Monthly Archives: July 2010

Relevance in “Surprising” Places

I don’t know why I am surprised. Maybe it’s because we often suppose that we have to think of some clever way to introduce what we speak on and beat our heads against the wall to figure out how an ancient document has anything to do with life today…

But sometimes the answer is right under my nose. I recently preached from Ezra 7:10 at a rescue mission.

For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.

How could this help the men who are seeking help to come out of rough situations? Is it immediately obvious? Certainly, it is good to encourage them to devote themselves to study, practice, and teach the Bible, and I did that.

But I found a great on-ramp to share that by noticing the situation not far from the verse I planned to preach.  Times like these make me so grateful for the sound counsel of reading the whole book in which the preaching text is contained.  I didn’t have to view Ezra 7:10 in isolation of the rest of the book (actually, it can be dangerous to do that sort of thing!).

I found the relevance in the historical background in Ezra 7:9, and in Ezra 8:22.

For upon the first day of the first month began he to go up from Babylon, and on the first day of the fifth month came he to Jerusalem, according to the good hand of his God upon him.

[Then notice how the last phrase of verse 9 is connected with verse 10, “For,” or because of this reason] For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.

and Nehemiah’s words to the king in 8:22:

The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek him; but his power and his wrath is against all them that forsake him.

What did I draw from this?  Ezra was part of a group coming up from the Babylonian captivity, where the nation had landed because of their refusal to hear and obey God’s Word.  Furthermore, to have the blessing of God (his good hand upon them), required a heart that diligently sought Him, seeking His Law, obeying it, and teaching it.  Ezra 8:22 shows that God’s hand could be on more people than Ezra.

As I saw these connections in God’s Word, the light bulb came on!  What a natural path of application!  As the people in Ezra’s day were seeking a new start, so are the men at this rescue mission.  As the people in Ezra’s day needed to study, do, and teach God’s Word and seek God to have his good hand upon them, so the men in this mission needed to diligently pay attention to the Bible, obey it, and be prepared to share it with others.  A right approach to God’s Word was foundational to a new start for the children of God then, and is also key to a “new start” for those who know Christ now.

Never underestimate the value of studying the context.  Sometimes you don’t need clever ideas. Often, you just need to read, pray, and think about the text surrounding your text.  You may just be surprised at what you find.

Philippians 1:1, Part 1

Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: (Philippians 1:1, KJV)

“Paul and Timothy”

Thus begins this ancient letter, the New Testament epistle to the Philippian saints.  Its author, the apostle Paul, wrote at least twelve other New Testament epistles.  Although the salutation is from Paul and Timothy (Timotheus is the Greek form of the name, transliterated accordingly in the KJV), the pronouns and subject matter throughout the epistle show that the thoughts being communicated, humanly speaking, are Paul’s.

Paul and Timothy first visited Philippi about ten years prior to this epistle if Paul wrote to them from a Roman imprisonment around AD 62, the same time period as the composition of Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon (the other “prison epistles”).  The view that Paul wrote from Rome is the traditional one, and the only view that is older than competing theories that have surfaced in the last few hundred years.

After a life-changing encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 9), Saul of Tarsus (later called Paul) was changed from a chief enemy of the church into a follower and apostle (officially commissioned and sent messenger) of Jesus.  He went on to spread the good news of Christ to many others, planting numerous churches, including the church at Philippi.

Acts 16 records the first meeting of Paul with the Philippians.  He arrived at Philippi on his second missionary journey.  This encounter brought the gospel to European soil for the first time.  Silas, Luke, and Timothy accompanied Paul during this part of his journey.  Acts 16 contains the Bible’s first mention of Philippi (16:12), and it also contains the first mention of Timothy (16:1), the son of a believing Jewish mother and a Greek father.

The Philippians would have remembered Timothy, and Paul communicates not only his intention go to the Philippians in person, but also his desire to send Timothy to them as soon as possible (Philippans 2:19-24).  Timothy, who was highly regarded by those who knew him in Lystra and Iconium (Acts 16:2) and by Paul himself (Philippians 2:20-22), was evidently present at the writing of this epistle (Philippians 2:19, 23).

The majority of Paul’s thirteen epistles designate others as sending the letter along with him.  Only five epistles designate Paul as the sole sender, and three of those are addressed to individual recipients (Romans, Ephesians, 1 & 2 Timothy, and Titus).  Including the epistle to the Philippians, Timothy is listed as a co-sender of five of Paul’s letters (the others are 2 Corinthians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon).  Paul demonstrated his approval of and partnership with Timothy by designating him in the salutation.

In the next article of this series, we will consider the significance of the identification of Paul and Timothy as servants, or slaves, of Jesus Christ.

Character Counts, Especially in the Ministry

Last night in our Bristol CAPS class, Pastor Bryan Hall spoke on the need for the preacher to be a man of character and integrity.

I wanted to mention three additional resources to encourage you to pursue godliness in your personal life:

1. Dr. Don Whitney has written a great article entitled “The Sinkhole Syndrome” -great material for the kind of regular spiritual check-ups we should engage in.

A couple of quotes:

I’m sure you’re already familiar with many factors that undermine intimacy with Christ. Realize that it’s almost certain that the ‘time-thieves’ trying to steal from your time with God will only increase as the years pass. My hope is that this article will alert you to this subtle, creeping tendency so that it won’t overtake you.

Resolve never to let your daily life keep you from Jesus daily.

2. Messages from the 2010 Bancroft Leadership Conference on Integrity in the Ministry (free downloads, messages by Dr. Peter Youmans)

3. Warren Wiersbe’s book, The Integrity Crisis (required reading for the CAPS diploma program)

* Note: if you are presently in the CAPS class and are a member of my local church and do not have a copy, please let me know.

“God the All”

O GOD WHOSE WILL CONQUERS ALL,
There is no comfort in anything
apart from enjoying thee
and being engaged in thy service;
Thou art All in all, and all enjoyments are what to me
thou makest them, and no more.
I am well pleased with thy will, whatever it is,
or should be in all respects,
And if thou bidst me decide for myself in any affair
I would choose to refer all to thee.
for thou art infinitely wise and cannot do amiss,
as I am in danger of doing.
I rejoice to think that all things are at thy disposal,
and it delights me to leave them there.
Then prayer turns wholly into praise,
and all I can do is to adore and bless thee.
What shall I give thee for all thy benefits?
I am in a strait betwixt two, knowing not what to do;
I long to make some return, but have nothing to offer,
and can only rejoice that thou doest all,
that none in heaven or on earth shares thy honour;
I can of myself do nothing to glorify thy blessed name,
but I can through grace cheerfully surrender soul adn body to thee,
I know that thou art the author and finisher of faith,
that the whole work of redemption is thine alone,
that every good work or thought found in me
is the effect of thy power and grace,
that thy sole motive in working in me to will and to do
is for thy good pleasure.
O God, it is amazing that men can talk so much
about man’s creaturely power and goodness,
when, if thou dist not hold us back every moment,
we should be devils incarnate.
This, by bitter experience, thou hast taught me concerning myself.

from The Valley of Vision: a Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions, ed. Arthur Bennett, pg. 4 (published by Banner of Truth Trust)

Church Information Form

CHURCH INFORMATION FORM

Click for a free download:  (Word document format) (pdf format).

Click here for an explanation of the various elements on the form as well as related questions (or download the explanatory article along with the form in a single 8-page file: Word document or PDF format).

Date to speak
Church Name
Location (attach directions or write them on back)
Service time(s)
Pre-service prayer meeting?
Pastor’s Name
Contact Person

(if different from pastor)

Phone #(s) and/or email (or other contact info)
Passage to preach from (you can ask if the pastor has been preaching through a book, etc., as you prayerfully choose a text)
Bible translation used at church
Typical sermon length
How to close the service (does guest speaker close it out, hand it over to a church leader, etc.)
Style of dress for speaker (suit & tie, business casual, etc.)
Arrangements for lunch
Childcare options (if you have very young children – it’s always good to ask ahead of time!)
Church affiliation/denom.
Church website
When I need to leave to arrive on time
Other information I should know:

What Questions Should I Ask a Church When I’m Invited to Supply Preach for Them? (Part 2 of 2)

(Continued from Part 1)

11. Find out if the church has been hearing a sermon series on a particular book of the Bible. Then you can prayerfully consider choosing a text from another part of the Bible, in most circumstances.  One exception would be if the pastor asks you to speak on a particular text, perhaps continuing through the text in his series.  For example, I usually preach out of the opposite testament or at least a different genre, but a pastor who was preaching through Ephesians asked me to preach on Ephesians 6:1-9.  He picked up with the next section of the text the following week.

12. Find out what Bible translation the church normally hears from the pulpit. When in doubt, the KJV is a safe choice, but if you know they are used to hearing from another translation, such as the NKJV, etc., then you should be safe in using the translation familiar to them, if you are comfortable doing so.  (If you take issue with how a particular passage is translated, you can always quote your preferred translation and say, “this could also be translated this way…”)

13. Ask about the typical sermon length. You may be told to go as long as you need to. On the other hand, you may be told “45 minutes,” “30 minutes,” or even “15 minutes.” Plan to stick with this, even if you don’t think it’s ideal (I certainly hope no one tells you “15 minutes” for a Sunday morning sermon!).  You certainly want to feed them and do justice to the passage, but it’s better to leave them hungry for more rather than inundated with more than they can bear. And lest you think this is an unspiritual suggestion, we see examples of Jesus (see John 16:12) and the writer of Hebrews (see Hebrews 5:11) choosing not to share all that they could share because their audiences were not ready to bear it at the time. You can still declare God’s Word in the time you have, but you might have to be more selective in how much you cover.

14. You may want to ask if people normally receive any kind of visual outline. If so, you can probably submit a sermon outline to the church secretary or other contact, if you find out who that is, how to contact them (such as email address/phone number) and the deadline for submitting the outline. That way, it can be printed in the church bulletin or other handout. Additionally, the outline could be submitted in PowerPoint format if you find that the church prefers to use this technology and you are also comfortable with it (in this case you might also be able to bring a USB flash drive or CD-ROM with the file; however, it’s still a good idea to send it electronically so they can have it in advance and in case your media can’t connect to a church computer or you have other technical difficulties).

15. It’s good to know if you will have a lectern or pulpit to stand behind. For most churches, this is not a necessary question, but I once spoke at a church plant that did not use any sort of lectern. The preacher simply stood with his Bible and preached! The pastor’s view on using notes was to “put them away and preach like a man!” I had no choice that day (and actually enjoyed preaching without them). But if you know whether you will have an area to place your notes, that will help you mentally to prepare for the situation.

16. Find out how the service is typically closed out.  Does the guest speaker close as he sees fit?  Does the speaker always give a public invitation to come forward, complete with instrumentalists and songleader?  Does the speaker need to hand things over to a designated church leader? Who is responsible for selecting the closing hymn?

17. Ask if you will be wearing a lapel microphone or using only the pulpit mic (or if there is no mic). If there is any kind of microphone, ask if they record the sermons (audio or video). If so, you could ask if they will provide you with a recording. If not and you would like to record it, bring a small voice recorder with you.

18. It’s good to know what affiliation(s) the church has, such as their denomination.  This is not always obvious from the church name.  It can be helpful to know for a variety of reasons, one practical one being that you wouldn’t want to deal with secondary issues in your preaching if the church’s views differ from yours. For example, in a Baptist church, you might be comfortable urging baptism by immersion for believers only, but it’s not going to be helpful to do that in a Presbyterian church (unless they have asked you to present this view). This doesn’t mean that you drop your convictions when you preach in another denomination, but it does mean you try to focus on what is most important for the situation and stick more to the primary, fundamental doctrines in those settings (such as justification by faith alone, the deity of Christ, etc.).

You might preach in a church with different views on the end-times from yours. In this situation, if you are preaching on a prophetical text you can still focus on the fact that Christ will return and we had better be ready and help others to be ready.

While it can be wisdom to focus on primary instead of secondary matters, that does not mean that all denominational controversies should be avoided. If you have opportunity to preach in a church where the parent organization and sister churches have compromised by waffling on the sanctity of human life or the Bible’s teaching on human sexuality, these are primary issues and could certainly be addressed in a sermon. Although you might not make this the main focus of the sermon, and although it may or may not ruffle some feathers, there is nothing wrong with addressing topics relevant to a denomination, especially when it’s a matter where the authority of the Bible is denied.

Keep in mind that this suggestion is for a single-supply preaching scenario. You might come across a situation where a church is rethinking its identity and wanting a preacher to lead them to think through some of these matters that distinguish them denominationally. Just don’t assume that’s what they want when they ask you to fill in because their pastor is away or because they want to give you an opportunity to preach! Use this to preach a text and share the Gospel, not try to change their denomination to a different form of church government, etc.

19. Your contact may mention an honorarium, but I would not recommend bringing the subject up, unless for some reason you absolutely need to know up front.  If it is brought up and it is obvious that it will hardly cover the cost of gas, you have a choice before you.  You can graciously explain that you are unable or unwilling to travel on that amount, or you can choose to go anyway.  I would not make a hard and fast rule here, but I would suggest that you be willing to go to any church for any amount, or even for free, at least one time (if it is in a reasonable distance).  If the compensation is poorly inadequate and you think it counterproductive to your family, then you could choose not to return if asked again, and graciously explain why.  If you know the church or the contact well enough to ask for a more reasonable amount, you could certainly do so and explain your situation, but only if you have good reason to think the church could afford it.  (For example, I heard of a church that could barely offer a $20k salary for a full time pastor, but which had multiple members working in an industry that paid them in the neighborhood of $100k per year.  If just 3 or 4 of those members gave 10% to the church, the pastor could be given more.  In no way am I suggesting that we be mere hirelings, but at the same time, the preacher and the preacher’s family have to live.)

20. In some circumstances, especially if you are traveling a good distance, you may want to ask about a recommended place to get lunch. This is especially important if you have a family traveling with you.  It also opens a door in case they want to invite you to lunch.  (If someone offers to cook for you, be sure to let them know of any allergy issues.)

21. Express your gratefulness for the opportunity to minister God’s Word and ask if there are any questions for you.

22. Make plans to pray regularly for the church as you prepare to speak there.

I hope you find these suggestions helpful. Please leave a comment or contact us if you have suggestions for other things a preacher should ask a church when he’s asked to be a guest speaker.

Click to download the Church Information Form, where it’s easy to record much of this data:  (Word document format) (pdf format).

40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible – Mohler Interviews Plummer About His New Book

On June 24, Dr. Albert Mohler interviewed Dr. Rob Plummer about his new book, 40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible. The interview discusses some of those questions, covering some great issues in hermeneutics.  I had the privilege and joy of taking Dr. Plummer’s class on Biblical Hermeneutics, and thoroughly profited from it.  The book, in many ways, distills much of his course.  This interview is well worth the time to listen.  Left click to stream, right click to download:  http://www.sbts.edu/media/audio/totl/2010/AMP_06_24_2010.mp3

Click here to preview or buy the book at Amazon:

Book Review – God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible

Vaughan Roberts, God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 160pp. Paper.

One of the most helpful features of much modern technology is the “zoom” option. From cameras to word processors, the ability to see both small details and the big picture is helpful to understand more about what we are looking at. Vaughan Roberts’ book, God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible is one attempt to give students of God’s Word “an overview of the main storyline of the Bible” to provide a helpful framework to keep in mind when studying its parts (20). Roberts helps readers “zoom out” to see what the forest of biblical theology looks like so we can better understand the purpose of the individual trees in the Bible and thus “get [our] bearings when [we] land in any part of it” (20).

DESCRIPTION

Roberts aims “to help Christians find their way around the Bible and to see how it all holds together and points us to Jesus” (14). Some have called this book “Goldsworthy lite,” thinking of it as a simplified version of Graeme Goldsworthy’s approach to biblical theology. Roberts admits as much, saying, “Anyone who has read Gospel and Kingdom[by Goldsworthy] will see its influence in these pages” (10). Both writers see Scripture as a unified and interconnected work. Roberts explains:

The Old Testament on its own is an unfinished story; a promise without a fulfillment. We must read on to the New Testament if we want to know what it really means. And the New Testament constantly looks back to the promise it fulfills. (19-20)

God’s Big Picture sees the kingdom of God as the unifying theme that shows how the Bible fits together. This theme is not forced upon the Scripture but arises out it and it sufficiently encompasses the whole of Scripture in a way that allows “each part to make its own distinct contribution” (20-21). Furthermore, “God’s kingdom was the dominant theme in Jesus’ teaching” (21). The kingdom of God is understood to be presented throughout Scripture as “God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule and blessing” (21).

In eight chapters, the book traces the kingdom motif throughout the Bible.

“The Pattern of the Kingdom” introduces us to elements of this unifying them by looking at Genesis 1:1-2:25. “The Perished Kingdom” (Gen. 3) shows the results of man’s rejection of God’s kingdom. “The Promised Kingdom” (Gen. 17:1-8; Gal. 3:6-14) focuses on God’s promises of salvation. It particularly emphasizes God’s covenant with Abraham, which promised a people, a land, and blessing, and shows that, from the start, the kingdom of God was intended to include Gentiles as well as Jews. “The Partial Kingdom” (a lengthy chapter in comparison with the others) covers passages ranging from Genesis 12 to 2 Samuel 7:1-17 to trace the kingdom through the history of Israel and highlights the promise of a king. “The Prophesied Kingdom” focuses on the role of the prophets in announcing the coming fulfillment of the promises of the kingdom of God.

The kingdom of God “sums up the prophetic hope” (108), according to Roberts. As the book turns to the New Testament in “The Present Kingdom,” the author states:

At first sight we may feel that a genealogy is an uninspiring way to start the New Testament, but, if we remember God’s promises, we will be on the edge of our seats as soon as we read the words: ‘A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham’ (Matthew 1:1). He is the one who fulfills the promises to Abraham in Genesis 12 and to David in 2 Samuel 7. The apostle Paul expresses it clearly: ‘no matter how many promises God has made, they are “yes” in Christ’ (2 Corinthians 1:20). (107)

The chapter shows how Jesus brings the kingdom of God. As for God’s people, Jesus did what Adam and Israel failed to do. Jesus is the place of God’s kingdom, fulfilling the purposes of the tabernacle and temple. God’s rule and blessing come about through the new covenant Jesus establishes and the blessing that flows from His kingship. These things came about through the “triumphant success” of the cross (114). There was no other way for Christ to bring God’s kingdom apart from His obedience to the Father and death as a substitute for sinners. His resurrection inaugurates a new age of God’s blessing.

Roberts’ bite-size overview of the Gospels culminates in his assertion that the kingdom has come, although it has not yet come in its fullness (119). He compares Jesus to a conductor who has returned to offer salvation to those who have refused to play God’s tune. While some submit to this redeemer, they will continue to play some wrong notes and produce discord, since there is still a future aspect to the kingdom (118-119).

In “The Proclaimed Kingdom,” the author says, “The promises of the kingdom will not be completely fulfilled until [Christ’s] second coming” (123). He gives 2 Timothy 3:1 and James 5:3 as reasons for viewing “the last days” as the time between the first and second comings of Jesus, meaning that, according to New Testament usage, we have been in the last days for the last two millennia. God has delayed Jesus’ return “so that more people will have a chance to hear the gospel and repent before it is too late” (125). Right now, God is working by His Spirit through the proclamation of the gospel to extend His kingdom. The Spirit is reversing the judgment of Babel (separation of nations along linguistic lines) and, in a way peculiar to this age, He indwells and empowers believers to bear witness to the truth before those who do not believe. The return of Jesus takes place after the gospel is preached to all nations.

The church is God’s people (131). God’s place is this holy people who trust Christ. God’s Spirit dwells in us individually and as a Christian community (131), and helps us to enjoy God’s rule and blessing by living according to His standards (132).

The present age leaves us longing for “The Perfected Kingdom.” In this chapter, Roberts surveys the book of Revelation to show what God has told us about the complete fulfillment all His promises, particularly as His people are with Him in the new creation, in the new temple, enjoying His rule and blessing forever.

EVALUATION

The book has several advantages. Its brevity and ease of reading make it accessible to a wide audience, even as young as high school. Most of the chapters are short and include questions for discussion and application, making it ideal for Sunday school, classroom use, or personal study. It contains many helpful charts. It whets the appetite for further Bible study and is useful even for students advanced in their hermeneutics that may be familiar with the minutiae of Scripture but have forgotten what the view of the whole thing looks like. It is common to hear that we should interpret a text in light of its immediate context, the book that it is in, and the whole Bible, but sometimes it is difficult to see how it fits in with the rest of the canon. Vaughan Roberts has given us a resource that helps in this area.

As useful as the book is, the reader should be aware of Robert’s views of the interpretation of the days in Genesis 1, the nation Israel, and eschatology. These particular concerns would keep me from recommending the book for private study to those without a good grounding in the Scriptures and Christian theology.

Roberts states the following about God’s creation of the world:

Whether he completed the job in six literal twenty-four hours days or over a longer period does not really matter (Christian opinions differ over how we should interpret Genesis 1). What is important is the fact that God is the creator of all things. (27)

However, such an issue may well matter a great deal, as one’s view of the days of Genesis could impact one’s view of the historicity of Adam and Eve, the origin of sin, and even the events of the gospel itself. Some spiritualize the days of Genesis into long ages simply to accommodate a supposed body of scientific evidence that would render the literal interpretation nonsensical. These interpreters may well be guilty of compromising the very foundations of the gospel (albeit unintentionally).

Dispensational readers may quickly notice that Roberts’ does not share their views on the nature of Israel and predictive prophecy. His amillennial eschatology surfaces frequently in the last half of the book (I write as a premillennialist).

Roberts plainly states, “The new Israel is the church” (131). As far as a future for Israel, he discourages readers from looking for fulfillment of the Old Testament promises “in the State of Israel” and says not “to expect a new temple to be build there” (108). He writes:

God made his promises to Israel in ways they could understand. He used categories they were familiar with, such as the nation, the temple and material prosperity in the land. But the fulfillment breaks the boundaries of those categories. To expect a literal fulfillment is to miss the point. (109)

It would have been helpful to see his analysis of Romans chapters 9-11 (especially chapter 11) in regard to these points.

Neither the 1,000 years of Christ’s reign nor the 144,000 should be understood in terms of literal numbers, according to Roberts (145, 148). The lake of fire is seen to represent eternal death; Roberts does not clearly indicate whether he thinks this means there is an eternal conscious torment of the damned or not (144).

He also makes his amillennial views clear when he speaks about other passages in Revelation in an endnote, writing:

Revelation 20:2-3 speaks of Satan being bound and then thrown into the Abyss at the start of the thousand-year period. There is good reason to believe that those events have taken place in the past. Revelation 12:10 makes it clear that Satan has already been hurled down from heaven. He was defeated by the death and resurrection of Christ and has been bound ever since. He is powerless to stop God calling his elect into his kingdom, but he has still not admitted defeat and continues to attack God’s people. Revelation 11:7 describes him coming up from the Abyss to attack the witnessing church. He could not have come up from the bottomless pit if he had not already been thrown down into it. I believe that occurred when Christ died and rose. That is when the millennium began. It will continue until just before the return of Christ.

These concerns should not result in a dismissal of Roberts’ book, but they need to be pointed out. Because of them, I think the book would be most useful in a classroom setting or a discipleship/mentoring relationship where a more competent teacher can help the student when these issues arise.

CONCLUSION

Vaughan Roberts’ small volume of biblical theology is useful to help us “zoom out” and see the big picture of the Bible. Despite the caveats given above, the book is still valuable to help us see what the Bible is all about so we can interpret its parts in light of it as a whole. God’s Big Picture is a great starting point for encouragement to be better students of God’s Word, clear proclaimers of His truth, more obedient children of God, and more faithful evangelists in spreading the good news of King Jesus.

Reviewed by Doug Smith