Video: Pastoral Response to #WakeUpOlive (Bethel’s Dead-Raising Charade)

After an immense amount of feedback poured in regarding Bethel Church’s attempt at raising a two-year old little girl from the dead, it became clear that a pastoral response would help provide clarity for many confused people.

The sweet little girl who died is named Olive. She is the daughter of two major leaders involved with Bethel Music. The fog of confusion only intensified when Kari Jobe and other mainstream radio artists began to claim that their “Jesus” guaranteed that the dead would be raised, and others commanded God to do what Jesus’ death paid for. Namely, that He produce “guaranteed” signs and wonders, and in this case, a resurrected little girl.

This theological viewpoint on raising the dead stems from their belief that when Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live…” (John 11:25), that He meant we could raise someone from the dead “in Jesus’ name,” under the guarantee that Jesus said He was “the resurrection.” Unfortunately, those who hold this view have been poorly taught and severely misguided; missing the eternal resurrection that Jesus was referring to. All of this only multiples the heart-breaking reality surrounding this situation.

In the end, our concern is for the hearts of people involved, and the wave of confusion this sort of misguided effort causes. Scripture is clear about our supernatural God! I personally believe that we should pray for miracles, but this sort of circus is not how the scene looked surrounding the tomb of Lazarus or how God has called us to pray for the miraculous to occur. Most of all, if someone claims to wield supernatural gifts (as the leaders of Bethel do), then why not simple go the morgue and command her to raise from the dead? Further, why not do that for the other dead people in the morgue?

To shed further light on this issue and provide biblical truths in contrast to the confusion propagated by Bethel, we filmed this 25-minute video for you:

6 Ways to Stifle Your Small Group

Small groups can be an incredible blessing, but they are not fail-proof. At times, churches “sell” small group involvement as the secret sauce to a thriving spiritual life; overflowing with friendships and community that fills hearts and saves marriages!

Don’t get me wrong. I love small groups. For six years I had the privilege of overseeing the small group ministry in our church and some of the most incredible testimonies came from small group participants. They are an excellent vehicle for discipleship.

Still, even when the bible is present and optimism is high, there are several ways to do the right thing the wrong way. Small groups are no exception.

Here are six ways you (or someone in your group) could be stifling the abundant potential waiting to be unlocked through your small group:

1. Say, “Here is what this passage means to me, what does it mean to you?”
This language stifles because it bypasses the very foundation of healthy small groups. Namely, the faithful interpretation of the bible based on the biblical author’s intent and the context a given passage is set in. Far too often, small group leaders share what a passage means “to them,” then they ask what it means, “to you.” After the circle of participants has fired off with their best take, one might think they were aiming at a moving target.

The truth is, those who do this are likely getting application and interpretation confused. The solution? First ask, “What does this passage mean. To the original audience. In proper context. Period.” Then ask, “How can I apply this to my life as someone living in the 21st century.” Over time, you’ll find personal opinions being outshone by God’s will through His word.

2. Let the single-issue-crusaders and dominant speakers run wild
Single-issue-crusaders are the people who always seem to veer the conversation into the same “pet topic” that they are passionate about. I’ve seen crusaders drive well-meaning small group attendees right out of a group and into a different church because they went unchecked; ruining deep discussions by constantly bringing up politics, personal drama, or spewing unvetted opinions about the same issue over and over. These passionate individuals have value, but they rarely achieve their full potential if allowed to go unchecked.

Dominant speakers can be a leader’s greatest asset. They talk when few are willing, their example encourages others to be open and honest, and they usually offer helpful wisdom. However, when they speak too much, it can stifle the entire group. It may be one of the hardest conversations you have in small group life, but single-issue-crusaders and dominant speakers need loving correction for the health of the whole.

3. Don’t show them how you came to understand a biblical truth
If you want to stifle a small group, keep all your bible study wisdom, interpretation tools, and trusted processes to yourself. That way, your group will depend on you like needy children and develop an attachment to you; requiring that you always be their feeder and leader. This will make you feel very important; fueling your ego as the “anointed source” of wisdom and leadership for the group.

What’s more? It will be a mask for your insecurity, inability to raise up others, and ultimately lead to your demise as a leader. Quite possibly, it could prove you were never a real leader in the first place.

Nobody benefits from this!

Set your group on fire by showing them how you’ve grown, how you’ve studied, and how you’ve learned to apply God’s word and live it out. Ask them questions. Lead them to helpful resources, buy them books, and send them articles. Help them cross reference, root out theological themes in a text, identify key phrases and terms, and apply it all to their own life. They aren’t “yours.” They are God’s. Steward them well and emulate Paul’s instructions to Timothy when he commanded, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:1-2).

4. Undermine church leadership by teaching contradictory doctrinal views
Small groups can be sweet, but can quickly turn sour when leaders begin using their influence like Absalom did (2 Samuel 13-19). David’s son became infamous for his scandalous attempt to undermine his father’s throne. Under the deceitful veneer of being a good listener and a leader the people could trust, Absalom paid the ultimate price for his sinful pride.

The moral of this story is not that you will be slain if you undermine your church leaders (that’s a ridiculous scare-tactic some false teachers use!).

However, the lessons in the story about unity and integrity can still apply to us today.

As a leader who has been allowed to steward people, be loyal to qualified leaders and be sensitive to how God views discord (Proverbs 6:16:19). Small group leaders should be unified in doctrine and unified in practice with their church leaders; holding to the statement of faith that their church abides by. If you feel tempted to contradict, or you suddenly disagree with the church’s doctrinal convictions, don’t divide or sow discord amongst your small group. Leave humbly. Your reputation will follow you to the next church.

5. Be closed-minded and abrasive towards adding new people to the group
Closing groups or limiting their capacity is advisable in certain scenarios. Homes and locations are not limitless when it comes to space, and everyone can agree that consistency and trust can occur more rapidly if a small group is not a revolving door of flaky participants; jolting the groups dynamic with each sporadic entrance (or exit).

However, the “frozen chosen” mentality is deadly for group health, and more importantly, church health. This mentality sees new people as a threat, and expanding the reach of the group is seen as detrimental to comfort and familiarity. For groups like this, the idea that a new person or couple would disrupt the tight-knit group dynamic takes precedence over the command we have to make disciples (Matthew 28:16-20).

You don’t have to invite the entire neighborhood or make it hard to find seating in your home, but every believer should ask, “How can we give others the kind of community we’re experiencing?”

6. Resist the idea of “commissioning” potential leaders to start new groups
This final item on the list closely parallels #5 but focuses on stifling leadership development. Similar to being unwilling to invest in new people, a leader who refuses to release mature people will stifle group health and missional effectiveness. Some argue that small groups should endlessly divide and conquer; splitting in half at every turn and adding new people into those split groups. Others suggests different methods and argue that dividing groups is nonsensical. Whatever you choose as a method, the mindset must be the same. Commissioning new leaders to “strike out” and start new groups is a healthy way to duplicate and be faithful to the Great Commission.

Small groups don’t exist to merely give people a safe space, baked goods, and bible study. They exist to duplicate! If stewarded effectively, small groups should be reproducing mature, stable, honest, authentic, passionate, servant-leading disciples who in turn begin to lead others where they have been led.

When centered on faithfulness, unity, and the word of God, small groups can be a thriving vehicle for making disciples and deploying a new generation of leaders for the glory of God.

10 Lessons from Online Seminary

This article may ruffle the feathers of those who teach, attend, or believe in mandated on-campus seminary training, but don’t get too fired up just yet. Let’s start by agreeing on this: physically going to seminary can be vitally important for a ministry leader.

As valuable as physically attending seminary can be, the local church has always proven to be the most ideal breeding and training ground for future leaders. You could say that the church (when fulfilling its task) is the ultimate “Bible institute.” Unfortunately, not every church has the resources to do this. Therefore, seminaries are incredibly valuable to compliment — not supplement — local church training and experience.

Seminaries must exist today to support the local church, not replace it. Even further, seminarians must acknowledge this and realize they are not the end in themselves. Seminaries are merely a means to an end. Al Mohler once wrote, “Seminaries do not call pastors. God does. And seminaries do not make pastors. Churches do. Keeping that straight is important.”

I’ve attended seminary in person (Talbot School of Theology) and on two occasions considered leaving my local church and job as a pastor in order to move my family to Los Angeles and go “all in” at The Master’s Seminary. Eventually, I chose to stay at my church, serve under the elders and be discipled by the lead pastor, and finish my seminary education online through Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Here are ten lessons I learned along the way:

1. I learned to rise early and manage my time in the real world
No sleeping in. No hoody and messy hair. No wasted hours. Going to school online as a married man with kids meant that I had to read books, write papers, do my full-time job on the church staff, and win at home all at the same time. More than that, losing control of my body and getting overweight because of stress eating was inexcusable (but tempting!). Therefore, waking up 4am or 5am was something I learned to embrace — and even, love sometimes. As a certified “night owl,” I enjoy staying up late and spending time with people. But if I wanted to study to show myself approved (2 Timothy 2:15), and be sane when it was over, discipline was mandatory. I remember one semester I put on twenty-eight pounds and was a mess from trying to “do it all” and please people. Stress eating and Netflix binging became a dangerously soothing escape. That was a painful but helpful lesson. Soon after, I used my calendar to track nearly every minute of every day, and I learned to only do what was important, no matter what people-pleasing temptations arose.

2. I learned that systematic theology classes don’t teach you how to build teams, created processes, and implement systems
Pastoring seven years is not that long, but it’s long enough to learn a very hard but necessary lesson. If I can write 10,000-word papers on systematic theology but I can’t get a ministry off the ground, there is going to be pastoral pain once on staff. As an online learner, I was able to still get the knowledge I needed, while learning to fail and succeed at what matters most: leading people in ministry and moving them towards a biblical vision. Knowing all your “ologies” can help you answer questions like a sage, but it’s not going to guarantee that you know how to build teams and execute strategic initiatives like Nehemiah. The latter is going to be equally as important for a pastor.

3. I learned that knowing Koine Greek isn’t a superpower
I was sitting my first ever Greek class at Talbot and Doug Geringer stepped up to the front of the class. He was a soft-spoken, caring, and wise professor who started things off in a way that etched in mind forever. He began by saying, “Open up your Bibles.” We did. “The translation you are looking at is incredibly close to the original language it was written in.” We pondered. “Therefore, if you think that taking this class is going to give you superpowers, you will be sincerely disappointed.” We deflated. Professor Geringer began to explain that God chose a simple, commoners language (Koine) to convey divine truths. The lesson that day was clear: We should be humbled, not haughty. We should see that knowing Greek is a tool to preach more faithfully, not a badge of pompous honor to hold above people’s heads. This stuck with me in the years that I continued my education online.

4. I learned that an online seminary wife needs a Titus 2 woman too
One benefit of in-person seminary training is the programs that they have for wives if you’re a married man. What was I to do without this valuable part of seminary life? I was an online student and could easily live and study on an island. I prayed and asked God to provide what was needed and he did. It was that simple. Shortly after I prayed, a 60-year-old woman who was a pastor’s wife and a pastor’s mother approached my wife and offered to disciple her. The rest was history.

5. I learned more from doing funerals and weddings than some classes
I can still name them and see their faces in the hospitals and at hospice bedsides. My pastor during the online seminary years often needed to focus on preaching and other hats he wore, and my role was focused mostly on people. Therefore, during any given online semester I found myself praying with dying members and preaching funerals by day, and studying hamartiology and church history by night. There were many failures, but there were many victories. I learned from hospital visits where death filled the room, from funerals that forced me to preach the gospel without fear, and from weddings where unsaved attendees laughed at God’s design for marriage. I could have learned a lot about death and marriage in a classroom, but nothing knocks you around and thickens your skin like the field.

6. I learned that I need my church even more than it needs me
In a book titled, “15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me,” Jeff Robinson Sr. gives a valuable lesson about humility in the chapter titled, “Knowledge and Credentials Aren’t Enough.” As much as pastors can be “gifts” to the local church, the local church is a gift to every pastor. I learned that my knowledge makes me useful when questions arise, and gaining wisdom allows a pastor to serve better. Better is good. But I also learned that I desperately need my church. I need their prayers, their friendships, their encouragement, and even their critiques, rebukes, and complaints. These shaping and sanctifying facets of the local church are good for the soul.

7. I learned that theory and practice are two very different things
You can talk about it, read about it, get straight “A’s” on it, and have fancy letters behind your name because you wrote the papers on it, but can you apply it? Theories and information are great to study and know, but they represent only half of any ministry equation. Can you implement what you know? Does it work? I remember having a “genius” idea during a staff meeting because of something I had heard in a class. I got everybody fired up about my idea, cast a hypothetical vision for it, and we were off to the races! I was certain it would work because I learned about it in a class. After a faceplant, some team drama, and a failed initiative, I realized that theory and practice are two very different things.

8. I learned that getting an “A” was not as important in winning at home and church
In the classroom or online, wise professors will teach the same lesson. A student who passes with flying colors in the classroom but fails at home or in the church has their priorities out of order. Year after year at MBTS I had professors reach out who would push me to make sure family priorities were in balance. Every semester the online professor calls students and quite often they would reiterate the importance of being faithful with home, church, then assignment obligations.

9. I learned that pain, trials, and local church service are the best classroom there is
No amount of classroom learning can replace what trials will do to every seminarian. The pain of loss, failure, pride, and suffering shapes like nothing else can. God uses the classroom to enhance the head knowledge of a pastor, but he uses suffering and trials to shape their holiness. Reading textbooks will never test and train like the school of suffering.

10. I learned that seminary doesn’t make you a pastor
Charles Spurgeon didn’t have one. Martyn-Lloyd Jones didn’t have one. And numerous others throughout church history didn’t have a seminary degree. This is not something to boast about or a reason not to go to seminary, but it is a humbling reminder that a degree doesn’t make the man — God does. He does that through the process of a man studying, serving, and suffering in the local church. At the same time, we wouldn’t want to go to a heart surgeon who hasn’t studied to be one and proven to be a successful one. Similarly, we need pastors who are trained and who have proven to be faithful in their calling. Once more, Al Mohler offers valuable and balanced wisdom as a seminary president explaining,

Though a faithful pastor needs an education in exegesis, he is made in the preparation and delivery of sermons to the people of God. He needs the theological studies gained in seminary, but that theology is eventually hammered out when the pastor is called to preach the funeral of a child. A background in hermeneutics and homiletics is vital, but the preacher discovers his real method of interpretation and his real understanding of preaching when deciding how to preach a specific text to a specific people—and then preaching to the same congregation again and again and again.

So what should you do if you’re trying to decide between going to seminary or completing your seminary degree online? Pray, talk to your spouse, pastor, and even some professors. Make a “T-chart” of pros and cons, analyze your age, current financial reality, current opportunities, elder affirmations (or lack thereof), expenses and revenues, job opportunities, and long-term goals. Then, make your decision and give it all you’ve got with no regrets. Just remember: it’s only a means to an end (Matthew 16:18).

Recommended Reading:

15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me (ed. Colin Hansen and Robinson)

Discerning Your Call to Ministry (Jason K. Allen)

Dangerous Calling (Paul Tripp)

Found: God’s Will (Jon MacArthur)

One With a Shepherd (Mary Somerville)

The Character of Leadership (Jeff Iorg)

Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (Stephen Covey)

8 Ways Expository Preaching Changed Our Church

The following article is a guest post by Anthony G. Wood and was originally published in the Fall edition of VOICE magazine. 

I was thankful to not be in the front row of class that morning. The famed old expositor leaned over his lectern with a glare. Tensions rose, and the air conditioner silently kicked on. Did the older man rise on his toes? Suddenly, with the growl of a mama bear over cubs, he roared, “Every sermon is an argument where I argue, and you must believe!” Then, as quickly as they’d lifted, the heels settled back to the gray linoleum floor. The glare behind the glasses softened. The wrinkled brow disappeared. The moment passed.  The patriarch’s grandfatherly tone returned, and he began instructing us on the 20th-century failures of experiential preaching, sentimental preaching, analogical preaching, cultural preaching, so on, and so forth.

I’ll never forget that day. Of all my years in school, that one sentence – along with the glare, guts, and ferocity – marked me for life. I’d grown up viewing preaching as pastor talking “about” the Bible. I’d attended a typical evangelical bible school and been told that good preaching was telling people “about” God. Thus, my pulpit resume came lined with quips about the Bible, a menagerie of popular theologies, and a boatload of emotional anecdotes. However, in class that day, the preaching “semi-truck” plowed over my heart –preaching wasn’t talking about God but speaking for God.

Faithful expository preaching meant that the Word of God is presented as the words of God. It sounds funny to write it that way, in tautology, but this was earth-shaking news. Every word of Scripture was pure ‘truth’ and ‘argument’ of God, flowing out upon people, forcing they either accept or reject His holy position. The light had dawned: expositional preaching was the only preaching that had any power. Faithful preaching could only be expositional preaching.

After class, I went home and began tracing through old books, writing out the family tree of historic bible expositors. I was ecstatic to learn that God didn’t speak with multiple meanings. I was humbled to learn that those who studied the grammatical, historical, and literary context of God’s Word could know precisely what God said. I was encouraged to know that faithful preaching wasn’t fancy. The goal wasn’t to be inventive or funny; the goal was to be right…God would do the rest! My studies began in earnest: What did the author write? What did the author mean? What are the primary verbs? What is the supporting syntax? How does it correlate to the remainder of God’s revealed Word?

Through tears, I learned that inerrancy demands exposition. If I believed the Bible was true (which I did!), I didn’t have a choice but to preach what it said. If I had an inerrant text, that meant God wrote it. If God wrote it, I couldn’t change it. Thus, my only option was to preach it. Exposition was the single type of preaching that brought the full text to the hearer and allowed the hearer to know the Bible. Only the expositor walked in the full assurance of God, knowing it was irrelevant what people thought, and only relevant what God thinks. People needed to hear from God. Our young church plant needed to hear from God. So, that’s what we did. And, expository preaching changed our church:

  1. Exposition Showcased the Authority of God. When we began to teach God’s Word in a verse-by-verse manner, people came to realize who was really in charge. John Piper well describes the danger of non-exposition, “The entertainment-oriented preacher seems to be at ease talking about many things not drawn out of the Bible. In his message, he seems to enjoy talking about other things more than what the Bible teaches. On the other hand, the Bible oriented preacher says, ‘I am God’s representative sent to God’s people to deliver a message from God.’ He feels the weight and the joy of his trust.”[1] As long as we are circling God’s Word, preaching the latest news clippings, hijacking from online sources, or pushing sentimental self-help fixes, people know (consciously and subconsciously!) that we somehow view ourselves as the authority (Ps. 19:7-9). However, preaching God’s Word in God’s way proves once and for all who is sovereign King.
  2. Exposition Spiritually Deepened Praise and Worship. People who know the Word know to worship. Instead of continuing our emotionally stimulating Sunday morning experiences, we worked to ground our church in the Word, emphasizing the depths of truth, instead of the shallows of emotionalism. In his short manual Why Johnny Can’t Preach, T. David Gordon cajoled the plight of evangelical pulpits, “Even when one can discern a unified point in a sermon, it’s rarely a point worth making, and certainly not worth making in a Christian pulpit during a service of worship.”[2] Pastors must be preachers, not entertainers. There must be a depth of truth that leads to the extent of praise. Expositors understand they are not The Entertainer, but the Worship Leader, informing people of truth that will drive their devotion. Exposition slowly turns the church from being a place where consumers our king to a place where Christ is King.
  3. Exposition Signaled the Lordship of Christ. Many modern preachers have returned to slick titles (e.g., Bishop, Pastrix, Lead) to signal their power over a church. In our early days, we tried all the titles, all the tactics, and all the taglines. However, expositors know that Jesus is the Head of the Church (Eph. 1:17). There are only two ways to lead a church – revelation or manipulation – manipulation works through channels of fear, money, popularity, curt maxims, or supposed signs and wonders. Churches built on forms of manipulation elevate the ‘holy men’ lauded, applauded, self-focused, and money-hungry. Not expositors — expositors have elected revelation as the source of church authority. Scripture, not influence, is the rule of faith and practice for their church, and the pastor is merely the facilitator of truth for the Great Shepherd.
  4. Exposition Synced Saints With Their Heritage. We found that modern gimmick preaching based on relevance, trends, and viral videos, didn’t connect Christians with their hallowed halls of Christian history. [Often, it disdains the past!] And, every time one of my “hip” trendy pastor friends flamed out due to finances or immorality, the congregation he’d jumpstarted in some strip mall or school gymnasium was left orphaned and without a family tree or denomination to rescue. Within days, his jaded people would disappear, and the church building sold to a condo developer. Conversely, expositors ground their people in the ancestry of historic Christianity, the progeny of patristics, reformers, and redemptive history. What Christian isn’t encouraged to find hundreds of generations have held their theology?
  5. Exposition Sanctified Saints by the Holy Spirit. We had to fire the entire worship team. Early on in our ministry, it became clear that many of our leaders and their spouses weren’t regenerate. There’d been professions of faith, but no possession of faith and the nasty fruit proved the reprobate root. Expositors know the Holy Spirit uses the Word, so only proper exposition facilitates the work of the Word to save and sanctify (Jn. 17:17). Jonathan Edwards famously called this spiritual surgery, “(The preacher) has put his patient to great pain, but goes on to thrust his lance in further, till he comes to the core of the wound. Such a compassionate physician, who as soon as his patient began to flinch, should withdraw his hand…would be one that would heal the hurt slightly, crying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.”[3] Edwards’ point is clear; expositors keep driving the scalpel until there’s complete healing! Those who communicate around the Word (e.g., Joel Osteen, Judah Smith, Bill Johnson, Steven Furtick) are in open rebellion against God. Luther reacted against the Catholic Church because it didn’t speak for God. It’s been well said, “True ministers are brokers of one book.” By not expositing the Word, we undermine God and His heart for sanctification, because we neglect the very tool the Spirit promised to use.
  6. Exposition Submerged Pastors in Sanctifying Grace. In the early days when I borrowed sermons or composed anecdotal talks, filled with fad illustrations, and light stories, I (the supposed pastor) wasn’t being exposed to the sanctifying Scriptures. I wasn’t drinking of God. However, expositors know that weekly study becomes the harbinger of God’s sanctifying grace – He touches His man in the trenches of exegetical “spade” work – When preaching verse-by-verse, searching out God’s proposition, connecting doctrines of Scripture, the expositor will naturally find himself at God’s mercy. Have we not all begged God for illumination? Do we not arrive at a point where the pen and prayer flow almost simultaneously? A mentor, Dr. Steven Lawson, once told us, “Too many men cry out for more giftedness but feign the quest for more godliness. To write like Calvin, you must become Calvin.”
  7. Exposition Simplified the Tough Truths. When we were an entertainment-oriented church, we rarely touched so-called “tough” truths. As with much of evangelicalism, we were nervous the “tough” facts might scare people. But, expositors know that all truth, regardless of popularity, comes from God. Thus, only an expositor can preach every truth with equal vigor, knowing the soul-battle is between the listener and God, not the listener and the preacher. Alec Motyer writes, “Of the ninety-seven verbs used in the N.T. for communicating God’s truth – at least fifty-six are declarative – verbs like kyrusso, to ‘herald, proclaim’ or didasko, ‘to teach,’ even laleo, ‘to speak, chat.’ Our primary task is to make the truth plain!”[4] To this end, Paul encourages, “We have the mind of Christ…” (1 Cor. 2:16) How do we speak the mind of Christ? Preach the Word! How do we respond to questions? Preach the Word! It is alarming how many modern preachers dance around cultural issues like homosexuality. All they need to say, no matter the subject or audience, is, “The Word of God says…” Preaching by nature will offend. However, we are not heralds of self…we are heralds of the King. A holy God demands sinners repent and believe. If they do not, they will face judgment. That’s God’s message, not ours. Expositors don’t pull punches. Expositors know that if we don’t declare the things that offend the sinful, then we forfeit the right to report grace that makes cheerful.[5]
  8. Exposition Satisfied People in the Glory of God. For years my preaching was typical evangelical fluff centered on “you” instead of God. Expositors know “you” preaching doesn’t help anyone. Expositors know that when preaching stops being about the pain, struggles, platitudes, and depressions, and starts being about God’s holiness, providence, self-existence, omnipotence, omniscience, goodness, faithfulness, etc., they have a hope beyond the grave (e.g., 1 Cor. 10:31; 2 Cor. 5:1). Topical entertainment preaching is a band-aid that won’t cure. Jeremiah called this “superficial wound treatment.” People leave church pumped for an hour then can’t recall one truth in their hours of distress. Expositors don’t let their church slap on a band-aid of analogy, intuition, quotes, maxims, and humor, for their death-wound! Expositors want their people dependent on God’s revealed truth, so all their thinking is Christ-centered. Expositors know life will eventually imitate theology. People will live out their beliefs. People don’t live on emotion, but what is embedded below emotion. The fewer convictions a church has, the more susceptible it is to temptation. A sheep unfed has no strength to stand.

F.W. Boreham once shared a story depicting the passion of Scottish preacher Robert Murray McCheyne:

Years after McCheyne’s passing, a young man visited the famous minister’s church. Approaching the associate minister, he questioned, “Where did McCheyne get his preaching power?” The associate took the youthful inquirer into the vestry and asked him to open his Bible and sit in the chair used by the great preacher.

“Now put your elbows on the table,” he said. “Now, put your face in your hands.” The visitor obeyed. “Now let the tears fall. That was the way Mr. McCheyne used to do it!”

The man then led the young minister to the pulpit and gave a fresh series of instructions. “Put your elbows down. Now, put your face in your hands.” The young man did as he was told. “Now let the tears fall again. That was the way Mr. McCheyne used to do it!”[6]

This is the way to do it. An expositor is moved over his Bible in the study then stands moved over people in the pulpit. Expository preaching changes a church.

Anthony G. Wood is the pastor-teacher of Mission Bible Church in Tustin, California and has been leading the church since planting it in 2011. He is the co-author of Defining Deception, and is currently completing his doctorate at The Master’s Seminary. Anthony and his wife, Breanne, have three children.

_____________________________________________________

[1] John Piper, The Supremacy of God in Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2015), 124.

[2] T. David Gordon, Why Johnny Can’t Preach (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2009), 69.

[3] Jonathan Edward, Some Thoughts Concerning the Revival, in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 4, ed. C.C. Goen (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1972) 390-91.

[4] Alec Motyer, Preaching: Simple Teaching on Simply Preaching, (Fearn: Christian Focus, 2013), 103

[5] For an insightful explanation of ‘quiet confidence’ in preaching, see John Stott, Between Two Worlds (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 35-36.

[6] See F.W. Boreham, A Late Lark Singing (London: Epworth Press, 1945), 66.

 

The True and Better Judas Iscariot

It happens every once and a while. A big-name “sinner” claims he or she has been wrong.

On hearing such a claim, some scoff: “Ha! Impossible!” Conversely, others start preparing the victory parade and inviting all to come celebrate—the sinner has repented!

Each side makes a valid point. Yes, we should be cautious before simply believing everything we hear. And only God can bring change that bears lasting fruit. We should be ready to celebrate the return of a prodigal heart, believe the best about others, and guard our hearts from needless cynicism.

But how do we know the difference between mere remorse and full-blown repentance?

To this question, the Bible speaks—loudly. And in the end, it causes us to ask one more.

Compelling Story

There once lived a man who was a horrific sinner. He was an expert swindler. Money was his god. His religion was gain.

There was another man, a different man. He was the religious sort, playing the role of treasurer for a non-profit, if you will. He looked trustworthy, though he loved money too—for spiritual reasons, of course. He followed Jesus. He had witnessed mighty works and compassionate deeds. And one day this man, Judas, saw true repentance firsthand.

As he followed Jesus through Jericho, they suddenly stopped because Jesus saw a man sitting up in a sycamore tree. Jesus called the man to come down and host him for a meal.

The man descended the tree and, as he drew closer, the crowd gasped. It was the horrific sinner himself! Here was the swindler, the scammer, the greed monger. Zacchaeus. Just his name made the blood boil. If only Jesus had known how many old ladies had lost their last dollar to this man’s tricks (Luke 19:5–7).

The crowd pressed in, peering through the doorway and the windows in hopes of seeing Jesus put Zacchaeus in his place. Perhaps some even thought Zacchaeus set up the whole encounter himself, to polish his image in the public eye. That’s it! This was nothing more than a publicity stunt to manufacture grace after pilfering the community with salacious greed. Here it comes, they think. Let him have it, Jesus!

But instead of Jesus, it was the swindler who spoke:

And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:8–10)

The onlookers could hardly believe their ears. From greedy fraud to godly follower? From exploiting the poor to paying them back?

It was more than they could take. Some probably erupted into tears of joy because they had been wounded for years by Zacchaeus’s gimmicks. His penitent action was a healing balm to their anxious souls. Others embraced those around them in relief that the falsehood was finished. One less wolf to threaten the sheep. Still others, though, refused to accept this as true repentance.

As days turned to weeks, and weeks to months and years, Zacchaeus made good on his promises and continued in his newfound faith. His repentance was real, his eternal peace secure.

Lesson in the Aftermath

Back at the table that day, I imagine Judas looking on somewhat indifferently. He doesn’t seem to know that he would become the “son of perdition” (John 17:12) and that Satan would enter him during history’s most heinous betrayal (Luke 22:3; John 13:2).

But I can also see Judas looking on somewhat nervously—perhaps even annoyed with conviction. I can imagine him clutching the money bag just a little bit tighter, pondering whether anyone could tell that his own actions were no different from Zacchaeus’s—though he was much better at hiding them.

In his Gospel account, the apostle John shows his readers what was in Judas’s heart. During Mary’s beautiful display of worship, she had used expensive perfume and her own hair to wash the feet of Jesus (John 12:3). Judas, protesting that such an act was a waste of money, showed his true colors. John points out that Judas “was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it” (John 12:6).

Later, overridden with guilt after betraying Jesus unto death, Judas was remorseful but not repentant. He tried to undo what he had done by throwing the dirty money back at the feet of his shady business partners (Matt. 27:4–5). It was blood money, dripping pure and red from the righteous Lamb himself. Even still, that same blood could’ve covered his sin—if he would truly have repented and turned to Christ. Surely, Judas remembered what repentance looked like. Repentance is self-exposure, the heart laid bare, the mind determined to head in a new direction! Surely he knew that all it would take to make things right was running to Christ in confession. Instead, he hid in the shadow of shame. Indeed, Judas’s effort was nothing more than a feeble attempt to hang fruit on a dead tree. But only genuine repentance produces genuine fruit (Matt. 3:8). After all he had seen firsthand, Judas undoubtedly knew that mere remorse couldn’t account for his sin against God.

Through the lives of both Zacchaeus and Judas, the Bible speaks with unwavering clarity. Zacchaeus was truly repentant, showing faith through his confession and open accountability. Judas was merely remorseful, remaining in the shadows of guilt because he’d betrayed the Son of God.

Judas knew remorse would not do. Why, Judas, did you not repent?

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This article was originally published at The Gospel Coalition on October 17th, 2019. 

How Do I Know If I Am Really Saved?

This is one of the most common questions a pastor gets asked: How do I know if I am really saved?

Some believe that you just need to say, “I believe!” Others might insist that you hand over a resume of faith plus some good works — including regular church attendance and a giving record to boot.

With the vast majority of opinions being hit or miss, we are compelled to ask, What does the Bible have to say? For those seeking assurance of salvation, that’s all that matters.

Is it a one-time decision or a lifestyle?

The first question needing serious consideration: Is being a true Christian — as in, a “saved individual” — a one-time decision or an ongoing lifestyle? Take, for example, three individuals who make “decisions” to follow Jesus Christ. Now, fast forward ten years and the first of those individuals live in rampant sin but claims, “I am a Christian. I believe. I walked the aisle, prayed the sinner’s prayer, accepted the free gift of grace from God, and punched my ticket to heaven.” Meanwhile, the second individual made a similar decision to follow Jesus, but eventually walked away from their faith and decided not to believe. Finally, the third individual was completely different. Sin was present in their life at times, but not as a rampant lifestyle. They humbly acknowledge shortcomings but could confidently point to the fruit of the Spirit as being present in them (Galatians 5:22-23). Their life is not marked by perfection, but a definite progression in holiness, righteous living, devotion to Jesus, and love for others.

All three made decisions. All three claim to be Christians. Which one is?

Continually believing…

If you take the original meaning of Paul’s words in Romans 1:16 literally, you’ll see that the truly saved will be known by continual belief.  Paul explains that the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…”

“Believes” here is to have faith or to entrust, and comes from the Greek word pistis that means persuasion or conviction. Grammatically, this word is a present active participle meaning, it is an ongoing repetitious action. This passage could be read as saying, “to everyone who is continually believing” or in broader (but still accurate) terms, “to everyone who continues to walk in deeply persuaded convictions that Jesus Christ is Lord!”

The bottom line is that the truly saved will stay saved. “Backsliding” was the term we used growing up for people who “lost their salvation.” But the fact is, based on the Scriptures, they were never genuinely saved. The parable of the Four Soils (Matthew 13:1-23) reminds us that some will look saved, but in the end, they weren’t. 1 John 2:19 is a sobering expression concerning those who “went out from among us because they were never really one of us.”

If you genuinely believe something, you won’t just say you believe it. Your actions will back up your words. The Bible is clear that you are not saved by good works, but you were saved for good works (Ephesians 2:8-10). Jesus told His disciples, “If you love Me, keep My commands” (John 14:15). James tells us that “faith without works is dead” and that even the demons believe! (James 2:17, 19).

How do I know if I have truly believed and am saved?

You confess Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and trust in Him by faith (Romans 10:9)

Every true believer must come to Christ declaring, “You are God! Your way is better. My way doesn’t work. I need you. I believe in you. I trust in you by faith for my salvation. I will follow you for the rest of my life!” Have you believed in your heart and confessed with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord?

You confess sin; no longer indifferent towards it (1 John 1:9)

True believers care about sin, not because they like committing it, but because they want to deal with it. Confession is the mark of genuine faith. Those who are following after Jesus bring their sin and shame to His feet claiming, “I repent! I hate this sin that keeps waging war against my soul. Please forgive me. Help me escape it.”

Habitual patterns of sin are decreasing and fading (1 Cor. 6:11; 2 Cor. 5:17)

If you’re a “new creation” you’re not going to look like “old” for long. Genuine faith transforms us! When the Bible lists horrible sins and says things like, “such were some of you,” the genuine believer can joyously say, “Yes, I was!”

You desire to be obedient to Christ (James 1:22)

If you truly desire to follow Jesus and He has won victory in your heart, you’re not just going to want to hear the word of God, you’re going to want to do it!

Your love for others is increasing (1 John 3:14)

Hateful Christian is an oxymoron. Yes, being a follower of Jesus means telling it like it is and speaking truth no matter the cost, but that is always to be done in love (Eph. 4:15). More than that, true believers are marked by a love for others that goes way beyond what they say — it’s about what they do.

You hunger for God’s word (1 Peter 2:2)

A genuine for love for Jesus and a true conversion of your soul is going to result in a passionate hunger to know what He has said and what He has called you to do. True Christians are not indifferent to God’s word.

You are filled with a desire to see others saved (2 Cor. 5:18-20)

People who have been reconciled to God want to see the same happen for others! It’s that simple.

You love to serve the body of Christ with good works (Eph. 2:10; 1 Peter 4:7-11)

There is no such thing as “lone ranger” Christianity or a genuine belief that does not want to genuinely serve! Good works are not required for salvation, they are the result of salvation. Christians are given spiritual gifts to build up the body of Christ.

You experience the discipline of God (Hebrews 12:6-8; Romans 1:18-32; Psalm 11:5)

This may seem crazy, but experiencing the discipline of God means that He loves you! Only a cruel parent lets their child run into harm’s way. God’s correction is done with love. Like a gracious Father, He is not content to let His children continue in sin that harms them. He guides the truly saved as a faithful shepherd guides his, even if that means using the “staff” sometimes to correct their crooked path.

You are bearing the fruit of the Spirit; persevering to the end (Luke 6:43; Galatians 5:22)

Bad trees don’t produce good fruit. Good trees don’t produce bad fruit. So it is for people as well. A fake Christian will be known by false fruit or no fruit at all. A genuine believer will look at the list in Galatians 5:22-23 and by God’s grace rejoice saying, “My life looks like that more than it used to!” In the end, they’ll have witnessed God finishing the work He began in them when their earthly life ends and they meet Christ face to face (Philippians 1:16).

It may be hard to face certain realities in your life, but the wise and prudent Christian finds comfort in Paul’s words to Corinthians when he exhorted them, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you — unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5).

 

3 Ways to Kill Gossip

You don’t tolerate gossip in the church. You slaughter it.

If you don’t, it’ll slaughter sheep.

There are few more sinister and Satanic assaults on the inside of the church than gossip. Like a parasitic demon, it often creeps in under the guise of victimhood; whispering to its host, “You really need to share your hurts and opinions with someone. It’s the Christian thing to do.”

Gossip also offers its wisdom like a warm blanket; surrounding the cold and hurting soul with warm and self-centered words saying, “You can’t go the person you’re talking about. Go to someone who will really understand you and who really needs to know.” 

And so, like a lamb being led to the slaughter, the gossiper falls under the alluring power of Lucifer’s minions and begins to cannibalize the flock. All the while, dehumanizing the target of conversation and adding horrific caricatures along the way. Whether through the seed of bitterness, emotional venting, or purposeful slander, gossip works tirelessly to sink its teeth into open hearts.

Gossip is a venomous imposter you’ve likely become all-too-familiar with in your local church. And it’s one we need to kill — quickly, and often.

Here’s how:

1. Tell the person you refuse to hear it. Seriously! Do their heart and your church a favor and shut it down. Walk away. Turn your head. Lose a friend. Guard purity. Protect Christ’s bride. When you entertain gossip under the “holy” banner of helping a fellow member of the flock, you become a party to the sin and enter the slaughter house alongside them. It can especially deadly when you don’t even know if what they’re saying is true. When deception and gossip get married, they birth something deadly that can only come from the “Father of Lies” (John 8:44).  God hates sowing discord, devising wicked plans, bearing false witness and lying, along with one who spreads strife among brothers (Proverbs 6:16-19). It’s always wise to take heed when wearing the label of what God hates.

2. Tell the person they need to go to the person they are gossiping about, or you will. Once again, you’re not winning any popularity contests for this one but you will be pleasing Christ and doing the right thing. Sound hard? It is. But since when is doing right thing guaranteed to be easy? In the end, all sin can be repented of, and sinners restored! Go with the promise of 1 John 1:9 over people pleasing. It may sting a bit, but like treating a wound the right way, exhorting others to engage in a Biblical process and proper healing measures can reduce the likelihood of a nasty scar.

3. Enact church discipline directly at the source(s). Gossip is serious sin. It wants to ruin your marriage, your witness, your family, your friendships, your future, and your church. Matthew 18:15-17 is one of the best ways to send the sin of gossip back to where it came from. When truth reigns, sin must run! Over and over again, God’s word is clear when it comes to gossip. Paul exhorted the church on numerous occasions to speak “only what is helpful for building others up” (Ephesians 4:29). Proverbs 16:28 reminds us that only perverse people stir up conflict and that “gossip separates close friends.” Church discipline doesn’t always mean a full blown member meeting, but it does mean going to the source of gossip and beginning to deal with it from there. If it’s already spreading like venom through the veins of the church, paralysis — or even death — is a serious possibility. Only the power of the Holy Spirit working through the obedience of believers can change the situation. Do whatever it takes to bring everything into the light.

For a resource that offers biblical and practical wisdom for dealing gossip, read Resisting Gossip: Winning the War of the Wagging Tongue.

6 High Commitments for Church Members

If you asked a large group of Christians what “church membership” is, you’d likely get an answer that sounds a bit like this: Church membership is being a part of a church. If you asked that same group what their role is as a member of Christ’s church you may hear: I am supposed to show up at church. 

While these answers are not entirely wrong, they resemble an iceberg in that the majority of its mass is still under the surface. We need to look deeper below that surface.

Church membership comes with many connotations. Some may think it’s like belonging to a country club with perks and privileges, others may view it as a ticket to heaven, and others think they are church members simply because they show up to special events and attend the Easter and Christmas services.

Scripture makes it clear that members of the church are set apart from the world; operating their lives in an entirely counter-cultural manner (2 Corinthians 6:14-18). Members are committed to Christ and each other (Romans 12:1-5), they submit to leaders and those leaders will answer to God one day (Hebrews 13:17), and that is serious business! Biblical church membership is not about celebrity pastors boasting big numbers and exposes any system in which shepherds do not know, or are not caring for sheep. Conversely, membership is not about armchair Christians punching their ticket to heaven because they have their name on the membership rolls. The picture of membership in the New Testament forces us to wrestle with this vital question: Is church membership a big deal, and if so, should I or my church be taking it more seriously? Sometimes, the idea of church membership is a mist to leaders, and therefore, it’s a fog to those they lead.

To help you better understand how to serve and lead the body of Christ, here are six commitments that we should embrace as church members. For the sake of this article, let’s call them “high” commitments because they signify the extraordinary purpose that God has for every one of His children. You could assuredly add to this list, but these six can help lay a foundation for clarity.

1. A High Commitment to GATHERING

If you could summarize the life of a church member in just one sentence you could say, we gather to worship and we scatter to witness! Those are essential for every member of the body of Christ. Gathering together with the assembly of believers is not merely suggested, it’s commanded (Hebrews 10:24-26). We stir one another up when we gather, we celebrate the ordinances when we gather, we become the manifold witness of God’s glory when we gather, and we are shaped by the preaching of God’s word when we gather. In the “old days” people took church attendance so seriously that even on vacation they would find a local church to assemble with and meet previously unknown “family” in Christ. These days, it seems people ditch church if the coffee isn’t up to their standards. Be different. Be highly committed to gathering with believers on the Lord’s Day.

2. A High Commitment to DISCIPLING

Making disciples is something that happens in many different forums. Some churches use a small group method to enable life-on-life discipleship, others use other organic methods. Churches may differ in programmatic methodology, but there is nothing sinful or wrong about “vehicles” for discipleship so long as they are in line with biblical theology regarding discipleship. Every church member is commanded to live out the Great Commission as witnesses for Christ (Matthew 28:16-20; Acts 1:8). We are to sharpen one another, confront one another, bear the burdens of one another, and even rebuke one another. A church member with a high commitment to discipling (both for them and others) is certain to see God use their proximity to others as a means of grace for growth!

3. A High Commitment to SERVING

Church members and “serving” should not be an oxymoron, but too often it is. Have you ever heard of the 80/20 rule? Some have wisely applied this to serving in the church as they estimate, “20% of church members do 80% of the work.” That may sting, or trigger a defense mechanism of personal excuses, but let’s get brutally honest for a moment: serving is not suggested, it’s commanded. And far too many of us don’t put a high commitment on this Christian privilege. You’ve been given a gift by the ultimate Giver! God the Holy Spirit Himself poured out a grace gift upon your life and knows that the best way to achieve your God-glorifying purpose on earth is to serve. 1 Peter 4:7-11 captures the picture of Christian service as Peter commanded the church to “employ” their gifts in serving one another. What’s more? Peter dared to command this to a group who was living through horrific persecution. When we meditate on that reality, we can surely put aside our slothful (first world) excuses and excitedly embrace the mantle of “doing the work of service” (Ephesians 4:11-16).

4. A High Commitment to GIVING

Jesus said our heart is where our treasure is (Matthew 6:21), and of course, He’s right. But when it comes to money, we could certainly conclude that nothing quite wrestles with our hearts like our wallets. In the world today, greed wins. Therefore, in the church today, giving can bear witness to our hearts that we are separate from the world. The lusts and fleeting pleasures of this world will seek to lay hold of the Christian’s resources, but the true Christian does not succumb to such temptations. Church members are living for an eternal kingdom. They are, if rich, eager to use money as a method for advancing ministry (1 Timothy 6:17-18). Church members are eager to share; pouring themselves out for others as a sign of Christian love (1 John 3:17). Paul paints the picture of generosity for all walks of life and income levels that should be common in the church today. He writes of poor believers who were eager to give — even if only a small amount — knowing that God would provide for their desire to give. 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9 give us foundational truths to motivate our commitment (and understanding) regarding generosity. For the church member, giving is never about the “amount,” it’s always about the heart. What does your commitment in this area indicate about your heart?

5. A High Commitment to PRESERVING

Preserving unity is an important commitment for every church member. We must guard against division of all kinds. This may come in the form of confronting sin and enabling church discipline and restoration (Matthew 18), exposing those who sow discord amongst the church because you hate what God hates (Proverbs 6:16-19), or confessing your own sin of gossip and divisive habits. Whatever the outworking of this high commitment, a church member who labors to preserve church unity is a mighty weapon in the hand of God. Unity is under constant assault in the church. Satan hates church unity. The world, under his spell, hates church unity. And false teachers most definitely hate church unity. A church united in truth stands strong against all threats. One final thought deserves mention here: relational unity should never replace or transcend essential doctrinal unity. In other words, no church or church member should ever sacrifice sound doctrine and promote unity that overlooks essential truths. We tolerate people who are seeking genuine answers in a spirit of love and patience, but that doesn’t mean tolerating false beliefs or dangerous doctrines in order to “preserve our unity.” That is false unity.

6. A High Commitment to REACHING

If we gather to worship and scatter to witness, surely reaching the lost must be a high commitment for every church member. There are 168 hours in any given week, and at least 1 of those hours is devoted to sitting under the preaching of God’s word. What we do with the other 167 hours can make a massive impact on eternity! What a joyous privilege. Whether going or sending, every member can participate in spreading the gospel at home and abroad. We are armed with the gospel and must live unashamed. It has power beyond anything this world has ever seen — the power to raise dead hearts and bring all who believe to life (Romans 1:16-17). The church will do many things “better” in heaven than we do on earth but there is one thing that we will not do better in heaven. In fact, we won’t get to “do” this in heaven. That is, reach the lost. 

While there is still time, let us live on mission in these ways as members of Christ’s body. Embracing these high commitments could not only change your life, but it could also change your church.

Faithful Shepherds in a Frantic Culture

If you love the church, you must believe that God’s people deserve men who will be faithful shepherds in the midst of a frantic culture. No matter what era you peruse throughout history, faithful shepherds are always in demand. But is every man claiming “compulsion to lead the church” a man that should be trusted? We must ask questions. Does he have the heart of a shepherd? The zeal of a warrior? The humility of a servant? The perspective of His Master? No matter his insistent passion, does he measure up when the grid of Scripture is laid atop his life?

There are plenty of ways that people approach pastoral ministry today. Some are showmen who enter ministry hoping for a cushy job and a flexible schedule. They’re the type who show up once a week collect a paycheck. Others think the pastor is a CEO, sitting in a big office tapping golf balls into a glass while paying others to do what he won’t. Mix in some innovation, a few big events, a motivational speech on Sunday, and he’s got himself a career! Still, others believe that pastoral ministry is more of a fraternity or locker room full of like-minded friends. They see the church as being more about their loyalty to a denomination and venerated leaders. They wear the team colors. They defend each other no matter what but are confused about what it means to stand firm in the truth. They’re “of Apollos” and “of Paul” so they’re more content to preserve unity even it means tolerating errors. Of course, we mustn’t forget the all-inclusive ideology of today’s liberal mob. These, who insist that the “old book” needs their modern-day editorial brush, see homosexuality, gender, and various imperatives as more relative than restrictive. Good PR matters more than truth.

The culture today is a frantic one. Many in the professing church are spinning in confusion. Therefore, the last thing we need are any more thin-skinned shepherds looking for an easy paycheck and notoriety. We need men with guts who wield the staff and put in the work it takes to care for God’s people. Men willing to take God’s word seriously when it comes to being shepherds! The kind of men who heed 1 Peter 5:1-4.

A Pivotal Text for Every Pastor

When Peter wrote to Christians throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, myriad of Christians were scattered, being persecuted, in need of faithful shepherds who would guide and guard them. Nero had set Rome ablaze and needed a scapegoat so who better to blame than a group of narrow-minded monotheists who were loyal to Jesus Christ? They weren’t popular to begin with but now everything turned against Christians. Persecution soared, the Church was under assault, and the sheep belonging to Christ were in desperate need of elders who would shepherd them through the storms of life they faced.

Peter’s letters are pivotal for Christians and 1 Peter 5:1-4 is especially so, for pastors and elders. The man desirous of being a faithful shepherd, and the church seeking the service of faithful shepherds do well to let Peter’s Spirit-inspired words pierce their heart. If the command is to “shepherd the flock among you,” then what does that look like?

Based on Peter’s words, here are six observations of a faithful shepherd in a frantic culture:

1.     A shepherd will suffer

Inferred by the context, and explicitly stated about Christians throughout the New Testament, if sheep are going to suffer then most certainly their shepherds will. Ultimately, Christ the Great Shepherd did and all who follow Him will. Nowhere are we promised an easy life if we are faithful to the gospel and faithful to calling of a shepherd. Jesus was adamant that this world will hate His disciples and it hated Him first (John 15:18). Paul exhorted Timothy, “Join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God” (2 Timothy 1:8), “suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2:3), and “indeed all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (3:12).

2.     A shepherd is aware

In 1 Peter 5:2b he writes, “…exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God.” The word “episkopeo” comes from epi and skopeo meaning “upon” and “mark.” This is a shepherd with his eyes wide open. He’s aware. You could say he pays attention to detail. A shepherd is not aloof of the state of his flock, he is not a weekend warrior simply showing up to preach and then disappearing all week. A shepherd is diligent, keeps his eye on the ball, exercising close attention to the details and daily affairs of those entrusted to his care. He knows them and thus can pray for them and preach to them in a way that reaches their hearts.

In sports a coach will often tell the players, “The difference between winning and losing is often about paying attention to details.” The same can be said about ministry, except that in sports wins and losses are at stake. In ministry, heaven and hell are on the line.

And how does he pay exercise this awareness and oversight? Not with an eye rolling compulsory demeanor. Not with a lazy heart or excuses, but “voluntarily.” Lexical definitions describe this word as “of one’s own accord.” Now apply that and you get a shepherd who takes initiative. Nobody should trigger a shepherd. He lives triggered! He takes initiative because his heart is held captive to the word of God, and he desires the best for the people of God, because he knows this is the will of God!

3.     A shepherd is eager

Furthermore, Peter writes that an elder ought to shepherd “not for sordid gain, but with eagerness” (1 Peter 5:2c). Coming off the heels of the previous statement about a voluntary heart, Peter pushes the point again and adds that shepherds should be the exact opposite of greedy false teachers in that they are not serving for filthy lucre. You can hear echoes of 2 Peter 2:3 here where Peter would late describe false teachers as exploiting people in their greed. This is a sure mark of a false teacher. But a faithful shepherd? Eager whether or not people recognize all you’ve done, sing your praises, or take care of you. For little or no money, small crowds, no live stream, and old dingy buildings. If that’s what God calls you to are you still eager? Your leadership will be contagious for better or worse. If you’re not eager, expect no one else to be.

4.     A shepherd is an example

1 Peter 5:3 exhorts, “…nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. Kleros is “a share or portion given.” This is your part of pie. Tupos is “a statue or something to be resembled.” Literally, shepherding is not “do what I say” it’s “do as I do.” If you take Peter seriously, you’d agree that shepherding is not dominance, it’s devotion. It starts in your own life and pours over into theirs. This begs another question of every shepherd or aspiring shepherd: Is your life a statue worth resembling? If the men loved their wives like you love yours what kind of marriage would they have? If they parented like you how would their kids turn out? If they talked to their colleagues like you talk to yours? If their morning routine was like yours? Are you combative or peaceful? Petty or mature? Are you indecisive or unwavering? It gets convicting doesn’t it? An elder’s greatest sermon doesn’t happen in a pulpit. His greatest sermon is his life.

5.     A shepherd is accountable

One day, Christ the Chief Shepherd will return and that’s who every shepherd answers to (1 Peter 5:4a). If you’re an elder, you don’t enact any will upon the Church, but God’s. The Church is not yours. It’s His. You’re not the Head pastor, He is. One day you will stand — more likely, bow — before His judgment seat and give an account for your deeds in the body. Our chief concern must be for what the Chief Shepherd wants!

We’ve all watched as in the past few years as autocratic and domineering men have fallen publically and brought reproach on Christ and the Church. Their model was built on abuse of power and they lost sight of Whom they were accountable to. We don’t glory in this as those who sneer, “Ha! I saw that one coming…” We learn from this and humbly remind ourselves with fear and trembling that our calling is the highest there is on earth and thus our judgment will be the greatest of all those in the Church. We must live accountable now knowing we will be accountable then.

6.     A shepherd is rewarded

Though judgment is imminent for all, so are rewards for faithfulness. 1 Peter 5:4b culminates with these joyous words for those who’ve run the race well: “you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”

The highest praise of man should be our lowest concern. We don’t serve with eagerness because of what we get now but what awaits us in the future. This is fitting for Peter’s theme throughout his letter which points to an eternal focus. If you’ve lived 1 Peter 5:1-3, you get the joy of experiencing of verse 4. This is the motivation of a faithful shepherd. This is what is needed in the midst of a frantic culture.

If you ask me, the greatest moment of embarrassment for any shepherd would be to have spent their earthly ministry climbing some the ladder to a destination that doesn’t exist. What do I mean? There’s this idea that if you just publish a book, or speak at a conference, or pastor a larger church that you will have “arrived” somewhere. There are pastors who always seem to be trying to arrive “there.” Let me tell you, there is no “there” there. You can speak at conferences, write books, rub elbows with your favorite speakers and guess what? All that will ever matter, and the only “there” you need to focus on is the day you stand before Christ and answer for your work here on earth.

The King’s approval awaits, brothers. But there is a flock to be served first. In the midst of today’s frantic culture, do it well.

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*This article is derived from a sermon by Costi Hinn entitled, “Faithful Shepherds in a Frantic Culture” (1 Peter 5:1-4). This message was preached at The Master’s Seminary in Sun Valley, CA. Watch below:

4 Prayers on Book Launch Day

Today is the day!

God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel has now officially released and is available on Amazon, Christianbook.com, Barnes & Noble, Target, LifeWay, and other retailers. It has several options depending on your preference including audio, Kindle, and a Spanish version.

By God’s grace, the book debuted on Amazon as the #1 New Release in Religious Biography here in the United States, and a #1 Bestseller in Canada as well.  My prayer is that project will reach far and wide for the glory of God and the message of the true gospel.

If the book has been a blessing to you, please offer a review on Amazon so potential readers can benefit from your encouragement.

As various news organizations begin to publish articles and select parts of the book to use for salacious reports on past exploits of my uncle and others, here are some ways we can be praying and maintaining perspective as believers with a more gospel-centered goal:

Pray that the book rescues people who are in bondage to false teachers

Until someone gets saved, the project is not a success. It doesn’t matter how many books sell, what best-seller ranking it achieves, or how excited the already-saved get. We must pray for a harvest of souls.

Pray that the book is used by God to undermine the abusive ministries of prosperity charlatans

Far too many teachers keep people in bondage with their offers of false hope and fear tactics.  Aside from saving souls, there would be no greater success for this book than to be used to blow a hole in the greedy empires of false teachers; causing them to hit rock bottom and turn to Christ in repentance.

Pray that the book triggers seeker-driven churches to assess their “prosperity-lite” approach

The prosperity gospel creeps its way into many churches — not just the outlandish ones. Many seeker-driven churches preach an easy message every week designed to keep people happy and coming back. These churches and their pastors don’t tell people what they need to hear, they tell them what they want to hear. They market a “lite” version of the prosperity gospel full of comfort and ease; avoiding topics like suffering and sin. They may not drive Bentley’s or twist Scripture, but avoidance of hard truths in order to cater to the audience is dangerous territory to be in. This is the American Gospel.

Pray that the book equips Christians to boldly live for the gospel

When it comes to topics like the sovereignty of God, healing, money, and evangelism, many Christians are not well-equipped. Even more concerning, many Christians cannot articulate the gospel! Pray that the book equips believers in these areas and that many will utilize the “recommended resources” section to grow in godly wisdom. May boldness abound in the lives of those who know the truth!

Thank you for praying and supporting this project. I trust God will use it as He sees fit.