Saturday, December 13, 2008

Our Family's Christmas Card. . .

The Special Ornament
by Mark E. & Esthermay Bentley-Goossen

‘Tis the season to lavish the tree,
And watch small eyes twinkle
With excitement and glee
As trimmings and lights adorn that lush tree.
Oh what a glorious sight that we see.

A mother beckons father to come very near
To adorn their grand tree with that last special ornament:
The one the family holds dear.

But lest we forget. . .
Another Father had placed on a tree
An ornament of extraordinary beauty and grace.
To make provision for Adam’s fallen race,
And cancel sin’s debt without even a trace.
To redeem unto Himself a Bride so chaste.
That we may each gaze forever at His dear precious face.

That special ornament is the Lamb. . .
Jesus Christ.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

How's The Water?

I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.
-Rev. 3:15-16

We all know what the word lukewarm means. It’s the transitional condition of having been warm or hot, but now being neither cold nor hot. This word-picture would have had an immediate take-hold comprehension for the Laodicean Church because the water they drank every day was indeed lukewarm.

The nearby city of Hierapolis was famous for its hot springs. Nearby Colossae, noted for its cold, refreshing mountain stream. But Laodicea had dirty, tepid water that flowed for miles through an underground aqueduct. Visitors, unaccustomed to it, immediately spat it out. Jesus used this situation and said, “Just as the water you drink is disgustingly lukewarm, you are lukewarm. . . .”

In the spiritual sense, lukewarmness is a picture of indifference and compromise. It pictures churchgoers who try (sometimes with great pride) to play the middle-ground, having just enough of Jesus to satisfy a craving for religion, but not enough to bear fruit or offer eternal life.

There is probably no greater barrier to evangelism than the curse of empty religion. There is no soul harder to reach than the one who has just enough of Jesus to think they know it all. The church of Laodicea is a perfect illustration of this. The harlots of the day were more open to Jesus than the scribes and Pharisees -- in very much the same way today that it is easier to reach an un-churched and completely biblically illiterate sinner on the street with the message of salvation than it is to reach the religious sinner sitting in a pew with a fifth-grade knowledge of Scripture. In the time of the Laodicean Church – and today -- Satan prizes a lukewarm religious person far more than a cold-hearted sinner. He can do far more damage to God’s Church with a religious person.

Are you a lukewarm Christian? Lukewarm people rarely share their faith with their neighbors, coworkers, or friends. They do not want to be rejected and they do not want to make people uncomfortable. Lukewarm people gauge their morality by comparing themselves to others. They are satisfied to compare themselves to other people rather than see themselves in the light of God’s Word. Lukewarm people feel secure because they attend church, made a profession of faith at a young age and were baptized. Some lukewarm Christians feel secure because they come from a Christian family or simply because they live in America.

Matthew 7:14 remind us how prevalent the problem of lukewarmnes is:

“Because strait is the gate, and marrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”

Are you a lukewarm Christian? What’s the water temperature like in your life. Would people unaccustomed to it – like the visitors to Laodicea -- immediately spit it out? How about Jesus? Would He spit you out?

- Pastor Mark E. Goossen

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Is Preaching All That Important?

This post re-published (with loving permission) from my wife's website,

"Word and worship belong indissolubly to each other. All worship is an intelligent and loving response to the revelation of God, because it is the adoration of his Name. Therefore, acceptable worship is impossible without preaching. For preaching is making known the Name of the Lord, and worship is praising the Name of the Lord made known. Far from being an alien intrusion into worship, the reading and preaching of the Word are actually indispensable to it. The two cannot be divorced. Indeed, it is their unnatural divorce which accounts for the low level of so much contemporary worship. Our worship is poor because our knowledge of God is poor, and our knowledge of God is poor because our preaching is poor. But when the Word of God is expounded to its fullness, and the congregation begins to glimpse the glory of the living God, they bow down in solemn awe and joyful wonder before his throne, It is preaching which accomplishes this, the proclamation of the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit of God. That is why preaching is unique and irreplaceable."
- From "I Believe in Preaching" London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1982), p. 82

Teaching historical and sound doctrine should be the passion of every church. A generation has arisen that seeks answers. And real answers are not found in a cursory understanding of God’s Word. Yet a generation has arisen that does not grasp simple Biblical concepts. A generation has arisen that has not been taught sound doctrine. A generation has arisen that cannot even sit still long enough to hear and listen to a sermon or Bible lesson and when they do, they hear topical sermons that with only a glance into God’s Word for a simple answers to complex contemporary issues. This produces superficial Christians who are no better than the world we are instructed to “go into.” (Matthew 28:19)

Defining Expository Preaching
Let me define expository preaching: Expository preaching is a kind of preaching that expounds upon the meaning of a particular text or passage of Scripture. It gives full meaning -- in context -- to what God's Word actually says and what it actually means. The defining characteristic of expository preaching is that it does not dwell on non-biblical examples. It does not focus on stories, jokes and anecdotes. Instead, it seeks to stay focused on Biblical text. In other words, expository preaching brings God's Word alive! It applies God's Word to today! And because every word of Scripture is God-breathed, expository preaching is the only avenue by which we really know God's heart. Don't you want to know all about Him?! Or do you prefer an out-of-context-soundbites understanding of the creator of the universe?

Let me make a comparison: I am homeschooling my children. At this point, they understand basic math: 1+1=2, 2+2=4, 4-1=3. I would not attempt at this point -- and no teacher begins -- teaching math by explaining long division or calculus. You need to understand the "whole counsel" of math beginning with counting to ten before you can solve quadratic equations.

In the same way, you cannot understand perplexing difficulties in your life or your children's lives or the life of your church if you simply open your Bible to one passage and rely solely upon it to address and solve the problem. Yet we do this all the time! We take pieces of Scripture -- out of both textural and historical context -- and attempt apply it to our lives and circumstances and we wonder why God doesn't bless us. Christians need the whole counsel of God's Word.

Studies prove that most "Christians" do not read their Bibles. To say that Bible illiteracy is rampant in America is black eye for a nation that thinks of itself as Christian. Sixty-five percent of Americans agree that the Bible "answers all or most of the basic questions of life." Amazingly, 28% of Americans who believe the Bible “answers all or most of the basic questions of life” say they rarely or never read the Bible. Therein lies the problem. An even smaller number actually study the Bible. The percentage of frequent readers, those who read the Bible at least once a week, has decreased from 40% in 1990 to 37% today. Only one American in seven reports an involvement with the Bible that goes beyond reading it (The Gallup Organization, October 20, 2000). These statistics are nearly a decade old! You know that they can only have gotten worse in the society in which we live.

So they're getting fed in church. Right? Think again. Most church members frown on the idea of studying the Bible in depth. Contact any church and ask about the attendance at its mid-week Bible Study. Or its Sunday evening service. It is a fact born of study and statistics that the majority of "Christians" in America prefer a feel-good-about-myself sermon about "God's Love" over an expository study of -- lets just choose . . . the Book of Romans or I Corinthians. And even then, the preaching should never come before or take precedence over the music/worship/drama portion of the Sunday morning church service.

The preaching in most churches is a secondary portion of the service when most people feel it's okay to leave either early or altogether. Yet -- for those who want the feel-good sermon about God's Love -- what a far more astounding understanding and grasp of "God's Love" when we understand the depths of ugly that He overlooked when bestowing such Love! The "Love of God" has profound and inexpressible meaning once you've read and fully understand the entire story! Have you ever read the book of Hosea in the context of a lesson on John 3:16? A good expository preacher has. If you have a good expository preacher, you have. The vast majority of Christians have not. And the vast majority of Christians don't care to read it either. They want sermons fed to them that make them feel good about themselves. They want sermons that do not offend anyone. They want a watered-down doctrine that does not confront or label or condemn. The sorry news for these people is that the Bible absolutely does confront and label and condemn.

Paul addressed this in II Timothy: "For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths." (II Timothy 4:3-4)

Here's what Martyn Lloyd Jones says about expository preaching: "One advantage in preaching through a book of the Bible… is that it compels us to face every single statement, come what may, and stand before it, and look at it, and allow it to speak to us. Indeed it is interesting to observe that not infrequently certain well-known Bible teachers never face certain Epistles at all in their expositions because there are difficulties which they are resolved to avoid."

e.g. Preaching Romans. . .
"Bible teachers never face certain Epistles at all in there expositions because there are difficulties which they are resolved to avoid." That's interesting. No wonder people are so Biblically illiterate. Pastors are afraid to preach God's Word! My own husband faced criticism when he preached from the Book of Romans. (Any surprises here?) Sadly -- so sadly -- people just didn't want to hear what Roman's had to say to them. Romans is but one example. And denominational boundries and theological differences are illigitimate arguments when people are unhappy over Scripturally-based preaching. When a body of belivers is confronted with the Truth of Scripture, troublemakers always rise to the surface. It's an old preachers' saying that "when you throw out the Word of God, the ones who 'yip' are the ones that got hit." Whether you're Methodist or Baptist or Lutheran -- Calvinist or Armenian, God's Word is God's Word. Truth is Truth -- and but for a few churches which could be categorized as cults, the entire Bible -- from Genesis to Revelation -- is still God's Word. (And "troublemakers" aren't so much troublemakers as they are blinded by satan to the Truth of God's Word.)

For Christians, an understanding of the Book of Romans is the crucial hinge on which Salvation rests: If you don't understand the book of Romans - you're not intellectually capable of understanding salvation. That's sounds more complicated and harsh than it is. And this is not to say you must sit and read vast passages of this Book everyday and study and research the original Greek meaning of every word in every passage. But. . . it is the very simple and elementary understanding that being human equals being full of sin, that makes the entire plan of salvation even necessary. How can you be saved, if you don't know what you are being saved from? But people don't want to hear about sin. Most pastors who've been preaching for a while will tell you that it is easier to reach an un-churched and completely biblically illiterate sinner on the street with the message of salvation than it is to reach the religious sinner sitting in a pew with a fifth-grade knowledge of Scripture. Maybe because sin is embodied in many activities which are practiced so readily in churches: envy, strife, deceit, malice, gossip, slander, insolence, arrogance, pride. Romans tells us that people invent ways of doing evil, that they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. (Romans 1:29-31)

Maybe its the gossip or envy part people don't like because they're engaged it . . . For whatever reason, something just hits too close to home and people get uncomfortable -- then they get angry -- then they gossip more -- then they begin to feel arrogant and heartless -- then they begin to slander -- and then they begin to invent ways of doing evil -- and before you know it, the preacher has created strife in the church. If the pastor just wouldn't preach from the Bible - none of this would happen.

Feel Good Sermons
"I fear that sometimes people in our church. . . want to be flattered more than they want to hear the truth. When you go to the doctor, do you just want a good report so you feel good when going home or do you want the truth?"

-- Mark Dever, Capital Hill Baptist Church, Feb 26, 2008, Southeastern Seminary Chapel

"The early church was met with persecution. Modern churches are met with a yawn."

-- Frank Page, SBC President and pastor of Taylors First Baptist, Taylors, SC, Feb 12, Southeastern Chapel

Modern day church-goers simply don't want to hear anything negative. My father (a pastor) was reprimanded once by a woman after he preached a sermon about hell! She thought it was wrong for a pastor to be so negative. Quite honestly, there's more negative in God's Word than there is positive when it comes to the human condition. And -- news alert! . . hell is real!

If pastors have to avoid expository preaching because -- as Martyn Lloyd Jones puts it -- "there are difficulties which they are resolved to avoid," what does that say about the future of the church? If pastors are having to water-down their messages to keep church attendance up, what does that say about the future of that rising generation with all the questions -- those in their teens and twenties who have little or no grounding in the Truth? And what happens when members of this rising generation are put into positions of leadership? It is a sad realization and a sad fact that pastors and ministries everywhere are attacked when the full Truth of God's Word is preached. As a result, ministries are abandoned, pastors leave the ministry, leaders and teachers leave churches. And in many cases, God's Word is compromised -- a divine calling ignored -- and a pastor caters to church members who want "Love of God" sermons to the exclusion of the other 90% of Scripture that might actually bring about revival and change in the church.

And How Does This Apply to Me?
"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." (II Timothy 3:16-17)

Sounds like the role of the church is to equip us. Yes, there is room for worship... Worship is scripturally based, however, churches should not be so concerned about drawing crowds with -- or losing people because of -- a certain type of worship style: Contemporary, Classical, Heritage, Hymns. . . you know what I'm talking about. Google "Worship Wars," and see what I mean. (The worship wars are for another time and another post.)

If you're in ministry: Preach the Word! "Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction." II Timothy 4:2.

If you're a church member: tell your pastor you'd like to hear more expository preaching.

If you're looking for a church: ask if the pastor preaches topically or expositionally.

If you're more into the worship part of Sunday morning than you are the preaching: re-read the entire post!

Acceptable worship is impossible without preaching. The two cannot be divorced. Indeed, it is their unnatural divorce which accounts for the low level of so much contemporary worship. Our worship is poor because our knowledge of God is poor, and our knowledge of God is poor because our preaching is poor. But when the Word of God is expounded to its fullness, and the congregation begins to glimpse the glory of the living God!

- Esthermay Bentley-Goossen