Preach the Word!

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
2 Timothy 4:1-4 ESV

I’m not always a big fan of chapter divisions in the Bible.

Yes, they are helpful for finding passages quickly, but they can sometimes hinder our proper understanding of the Word by causing us to subconsciously separate connected thoughts. The first four verses of 2 Timothy chapter four is one of those cases. Paul did not originally write this letter to Timothy with chapter divisions or verse numbers. He just wrote a letter, and if we read it like a letter, we will quickly realize that he is applying the truths that he stated in verses sixteen and seventeen of the last chapter.

Because all Scripture is inspired, profitable, and sufficient, Paul commands Timothy to preach the Word, but the command is not alone. The apostle prefaces his charge to his disciple by declaring that it is being made in the presence of God and Jesus Christ. He does this to emphasize the divine element of the command. It is not Paul’s idea for Timothy to preach the Word; it is God’s. Paul is simply the messenger.

Because God is driving the command to preach, we must not take preaching lightly. Reprove, rebuke, and exhort should immediately call to mind the profitability of Scripture. Though we can (and should) allow the Scriptures to teach, reprove, correct, and train us individually, the primarily vehicle for profiting from Scripture is through hearing it preached.

The regular, faithful preaching of the Scriptures should be a key focus of all followers of Christ. Since through preaching we are taught the sufficient, profitable, and inspired Bible, we are able to rightly call preaching the Word a means of communal discipleship. By hearing the Word preached, we learn more about the God who authored it, and we learn how to better follow Christ. Preaching makes disciples, and disciples of Christ should love to hear the Word preached.

Unfortunately, many people prefer to “accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” turning away from the truth and chasing after myths. There are many false teachers who improperly use the Bible to tell people what they want to hear, and in many ways, they are judgment of God. We must be careful not to assign the blame entirely to false teachers. They only exist because people want to follow after lies. False teachers give the people what they want, and if we are not wary, we can become our own false teacher. Many claim the name of Christ, but never attend church because they believe that they can read the Bible and know God themselves. Though avoiding community does not guarantee false doctrine, it almost always leads to it. We are not meant to follow Christ alone, and we are not meant to interpret the Bible alone. When we read the Bible entirely apart from other believers, we risk avoiding what we do not want to hear. We, in essence, become our own false teacher. We need to hear the faithful, expository preaching of the Word. We need to be in a congregation with other believers, where we have elders who hold firm to the trustworthy Word, instructing sound doctrine and rebuking false doctrine. (Titus 1:9)

But the work of interpretation is not entirely upon the preacher, the congregation of believers must also hold the him accountable to sound doctrine. In Acts, Luke writes this about the Bereans in this way:

Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. (Acts 17:11)

Notice that Luke was not annoyed or offended that the Bereans fact-checked everything that him and Paul preached to them; instead, he commended them for doing so! A pastor whose heart is to see the congregation grow in their love of God and His Word will likewise rejoice to find the church daily searching the Scriptures to make sure that his preaching is correct.

For these reasons, regular attendance of the Sunday morning worship service is one of the primary expectations of a member at Western Meadows. Because we value the Scriptures as God’s Word and value making disciples as Jesus command to every believer, followers of Jesus Christ should desire to sit often under the proclamation of His Word.

Healthy Members | Ephesian 4:17-32

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. (Ephesians 4:25 ESV)

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clarmor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:29-32 ESV)

OPENING THOUGHT

In the Western Meadows Values Series, we have been studying the primary values that we hold as a church. We began with the Great Commission, Jesus’ final command for His disciples to continue making disciples. The great purpose and mission of each Christian and church is, therefore, to make disciples, and we do so because by making more disciples of Jesus we continue to fill the earth with Christ’s image and glory.

Like the Christian walk, making disciples happens on two fronts: individually and corporately. As individuals, we live our lives as a witness for Christ, proclaim His gospel to nonbelievers, and teach other Christians to obey all that He has commanded us. Corporately, we make disciples by devoting ourselves to Scripture (by faithfully preaching and hearing them), prayer (specifically praying for boldness to proclaim the gospel), and community (by loving one another as Christ has loved us).

We now conclude our study of the church’s values by turning to Ephesians 4. In the first half of the chapter, Paul described how to become a healthy church by prioritizing unity and helping one another grow in maturity through our diverse gifts. The second half likewise describes being a healthy church member. Here Paul urges us to put away our previously sinful way of life and to live like Christ. He ends with a volley of quick commands that show practically how we are meant to live around each other in Christ.

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read verses 17-24 and discuss the following.

  1. Here Paul commands us to put off our old, sinful ways of living and to put on our new life in Christ. What aspects of your life before Christ have you put away? What aspects do you still wrestle with? How does this gospel provide us hope even in the midst of our sin?

Read verses 25-32 and discuss the following.

  1. Within these verses, Paul delivers a series of exhortations for how we should live as members of the body of Christ. Which verse is most convicting for you? Why? What practical steps might you take to walk in obedience?

PERSONAL REFLECTION

Because all Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon the studied text, and ask yourself the following questions.

  • What has God taught you through this text (about Himself, sin, humanity, etc.)?
  • What sin has God convicted or reproved you of through this text?
  • How has God corrected you (i.e. your theology, thinking, lifestyle, etc.) through this text?
  • Pray through the text, asking God to train you toward righteousness by conforming you to His Word.

Healthy Church | Ephesians 4:1-16

Sermon | Week 5

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3 ESV)

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, (Ephesians 4:11-13 ESV)

OPENING THOUGHT

In the Western Meadows Values Series, we have been studying the primary values that we hold as a church. We began with the Great Commission, Jesus’ final command for His disciples to continue making disciples. The great purpose and mission of each Christian and church is, therefore, to make disciples, and we do so because by making more disciples of Jesus we continue to fill the earth with Christ’s image and glory.

Like the Christian walk, making disciples happens on two fronts: individually and corporately. As individuals, we live our lives as a witness for Christ, proclaim His gospel to nonbelievers, and teach other Christians to obey all that He has commanded us. Corporately, we make disciples by devoting ourselves to Scripture (by faithfully preaching and hearing them), prayer (specifically praying for boldness to proclaim the gospel), and community (by loving one another as Christ has loved us).

Having now studied our values, we will finish by spending two weeks in Ephesians 4 where Paul provides a wonderful glimpse at what healthy churches and church members look like. In the first sixteen verses, Paul gives to us a description of a healthy church, noting that it will be a church of diverse members united and growing one another into the maturity of Christ.

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read verses 1-6 and discuss the following.

  1. Why does Paul emphasize the importance of unity within the church? What might a united church look like? What might a divided church look like?

Read verses 7-13 and discuss the following.

  1. What is the main purpose of leadership within the church? What are some common gifts found within churches? How does the diversity of gifts benefit the church?

Read verses 13-16 and discuss the following.

  1. What are some characteristics of Christian maturity? Which characteristic is most convicting? Why?

PERSONAL REFLECTION

Because all Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon the studied text, and ask yourself the following questions.

  • What has God taught you through this text (about Himself, sin, humanity, etc.)?
  • What sin has God convicted or reproved you of through this text?
  • How has God corrected you (i.e. your theology, thinking, lifestyle, etc.) through this text?
  • Pray through the text, asking God to train you toward righteousness by conforming you to His Word.

Christmas, Sin, & Small Towns (Dec 2, 2016)

Here are a few articles from around the Internet that are worth reading.

A Plea to Pastors: Don’t Cancel Church on Christmas

Christmas falls on a Sunday this year, so why should we attend church on Christmas?

It’s the day we celebrate the incarnation, the birth of the Messiah, the entrance into our world of the second Person of Trinity. Don’t we want to sing? Don’t we want to celebrate? Don’t we want to preach and praise and pray?

Sin Will Never Make You Happy

With all eternity hanging in the balance, we fight the fight of faith. Our chief enemy is the lie that says sin will make our future happier. Our chief weapon is the truth that says God will make our future happier. And faith is the victory that overcomes the lie, because faith is satisfied with God.

Big Dreams and Blue Jeans

Since I pastor a church within a small town, it’s encouraging to remember that small towns matter in the kingdom of God.

How to Stop Despairing Over World Suffering and Start Addressing It

I believe we should act locally, specifically, and personally. We should start with the spheres closest to home, and then continue to reach out from there, as God gives time, money, and opportunity. Such giving combats some of the feelings of fatigue and guilt that come with knowledge of worldwide suffering. To stay stuck in that place of guilt is to remain in a selfish spot. But if we assume ourselves responsible for all the problems of the world, that also is a selfish response.

5 Christian Clichés That Need to Die

But one-liners aren’t always helpful. Sometimes, in our desire to simplify truth, we can trivialize and even obscure it. And to obscure the truth is to tell a lie.

Self-Defense, Secular Campuses, & the Wisdom of Job (Nov 11, 2016)

It’s been a crazy few weeks with much time spent in a trauma ICU, but I’m planning to return to my regular number of postings next week. Until then, here are a few items from the internet this week that are worth your time.

Should Christians Defend Themselves

I wrote on this topic several weeks ago as well.

We recognize that this is a sensitive issue of conscience for many, and that grace and love must characterize this conversation. We also are convinced that any such self-defense must be considered as a last resort and in response to a reasonable threat. The same principle of valuing the image of God in others that drives us to protect the weak among us also compels us to a careful and measured response.

Church Should Feel Uncomfortable

A good reminder:

[Being the church] means worshiping all together without segregating by age or interest (e.g. “contemporary” or “traditional”). It means preaching the whole counsel of God, even the unpopular bits. It means fighting homogeneity and cultivating diversity as much as possible, even if it makes people uncomfortable. It means prioritizing the values of church membership and giving, even if it turns people off. It means being fine with the music even if it’s not your favorite style. It means sticking around even when the church goes through hard times. It means building a tight-knit community but not an insular one, engaging neighbors and launching members when mission calls them away. It means bearing with one another in love on matters of debate and yet not shying away from church discipline. It means preaching truth and love in tension, even when the culture calls it bigotry. It means focusing on long-term healing rather than symptom-fixing medication.

None of this is easy or comfortable. But by the grace of God and his Spirit’s help, uncomfortable church can become something we treasure.

How God Is Moving On Secular Campuses

Friends, God is moving on secular campuses. In some cases, the odds seem impossible. But God loves facing seemingly impossible odds. He loves to use small things, foolish things, to shame the world. We do not know where we are headed. But we know this: we are not alone. God has gone ahead of us.

The Book of Job 

This concludes the Bible Project’s trilogy of videos on the wisdom books of the Bible.

Trump, Heresy, & Sunday Morning (Oct. 14, 2016)

Below are a few items from the internet this week that are worth your time.

If Donald Trump Has Done Anything, He Has Snuffed Out the Religious Right

As a 26-year-old evangelical pastor, I completely agree:

The 30-year-old evangelical pastor down the street from you would rather die than hand over his church directory to a politician or turn his church service into a political rally. Finding new ways of engaging our fellow citizens and forming collaborative majorities for public action are now the urgent priority of evangelicals who wish not to concede the public space, in our name, to heretics and hucksters and influence-peddlers. The gospel matters more.

Survey Finds Most American Christians Are Actually Heretics

A sobering read…

A survey of 3,000 people conducted by LifeWay Research and commissioned by Ligonier Ministries found that although Americans still overwhelmingly identify as “Christian,” startling percentages of the nation embrace ancient errors condemned by all major Christian traditions. These are not minor points of doctrine, but core ideas that define Christianity itself. The really sad part? Even when we’re denying the divinity of Christ, we can’t keep our story straight. Americans talking about theology sound about as competent as country singers rapping.

Making the Most of Sunday Morning

God wants us to be thoughtful and purposeful in our gatherings, not lazy and aimless. It’s been said that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. And if you aim at nothing, you hit it every time. Sure, God’s grace compels and guides us to stir and encourage in ways we did not intend. But God’s grace also makes us intentional. He gives us grace not only despite our effort, but in our effort. Hebrews 10:24–25 compel us to actively consider how we might encourage and strengthen the particular saints we meet with each Sunday.

You, Me, and the ESV

A great thought on my favorite Bible translation.

Millions of people have adopted the ESV, have come to love it, and have deep feelings for it. We’ve spent hundreds or thousands of hours reading it, pondering it, memorizing it. For many, the ESV is the Bible, the only Bible they have ever known. For others it is the Bible that led them to salvation or that led them to a theological awakening. This is especially true of people who have been part of the modern-day Reformed resurgence. In many ways and for many of us the ESV is inseparable from our newfound convictions. We don’t just use the ESV, we are deeply connected to it, deeply invested in it.

Authority: God’s Good and Dangerous Gift

The latest 9Marks Journal is available with plenty of  great articles to keep you reading and thinking until the next one.

Alistair Begg: You are not responsible for your prodigal

An encouraging video on a difficult topic.

What’s Your Plan for 2017?

It’s officially October, which means that 2016 is circling the drain.

Time to start thinking about 2017.

Why plan for the next year in October?

Let’s be honest. The Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year season is not very conducive for realistically planning the coming year. The holidays are a blur of busyness, and January ends up catching us by surprise yet again.

Wouldn’t it be better to have a plan for the next year finished early so that you can enjoy the holidays AND be ready for action in January?

For this reason, I agree with Brian Howard that October is the best time to evaluate the past year and plan for the next one.

Howard is a Network Director for Acts 29 and Executive Director of Context Coaching Inc., which he created to train pastors and leaders. I’ve greatly benefitted from his entire blog, but here I would like to link to four of his step-by-step guides to planning for the next year.

1. The Life Plan

This guide is applicable to everyone.

Howard suggests beginning by rating various areas of your life (i.e. spiritual life, finances, marriage, health, career, etc.) on a scale of 1-10.

You then choose 4-5 categories to prioritize for the upcoming year.

Next after writing a clear vision statement for EACH priority, write down specific steps and actions for living out your vision statements.

Finally, the only steps left are actually living your life plan.

I highly suggest that everyone click the link above and create your own life plan for 2017.

2. The Family Plan

This 5-step plan, written by Barry Rager, focuses on setting a united vision and plan for the whole family. During premarital counseling, my wife and I have begun requiring the couples to complete individual life plans before marriage and this family plan after their wedding.

Rager urges families to begin with a clearly written vision statement of how the family aims to look and act (side note: individual life plans certainly make this step easier).

He then encourages developing a strategic focus and identifying vital areas.

Once you’ve identified the priorities, write down action steps for how to live out your family’s vision.

Don’t neglect the fifth and final step: evaluate and review. Life happens, so we frequently need accountability and, sometimes, a shift in priorities. Regularly evaluating ourselves and each other keeps the family focused.

3. The Ministry Plan

This 6-step plan is for ministry leaders.

Depending on the type and size of the ministry you lead, you may not need to go as in depth as he suggests; however, I strongly encourage every ministry leader to prayerfully work through Howard’s guide.

First, he urges defining the ministry (an action that too many ministries overlook). The questions that Howard poses are golden, such as: Why does this ministry even exist? and What is the biblical basis for this ministry? Whether you write a full page in answer to these questions or not, EVERY ministry leader should ask them on a regular basis.

He then says to describe the present, diagnose current problems, design a plan, and write out the details of the progress. As with the life and family plans, this means identifying key areas of focus and taking the time to write out specific actions to do.

Of course, don’t forget evaluate as you go throughout the year and to focus upon your own personal development.

4. The Church Plan

This one is for pastors and elders of the church. Howard doesn’t call it the church plan, but since it is 7 questions that effectively follow the pattern of life, family, and ministry plans, I’m dubbing the church plan here.

Instead of 7 steps, the church plan is 7 questions that help formulate a vision plan for the church.

The seven questions are as follows:

  1. Why do we exist?
  2. Who do we serve?
  3. What do we prioritize?
  4. How will we know if we are successful?
  5. What will our future look like?
  6. What are our top 3-5 goals in the next 12-18 months?
  7. What is most important right now?

You’ll notice if you’ve already read all four plans that Howard isn’t reinventing the wheel with these guides.

Each one involves evaluating the present, identifying a few priorities, being specific about how to achieve those priorities, and regularly evaluating your progress.

Even though it looks like common sense on paper, I’m incredibly thankful for men like Howard who are biblically and practically training up pastors and leaders in the church.

To read more from Brian Howard, go to his blog: contextcoaching.org