Friday, May 30, 2008

Bracing for a Long, Good Weekend

Today begins a very long weekend for me. It should be busy. It should be memorable. It should be enjoyable.

I will spend most of the day finishing some writing I need to submit and preparing my Sunday sermon. I plan to continue my study of the Beatitudes - "those who hunger and thirst for righteousness" (Matt. 5:6).

This evening I will be preaching the closing night of the youth revival at Peace Chapel Baptist Church, where the DeAntwon Fitts is the pastor.

In the morning, Crystal and I will try to attend the funeral service for a young man who was a part of my pastor's congregation. His family, our pastor, and the Mt. Moriah Church family have been much in our thoughts and prayers this week.

Tomorrow afternoon, I will be marrying one of my associate pastors, John Scroggins, to Vanessa Potter, who grew up in our church. Both families are beloved members of our congregation. It should be a very special time.

For the record, after John's wedding tomorrow, George will be the only one of my associate pastors who is single. George is now officially on the clock.

Sunday morning, we will have our first worship services in our remodeled auditorium. It will begin with a time for prayer and a brief ceremony. Afterwards, we will have a open house and time of fellowship.

Sunday afternoon, I am scheduled to preach the pastoral anniversary celebration for my friend Nathaniel Hailey, who serves the 1st Antioch Baptist Church here in Los Angeles.

Hopefully, after all of this, I will have the energy to watch the season finale of one of my favorite shows.

Footnote: I hope the Lakers do not ruin my entire summer by actually winning the NBA championship this year.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Spiritual Conditions for True Revival

I felt that our Tuesday Night Worship Service should be an extended time of prayer last night. So I temporarily ditched our study of Ephesians. My goal was to have a time of prayer for our first service in our remodeled auditorium this coming Sunday. I also wanted to to lead the assembly in a time of prayer for the Lord to bless this season of MSMBC's life to be fruitful and that he would be pleased to use us to reach many souls in Los Angeles with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In preparation for our closing time of prayer, I planned to do a brief devotional on 2 Chronicles 7:13-14, which describes the spiritual conditions of true revival. Solomon had completed the temple of the Lord, praying that the Lord would choose this house as a meeting place with his people. God agreed. However, 2 Chronicles 7:13 warms that things may go bad: "When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people..." (ESV). God warns that things may go bad for his chosen people. And the Lord himself would be the source of the problems! If the people rebelled against the Lord, he would be the one to shut up the heavens and sent pestilence in the land. But this stern warning is issued with a wonderful promise. 2 Chronicles 7:14 says, "If my people which are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land."

My goal in this devotional was to list five spiritual conditions for true revival for us to commit to prayer for ourselves, the entire MSMBC family, and the larger community and city in which we live, witness, and minister. Here is the list:

    1. Conversion: "If my people who are called by my name" (I should have found a clearer label for this point. But the idea I was shooting focused on the personal pronouns "my." I was trying to say that true revival begins with self-examination, the assurance of salvation, and simply remembering who we are as God's people through faith in Jesus Christ.
    2. Humility: "if my people who are called by my name humble themselves"
    3. Prayer: "and pray"
    4: Devotion: "and seek my face"
    5. Repentance: "and turn from their wicked ways"

Before I got started, I told the church that I would only spend about ten minutes on this message. They laughed. Twenty five minutes later, when I asked how many more of my initial ten minutes I had left, one of the members called out, "All of them!" What a church!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

When You Need To Know, You'll Know

This morning, I listened to a message by Dr. Ray Pritchard, president and primary teacher of Keep Believing Ministries, on Proverbs 3:5-6 entitled, "When You Need to Know, You'll Know." And the Lord has already begun to use this message this morning to help me stop worrying about things that I have absolutely no control of. Really, all I - or any of us - have to do is fully depend on the Lord and submit to him and trust that as we walk according to his will, he will do what needs to be done.

I am admittedly biased when it comes to Ray Pritchard. The Lord has used his writing, preaching, and kindness to me to challenge my faith, encourage my ministry, and nurture my walk with the Lord. So I would freely recommend all of his work. But this particular message on one of my favorite passages just hit the spot today. And I want to share it with you.

In the message, Pritchard gives a definition of faith that he picked up somewhere from author Phil Yancey. I know I will be meditating on this thought all week: "Faith is believing in advance that which will only make sense in reverse."

Click here to listen to the entire message.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Books or Food

I am in a Borders bookstore with my family. While browsing through the world history section, I bumped into this great quote on the wall:

"When I get a little money, I buy books. And if there is any left over, I buy food." - Desiderius Erasmus

Notes from Sunday - 05/25/08

Happy Memorial Day!

I missed being in corporate worship with my own congregation yesterday. And I can't wait to get back to work this week.

I spent this past weekend on the other side of the country. It was a grueling, but encouraging weekend. And I believe the Lord blessed the preaching of his word.

I lost my voice during the first of my two messages yesterday. I was nervous. Not enough water. Not enough sleep. But it didn't really bother me during my second message like I thought it would.

I had two long flights home last night. Thank God for exit row seats!

Last night was Hailey's first trip to LAX to pick up her daddy from a preaching trip. She was so excited that she slept the whole time. By the way, Saturday the 24th Hailey was officially two-months old.

Knowing how tired I was, Crystal bought me sympathy food on the way home from the airport (Translation: hamburgers!).

Two sons of MSMBC who pastor in the Los Angeles area - Reginald Payne and Ronald Saunders - filled in for me yesterday. I have heard good reports of how the Lord blessed our two worship meetings. Praise the Lord!

I also heard that there were many guests in our services yesterday. Crystal tells me that a beloved sister who served as the minister of music at MSMBC under my father's ministry was present. Crystal also met guests from San Diego. I love it!

All weekend, I listened to a song that simply says, "I don't mind waiting on the Lord." This song has so been what I have needed to hear the past few days.

Today is a typical holiday at the Charles family home. We have absolutely no plans. We will make it up as we go. Cool.

I am so very, deeply, incredibly sad that the Lakers lost to the Spurrs yesterday. Not!!!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Greatness of Being Ordinary

In his wise providence, the Lord has used Christian authors to be among my good friends and trusted counselors over the years. Most of these authors I have not and will never meet until we get to heaven. But reading them has often been the important conversation that I really need to have at a critical time in my life and ministry. Such is the case with the book that I finished on a plane yesterday: Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson by D.A. Carson.

D.A. Carson's books are often formidable reading. But I have always found them to exalt my vision of God, stretch my understanding of biblical truth, and deepen the roots of my faith and love for Christ. For instance, Carson's book, Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, has been a faithful guide as I have recently begun my journey through the high and challenging terrain of the Lord's instructions in Matthew 5-7. I may have more than 40 different reference works on the Sermon on the Mount. But Carson's work is one of the few I would not want to be without.

But Memoirs is different from most of Carson's books. It is very personal. Yet it is not really about D.A. Carson himself. Rather, it is the story of a great man (his father, Tom Carson), who is gloriously described in humble terms - an ordinary pastor. Most of what is written about pastors today focuses on scandals, strategies, or successes. And the vast majority of us are too, well, ordinary, to have our "memoirs" published. In fact, I would not know anything about Tom Carson if I had not been introduced to this book.  But thank God this son and admirer took the time and effort to share with us the life, work, and thoughts of this great man.

Yes, Tom Carson was a great man. He did not author any books. To a great degree, his name and ministry were not know outside of Canada. He never led a megachurch. In fact, Carson writes of his father: "The brute fact is that Tom functioned better as a number-two pastor than the senior man" (p. 116). Yet Tom Carson was, in fact, a great man. And he was a great man because he was an ordinary pastor. That is, He loved and trusted the Lord Jesus Christ. He was humble before God and others. He was committed to prayer and the ministry of the word. Carson writes, "Tom was a workmanlike expositor, faithfully committed to explaining the biblical text" (p. 33). Later he writes, "He was not very good at putting people down, except on his prayer lists" (p. 148). He was unflinchingly devoted to his  wife, Margeret, even when Alzheimer years slowly and painfully took her away from him. He was not ambitious to promote his own cause, yet the Lord continued to open significant doors for him. He was a man of principle. He was... he was... he was a man.

Did you know that pastors are human? They are people - with all the good and bad that term implies about everyone else. And Memoirs reveals the humanity of Tom (as his son calls him throughout the book) by recording chunks of his journals, with insightful reflections on them by the author. Tom Carson was a man who had great insecurities about his usefulness to God. He had "a remarkably tender conscience" (p. 94). Thus, he would often blame himself for failings around him that had absolutely nothing to do with him. He always felt that there was more he could have done for God and others, even when it obvious that he had done all that he could. He was a grateful man, rightly praising God for every good and perfect gift. Yet he also had times of despair and discouragement. But these burdens would be offered to God as pleas for help, rather than complaints. Above all, he was determined to be faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ, no matter how he felt or what the circumstances were about him. Is this not a essential mark of true greatness?

God knows, I needed to read this book this weekend. In sports, it is often said that a team is what the record of wins and losses say they are. But this is not true of ministers of the gospel. Our Champion has already won the victory for us, before our ministerial struggle began. And our success is directly tied to our faithfulness to him, not our budgets, degrees, or notoriety. When we get to heaven, the Lord will not ask us the size of anything. Praise God! He will, however, examine our personal devotion to him and our doctrinal fidelity to his word. Praise God for great, ordinary pastors like Tom Carson. May his tribe increase! And may the Lord grant that I be counted in their number.

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. - 2 Timothy 4:6-8 (ESV)

Friday, May 23, 2008

Summer Vacation for Full-Time Christians

Summer is a much needed time of rest and relaxation for many people. And this break from the various responsibilities of home, work, or school is a good thing. However, there is no such thing as a vacation, leave-of-absence, or sabbatical from your responsibilities as a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. In Mark 6:31, Jesus told his disciples, "Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while" (ESV).

This call also applies to present-day disciples. Even though your life in Christ is supernatural; it's not superhuman. And if you don't ever come apart, you'll fall apart. All of us need times of rest, relaxation, and rejuvenation. But remember that Christ's call to his disciples to come away was a call to go with him to rest, not to go without him. So vacate... with Christ. Here are several practical ways you can vacate with Christ.

Be marked present in corporate worship on the Lord's Day. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." I encourage you to make every effort to find a Christ-centered, Bible-believing church with which to worship God on the Lord's Day, wherever you are. Even as you have mad e plans for food, lodging, entertainment and all the other things that may be important to you, make plans for corporate worship. You found a hotel to stay in. Find a church to go to. Be marked present on the Lord's Day. Psalm 122:1 says, "I was glad when they said to me, 'Let us go to the house of the Lord!'" May that be your testimony.

Don't rob God. If you work hard, save wisely, and plan prayerfully, you have every right to enjoy your times of vacation. But Proverbs 3;9 exhorts: "Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce." Your vacation should not become an excuse to dishonor God with your finances. So avoid putting yourself in debt for the sake of a few days of recreation. Enjoy yourself, but stay within your means. And continue to financially support the ongoing work of the church. Remember that the ministry of the church goes on while you are on vacation. So don't rob God. And don't rob yourself by wasting your resources and missing your opportunity to make spiritual investments. 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 says: "The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver."

Use your extra time on some things that have eternal significance. Your vacation time is a great time to get some rest, enjoy your favorite hobbies, catch up on personal reading, try some new adventure, or just hang out with family and friends. All of these things have their place. But let me ask you something. How often have you said that you would pray more or read the word of God more, if you just had the time? How often have you though, felt, or said that you would do something for the Lord, if you just had the time? Well, your vacation is an opportunity to serve the Lord. No, you don't have to spend all your time doing ministry. But are you willing to spend any of your time doing ministry? Ephesians 5:15-17 says, "Look carefully then how you walk not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is."

Enjoy yourself. That's an order. Have a good time on your vacation. Enjoy the Lord's goodness to you. Don't feel guilty about it. And don't let other people lay a guilt trip on you. God is not against your enjoyment of personal pleasure. 1 Timothy 6:17 tells us that God "richly provides us with everything to enjoy." God is the ultimate source of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). God is the one that gives life and breath and all things (Acts 17:25). Friend, God is not some cosmic-killjoy, set on stopping everyone from having a good time. The Lord is not against pleasure. HE is only against those who are lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God (2 Timothy 3:4). So enjoy the blessings of the Lord, the graces of life, the fruit of your labor, the opportunity to travel, and the company of family and friends. but make sure you keep pleasure in its place. Or as 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, "So, then, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God."

Thursday, May 22, 2008

My Two Cents on Deep and Shallow Preaching

When I was introduced to the expository method of preaching, I was quickly and totally convinced that it is the most faithful way to preach the word of God. I was also surprised by how novel it was. Not many preachers that I heard were doing expository preaching. Some proudly rejected it. But fast forward a few years. Now, it seems that everyone claims to be an expository preacher. Respectfully, I think so many of us are comfortable calling ourselves expositors because we don't really understand the hard work of Bible exposition - which includes both faithful explanation and clear application. (For the record, when someone asks me about it, I typically answer that I am a "student: of expository preaching. So as I pontificate in the following paragraphs, be warned that I am still a young preacher with a lot to learn.)

Expository preaching explains what the text means by what it says. As the term itself denotes, expository preaching "exposes" the inherent, God-intended meaning of the text, rather than imposing some alien meaning onto the text. And in preaching, faithful exposition involves both explanation and application. John Calvin called it explication and application. And this is what John R.W Stott argues for in his classic book on preaching, appropriately called Between Two Worlds. Faithful Bible exposition builds a bridge between the world of the ancient biblical text and the world of the contemporary listener. And to strand a congregation on either side of the text, without building a bridge to the other side, is to leave the task of exposition half-done. That is, it is not exposition.

Indeed, the ultimate goal of preaching is to be faithful to the God-breathed text of scripture (2 Tim. 3:16-17). This requires diligent and prayerful study. You should spend time observing the text. You should compare translations. You should do word studies. You should run cross-references. You should consider how biblical, systematic, and historical theology comes to bear on the text. And, yes, you should even consult sound and helpful commentaries. But simply collecting and organizing your exegetical material and taking it to the pulpit is not expository preaching. It's not preaching at all. It's lecturing. Remember, your exegetical work should be like a good pair of underwear. it should provide support; but it shouldn't show.

Before your study material is ready to preach, you need to determine the authorial intent of the text and build a clear and relevant message that is in line with the dominating (doctrinal) theme of the text. I regularly pray that the Lord would help me to develop a sermon that is worthy of the truth of the text. Unfortunately, there are times when my careful interpretation of the text gets caught in the quicksand of sloppy preaching. But we should keep striving to be both faithful and clear. And not just clear. Our preaching should be compelling. We should ask ourselves before we preach, "What are we trying to do to these people?"

Of course, you don't want to commit what Haddon Robinson calls "the heresy of application." We avoid this as we remember that it is ultimately the job of the Holy Spirit to speak to people's hearts. It is our job to get the word from our lips to their ears. But it the Lord's job to get the word from their ears to their hearts. Interpretation without application is abortion. (If I am correct, this is another Haddon Robinson line. If not, I'll gladly take credit for it.)

I am scheduled to get on a plane in the morning. And if you ask me which wing on the plane is more important, the left or the right, I will respond by staring at you with the most confused look I can muster. And I think this is how we should respond when people start debating the importance of doctrine versus application in preaching. 2 Timothy 4:5 charges us to preach the word. That's our assignment. We are to faithfully preach the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. But that same verse also commands the preacher to "reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching" (ESV). That is, your preaching should both explain and apply

Three women were walking home after church one Sunday. One said, "Our preacher goes down the deepest into the scriptures." The second agreed, adding, "Yeah, and he can stay the down the longest." And the third concluded, "Unfortunately, he also comes up the driest."

So much for our understanding of deep and shallow preaching.

Monday, May 19, 2008

RE: What is Deep? What is Shallow?

Last week, Bob Franquiz wrote a brief, but insightful post about so-called "deep" and "shallow" preaching. Click here to read it.

Notes from Sunday - May 18, 2008

Sorry that I have been missing-in-action over the past several days. I have been hanging out with Crystal. I have been holding my baby daughter. I have been unpacking my books. I have been adjusting to my new office. I have been wrestling through the Sermon on the Mount. I have been doing some pastoral care work. I have been in quite a few meetings. I have been... Well, you get the picture.

It was a sweltering, mid-May day here in Los Angeles. I felt like I was going to melt today.

I continued our study of the Beatitudes with a message on Matthew 5:5 - "God Blesses the Meek."

For some reason, I have been preaching about 30 minutes on Sunday mornings the past few weeks. I have no clue what that's about. I never (and I know you should never say never) preach 30 minutes at MSMBC. Never. Until I figure out what's going on, I'm officially blaming the heat.

There was a good number of first and second time guests in our services today. I love it.

My oldest sister, Harriette, visited our new church location for the first time today. She smiled throughout my message. It was very encouraging.

Paul Felix, president of the Los Angeles Bible Training School, and his wife joined us for worship at our 8 AM meeting. It is always a joy to have Prof. Felix in worship with us.

H.B. and Natalie ditched us this afternoon. And Hailey's "babysitter" stuck around this afternoon. So Crystal and I were able to have an unrushed lunch together. Just the two of us. Cool.

By the way, and I know that I cannot prove this, but I am absolutely convinced that Hailey is desperate to hear her daddy preach ASAP.

I like basketball. But I am not a fan of any specific team (No, I am not a Lakers fan.). So as a "free-agent fan," I am hereby predicting that the New Orleans Hornets (who still have to get by the Spurrs) and the Boston Celtics (who just got by the Cavaliers) will meet in the finals.

This should be a really interesting week for me. Pray for me.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Resuming Tuesday Night Services, Resuming Ephesians

Last night we resumed our Tuesday night services. When the church that bought our old building moved in, we switched the time and location for this midweek service. And we started meeting at our new location on Wednesday nights. But we have not met since Easter, as the move has been in full swing since then. So last night, we began again on Tuesday nights. And I picked up my study of Ephesians, which I have been away from since the end of last year. Did you get all of that? Me neither. Bottom-line, we resumed our Tuesday night services and I resumed my exposition of the Ephesians.

I probably should have waited a week or two before I resumed Ephesians. I am still unpacking my books in my new study and moving into my new "war room." And it was our first week back, with all that that means. But I was eager to get back at it. So I picked up where I left off. I am at Ephesians 4:7-16. Of course, this is too much text for me to handle in one setting. So I will do it in three parts. I started last night with verses 7-10.

Footnote: I was asked last night why I didn't do more review of where we had been so far in this study. I thought it was a good question. But I was kind of surprised that someone would consider it a big deal.  I honestly never thought about it. When I am preaching a series, I work hard to make sure that each message can stand on its own. So it does not require that you hear a previous message (or messages) to follow the train of thought for the current message. Likewise, I think if I am preaching a series or not, i strive to make sure that I bring whatever part of the larger context is relevant for the present message. And  I tried to do that last night. I pray the message was clear, faithful, and helpful.

Here is the sermon skeleton...

Title: "How Christ Grows His Church"

Text: Ephesians 4:7-10

Theme: The growth of the body of Christ

Point: Christ grows his church by his gracious enablement and his sovereign authority.


I. Christ grows his church by his gracious enablement (v. 7)

    A. Christ's gracious enablement is necessary.

    B. Christ's gracious enablement is personal.

    C. Christ's gracious enablement is sufficient.

II. Christ grows his church by his sovereign authority (vv. 8-10)

     A. The promise of Christ's authority (v. 8)

    B. The proof of Christ's authority (vv. 9-10)

       1. He descended (v. 9)

       2. He ascended (v. 10)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

"Watermark: An Explanation of Baptism" by Bob Franquiz

Baptism and the Lord's Supper are symbols of salvation. No, they cannot produce salvation. We are saved from our sins by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. But baptism and Communion are meaningful illustrations and reminders of how God gives sinners new life in Christ. They are not mere memorials. They are fundamental statements of faith, essential acts of obedience, Christ-ordained expressions of devotion, true acts of fellowship, and biblical elements of worship.

Unfortunately, many Christians do not take baptism and the Lord’s Supper seriously. Some churches do not even have Communion. Others share the Lord’s Table infrequently. Still others treat it as an afterthought in worship. Baptism is treated with the same disregard. Some allow (or force) their children to be baptized before they understand the gospel and make a personal profession of faith in Christ. This results in many baptized people who are not actually Christians or a part of the local church. Other allow people to join and participate in the church without any reference to baptism. This results in many Christians and church members who have never been baptized. In both instances, the meaning of baptism is confused and its importance is mistreated.

I believe that much of the confusion and disregard for baptism and the Lord's Table can be traced to a simple problem: no teaching and wrong teaching. So it is incumbent upon pastors and congregations to be clear and consistent in teaching the meaning and significance of these Christian ordinances. And whatever material you can find to assist you in this process is invaluable. You should keep gathering good material that will help you address these historic doctrines in new ways. And I recommend that you add Watermark: An Explanation of Baptism by Bob Franquiz to your list of tools.

Bob Franquiz is the pastor of Calvary Fellowship in Miami Lakes (FL), a church he planted in 200. And he writes with seekers inquirers and new converts in mind. In the introduction, Franquiz confesses:
“Let me be honest with you; I'm not a Theologian. A theologian is a really smart guy that writes weighty books that most normal people don't read. I am a Pastor and a Bible teacher, and I have tried my hardest to be more practical than profound" (p. 6).

Watermark is a fresh but faithful explanation of baptism, without the distractions of technical jargon or theological controversies. He discusses the significance of baptism and provides a biblical understanding of its meaning. Then he answers frequently asked questions – questions like: Who should get baptized? Do I have to be baptized immediately after my conversion? Am I not a Christian if I do not get baptized? And, Can I be re-baptized?

I encourage you to add this brief and clear explanation of baptism to your reading list. You can confidently give it to new believers who want to understand what baptism is all about. More seasoned Christians will find it helpful in equipping them to talk to unbelievers and new converts about baptism. Pastors can make it available in their churches. Or they can use it to as a primer for their own teaching (or writing) on baptism. Remember…

“There is something that happens when a person makes a decision to be baptized. They aren’t just deciding to get wet; they are dying to the old way of life and craving to live the abundant life that Jesus offers” (p. 15).

Monday, May 12, 2008

Those Who Mourn

As long as Jesus is one of many options, he is no option. As long as you can carry your burdens alone, you don’t need a burden bearer. As long as your situation brings you no grief, you will receive no comfort. And as long as you can take him or leave him, you might as well leave him, because he won’t be taken half-heartedly. – Max Lucado, The Applause of Heaven, p. 56

Here is my sermon skeleton from Sunday's message

Title: "Those Who Mourn"

Text: Matthew 5:4

Sermon Series: The Beatitudes: The Life God Blesses

Theme: The blessed paradox of godly sorrow.

Point: God blesses those who mourn.


I. The sorrow of the mourners (5:4:a)

A. This beatitude affirms the place of natural sorrow.

1. Natural sorrow can be evil (2 Sam. 12:3; 1 Kings 21:4)

2. Natural sorrow can be beneficial - if it leads you to God.

B. This beatitude emphasizes the priority of spiritual sorrow.

1. We should mourn the sin around us.

2. We should mourn the sins against us.

3. We should mourn the sin within us.

II. The comfort of the mourners (5:4b)

A. God is the source of this comfort.

B. Repentance is the requirement for this comfort.

C. Forgiveness is the basis of this comfort.

D. Jesus Christ is the means to this comfort.

E. The Holy Spirit is the agent of this comfort.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Notes from Sunday - Mother's Day 2008

Happy Mother's Day!!!

I spent most of the weekend setting up my study in our administration building. H.B. and Natalie helped me to put up books Saturday afternoon. Cool.

I talked to my mom early this morning. I called her to wish her a happy Mother's Day, and she ordered me to wish the mothers of MSMBC a happy Mother's Day on her behalf, since she could not be here today.

I continued my study of the Sermon on the Mount with the second Beatitude (5:4). I called it, simply, "Those Who Mourn."

I have only preached a Mother's Day sermon once in my seventeen years at MSMBC. I am usually knee-deep in some series. And I usually don't break the series for Mother's Day (and other such days). I am not sure if that's a good or bad thing; it's just what I have done over the years.

Between services, my administrative assistant told me that a woman was present in the first service who is a member of the church that be bought the facilities from. She didn't know they had moved. Oops.

Someone's phone kept going off during the early part of my second sermon. Arrgghhh!!!

I have been singing "Even Me, Lord" all week. I started singing it at the end of the first service. I don't think the musicians knew it. But I kept on singing. And I started preaching in the second service, I sung "I Need Thee." I don't usually sing before I preach. But my heart and mind were filled with hymns that I wanted to sing. I got a few out today.

Crystal's husband and three children took her out to dinner at one of her (our) favorite restaurants. It was a good dinner and a good time together. We also bumped into a several MSMBC members and local pastors.

Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz: tied 2-2. Yes!

Mother's Day pictures...

Friday, May 09, 2008

On Praise Dancing

There are several books I consult when I am studying Christian worship (besides the Bible, of course). These books have been trusted friends and advisors to me over the years. But when I turned to them to research “praise dancing” or “liturgical dance,” they were silent. I searched the table of contents, skimmed the pages, and scanned the indexes. Nothing.

So I Googled the subject. And I found a lot of websites that offer praise-dance training. I also found many links that sell liturgical dancewear. But the few articles my searched produced were not very beneficial. Some dismissed the practice as unbiblical, too worldly, or another harmful side effect of embracing Pentecostal or Charismatic practices. I didn’t find this helpful, even though I sympathized with their criticisms after reading some articles about dancing into the anointing, prophetic dance, and warring against Satan through praise dance.

And, for the record, you have already lost the debate if you mishandle scripture to make your point. Sorry, but Miriam dance after the crossing the Red Sea (Exod. 15) or David’s dance before the Ark of the Covenant (2 Sam. 6) cannot be the primary guidelines for what we do on Sunday mornings. And when 1 Corinthians 6:20 commands, “So glorify God with your body,” it is talking about walking in holiness, not dancing in worship.

Ultimately, I really couldn’t find much of a biblical case for praise dancing. However, I do not think we should accept an argument from silence on this issue. In the name of being biblical, some churches only sing the Old Testament psalms. Others refuse to allow musical instruments. Ironically, Psalm 150:3-5 says, “Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!” (ESV)

The fact that the New Testament is silent about many details of worship allows for spiritual freedom and calls for discernment. It does not speak against artistry and creativity. The beauty of the arts should not be reserved for the enjoyment and entertainment of the world, without having in place in the worship of the God who gives us creativity.

So I will not outright condemn praise dancing in this article. I actually think there is a time and place for it (Eccl. 3:1, 4), along with other physical expressions of worship. But it is a very limited place in corporate worship. It should only be allowed at specific, special times. And there should be careful, pastoral oversight over how it is done. Here are several concerns that should be taken into consideration when thinking through the place of praise dancing in worship.

Music selection. I appreciate the talent and passion of many contemporary Gospel and Christian artists. But some of their music should not be sung in worship, much less danced to. I have recently been in services where a dance was performed to a song about setting the atmosphere for a “financial breakthrough” and “instantaneous breakthrough” That’s nothing but shallow hype that arouses the emotions, but it is not the kind of edifying music prescribed in Colossians 3:16. Bottom line, the call to rightly divide the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15) should apply to our music selection just as much as it does to our preaching and teaching.

Modest apparel. I fear that many of us do not take seriously what the New Testament says about modesty. So it does not surprise me that praise dancers are allowed to perform in immodest attire. However, I concede that this is one of the easiest shots critics take at praise dancing. And many dance groups are trying to silent it by encouraging care in the selection of dance apparel.

Reverent Dance-steps. This concern is probably closely associated with the matter of modest apparel. Bu it needs to be said that we should not allow praise dancers to be perform “worldly” dance steps in the name of worship. Are there any dances steps that are seen on MTV or BET that should be done in a Christian worship service? We should not allow a group to get up and start “boogying” or “getting crunk” and call it praise dancing.

Dumbed-down worship. One day, a woman walked into a greeting card store and asked the clerk, “Do you sell Christian greeting cards?” The clerk replied, “No. But we are praying for their conversion everyday.” Funny. But it is sad that we really are praying for the conversion of too many worldly things. God is not glorified when we take what the world does, put “Christian” or “Gospel” in front of, it, and bring it to church. And this is not the best way to do evangelism and outreach. It surrenders too much territory before the battle ever begins. The most faithful and fruitful way to reach our culture is to let the world be the world and to let the church be the church.

The ministry of the word. Everything that happens in corporate worship should be an extension of the ministry of the word. Our meetings should consisting of us singing the word, reading the word, praying the word, preaching and teaching the word, and responding to the word. So what should we make of churches that don’t take time to read the scriptures in worship do take the time for special dance numbers? With all do respect, people can go anywhere and see a good dance performance. But there are too few places where they can find sound and relevant exposition of the scriptures. There is a famine in the land for the word of God! By all means, let us not make praise dance the standard for excellent worship. Let the priority of worship be that a prepared and prayed-up man stands up and preaches the word (2 Tim 4:1-5).

My conclusions. I do not think it is wise to have praise dancing as a regular element of corporate worship services. These assemblies should concentrate on the essential elements of worship - most importantly, the ministry of the word. I believe that physical expression in worship is appropriate. I do not think that it is wrong to let the children and young people express themselves through song and dance. And I feel it is appropriate to have special, artistic presentations in worship occasionally. But I submit to you that the church needs to get back to the basics – for the glory of God, for the sake of the truth, for the building up of the church, and for the salvation of the lost. Let us not neglect the standard equipment for the sake of having room for the special features. And may sound doctrine dance joyfully in our corporate worship services!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Poor in Spirit

"The first of the eight Beatitudes is one of the strongest statements in the Bible of the great doctrine of justification by faith in Jesus Christ alone, for it is a statement of a person's complete inability to please God by any human effort. - James Montgomery Boice, The Sermon on the Mount, p. 23

This past Sunday, I began a series on the Sermon on the Mount. I began with the first beatitude. Here is the sermon skeleton from Sunday's message.

Title: "The Poor in Spirit"

Text: Matthew 5:3

Series: The Beatitudes: The Life God Blesses

Theme: The blessed paradox of spiritual inability.

Point: God blesses the poor in spirit.


I. What does it mean to be blessed?

    A. True blessedness is not mere happiness.

    B. True blessedness is more than material prosperity.

    C. True blessed is divine approval.

II. What does it mean to be poor in spirit?

    A. Poverty of spirit is not about one's economic status.

    B. Poverty of spirit is not about one's natural temperament.

    C. Poverty of spirit is about your sense of spiritual neediness.

       1. Poverty of spirit is necessary for salvation.

       2. Poverty of spirit is necessary for spiritual growth.

III. What does it mean to have the kingdom of heaven?

    A. The kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor in spirit exclusively.

    B. The kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor in spirit presently.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Notes from Sunday - 05/04/08

We met at our new location for the first time yesterday. The congregation's joy and enthusiasm was very encouraging. I praise the Lord for all that he is doing in and through Mt. Sinai Church. I am blessed to serve such a wonderful congregation.

Thank you to all of you who serve in our church in any way. You are the ones that make it happen! God bless you.

I began my series on the Sermon on the Mount. I started with the first beatitude on the poor in spirit (Matt. 5:3). I called it, "The Poor in Spirit." (Sorry, Romell. It is another, classic plain vanilla H.B. sermon title.)

As excited as I am about preaching through the Sermon on the Mount, the preparation of this first message was a slap in the fact that reminded me that the Sermon on the Mount is not easy material! 

I was very nervous. I think the first service at our new location and the first message of a new series both conspired against me. I just kept praying that the Lord would help me to get through this first day. He did. I am grateful.

It has been several months since I preached twice on a Sunday morning. I missed it. But I will have to get back in the rhythm of it.

It is always a great thing to look out and see many unfamiliar faces in the congregation. It means our congregation is inviting guests with them to church.

Phil and Lisa had the baby yesterday, Isabella. Praise God!

The Lakers won. Come on, Utah. You can do better than that. And, by the way, Chris Paul should have one the MVP!

Saturday, May 03, 2008

A New Series, A New Location

God willing, I will preach my first sermon at our new location in the morning. It has been a long, winding road for us to get to this point. But the Lord has been good and faithful to Mt. Sinai Church. And it is an exciting time in the life of our congregation.

We are doing a substantial amount of work to the main auditorium of our new home. So our first worship services will be in the fellowship hall. Our plan is to meet in the fellowship hall for the four Sundays of May. And we plan to be in the main auditorium on the first Sunday in June. At this point, everything is going according to schedule. But we continue to watch and pray.

By the way, our church staff is just about done moving into their new offices. Bookshelves are being installed into my office. I should be able to move in with my books some time next week. For now, most of my books - outside of those I need for sermon preparation over the next few weeks - are boxed up, waiting for their new home.

Sermon preparation has been quite difficult for me over the past weeks. My wife had our new baby a little over a month ago. And our offices have been in an uproar, as we have been moving to our new location. So I have not really had a settled place or time to study. However, the greatest difficulty I have been dealing with is the fact that I am not presently in a series - I have been picking different, random texts to preach from each week.

But all that ends in the morning. In the morning, I will begin a new series of messages on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). The first section of this passage consists of a statements of blessings Jesus makes that are called the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:1-12). I am going to preach them one by one, beginning with "the poor in spirit" (Matt. 5:3).

May the Lord's blessings be with us as we begin preaching through this new study and begin our work at this new location.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

What is the Anointing?

In the Bible, the word “anoint” simply means to pour, spread, or rub oil onto something or someone. For instance, Genesis 28:18 says, “So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and sat it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it” (ESV). In other words, he anointed it. Then he consecrated the place (28:19) and made a vow to the Lord (28:22-24).

Literally, anointing is about oil. But it is spoken of three different ways in scripture. First, there is a physical anointing for healing (James 5:14-15), cosmetics (Ruth 3:3; Matt. 6:17, hospitality (Ps. 23:4; Luke 7:46), or burial (Mark. 14:8). Likewise, there was a ritual anointing. This was a symbolic act that was applied to people, places, and objects. As it relates to people, prophets (1 Kings 19:16), priests (Exod. 28:41) and kings (1 Sam. 10:1) were ritually anointed for consecration (Exod. 20:26-29; 40:12-15), empowerment (1 Sam. 16:13), and protection (1 Chron. 16:22, Ps. 105:15). Thirdly, there was a spiritual anointing. And this spiritual anointing requires that we draw a distinction between the anointing in the Old Testament and in the New Testament.

Seven passages in the New Testament refer to this spiritual anointing. Four of these seven passages refer to the Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 4:18; Acts 4:27; 10:38; Heb. 1:9). The other three passages speak of the anointing in the life of Christians. 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 says, “And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” 1 John 2:20 says, “But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge.” And 1 John 2:27 says, “But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie – just as it has taught you, abide in him.” These three passages make several points about the place of the anointing in the New Testament church.

The anointing is a sovereign act of God. God anoints people. People do not anoint other people. These biblical statements make it clear that God is source, Jesus Christ is the means, and the Holy Spirit is the agent through which believers receive the anointing. And it is non-transferable. So having “Bishop Big-Shot” lay his hands on you will not allow you to share in his so-called “anointing.” And having “Rev. Wanna-Be” put oil on you will only make you greasy!

The anointing is universal. That is, all Christians are anointed. There are not some Christians who have the anointing and some who do not. If you are a Christian, you have been anointed. Period. And, by the way, scripture gives no indication of different levels of anointing. So saying that someone is “so anointed,” is as uselessly redundant as saying that someone is “so Christian.” God perfectly and equally anoints every believer. The only difference would be in how we walk in this anointing, I guess.

The anointing is automatic, permanent, and continual. The New Testament does not teach that Christians receive the anointing. Rather, it teaches that you have already received it. We don’t need to pray for it or tarry for it or anything else like that. The anointing is standard equipment of salvation that everyone receives when they place saving-faith in Christ. Likewise, you cannot lose the anointing. When, I was a boy preacher, an older woman warned me that the devil would try to use women to steal my anointing. And her warning scared the daylights out of me! But I now understand that, while she may have had godly concern and sincere motives, her terminology was wrong. Maybe she should have just exhorted be to be holy and warned me about the divine consequences of sin, rather than confusing me about the anointing. There is no evidence in the New Testament that true Christians can lose their anointing. Sin, people, and disobedience cannot steal your anointing any more than sin can steal your salvation!

The anointing is directly connected to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The anointing is not about where you are in God. It’s about where God is in you! Primarily, the anointing is a positional reality, not an experiential one. It’s about your standing in Christ. In 2 Corinthians 1:21-22, Paul declares, “And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” With these words, scripture directly connects the anointing with the sealing and guarantee of the Holy Spirit. In other words, to have the Spirit is to have the anointing.

The anointing is for spiritual understanding. This is the point of 1 John 2:20 and 2:27. But it is often neglected. Don’t misunderstand these two verses. John is not ruling out the necessity of human teachers. That would contradict what the New Testament teaches in other places, affirming the important role of sound and godly teachers. It simply means that we have an internal source of spiritual understanding in the person and work of the Holy Spirit in our lives that frees us from being slaves to human teachers, theories, or traditions.

The New Testament doctrine of the anointing is meant to warn and encourage the church to stand firm against false teachers. Unfortunately, I really don’t hear those who speak so much about the anointing give this explanation of its meaning and place in the believer’s life. Many take passages from Isaiah to define the anointing as the “yoke-destroying, burden-removing, power of God.” Indeed, the power of God is as real now as it was then. But in the New Testament, access to this divine power is directly connected to a person, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Anointed One. It is not about a feeling, experience, impartation, gifting, or blessing. The fact is that every true believer has been indwelt by the Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:9b). And we live with the power of the life-giving King dwelling on the inside. And he is there to give us understanding of all that is ours in Christ Jesus so that we may live out the life of the teachings of our faith (John 16:13-15; 1 Co. 2:14-16).

We often speak of the anointing in terms of empowerment. Maybe we should start thinking and speaking of it in terms of understanding. Let me say it as clearly as I can: If you are in Christ, you do not need to be anointed. You are anointed! May this biblical truth and wonderful reality give you confidence as you read, study, listen to, embrace, and obey the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.