So a Passage Doesn’t Immediately Apply? Read It Anyway

rebuilding_the_walls_1153_vol_5-956This past Sunday, I preached out of Nehemiah 3. If you’ve read that passage, you realize that this passage has all the interest of reading the phone book. Our problem is that when something doesn’t immediately apply to us on first sight, we disregard. This is a dangerous mindset!

I’d like to use Nehemiah 3 to bring home a few points.

  1. Every word in Scripture is inspired by God.  Not just John 3:16.  Not just Ephesians 2:8-9. Not just Revelation. “All Scripture is breathed out by God.” We do not have the liberty to pick and choose what we believe God said and didn’t say, or to allow the present, passing culture to determine what of God’s word stays and what changes. We have the responsibility and the joy to examine the genre, the historical context, and the overarching arc of the redemptive story from Genesis to Revelation.  God breathed it out!  Let’s take Him at His Word.
  2. Every word in Scripture is profitable, equipping us for every good work.  “All Scripture… is profitable.”  Profitable? How could a list of names outlining the various sections of the wall they were to rebuild around Jerusalem profit us?  (The answer is that God has called the New Testament church to build a temple, His church, on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ as the cornerstone–Ephesians 2:19-21.)  So even Nehemiah 3 has profit. Does it take some work and prayer and maybe examining a commentary or two from a trusted pastor or scholar?  Sure. Are we willing to do the work to mine out the prophet for our profit?
  3. The Scriptures are not ultimately about us, but about God.  If the Scriptures are about us, then we come to a chapter like Nehemiah 3 and skip over it. The same with Leviticus. The same with the first few chapters of 1 Chronicles. The same with the Minor Prophets or the first chapter of Matthew. But if the Scriptures are about God and what He reveals to us, then Nehemiah 3 matters for we know He included them for a reason.  Do you believe that God has revealed the Word to you?  Or do you believe that God has revealed the Word to you?

Should you wish to listen to how even Nehemiah 3 is profitable to us in 2016, click here.

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Dear Christian, Let Freedom Ring

(From the July 2015 Challenger article for Arapahoe Road Baptist Church)

Freedom. My goodness, what does this word mean? It depends on your perspective. John Green in his book The Fault in our Stars, gives an interesting insight into how folks see freedom. “Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin.” So, for some, freedom is the right to pursue whatever desires you have, whether it’s education, jobs, hobbies, or other practices that the Bible calls ‘sin.’ Think about it: many folks want their ‘rights’ in this land of freedom, but what they really want is affirmation in what the culture has previously determined as sin. Now those barriers and boundaries are falling. Freedom now means that anything goes.

As far as freedom is concerned in previous decades in America, it meant freedom from foreign coercion (we’re looking at you, King George III of Britain, Mr. Taxation-Without-Representation). In the 19th century leading up to our Civil War, the North and the South defined freedom very differently—at least the white people defined freedom in various ways, for the slaves saw freedom entirely differently. Even some of my ancestors wanted the freedom to keep others in slavery.

In January 6, 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt, in reflecting on the escalating Second World War taking place in Europe, outlined four freedoms: the freedom of speech, the freedom of worship, the freedom from want, and the freedom from fear.

In the Scriptures, only one type of freedom exists, and that’s freedom in Christ. It’s a freedom that far surpasses any other freedom this world provides. The Bible does not give us freedom to do whatever we want, and still call ourselves believers. No, the freedom we have in Christ is a freedom from sin and a freedom from self-direction and self-preservation. What does this mean?

In Romans 6, Paul tells us that we are “free from sin,” (v. 6) no longer under its dominion (v. 9). But in our freedom, we are still “slaves of righteousness” (v 18). Scripture makes it clear that we stay enslaved to something, whether it’s to sin or to slavery.

I’m reminded of two books written about 200 years apart. One book, written by Martin Luther (1483-1546) is entitled The Bondage of the Will. In Colonial America, Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) wrote The Freedom of the Will. Well, which is it? The bondage of the will or the freedom of the will. Yes! When Christ saves us, our will comes in bondage to Christ’s will. At the same time, when Christ saves us, our will is free to obey Christ and His will. In essence, these books deal with the exact same topic, even though their titles on the surface look diametrically opposed to one another.

With the words freedom and liberty so prevalent in our founding documents (The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights), we as Americans see these words in the Scriptures and automatically works to find parallels. Granted, they exist—but only on the smallest of scales. While cultures may provide freedoms in all their varying perspectives and definitions, no culture, no man-made law, no king’s (with a small k) edict, no unspoken rules or traditions provide one molecule of freedom in the heart of any person on the planet.

You see, that freedom from sin was so elusive to human beings that the Father had to send His Son, Jesus Christ, to purchase our freedom on our behalf. Christ came as Holy God to fulfill the law that we disobeyed (which reflected the inclinations of our heart), but He also came as a human being to stand as a substitute for our atonement and redemption for our sin. No other act of love in the history of anything comes as close to this act of love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, and redemption. And again, no political freedom provided can free our hearts from that sin which enslaves us.

Independence Day? My goodness, dear Christian, every day in Christ is independence day, free in Christ under His Lordship! No other type of independence comes close!

 

Divine Providence Sufficient to Deliver

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I am slowly going through a wonderful book by Jonathan Aitken called John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace.  His life prior to Christ was one instance after another of God’s divine providence protecting his life, even when his life was so profane and blasphemous that few thought it worth protecting.

In his journal, even with the chaos, God taught him an important truth about God’s protection and providence:

Thus when we think of ourselves in the greatest safety we are no less exposed to danger than when all seems conspiring to destroy us. The divine providence that is sufficient to deliver us in our utmost extremity is equally necessary in the most peaceful situation.

Do we recognize and praise God for the ways He protects us in every circumstance?  Do we see His hand of strength on us in both storm and calm? 

Let’s hold tight to Newton’s insight!

Fifteen Lessons (So Far) from Nehemiah 1-2

NehemiahSo far at Arapahoe Road, we’ve spent three Sundays on two chapters of Nehemiah. So far, we’ve gleaned thirteen lessons for leaders from these first two chapters alone. Pray for the leaders of your church as they shepherd the flock of God in the sufficiency of Christ.

  1. Know the reality of God’s Word (Nehemiah 1:8-9).
  2. Know the reality of your present circumstances (1:2-3).
  3. Have a desperation to bridge the gap between His Word and your situation .
  4. Continue praying and fasting by (1:4)…
  5. Adore the God who made you and made your people, the Church (1:5).
  6. Admit your sins both as individuals and as a people (1:6-7).
  7. Remember the promises that God gave (1:8-9)
  8. Go at the speed of God (1:10-11).
  9. Look and pray for opportunities He will provide (2:1-3).
  10. Be prepared for God’s vision and mission to consume you (2:1-3)
  11. Engage in flare prayers (2:4).
  12. Follow through with the opportunities He provides (2:9).
  13. Recognize that critics will abound when we engage in God’s work (2:10, 19).
  14. Inspect the situation for yourself–don’t just take someone’s word for it, but take His Word for it (2:11-16).
  15. Bring others along with you to see the opportunities and follow through as well (2:17-20)–i.e. discipleship.

In reading Nehemiah 1-2, what other lessons do you see arising from the text?

No Reserves, No Retreat, No Regrets

William Borden was the heir of the Borden Dairy estate.  Upon graduation from high school in 1904, he received an amazing gift: a trip around the world.  While many would have deemed him spoiled, by God’s providence he was changed. He grew burdened for those around the world who struggled and were less fortunate and who were in need of Christ.  He wrote home expressing his desire to give his life to Christ as a missionary.  His family and friends were in disbelief.  In the back of Borden’s Bible, he wrote, “No reserves.”

Upon return to America, he enrolled at Yale and became a model student.  The thirst and fire for the mission field grew.  At Yale, he started a Bible study, and by the end of the first year, 150 students were meeting to study the Word and pray. By the time he was a senior, one thousand of the thirteen hundred students at Yale were in discipleship groups.  He also founded Yale Hope Mission, ministering to the down-and-out in New Haven.  A visitor to America was asked what impressed him the most.  He said, “The sight of that young millionaire kneeling with his arm around a ‘bum’ in the Yale Hope Mission.”

Upon graduation, Borden received many lucrative job offers.  But again, he wrote something in the back of his Bible: “No retreat.”  He entered seminary and set sail for China upon graduation.  In transit, he stopped in Egypt to study Arabic in order to minister to the Muslims.  While there, he contracted spinal meningitis, dying a month later at the age of 25.  When they discovered his Bible, two more words were written in the back: “no regrets.”[1]

William Borden shows what most every Christian experiences.

  • First, that through the blood of Christ, we are changed by the Holy Spirit (who is the only One who can change hearts).
  • Secondly, God changes our hearts for Christ by the Spirit to be aware of the opportunities he puts around us to bring glory to Him and good to others, especially by the gospel.
  • And thirdly, he gives us strength to take advantages of opportunities.

[1]Anthony Carter, Blood Work (Sanford, FL: Reformation Trust, 2013), 105-06.

Five Characteristics a Ministry Staff Must Have

fb_img_1458313794316.jpgYes, must have.

Over the last few months, we’ve developed five necessary traits for those around our office at ARBC. This is a continual work-in-progress, but thank you for allowing us to share with you.

 

  1. Competency:  what type of experience does the candidate have?  Is the candidate teachable and open to training in areas where experience is lacking? Obviously, when one takes a particular position, having the skills, experience, and teachability for skills which need acquiring is crucial for the position.  Paul worked to train men such as Timothy and Titus who would go on to train others. Clearly, they needed training to a level of competency in order to lead so they may train others.
  2. Character:  what is the candidate’s attitude?  Will the candidate bring a Christ-like attitude both inside and outside of the office?   Our aim at ARBC is to make hopeful, joyful disciples who believe Jesus is enough! You can have a wide competency, but if one’s character in the bearing of the fruit of the Spirit does not exist, competency does not matter. Paul told Timothy to be above reproach and to know the calling to which they were called.  How tragic it is when someone is in a position, especially a pastoral position, that questions their calling!  That digs into the confidence of those around you to the degree it digs into the confidence of the one questioning. Character means dealing honestly with your calling in Christ to be in the lane where he’s called.
  3. Connectedness:  How are the candidate’s people skills?  Pastoral and ministry staff are in the theology business, knowing God as best as possible. But we are also in the people business, knowing them as best as possible, so we may be a conduit of connectedness to them as well as connecting them to the all-sufficient Jesus!  If we become so much about ourselves, then we cannot be much to God or to others. This is the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37-40) out on the highway.
  4. Confidentiality: will the candidate keep what happens in the office, in the office, especially in sensitive matters that may arise?  Self-explanatory.  This connects to character.
  5. Concentration:  is the candidate able to focus on the candidate’s work at appropriate times?  With so many distractions, focus and concentration are critical. Taking away the distractions and focusing on what matters is critical. Waste no opportunities (Ephesians 5:15).

 

Why Knowing Your Church’s Culture is Critical

Peter Drucker once reportedly said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” So, so true!  When pastors come into a church, they bring their personal ‘culture’ into the culture of an already established church. While some opt to plant churches because of the higher likelihood of the pastor influencing the direction and establishing a preferred culture in a church.  But most pastors enter into a church, and how those pastors navigate the personal culture and values with the culture and values of their church will speak volumes into how long and how profitable the tenure will be.

How do we define culture? Aubrey Malphurs in his book Look Before You Lead defines this as follows:

I define the church’s congregational culture as the unique expression of the interaction of the church’s shared beliefs and its values, which explain its behavior in general and display its unique identity in particular. This is what I refer to as my long definition. However, I have condensed it into a short definition. In short, a church’s congregational culture is its unique expression of its shared values and beliefs.

The key word is ‘unique.’ While various lanes of churches have similarities, each church is unique, expressing values and beliefs uniquely. Sure, we can certainly see patterns and trends, but pastors must never, ever treat churches in a cookie-cutter manner.

We’ve seen this happen numerous times. Young and new pastors bring their culture and values and beliefs and mindsets and strategies into an established culture, diagnosing far, far too quickly and implementing their strategies too quickly. These quick cultural changes  bring an uneasiness to people who would otherwise take changes better if they were explained and if the people were allowed to ask questions.  Pastors need to give established churches time pray, understand, ask, pray and understand some more, and then move forward together.

Without understanding the culture, our strategies that are fueled by different values and beliefs will be met with rejection. Start with understanding the culture!

(These thoughts were distilled from my reflections from reading Aubrey Malphurs’ Look Before You Lead: How to Discern and Shape Your Church Culture.)