelled DOES because of the work of the Spirit in us.  John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress, put it in such an excellent couplet:

 

Run, John run, the law commands, but gives us neither feet nor hands.

Better news the gospel brings; it bids me fly and gives me wings.

 

The Holy Spirit’s changes are like being given spiritual wings so we may please God.  

 

  1. 5 – a new mind set (those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit)
  2. 6 – a new life in fellowship with God (to set the mind on the Spirit is life)

Vv. 6-8 – a new submission to God (the mind set on the Spirit is…peace [toward God])

Vv. 9-11 – a new assurance of eternal life that includes future resurrection of the body

 

All this prepares for, and leads to, the only commands found in Romans 8:  So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.  For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live, vv. 12-13.

 

When I was converted as a teenager, I didn’t understand all of this.  These Romans 8 changes the Holy Spirit had made were undefined to me.  I just knew that I was different.  This new lifestyle had begun exactly as described in vv. 12-13 (which do not exclude ongoing isolated failures and sins which still occur this side of heaven).  What a joy it is to understand the Spirit’s work more and more and live with the wings He has provided.  DONE & DOES, then DO.  In that order.

Your friend, rejoicing in Romans 8, Pastor Brian (:-}).

August 1

Discerning the Essence vs. the Expression of Worship

One of the problems we sometimes have in church life is discerning between the essence of something versus its expression.  In some ways, the King James Bible controversy falls into this category.  The KJV is one expression of the essence of God’s Word in Bible translation.  When people make it the only one they are confusing the essence of God’s Word (found in other faithful translations) with the expression of it (in the KJV).  Another area of church life that we often make that mistake is in worship.  We can easily confuse the essence of worship with the expression of worship.

When Reggie White was still living he gave a famous speech to the Wisconsin State Legislature.  In the speech, he extolled various ethnic/racial groups for having certain strengths that add to our collective enrichment.  He said that African-Americans are particularly good at worship because of the exuberant, expressive style of black worship.  The speech was not well-received partly because of errors like this that confused the essence of something with its expression.  

I have run into this over the years in conversations with people.  One friend told me about visiting a church where he found the sermon to be particularly moving.  But he was disappointed in the response of the congregation.  He said to me (and I quote), They should have been on their feet clapping.  But we all know that clapping can become a substitute for actually changing.  Which is better, to clap or to change?  Clearly clapping cannot be the essence of what it means to respond to a powerful sermon.  It may be appropriate at times (or maybe not), but one cannot judge a congregation by the absence of clapping.

This is really quite important because we all tend to elevate what we prefer over the essence of what something really is.  Once we do that we may miss out entirely on what we should be doing in favor of a focus on externals.  Those insisting on the KJV are so caught up by it that it makes their lives and churches unhealthy.  They are so judgmental they fail to obey the very Bible they are jealously attempting to protect.

So, what is the essence of worship?  The great Protestant Reformer John Calvin wrote, Lawful worship consists in obedience alone.  A more modern-day statement comes from Prof. D. A. Carson:  Our generation desperately needs to connect praise with righteousness, worship with obedience, and the Lord’s response with a clean heart.  What these gifted teachers are saying is what the Bible says itself.

And Samuel said [to King Saul], Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?  Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.

Saul’s fundamental error was that he thought he could offer God the expression of worship rather than the essence of worship.  We can fall into that trap too.  Various styles of worship are acceptable to God.  Most of us will gravitate toward either the quiet or the more exuberant.  Either is okay.  What is not okay is worshiping without obedience – substituting the expression of worship for its essence.  In the end, that is not to worship at all.  

Your friend, learning about worship, Pastor Brian (:-}).

July 1

Lessons in Lamenting from the Weeping Prophet, Jeremiah

One of the forms of Hebrew poetry found in the Psalms is lament.  A lament is a complaint where the Psalmist pours out his case to God about the treatment being experienced with the request that God intervene and bring the painful situation to an end.  There is an entire book in the Bible called Lamentations where Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, pours out his heart to God as he watched the Babylonian Captivity unfold upon Judah with all its horror and destruction.

 

In chapter 3, Jeremiah pours out his feelings about God’s treatment of him personally during this horrifying time.  He was confused, vv. 2-3, miserable, v. 4, in tribulation, v. 5, trapped, vv. 6-7, without answers, v. 8, feeling pursued by God, v. 10, torn up, v. 11, persecuted, v. 12, humiliated, v. 14, without peace or happiness, v. 17, and unable to hold on, v. 18.  

 

Jeremiah sounds like someone who is about ready to abandon his faith in God.  He sounds like the woman who once lamented to me, I’ve been a good girl all my life; where has it gotten me.  That lament became the beginning of a departure from God that led to a hardened heart.  Several years later her sister-in-law said to me that she had become a hardened woman.  

 

This is where laments from people of faith take a different turn.  The lamenter is honest about what is being felt, but rather than turning from God in resentment and disbelief, the lamenter turns to God in trust and submission.  Jeremiah does this starting in v. 21.  Many lessons can be learned from Jeremiah at this point about how to respond in lamenting situations.  

 

The Lord is still good, v. 25.  After everything poured out (in paragraph two above), Jeremiah still says, The Lord is good.  In fact, vv. 25, 26, 27 all begin with the word good.  This is so very important to believe, but also to affirm.  For believers, even on the darkest days there are still blessings to count, and those blessings come from the hand of a good God who is still working.  

 

We must wait for the Lord’s timing, vv. 25-26.  God told Jeremiah the nation Judah would suffer captivity for 70 years, Jeremiah 25:11.  That is a long time to wait.  Jeremiah would be dead before Judah’s fortunes would be restored.  Yet Jeremiah said, It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.  God works in His timing, not ours.  Some lessons require lots of time before they are fully internalized.  We must learn to quietly wait.  

 

Let the affliction humble us, vv. 28-30.  Speaking about the yoke of affliction Jeremiah wrote, Let him sit alone in silence when [the yoke] is laid on him; let him put his mouth in the dust—there may yet be hope; let him give his cheek to the one who strikes, and let him be filled with insults.  When we are forced to eat dust, essentially says Jeremiah, eat it.  When we must grovel in the dust, don’t reject it, but accept the slap in the face the Lord is letting us have.  The reason God permits affliction is to break our pride.  Only when pride is broken can we learn.  So instead of resisting it, be humbled by it.

 

Instead of complaining, test and examine our ways, vv. 39-42.  Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord!  There is the difference.  The person of faith learns and grows turning back to God rather than away.  When that happens, affliction has succeeded.

 

Your friend, learning from the weeping prophet, Pastor Brian (:-}).

June 1

Apologetics Has Two Sides. We Should All Be Experts in One, if Not Both.

Most Christians know that Apologetics is the technical term for defending the Christian faith.  The concept comes from 1 Peter 3:15:  But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.  “Defense” comes from the Greek word apologia.  Clearly this text is saying that when people ask questions about why we have set our hope in Christ, we are to be prepared with ready answers.  That is one aspect of Apologetics, being prepared to answer questions like:  why I believe the Bible is true; why I believe Jesus rose from the dead; why I believe there is only one way to heaven?  Some Christians are real experts at this.  Dr. Norman Geisler, a former professor of mine, is a world-renowned authority in Apologetics.  Few can match his skill in this area.  His books are very helpful.

 

But there is another side to Apologetics, that those less skillful with verbal arguments, can still be experts at in defending the faith.  In fact, this form of Apologetics must precede and be the basis for the first form.  We can call this a “life-apologetic” in addition to an “answer-apologetic.”  It is interesting that before Peter gets to the important and necessary “answer-apologetic,” he emphasizes the “life-apologetic” in 1 Peter 3:8-12.  Look at just verses 8-9.

 

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.  Do not repay evil for evil of reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.

 

Peter is clearly in v. 9 reflecting on Jesus’ teaching about how to respond to those who persecute us – bless and curse not, said Jesus.  So, we are justified in seeing v. 8 as referring to our relationships primarily with believers, while v. 9 likely refers to our relationships with more hostile unbelievers (as vv. 13-17 go on to explain).  Seeing this, Peter is certainly teaching that God wants us to live lives that are attractive so that people see the gospel at work in us.  In fact, we can see two lessons emerging from verses 8-9 that are developed by Peter in the entire section of verses 8-17:

 

  • Among believers, create a community that models all the virtues of relationships at their best so that people will be attracted to it (v. 8).
  • Among nonbelievers, react in ways so unexpected that they will be surprised and attracted as to why we are so different when mistreated (v. 9 = the Golden Rule).

 

Charles Spurgeon once told his congregation that the best sermons are preached during the week by the people who came to hear him preach.  He said that in the shops, in the offices, in the homes, etc., the most powerful sermons are preached every day to a watching world that cannot deny the power of the eternal gospel on display in Christians’ lives.  Spurgeon was referring to the “life-apologetic.”  Most Christians can trace their conversion to a trusted friend or relative whose respected testimony made the gospel believable.  One of the believers who impacted me the most so respected his quiet, unassuming Christian uncle, that when his nephew heard the gospel it had credibility because of his uncle.  That uncle was living the “life-apologetic,” and we should all be experts at it.  The gospel is both seen and heard, and it takes both to win the lost.

 

Your friend, wanting to BE an apologetic, Pastor Brian (: -}).

May 1

Three Verses in Psalm 119 on How God Uses Affliction

Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible with 176 verses.  It has for a theme the exalting of God’s Word in the life of believers.  Almost every single verse speaks of the Word of God in one of eight different ways:  law, testimonies, precepts, statutes, commandments, judgments, word and ordinances.  Vv. 1-2 pronounce blessing on those who receive the Bible’s work in their lives.

 

Little more than one third of the way into the Psalm, the Psalmist brings up the issue of afflictions in three separate verses, vv. 67, 71, 75.  Apparently, the Psalmist had been slandered by shameless enemies who wanted to smear his reputation, vv. 69-70.  I remember hearing Pastor John MacArthur once say that people-pain can be the worst form of pain.  Physical pain sometimes pales in comparison to the pain people can inflict upon us with false accusations and vindictiveness.  As the Psalmist reflected upon this, he strung together three, almost consecutive lessons on God’s purposes in afflictions of any type we may bear.

 

God uses affliction to bring about correction.  Verse 67 says, Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word.  The term for astray means to “sin ignorantly.”  It suggests straying off the path by being deceived or led astray.  Clearly the Psalmist was a man of God, but he knew that with a fallen nature he was vulnerable to self-deception that would lead to unintentional sin.  Unintentional sin is still sin, but it goes undetected so that we can continue in it for a long time.  God uses affliction to get our attention, block our path, or make us see ourselves as we really are.  Then His corrective Word can do its work on us.  I recall a time of self-denial when I rationalized sin in my life.  A broken relationship brought me to my knees in repentance and confession.  I have been careful about the particular error I fell into ever since.

 

God uses affliction as a good teacher.  Verse 71 affirms, It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.  The Psalmist moves the lesson one step further.  Once affliction has corrected we can now learn the positive truth that we recognize is good.  This reminds us of 2 Timothy 3:16, All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.  I have sat visiting in jail cells with people whose incarceration corrected their selfish ways.  They saw the right way and vowed never to return to the wrong way.  Affliction was hard, but ended up being a good teacher.  Charles Spurgeon said the book of suffering was the best volume in his library.  He learned more from it than any other.

 

God uses affliction because He is faithful to His children.  Verse 75 teaches, I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me.  Faithfulness carries the idea of fidelity or loyalty.  It means that God can be counted on to do what is in the best interest of those He loves.  Since affliction is painful we assume the God administering it is not good.  We may become disillusioned.  Haddon Robinson is often called the dean of homiletics professors.  His father became ill and prayed for healing.  When it didn’t happen, in his simplistic faith he became disillusioned with God.  But when advancing age put Mr. Robinson in a nursing home near his son, Haddon visited his dad for lunch every day until he died.  Imagine how many people would love to spend one hour every day with Haddon Robinson.  That would be worth almost any illness.  Mr. Robinson had a faithful God who gave him a great treasure at the end of his life in the daily visits of his son.  Only a loyal God would do that.

 

Your friend, learning thru affliction, Pastor Brian (:-}).

April 1

Sit. Walk. Stand. How the Christian Life Works According to Ephesians

Today the Tuesday Morning Men’s Bible Study began a study of Ephesians with “yours truly” leading the first lesson.  The theme of Ephesians is our riches in Christ and the key verse of the book is Ephesians 1:3:  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.  The word riches occurs in the opening three chapters five times:  the riches of his grace, 1:7; the riches of his glorious inheritance, 1:18; the immeasurable riches of his grace, 2:7; the unsearchable riches of Christ, 3:8; the riches of his glory, 3:16.  No wonder Pastor Warren Wiersbe entitled his volume on Ephesians, Be Rich.

 

When we look at the plan of Ephesians, it is telling us how the Christian life is to be lived.  Ancient Ephesus was a center of pagan religious worship with the Temple of Diana located there as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.  The occult and magic arts were practiced in the city as a way to ward off the spirit world.  So Ephesus was a mixture of false gods, pagan practices and superstition all done in an attempt to curry favor with the gods and combat evil spirits.  Early Ephesian believers were tempted to mix some of these approaches into their faith in Jesus Christ.  Ephesians sets them straight that the Christian life must be lived a different way.

 

Watchman Nee, the Chinese evangelist, gave a simple outline of Ephesians that sets out in succinct terms Paul’s view of how to live the Christian life.  Chapters 1-3 = Sit.  We are seatedin the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.  Christ has given us all the heavenly resources we need for spiritual living here and now.  Our first need is that God…may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him…that you may know…what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, 1:17-19.  We need to sit and learn our spiritual blessings in Christ and their sufficiency for Christian living.  Commenting on this, Pastor Erwin Lutzer writes:

 

Let me put it this way:  when we accept Christ as Savior, God immediately gives us special recognition, status, authority, power and a host of spiritual privileges.  If we are ignorant of these, we will dutifully plod thru life quite certain that Christianity isn’t all that it is supposed to be.  We will be powerless to achieve spiritual victory when sin rears its ugly head, and there will be no love, joy and peace thru the hardships of life.  (You’re Richer Than You Think, p. 8-9).

 

Chapters 4-5 = WalkWalk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.  Here we discover that a new status as children of God with commensurate spiritual resources, demands a new way of life, a new walk.  As we discern what is pleasing to the Lord, we can walk, not as unwise but as wise, 5:10, 15.  We can do this by drawing upon the power of the Holy Spirit as we are filled with the Spirit, 5:18.  We have to walk, but we are not walking alone. We are enlightened and empowered by Him who indwells us.

 

Chapter 6 = StandPut on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  Spiritual warfare is won by knowing our resources, applying them, and standing when Satan attacks.  We have all that we need for the battle.  We are a well-equipped army.  Sit, walk and stand.  That’s how the Christian life works.

 

Your friend, learning and living, Pastor Brian (:-}).

March 1

The Wonderful Christian Life in Three Amazing Verses

Recently the Tuesday Men’s Bible Study went through Philippians together.  When we got to chapter three it struck me that vv. 9-11 are a nutshell summary of the three phases of our salvation in consecutive order:  justification, sanctification and glorification.  I thought, How many places can you go where in three simple verses the entire scope of salvation is laid out for us?  It is amazing the things we learn as we look at Scripture afresh.

Verse 9 is Justificationthat I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.

This is the wonderful truth that the gospel proclaims a righteous standing with God that is not earned by law-keeping, but is bestowed on sinners who trust the finished work of Christ on the cross for their salvation.  This is the great truth that Martin Luther learned when he discovered that “the righteousness of God” in Romans 1:17 is not the righteousness that God demands, but the righteousness that God gives to those who trust in Jesus.  That glorious truth relieved all of Luther’s anxieties about how he could be right with God and ushered in the mighty Protestant Reformation that has brought salvation to multitudes.

Verse 10 is Sanctificationthat I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.

Sanctification is the second stage in salvation and is clearly a process of becoming more righteous in our behavior.  It is becoming in practice what we are in standing before God.  Note that verse 10 tells us how we grow in this ongoing process.  First, we grow in our experience of Christ (by getting to know him better).  This is clearly a life-transforming knowledge because it results in the power of his resurrection.  Getting to know Christ directly and personally leads to sinning less and obeying Him more as He changes our lives thru our knowledge of Him.  Second, we share his sufferings (which refine us and deepen us).  One of God’s best tools for cutting away the works of the flesh is suffering because it humbles us and causes us to wait upon God and submit to His purposes.  Charles Spurgeon said suffering is the best book in a pastor’s library.  We learn things from pain we can learn in no other way.  Third, we grow by self-denial as we take up our cross following Jesus, becoming like him in his death.  Being conformed to Christ’s death is walking the costly way of self-denial by denying what hinders our growth and pursuing what helps it.  A mentor once told me that the difference between most students is not ability, but self-discipline.  That is true in sanctification also.

Verse 10 is Glorificationthat by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.  Paul is anticipating the glorious day when in a moment, the twinkling of an eye, we shall be changed into Christ’s glorious likeness (see vv. 20, 21).  Like justification, this is an event that happens instantaneously and we are just people finally made perfect.  The uncertainty in v. 10 is not of arrival, but of means of arrival.  Will Paul go by the Rapture or by death before Jesus’ returns?  He did not know.  But he did know it was certain, as it is for us too.  PTL!

Your friend, in three amazing verses, Pastor Brian (:-}).

February 1

What a Pastor, Facing a Family Crisis, Learned about Healthy Leadership

Many years ago Pastor David Jeremiah faced a crisis in his family life.  His adopted daughter as a teen became involved with drugs.  When he found out, he discovered the root of it was from some issues related to the adoption that his daughter was struggling with that Pastor Jeremiah and his wife were unaware existed.  Of course, this caused some real soul-searching for a pastor.  Was this a failure as a father that disqualified him from the ministry because his daughter was involved in illegal activity?  Did he no longer measure up to what the Lord expected of a pastor-elder because his daughter had gotten out of his control?

 

When Dr. Jeremiah went to 1 Timothy 3 and the qualifications for pastor-elders in the church, he observed something that had a big impact on his outlook.  Verse 4 says, He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive.  Pastor Jeremiah realized the text did not say that his kids could not have any sinful problems, but that he was to make sure that he managed those problems.  In other words, Scripture is not saying a pastor’s family will be perfect (what an unrealistic & unhealthy expectation), but that when serious issues of disobedience arise, the pastor-elder manages them bringing necessary correction to his children.

 

What David Jeremiah saw, which he hadn’t seen before, is that the requirement is that the pastor-elder not neglect the management of his family and just let the problem continue unaddressed.  This is the indictment that God had against Eli the priest in 1 Samuel.  Rather than dealing with his sons who were abusing the priesthood, he let them continue and God said to Eli that you “honor them above me,” 1 Samuel 2:27-36.  Dr. Jeremiah said the issue for him was not that his daughter had a serious problem, but that he needed to manage it, not just let it fester by neglect.

 

For the Jeremiahs it ultimately led to entering their daughter into a Christian-based drug treatment program for teens.  The addiction was more than they could manage alone; they needed to get outside, professional help.  By God’s grace, they saw their daughter respond to the treatment, overcome her drug use, and begin to faithfully follow the Lord.  It was a combination of parental management, the intervention of others, and God’s ability to turn a life around.  PTL!

 

What Pastor Jeremiah did, along with his wife’s help for sure, highlights one aspect of healthy leadership that is essential for the healthy direction of a church.  Remember from our last article that we saw in Titus 1 that pastor-elders must be spiritually healthy in three areas:  1) family life (1:6), 2) personal life (1:7-8), & 3) public ministry (1:9).  Family life in v. 6 says “the husband of one wife, & his children are faithful & not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination.” 

 

When a father allows his children to become negatively like what v. 6 depicts, without taking the measures necessary for correction (while they are living under his roof as minors), it reveals inattention, passivity or weakness.  The longer it goes on the more ingrained it becomes and difficult to change.  It not only undercuts the pastor-elder’s reputation making his ministry ineffective, but it sets the wrong example to other fathers about their priorities.  Pastor Jeremiah set the example for every spiritual leader.  Healthy doctrine means making our families a priority, and managing kids’ problems with all diligence while living at home, so that correction and health can be regained.  The church is blessed with elders who do this.  Everyone learns.

 

Your friend, needing God’s help, Pastor Brian (:-})

January 1

The Blessing of Godly Elders & Church Health

Paul’s Letter to Titus is one of the three New Testament books included in The Pastoral Epistles. In those books Paul is instructing two of his protégés Timothy and Titus how to pastor churches. Titus is the shortest of the three books with only three chapters. In Titus 1:5 Paul gives the purpose for his letter to Titus, “so that you might put what remained into order.” The verb “put into order” was a medical term that was applied to the setting of a crooked limb so that it might heal and be healthy. That is clearly Paul’s concern for the churches that Titus pastored on the island of Crete – that they be healthy communities representing the gospel of Jesus Christ well in a dark world.

What this tells us is that “church health” is the number one priority in pastoral ministry of a local church. God desires His Church to be healthy because a healthy church best represents Him and best ministers His healing in a spiritually sick world. Several years ago a well-known pastor wrote a best-selling book in which one sentence was worth the price of the book, “Don’t concentrate on church growth, but on church health, because healthy things grow naturally.” That is essentially the point that Paul is making to Titus. Concentrate on church health and Titus would have effective churches.

If we ask how a church becomes healthy, Paul did not leave Titus, or us, in doubt. The Book of Titus divides into two parts and both are the keys to a healthy church. Chapter one is Paul’s instructions about qualified Christian leadership. Chapters two and three focus on the importance of “sound doctrine.” What is interesting about that expression is that the word sound means “healthy.” Isn’t that interesting in light of our church health discussion so far? This term is defined by Pastor Jeff Reed, author of The First Principles Series, as meaning “doctrine that is healthy and integrated fully” into a believer’s life.

This is the second way a church becomes healthy – when its members integrate the teachings of Christ into the way they live. A person only can be said to hold to “sound doctrine” when they are living it out in the way they behave and relate to others. This reinforces the vital truth that doctrine is both what we believe and how we behave. A large part of becoming a healthy congregation is emphasizing the integration of sound living into sound believing. That is healthy doctrine. When our churches and families are sound in that way, others see the power of Christ at work affirming the truth we believe.

Now we can begin to see why Paul’s first way for a church to become healthy is through qualified Christian leaders. Again Pastor Reed is helpful when he writes, “Men who lead their own families well are to become part of a team of elders who shepherd the whole community, thus keeping the church solid and stable in the teachings of Christ.” A church with proper leadership will have healthy examples and healthy teaching that will set a plumb line so that people know how to behave and live out God’s design that brings true health. Nothing could be more important in church life.

Now we can see, as we saw in our previous December article, why elders are selected on the basis of spiritual qualifications. Without men of high character and maturity, it is impossible to lead a church into healthy doctrine. The leaders will undermine the very foundation of church health. This is why Paul emphasizes that elders must be spiritually healthy in three areas: 1) family life (1:6), 2) personal life (1:7-8), and 3) public ministry (1:9). We will take those up in another article in this series, but for now, pray for your elders – that they will be men who truly integrate doctrine that is healthy fully into their lives. Any church led by such men is truly blessed.

Your friend, seeking true health with you, Pastor Brian (:-}).