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Changed By Glory

"And we all… beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another." II Cor. 3:18

Month

June 2014

Mutated Seed Produces Mutated Plants

“The sower sows the word.” (Mark 4:14 ESV)

“Neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” (1 Corinthians 3:7 ESV)

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11 ESV)

Harsh climate, bugs, soil deficiencies are all problems that farmers face in their attempt to grow a profitable crop. Factors outside of the control of the farmer can make their task a frustrating one, even devastating. For centuries this was just part of sowing seed. There was no modern equipment or genetic science, the potential for life was entirely in the seed. All the sower of that seed could do was cast the potential upon the ground and pray to God that it would be fruitful. In our time the progress in the field of genetics has made it possible to mutate seed in order to make it more fruitful and in some ways to counteract for a hostile environment. This often yields results, but the problem is that mutated seeds produce mutated plants. The final product is changed because the seed is changed. Just as farmers will use genetically mutated seeds in order to counteract for a hostile environment, so Christians, entrusted with the seed of God’s word, can be tempted to offer a mutated word in an attempt to make a seed that the hostile heart-soil won’t reject on contact. Many well-meaning people do this by changing how they introduce truths or by adapting terminology, dressing up the message. They will borrow from the religion they are engaging in a way which cloaks the seed in a type of “insecticide” or “herbicide”, all with the argument that the seed just needs to be able to take root. We see this especially in evangelism to those of other religions but also in seeker-sensitive preaching, in entertainment driven ministry, and even in the way we share our faith with those around us. We try to rescue the message from its folly and we try to smooth down the stone of stumbling that it is. The frightening thing about mutated seed is that it may look like it is working, but it is producing mutated plants. The seed of the word has been entrusted to us by God. Our job as the church is to sow the word, and when little plants spring up we water it with the word. The growth is God’s department. When we try to put our focus on “fruitful practices” we are trying to reverse engineer something that only the Spirit of God can do. Our job is to be faithful to the revelation we have been given, constantly working to separate out the chaff from our bag of seed by going deeper in the word. This makes spreading the word very simple. Take the message that has been passed down and pass it on. It’s not rocket science. Planting is simply planting. The potential for life is in the plain seed of the word, all of the other things are factors outside of our control. Don’t judge whether a ministry practice is right by how effective it is. Take the seed, the glorious gospel of the kingdom, pray, spread it everywhere, and pray some more. Those that God has prepared to receive it, will receive it.

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Christian Ministry & The Deadness of Sarah’s Womb

The LORD said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” The LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.” (Genesis 18:10-14 ESV)

He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the deadness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. (Romans 4:19-21 ESV)

For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise…. So brothers, we are not children of the slave, but of the free woman. (Galatians 4:22-23,31 ESV)

        Against all odds the child of promise, Isaac, was born to Abraham and Sarah. The Scriptures make it clear that Sarah’s pregnancy was not a medical anomaly, but a miracle. Sarah had long ceased being “in the way of women”. In fact, it was so long since then that there was no natural hope of child bearing. Therefore, when God kept his promises he got all of the credit. It was the working of God alone which brought this baby about. This miracle was such that Paul even refers to the child of promise as being born “according to the Spirit”.

The way Isaac was born, through the promise and by the Spirit, is exactly the same way that every child of promise is born. We see in Isaac’s generation a picture of the way God works in bringing into life every child of promise. There is only deadness and hopelessness in our sin, but the sure decrees of God, his promises, through the agency of the Spirit bring about the impossible, the birth of children of promise by faith in Jesus Christ.

In John 6:63, Jesus said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.” In the flesh, in a way reasonable to man, Abraham and Sarah at first attempted to do what only the Spirit can do – Abraham took a bond woman, Hagar, as a wife and had a son with her, Ishmael. They did not believe in the immutability of God’s promises and the power of his working, but allowed their mind to follow the patterns of the world – going after what made sense to them. They felt that because God had not kept his promise yet that perhaps it was because they needed to do their part. They allowed themselves to be duped by a theology of cooperation rather than of trust.

We also need to realize that if we are children of promise, the offspring of Abraham by faith, we were born out of deadness exclusively as a result of the unchanging promises of God being worked out by the power of the Spirit. God declared that you would be born into the family of freedom and it was so. “It is the Spirit who gives life, the flesh is no help at all.” Abraham and Sarah found this to be true after the incident with Hagar. The promise of God was sufficient. The deadness of Sarah’s womb highlighted the necessity of a miracle, not 90% plus 10% man, but 100% the working of God – doing the impossible through human vessels.

As a pastor I can’t help but see how this connects to the way we do ministry. So often we see the promises of God and we claim to believe them, but we want a shortcut. Nothing seems to be happening so rather than trusting and pursuing faithful rest, we find a Hagar, whether it be some pragmatic construct, method, or adaptation of God’s message. We scheme, in a well-meaning fashion, to help God fulfill his promises. We assume because nothing has happened yet, because no children have “been born” that maybe we understood the promise wrong, maybe our methods need tweaking. As a result of this well-intentioned tampering we may see results in our ministry, we may seem to have success and feel that God is indeed working, but the fruit of our effort is actually a bunch of Ishmael’s running around – the results of us using our own means to reach God’s promised end.

God is calling us in ministry to simple trust. To speak of that which we have seen and heard in the Gospel. God brings children of promise into being through the means of his Word being spoken. We are to proclaim it. Clearly and consistently. That may seem weak. Foolish. Like the thought of two elderly people having a baby. But this is what he has called us to. The years may roll and we may see little results, if any, yet we must not resort to using a Hagar, but must trust in God’s promise and power, knowing that from the deadness of Sarah’s womb, God brings forth children of promise.

Your Grandfather Was Wrong

“When I was a kid, my grandfather was a preacher
He’d talk about God, yeah he was something like a teacher
He said God only helps those
Who learn to help themselves
He was a million miles from a million dollars
But you can never spend his wealth”

“Preacher” OneRepublic

 

It has happened more than once that a well-meaning friend or preacher has said to me, usually in the context of fighting sin, “God helps those who help themselves.” It is an all too common saying. The other day when listening to the song “Preacher” by OneRepublic, I was struck by the sad experience of the person speaking in the lyrics. He is reflecting on his preacher grandfather who was never rich in money but was rich in many other ways. He reminisces on the essence of his grandfather’s message and sadly, as well meaning and sweet as its sounds like he was, his message was not the good news of the Bible, instead it could be the tag line of almost any other religion in the world. It is the subtle Pelagianism that has infiltrated the church over and over again as long as it has existed. Paul, Augustine, and Luther were not the first to battle such teaching and they won’t be the last. There is a reason for that, a reason that is an echo of that horrific day in Eden when man fell, the day Adam decided that God’s perfect provision was insufficient – that he wasn’t entirely dependent on his Creator. The idea that “God helps those who learn to help themselves” is not just inconsistent with the message of Scripture, it is the opposite of it.

The glorious message of Scripture is that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8 ESV) and God “even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— (Ephesians 2:5 ESV).

The entirety of Scripture stands as a testament that God doesn’t help only those “who learn to help themselves”, but he helps only those who have come to learn that they can’t help themselves. (Mark 2:17, Luke 8:13-14). In OneRepublic’s defense, from a business standpoint, I will acknowledge that a song about a preacher who preached that wouldn’t have been very popular, because oddly in our sin we don’t want to hear that we can’t help ourselves. But I am saddened that the character in this song, representative of many real-life preachers, settled for something so sinfully pedestrian while discarding the glorious gospel of God’s overwhelming grace because it casts man in such a weak and helpless light. But the Bible teaches, and experience shows, that we are weak and we are helpless and I pray that the world will come to sing not of sweet old preachers who preach a false Gospel, but will sing of a God who doesn’t wait for our token effort to act, but comes to us and saves us while we are dead in sin, enemies of him, and utterly unable to help ourselves.

 

“Here is the su…

“Here is the supreme power with which pastors of the church should be invested – namely, to dare all boldly for the word of God, compelling all the virtue, glory, wisdom, and rank of the world to yield and obey its majesty; to command all from the highest to the lowest, trusting to its power to build up the house of Christ and overthrow the house of Satan; to feed the sheep and chase away the wolves; to instruct and exhort the docile, to accuse, rebuke, and subdue the rebellious and petulant, to bind and loose; in fine, if need be, to fire and fuliminate, but all in the word of God.” – John Calvin “The Institutes of the Christian Religion”

Pastors, read this every morning. 

Defending the Flock in the Age of Information

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert…. (Acts 20:28-31)

flock

Nearly every New Testament letter can be found with portions directed at refuting contemporary false teaching. It is likely that when Paul and John wrote their epistles that they had specific false teachers and false apostles in mind. For instance, many believe that John wrote his first epistle with the proto-gnostic Cerinthus in mind. Whatever the individual cases may have been in Corinth, Crete, or Ephesus, Paul was clear on one thing when he spoke to the elders at Ephesus in Acts 20 – this problem of false teachers was not going away and before the end it would only get worse.

Moving to the present day we can see that there are plenty of wolves and the damage they do is devastating. Prosperity Gospel, cheap grace, attacks on the authority of Scripture, distortions of doctrine of all kind abound. Now as much as ever church leaders need to be called to “follow the pattern of sound words” delivered by the apostles and to “guard the deposit” that has been entrusted to the church (2 Tim. 1:13-14). But this task is becoming more and more difficult, perhaps more so than Paul or John could have imagined in their time. And the task is becoming more difficult not because the heresies we face are really that new, but because we live in the age of information.

On a good note ease of access to information is not entirely detrimental. The Reformation spread across Europe like it did because the invention of the printing press and the increase in literacy stemming from the rise of humanism allowed the pamphlets of Luther and other reformers to flood the market. But as a result of this technological development, the print medium also became a channel for the counter-reformation and later works of the Enlightenment which would begin to erode the authority of Scripture.

In the last half century with various television preachers and now with the widespread access to the internet, new challenges have arisen for defending the flock from wolves. Challenges that I believe are unprecedented. Between God TV, YouTube, and numberless other access points people can have their “itching ears” scratched without their pastor knowing exactly what they are getting exposed to. Under-shepherds of Christ’s church might be able to call out the teachings of well-known teachers, but now there are blogs, memes, Facebook, and Twitter where many people –well-meaning but deceived – post things that sound so good but are laden with poison. Young believers surf the web where they are exposed to all sorts of teaching that they lack the discernment and the knowledge to refute.

Pastors can no longer be content to be reactionary when it comes to sound doctrine. Shepherds cannot afford to wait until a person becomes indoctrinated by online false-teachers, at which point they are no longer protecting but rescuing.

As I have contemplated the defense of sound doctrine and the protection of the flock in the age of information I have become convinced that I cannot afford to be reactive and I cannot be so naïve as to think that my flock is only listening to my sermons and reading the books I promote. In fact, I am reminded constantly that they are often exposed to stuff that sounds so right and is just so wrong! What then is the answer? I don’t think turning every sermon into a rant is the answer. Rather, now more than ever, we need to defend the sheep by arming the sheep. I know that invokes funny images of sheep wearing bandoliers with their hooves sharpened to shanks, but I think that arming the sheep is the best way you can protect the sheep.

How do we arm the sheep?

  1. We can do this by first of all making the sheep aware of the danger. Make sure that the flock knows that spiritual warfare is primarily an issue of truth and lies. They need to know that the favorite weapon of the enemy is delicious cake laced with a slow-acting poison. The people should be nearly paranoid of false teaching (hyperbole for emphasis).
  2. Then we must equip them with a robust understanding of biblical theology. The great themes that tie Scripture together should run through our sermons. This will help the sheep identify teaching that does not fit into that narrative.
  3. Encourage dialogue between people and elders about what they are hearing, and when something alarming comes up don’t just brush it off, but elevate the authority of Scripture and take them to it, showing them where the problem really lies with the teaching in question. Make it clear that the problem is not that it disagrees with you, but with God. We owe the flock careful, biblical answers to their questions.
  4. Pastors should model humble confidence in God’s word. We need to show people that we don’t feel threatened personally by the teaching of others, but that we ourselves are teachable, but still unwavering in our confidence of the truth that we proclaim. This means that when we find our doctrine in need of being corrected we don’t hang onto a viewpoint that we can’t biblically defend.
  5. Finally, by repetition drive home the foundational doctrines of the Gospel. Help people see that ideas, true and untrue, have consequences and that they need to filter what they hear and read through these founding doctrines of Scripture. Help them see that everyone is a theologian – good or bad. Guide the flock in thinking carefully about the domino effect of certain ideas. Remind them again of why this is so important – because wolves wear sheep’s clothing and devils dress as angels.

The answer to defending the flock in the age of information is to equip the flock to identify and refute harmful teaching. Heighten their senses to warning signs – the taste, smell, and feel of heresy. In doing this you will be able to know that when you are gone the sheep will be safe. And at the end of the day, defend knowing that the battle is the Lord’s and that he preserves his own from being overcome by lies. But know he has ordained that shepherds be a means for protecting the flock. My prayer is that we would be alert and confident, that we would not fear “for God hath willed his truth to triumph through us.”

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