Founders Ministries Blog


Founders Ministries Blog

Founders Ministries exists to work for the recovery of the gospel and the biblical re-formation of local churches. They have a myriad of ministries that are given to that two-pronged effort, including a church planting network, an online study center, a publishing house, a quarterly journal, regional conferences and events, minister search list, friends list, and church list. In addition to this their website is populated with loads of resources for pastors, students, church leaders and serious Christians.

Contributers to the blog:

Dr. Tom Ascol, Senior Pastor, Grace Baptist Church, Cape Coral, FL

Dr. Tom Hicks, Pastor of Discipleship, Morningview Baptist Church, Montgomery, AL (Tom is the team leader of the blog).

Dr. Fred Malone, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Clinton, LA

Dr. Tom Nettles, Professor of Historical Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY

Dr. Phil Newton, Pastor, South Woods Baptist Church, Memphis, TN

Dr. Kenneth Puls, Director of Publications and the Study Center for Founders Ministries, Cape Coral, FL

Dr. Jeff Robinson, Pastor, Philadelphia Baptist Church, Birmingham, AL

Jon English Lee, Ph.D. Student, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY

7 Reasons Waiting Helps Us Grow

I don’t like to wait. No, let’s be completely forthright: I despise waiting. There is a certain highway in the city where I live that is notorious for traffic that is snarled for several hours on both sides of rush hour: I avoid it like cream of broccoli soup. Every Sunday morning, there are certain members of my family who move at the speed of a glacier in getting ready for worship, and I’m convinced they make less haste on the days I have to preach. They make me wait, and I don’t like it.

I realize that I am not alone in this. Fallen humans categorically do not like to wait. We want instant gratification. We want life’s knottiest dilemmas solved in a half hour or so. Why is it so hard for sons of Adam to wait? Conventional wisdom says doing absolutely nothing should be easy for us, but it is not.

Over the years, I have learned that waiting on the Lord one of the most potentially sanctifying (and necessary) aspects of the Christian life. It is one of those glorious “gospel paradoxes” that makes us say with the prophet, “O Lord, your ways are higher than our ways, your thoughts higher than our thoughts.” We pray in hope, and then we wait on the Lord to answer. A Christian man prays for a job so that he can provide for his family as God has commanded, and then he waits. A mother prays that God will draw her wayward son to himself unto salvation, and then she waits. We pray that God will make our future path clear, and we wait. We read Matthew 6:34 for a thousandth time for comfort.

The Puritans understood this reality well and developed something of a doctrine of waiting; they referred to it as being in “God’s school of waiting.” William Carey understood it well. He spent many years on the mission field before seeing his first convert. Of greater import, the inspired writers understood it well: Psalm 27:14, “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”

As difficult as it can be, waiting builds spiritual muscles in a unique manner. My sinful impatience notwithstanding, Isaiah makes this truth clear: “But they who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount with wings as eagles, they shall run and not grow weary, they shall walk and not faint.” What a glorious promise! And yet, our discontented hearts find it difficult to wait.

Yet waiting on the Lord many good things for us. It:

  • Causes us to pray without ceasing. We are needy and He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He is always faithful and the outcome of our waiting proves Him wholly true.
  • Instills in us a clearer understanding that we are creatures who are absolutely dependent upon our Creator. Though our sinful hearts crave omniscience and omnipotence, we possess neither, and waiting helps us to focus on that reality.
  • Increases our faith. After all, does not the writer of Hebrews define faith as “the conviction of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen?” (Heb. 11:1). We wait and God works.
  • Transfers the doctrine of God’s absolute sovereignty from the speculative realm to the practical. In waiting, we actually experience God’s Lordship in an intimate way.
  • Grounds our future in a certain hope. This is Paul’s point in Romans 8:24–25, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” A glorious by-product of this is that it instills patience, that most elusive of spiritual virtues, in us.
  • Reminds us that we live between the times. When Jesus returns, the not yet will collapse into the already, and there will be no more waiting for an answer to desperate prayers. The Kingdom will be consummated, and Jesus will set everything right. Until then, we pray and wait and are sanctified by God’s wise process.
  • Stamps eternity on our eyeballs. When we bring urgent petitions before the Lord, we wait with expectancy, and the city of man in which we live fades in importance, and we begin to realize that the city of God is primary. As Jonathan Edwards prayed, “O Lord, stamp eternity on my eyeballs.” Waiting helps to do that. It prioritizes the eternal over the temporal in accord with 2 Cor. 4:18, “…as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

Are You Quarrelsome?

by Tom Hicks
 
A “quarrel” is a verbal fight. Not all conflicts are quarrels, but a conflict becomes a quarrel when it's sinfully combative or contentious. I've been thinking about my own quarrelsomeness, and this is some of the fruit of my study. The Bible has quite a bit to say about quarreling:

What is the cause of quarrels?

James 4:1-2 says, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.” The root of quarrelsomeness is “covetousness.” Covetousness is discontentment with Christ, a desire to be satisfied in something outside of Him.

We quarrel to try to change someone's mind or behavior because we want something (Jas 4:1-2). Our covetous wants are often rooted in selfishness and pride. We may want to win an argument, look better than another person, or showcase our intellectual superiority. So, we quarrel. We may want to crush another person so that they won't dare challenge us again. We may want our lives to be more convenient or comfortable; so, we quarrel, trying to make another person treat us the way we want to be treated. On the other hand, we may quarrel to change a person's mind for their own good because we love them. Parents sometimes quarrel with their children and teenagers out of desperation because they want to protect them from something harmful.

Ultimately, quarreling is an attempt to control someone by fighting them with our words. When we quarrel, we're trying to force another person to agree with us and to make them change by brute force. Quarreling is foolish because it can never win another person's heart. We may win arguments. We may end up getting our way, like bullies sometimes get their way. But quarreling ends up driving others away, causing resentment, and damaging personal relationships.

The Lord Jesus did not quarrel.

Christ had many opportunities to quarrel, but He never did. The Pharisees and Saducees often attempted to lure Christ into quarrels, but Jesus always responded with perfectly wise speech. Christ's disciples regularly misunderstood Him, and even contradicted Him, but Jesus never quarreled with them. Instead, He patiently corrected them and taught them, over and over. Christ spoke the truth in love to all men.

Matthew 12:19-20 says of Christ, “He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench.”

Christ isn't quarrelsome. His perfect speech stands in the place of our quarrelsomeness. That's the doctrine of justification. As we lay hold of Christ by faith, God forgives us of our quarrelsomeness and treats us like our speech is perfect, even though it's not. And He wins our hearts by His wisdom, gentleness, judicious speech, measured words, and rescuing love. And the more we see of Him through the eyes of faith, the more we will love Him, fear Him, pursue Him, rejoice in Him, and want to know more of Him. The more we love Him, the more we'll learn to put off the sin of quarrelsomeness, and put on gentle and loving speech, becoming more like our Savior.

What should we do instead of quarreling?

1. We should trust God. When we quarrel, we're actually attempting to be God, rather than trusting God. We're trying to rule over the minds, hearts, and behaviors of others, instead of relying on God to rule them. We're attempting to leverage someone into change by fighting them with our words. But God calls us to remember that He is sovereign over the hearts and lives of others. We can never change a person from the inside out, but God can, and God does. If we believe His meticulous providence and His perfect loving care for us and others, then we can trust Him without trying to change others by quarreling. To the degree we do this, our anger and our fears will diminish as we rest in His kind providence.

2. We should rely on God's appointed means of grace. Ordinarily, God changes people by means of His Word, prayer, and loving service. So, if we really want people to change, to trust Christ and become more like Him, we need to tell them the truth in love, pray for them, and serve them with sincerity and humility. When we do this, we need to remember that there's no guarantee that others will ever change. God alone is Lord of the human heart. He changes people according to His sovereign pleasure, but if we want to be instruments of change in people's lives, we have to trust God to work through His appointed means.

3. We should think of disagreements as an opportunity to love and serve. If we're to do all things in love, then we're to disagree in love too. “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices at the truth. Love bears all thing, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:4-7). We should first listen carefully to those with whom we disagree, make sure we have understood what they're saying, and we should only choose to voice a disagreement if we believe that it will serve them and God's glory. If our goal is loving service, then we'll always be willing to hear correction and reproof from those we're trying to serve. We should never disagree about petty matters or things that selfishly serve our own interests. Instead, faithful disagreements seek to serve others, to do them good, to lead them to worship, and glorify Christ. They should always aim to persuade others that we care about them and their souls.

For further study, I recommend War of Words: Getting to the Heart of Your Communication Struggles by Paul David Tripp.

You Must Live a Life of Worship

Throughout this series on Gathered Worship in the House of God we have considered the role and responsibilities of God’s people in corporate worship. The first two parts of the study addressed preparing for and participating in gathered worship. In the third and final part we have focused on rightly responding to worship.

A right response to worship is more than saying right things, or even doing right things. It springs from the mind and heart. It involves acknowledging and confessing our sin. It urges us to flee to Christ and rest and trust in Him. It rejoices in the glory and praise of God. And it compels us to walk in obedience and submission to His Word. A right response to worship encompasses our whole being. It calls us to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength (Luke 10:27). As Isaac Watts wrote:

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small.
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

We rightly respond to gathered worship when we live a life of worship. This brings us full circle to where we began. We prepare for worship by worshipping everyday. And we respond to worship by living each day a life that aims to honor and please God.

Gathered worship is an event; it takes place at stated times in designated places. But it’s an event that sets the stage for life. It prepares us to walk in the ways of God. In worship we learn our identity, our tactics, and our direction as followers of Jesus Christ.

Gathered worship is a declaration of our identity in Christ. It marks us out as belonging to Him. He has made us and brought us together to declare His name.

Let this be recorded for a generation to come,
so that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord:
that he looked down from his holy height;
from heaven the Lord looked at the earth,
to hear the groans of the prisoners,
to set free those who were doomed to die,
that they may declare in Zion the name of the Lord,
and in Jerusalem his praise,
when peoples gather together,
and kingdoms, to worship the Lord.
(Psalm 102:18–22)

He is our King and our Lord. We believe in His Word. We sing His praises. We trust in His promises. Our time, our possessions, our lives are all His—not just on Sundays, but every day of the week. We worship so that all who see us may learn of God and come to know and praise Him.

Gathered worship is a formation of God’s people for spiritual battle. It teaches us the cadence of walking together in Christ. It instructs us in the tactics of being a disciple. It drills us in truth and arrays us for spiritual warfare. We stand together as we fight against sin in our hearts and press on together in the pursuit of holiness. Paul admonishes us to turn away from sin and “keep in step with the Spirit.”

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another (Galatians 5:16–26).

We live in a day where the distinction between light and darkness is becoming starker. Christians who are walking in the light of God’s Word are finding more and more that they are out of step with the world around them. Our expectations of acceptance and our assumptions of agreement with those around us on matters of culture and conduct are eroding. God has arrayed us together in the church to faithfully shine the light of His Word in a dark world and proclaim the message of hope in the gospel. We worship so we will be strengthened for the spiritual battle and victorious in the fight against sin and darkness.

Gathered worship is an orientation for our journey through life. It not only identifies us as Christ’s and keeps us in line against the onslaught of darkness; it also points us in the right direction. It orients us to God and His Word.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
(Proverbs 3:5–6)

Gathered worship brings us again and again under the preaching of the gospel. It keeps the truths of God’s Word ringing in our ears and running through our minds. It keeps our hope and joy anchored in Christ. It sets a paradigm for walking in this world. Though we only meet a few times each week for corporate worship, we need to continue worshipping all through the week. We need to worship God every day as we face new trials and circumstances. We need to remember the gospel every day. We need to pray, read the Scriptures, sing, and preach to ourselves every day.

Worship is not something we leave at the church building when we go home. It is the life and breath of a Christian. We worship because God is with us. He leads and guides and upholds us every moment of every day. Let us daily, as Paul exhorts us, present our bodies “as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1).


9 Ways Christ’s Resurrection Gives Us Hope for Today

So, I hope that the temperature today will be in the 70s. But living in Memphis in the summer makes that hope rather unrealistic.

But biblical hope is different. It’s not a wish or preference, but rather a certainty that has yet to be fulfilled. So, when the biblical writers express the practice of the Christian life by the use of the triad of faith, hope, and love, they intend hope to be just as much of an ongoing practice as faith and love. Yet is it in our practice of the Christian life?

We build faith by growing in our understanding of the work of Christ. We grow in love by the way that we exercise it with the brethren. Hope, though, frames an attitude of the heart for that which still awaits fulfillment. It’s an anticipation of a fuller reality that we’ve yet to experience. Not to minimize faith and love, but it seems that hope is often more difficult to get our heads around. Faith and love we experience day by day. Hope waits. Hope calls for patience. Hope always looks ahead. Hope fixes the thoughts on the unseen. Hope, consequently, nourishes the heart by anticipating what Christ has promised in the gospel. Hope carries us through trials. Hope prepares us for facing death.

As I’ve been preaching through 1 Corinthians 15 in my current Sunday morning expositions, the subject of hope rings in my thoughts. As my wife and I were discussing this past Sunday’s study, she made the point that it is likely harder for the younger generation to see the application in the passage. Many of the more senior members of the congregation resonate with the focus on hope, but perhaps fewer of the younger members. I certainly understand that, since a number of years back, I was in the younger generation, and must confess, that I spent far too little time thinking about the future hope. Yet, what I’ve been learning is that hope is not just for the senior generation of believers. Hope sustains every generation of Christians through the uncertainties of living in a fallen world. The anticipation of hope that Paul gives in 1 Corinthians centers on the bodily resurrection.

How do we build hope in our lives as Christians? Here are some of the reasons offered in 1 Corinthians 15 for building hope.

1. The bodily resurrection reminds us of our union with Christ. The Christian’s bodily resurrection directly corresponds to that of Christ’s (1 Cor 15:12–28).

2. The bodily resurrection is central to the gospel message. “... and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” affirms the bodily resurrection, not a “spiritual” resurrection (1 Cor 15:4).

3. The bodily resurrection gives hope beyond this life. So, that helps us to understand that our future treasure through Christ is bigger than our bank accounts or life achievements (1 Cor 15:35–49).

4. The bodily resurrection joins us to an eternal kingdom. In that kingdom we continue to serve the Lord without the encumbrances of living in a fallen world (1 Cor 15:50; Rev 22:3).

5. The bodily resurrection motivates us to holy living. Fixing our hope on the future in Christ builds a deeper desire for pure, holy lives (1 John 3:1–3; 1 Cor 15:33–34, 58).

6. The bodily resurrection builds anticipation for a life that outstrips our imaginations. Paul compares our death and burial to a “seed,” while the life ahead is the full grown (“body”) plant. The comparison invites stretching our thoughts to comprehend how much better the future is in Christ (1 Cor 15:35–48).

7. The bodily resurrection affirms an immortal life in God’s presence. This perishable person living post-fall (Gen 3) puts on an imperishable life post-return of Christ (1 Cor 15:50–57).

8. The bodily resurrection declares the ultimate triumph of Jesus over sin and death. Can we taunt sin and death apart from the bodily resurrection affirmed in Christ? (1 Cor 15:54–57)

9. The bodily resurrection affirms that our toil and labor in this life are not in vain. Why grow weary in serving Christ in the present when it’s just good preparation for the future of eternal service? “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor 15:58).

After listening to the testimonies of family members who lost their loved ones in the attack at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, I cannot help but think that their ability to speak of forgiveness toward the killer and joyous anticipation of the days ahead, right in the midst of grief, came because they had nurtured their Christian lives in hope. We do not know what a day brings forth. But we can be prepared for what comes by living in the hope that is ours in Jesus Christ.

 


Why Preach through Books of the Bible?

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I had a conversation with a minister friend who had been involved in discussing what pastors were preaching in their churches. While most seemed to agree that exposition of the biblical text must have priority in the church, few thought it wise to preach consecutively through books of the Bible—particularly with series that extended beyond twelve weeks. I understand the challenge of longer series but also see the value in the long run. The forty-four sermons that I preached through Ephesians in 1990–91, literally transformed my life, theology, and congregation. Eight or ten sermons would not have sufficed to uproot faulty theology and set us on a right course. The fifty-two sermons in Hebrews in 2000–01, sharpened our understanding of the gospel and its application to the whole of life.

What would you say had you been involved in the discussion? Here are a few thoughts that I’ve ruminated on since that conversation.

(1) Pastors have the responsibility to preach the whole range of biblical revelation. Paul told the Ephesian elders, “For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27). He could not simply address his favorite issues but intentionally sought to address the issues of God’s will for sinners and for the redeemed. Do we address the range of God’s will for the Galatians or to those who first received First and Second Samuel, by picking one or two texts to expound to the neglect of the others?

(2) Preaching consecutively through a book allows the pastor and congregation the opportunity to better absorb the purpose of God and the impact upon the original audience. I recently completed preaching fifty sermons through Genesis (Jim Boice did 180!). What amazed me as I studied and preached was how the biblical narrative presented several points of crescendo that we would have missed had I only picked selected texts. For instance, Abraham offering Isaac at God’s command is certainly one of the most magnificent Old Testament scenes that gave assurance to God’s purpose for His people, as well as pointing to Christ as our substitute. But if we simply preach Genesis 22 without having walked through that long journey from Genesis 12, where God called Abraham out of paganism and then faithfully preserved him through many ups and downs as he waited for the unfolding of God’s promise of a son, then we miss something of the pathos intended for the original audience. Can you imagine those first hearers of Genesis listening to the build up of the story—hearing the promises of God that depended upon the solitary heir of the patriarch—gasping at the seemingly out-of-the-blue command of God to sacrifice his “only son”? The knife raised above the very one that held the key to all that God had promised in the previous ten chapters. Then God provided a substitute—and in so doing preserved the line of Abraham that eventually came to the grand fruition of blessing to the nations in the person of Jesus Christ. Yes, we can just preach Genesis 22, and it will be powerful, but I suggest that it loses something of its effect when we skip over living together each week in the previous ten chapters.

(3) Preaching consecutively through books of the Bible gives the pastor and congregation a better understanding of a particular book, and if properly expounded, a fuller grasp of biblical theology. I can preach Ephesians 2:8–10, and exhort my hearers to depend upon the grace of God in Christ alone. But if I’ve taken my congregation to the mountain top in chapter one, descended to the darkest depths in the opening of chapter two, and then listened to Paul’s declaration, “But God,” in Ephesians 2:4, then I find the familiar 2:8–10 to come with greater weight to my hearers. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones pointed out, until we’ve dealt with the doctrines of the text we’ve not really dealt with the text. Short series that skip over the broader doctrinal context may shorten the preaching but also weakens the doctrinal impact.

(4) Preaching consecutively through books of the Bible focuses the pastor onto the biblical storyline lest he skip those uncomfortable texts he otherwise would never preach. In my Genesis expositions, I wrestled through Noah’s drunkenness, Lot’s incestuous acts, and Judah’s adultery with his daughter-in-law. I would not voluntarily pick those texts for topical expositions! But they are part of the storyline of Scripture that helps us to understand the fallen condition and the necessity of God’s grace to redeem sinners. Those texts helped my congregation to better grasp the message of Genesis hammering home that the living God preserves His people despite their messy lives.

(5) Preaching consecutively through books of the Bible gives congregations a chance to meditate more deeply upon a particular book, mining its riches, soaking up its doctrines, and making pointed applications to daily life. For instance, if you work through a book, you are regularly considering the context of that book until it begins to stick into the minds of the congregation (not to mention your own mind!). That way, as they read and think upon passages in that book, the understanding of context informs their interpretation. As a bonus, they are actually learning hermeneutics as the pastor works through the book! Their meditation upon the text, consequently, will be done contextually, by which richer understanding of doctrine and application will be developed. One can microwave a beef roast and serve it to guests (short series through books), but the slow roasting in the oven (full book exposition) will soak up the flavors, tenderize the meat, and make for a more satisfying meal.

So, am I suggesting that we all preach thirteen years through Romans, as did Martyn Lloyd-Jones (without finishing it)? Or preach 40+ years through Job, as did the Puritan Joseph Caryl? Not at all! Rather let’s think of a measured way to work adequately through a book of the Bible, giving us time as preachers to absorb it, and giving our congregations a chance to grapple with its message. The preacher has to decide what he can handle and what the congregation can listen to—that will vary from one congregation to another. Admittedly, many congregations are not ready to spend a year or two in a Genesis or Romans or John. The pastor may not quite be ready either. That takes training for pastor and congregation through starting with smaller books and working toward longer ones, all the while teaching the congregation how to read, listen to, meditate upon, and interpret the Word. But in the end, as pastor and congregation grow together in expounding and hearing God’s Word, a depth and satisfaction with God’s Word will certainly take place. I cannot imagine any pastor preaching through books of the Bible, and then looking back and saying, “I wished that I had not spent so much time preaching through books of the Bible to the people for whom I will give an account to God.”


Preparing for Gathered Worship: Make it a Priority

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Preparing for worship means making time and making choices. Worship, especially corporate worship, takes time. It takes commitment. We must set aside time to come. We need to guard our schedules and consider times of corporate worship a priority.

Listen to what the Word of God tells us about gathering together:

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (Hebrews 10:24–25).

Here the writer of Hebrews highlights the importance of regularly meeting together with the church. He also acknowledges that “neglecting to meet together” was a problem in the early church, and had even become a habit of some. The word used here in the Greek for meeting is episunagogen. We are not to neglect the “coming together,” “assembly,” or “gathering” [synagogue].

Though we should daily encourage and pray for one another as we have opportunity to invest in each other’s lives, there is a measure of encouragement, participation, and life in the church that cannot be attained or replicated apart from the regular assembly of God’s people in corporate worship. We need to hear God’s Word read and proclaimed together. We need to pray and sing God’s praise together. Listening to sermon recordings or broadcasts can’t replicate it. Singing worship songs along with your iPod can’t match it. We need to see and hear and know and feel the testimony of lives changed by the power of the Gospel, covenanted, unified and gathered together all in one place, in the same room, for His glory.

We live in a sad day when for many the church and worship have been pushed to the periphery. It is a sad day when people are willing to profess Christ, but unwilling to identify with His body. It is a sad day when making time to gather for worship is more a matter of senseless habit or convenience than spiritual hunger or conviction. It is a sad day when, awaking to a beautiful day outside, the idea of skipping church to go to the beach or a golf course is even an option that Christians would entertain.

The early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). They were constant and committed to worship: being under the preached Word, breaking bread, and praying. And their worship was together, fellowshipping—encouraging and strengthening one another by being together as God’s people.

As you prepare for gathered worship, make worshipping God together with your church family a priority. Remove hindrances that might keep you away and apart from worship. Set aside one day in seven for rest, as God commands. Cherish that day. Regard it as special. Make it clear to family and friends that gathering with your church family is the priority of that day. If you are providentially hindered by illness or circumstances beyond your control, or by a work schedule that requires you to miss the gathered worship of your church, then make it a priority of prayer.

And don’t stop making worship a priority when you arrive for a worship service. We live in a day when it is a simple thing to bring our distractions along with us. We open our Bibles on our phones and iPads, where Facebook, Twitter, email, and messaging all reside alluringly close by. Tune out the world and enjoy the rest of adoring Christ and delighting in His Word with your brothers and sisters in gathered worship.

“Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). He obtained it “with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). The church was a priority to Jesus. And it should be for us as well, not just in theory or theology, but in practice and attendance. Make it a priority to worship God regularly and faithfully together in the church.


The Inward Reality of Worship

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Worship propels us to mission. And our mission is to go and to make disciples (Matthew 28:19). We want others to find and know the same joy and peace that we experience in Christ. We want others to come and add their voices to the prayers and praise of God’s people. We are zealous of God’s glory and desire to see the glory of God fill the earth. And so we go and we tell.

When Isaiah worshipped God, in Isaiah 6, he saw the Lord high and lifted up; he saw his own sinfulness in the face of God’s glory and holiness; he experienced the wonder and joy of God’s forgiveness for his sins; and he responded to God’s call to go and preach God’s Word.

But Isaiah was given the difficult task of preaching to a people whose hearts were hard against truth. They were stubborn and would not listen. Isaiah was willing to be God’s messenger. We hear him say, “Here am I, send me.” But he longed to see the stirrings of faith and the fruits of repentance. When God told Isaiah that the people would turn away and not listen, the cry of his heart in verse 11 was “How long, O Lord?” He wanted the darkness and coldness of men’s hearts to end.

God did not leave Isaiah without hope. In response to his cry, God gives a promise at the end of chapter 6 of a remnant that would remain. Though it looks like the tree is cut down and the promise that God had made since the fall of Adam in the garden of a holy seed is in doubt; God declares at the end of verse 13: “The holy seed is its stump.” The rest of the book of Isaiah goes on to shed more light on God’s purposes in the preservation of Israel and the coming Messiah.

As you continue reading in Isaiah, it is as if God pulls back the curtain, providing more and more light, revealing what the Messiah will be and what He will accomplish. For example, we read later in Isaiah of the day when God’s praise will fill the earth:

From the ends of the earth we hear songs of praise,
of glory to the Righteous One (Isaiah 24:16).

Isaiah celebrated the day when God would shine the light of the gospel of Jesus.

Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the LORD will arise upon you,
and his glory will be seen upon you.
And nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your rising (Isaiah 60:1–3).

He looked forward to the day when the darkness would fall away and people from every nation, tongue, and tribe would see the light of Christ. He longed for the day when the glory of God would cover the earth.

This is another inner stirring of true worship. Worship cannot be contained in the sanctuary. Its desire is to fill the earth! You will know you have worshipped, when you leave this place and worship stays with you—you can’t leave it here! It continues to burn in your heart and engage your soul—so much so that you not only remember it—you must share it—you cannot contain it.

If you have ever experienced the glory of God and the joy of communing with Him in worship, you know that nothing else will ever satisfy your soul like God. We can never be satisfied with anything else. And we want this joy, not just for ourselves, but for others.

May God grant us a longing and a heart like Isaiah’s. May we be willing to go and to tell. And though our testimony may be to some a “fragrance from death to death” (2 Corinthians 2:16), may we never be resigned to see people turn away from God and perish in their sins. In the face of hardness and stubbornness and rejection, may the cry of our heart be: “How long O Lord?” It is God who commands light to shine out of darkness (2 Corinthians 4:6) and opens hearts (Acts 16:14). May He pour out His mercy and grace in our day.

Excerpt from a study on Isaiah 6: The Inward Reality of Worship.


The Gospel is about Words

Paul did not pantomime the gospel to the Corinthians. He declared it in words. “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you” (1 Cor 15:1). The word for “preached” is literally “to announce the good news.” So, he reiterates the gospel and how it consists in a body of truth communicated verbally about the person and work of Jesus Christ: ‘the good news which I announced good news to you.’

Paul’s statement implies that the gospel must be proclaimed in some fashion. It’s not about how we live or what we do that proclaims the gospel, although, no doubt, our faithfulness in living out the gospel gives credibility to what we say about it. That’s why Paul spent so much time throughout this epistle correcting the selfish, prideful behavior of those professing to be followers of Christ! Yet the adage wrongly attributed to Francis of Assisi (13th C.), “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary,” fails to square with Paul’s assertion. We cannot preach the gospel without words. We can demonstrate it, beautify it, give credibility to its power, and illustrate it through faithful, holy lives. And indeed, we must! But we cannot preach it, proclaim it, announce it, testify of it, or explain it without words.

Duane Litfin, president emeritus of Wheaton College, clarifies. “There is both a carelessness of thought and sloppiness of language inherent in the claim that we can preach the gospel without words.” He makes this important distinction concerning deeds versus words. If we think that it is our deeds that proclaim the gospel without words, then we might think that the power to save lies in us. “If the gospel is powerful—which the Bible assures us it is—its power resides not in us but in the gospel itself” [D. Litfin, Word Versus Deed: Resetting the Scales to a Biblical Balance (Crossway, 2012), 41, 50].

Let me illustrate it in this way. If I happened to travel to a remote tribal area in Kenya, where they knew virtually nothing of American sports’ traditions, do you suppose that I could explain without using words the football rivalry between Alabama and Auburn or Mississippi State and Ole Miss? To begin with, how would I explain the game of football to them? I suppose that I could take a football with me, motion for a tribesman to hold out his hands, and then loft the ball to him, hoping that he would catch it rather than allow it so smack him in the nose. Supposing he actually caught the ball, I could then run toward him, lower my shoulder, and drive it into his chest, tackling him to the ground. Of course, I could give him a “high five” upon helping him from the ground.

Would he think this to be an act of aggression? Would he think it some strange gesture of friendship that would throw an oddly shaped object at him and then knock him to the ground? Or would he immediately have an ‘aha’ moment, understanding, “Oh, you’re trying to declare to me the game of football”? I think not.

Additionally, how could I communicate the intense, passionate rivalry that I grew up with in Alabama in this sport that he does not understand? Would I start doing fist pumps, and imitating the stadium wave?

I could spend hours and days attempting to explain without words the game of football and the rivalry between those teams, yet it would never work. Without words and the long, patient process of explanation and example, that tribal member would never understand about football rivalry. He would only know that I had some kind of odd belief and behavior that seemed to influence the way that I acted toward him.

Far, far more importantly, verbal communication is necessary to understand the gospel. Dr. Litfin explains, “The biblical gospel is inherently a verbal thing, and communicating it by definition requires verbal behavior” [36]. That’s why we have one example after another throughout the Gospels and Acts of Jesus and His followers declaring the good news to sinners. We have no indication that they simply relied upon their behavior as sufficient to communicate the gospel. The gospel is about words.

If we skip words and just focus on behavior as the means to communicate the gospel, then we’ve communicated, as well, that one can become a Christian by following our example. In such a case, we’ve boiled the gospel down to works righteousness. As Ray Ortlund Jr. notes, “The gospel is not law, demanding that we pay our own way. The gospel is a welcome announcement, declaring that Jesus paid it all” [The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ (9Marks: Building Healthy Churches; Crossway, 2014), 15; italics added]. Paul gave that welcome announcement to the Corinthians and others in his missionary journeys. Along the way, for all who are believers, someone offered the welcome announcement that Jesus paid it all. They believed and were changed forever.

Words matter. Words explaining and declaring the gospel matter most. Let’s be clear with our gospel words so that all may hear the good news that Jesus paid it all.


3 Reliable Ways to Overcome Sin

by Jon English Lee

Recently, in Genesis 39, we saw Potiphar’s wife demonstrate that sin is often perception-driven and that unchecked sin produces boldness. Now we will let Joseph show us the proper response to sin and temptation.

1. He Refuses (vs. 8)

Joseph’s first and continual response is to refuse to give in to temptation. Notice, though, the reasons that he gives for his refusal are some of the same reasons that others would give in favor of the sin: “my master has no concern about anything in the house… he has put everything that he has in my charge… he is not greater in this house than I… nor has he kept anything back from me….” Joseph saw rightly that the situation was full of providential blessings, not divine markers pointing him into further sin. Beware the temptation to read circumstances as infallible road signs. Furthermore, not only did Joseph refuse the woman’s advance, but as vs. 10 says, he refused her day after day… even refusing to be with her. He doesn’t let sinful temptation stay in his presence. That’s just foolishness. We must consciously and zealously avoid any temptation (more on that later).

2. He Recognizes Sins True Nature (vs. 9b)

Joseph knew that sin is ultimately, “great wickedness and a sin against God.” We have a tendency to think that the little sins that don’t have any visible victims aren’t a problem. But the problem is huge, and the problem is our view of sin and our view of God. We serve an infinitely Holy God. Even the tiniest sin that we could think of becomes an infinite offense, not because of the size sin itself, but because of the One against whom the sin is committed. It is the one whom is offended that determines the magnitude of the offense. In our own lives, we must see BOTH that our sins are an infinite offense AND that the offense is against God. In God’s eyes, there are no small sins, and all sins are against Him.

3. He Runs! (vs. 11-12)

She lays the perfect trap: no witnesses around, husband isn’t home, and no one will know. Plus, if he doesn’t give in, his career can be in jeopardy. In the face of extreme temptation, Joseph gives us the proper response: he flees. Notice what he doesn’t try to do: he doesn’t try to reason with her. This isn’t the time to try and be a noble evangelist and convert her to Christ. This isn’t a time to try and pull out the Bible and do a word-study on “pornea” in the NT; he rightly sees that the situation is critical and he needs to get out. When temptation reaches a boiling point the best thing to do is to flee from that temptation.

We must recognize the chinks in our own armor and flee from situations that might exploit those weaknesses. Recovering alcoholics are taught never put themselves in situations where they might be tempted to drink. When they find themselves in sticky situations, they are taught to leave immediately. As recovering sin-addicts, we must use the same approach. We must never put ourselves in compromising positions of temptation. But when those temptations do arise, we must flee immediately.

Joseph gives us a great example to follow regarding sexual purity and proper perception of sin. Like Joseph, our vision of sin and of God must be biblically informed if we are to properly judge the extent of our offense. May we be ever vigilant in avoiding temptation and quick to flee when the scene becomes deadly.

2 Ways that Sin Sneaks In

by Jon English Lee

Recently I have been working through Genesis 39 and the story of Joseph. I have been thinking about Potiphar’s wife and how she demonstrates some common sin-related themes. I thought I could jot down a few notes regarding sin and temptation:

1. Sin is often perception-driven

In verse 7 we see that she “cast her eyes on Joseph.” We must remember that whatever we expose our eyes to can often be the beginning of our undoing. We can look back to Genesis 3 and remember Eve who “saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes… she took the fruit and ate.” Staying in Genesis, we see in chapter 38 Judah is tempted to sleep with Tamar because he saw her veiled face and believed she was a prostitute. What about David and Bathsheba? (2 Samuel 11) “When David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful.” We must always be careful of what we expose ourselves to; of what we focus our gaze upon.

Humans were designed with a desire and capacity to look upon something and to worship it. The problem comes when we place our vision, and ultimately our worship, on something other than the Crucified Christ. When anything other than Christ occupies our vision, we will be led astray and will wander down the path of sin.

2. Unchecked sin produces boldness

In verse 12 we see that Potiphar’s wife “caught him by the garment.” Sin will lead us to do things that we would never do in our right mind. It lures us in with false promises of happiness and fulfillment, and we are subtly convinced to commit further sins. Cain was jealous and angry with his brother Abel. When those sinful desires weren’t corrected and repented of, he then murdered his own brother. Look at King David. He stole another man’s wife. Then, when he is unable to cover his tracks, he has that man killed. He commits several heinous sins that he would never have done when in his right mind. His lustful desires brought about a boldness for sin that led him into further sins.

Unchecked sinful desires lead us into further sin. We must beware of our sinful desires and snuff them out before they give birth to further sins and, eventually, spiritual death. James 1:15 says, “Then desire, when it has conceived, gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” Unchecked sin can lead us down the path toward spiritual death. We must constantly be on the lookout for signs of sin in our own lives.

What idols occupy your vision? What desires run unchecked in your heart? Ask yourselves these things and constantly guard your heart. Check back tomorrow to see how Joseph demonstrates the proper response to sin.


How to Meditate on God's Word

by Ken Puls

I love God’s Word and delight in its truth. Yet too often I find that after reading my Bible or hearing a sermon, the truth, so necessary to the wellbeing of my soul, can too easily slip away. The truth that had for a moment captured my attention and my affections can quietly fade amid the clutter and noise of the day.

One of the best ways to remedy this is to practice the spiritual discipline of meditating on God’s Word. It is a discipline that takes time and intention, but one that brings great benefit to the soul. We need to carve out time to lay hold of the truth of God’s Word.

It is a bewildering paradox of our day that the Bible can be so accessible and yet so marginalized. On the one hand our technology has brought God’s Word close at hand. It’s on our phones and tablets and computers and iPods. We have almost immediate access to several versions of the Bible as well as a wealth of sermons and commentaries. But this same technology also threatens to distract us and drown out God’s Word. We have become a culture obsessed with noise and comfortable with clutter. So many sources are bringing input into our lives: TV, radio, online news feeds, Facebook, Twitter.... More than ever we need to make time to meditate, to dwell in God’s Word.

Meditation is pondering the Word in our hearts, preaching it to our own souls, and personally applying it to our own lives and circumstances. It is how we sanctify our thinking and bring it into submission to Christ—taking every thought captive. Paul tells us in Romans 12:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2).

[All Scripture references are ESV unless otherwise indicated.]

In Psalms 77 Asaph uses three verbs that capture the essence of meditation. When he finds himself perplexed and troubled and cries out to God, he determines to steady his soul by looking to God and laying hold of truth. He says in verses 11 and 12:

I will remember the deeds of the LORD;
Yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
I will ponder all your work,
And meditate on your mighty deeds (Psalms 77:11-12).

Asaph uses 3 verbs in the Hebrew to describe what it means to lay hold of truth: He says: I will remember, I will ponder, and I will meditate.

He begins with remembering (zakar)—calling to mind “the deeds of the Lord” and His “wonders of old.” He intentionally takes note of truth and draws it back into his thinking. Asaph reflects on what God has accomplished for His people in the past—events and epics like the Exodus and Passover, the giving of the law on Mount Sinai, the conquest of the Promised Land. He makes an effort not to forget all the Lord has done.

David also speaks of remembering God:          

When I remember you upon my bed,
And meditate on you in the watches of the night (Psalms 63:6).

In Psalms 143, when David is overwhelmed with trouble, he uses the same three verbs as Asaph, beginning with “remember.”

I remember the days of old;
I meditate on all that you have done;
I ponder the work of your hands (Psalms 143:5).

We are a forgetful people and God would have us to remember. Meditation begins with remembering, bringing back into our minds the truths and praises and promises of God.

But, second, Asaph also uses a word that is translated in Psalms 77:12 “I ponder.”

I will ponder all your work,
And meditate on your mighty deeds (Psalms 77:12).

This is the verb hagah in the Hebrew. It is found in numerous places in the Old Testament and is translated as “ponder” or “meditate”:


This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success (Joshua 1:8).
But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And on his law he meditates day and night (Psalms 1:2).          
When I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night (Psalms 63:6).

In Psalms 2 it is used of the nations “plotting” against God.

Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain? (Psalms 2:1)

The word literally means “to let resound.” It is used in Psalms 92:3 of the sound or tones of a musical instrument as it resonates.

On an instrument of ten strings,                
On the lute, And on the harp,
With harmonious [or resounding] sound (Psalms 92:3).

It is used also in Psalms 9:16.                                

The LORD is known by the judgment He executes;
The wicked is snared in the work of his own hands.
Meditation. Selah  (Psalms 9:16).

It is not entirely clear if the use of the word here is a musical instruction for the musicians to play an interlude—letting the instruments resound—or if it is an instruction to the congregation—let this truth resound within yourselves.

We find the term also at the end of Psalms 19:

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer (Psalms 19:14).

In other words: Let the inward tones of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord...

This is how we want the truth of Scripture to fill us and impact us—as we hear it and sing it and pray it—as Paul tells us in Colossians 3:16, let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly! Let it dwell in us in a way that resounds and reverberates in and through our lives.

We see another use of the word in Isaiah 31:4 that helps us understand its intent. Isaiah uses the word in reference to a lion:

For thus the LORD said to me,
 “As a lion or a young lion growls over his prey” (Isaiah 31:4)

The word for growl or roar is this word for meditation. Have you ever heard a lion when he roars? He does not just use his voice. His entire being reverberates. This is meditation. Letting God’s Word resound from within the very center of our being.

Meditation involves remembering, and resounding, but finally Asaph speaks of meditating.


I will ponder all your work,
and meditate on your mighty deeds (Psalms 77:12).

This word siyach means to muse and wonder and dwell on—to think deeply about something. Used literally it means to murmur, mumble or talk to yourself.

In a negative sense it can mean “to complain.” It is the idea that something has so taken hold of your thinking that you can’t stop thinking about it. So on the negative side—it troubles you and disturbs you and draws out complaint; but on the positive side—it captivates you and enraptures your thinking so that you “dwell on” it. This is the way we want God’s truth to lay hold of us—so that we can’t but dwell on it, so that it captures our thinking and finds it way into our choices and decisions.

The Puritans thought of meditation this way as they described it as “preaching to yourself.” We take the Word of God that we hear and read, and we mull it over in our minds and then bring it to bear upon our lives in personal exhortations.

It is a word that is found often in the Old Testament, especially in the psalms.


May my meditation be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the LORD (Psalms 104:34).          
I will meditate on your precepts
and fix my eyes on your ways (Psalms 119:15).          
Oh how I love your law!
It is my meditation all the day (Psalms 119:97).

When we meditate we think about God’s Word. We dwell on it and then as opportunities arise, we preach it to ourselves. We inject it into our thoughts as we make decisions, as we admonish and instruct our souls to choose right things and walk down right paths.

This is the essence of meditation. It is evoking the truth, embracing it and embedding it in our lives. It is intentionally focusing on recalling God’s truth that it might resound in our hearts and become that grid through which we sift and measure our thoughts and actions.

Meditation is a crucial Christian discipline and a vital means of grace that we must treasure and practice. But it is a discipline that takes time and effort. Accessibility can never beat intentionality. Don't assume that having God's Word close at hand means you have it close at heart. Carve out time in your day to remember, time to ponder, time to preach to yourself. The world around us can too easily choke out what is needful and good for our souls. Don’t allow God’s truth to slip away from you. Be intentional and diligent and your meditation.

Dr. Kenneth Puls is the Director of Publications and the Study Center for Founders Ministries, Cape Coral, FL. Founders Ministries exists to work for the recovery of the gospel and the biblical re-formation of local churches. They have a myriad of ministries that are given to that two-pronged effort, including a church planting network, an online study center, a publishing house, a quarterly journalregional conferences and eventsminister search listfriends list, and church list. In addition to this their  website is filled with resources for pastors, students, church leaders and serious Christians.


Zeal Needs Humility

by Tom Ascol

Too often zeal for truth is used as a license to be harsh, condescending or downright mean. Where such professed zeal is wedded to such attitudes you can be sure that something more than love for truth is motivating the one who is advocating it. Anyone who uses commitment to his Lord's doctrines as an excuse to violate his Lord's commandments reveals that he holds neither gospel nor law as fervently as he thinks.

The same Master who teaches us the doctrines of divine election ("All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out, John 6:37) and spiritual inability ("No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day" John 6:44) also commands us to love the brethren ("A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another," John 13:34) and even our enemies ("But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," Matthew 5:44). And Paul explains that love is "patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude... it is not irritable or resentful" (1 Corinthians 13:4-6).

What kind of devotion is it that excuses sin in the name of truth? Uninformed and immature at best and blind and deluded at worst.

John Newton understood this very well and made the following observation on the combination of humility and benevolence that is found in true Christian zeal. His words are worth just as needed today as they were in the 18th century.

The Christian, especially he who is advanced and established in the life of faith, has a fervent zeal for God, for the honor of His name, His law, His gospel. The honest warmth which he feels, when such a law is broken, such a Gospel is despised, and when the great and glorious name of the Lord his God is profaned, would, by the occasion of his infirmities, often degenerate into anger or contempt towards those who oppose themselves, if he was under the zeal only. But his zeal is blended with benevolence and humility: it is softened by a consciousness of his own frailty and fallibility. He is aware, that his knowledge is very limited in itself, and very faint in its efficacy; that his attainments are weak and few, compared with his deficiencies; that his gratitude is very disproportionate to his obligations, and his obedience unspeakably short of conformity to his prescribed rule; that he has nothing but what he has received, and has received but what, in a greater or less degree, he has misapplied and misimproved. He is, therefore, a debtor to the mercy of God, and lives upon His multiplied forgiveness. And he makes the gracious conduct of the Lord towards himself a pattern for his own conduct towards his fellow creatures. He cannot boast, nor is he forward to censure. He considers himself, lest he also be tempted; and thus he learns tenderness and compassion to others and to bear patiently with those mistakes, prejudices, and prepossessions in them, which once belonged to his own creature and from which, as yet, he is but imperfectly freed. But then, the same considerations which inspire him with meekness and gentleness towards those who oppress the truth, strengthen his regard for the truth itself, and his conviction of its importance. For the sake of peace, which he loves and cultivates, he accommodates himself, as far as he lawfully can, to the weakness and misapprehensions of those who mean well; though he is thereby exposed to the censure of bigots of all parties, who deem him flexible and wavering, like a reed shaken with the wind. But there are other points nearly connected with the honor of God, and essential to the life of faith, which are the foundations of his hope, and the sources of joy. For his firm attachment to these, he is content to be treated as a bigot himself. For here he is immoveable as an iron pillar; nor can either the fear of the favour of man prevail on him to give place, no not for an hour. Here his judgment is fixed; and he expresses it in simple and unequivocal language, so as not to leave either friends or enemies in suspense, concerning the side which he has chosen not the cause which is nearest to his heart.