Friday, August 29, 2008

In Praise of Spiritual Unity

During these final weeks of my pastoral ministry at Mt. Sinai, I am concerned to be as helpful as I can be. So I am not throwing any hooks. I am trying to roll the ball right now the middle of the lane for the head pin (Please forgive the bowling analogy. I have no excuse.).

This week, it is on my heart and mind to preach on the importance spiritual unity, for obvious reasons. And I have been working on Psalm 133 to make this point.  Psalm 133 is a rich, brief, and vivid song. It is both simple and complex at the same time. That is, the major point of the passage is clear. But the intended meaning of the two major word pictures is a hard work for me (vv. 2-3a). The writer, the ascription in the ESV says it is "Of David," does not tell us how brothers dwelling in unity is like "precious oil" (v. 2) or "the dew on Hermon" (v. 3). He just declares that it is. It's a challenge to work my way through this text. But, as the saying goes, difficult texts make good preachers. So I will embrace this week's assignment as an opportunity for growth as a preacher, as well as an opportunity to challenge and encourage the saints at Mt. Sinai.

May the Lord help the congregation to be "completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love" (Eph. 4:2, NIV), and to "make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:3).

Please pray that the Lord will allow me to make it home safely, and use me this coming Lord's Day to glorify God and build up his people through the faithful exposition of the word of God.

Worship Ought To Kill Us

When I bought, Marva J. Dawn's book on worship, Reaching Out without Dumbing down, I jumped to chapter 9 to read it first, because of its provocative title: "Worship Ought to Kill Us: The Word." When I finished that chapter, it took me some time to get back to the book. I needed to pull myself together. As startling as this statement sounds, it really is an understatement. (By the way, we live in a day when we need truth stated in startling ways to get us to pay attention to divine realities that we have become too familiar with.) The goal of worship is not to help us live better lives. Worship ought to kill us. That is, it ought to slay our selfishness, pride, and rebellion and bring us to end of ourselves so that we can truly experience life in God. Dawn says it better than I can:

"In a society doing all it can to make people cozy, somehow we must convey the truth that God's Word, rightly read and heard, will shake us up. It will kill us, for God cannot bear our sin and wants to put to death our self-centeredness. The apostle Paul exclaims that he has been "crucified with Christ" and therefore that it is no longer he who lives, but Christ who lives in him (Gal. 2:19-20). Once worship kills us, we are born anew to worship God rightly." (pp. 205-06)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Pray for the Church Council of MSMBC

Over the years of my ministry to MSMBC, I have taught that Christ is the head of the church. And he exercises his authority the a plurality of godly leaders. That is the clear teaching of the New Testament concerning spiritual leadership. No church is to be a "one-man show." While one man should definite take the lead in shepherding the church, there should be a team of godly men around him to hold him accountable and share the burden of pastoral leadership.

Most churches that operate as I have described above call this group a board of elders. We have called our group of men the Church Council (not that we have any problem with the term "elders," we just never got around to changing the official language). These men have served with me for more than ten years. And most of the men have walked with me since the very beginning of this change in the governing process of the church.

This group started our informally. I was a young pastor who needed advice. And I simply asked men that I trusted to meet with me regularly. And I would put before them the various matters going on in the life of the church and we would pray and study and talk through these things together. And as we became settled on matters of doctrine and ministry philosophy, we talked more about how to implement and defend these things. Who knew we forming an eldership? But the Lord has used them men to cause my ministry at Mt. Sinai to be peaceful, enjoyable, and fruitful. The congregation has received their pastoral leadership over the years. And they continue to look to these men during these days of transition.

Please pray for these godly men who continue to lead MSMBC after my departure and lead the congregation in its search the man the Lord has already appointed to be the next pastor of Mt. Sinai. They are:

Charles Charthern
George Hurtt
Richey Jones
Todd Jones
Marcellus Marsh
Harry Moreau
Phil Placenti
John Scroggins
Anthony Thompson

Monday, August 25, 2008

Mutual Prayer for Difficult Times

I knew all week that I wanted to preach on prayer yesterday. And I spent the beginning part of the week working on a message from Acts 12. But by midweek, I was drawn to this passage in 2 Thessalonians. I have never preached from 2 Thessalonians before. So I had a little extra work to do. But the Lord helped me to get it all done and I was ready to preach.

Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians from Corinth, where he was facing various challenges. And he wrote this letter to a young church that was also facing various challenges. And for both pastor and people, there would be more challenges down the road. Moreover, they were separated geographically from one another, not sure when they would see each other again. But there was still a way they could help each other, even though they were separated from one another. Paul says in this text, "I need you to be praying for me. And I want you to know that I am praying for you."

In a few weeks, my beloved congregation and I will find ourselves at different ends of the country. But I wanted to say to the church that there is still a powerful way we can continue to help one another in the days ahead: Prayer!

This is a great text. And I thought it was an important message for the congregation to hear. But I was afraid to preach this message, for some reason. But the Lord helped me. Here is the sermon skeleton from Sunday's message:

Title: "Mutual Prayer for difficult Times"

Text: 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5

Point: There is a dynamic power at work when we pray for one another through difficult times.

Outline: This text teaches us three spiritual priorities for mutual prayer in difficult times.

I. The Word of the Lord (3:1-2)

    A. Pray about the opportunity that is before us to spread the word (v. 1)

       1. Pray that the word will get out: "may speed ahead"

       2. Pray that the word will get in: "and be honored"

    B. Pray about the opposition that is before us to stop the word (v. 2)

       1. The request he made: "that we may be delivered"

       2. The reality he faced: "wicked and evil men"
       3. The reason he gave: "For not all have faith"

II. The Faithfulness of the Lord (3:3-4)

    A. The Lord can be trusted to do what needs to be done for you (v. 3).

       1. Internal stability: "establish you"

       2 External security: "guard you against the evil one"

    B. The Lord can be trusted to do what needs to be done through you (v. 4)

III. The Direction of the Lord (3:5)

    A. The Priority: "your hearts"

    B. The petition: "May the Lord direct your hearts"

    C. The Provision:

       1. The love of God will lead the way.

       2. The steadfastness of Christ will lead the way.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Official Release of my Blackmail Video

After church this morning, my little sister, Donetta, informed me that portions of the Kidsongs Videos we did as children are on YouTube. One of my father's pastoral assistants helped to open this door for us when we were kids. We were able to participate in "A Day at Old McDonald's Farm."

My "feature" song is about 4:30 minutes into this clip. I "starred" in "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."

And about 6:30 minutes into the clip, you can catch a brief glimpse of me "pop-locking."

And with all due respect and humility, I am still waiting on my Oscar nomination.

And for the record, my hair was naturally curly. Or, at least, that's my story. And I'm sticking to it.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Coronary Christians & Adrenal Christians

In the preface to The Roots of Endurance, a collection of biographical sketches on the invincible perseverance in the lives John Newton, Charles Simeon, and William Wilberforce, John Piper, Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis and featured teacher of Desiring God Ministries, writes:

As I write this Preface I have just preached to my people several messages in which I pleaded with them to be "coronary Christians," not "adrenal Christians." Not that adrenaline is bad, I said; it gets me through lots of Sundays. But it lets you down on Mondays. The heart is another kind of friend. It just keeps on serving - very quietly, through good days and bad days, happy and sad, high and low, appreciated and unappreciated. It never says, "I don't like your attitude, Piper, I'm taking a day off." It just keeps humbly lub-dubbing along. It endures the way adrenaline doesn't.

Coronary Christians are like the heart in the causes they serve. Adrenaline Christians are line adrenaline - a spurt of energy and then fatigue. What we need in the cause of social justice (for example, against racism and abortion), and the cause of world missions (t0 plant churches among the unreached peoples of the world), and the cause of personal holiness and evangelism (to lead people to Christ and love them no matter what) is not spurts of energy, but people who endure for the long haul. Marathoners, not sprinters. (pp. 11-12)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Song of Praise

Over the past several weeks, I have been listening to this snippet of Blanche McAllister-Dykes singing "I Love You, Lord" when I need to refocus. She is a former member of the Tri-City Singers. And she led "These Nails" on the finale album. Beyond that, this sister can just flat out sing. And the good and sovereign God she is singing to is truly worthy of our love, praise, and devotion!

"I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live." - Psalm 116:1-2 (ESV)

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Best Commentaries

Bible commentaries are an essential tool for personal Bible study and Bible exposition. There are those who would vehemently disagree with that previous sentence. But do not listen to them. Commentaries are important and helpful.

I strive to live by the principle of the Proverbs that teach the importance of godly counsel (e.g., Proverbs 11:141; 15:22; 20:18). This is one of the reasons why I use Bible commentaries. There are men who have spent decades studying particular books of the Bible. And it is foolish and arrogant for us to think that we would not be aided by consulting those who have spent so long with particular sections of scripture and have published their studies.

Of course, you must not be a slave to commentaries. In fact, it is wise to use them last, after you have gone through your own process of studying the meaning of the text. This will keep you from merely parroting or echoing other people's ideas. You and your Sunday school class and your congregation and whoever else you are responsible for teaching need to know what God has taught you about the text and its application - not merely what he has taught John MacArthur, Warren Wiersbe, James Montgomery Boice, and others.

Likewise, you should be careful in your selection of commentaries. Most of us do not have the money to buy unhelpful books (if there is such a thing). And some books are really not worth spending a lot of time with. Sunday is coming fast. And you don't have a lot of time to waste. So your goal is to have access to the best resources for the passage that you are studying.

To that end, I have found a website that reviews and recommends best commentaries. It's called Best Commentaries. Check it out. And bookmark it for later reference.

I learned of this site by Tim Challies recommendation on his website.

If you know of other helpful online studies tools and resource sites, pass them on.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Guard the Bank!!!

This afternoon, my friend Keelan Atkinson and I were talking about about spiritual leadership, church life, and pastoral ministry.  To both warn and encourage me to keep my priorities straight in the days to come, Keelan shared with me a story that the late Pastor D.J. Ward told him some years ago. After he told me the story and we discussed it some, I asked if I share it on my blog. Actually, I think I announced that I was going to post it, rather than just asking. But Keelan was gracious and encouraged me to do so. I promised to give credit. If I am mis-telling parts of the story, it's my fault for not remembering the details. But I do have the main point of the story down. And I pray that I won't soon forget it.

Ten thieves descended on a certain town, plotting to clean out the local bank. Three of the bandits went to the stables, set them on fire, and then fled the town. All of the townspeople rushed to the stables to put out the fire. And as they focused on putting out the fire in the stables, the seven remaining bandits robbed the bank!

In ministry, there are many times we are tempted to pay too much attention to secondary matters. The urgent screams for our attention, causing us to ignore the quiet whisper of the important that beckons for our attention. And we invest all of our resources in protecting the stables. But in so doing, we leave the bank unprotected. This is not how the way to spiritual victory, true success, or God-glorifying fruitfulness. If you give all you have to keeping the stables safe, you lose the resources you need to care for the town as the bank is looted. But if you guard the bank, you can build more stables.

So we must keep our priorities straight.
We must be consumed by the glory of God in everything.
We must worship in spirit and in truth.
We must yield to the preeminence of Christ over the church in all things.
We must let the church be the church.
We must make disciples of all the nations.
We must love one another as Christ has loved us.
We must preached the word in season and out of season.
We must let the word of God be the final authority and firm foundation for ministry.
We must season and marinate all that we undertake in prayer.
We must guard the bank at all costs!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A Personal Application from 2 Corinthians 5:10

"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil." - 2 Corinthians 5:10 (ESV)

I was intimately introduced to this verse as I was reading church history some years ago. I do not remember the specific source, unfortunately. But I distinctively remember the reference to this passage and the story related to it.

Jonathan Edwards was sharply criticized during the Great Awakening. But in spite of the unfair and unwarranted attacks, Edwards never responded. He never tried to defend himself. And he never attacked his critics in return. His only statement was a reference to 2 Corinthians 5:10. Rather than continuing or escalating the controversy, he simply concluded, "I know in my heart what is true. And I will wait for the judgment seat of Christ to bear me out."

2 Corinthians 5:10 has been one of my "life verses" every since I read that story (Yes, from the source I can't remember). And it has been on my mind and heart quite a bit over the past week.

There are times when we want to explain ourselves, defend our actions, or justify our decisions. Sometimes, this is absolutely the right thing to do. After all, 2 Corinthians, the most personal of Paul's New Testament letters, is a defense of his spiritual authenticity and ministerial credibility in response to would-be leaders in the church at Corinth who were trying to undermine his influence. So there is a place for defending ourselves. And we should explain ourselves to those we are accountable to. But there are other times when we must quietly do what is right before God and let the judgment seat of Christ bear us out.

Now, we should never use this principle to side-step appropriate accountability. But we should allow 2 Corinthians 5:10 to remind us that our final and ultimate "job review" will be performed by the Lord, not by people - neither those who shoot us down nor those who cheer us on.

May our consuming passion and priority always be to hear the Lord say, "Well done, God and faithful servant..."


Monday, August 18, 2008

God Knows What He Is Doing!

I preached this morning from Paul's doxology that bridges the doctrine (chaps. 1-11) and duty (chaps. 12-16) sections of Paul's letter to the Romans. I wanted to preach a "big God" text. And they don't come too much better than this one.

In this doxology, Paul reminds us that God is worthy to praised even when we don't understand what God is doing. Sometimes our faith, worship, and obedience turns into doubt, complaining, and rebellion when we don't understand what God is doing in our lives. But this ought not be the case. God is worthy to be praised for the very fact that God knows what he is doing, even when he does not make sense to us.

Here is the sermon skeleton from this morning's message.

Title: "God Knows What He Is Doing"

Text: Romans 11:33-36

Point: God is worthy to be praised because God knows what he is doing even when he doesn't make sense to us.


I. The supremacy of God's ways (11:33)

    A. God's thoughts are beyond our understanding.

    B. God's decisions are beyond our understanding.

       1. God's punitive judgments are unsearchable.

       2. God's gracious judgments are unsearchable.

    C. God's ways are beyond our understanding.

II. The sovereignty of God's ways (11:34-35)

    A. No one knows the mind of the Lord (v. 34a)

       1. We can clearly know the mind of the Lord (2 Tim. 3:16; 1 Co. 2:12)

       2. We cannot fully know the mind of the Lord.

    B. No one has been the Lord's counselor (v. 34b)
    C. No one has given to the Lord that he might be repaid (v. 35)

III. The sufficiency of God's ways (11:36)

    A. Give glory to God because he is the source of all things.

    B. Give glory to God because he is the means of all things.

    C. Give glory to God because he is the end of all things.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Trust God!

As I prepare for this coming Sunday, it dawned on me that I had failed to post the sermon skeleton from last Sunday.

Last Sunday was one of the most difficult Sundays of preaching I have ever had. But I felt that I had an important word to proclaim. And the Lord helped me to hand in there in both services to say what he had laid on my heart to say.

My text was from one of passages that is so dear to me - Proverbs 3:5-6. I am sure that I did not anything new about the text that the congregation had not heard. But it was the message that God had laid on my heart to preach. It was definitely for me. And I know that I was not the only who needed this message. All of us need to learn to stop clinging to clarity and to trust God wholeheartedly. We need to trust God beyond what we can understand. That's is the place where life is lived to the fullest.

God is worthy of our trust!!!

Here is the (very late) sermon skeleton:

Title: "Trust God"

Text: Proverbs 3:5-6

Theme: Trust in the Lord

Point: Life at its best is only experienced when you trust God beyond what you can understand.


I. Trust God with everything: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart" (v. 5a)

    A. The call to trust: "trust"

    B. The object of trust: "in the Lord"

    C. The nature of trust: "with all your heart"

II. Trust God above everything: "and do not lean on your own understanding" (v. 5b)

    A. God wants your mind (Ps. 26:2; Isaiah 1:18; Matt. 22:37; Rom. 12:2; Phil. 2:5).

    B. God does not want you to all your finite mind to cause you to mistrust him.

III. Trust God in everything: "In all your ways acknowledge him" (v. 6a)

IV. Trust God through everything: "and he will make straight your paths" (v. 6b)

    A. This is a promise of divine guidance: "And he shall direct your paths" (NKJV)

    B. This is a promise of divine intervention: "and he will make straight your paths" (ESV)

Thursday, August 07, 2008

What Can That Boy Tell Me?

On November 5, 1990, I was selected to served as the third pastor of Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles. My father, who had died a year and a half earlier, had served the church for more than 40 years. And after more than a year-long search, the congregation voted to extend a call to me to be its pastor, even though I was only a 17-year-old high school senior.

A month or so later, MSMBC hosted a special installation celebration to officially welcome me as its new pastor. The late Dr. E.V. Hill, who served the Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Los Angeles, preached the installation message. Dr. Hill was good friends with my dad. He also led the meeting to select MSMBC's new pastor. And it just felt appropriate that he bring the message.

I doubt I will ever forget the message Dr. Hill preached that day.

As he often did, Dr. Hill gave his title before he gave his text. In his inimitable way, he declared, "I want to preach tonight from the subject, 'What can that boy tell me?' That's the question I have been hearing around town from members of Mt. Sinai," he said. "What can that boy tell me when my marriage is in trouble? What can that boy tell me when I am having trouble with my children?" One hour and more than five texts later, Dr. Hill proclaimed, "He can tell you whatever the word of God tells you to tell him!"

That message is a landmark for my life and ministry. It forged in me a confidence in the sufficiency of scripture, even though I had not yet heard that doctrinal term.

A year or two later, I attended a small Bible college in Anaheim. It was a new school that was struggling to get off the ground. But during my days there, I learned from several men of God and master teachers who continue to be a blessing to my life and ministry to this day. One of the men was Dr. James Borror, who presently serves as the president of Golden Minute Ministries. Dr. Borror was instrumental in teaching me the inductive Bible study method and the principles of expository preaching. These courses with Dr. Borror were literally life-changing for me.

I also took a course Dr. Borror touch called, "A Biblical Theology for Pastoral Counseling." I still have the syllabus and my personal notes from that class, which are now close to twenty years old. I learned a lot in the class. But there was one thing that stuck out. Dr. Borror hammered home a principle that he said should always be remembered: Truth is truth, whether I experience it or not. That principle did not just serve as a helpful philosophy with which to approach pastoral counseling; it sealed my confidence in the sufficiency of scripture. I was settled that as a believer and a preacher and a pastor, I am never to teach others from my own experience on any subject. I am simply to say what the word of God says about that matter, whether I have experienced that reality or not.

For instance, I have never prayed for anything as hard as I prayed that God would heal my dad. God chose not to do that. But it does not change the fact that God is a healer. And I must faithfully proclaim God's power to heal, even though I did not experience it when I desperately prayed for it. Or if the subject is marriage, I am not to try to guide others based on my relationship with Crystal. I am to guide others with the clear principles of God's word, independent of what me and Crystal embrace in our marriage. Sure, I have a testimony that is worth sharing. But my testimony on any subject does not have the authority of the word of God. So in every situation, be it the public or private ministry of the word, I am to stand on the solid foundation of the word of God, not the shifting sands of personal opinion, experience, or philosophy.

It is common to hear people say these days, "If God says it, I believe it, and that settles it." Indeed, I understand the spirit of that statement. But that equation has too many parts. The bottom-line is that what God says on a matter settles it. Period. Ultimately, it does not matter to God whether my faith validates his word or not. The power of the word of God is like the force of gravity. If you jump off a tall building, you don't break the power of gravity. You break your neck!

2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work" (ESV). And the corresponding mandate is stated in three words in 2 Timothy 4:2: "preach the word." Because the Bible is the God-breathed truth, how dare we compromise its authority by proclaiming personal opinions, worldly philosophies, self-help theories, business principles, scientific theories, motivational fluff, or political speeches. We need men who will be men - men who will stand with a Bible and a manuscript with a biblical message, if its necessary, and preach the word! Pray that God will raise up in this land a army of faithful men who are stubbornly biblical and absolutely confident in the sufficiency of scripture to save the lost, nurture disciples, lead the church, provide counsel, and change the world. Pray that young preacher who has been pontificating in this article will never waver from E.V. Hill's godly exhortation: "Tell them whatever the word of God tells you to tell them!"

Monday, August 04, 2008

Saturday, August 02, 2008

A Word of Wisdom from Proverbs

I am way behind my in my sermon preparation for Sunday this week.

I am really looking forward to preaching in the morning. But I have not really had the time or energy or focus to spend the time in the seat that I needed to this week.

So I am in the seat today until I have finished preparing myself and my sermon for preaching.

I am going to take a detour from my study of the Sermon on the Mount tomorrow. And I am planning to preach on Proverbs 3:5-6.

This is one of those weeks when I responsibility to preach to my congregation violently collides with my need to be preached to myself! Hopefully, Proverbs 3:5-6 will minister to both me and my congregation in the morning.

Pray for me.