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Charles Spurgeon wrote, “Those who truly serve God are made to feel more and more forcibly that ‘life is real, life is earnest’, if it indeed be life in Christ. In times of great pain, and weakness, and depression, it has come over me to hope that, if I should again recover, I should be more intense than ever; if I could be privileged to climb the pulpit stairs again, I resolved to leave out every bit of flourish from my sermons, to preach nothing but present and pressing truth, and to hurl it at the people with all my might; myself living at high pressure, and putting forth all the energy of which my being is capable. I suppose you, too, have felt like this when you have been laid aside. You have said to yourself, ‘Playtime is over with us, we must get to work. Parade is ended, now comes the tug of war. We must not waste a single moment, but redeem the time, because the days are evil. When we see the wonderful activity of the servants of Satan, and how much they accomplish, we may well be ashamed of ourselves that we do so little for our Redeemer, and that the little is often done so badly that it takes as long to set it right as we spent in the doing of it. Brethren, let us cease from regrets, and come to actual amendment.'” [An All Around Ministry, 162]
Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Evaluation of ministry is good and necessary, but moving forward from the lessons learned by the grace of God is better. God’s mercies are new every morning and even if have wasted time in the past, God is sovereign in using our rags for His glory. But let us not waste a single moment in our service for Christ because “playtime is over”. Let us put our full effort into being faithful to God and to His word in every aspect of our lives, laboring with all our might for His glory and at the end of each day as the chips fall where they may, rest in the glorious truth that “Our God is in the heavens, He does all that He pleases” (Psalm 115.3), including using mere men for the glory of His name however He should choose.
“Transformational Church does not set out to provide careful exegetical work or a biblical theology of the church. This is a book that publishes the results of analyzed data from a large church survey. Though Stetzer and Rainer’s intention is not to offer another methodology, it seems this book has more potential to become another new model of doing church, rather than defining what the Church actually is biblically and theologically. It seems to me that if Transformational Church turned our attention to the Bible first and let the data come alongside and show real world proof, the authors would have published a resource that would better accomplish their vision of helping churches and church leaders be transformational rather than seek to do transformational ministry.”
At the bottom of the page, Ed graciously commented on the review and lovingly spoke to the book’s approach and goal. I have responded and hope that the interaction glorifies God, builds up the Church and furthers the discussion about how the Church can better accomplish her mission in the world.
9Marks has an excellent post today titled “The Scariest Word in Pastoral Ministry” by Mike McKinley. The word is “bifurcation”, which means a split growing over time. Mike says, “They [pastors] began to say and teach and proclaim one thing to the world, while doing and loving a very different thing in their private life. Their work as a pastor began to become disconnected from their personal lives. It became more like a job to be done; it just happened to be a job where you had to talk about God.”
He gives 5 questions to ask yourself to evaluate if a “bifurcation” is beginning in your life:
1. Do you study God’s word and theology with a heart devoid of worship?
2. Are you well known by anyone else?
3. Do you assume that if other people approve of you, God approves of you?
4. Do you find yourself condeming sin publicly, even as you indulge it privately?
5. Do you do the work of the ministry without passion for Christ’s glory?
Read it and spend some time in prayer with your Bible open evaluating your heart.
Michael Lawrence. Biblical Theology In The Life Of The Church: A Guide For Ministry. Crossway Books, 2010. 240 pages.
Seeking to produce a theological vision for ministry today, Michael Lawrence addresses the need for biblical theology in the life of the church. “Our theology determines the shape and character of our ministry,” he says. Though this book is about theology, it is really about pastoral ministry. Biblical Theology In The Life Of The Church puts the essential tool of biblical theology back in the pastor’s tool belt.
Biblical Theology divides into three sections: The Tools That Are Needed; The Stories To Be Told; and Putting It Together For The Church. Section One: The Tools That Are Needed, explores the exegetical, biblical theology, and systematic theology tools that are needed to “construct a theology that tells the whole story of the Bible.” Beginning with the grammatical-historical method of exegesis, chapter one teaches you how to use this method in the different literary genres of the Bible. The heart of this section forges the tools of biblical theology to “give your whole Bible back to you” and helps pastors and theologians escape the pitfalls of moralism, legalism and hobbyhorses by staying faithful to the story of the Bible. To do this, Lawrence offers six tools of biblical theology: covenants, epochs, canon, prophecy, typology and continuity. Covenants, epochs, and canon form the details of the story, while prophecy, typology and continuity put the details together so it can be read as a single story about Christ and the gospel. Lawrence applies these tools to build a practical theology that opens the entire canon of Scriptures for preaching and daily ministry. He closes Section One by demonstrating how to move from exegesis to biblical theology to systematic theology—“the attempt to summarize in an orderly and comprehensive manner what the whole Bible has to say about any given topic.” According to Lawrence, the tools of systematic theology, namely biblical knowledge, personal knowledge and situational knowledge, allow sound application of the whole biblical story to our context. He effectively argues that the church needs both biblical and systematic theology because though biblical theology seeks to understand the whole story of the Bible, systematic theology uses that foundation to connect the biblical story with our own.
Section Two: The Stories To Be Told, applies Section One by taking five major storylines of the Bible—creation, fall, love, sacrifice and promise—to tell it’s whole story, from Genesis to Revelation, from the vantage point of that particular theme. Each chapter in this section uses the exegetical, biblical and systematic tools to show “the many ways in which our story is already incorporated into and interpreted by the biblical story” and how the Bible gives “an all-encompassing worldview that challenges the idolatrous worldviews of our age.”
In the final section, Section Three: Putting It Together For The Church, Lawrence takes Chapter eleven to focus on the main use of biblical theology in the church, namely preaching and teaching, and demonstrates how to begin with the a biblical text and do biblical theology. Through four text studies, Lawrence demonstrates how to get from a particular text to the major biblical storyline running through that text. Further he demonstrates how that specific text connects to the rest of the Bible so it can be applied soundly and faithfully to our lives. Chapter twelve skillfully agrues that biblical theology is not just useful for preaching and teaching, but for every ministry in the local church. Lawrence skillfully applies biblical theology to the four case studies of counseling, missions, caring for the poor and church/state relations.
Lawrence’s pastoral heart and wisdom fills every page. He exhibits a tremendous command of the Scriptures and a pastoral ministry characterized by the conviction that God’s Word, and not our words, actually changes and shapes people’s lives. By opening up the entire Bible to use in ministry by doing biblical theology, Lawrence helps pastors give their congregations a profoundly deep theology that impacts every aspect of their lives. Moreover, Lawrence reveals the beautiful tapestry of the Bible by teaching and imploring pastors to teach or preach on any text through the lens of “the ultimate revelation of Jesus Christ, his saving work, and his promised kingdom.”
Though “theology” may invoke thoughts of conflict or ivory towers, Lawrence proves that biblical theology is “really useful theology” and that the better theologian you are, the better pastor you will be. As a pastor, Biblical Theology In The Life Of The Church has been one of the most helpful books I have ever read. It stirred my affections for the God of the Bible and His Word and helped me better understand the whole counsel of God and how it applies to all of life and ministry. Of all the books that will vie for your attention this year, do not let this one get pushed to the periphery. Get this book, read it, and find help for teaching biblical theology to your fellow staff, elders, and other church leaders. Even if you are not a pastor or lay leader, it will help you teach, train, counsel, and exhort other Christians. Biblical Theology In The Life Of The Church truly is a God-glorifying, Christ-exalting, Word-centered guide for ministry.
I received an excellently produced invitation in the mail to attend a major church conference focused on the way churches minister to children, students and families, namely “reconnecting parents with kids”. On the back of the flyer, one quote reads, “This is the central conversation in the church today.”
Wow!! That should make me want to attend this conference, except for the fact that it’s not the central conversation. CJ Mahaney said, “The most important truth is the easiest to forget… the foundational reality that Jesus Christ died so that sinners would be reconciled to God and forgiven by God.” The cross is the central conversation of the Church and, in our society, it is also the conversation that is constantly in danger of being put aside. This conference has the means and an incredible opportunity to further the conversation of the cross, but it seems they have been distracted. Jerry Bridges wrote, “The gospel is not only the most important message in all of history; it is the only essential message in all of history. Yet we allow thousands of professing Christians to live their entire lives without clearly understanding it and experiencing the joy of living it.”
Let’s hope the speakers, or “Champion Communicators”, who have accepted invitations to address the attendees center their messages around the cross and the gospel of grace. Let’s also center our lives and ministries upon the most important truth… the gospel of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” 2 Corinthians 8.9
The world hoards, the world builds bigger barns, and yes the world gives, but not sacrificially. Many people give for recognition, reputation, tax benefits and out of mere token of their bank accounts. But the people of God give differently because of God’s grace in us and on us (8.1). We give generously and abundantly in a way that shows we are seeking God’s kingdom first and we are not given any credit, nor should we desire any! We give differently only because God grants grace. One of the effects of God’s grace working in our hearts is a desire to give generously to those in need, to God’s work in our communities and in the world. The stunning thing about the Macedonians spirit of generosity was that is lived out in the midst of severe affliction and extreme poverty. And not only that, they overflowed with joy in the midst of affliction and poverty! They did not allow their circumstances to dictate how they would live their lives.
Granted, our country’s present financial circumstances are no where near the Macedonians and neither are most Americans’, but what do we hear all week long about our current woes? Fear, anxiety, grumblings, worries and promises, assurances and more plans. But what does God’s Word tell us about God’s enabling grace that He pours out upon His people by His Spirit?
During the summer of 2001, I was working as a summer programmer at Camp Barakel. We always started the summer off with two weeks of counselor workshop and I will never forget one particular workshop session. We all gathered in the East Side chapel and Dan Cummings spoke on the glory of God’s sovereign grace. I had heard of these “Reformed” guys before… but I had never heard one who was so passionate and amazed by God’s grace as he. We talked over lunch before he headed back home about all things God-centered. It was a great and gracious conversation, and one that changed my life. He, of course, did not let me leave empty handed and gave me two books that day, Still Sovereign and The Pleasures of God, and promised to send me more for my summer reading, which he did. I gave him a gift for Reformation Day last November with the note, “Happy Reformation Day to the man who introduced me to it!” I bless God for sending me to Barakel (which is a story in itself) and his providence in sending Dan to preach and giving me ears to hear.
Over the next few years, Dan mentored me as I finished college and started my pastoral ministry. We went to pastor’s conferences and ETS meetings. Starbucks and Wendy’s. And boy did we go to bookstores!! I cannot remember one bad conversation. They were always God-centered and Christ-exalting. He helped me through some tough early years of ministry. He loved to help me think through issues and papers when I was in seminary. He would always make those conversations come back to the text of Scripture… always.
I was called to the pastoral staff at Five Points Community Church in May 2006 and I could now walk into his office any time I wanted. He was always ready to help, assist, think, talk, and laugh. He taught me much about how life and ministry are not two separate things, but one. He was a living example of how to live under the banner of “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him”. I will miss many things that became so normal around here… afternoon cups of coffee at our second office (Starbucks), theology talks, movie nights, oral book reviews, ministry visions and plans, and whether Michigan State is better at any sport than Michigan.
As I sit in the office that I spent so much of the past 3 years in, I remember the thing I will miss the most. Whenever I told him about some ministry idea, he would look at me and without hesitation say, “Rock on!” Never “Have you thought about…” or “Maybe you should try…” or “Let’s wait and see if…” I am sure there were times when he might have wanted to say some of those things, but he never showed anything but confidence in me. And when I would screw up, he always continued to show confidence. Always. And then we would usually have a cup of coffee! Things will be different around here, but if there is one thing I know he would tell us, it would be “Rock On!”
And we will… for the glory of God!
Christmas is about the doctrine of the incarnation… God becoming human. One of my favorite Christmas carols is “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”. This carol helps us to understand what Christ’s birth was truly about:
“O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free,
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o’er the grave.
O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer,
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.”
Isaiah 9.1-2, “But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.” Jesus’ birth shone a light not only on those who dwelt in darkness, but illuminated the cross. His birth that glorious night illuminated the cross, for He was born to die. As we have seen elsewhere in the New Testament, Jesus’ birth was a humble act of condescension. Paul teaches in Philippians 2 that Jesus “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” His Incarnation was for our salvation. He was born to free his own from Satan’s tyranny, to save His people from the depths of hell and give them victory over the grave! He came to ransom His captive people, not in power and might, but by becoming man, taking the form of a servant and living a life of perfect obedience to and love for God with his birth and life continuously illuminating the cross. It is wonderful to celebrate the birth of Jesus, but you cannot understand the significance of the manger at Bethlehem unless you see it in light of the cross at Calvary. The focus of the New Testament is not Bethlehem, but Calvary. Everything goes out of focus during Advent if you leave off the cross. The Christmas season loses its purpose and meaning when we don’t let its light illuminate the cross. Matthew 20.28 says, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus was born to die and His mission was accomplished by his being born to ultimately give his life, for even in Matthew’s account of the narrative of Jesus’ birth his mission is the focus, not just his birth! He WILL save His people from their sins (1.21)!! The one who was born to “save his people from their sins” lived his life with one eye always on accomplishing his mission by way of the cross. How did he ransom captives, give us victory over the grave and put to flight death’s dark shadows? He was born to die.
When speaking about “influencing people in the Christian direction”, Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that some Christian leaders in his day were advocating a new method. This new strategy for evangelism was:
“Not preaching, not the old method, but getting among the people, showing an interest, showing your sympathy, being one of them, sitting down among them, and discussing their affairs and problems. This is being advocated a great deal in many countries at the present time, either as a means of bringing people to places of worship to listen to the Gospel, or else as not only a substitute for that, but as a very much better mehtod of propogating the Christian faith (Preaching and Preachers, 19).”
I often hear things like this being said about evangelism in a postmodern context. What is Lloyd-Jones’ answer?
“Well now the great question is – what is our answer to all this?… all this is at best secondary… and that the primary task of the Church and of the Christian minister is the preaching of the Word of God (Preaching and Preachers, 19).”
Dr. Jim Grier, Distinguished Professor of Philosophical Theology at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, MI, addressed church leaders at a Woodside Bible Church seminar on Saturday, October 25. The seminar was ‘Truth, Certainty and Missional Ministry in a Postmodern Context‘ and contained two presentations: “The Epistemic Quandary: Certainty, Certitude, Assurance, Reasonable Doubt” and “Missional Ministry in a Postmodern Context: Enacting the Mission of God.” The second session was well worth the price of admission and an early Saturday morning wake-up call. His assertion that the church is a “people sent on a mission by God” functions both as foundational to his understanding of the church’s purpose in the world and frames his “Missional Ministry Enactment”. To listen to or download the seminar sessions and notes, visit the seminar page.