Bible, Church, Counseling, Gospel Spirituality, Jesus, Missional Living, Preaching, Redeemer Church

Advice for Listening to Preaching (Part 4)

Preaching is explaining and applying the Bible. The Bible calls us to “preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:2). We need to read the Bible, but sitting at home alone reading it is not sufficient for a healthy spiritual life. Every Christian needs the preaching of God’s Word. Therefore, we need a renewed understanding of preaching as a spiritual discipline or a means of grace. Spiritual disciplines are biblical habits that promote spiritual growth. These biblical habits are how God pours out his grace in order to conform us to the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29). If preaching is a means of grace, how can everyday Christians be equipped through listening to the preaching of God’s Word?

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First, be prayerful to prepare your heart to hear God’s Word. Most Christians do not pop out of bed in the morning excited to hear a sermon. Therefore, we need the Spirit’s help. We need to pray to God to give us a heart to hear what we need to hear from the upcoming sermon.

Second, learn how you learn. Some people are classified as audible learners while others are visual learners. Some are active learners while others are reflective learners. While some learn through sequential steps others are called global learners. Learning how you are wired can help you develop proactive strategies to better hear God’s Word.

Third, take notes. The sermon is primarily an audible experience. However, even if you are a visual learner take notes on what you are hearing. Pastors should develop sermon notes and ways for the congregation to fill in blanks. Related, preachers should make the main points clear. However, preachers should not make the note taking too obvious. Sequential learners need to see the flow of thought, but global learners need to figure some things out for themselves. Even if your pastor does not provide sermon notes, everyone learns best with a pen in their hand writing down key concepts as well as notable truths.

Fourth, listening to a sermon and taking notes will require someone to develop their concentration abilities. The success of apps like Tic Tock and the success of TED Talks highlight our generation’s short attention spans. Pray for God to help you concentrate. Make it a game to see how long you can focus. Remember, concentration can be developed.

Fifth, in your mind or on your sermon notes, ask the “so, what?” questions. Educators understand that one of the best ways to motivate students to learn is to quickly show the relevance and usefulness of their lesson. God is communicating through every verse in the Bible, therefore our role is to determine the relevance of the passage. When we are listening to a sermon we need to ask questions like: what do I need to believe, what do I need to turn from, how does this passage convict me, how does this verse encourage me, what does this say about my heart, what does this Scripture teach me about Jesus and his gospel grace? Keep your mind active by discovering how your pastor’s sermon can transform your thinking, emotions, and behaviors.

During the pandemic we have all been reminded of the charge from Hebrews 10:25 to not neglect the habit of meeting together. For a season we had to neglect this habit. However, one of the main reasons we meet together is to hear the preaching of God’s Word. The sermon is meant to be a communal experience. Everyday Christians are designed to come together and collectively hear the Word preached. Together we are to learn and be admonished and encouraged. Together we are to believe and repent. Together we are to remember the good news of the gospel. Brothers and sister, do not neglect the hearing of God’s Word preached. We all need it. It is a gift, a means of God’s grace. I pray your pastor sees you this Sunday with your Bible open and your pen in hand!

 

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Preaching as a Means of Grace (Part 3)

Preaching is explaining and applying the Bible. From Genesis to Revelation we see that communication of God’s Word leads to life. In fact, the biblical model of someone experiencing new life and being born again is through the avenue of the preaching of God’s Word. Therefore, the Bible itself calls us to “preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:2). We need to read the Bible, but sitting at home alone reading it is not sufficient for a healthy spiritual life. Every Christian needs the preaching of God’s Word. Therefore, we need a renewed understanding of preaching as a means of grace.

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Spiritual disciplines are biblical habits that promote spiritual growth. 1 Timothy 4:7 calls us to train ourselves in order to become godlier. However, we have to be careful and not make the mistake of the Pharisees in believing the discipline is the godliness. Christians, unlike the Pharisees, understand spiritual practices are a means to an end. Further, another mistake of the Pharisees was living out their spirituality in their own strength. Moralism, being good or righteous through human strength, is contrary to the gospel. For example, in Philippians 2:12 God calls us to obey and to work out our salvation with “fear and trembling.” However, he goes onto say in Philippians 2:13 that “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” As a result, not only is godliness the goal of our spiritual habits, but we cannot ultimately do them out of our own strength. Therefore, it is helpful to think of spiritual disciplines as means of grace. These biblical habits are how God pours out his grace in order to conform us to the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29).

Biblically, we see a series of ways God’s grace conforms people into the image of Jesus. Bible reading is key to spiritual growth. Prayer is a vital means of grace. Ministry and service are also hallmarks of a healthy spiritual life that leads to godliness. However, listening to preaching is also essential. Ephesians 4:11 says that God has given the church individuals gifted as apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers. Each of those god-gifted roles requires preaching. Paul goes onto explain the reason God has given us those ministers. He says they are given “to equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12). Their preaching is a means of grace to help everyday Christians mature to the point of doing ministry. Like prayer or Bible reading or good works, preaching is a means of grace given to each and every Christian.

As you approach Sunday morning, I challenge you to view the hearing of a sermon by your pastor as a means of grace. God has given you that church and that pastor and that sermon and that moment to mold you into the image of Jesus and prepare you for life and ministry.

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Preaching Defined (Part 2)

If the Bible comes from inside God and is thus truthful and useful to equip us for good works, then what should we do with it? 2 Timothy 4:2 says we are to “preach the word.” We are to proclaim or herald the good news of the Bible. It is truth and it teaches us how to live faithfully. We should urgently tell the world what it teaches. People need to know, therefore the church has a mission to “preaching the word.” But, what does preaching really mean?

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Definitions of preaching abound. Sadly, due to so much unfaithful preaching, definitions have to be narrowed to Christian preaching as well as expository preaching. A technical definition for expository preaching is needed as well as a simpler more straight-forward one. First, expository preaching consists of a Christian preacher uncovering an author’s intended meaning of a section of the Bible by means of the historical, grammatical, literal (consistent with the genre of the passage) exegesis as well as enlightenment by the Holy Spirit; then structuring a sermon not only built around the central idea of the text but also the structure and thought of the text; then placing the passage within the metanarrative of redemptive history; then interpreting a universal principle which he first applies to himself; and concluding by applying the Scripture through the power of the Holy Spirit to his audience. Like most technical definitions, that was a mouthful! However, notice the definition includes five key components: exegesis, central idea and structure, metanarrative, universal principle, and application. Second, expository preaching is simply defined as a sermon that explains and applies the passage preached. But, why is it so important for a pastor to explain and apply the Bible?

Churches and pastors should commit to preach the Bible because of the example given to us throughout the Scriptures. Beginning in Genesis 1, we learn that God ultimately creates by speaking creation into existence. His Word (or communication) is what brings life. Another interesting example is the account of the Valley of Dry Bones in Ezekiel 37. God brings his prophet to a valley filled with bones. The bones are so dead they are described as dry. Again, God’s chosen method of bringing life is the communication of his Word. The prophet is told to preach of the dry bones. As a result of his proclamation the bones come to life. In the book of Ezra we read of God’s people rebuilding the temple. We see scenes of God’s people gathering in order to hear the prophet explain and apply God’s Word. As a result, we see a familiar Old Testament phrase that the people are doing things “as it is written” (Ezra 3:2). Faithfulness to the preaching and explanation of God’s Word led to the application of rebuilding the temple.

We also see helpful examples in the New Testament where God’s Word is explained and applied. Between the testaments the synagogue system was established. Throughout the land of Israel buildings were built with the primary purpose of reading the Scriptures then explaining and applying them. Jesus provided us an example in Luke 24 where he appeared on the Road to Emmaus. He walked and talked with two who followed him but strangely do not recognize him. Jesus proceeded to explain the meaning of all the Bible to them. Then, upon hearing his explanations God enabled them to see Jesus. A great example of faithful preaching was Peter’s sermon in Acts 2. He explained and applied texts like Joel 2 and Psalm 16 in order to call the crowd to repent and believe. Thousands were born again at the preaching of God’s Word. Finally, we are given an interesting account in Acts 8 that helps us further understand the importance of preaching. The Spirit led Philip to an Ethiopian Eunuch reading the book of Isaiah. The problem was the man needed to do more than just read it because he did not understand it. In Acts 8:30, Philip asks, “Do you understand what you are reading?”Understanding was what he lacked therefore he needed more than just reading. The Ethiopian Eunuch needed preaching. Philip proceeded to explain and apply the Bible to him resulting in the man’s salvation.

Again, preaching is explaining and applying the Bible. Communication of God’s Word leads to life. In fact, the biblical model of someone experiencing new life and being born again is through the avenue of the preaching of God’s Word. We need to read the Bible, but sitting at home alone reading it is not sufficient for a healthy spiritual life. Every Christian needs the preaching of God’s Word. Therefore, we need a renewed understanding of preaching as a means of grace.

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Preaching for Everyday Christians (Part 1)

It is common to wonder about the role of sermons in the lives of everyday Christians. Why do pastors spend so much time preparing a weekly sermon? Wouldn’t it be better if he spent more time in meetings with teams of leaders, counseling the hurting, building relationships with visitors, or discipling young believers? Of course, those are all key aspects of pastoral ministry. However, every Christian should recognize the role of preaching in their lives. Further, they should devote themselves to listening to biblical preaching. Even though we live in an age with multimillion-dollar action movies and TED talks, the weekly sermon in an local church is key to the spiritual growth of everyday Christians. Ordinary believers need to understand the Sunday sermon is grounded in a deep theology of the Word of God. Further, listening to sermons is essential for our spiritual growth. The church also needs a revival in our understanding of preaching as an avenue of grace. Spiritual maturity is linked to our ability to soak up a faithful sermon. Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the role of the sermon in our corporate worship as a needed reminder of the gospel.

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2 Timothy 3:16 teaches, “All Scripture is breathed out by God.” This phrase means God’s Word comes from inside of him. This truth is the ground for the biblical doctrine of inerrancy. The New Hampshire Confession of Faith (1833) is the origin of the Baptist Faith and Message 1925, 1963, and 2000. All four documents explain the Bible is truth “without any mixture of error.” The reason his Word cannot be mixed with any untruth is that only truth is found inside God. The Bible, therefore, is truth.

2 Timothy 3:16 builds on this idea to explain that because Scripture is from inside God and thus truthful it is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” As truth “without any mixture of error” the Bible is useful. Specifically, the Bible is beneficial for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. God provides his Word for us to learn doctrine. We need to know it theoretically in order to apply it practically. Speculation leads to application. His Word is how God chooses to reprove or convict. We perceive our sin as sin through Scripture convicting us. Therefore, the Bible corrects or makes straight what was crooked. It shows us the way we should go. As a result, it trains, educates, and disciplines us to live according to God’s way. The pathway to righteousness is through the Bible. The end result is that the Bible equips us “for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17).

If the Bible comes from inside God and is thus truthful and useful to equip us for good works, then what should we do with it? 2 Timothy 4:2 says we are to “preach the word.” We are to proclaim or herald the good news of the Bible. It is truth and it teaches us how to live faithfully. We should urgently tell the world what it teaches. People need to know, therefore the church has a mission to “preach the word.”

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Thankful for R.C. Sproul

Yesterday an evangelical giant went to be with the Lord. Like many in my generation who have sought faithfulness to the Scriptures, yet also needed substantive answers to genuine questions, as well as longed for a passionate spirituality I found refreshing water in the teaching of R.C. Sproul.

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My first experience with Dr. Sproul was through the book “Holiness of God.” As a young man struggling with youthful sins his book was a needed weight that buckled my sinful flesh under the gravity and majesty of God’s holiness (Exodus 33:19-23). I not only heard God’s call to righteousness (Leviticus 11:44) but also saw its beauty (Isaiah 6:1). Last year our small group leaders used to classic book to apply God’s holiness to our church’s spirituality.

From that book I have spent years digging through Ligonier’s exhaustive catalogue on topics ranging from the Bible to theology to apologetics to church history and to the spiritual life. There were times when I was struggling to find answers to questions in my church, but found them in the ministry of R.C. Sproul. Many in my generation were marked by the cynicism of grunge music, but then found hope in substantive ministries like Ligonier.

Now that I am teaching every week I find my research leads me over and over again to articles and sermons founds at Ligonier.org. The content is always faithful to the text, accessible, and and insightful. The videos, sermons, articles, and lectures on that site are a lasting gift to the church.

When my soul was weak I found strength in R.C. Sproul’s teaching. When my mind was troubled I found truth in R.C. Sproul’s exposition of the Bible. When much of the teaching in our churches was shallow and running from doctrine, we found the beauty of a sovereign gracious God through the ministry of R.C. Sproul.  Today he is experiencing his reward of dwelling with God while singing with the saints, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Revelation 4:8). Well done good and faithful servant.

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Luther’s Purifying Flame

500 years ago a glorious spark was fanned into a flame. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his now famous “Ninety-Five Theses” onto the Castle Church in Wittenberg. Some, even now, view this flame as destructive. However, the houses it burned down needed to be destroyed. This was a purifying fire, a return to the biblical gospel.

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I love Martin Luther. Even his imperfections are endearing because they teach me that God uses imperfect people. Luther was brilliant and brave and certainly bombastic.  He wrote masterpieces like “On the Bondage of the Will,” translated the Bible into German, and brought the church home to the gospel. The Reformer also boldly stood up to the church when they threatened his life. He refused to recant but rather stood on the truth of the Bible and declared, “Here I stand. I can do no other.”  Luther said things like, “Be a sinner and sin strongly, but more strongly have faith and rejoice in Christ.” More than anything, Martin Luther was faithful. In fact, his faithfulness to the Word of God was used by God to purify the church’s understanding of the gospel.

 

The church is to guard the gospel, yet had corrupted the gospel! The Bible progressively moves forward a redemption story which climaxes in Jesus. Bread crumbs were dropped throughout the Old Testament pointing the reader to Jesus. The Law taught us we are sinners, blood was always shed for these sins, but the blood never seemed to cover all the sins. Jesus then came and lived a perfect life in order to be that perfect blood sacrifice for us. The gospel says we no longer try to earn our place in Heaven through our many good works, rather we trust in Jesus’ one good work. This gospel is not looking within for righteousness, but looking to Jesus to make us righteous.

 

But, in Luther’s day, these truths were corrupted. Famously, the church was selling indulgences and telling people that they could pay money in order to get themselves (and their loved ones) out of a made up place called Purgatory! These were wicked lies. People were desperately turning to the church to learn how to enter Heaven, but were being manipulated for worldly gain. Luther’s “Ninety-Five Theses” set out to debate these teachings.

 

Earlier in life he was a zealous monk marked by much confusion and even terror. Yet, Luther came to understand the gospel clearly through faithful study of the Bible. Romans 1:16-17 says, “(16) For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (17) For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” Initially Luther hated this passage because he thought the gospel meant God revealing his righteousness by punishing sinners and rewarding the righteous. He struggled because he knew he was not righteous but a sinner. Luther’s glorious discovery was that those who trust on Jesus passively receive God’s righteousness as a gift even though they didn’t earn it! The gospel is about believing in Jesus’ good work and thus receiving God’s righteousness!

 

This Fall we will celebrate the 500th Anniversary of Luther’s posting of the “Ninety-Five Theses” with a series of articles on the Five Solas of the Reformation. These Word-saturated gospel-grounded truths are why we are proud Protestants. These doctrines are the answers to the most important questions. As you read these articles, I pray the fire of your own heart is enflamed by the pure gospel.

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Friendship with Our City

Our church has been challenged by the idea of Biblical Friendship. According to James 2:23, the gospel is that God has made us His friend through our faith in Christ. James also teaches us that if this faith is genuine, then it will produce good works. Friendship is a good work. Over and over again in the New Testament we see calls for the church to love one another…forgive each other (Ephesians 4:32), bear with each other (Colossians 3:13), confess our sins to each other (James 5:16), out of love we even need to rebuke each other (Luke 17:3). All of these are examples of the good work of friendship…friendship to His Church.

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However, Biblical Friendship does not stop at the door of the church. Friendship with each other is a pleasant spiritual blessing that we can’t rush past. However, it should become an apologetic for the truth of the gospel. Again, remember what Jesus said in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” They are to know that we are his disciples. They are to know this by our love for each other. But, Jesus wants them to know the truth of the gospel. This means that we are be known for friendship and love, but not just for each other, but also for our city. Jesus loves “all people.”

Like friendship with God’s People, friendship with our City takes time and intentionality. I am not going to be a good friend with my neighbors if I don’t take time with them or if I am not intentional to get to know them and serve them. Do you know those around you? Are you a good friend to your neighbors, and your co-workers, and those you share activities and hobbies with? Do you patiently listen to that lady in the office? Do you care for the needs of the family next door? Are you encouraging to the other parents on your kid’s team?

But I also want us to ask some hard questions of ourselves this year with regards our city. Are we truly serving the needs of our city? Are we living openly and generously with our city? I followed a contentious political debate in our city this Fall, and I was struck by some of the needs in our city that I did not know about. Personally, as your pastor, I am committed to learning more about the needs of our city this next year.

Our Pastors have felt a deep conviction about being a friend to our city. We have spent much time praying about and thinking about how to be a friend to our city. We haven’t done a poor job, but we want to improve our efforts as a church.

This month we began a new monthly effort we are simply calling Service Sundays. Service Sundays are a way we can be a friend to our city. Even though we are a new church and a small church, we are committed to making the biggest impact we can.

January 17th was Sanctity of Life Sunday followed by Martin Luther King Jr. Day on the 18th. I preached on the church being a Statue of Hope. The 17th was also our first Service Sunday. We began a three week baby bottle fundraiser to help support the Woman-to-Woman Pregnancy Resource Center. This campaign is designed to support a ministry wholistically addressing the sin of abortion. This group lovingly ministers to gospel of grace to those in need and brings truth and healing to our city. Even if you weren’t able to grab a baby bottle, if you feel led, bring an offering to the center this Sunday.

Every month in 2016 we are planning efforts to be a friend to our city because God has called you his friend as a call to be a friend.

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Friendship For Friendship

Proverbs 27:9 reads, “Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.” The first line is about a physical blessing or pleasantry, the second a spiritual blessing. It is a pleasant spiritual blessing to have friendship, to have people who love you enough to speak into your life. It is a great blessing to have people who know you, and love you, and engage you, and speak up when you are going down a wrong path, and are there for you when you are in the middle of a fight.

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One good definition I found for Biblical Friendship is mutual love that knits together souls. It is a sweet spiritual blessing to have those we love so deeply we feel our souls are interwoven.

We see this intimate intertwined love in the Trinity. Our God is one yet exists as three persons, yet the love is so tight that we are monotheistic. Marriage is supposed to be a loving oneness. Jonathan and David both loved each other deeply and were close friends. Many think of Paul as this bold lone ranger, but the reality is that he always had friends close by. His relationship with Timothy is a glorious example of loving lasting life-giving friendship.

 Also, James 2:23 explains that due to our genuine faith, we have become a “friend of God.” Who are you?  You are called a “friend of God.” These “friends of God” who have genuine faith are also marked by good works. So, out of this glorious friendship, we get a vision and even a calling to the good work of friendship. God makes us his friend so we can be friends with others. And this is no superficial matter, this is a sweet life-giving pleasantry to our souls.

Friends, as I look ahead to 2016, my prayer is that our new church would embrace our standing as being “friends with God” by being friends with God’s Church and being friends with our City. I want us to have deep life-giving loving friendships with each other, and with those around us.

How do you need to improve as a friend this year? Do you have a friendship that you have neglected? How can you deepen the friendships that the Lord has provided? How can you be a friend to the city around you?

God has called you his friend as a call to be a friend.

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A Year of Friendship

One of my favorite parts of the holidays is finding pockets of time to read. One of the books I have been picking through is a biography of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Anytime I read about Spurgeon I am inspired. Before there were megachurches, his was a megachurch. He became the pastor of a historical London Reformed Baptist church at a young age. When he became pastor there were less than 300 members. 38 years later, at the end of his ministry, there were over 5,000 members of the church. He routinely preached to 15,000 people on a Sunday and many times preached to over 20,000 people.

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I know Denton is not London, and I certainly know that I am no Spurgeon, but I have to admit that reading Spurgeon has given me a renewed excitement about our church in 2016. You see, Spurgeon and the Metropolitan Tabernacle share our same Biblical gospel convictions…the Bible is the Word of God and his gospel is the power of God to save and thus I believe our best days are in front of us.

God has truly been glorified in our new church this past year. We saw God’s glorious faithfulness in 2015. We experienced his grace, saw him save souls, experienced him conforming us to him image, and watched him establish his church. Let me throw some exciting numbers at you:

  • After we launched the church, we averaged 88 on Sunday morning. Then, in 2015 we averaged right at 100 on Sunday mornings.

  • We grew from 44 Covenant Members in 2014 to 59 Covenant Members in 2015.

  • We moved into Game On Athletics, thus saving us some money, and providing a semi-permanent facility for the coming years. This facility enables outreach events and provides an office and a place to gather beyond just Sunday morning.

  • We began 2015 internally covering about 40% of our budget, now we cover 70% of our monthly needs.

  • We launched 2 new Neighborhood Groups.

  • We launched a Shepherd Training discipleship and leadership development track.

  • We added a new Redeemer Kids teaching team.

  • We launched a Youth Ministry and added Reece Bishop as our Student Pastor.

  • We served our city through Service Projects and Attractional Events like Trunk or Treat.

  • We gave away $18,000 to missions efforts.

Each of these graces should be celebrated. However, I believe our best days are ahead of us. As I have spent the past 4 to 6 weeks praying about next year, I continued to come back to a little verse that is loaded with meaning.

James 2:23 reads, “And the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” – and he was called a friend of God.”  In this verse James explains God’s grace as salvation coming to Abraham through his faith in God, which makes Abraham a friend of God.

James is quoting Genesis 15:6 where God’s Word calls Abram to believe in something hard to believe…that a very old childless man would not only have a child but his descendants would be a numerous nation. We have all been at those difficult crossroads of belief, when what God is saying doesn’t really seem plausible. However, we are called to believe. What Genesis 15:6 teaches us is that God’s grace came to Abraham when he trusted God’s Word and thus experienced God’s salvation.

After James quotes this verse, Paul quotes it twice. He quotes it in Romans 4:3 as well as Galatian 3:6. Both passages help us understand the AVENUE of salvation. How do we move from being declared guilty to being declared righteous? Most believe it is by keeping all the rules. However, these passages use Genesis 15:6 to explains the AVENUE of salvation is via faith, not keeping all the rules. Thus, God’s grace came to Abraham not by strict adherence to the rules, but by faith in the Word of God. The AVENUE of Abraham’s salvation, and thus our AVENUE, is faith.

James’ goal is a little different. Many have concluded that James and Paul are somehow at odds with each other here, however that is not the case.

First, James is likely the earliest NT writing (most likely between 44AD and 49AD), while Romans is most likely written between 55AD and 57AD and Galatians between 49AD and 55AD. This is important because it helps us see that James is not arguing against Paul’s writings, because Paul’s writings had not been written yet.

Second, James and Paul are not at odds because James is not talking about the AVENUE of salvation (which is faith), but rather the NATURE of that saving faith. James is not saying keeping all the rules redeems anyone. James agrees that salvation is through faith alone, but his concern is with the NATURE of that faith. James 2:23 is advocating for genuine faith. So, God’s grace came to Abraham not by strict adherence to the rules, but genuine faith in the Word of God. The NATURE of Abraham’s saving faith was genuine to the degree that good works were evident. Because of Abraham’s genuine saving faith, he was categorized as a friend of God.

James is saying that genuine faith produces faithful works. He is arguing against false faith that remains private, that doesn’t produce faithful works.

We are entering into an election season (yuck) and politicians are in pandering mode. Many politicians are trying to demonstrate their religious credentials. However, in a secular age, many don’t want to come off as too religious. Thus, one path for them is to simply say they are a Christian then say their convictions are private and they don’t want to talk about them. That leads me to believe they are hiding something, that they are not genuine in their convictions. It leads me to believe they are just sleazy politicians.

Look at our passage again. James 2:23 says, “And the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” – and he was called a friend of God.” What does genuine faith produce? It doesn’t produce quiet private politicians who don’t let their faith impact any area of their lives. No, genuine faith produces faithful good works.  How does genuine faith change us? When we have genuine faith in the gospel, we don’t remain enemies of God or objects of his wrath. No, genuine faith changes us to become friends with God.

When looking at the three New Testament citations, James is the only one who makes this point about “friendship” when citing Genesis 15:6. Once we have genuine faith in Jesus’ gospel, we become friends with God. BIBLICAL FRIENDSHIP is what I pray Redeemer Church is all about in 2016. Over the coming weeks, I will be laying out our vision of friendship with our Church and with our City.

All Christians should love Spurgeon. We should love his theology, his sermons, his books, and his classic quotes. But I have always loved that he left a legacy of more than sermons and books.

You see, Spurgeon lived during the Industrial Revolution of the mid and late 19th Century. The population of London had just doubled from 1800 to 1850. Rapid urbanization brought new social problems. But Spurgeon didn’t just preach sermons and write books, he sought friendship with his city. He started:

  • A Pastor’s College where young pastors could come and prepare for the ministry free of charge.

  • 23 mission stations around the city of London.

  • Hundreds of new churches all around Great Britain.

  • A gospel literature society to get the truths of the gospel into the hands of London residents.

  • Almshouses for people who lost their jobs.  They could come and stay and be fed and have time to get back on their feet.

  • Nursing Homes, before there were Nursing Homes, where the elderly could live their final years with dignity.

  • Orphanages for boys and girls.

  • Homes for single mothers and their children.

Matt Carter wrote in his book “For the City”: “It got to the point that if [the] Metropolitan Tabernacle had shut down during that [those] decade[s] of grappling with the problems of the Industrial Revolution, the city of London would have been crippled.  They would have grieved the loss of the Tabernacle.

I love that! Friends, I know we are new and don’t have millions of dollars and don’t even have a building like the Metropolitan Tabernacle. I know Denton isn’t London, and I am no Charles Spurgeon. But, I want to us to ask the question, “If we were to cease to exist, would our city grieve our loss?”  Would our schools miss us? Would our neighborhoods feel a void?

In 2016, my prayer is that we would fulfill the call of James 2:23. My prayer is for us to be good friends to each other and to our city. God has called us his friends as a call to be a friend.

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Church, Gospel Spirituality, Jesus, Missional Living, Redeemer Church

Equipped to Shepherd from the Word

I don’t want this to be one of those “best kept secrets,” but one of the most exciting things happening in our church these days is an intense training that all our Neighborhood Group leaders and co-leaders are going through. If you are one of our small group leaders you are going to very early morning meetings or after-the-kids-go-down meetings on how to shepherd people from the Word. For the next 12 months they are going through the Association of Biblical Counselors’ “Equip to Counsel” training.

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When we say they are shepherding from the Word, please don’t hear that we take a flippant small-minded “a Bible verse a day keeps the Devil away” approach. However, we understand the Bible as our ultimate authority, and where we turn during life’s most difficult seasons. It is amazing how practical it is for difficult marriages, the minefields of high school and college, as well as navigating problems at work. We not only want to quote Scriptures, but understand the broad redemptive theme of the Bible…the gospel. It is hard for a wife to withhold forgiveness when you go back to the forgiveness given her on the cross. It is hard for a someone to feel condemned when they know that Jesus died for their past sins.

Our church has a heart for our leaders to genuinely walk with the folks in their groups. We care less that our small group leaders are driven executives or impressive orators, we want them to be loving pastors. We want them to walk with people through those dark nights of the soul.

We understand that our leaders have been “given His revealed Word” and thus are to “convey His Word to others so that others may live well in the presence of God” (pg23 of the Leader’s Guide). I don’t know how you are struggling, but know that God’s Word is sufficient and relevant and it is where you can find abundant life. I don’t want to oversell it, I know our leaders are imperfect. However, they are a group that desires to truly love people with the gospel of grace. Learn more about our Neighborhood Groups by clicking HERE.

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