Thursday, May 27, 2010

Philosophy of Ministry

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Moral Preaching vs. Gospel Preaching

By S. Michael Durham

What place do moral issues have in Christian ministry? Should we speak out loudly and often against those things that offend? Or do we remain silent believing that giving no offense is the better approach? I believe the answer is neither. Somewhere in the middle seems to be the method of Jesus and the apostles. And they should be our model.

In the Old Testament, the prophets were commanded to cry against the moral sins of their generation. John Baptist’s head was lifted from his body because he spoke out against the king’s sin of adultery. But neither Jesus nor the authors of New Testament epistles deal much about any one particular moral issue of that day. If there was any polemic aspect to their ministries it was against the religious establishment of their generation. Jesus’ harshest words were against the Pharisees (who were the ones who preached against the immoral issues of their day) and not the publicly immoral. The apostles warned Christians about sin—all kinds of sins—but in the few sermons we have in the book of Acts we don’t see any one issue, even idolatry, being condemned. The apostle Paul said that it was not his task or ministry to judge those who were outside the Church:

I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner--not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore “put away from yourselves the evil person” (1 Corinthians 5:9-13).

I take from this a couple of things. One, sinners sin. What else are you to expect out of the unbelieving world? Second, God will put an end to the sinner, but until that day I am to preach the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ to him. I am by no means suggesting that we should never preach against sin, or that when we do preach against it we do so in a general way. Not at all! We must warn against sin. But warning against sin, and its ultimate consequence, is very different than making sinners feel as if we have already judged them.

The difference we see in the ministry of the Old Testament prophets and Jesus and New Covenant preaching is the remedy. In the Old Covenant period the Law was proclaimed. It was basically a message of morality. Keep the law and live. Break the law and die. However, the Apostle Paul says all law can do is arouse our sinful passions. It can never save. It may expose the sin, it may condemn the sin, but it also stimulates sinful desires. Morality preaching, in the end, leads to more sin. The apostle tells the Romans, “Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound” (Romans 5:20).

In this New Covenant era, the gospel is the only remedy for immorally bound people. It is the gospel, through the power of the Holy Spirit, which sets men free from sin and its issues. Should I never mention the great sins of our day such as abortion, homosexuality, etc.? Again, no not at all! But I should do so in the spirit of the New Covenant. Not in a condemning way, but hopefully. I should preach not only to expose the sin, but answer the sin with the gospel. I wonder if we have not become better at exposing sin, than expositing the gospel.

Today, some ministries operate just to see certain sins erased from our nation, as if those sins were eliminated, our nation would somehow be better. I too, pray these sins would be gone, never to be committed again. But even if that were so, men would still be lost in sin. If we would see men’s hearts changed, the law must only be used as Christ and the apostles used it. Not as a means of judging the sinner but exposing. There is a difference. The tax collectors and prostitutes knew that Jesus did not approve of their sin. There was no question where He stood on their immorality. But He loved them in such a way that they wanted to hear His answer to their sin. May the Spirit of Jesus be upon us and not the spirit of the Pharisee.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Is God’s Mercy Really Infinite?

By S. Michael Durham

Does infinite mercy mean no judgment? Is God’s mercy the guarantee of reprieve? If I say God’s mercy has run out for America have I contradicted infinite mercy; have I stated that His mercy has limits? What do we mean when we say God’s mercy is infinite?

First, we do not mean that divine mercy precludes judgment. The Bible says definitively that there is judgment now and a great day of judgment is coming. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18). Paul goes on to say in the second chapter of Romans, “But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who ‘will render to each one according to his deeds’” (Romans 2:5, 6). Somehow mercy and judgment can both exist and both remain infinite.

Second, on a positive note, judgment can be the exercise of mercy. If the word mercy means kindness, then it is kindness for God to exercise His judgment for the sake of His glory, His people and the cause of righteousness. Therefore, infinite mercy is not contradicted in the dispensing of infinite wrath. Isaiah didn’t see any contradiction when he prophesied of the Messiah’s reign, “In mercy the throne will be established; And One will sit on it in truth, in the tabernacle of David, Judging and seeking justice and hastening righteousness” (Isaiah 16:5). The throne of Christ will be established by mercy so that He may execute the triumph of righteousness. David rehearses the same thought about Israel and Pharaoh’s army. What was mercy to one was judgment to another: “To Him who divided the Red Sea in two, for His mercy endures forever; and made Israel pass through the midst of it, for His mercy endures forever; but overthrew Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea, for His mercy endures forever” (Psalms 136:13-15).

Therefore, if God should put an end to us as a society and a nation, we should not say that His mercy has ended. It is because of mercy that He does not allow evil to continue or allow us to sin in a more vile way (if it can be imagined that our sinning could become more vile).

But this is not just true for a nation; it is also true for the individual. God’s mercy to the sinner cannot be underestimated nor presumed upon. He is unbelievably good to the most wicked of sinners. He allows them to prosper or grants them many opportunities to hear the gospel. Can you call such mercy by any other name? His lovingkindness is infinite in measure. Yet, there comes a day when His mercy is not inexhaustible toward the sinner, but for the sake of all that is named good the sinner is cut down and brought under the infinite judgment of God. Although the sinner does not experience God’s mercy, we can be sure that mercy did not end. In mercy judgment was executed. Infinite mercy demands infinite judgment.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Thoughts on Plodding On as an Unknown Christian

By Mack Tomlinson

(This blog was written by a dear friend of mine, Mack Tomlinson. Mack serves as co-pastor of Providence Chapel in Denton, Texas. He also maintains a ministry as an evangelist and conference speaker. Michael Durham)

In our church prayer meeting just last night, we were praying about the fact that it is not in the great exciting moments of conferences or big events in which the Christian faith is truly lived out, but rather in the daily grind, the mundane, the regular routine of getting up in the morning, saying, "In the name of Jesus, left leg, get out of bed! Right leg, you too!", then doing every day the simple, unexciting things you have been given to do-- dressing and going to work, seeing the same people every day in the same location within the same walls, and doing it over and over again. It's in changing diapers for the pleasure and honor of Christ. Or taking care of your home, your family, your health, your normal and routine life-- doing the little things faithfully and well. Living with regular and real faithfulness in your local church, loving the brethren and walking with them. It's not in attending conferences or doing something exciting, but in living out a normal life where you have been put, and doing that with joy and contentment--that is what glorifies Jesus Christ the most. God's glory will be seen the most through me when I get past thinking I might be a John Piper one day and just be me to the fullest extent. My impact will not be in my changing a nation single-handedly, but in living as a real Christian in front of my wife and children.

Is there exciting emotion in rising at 4:00 or 5:00 am and driving in the dark morning hours to a factory or on a freeway to a building to do menial tasks that no one seems to appreciate or notice? The fact is, most all of us will never be known for anything other than this-- what kind of person were we? what kind of life did we truly live day in and day out? were we faithful, kind, genuine, trustworthy, committed, dependable, real, and humble? Is fame or faithfulness more attractive to me?

I thought about a certain famous actor and how many people would probably choose to spend a day with that person if they could choose only one. Simply because they are famous. Then I thought about that same actor and remembered that the primary thing about his private life is that he is totally commited to a religious cult that deceives millions of people. So why would anyone in their right mind choose such a person as their number one pick? Simply because they're famous, no other reason.

The problem is this-- we still have in our minds a wrong view of true greatness. It is not the Brad Pitts, Tom Cruises, Oprahs, Joel Osteens, and Katie Courics of this world that have true greatness.

It's the mother no one knows about who really cares for her children month after month and gives the strength of her years to raising them.

It's the father who goes to work every day in a place no one has heard of and earns a living to provide.

It's a teacher who prepares lesson plans regularly to teach and impact 20 kids, helping them to go to college, and living like the Saviour before their watching eyes.

It's the faithful deacon who does the many unseen things every week to serve the saints month after month and year after year, and in doing so, he is serving the Saviour and storing up riches in a heavenly kingdom.

It's the loving and committed pastor who prepares and preaches to ten or twenty people and sees it just as important as preaching to two thousand, because he does it for the eternal welfare of their souls and he does it unto Christ. He will never be on tv and doesn't want to be. He's not building a big kingdom and doesn't want to.

These are the real heroes, the really great ones.

Kevin DeYoung has hit the nail on the head when he says:

Until we are content with being one of the million nameless, faceless church members and not the next globe-trotting rock star, we aren’t ready to be a part of the church. In the grand scheme of things, most of us are going to be more of an Ampliatus (Rom. 16:8 or Phlegon (v. 14) than an apostle Paul. And maybe that’s why so many Christians are getting tired of the church. We haven’t learned how to be part of the crowd. We haven’t learned to be ordinary. Our jobs are often mundane. Our devotional times often seem like a waste. Church services are often forgettable. That’s life. We drive to the same places, go through the same routines with the kids, buy the same groceries at the store, and share a bed with the same person every night. Church is often the same too — same doctrines, same basic order of worship, same preacher, same people. But in all the smallness and sameness, God works — like the smallest seed in the garden growing to unbelievable heights, like beloved Tychicus, that faithful minister, delivering the mail and apostolic greetings (Eph. 6:21). Life is usually pretty ordinary, just like following Jesus most days. Daily discipleship is not a new revolution each morning or an agent of global transformation every evening; it’s a long obedience in the same direction.

It’s possible the church needs to change. Certainly in some areas it does. But it’s also possible we’ve changed — and not for the better. It’s possible we no longer find joy in so great a salvation. It’s possible that our boredom has less to do with the church, its doctrines, or its poor leadership and more to do with our unwillingness to tolerate imperfection in others and our own coldness to the same old message about Christ’s death and resurrection. It’s possible we talk a lot about authentic community, but we aren’t willing to live in it.

I am thinking now of two men who I respect as much as any people I have ever known. One is a retired teacher who has lived the Christian life in a deep, consistent, and rich way while teaching school daily for probably forty years. He has never really traveled that much, is not known outside the sphere of his own small circle, has never written a book or been interviewed, and has never been on the conference circuit as a speaker.

Yet his life has been a powerful force in the lives of many people widely, just because of the way he has lived his life while simply plodding on, truly living for Jesus daily in a full way. His life has shown that the kingdom of God is not in words, but in power and in living it out quietly and irresistibly.

The other man was a simple, faith-filled preacher who usually preached in churches of 100 or less, often in churches that had less than 30 people in them. He was never known outside his own little circle of churches and friendships. He never wrote a book and did not even read many books outside the Bible. But he read the Bible through probably over 100 times in his life and prayed hours daily. He loved others and lived a simple, yet amazing life of faith, and saw the power of God come many times to the conversion of many people. He saw God do amazing things that few ever see. The famous preachers today would never have heard his name, yet he out-shined them and out-lived them all. He just plodded on, not desiring to be somebody, but desired to know Someone and truly live for Him.

It's those guys I want to be like. There really is something to be said for plodding on in an unseen, unknown way to the glory of God. The glory is not in being known or in doing something "great" for which you will be remembered. The glory is in living for Jesus daily, consistently, to just keep plodding on, even if no one ever knows who you are.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

“The Holy Spirit Who?”

By S. Michael Durham

As we approach Pentecost Sunday, I find myself wondering why so many resist discussion of the Holy Spirit. It seems that many non-pentecostal/non-charismatic Christians are very reluctant to even mention the Spirit unless they are reciting some benediction or creed. Is it any wonder we are so impotent?

Lest anyone label me a charismatic by my willingness—and lack of embarrassment—to say “Holy Spirit,” let me say I am not one who speaks in tongues nor do I encourage such manifestations. The Apostle Paul makes it very clear that we should not seek this gift. He commands the tongue-crazed Corinthians to stop seeking to speak with tongues and seek better gifts.

“But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31).

“Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy” (1 Corinthians 14:1).

“Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel” (1 Corinthians 14:12).

Therefore, do not assume I am a card-carrying charismatic simply because I believe in the active influence and ministry of the Holy Spirit. It is easy to dismiss someone by sticking a label on them whether it is true or not. We all have done it, and we need to repent from such tactics. Now that I’ve dealt with that, let me move on to my point.

When Jesus returned to heaven, He pressed the disciples one more time on their need of the Holy Spirit. He had told them before the cross that the Spirit would be to them as He, Jesus, had been. The Holy Spirit would be their leader, counselor, guide and teacher. When any one of the disciples had a need or question they would go to Christ and make their request. After Christ’s ascension, the Holy Spirit would be the One they could turn to. Jesus actually calls the Spirit “another Advocate” (John 14:16). The word another means another of the same kind. And in 1 John 2:1, Jesus is called by the same title: “we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”

Clearly, the Holy Spirit is not to be ignored or relegated to some inferior position in the Trinity. But this is what churches do. We oil our church machines and operate on gimmick, raw emotion, and manipulation. We build buildings, construct choirs, and learn drama; why, we even borrow Hollywood’s theatrics in order to do the ministry. We think we don’t need what the early church did, the power of the Holy Spirit. We don’t need prayer meetings waiting for the power of heaven; we’ve got power-packed worship services with first-rate musicians and polished preachers. We’ve surrendered to the idea of ministry by marketing. We rig mood lighting to substitute the presence of God. We don’t want prophets; we want pulpiteers with tear-jerking stories or side-splitting humor.

I’m here to tell you that you may think all of this is awesome Christianity—but it is a sham. It is a museum of wax. Things look real, life-like, but it isn’t. And if the power of the Spirit were to fall on it, it would melt faster than wax. Most professing Christians would not know true Christianity if it confronted them. In fact, it would terrify them. They would reject it out of hand as something unusual, uncouth and unsophisticated.

But a true Spirit-filled church is needed. The world needs to see a people who are not influenced by money, power or fame. They need to see a church sold out to this one proposition: that God—the Holy Spirit—can do more in one minute than all the programs of men can do in a lifetime. It is past time that churches honor the Spirit of our Lord and bow before Him in humble submission. If we would do so, then we would see the kinds of things we read about. We would experience what the Whitefields, the Spurgeons and Lloyd-Joneses experienced. Charles Spurgeon was no charismatic, but he believed in the personal operation of the Holy Spirit in his life and the life of his church. He said,

If we would have the Spirit, beloved, we must each of us try to honour him. There are some chapels into which if you were to enter, you would never know there was a Holy Spirit. Mary Magdalene said of old, “They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.” And the Christian might often say so, for there is nothing said about the Lord until they come to the end, and then there is just the benediction, or else you would not know that there were three persons in one God at all. Until our churches honour the Holy Spirit, we shall never see [Him] abundantly manifested in our midst. Let the preacher always confess before he preaches that he relies upon the Holy Spirit. Let him burn his manuscript and depend upon the Holy Spirit. If the Spirit does not come to help him, let him be still and let the people go home and pray that the Spirit will help him next Sunday.

And do you also, in the use of all your agencies, always honour the Spirit? We often begin our religious meetings without prayer; it is all wrong. We must honour the Spirit; unless we put him first, he will never make crowns for us to wear. He will get victories, but he will have the honour of them, and if we do not give to him the honour, he will never give to us the privilege and success. And best of all, if you would have the Holy Spirit, let us meet together earnestly to pray for him. Remember, the Holy Spirit will not come to us as a church, unless we seek him.

Let us seek the precious Holy Spirit. He is our greatest gift; therefore let us cherish Him as such and be quick to claim Him, to name Him, and to honor Him.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Watching God Work

As we are just days away from RTM becoming a full time ministry, my mind has been creating a blog to sort of commemorate this event. So far, I have described my journey to this point in general terms, but I would like to share some things that are a bit more personal so that you will hopefully see how God is directing us and how I am approaching ministry.

For today, however, I want to share with you some encouraging news. Yesterday was our every-other-month pastors' fellowship. It is an outreach of Real Truth Matters where pastors come, enjoy a wonderful meal, are served lovingly and graciously, and are ministered to through the word and prayer. Our desire is to see these meetings become places where they can take off their masks (pastors are perhaps the worst about putting on masks and hiding their hurts and struggles) and become real with one another. Through this transparency, the grace of God flows and true ministry takes place toward those who are usually expected to do the ministering.

We have seen this take place on several occasions. Yesterday was no exception. Brother Mike Morrow shared with the men the idols that can creep into a pastor's life and cause that man to lay aside the most important aspect of his own life; his walk and experience with Christ.

I was certainly blessed to see the pastors take it to heart and open up to one another. At the end, we spend time in prayer . . . real prayer . . . for one another. Several of the pastors enthusiastically and repeatedly said, "Don't stop having these meetings. I need this!" A couple of them, once the meeting was over, asked, "What do I do til the next meeting? I need this more often!"
Ministry to pastors is, I believe, a vital role that God has for RTM. Pastors are expected to give, give, give to others, but who ministers to them? Praise God I have seen them ministered to over the past year or so.

Then, I got a phone call from Brother Michael last night. He told me that he had received an email from a pastor in Alabama who had watched our promo video on Vimeo. The video features four testimonies from false converts whom God graciously saved. The pastor also looked at some of the videos from our 2009 conference.

He is going to order the 2009 conference DVD set, and he, along with others in the church, are going to study them this summer! A couple of weeks ago, when we sat down to decide what our first tasks should be when RTM goes full time, we decided to explore taking the conference messages, breaking them down into smaller chunks, creating a study guide, and offering this to the public and churches to do exactly what this pastor is going to do with them! How amazing is our God?

Well, these are the things that the Lord has placed in our path, and, as a follower and supporter of RTM, I wanted you to be aware of the work that is already taking place. Pray for RTM and those whom RTM will minister to. Pray about supporting the work of RTM. There were just a few people ministering directly to those pastors yesterday, but those few could not have ministered if countless others had not been obedient to God before that day.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Amazing Faithfulness of God

By S. Michael Durham

In my blog last week I shared that RTM is going to launch as a full-time ministry with full-time staff on May 17. I have expressed before that I wasn’t terribly excited when first considering this step of faith. My faith was, and I think still is, so small that I thought the finances would be a constant struggle. The responsibility of making payroll and other new responsibilities did not appeal to me. After two months of prayer and the counsel of trusted confidants I knew this was the will of the Lord. However, such knowledge has not helped my faith a great deal. I have still anticipated paydays with no money.

And so in last week’s blog I did the only thing I knew to do when faith is small—go to the Word of the Lord. I cited Psalm 119:116, “Uphold me according to Your word, that I may live; And do not let me be ashamed of my hope.” This was my prayer.

Since that blog, I am blessed to be able to share that Real Truth Matters has received nearly $24,000 in donations. This is one third of this year’s budget. Amazing! All I can do is bless the Lord.

But there is yet a shame that I have experienced. It is the shame that I did not believe that a divine response would be so quick in coming. To some extent, I feel like disciples did after waking Jesus out of very sound sleep saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” Jesus stood in a storm-tossed boat and commanded both wind and wave to cease, and they obeyed. No sooner had the boat ceased to rock and roll, then the disciples “were afraid, and marveled, saying to one another, ‘Who can this be? For He commands even the winds and water, and they obey Him!’”

They had asked Him to do something and He did. Why were they so surprised? Why was I so surprised when He answered so quickly for our need of funds? In each instance, the answer is the same—the answer is in Jesus’ question to the stunned apostles—“Where is your faith?” In their case and in mine, it is a matter of not using the faith we have been given. Jesus’ question to the disciples does not imply they had no faith. Rather it states the opposite: where is it?

All believers have faith, but often we do not exercise it. If we had no faith, why then pray? We ask the Lord, as did the disciples, knowing that He is able. That is faith. But to that point and no further do we seem to use our faith. Thus, when in His mercy He grants our requests, we are surprised.

All I can say is that our Heavenly Father is amazingly faithful to His children who possess very small faith. I pray that your faith is being exercised as you read this testimony of God’s faithfulness so that you and I will not be so surprised the next time He answers a prayer.