Your Sunday’s Best

By Colton Corter 

The Lord’s Day is the most important day of the week. Jesus has placed the authority of representing the Kingdom of God on earth in our gathered assemblies (Matt 18:20). So God’s glory is put on peculiar display when we meet as local congregations to worship our gracious Triune God. We meet to hear the Word of truth and so be set free (John 8:32). We come together to instruct one another by singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Eph 5:19).We gather to reaffirm our covenant with Christ and one another – based on the finished work of Christ – by taking the Lord Supper (1 Cor 11:17-34). Moreover, God actually commands us to meet with one another each week (Heb 10:25).

The life of our church is found in our Sunday morning gathering (or Friday if you live in the Middle East!). We meet to see and savor the glory of Christ for the purpose of delighting in that glory together and display our satisfaction in the overflow of worship. Sunday morning is the key battle our congregations’ fight for joy in God. And that battle begins, at least, on Saturday.

What are some things that we can do to put ourselves in the best position for God, by His sovereign Spirit, to maximize our Lord’s Day?

Go to Bed

One way to fight for Sunday morning joy is to receive adequate Saturday night rest. For some with jobs that require them to work late, this may not be an option. But to the extent that you are in control over how much rest you get, it is wise to forsake a few hours of TV or hanging out to be at your best the next day.

Brothers, you will never regret being fresh for Sunday morning. I know all too well how easy it is to stay up late (even doing edifying things) when I should be sleeping. My joy in God has only increased as a result of getting some sleep the night before. The battle with myself that morning seems easier when I am more alert and clear headed. For your joy: get some rest.

Meditate Over the Sermon Text 

Scripture meditation is the key to Christian maturity. Saturating our minds in glorious gospel truth transforms our lowly hearts as we are subjected to the beauty of God. A good time to practice this spiritual discipline is the day before a particular text is preached at you church. If you can, try to get the text for the next week early so that you can spend a week or even just your Saturday preparing your heart for the preached work. Preaching is a monologue but it is nonetheless a dialogue. We are hearing from God and responding to Him with our minds and hearts.

Pastors, might you consider making your sermon schedule available ahead of time so that your people can be tilling their heart soil for the seeds you will drop? Encourage their diligently searching the Scriptures so that they might be in a frame to better understand God’s Word as you teach them.

Pray for the Preacher

Our pastors have the hardest job in the world. Especially our senior pastors who have the duty and the privilege to stand before God’s people and exult in the Scriptures together with them. To take the name of God on our lips is no light thing. Their weeks have been dominated by their pursuit of the point of the text – applying the double-edged point to their hearts and laboring to try and pierce yours too.

Take some time the night before to pray for your pastor or whoever is preaching the next day. His task is an impossible one in his own strength. His meager sermon will not sustain the godly or save the ungodly without the supernatural work of the Spirit to attend His own Word. He is a desperate man standing before desperate man. Pray for his heart, that preaching for him would be the overflow of His joy in God.

Pray for the Members 

Garrett Kell has recently written that the Christian’s membership directory is the second most important book they own. One of the things that our church promises to do for one another as members of Third Avenue of Baptist Church is to not forsake praying for ourselves and one another. Surely, we are never in more prayer than before our Sunday morning service. Their hearts, quite like your own, is often times dull. They need the work of the Spirit tomorrow morning, just as you do, so that their hearts might radiate the glories of free grace together will all the saints. Some brothers and sisters need to be comforted by the truth that their righteousness lay ever outside of them. Some people need to be warned, reminded that justification is unto life and that without the fruit of sanctification the grace of justification may be feigned.

See if your church has membership directories and if they don’t then maybe you could suggest it to your church staff. Regardless, we could start today praying for the church at large – that she would be affected by the Word of God in such a way that reflects the character of God to the watching world

Warming up the Oven 

Of course, none of this promises a perfect Sunday. Our hearts may still droop. Our minds may still wander. God and God alone gives the growth. But it is important that we position ourselves in such a way to try to maximize the means of grace that God has provided for us.

George Swinnock entreats us, saying, “If thou wouldst thus leave thy heart with God on Saturday night, thous shouldest find it with him in the Lord’s-day morning.” For our joy, brothers, lets do what we can to do be at our best on Sunday morning.

 

 

 

The Shock of Sin and Grace in the Life of a Leader

By Mathew Gilbert

It’s always difficult to see someone you really respect fall deep into sin. Even the slightest accusation of moral failure in someone you respect changes the way you look at them forever. When we see crucial authority figures in our lives fall into sin, we struggle to trust not only that person, but that position in the future. If you catch one of your parents having an affair, you will struggle to ever trust them again. And you will also have a negative view of marriage, which likely means it will affect your own marriage if unchecked. If you hear about your pastor, teacher, or coach indulging in sin, your trust in them and their position will be shaken. It is so hard to think about people you respect sinning so deeply. It’s one thing to know we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23), but it’s quite another to see sin creep out of the hearts of those we most respect.

I think about popular pastors who have recently been relieved of pastoral duties due to moral or leadership failures. There was a literal shockwave that ran through my social media feeds when Darrin Patrick and Perry Noble were outed for deep, latent sin in their lives and ministries. In our celebrity pastor culture, it is easy to forget that even the most charismatic leader is not immune to sin. I have lamented the number of times I’ve seen “This doesn’t surprise me” or, “I told you so” in response to the meteoric fall of evangelical leaders like Driscoll, Tchividjian, Patrick, Noble, and others. There is no place in the church for this kind of proud posturing. The shock of sin has drastic immediate and long-term effects on a church when one of her leaders falls.

I believe the life of David is a testament to the shock of sin and grace in the life of a leader. There are many lessons to be learned from David’s fall into sin, but two that help us when leaders in our lives sin revolve around the shock and awe of sin and grace.

David was a man after God’s heart and handpicked by the Lord to lead Israel as king. God even promised that David’s kingly line would culminate in a kingdom that would never end. One day, a Davidic King would sit on his throne and never give it up. David was righteous and desired to obey the Lord. But, David surprised his own people and even us by falling into a deep spiral of sin. He fell for a woman who was not his wife, and was in fact someone else’s wife! Then, in an attempt to cover his sin, David had the woman’s (Bathsheba) husband (Uriah) killed. David gave in to temptation and brought everyone around him down with him. Failing to kill his sin led him to continue in his sin. Instead of confessing his sin and trusting God to cover it with his grace, David tried to cover his sin by killing another man.
Despite David’s shocking downward spiral into dark sin, God’s shows him tremendous mercy. When David was confronted with his sin by Nathan the prophet, he confessed his sin to God and received his compassion. David shares what this experience was like in Psalm 51. There are a couple things that do surprise us about David’s sin and God’s grace that really shouldn’t.

First, we are surprised that a man like David can sin the way he did. While we should expect to grow in Christlikeness throughout our Christian life, sin remains in our hearts until we die or Christ returns. Anyone is capable of dreadful sinful actions, because the dreaded enemy of sin has invaded the heart of every person. So, don’t be surprised when you or people you respect sin. Sin should always be unwanted, but it should never been unexpected.
It is a sign of either a healthy or deceived church when the people are shocked when a pastor falls into sin. It is healthy, in one sense, to be shocked at deep sin in the life of a pastor. Christians are on a path of righteousness. They are being conformed into the image of Christ. Day by day, sin is being rooted out of their hearts. However, sanctification isn’t an overnight process. It is a lifelong process. There are many battles–some won, others lost. But, we fight knowing the war has been won by Christ on the cross as he defeated the dominions of darkness and death. While we should expect sin to still be in the heart and life of ourselves and our leaders, our hearts should be broken and in one sense shocked by unrepentant sin in the life of leaders.

Second, we are surprised that God would show David such compassion in the midst of his deep and dark sin. But, we know the character of God. He is slow to anger and abounds in steadfast love (Ex. 34:6). We should never be surprised at God’s grace, but we should always be amazed by it. Learn from David’s sin and God’s grace that covering your own sin with more sin will never satisfy. However, trusting God’s grace in the cross of Christ to cover your sin will always satisfy.

As deep as sin goes in the human heart, the grace of God in the gospel goes even deeper. Mark Driscoll, Tullian Tchividjian, Darrin Patrick, Perry Noble, and any other Christian leader who has fallen into deep sin has not exhausted the riches of God’s grace in Christ. The tank of God’s benevolence toward them isn’t on empty. It is as full as it has always been. And assuming these men are in Christ, there is a fountain of mercy and forgiveness for the mountain of sin they have allowed to grow.

The fall of leaders in our lives is devastating. It is detrimental to the influence of a local church and the Church as a whole. No one is helped when a pastor bullies his way to power, commits an affair, or launders money from the church fund. We should guard our hearts from the treacherous lure of sin, knowing that none of us are beyond a Davidic descent into a pit of sin. But we should always marvel at the grace of God, which he bestows on unworthy and fallen sinners like us. As devastating as the fall of broken leaders is, the restoration of repentant leaders by God’s grace is an incomparably sweet reality. Whenever you see a leader in your life fail morally and fall into sin, don’t point your fingers and shake your head in arrogant self-aggrandizement. Instead, bow your head in humble prayer that God would restore these men to himself and their people.

God pursues us in his grace like a relentless mother searching for her lost son at the mall. He will not rest until his children are found! And for those of us in Christ, he will bring to completion the work he began in us (Phil. 1:6).


Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.

Reforming with Ryle

rsz_jc_ryle_2By Evan Knies

John Charles Ryle was born in Macclesfield, Cheshire (1816) and educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford. He entered ministry around the year 1841, and served many churches up until his retirement in 1900, when he was aged 83. He died later that year.

Ryle was a minister that wrote many popular gospel tracts in his day, but he is known for his books. His Expository Thoughts on the Gospels are very helpful for young and old ministers alike. He has also written books such as Holiness, Practical Religion, and Light from Old Times. 

Reading Ryle, I have learned two primary things this summer that I’d like to share with you:

1. Ryle pushes you to the text and draws theology from it. 

Ryle writes in a way so that the Christian reader must rest in the Scripture. His examples in Holiness are straight from biblical examples (i.e. Lots wife). Ryle was a minister who rested in the sufficiency of Scripture because he rested in a sufficient God.

2. Ryle points to the martyrs as an example for the Christian life. 

In Light from Old Times, Ryle allows the martyrs to speak for themselves. They suffered and died because of what they believed. Ryle has written this work to encourage the church on its mission in declaring the truths of the gospel of grace. Ryle has a chapter on “Why the Reformers were Burned,” the conclusion is that they were burned because of their view of the Lord’s Supper:

“The end of Rowland Taylor’s weary imprisonment came at last. On the 22nd of January 1555, he was brought before the Lord Chancellor, Bishop Gardiner, and other Commissioners, and subjected to a lengthy examination. To go into the details of all that was said on this occasion would be wearisome and unprofitable. The whole affair was conducted with the same gross unfairness and partiality which characterized all the proceedings against the English Reformers, and the result, as a matter of course, was the good man’s condemnation. To use his own words, in a letter to a friend, he was pronounced a heretic because he defended the marriage of priests, and denied the doctrine of transubstantiation. Never let it be forgotten in these days, that the denial of any corporal presence of Christ’s body and blood in the elements of the bread and wine at the Lord’s Supper, was the turning point which decided the fate of our martyred Reformers. If they gave way on that point they might have lived. Because they would not admit any corporal presence they died. These things are recorded for our learning.” – pg. 109-110 (Light From Old Times) 

May we learn from these martyrs the importance of doctrine, and also the sanctity of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Doctrine matters. In a day where doctrine seems to go by the wayside, we can read first and foremost our Bibles and see that martyrs died because of what they believe about Jesus (Acts 7, Hebrews 11). We also learn from Ryle that men before us, many reformers especially, died because of important doctrinal issues. This should cause us to think more deeply about what songs we sing on Sundays, what books we hand out, etc. Doctrine is not dead. Orthodoxy did not die at the cross. But the cross influences orthodoxy. Sound doctrine is tied up in Paul’s Statement, “I wish to know nothing but Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2)”. To say you don’t desire sound doctrine, you don’t desire Christ. What you believe matters.

From the works of Ryle, we are able to see the importance of preaching, ordinances of the local church, deaths of martyrs and a clear gospel. I am thankful to God for men like Ryle who have helped the church long past their life here on earth.

Friends, you only get one life and it will soon pass. Only what is done for Christ will last!


Evan Knies (B.A., Boyce College) and his wife Lauren are originally from Louisiana. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and is serving as as student pastor at Bullitt Lick Baptist Church. You can follow him on Twitter at @Evan_Knies.

 

Righteous Judgment, Radical Grace: Reflections on Exodus 11

By Mathew Gilbert

Kids are great at pushing the limits. Parents know the moment they set a limit on anything, their children will try to push them to the edge. Erica and I have already seen how much our son, Jude, loves to push the limits. We will bring him in our room to play on the bed in the morning. Every single morning he will start crawling to the edge of the bed. We place large pillows at the end of the bed to block him. But Jude doesn’t care about those pillows. He just grins and crawls toward the edge of the bed. He starts out crawling fast, but once he gets close to the edge he moves really slowly. It’s like he wants to see how close he can get to the edge without falling headfirst to the floor. Without being stopped, Jude would keep pushing the limits until he seriously hurt himself.

Pharaoh’s hard heart was causing him to push the limits of God’s mercy. After each and every plague, Pharaoh only cared about immediate consequences and continued to rebel against the word of God. Pharaoh has reached the edge and he has taken that final, deadly step. The sovereign, righteous judgment of the Lord is about to fall hard on Egypt. The final plague is the most devastating of them all. It is the reversal of Pharaoh’s actions in Exodus 1. Before God even tells Moses the nature of the plague, he tells him the result. After this plague, Pharaoh’s heart will still be hard, but he will let the people of Israel go (Ex. 11:1).

The final judgment of God in Egypt is similar to the final judgment of God for all who reject Christ—death. The final judgment in Egypt is the death of the firstborn. “Every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the cattle” (Ex. 11:5). The point here is that there is no avoiding this judgment. No one can outrun this devastating judgment of God. Exodus 11 is the Lord’s final warning to Pharaoh. Like leaflets dropped by planes in war, Moses’ final address to Pharaoh is not a request, but an announcement of coming death and destruction.

The Bible offers a similar warning to all who are outside of Christ. Jesus puts it this way: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36). The wrath of God remains on everyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus. And there is no escaping this judgment on our own. We have all pushed and crossed the limits. We have all fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). We have all exchanged the glory of the Creator for the creation (Rom. 1:21). We all deserve the righteous wrath and judgment of God—eternal death (Rom. 6:23).

But praise be to God for his immense grace. On the cross, Jesus bore the wrath of God in our place. Even though we deserved to die, Jesus died for us, so we can be with the one we have rejected. Exodus 11 shows us how God always provides for his people and punishes his enemies for the glory of his name.

Originally posted at Grace Satisfies.


Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.

J.I. Packer on the Bible vs. Tradition

18828By Obbie Todd

Being tortured in Hades and facing the impossibility of relief, a rich man shouts across the “great chasm” and begs Abraham to send a servant named Lazarus to warn his five brothers on earth about the horrific destruction they would face at the end of an unrepentant life. In a stirring reply, Abraham’s response says just as much about Holy Scripture as it does of the human heart: “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” (Luke 16:31) There is perhaps no verse in the Bible that speaks more profoundly to the power of God’s Word to change hearts than the one proclaimed to a man burning in Hell. The Spirit that raised a dead man from the grave is the same Spirit that inspired the Holy Scriptures – the power of God unto salvation. (Rom. 8:11, 2 Tim. 3:16, Rom. 1:16) And that’s precisely what it takes to raise dead sinners in faith. (Eph. 2:1) Spirit and truth. (John 4:24)

The primacy of God’s Word is something that evangelicals have consistently touted. For instance, David Bebbington has famously offered his so-called “Bebbington Quadrilateral” – the four chief characteristics of an evangelical. Not surprisingly, Biblicism is the number one distinguishing trait. (followed by crucicentrism, activism, and conversionism) However, this proper emphasis upon Holy Scripture (sola Scriptura) can often times morph into a kind of “Bible-onlyism” that eschews church history and Christian tradition as recorded in the church councils. Many Christians today read words like “creed” or “confession” with a modern suspicion. In many ways, the transition that took place during the Great Awakening from puritanism to revivalism branded confessional Christianity as “popish” and/or “intellectual.” As a result, many churches treat church history and even statements of faith as disciplines exclusively relegated to the seminary.

However, as Timothy George has suggested, there’s a large difference between confessionalism and “creedalism,” something that most evangelicals have never advocated. (“The Priesthood of All Believers,” eds. Basden, Dockery) Contrary to the individualistic American spirit that flows through modern Christianity, hearty confessionalism should be revived in order to unite churches in bonds of belief under a continuous faith once delivered to the saints. In this time of “Restoration” movements and “post-Protestant” theology, it’s important to look to some of the older scholars of our age who can lend perspective to the ethos of our time. Better than any theologian alive, J.I. Packer has articulated the dangers of “Bible-onlyism” in a vivid way that offers us insights into the balance of Scripture and church tradition:

“The evangelical emphasis on the uniqueness of Holy Scripture as the verbalized revelation of God and on its supreme authority over God’s people is sometimes misunderstood as a commitment to the so-called restorationist method in theology. This method sets tradition in antithesis to Scripture, and places the church’s heritage of thought and devotion under a blanket of permanent suspicion, thus reducing its significance to zero…But the authentic evangelical way has always been to see tradition as the precipitate of the church’s living with the Bible and being taught by the Holy Spirit through the Bible – the fruit, that is, of the ministry that the Holy Spirit has been fulfilling in the church since Pentecost, according to Jesus’ own promise.” (“A Stunted Ecclesiology?”)

When we distance ourselves from the major confessions of the Christian past, we’re not only implicitly declaring our own unchecked hermeneutical superiority in reading the same Bible, we’re creating a false dichotomy between the faith of the saints and our own. Those denominations who hold to historical creeds are not supplanting the authority of Scripture for man-made documents. In fact, these are the churches who uphold the supremacy of Scripture the most! They’re simply attempting to do two things: (1) create a guiding framework in order to maintain the orthodox belief of the church against ad hoc “whatever strikes me” reading of the Bible, (2) and hold their people accountable for confessing that belief. Confessions aren’t simply ecclesiological. They’re soteriological.

If Scripture matters, the truth of Scripture matters. And if Scriptural truth matters, Scriptural interpretation must matter. When a church pits church tradition and Bible against one another, it quietly rests upon a postmodern cornerstone that says “in with the new and out with the old.” But in a religion that finds its cornerstone in a 2000-year-old Nazarene and its foundation in apostles and prophets, completely novel ideas about the meaning of Scripture should be held in check and tempered against the backdrop of an historical faith. (Eph. 2:20) A truly personal relationship with Christ should never become license for a completely private interpretation of His Scripture. The God who saves is the same God who gave us history as an impetus for seeking Him and as a guide for learning. (e.g., Deut. 1-3) In turn, we should take heart in the “great cloud of witnesses” who attest to the precious truths of Scripture defended for the name of Christ and on our behalf. (Heb. 12:1)

RESOURCES:

Baptist Confessions of Faith by William Lumpkin

The Battle for the Bible by Harold Lindsell

Inspiration and Authority of the Bible by B.B. Warfield

Taking God at His Word by Kevin DeYoung

Baptists and the Bible by Bush & Nettles