Christians, Fulfill Your Role as Priests of God

By Dr. Josh Wilson

On Friday, March 13th, President Trump took to Twitter to declare Sunday, March 15th, as a National Day of Prayer, asking that the citizens of this nation call upon God for protection and strength in times like these where we are dealing with the threat of the coronavirus (COVID-19). For us who are followers of the only living and true God, this was and still is an opportunity for us to fulfill our role as Priests to and for all the nations of the earth. So what exactly does that mean and how do we do it?

To begin, the Bible makes it clear time and again that the people of God also function as the priests of God. This concept is communicated early in the Old Testament in Exodus 19:6 where God says to the Israelites, “and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Later in the Old Testament the prophet Isaiah writes in 61:5-6, “Strangers shall stand and tend your flocks; foreigners shall be your plowmen and vinedressers; but you shall be called the priests of the LORD; they shall speak of you as the ministers of our God.” This same concept is then communicated again in the New Testament. Twice in 1 Peter 2, the apostle writes that believers are a priesthood, holy and royal. Thrice in the book of the Revelation (1:6; 5:10; 20:6) believers are said to be a kingdom and priests to God who reign over the earth with Christ. Thus, we, the people of God, are priests of the God Most High.

According to the Old Testament, however, those who functioned as priests had to possess certain traits in order to even serve in that role. First, they had to be a Hebrew male. Second, they had to be from the tribe of Levi. Third, they had to be in good physical condition. Last, if they were seeking the office of High Priest, they had to be a descendant of Aaron, the first High Priest. How then do we, who for the most part do not possess any of these traits, qualify as priests of God? The simple, yet profoundly deep, explanation of how we are even qualified to be priests is that we are in union with Christ.

According to the New Testament, Jesus Christ is our High Priest, but not as a descendant of Aaron. Instead, Jesus was made a High Priest by God after the order of Melchizedek (Heb 5:5-10), which means that His priesthood is greater than any other Hebrew who ever held this office as a descendant of Aaron (Heb 7). Christ’s priesthood is greater not only with respect to His order, but also with respect to His work. His one-time sacrifice of Himself satisfied God’s divine justice and reconciled us to God once and for all (Heb 7:27; 10:12-14). Furthermore, because of His immortality He is always making intercession for us at the right hand of the Father (Heb 7:23-25).

Believers then, being united to Christ, partake of all His blessings (e.g. Eph 1:3) and participate in all of His works (c.f. Gen 3:15 with Rom 16:20). This is a deep mystery and one in which volumes more could be written. However, for the purpose of this article, let us simply understand that our union with Christ qualifies us to be priests of God. So how then do we fulfill our role as priests?

Briefly examining the office of the priesthood in the Old Testament helps us to understand how to fulfill our role as priests. One of the great responsibilities of the priests in the Old Testament was to come before God in the tabernacle on behalf of and for the benefit of the people. This responsibility was communicated symbolically through the shoulder and breast pieces that were worn upon the priestly ephod (see Exod 28:6-29). These two pieces, worn by the High Priest, had the names of the twelve tribes of Israel inscribed on them. Thus, the High Priest would come before God bearing upon himself the names of the people, making sacrifices and prayers to God for their sake.

Exodus 28:12   12 And you shall set the two stones on the shoulder pieces of the ephod, as stones of remembrance for the sons of Israel. And Aaron shall bear their names before the LORD on his two shoulders for remembrance.

Exodus 28:29 So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment on his heart, when he goes into the Holy Place, to bring them to regular remembrance before the LORD.

However, not only would the priests come before God on behalf of the people, they would also minister to the people on behalf of God. They would do so by pronouncing God’s blessings upon them and by giving them knowledge and instruction from God through the Law.

Numbers 6:22-27   22 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying,  23 “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,  24 The LORD bless you and keep you;  25 the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;  26 the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.  27 “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”

Malachi 2:7   7 For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts.

In this way the priests functioned as mediators, coming on behalf of the people before God and coming on behalf of God to the people. It is not surprising then that Christ, the Great High Priest, is called the only true mediator between God and man (1 Tim 2:5) because He is both God and man in one person forever. However, let us not forget that because we are in union with Christ, we too partake in His mediating work, and so we, too, function as priestly mediators between man and God.

Thus, in one sense, God has made us His priests, through Jesus Christ, for the benefit of all the nations of the earth (see again Isa 61:5-6) so that we might bring the nations before God and bring God to the nations. Since we are priests representing the nations before God, God instructs His people in Jeremiah 29:7 to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” Since we are priests representing God to the nations, Paul says of God’s people in 2 Corinthians 5:20, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

Since, therefore we are priests of God, highly favored by Him through our union with Christ, let us fulfill our role as priests by approaching the Throne of Grace on behalf of the nations. Let us intercede for those who are sick. Let us intercede for the heads of state who are dealing with this crisis. Let us intercede for the people in our communities such as our healthcare workers, our first responders, our workers who are continuing to provide essential goods and services (truck drivers, grocery store workers, garbage collectors, etc.). Let us intercede on behalf of  those who will not be able to work for the next couple of weeks. Let us lift up to God the economic impact that people all over this world are going to be dealing with in the aftermath. Let us ask God that in His mercy He would bring an end to these times. Let us also ask God that in His grace, He would save those who are living separated from Christ and under His condemnation.

And let us also fulfill our role as priests by going before all the nations of the earth on behalf of God (see again 2 Cor 5:20). God in His mercy uses times such as these to remind people of their frailty, that they are but dust, and so He turns the attentions of their hearts to things eternal. With the Law in hand, let us call them to repent of their wickedness and rebellion to God. Through the power and proclamation of the Gospel, let us call them to surrender to the reign and rule of Christ. Let us hold forth to them Christ as the only object of faith and the only perfect savior and refuge in times like these.

Christians, many of you will have much time on your hands in the days ahead. I want to exhort you to make the best use of it because the days are evil. Do so by fulfilling your role as priests of God Most High.

Josh Wilson is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Park Hills, MO and is a professor of Bible at Missouri Baptist University and Old Testament at IRBS Theological Seminary. He is a part of the leadership team for Founders Midwest and has been a speaker at the Founders Midwest Conference. If you would like more information about Founders Midwest and the annual conference, be sure to check out our Facebook page or visit our website for more information.

Submission to Christ’s Word: A Sign of Christian Discipleship

By Dr. John Greever

Battle for the Bible:  In every generation the battle for the Bible rages.  The battle has different moods, tones, and contexts, but make no mistake…the devil fights against the Bible and Bible-believing people in every generation.  This battle will not end until Jesus Christ comes back.  This is the environment in which Satan opposes God and the gospel in human history.

Accurate Biblical Knowledge and Submission to God:  A vital component in this battle is “true knowledge of and submission to God’s Word, the Bible.”  What I mean by this is that a Christian in discipleship seeks to submit himself to Christ by submitting himself to the Word of God.  We show our obedience to Christ by being obedient to the Word of God.  Obedience to the Word of God (the Scriptures) means submitting to Christ by and through obedience to the Word of God.  The ingredients required for such obedient submission is true knowledge of the Word of God, a love for Christ that motivates us to obey, and the seeking of the glory of God through obedience.  True knowledge comes from the combination of a proper interpretive approach and a regenerate heart.  These are absolute necessities for rightly understanding the Bible and applying it to life.

Twisted Approach:  The contextual challenge today in the evangelical church involves a reversal of biblical pursuit.  Too often today people read about, think about, and embrace human thought and experience, and then they run to the Bible to see if this human idea and perspective is consistent with the Scriptures.  If this is the model of obedience, then it will ALWAYS lead to disobedience through deception.  The core difficulty in this model is that we begin with human perception rather than God’s Word.  Even if we compare ideas with Scripture, the center of concern in this model is with human thinking and feeling about things.  This leads to twisting the Scripture in order to make the human idea FIT into the biblical model.  This is often garbed in the idea that our human context is the meaningful determinative factor for finding true meaning in the Scripture.  This is tragic!  The Scripture ends up being totally different than what God intended because it is being used as a validation for human thought. This is not what being biblical is about.

Start with the Bible:  The correct approach of biblical discipleship and obedience to Christ is (and has ALWAYS BEEN) starting with the Scripture, and then applying the Scripture to human thought and life experience.  This is akin to using the Scripture as a searchlight that helps us see things in the dark by the light of truth.  In this way we are able to progress obediently, because we have the Scripture as our base, and we see other ideas and things through the biblical lens.  We should never start with anecdotal stories that seek to establish human ethics and moral standards, nor should we seek to build our Christian lives and work on the teaching and ideologies of human thinkers, especially human utopian and human-centered messianic thinkers.  We should seek as Christians to conform our thoughts, our viewpoints, our convictions, and our lives to Christ by obeying the clear, consistent, and certain teaching of the Scriptures.

Charles Spurgeon said something that really helps in this regard.  He wrote, “Always stand to it that your creed must bend to the Bible, and not the Bible to your 
creed, and dare to be a little inconsistent with yourselves, if need be, sooner than be 
inconsistent with God’s revealed truth. 
If your creed and Scripture do not agree, cut your creed to pieces, but make it agree with this book. If there be anything in the church to which you belong which is contrary to the inspired Word, leave that church.”

Jesus makes this point plain in His teaching.  He said in His high priestly prayer to the Father, “Sanctify them (His disciples) in truth; Your Word, O Lord, is truth (John 17:17).”  The Word of God, His truth, will set us apart from the world, and this is a good thing!  We are to be separated from the world by conforming to God’s truth, the Scriptures.  In this way, Christians will be non-conformists to the world.  This means that separation from the world and holy conformity go together.  Jesus strongly connects our discipleship with obedience to the Word of God, the Scriptures, in Luke 6:46, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord’, and do not DO WHAT I SAY?”  Our faithfulness to Christ is seen in our obedience to Christ, no matter what others do or believe.

Thoughts for Consideration:  So, how might we seek to be more obedient in the Scriptures in our Christian discipleship, and how might this affect our connection to the world?

  • Stop trying to be “cool” and “relevant”, conforming to the culture.  No one was ever saved because they thought Christians were cool and relevant.  This is nothing more than conforming to the culture’s way of thinking. 
  • Stop forming ethical frameworks and moral standards by unverified anecdotal “evidence.”  I hear Christians state beliefs and convictions based on what they have heard is “going on.”  There are so many ways that stories can be twisted.  Never form opinions based on what you have heard.  This is also true of historical research.  Histories are often written with prejudice and bias preloaded in the historical record.  History can only be truly understood when objective analysis occurs from all primary sources.  We must learn again how to “test all things, and hold fast to what is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21).”  We are losing quickly the ability and the freedom to put things to the test.  We must never give in on this.  The Scripture tests all things, not the other way around.  The light of Scripture shows the quirkiness and mistakes of human thinking.  Human thinking can never be authoritative for the Christian outside of biblical teaching.  Even as we now feel the pressure to not talk about certain things, the courageous Christian will test all things by the Bible.
  • Stop looking for biblical support for human ideologies.  The problem with this is that it is the exact opposite of what God requires of us as His disciples.  We must study the Bible using the Bible as our measurement for all ideas.  Any moral idea that is not taught in Scripture must be discarded from moral and doctrinal standards in the church.  The only instrument that has divine authority to bind the human conscience is the Scripture.

Let us learn to define and characterize Christian discipleship with obedience to Christ’s teaching by submitting ourselves to the Bible and its truth.  Only then will Christians be safe from succumbing to human thought and unbiblical guidance.  Are we as Christians willing to conform our doctrinal beliefs and moral convictions to the teaching of the Holy Scriptures?  Are we while seeking to conform to the Scriptures also willing to be non-conformists to the world’s beliefs and standards?  This is the critical question of Christian discipleship in this world.  Only as we return to the Bible as our authoritative teacher, guide, and compass will we demonstrate true discipleship to Christ.  Let us remember that every falsehood in the church began by neglecting or denying the Scripture, as God’s inerrant, authoritative, and all-sufficient revelation.

John Greever is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Fenton, MO and is a former professor of Bible at Missouri Baptist University . He is a part of the leadership team of Founders Midwest and has been a speaker at the Founders Midwest Conference on numerous occasions. If you would like to attend the upcoming Founders Midwest Conference be sure to check out our Facebook page or visit our website for more information.

The Marker of Scriptural Sufficiency

By Dr. John Greever

Is there a marker in the lives of Christians and Christian leaders that indicates we believe in and follow Scriptural sufficiency – that the Scripture is all-sufficient in matters of faith and Christian living?  What I mean by this is:  Is there a point in our lives whereby we are able to detect (and other watchers can detect) whether or not we believe in Scriptural sufficiency?  I believe there is, and we need to think about this today.  There are several items that we must consider as we think about this.

First, I want to say that this issue, Scriptural sufficiency, is THE PRIMARY ISSUE of our evangelical generation!  Nothing else equals it, and everything else depends upon it.  We have had the battle for the Bible since the last half of the twentieth-century, and many of us falsely believed that the issue was settled in the church.  But this is far from true.  The battle continues now in a different form, but it is the SAME BATTLE!  The battle for Scriptural sufficiency IS the BATTLE FOR THE BIBLE!  And, just like before, the Bible is foundational to everything else, including Christian doctrine, Christian worldview thinking, and the gospel itself.  Everything is at stake!

Second, this is not a new problem.  The New Testament addresses the internal dangers in the church regarding this issue.  Read what Paul says to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20, or read what Paul says to the young pastor, Timothy, in 1 Timothy 3 and 2 Timothy 3 and 4.  Read John’s warnings to the church in his first epistle about the internal dangers in the church, or read Jude’s warnings in that small but vital book concerning false brethren who crept into the church unawares.  There is nothing new here, but it feels new to many of us; something different seems to be going on.  This new threat feels deceptively compelling and forcefully coercive.

Third, there is a common thread to all threats to God’s Word – the Bible.  Even though these threats differentiate from each other in some ways, there is one continual commonality – a refusal to listen to God’s Word as THE ONE AND ONLY AUTHORITATIVE truth of God, the only revelation from God to people concerning all matters of faith and practice.  The problem is (especially in today’s evangelical circles) this new threat is soaked in deception, so much so that many leaders thought to be orthodox are caving in.  As I have often thought, the problem with deception is that it is SO DECEIVING!  And, the deception is contagious; it is passed from person to person, group to group, in such a compelling form that any dissent from the newly formed narrative or even to question the so called ‘new orthodoxy’ view is automatically squashed as imbecility and totally unacceptable, deserving the worst indignation and punishment.

Fourth, the modern version of the threat to Scriptural sufficiency especially in evangelical deception is augmented and made profoundly impactful by leveraging power against the truth; those who hold to this deception do so through a pervasive PRAGMATISM that has become intrinsic in the modern evangelical DNA.  Most don’t even question pragmatism anymore, and most assume it as the one presupposition that forms the basis of every thing else.  Pragmatism has become the measuring rod for everything, even substituting for the truth.  This is especially true when many interpret the highest good to be preserving evangelical institutions and organizations, even if such conceptions lead down a road of disobedience to the truth. Thus, compromise is fitting and normal in such cases.  This is the fertile ground in which accommodation occurs and Scriptural sufficiency is often sacrificed on the altar of pragmatic concerns.  This is THE context against biblical obedience and faithfulness in our day!

Fifth, let us return to the main point:  Is there a place or a marker to show whether or not we truly believe in Scriptural sufficiency?  Yes, there is!  What is it!  Jesus answers this question in John 8:31,47 “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples…Whoever is of God hears the words of God.  The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”  This is why Jude 4 says that certain people creep into the church causing it much harm.  These are ungodly people turning God’s grace into licentiousness.  This is why Paul says in Acts 20:30 that men like wolves will attack the church; these are men from the very circles of these pastor elders, men who once seemed to hold to the gospel and the truth.  What causes such apostasy?  What causes such back peddling?  It is this:  When the pressure grows so much that to obey the Lord in the truth will cause great risk, then many will sacrifice whatever beliefs necessary to avoid perceived loss of status, money, position, and power.  A true follower of Christ abides in the Word, in the truth of the Word, even if it costs him!  This is the marker of the faithful.

We just celebrated Reformation Sunday in October.  We recalled the Reformers who, through great risk of their positions, power, and even their lives, stood for the truth.  We are in need today of a new Reformation, a new and bold stand for the truth against the rising pressure of conformity and capitulation to paganism and disobedience.  May we be numbered among those who say with Martin Luther:  “My conscience is captive to the Word of God.  Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason…I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.  Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.  So help me God.”  May God’s Word capture our hearts and minds to the degree that we will be faithful to it, and may we stand faithfully, wisely, lovingly, and unerringly with the truth of the Scripture regardless of how unpopular those views are.  All is at risk in this matter.  Let us not fail, and may God give us grace to be strong.

John Greever is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Fenton, MO and is a former professor of Bible at Missouri Baptist University . He is a part of the leadership team of Founders Midwest and has been a speaker at the Founders Midwest Conference on numerous occasions. If you would like to attend the upcoming Founders Midwest Conference be sure to check out our Facebook page or visit our website for more information.



Steadfastness in Ministry

By Dr. Robert Curtis

I was reminded by a preacher friend a few years ago that “ministry is not for the faint of heart.” Those words are so true. Ministry and life in general can be challenging. We are confronted with blessings and burdens, sometimes within minutes of each other. Those who minister are looked upon as being examples, sometimes with a mindset by others that our lives are perfect, that we always have everything in place spiritually, financially, physically, and emotionally. The truth is that all ministers and people in general, are still sinners saved by grace, imperfect vessels, people who need to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ (2 Peter 3:18). 

How are we to remain “steadfast” throughout life no matter what? How are we not to “lose heart” at times? While many scriptures are relevant, I want to focus on Hebrews 12:1-3. In this passage, we are reminded that we have many examples of those who were anchored by bible faith (see Hebrews 11). The writer reminds us that we have a “great cloud of witnesses (a group who attest to the truth of the matter) surrounding us…” (12:1) Here, the writer lays out the difference between our Position in Christ (Union with Christ) and our practice (Communion with Christ) in life. While our union with Christ is perfect and permanent, and while it is our stability in life,  our communion with Christ can fluctuate, depending on how we respond to the circumstances that confront us. He calls us to “run with endurance…” The truth of the matter is that we are responsible for how we “run the race.” We must look at that “encumbrance” or that “sin that so easily entangles (encircles) us” and actively and intentionally, “lay it aside.” While His “divine power has granted us everything pertaining to life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who has called us by His own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3), we must apply that “divine power” in our daily lives. How do we do so? Let me offer some suggestions:

  1. We must keep  our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2) That means that He must be our daily fixation. He must be the focal point of our pleasure, our desire, our purpose. John Piper has said it best, “God is most glorified in us (which is our purpose in life [Isaiah 43:7, 1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17]) when we are most satisfied in Him.” This will be the primary way in which we will not “grow weary” or “lose heart.” 
  2. We must be people who pray. (Luke 18:1) When we pray, we are expressing our total dependence upon Him. Robert Murray M’Cheyne put it this way: What a man is on his knees before God, that he is, and nothing more.” 
  3. We must continually remind ourselves that we are the recipients of His “mercy” 2 Corinthians 4:1). This will keep us from “losing heart” (losing our courage to press on) in life and in ministry. 
  4. We must rely on His daily grace. By doing so, we live “above our circumstances;” we are delivered from worry and anxiety (Matthew 6:34, 2 Corinthians 12:9-10))
  5. We must live our lives anchored in biblical hope. (Hebrews 6:19) A number of years ago, I heard Dr. Tom Elliff give a definition of biblical hope that has stayed with me and guided me in the best and in the worst of times. He said the following: “Biblical hope is the confident assurance that what God has promised, God will do.” That definition encourages me to go hard for God as it shows that His promises of provision and protection are true. It causes me to guard my life as well in that He will “discipline those that He loves” and that means He will judge sin in my life as well. 

The apostle Paul reminds us to be “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.”  (1 Corinthians 15:58). If you are in Christ, you will endure (John 10:28-30; Romans 8:35-39). I encourage you to memorize and practice Proverbs 3:5-6. Trust Him with all of your heart. Trust Him when you don’t understand what is happening. Seek to make Him your priority in life and for life. Trust Him to direct your steps and your decisions. Do not lose heart. You belong to Him. As Dr. Charles Stanley has said, “Disappointments are inevitable. Discouragement is a choice.” Friend, realize that disappointments will come, no matter how closely you walk with God. But also remember that by God’s grace and for God’s glory, you don’t have to become discouraged or lose heart. God bless you. Keep pressing on. Remember, as you seek to obey Him daily, that “it is God who is at work in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13). Rest in that truth. Rejoice in that truth. Live in the sphere of that truth.

Bob Curtis is the pastor of New Prospect Baptist Church in Olive Branch, Mississippi and will be speaking at the Founders Midwest Conference 2020 in St. Louis, MO. If you would like to attend the Southern Baptist Founders Conference Midwest and hear Dr. Curtis speak be sure to check out our Facebook page or visit our website for more information.

Worshiping in Spirit and in Truth: Preaching of the Word

By John Wright

Nehemiah 8:7-8 “Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.” (ESV)

1 Timothy 4:13 “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” (ESV)

2 Timothy 4:1-2 “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (ESV)

In this post from the series on worship we will be exploring the role of preaching within worship. This connects very well to our last post on the public reading of Scripture. However, preaching has for most of the last century been a disliked element of worship by many Christians. There are likely two reasons behind this. The first is that preaching for most of the last century has been dull and shallow. In an effort to be more relevant to the age in which the preaching occurs, the actual relevance of the preaching has been missed. The second reason is that for most of the last century many professing Christians were either stunted or false converts. To the heart of God’s children, preaching of the Word of God should produce a great stirring. 

Why does preaching occupy a place in worship? What purpose does it serve? In this post, we will explore the purpose of preaching in the church and the hallmarks of good preaching.

1. Preaching Unveils the Eternal Truths in Scripture

In our passage above from Nehemiah 8, the returned exiles had already heard Ezra read from the Book of the Law. An explanation was necessary for them to understand the full truth of what they heard. The Levites fulfilled this role. Often the meaning of a text may run deeper than appears. Some passages are just by nature difficult to understand. Others are simple, but our distance from the original historical, geographic, cultural, and linguistic setting of the text makes its full meaning less accessible. This is one of the chief functions of a preacher. He should explore the deeper meaning of the text by careful methodology and discernment. 

The Second London Confession of 1689 rightly says that the meaning of Scripture “is not manifold, but one.” John Calvin said, “Scripture has one meaning or it has no meaning at all.” This is in response to the traditional Medieval approach to biblical interpretation in which each passage was believed to have multiple layers of meaning. A preacher must make the singular meaning of a text known to his congregation. If a passage is difficult to understand, search elsewhere in Scripture for sound interpretation. Is there an aspect that is foreign to modern ears? It must be explained. If a passage is to be interpreted figuratively or literally, make it clear which it is and what justification there is for the interpretation choice. All of this is the role of preaching. By this, the Holy Spirit illumines the congregation to a sound understanding of God’s Holy Word.

2. Preaching Illustrates Right Application

While discussions of the particulars of theology are enjoyable in their own right, knowing biblical truth and not applying it is foolish. James 1:22-25 exhorts us to be doers of the Word of God and not merely hearers only. This is the second key aspect of preaching. It encourages application of a passage of Scripture. That being said, good preaching links the application directly to the sound interpretation, or as I sometimes say, “Hermeneutics proceed homiletics.” 

An example of bad application could be a case like the narrative of David and Goliath. Often, the exhortation is for hearers to be like David and stand up to their giants. The text can be overly spiritualized to make the five smooth stones be five specific actions or spiritual disciplines. The error is to turn a descriptive text into a prescriptive text. We are not called to stand up to a giant. We are called to follow Christ. A better application would be to point to David as a foreshadowing of Christ. David defeats an enemy of the living God just as Christ defeats the enemies of the living God. If we are to be inserted into the story, we are the bystanders of Israel. Our champion has already one the battle. We enjoy the victory.

3. Preaching Points Us to the Kingdom

Preaching is in many ways the heralding of the coming of the Kingdom of God. It should proclaim the sinfulness of man and the judgment that follows that rebellion. It should proclaim the holiness of God and His intolerance for sin. It should proclaim the excellencies of the Incarnation, the cross, and the empty tomb. It should proclaim the return of the Lord. It should proclaim the offer of Christ that we may have peace with God and come under His reign. This is duty of a herald. As such, the Gospel becomes essential to the heart of the sermon.

In light of this, it is important to know that not every element of the Gospel may be proclaimed in every sermon. However, every sermon should contain an element of the Gospel. This is easier than it sounds because of the role of the Gospel as the central thread of Scripture. Every book points to Christ whether in a prophecy, typology, or appearance. 

Some sermons may point to a life lived in light of Gospel. The Epistles and the Law are both useful to show how to live a life of holiness in thanksgiving to the work of Christ and obedience to His lordship. Also, while narrative passages can be used incorrectly, they can still give insight into how a life should be lived. Abraham’s use of deceit in Egypt and Gerar are still good illustrations of the consequences of being untruthful. On the other hand, David’s repentance after the exposure of his sin with Bathsheba is a potent example of how we should respond to the conviction of sin.

4. Preaching Reveals What Matters to a Church

If you really want to know what is important in a church, look at the placement of the sermon and the content of the sermon. In most mainline denominations, the sermon is put in a place of minimal importance within the liturgy. It may be at most 20 minutes in length, and it will often deal far more with the feelings and experiences of the preacher and the congregation than it will on the text of the Bible. What matters to a church in this mold is the opinion of culture rather than the truth of God. Emphasis is placed on compassion to the exclusion of holiness. 

On the other hand in the large stage of American Evangelicalism, preaching is often seen as secondary in worship to the singing. When the sermon finally does come, it is all application without any interpretation. You can easily learn how to better parent your children or manage your money. However, this will no doubt draw from examples from the latest book rather than from Scripture. A whole sermon may focus on one verse taken out of context or perhaps even a popular song or movie. The difference between this approach to Christianity and the previous is actually very small. The first wanted to win the approval of culture. The second uses the tools of the culture to pursue the idol of church growth. 

While the commitment to biblical preaching is small, it does appear to be growing. In a church that legitimately cares about what God says more than culture’s whims, the preaching will be central to the service. The sermon will take as long as it needs to completely understand the point of the text. The focus will be the truth of Scripture and living a life in light of what God says rather than what culture dictates. At times it will bring joy, anger, sorrow, and conviction. It will draw on the whole counsel of God and unapologetically point to Jesus Christ as the exclusive Savior.

5. What If My Church Doesn’t Do These Things?

The quality and philosophy of preaching should rank really high in deciding on a church home. That being said, different qualities of bad preaching exist and should raise different degrees of warning. If the preaching in your church does not reference the Bible at all, contradicts sound biblical teaching, or routinely preaches on verses taken out of context, you probably want to consider finding a new church home. These are what I would call red flags. If the preaching is biblical but not necessarily expository, it might merit a conversation with the pastor. You could give a book on the topic to your pastor for pastor appreciation month. This is what I would call a yellow flag. I will avoid using the slippery slope argument, but I can tell from experience that this kind of preaching can lead to red flag preaching pretty easily. 

Lastly, encourage whoever preaches at your church. If they are preaching expository sermons, they are most likely laboring in the Word every week for the good of your soul. Too often, pastors and elders only hear criticism. They need to hear encouragement as well. Pray for them often. Make sure that they get rest.

Hopefully, this has illustrated how preaching is a central part of worship. Remember, when you listen to a sermon you are worshiping God. Let your attitude reflect that truth. As we continue through our series on worship, we will next encounter the role of prayer within the worship service.

Orginally posted at 500semperreformanda.wordpress.com on October 3, 2019

John Wright is a professor of Math and Biology at Mineral Area College and is an elder candidate at First Baptist Church in Park Hills, MO. He is also a guest blogger for the Founders Midwest website. If you would like to attend the Southern Baptist Founders Conference Midwest, be sure to check out our Facebook page or visit our website for more information.

The Pastor as Theologian

By Dr. Owen Strachan

Today, it’s common for church folk to be scared of theology. You can’t really blame them. They have heard that theology accounts for division and disunity. Many people have not heard a pastor preach theologically (at least not consciously so), and so they feel their spider-sense tingling if the preacher gets too doctrinal. They start twitching. Uh oh—now we’re moving out of the “practical.” That’s not good! We’re verging into the theoretical, the abstract, the deep stuff. They yearn for the preacher to return to life tips, folksy stories, and inspiring appeals.

Many people have a version of this reaction to theology because they have never had an opportunity to develop their homiletical palate. We do not heap scorn on them; we feel compassion for them. After all, they have been fed a diet of milk, not a diet of meat (Heb. 5:11-14). But we should not rest easy with this situation. We should seek to change it. In what follows, I want to bring a different understanding of theology to the surface. I want to highlight the Puritan conception of theology. Today, the Puritans are bad guys, but this is far from a fair characterization of them. The Puritans were zealous for God, yearned to be wise unto God, and preached the doctrines of God without reserve and without hesitation. As I cover in The Pastor as Public Theologian (co-written with Kevin Vanhoozer), and as I’ll make plain in the 2019 Founders Midwest conference, we need to recover the model of the pastor-theologian. This was the Puritans’ model; it should be ours today.

The Puritans defined theology in churchly terms. For William Ames, author of the classic Puritan theology manual Medulla Theologiae, “The Marrow of Theology,” defined theology itself as “the doctrine of living to God.” Ames argued in his book that “since the highest kind of life for a human being is that which approaches most closely the living and life-giving God, the nature of theological life is living to God.”[1] In Ames’s construal, theology is for living. It is for the people of God, and designed so that they might flourish before God. It belongs to those who would live for Him, and know his will, and treasure his goodness. This is a pre-modern, pre-critical definition of theology that has much to commend it.

The Puritans loved theology, but they loved it in large part because it was fitted for life. Few of their ilk advocated for the practicality of biblical truth more than Richard Sibbes, the “Sweet Dropper” of Cambridge. Sibbes famously pictured the Christian as a “bruised reed” in fundamental need of Christ and his comfort:

The bruised reed is a man that for the most part is in some misery, as those were that came to Christ for help, and by misery he is brought to see sin as the cause of it, for, whatever pretences sin makes, they come to an end when we are bruised and broken.  He is sensible of sin and misery, even unto bruising; and, seeing no help in himself, is carried with restless desire to have supply from another, with some hope, which a little raises him out of himself to Christ, though he dare not claim any present interest of mercy.  This spark of hope being opposed by doubtings and fears rising from corruption makes him as smoking flax; so that both these together a bruised reed and smoking flax, make up the state of a poor distressed man.  This is such an one as our Saviour Christ terms ‘poor in spirit’, who sees his wants, and also sees himself indebted to divine justice.[2]

Because of this weakened condition, the believer needed the church, which Sibbes depicted as “a common hospital, wherein all are in some measure sick of some spiritual disease or other, so all have occasion to exercise the spirit of wisdom and meekness.”[3] In Sibbes’s hands, theology is essentially Christ-shaped comfort for a weary, needy, broken people.

We gain further appreciation for the rich connections made by the Puritans between theology and life in the ministry of Richard Baxter, the seventeenth-century catechist of Kidderminster. Baxter has passed into pastoral immortality for his unflagging efforts to train the 800 families in his congregation in the rudiments of biblical faith. For this reason, Baxter is often grouped as a “practical theologian.” But here again we glimpse the difficulty of this descriptor. Behind the Puritan’s prodigious program, after all, lay the settled conviction that the chief need of the church was theological instruction of such a kind that it produced a transformed heart.

In his classic work The Reformed Pastor, Baxter suggested that the members of the church needed to have things of eternal weight pressed into their souls by the their pastors, for

It is these fundamentals that must lead men to further truths; it is these they must build all upon; it is these that must actuate all their graces, and build all upon; it is these that must fortify them against temptations. He that knows not these, knows nothing; he that knows them well, doth know so much as will make him happy; and he that knows them best, is the best and most understanding Christian.[4]

Without biblical truth, Christians had nothing to “build all upon,” nothing to “fortify them against temptations.” Baxter believed there was a one-to-one relationship between knowledge and maturity.

The Puritans were not spotless shepherds. They had their foibles. Yet all their ministry was grounded in Scripture and the need, quite simply, to teach it and, in this respect, they represent a faithful model for modern pastor-theologians to follow. J. I. Packer, dean of Puritan scholars, has said of their scriptural interpretation that it shows they believed that “Scripture is a doctrinal book; it teaches us about God and created things in their relation to him.”[5] All the Bible was “theocentric,” meaning that Puritan pastors taught their people the “God-centred standpoint of Scripture.” This meant that “whereas fallen man sees himself as the centre of the universe, the Bible shows us God as central, and depicts all creatures, man included, in their proper perspective—as existing through God, and for God.”[6]

The Puritans, we see, took theological and intellectual dominion of the created order, setting themselves up as the chief interpreters of life and thought in this world. With the Lutheran and Reformed pastors of the Reformation period, they would have boggled at the suggestion that they, as pastors, were inadequate to act as theologians for their people. They might have asked, “Who else but the pastor is capable for these things?” For the Puritans, and for many thousands upon thousands of ministers in the church’s history, pastoral work was not an escape from theological work, but the call to instantiate truth in the life of the church.  For the Puritans, theology cannot be anything but public: the people of God living to God by living out God’s truth.

So may it be for us.

This work is adapted from The Pastor as Public Theologian and is used with permission.

Owen Strachan is an associate professor of Christian Theology and the Director of the Center for Public Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. A well-established writer, Dr. Strachan has published many books and articles. He regularly speaks for churches and conferences and will be a keynote speaker at the Founders Midwest Conference 2019 in St. Louis, MO. If you would like to attend the Founders Midwest Conference in 2019 and hear Dr. Strachan speak, be sure to visit our website to register or get more information. You can also find us on Facebook.


[1] William Ames, The Marrow of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997), 77.

[2] Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed, Puritan Paperbacks (Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1998), 3-4.

[3] Ibid, 34.

[4] Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor, Puritan Paperbacks (Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1974), 177.

[5] J. I. Packer, Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994), 102.

[6] Ibid, 103.

Aphorisms

By Dr. Tom J. Nettles

An aphorism is defined as “a brief statement of a truth, or principle.” It resembles a proverb. At its best, an aphorism is a maxim—an epitomized statement of truth arising from a worldview. Sometimes aphorisms are mere isolated statements coming from the observations of an individual and reflecting either his personal cynicism or his uninformed optimism about life. I have run across aphorisms from various viewpoints, reflecting diverse views of beginnings, present, purpose and end. One such approach comes from Baba Hari Dass, a Hindu philosopher who, among other works, wrote Fire Without Fuel: The  Aphorisms of Baba Hari Dass. It contains 124 aphorisms each accompanied by a brief text to explain how each aphorism fits the Hindu worldview. It has thirteen chapters beginning with “God and Creation” and ending with a series of aphorisms on “The Liberated One.” According to Baba, the world is a reflection of the divine, though the divine does not create it; all beings presently existing as finite will dissolve, somehow by their effort, into the Infinite and Absolute so that at the end there will be only one, for there cannot be two. All religions look toward the same end and the same god, but the doctrines impede our true knowledge of the Absolute and inhibit our dissolution. Many births and deaths may be required to attain the state of mind in which we no longer identify the body with the self. When that is achieved we find that our self is omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient, the qualities of god. One of Baba’s pungent aphorisms that point to this is “As soon as one knows one’s self, God will be known.”

Another book of aphorisms, written by E. M Cioran, also reflects much on birth and death and looks toward a different kind of nihilism as the only good. The book is tellingly entitled The Trouble With Being Born. Cioran has been called the “last worthy disciple of Nietzsche.” Like Baba Hari Dass, Cioran wants to forget his birth as having any significance; it is a testimony to utter futility and a path to overevaluating the independent self. Unlike Baba, he does not look for existence finally to be verified by dissolution into absolute bliss. Cioran gives no explanation for his aphorisms. Their only connection is that they all are distinct reflections on how everything is a testimony to absolute uselessness, nothingness, the sheer fatality of having been born. “To live is to lose ground.” “The more you live, the less useful it seems to have lived.” “Everything is wonderfully clear if we admit that birth is a disastrous or at least an inopportune event; but if we think otherwise, we must resign ourselves to the unintelligible, or else cheat like everyone else.” “Not to be born is undoubtedly the best plan of all. Unfortunately it is within no one’s reach.” He cites critically selected statements for a wide range of religious writers and finds a way to agree with what he deems their most useful insights. The “Madman Calvin” in his doctrine of predestination affirms that “We have already lived our life before we are born.” According to Cioran, Luther’s wisdom consists of recognizing that dreaming is not reality, but defecating in bed is. All the gods are gone for Cioran, so the detestability of existence, the nightmare of the self, makes the idea of wanting to have life after this one the worst of all possible philosophies and desires.

The Bible—the revelation of the truth of God, personal existence, redemption, and eternity—has its own aphorisms. These aphorisms, like all pungent, distilled statements, summarize important aspects of the overall view of truth, assuming its coherent argument as the background for its proper interpretation. “Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes” (Psalm 36:1). “The saying is trustworthy and deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). “For by the works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). The Christian has a coherent and comprehensive explanation of his life, God, evil, good, and eternity set forth in the demonstrably true revelation of Scripture. In it these “aphorisms” are connected in an infinitely glorious, truly hopeful, excruciatingly honest, and inexhaustibly relevant narrative. The Christian minster has the calling, thus the duty and the surpassing privilege of laying out the words of life that will put to flight such puzzling reductionism, hopeless nihilism, and irrational avoidance of present moral responsibility that warrants a final judgment. We must embrace the call with joy, trembling, and determination to “make the word of God fully known” (Colossians 1:25).

Tom J. Nettles is widely regarded as one of the foremost Baptist historians in America. He is the author and editor of numerous publications, and he has served as professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Southern Seminary, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary, and Mid-America Baptist Seminary. He is a board member of the national Founders Ministries, and will be the keynote speaker at the Founders Midwest Conference 2019 in St. Louis, MO. If you would like to attend the Founders Midwest Conference in 2019, be sure to check out our Facebook page or visit our website for more information.

The Sanity and Power of Christian Thankfulness

By Dr. John Greever

There are moments when ideas converge in lucidity in Christian holy contemplation, a convergence that explodes to touch every aspect of life.  In such moments, one wonders, “How in the world did I miss that before?”

The Unforgiving Forgiven Servant

I had a moment like that recently in thinking through the parable of Jesus recorded in Matthew 18:21-35.  I had been pondering the way Satan uses our narcissistic tendency to view everything through the lens of self-serving gratification.  Much goodness, marriages, families, and countless churches have been broken into oblivion over such matters.  Given the fact that I was thinking about this at Thanksgiving time made the point evermore pertinent.

I Forgive How Many Times?

It seems to me that Jesus was touching a key aspect of fundamental Christian thinking and living.  Peter had just asked Jesus how many times he would have to forgive an offending brother who had hurt him!  It doesn’t take much insight to sense Peter’s struggle in this matter.  Forgiveness is hard!  I don’t mean saying, “I forgive you”; no, I mean really forgiving from the heart.  Peter offered what in his mind was a generous option – seven times.  Hey, that is plenty, right?  Not really!  Jesus blasted Peter’s paradigm of forgiveness and taught him (and us) in the parable of the unforgiving forgiven servant how God’s mercy births our humility and gratitude, showing our humble gratitude in treating others who offend us with mercy and kindness.  Jesus taught Peter (and us) how God’s undeserved mercy dispensed in infinite and immeasurable dimensions bears the heart fruit of joy, gratitude, humility, and patient kindness with others.

Sin and Self-centeredness

Let us get honest…sin makes self-centered idolaters of us all!  We don’t even have to try; we naturally and simply live out a narcissistic perspective in narcissistic lives.  Narcissists take in and gobble up divine mercies with a single gulp without giving a thought to how undeserving we are and how good God is!  We get bloated on God’s blessings and just keep going wondering why God does not do more for us.  How distasteful this is!  And even worse, we treat God with disdain and entertain in our hearts blasphemous thoughts of Him in times of trouble, blaming Him for every pain and inconvenience we experience.  And not only that, we betray our selfish hearts by treating others with un-forgiveness and unkindness, all this in spite of the fact that we have been forgiven and treated with mercy by God to such a degree that we could never in all of eternity pay God back for what He has done for us in Christ.

All this sinful thinking makes sense in a world filled with screaming protests of perceived injustices, as though the greatest sin is for someone to violate our personal sensibilities.  Give me a break!  This kind of sinful thinking and living just does not make sense in light of God’s undeserved and bountiful mercies given to us in our blessed Savior, the Lord Jesus.

It Is All About The Heart

The key to establishing affections, interpreting correctly life’s experiences, and determining appropriate behavior and responses to others is found in the heart.  The problem with the unforgiving forgiven servant was that in his heart, he did not feel gratitude to the one who had given him the greatest gift of his life.

Gratitude to God in the context of His redemptive work for us in Christ, granted and given by sovereign mercy and grace, becomes the very basis, motivation, and inspiration for obedience to the Lord, for worship and praise to the worthy God of heaven and earth, and for patient longsuffering with offending brothers and sisters in Christ.  Let us meditate regularly on the rich and undeserved gifts God has given to us in Jesus Christ through His saving work on our behalf and in our life experience.  Let us pray that our hearts will be filled with joyful gratitude for all He has done for us and given to us in the blessed Savior.  And let us seek to show our thankfulness for what God has done for us in Christ in the gospel by being patient and forgiving with each other for God’s glory.

Colossians 3:12So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.”

John Greever is a professor of Bible at Missouri Baptist University and pastor of First Baptist Church in Fenton, MO. He is a part of the leadership team of Founders Midwest and will be a speaker the Founders Midwest Conference in 2019. If you would like to attend the Founders Midwest Conference in 2019, be sure to check out our Facebook page or visit our website for more information.

Tips for Productive Memorizing and Meditating on the Bible

By John Wright

“I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11, ESV)

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:1-2, ESV)

“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, ESV)

 

One of the most important disciplines we can practice in our Christian walk is daily Bible reading, and two very important practices that should grow out of daily Bible reading are memorization and meditation. First, let me explain what is commonly meant by Biblical meditation. In contrast with the meditation of the New Age movement or Eastern religions, Biblical meditation is centered on filling one’s mind rather than emptying it. When we meditate on Scripture, our minds are constantly turning over a verse or passage to try to understand it deeper. In fact, the word picture of meditation in the Bible is that of a cow chewing its cud. We endeavor to continue to extract more truth and goodness from the Scriptures than can be found in one read through.

In addition to meditation, memorization has many added benefits. It facilitates meditation by allowing us to access the Scriptures at any time and any place. By memorizing the Scriptures, we are enabled to resist temptation as mentioned in Psalm 119:11. Also, memorization serves as comfort in times of internal conflict or external concern. Collectively, memorization and meditation allow us to walk according to the path that God has set for us and bring us to a position of spiritual prosperity in His good pleasure. In this post, I will describe some tips for memorizing and meditating on God’s Word.

1. Start small (but not too small)

In your reading of the Bible, some passages may stand out to you more than others. Try to memorize verses that teach deep truths. John 3:16 is a favorite for many and is probably one of the most memorized verses in the Bible. Other noteworthy verses are Isaiah 41:10, John 1:1, John 14:6, Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, 2 Timothy 3:16, and Hebrews 4:12. These are all verses that teach something profound about what we believe. However, be cautious about memorizing verses without understanding context. This brings me to the second tip.

2. Understand the context of a verse before memorizing it

There are many people who can tell you what Jeremiah 29:11 says without being able to tell you what it means. Memorizing a verse without knowing its context robs the verse of its meaning and can have disastrous effects. Remember, the Devil knows Scripture and is skilled at using it for his own purposes. When he tempted Christ, he made use of a passage from the Psalms taken out of context. In fact, many false doctrines originate from verses taken out of context. Even familiar passages like John 3:16 have been misunderstood if they are not understood in context.

3. Don’t box yourself in with chapters and verses

I recently started memorizing larger sections of Scripture, and in doing so, I recognized a problem – chapter and verse divisions sometimes split thoughts in the wrong place. Many verses are not even complete sentences. If you want to memorize a larger section, try to do so without focusing on chapter and verse. I try to go by sentences and paragraphs rather than chapter and verse. Chapter and verse divisions are a relatively recent addition to the Bible. When Augustine, Luther, and Calvin quoted Scripture, they did so without using chapter and verse.

4. Say the passage aloud several times

Most of the Bible was intended to be read aloud. When I am memorizing a New Testament epistle, I try to imagine myself delivering the message to the church to which it would have been read. This really helps to solidify not only the words themselves but the meaning of the text. Psalms are easier if you pray them aloud as a prayer to God. As you recite a passage, your mind, vocal chords, lips, tongue, and ears become accustomed to the natural progression of the words. Try to make your inflection uniform and pause at the natural break in clauses and sentences.

5. Look for patterns as you memorize

Using word pictures or paying attention to progression of the passage can help. For example, In Romans 2, Paul contrasts those who will stand justified on the Day of Judgment with those under God’s wrath. He does so in two sentences in which he contrasts the one with other. In the first, he speaks to the righteous and then the wicked. In the second, he speaks to the wicked and then righteous. This structure is a very effective device for committing Scripture to memory. Also, I recommend looking for words that recur or ideas that are revisited. For example, in the book of Titus, there are certain words or phrases that are repeated, like “savior,” “good works,” “sound,” and “self-controlled.” These words point to significant patterns in the book.

6. Strive to memorize the words without error

It is very easy to omit, transpose, or insert words when memorizing. Be vigilant against this error. The best ways that I have discovered to do this is to regularly refresh your memory by revisiting the passage, looking it over, and reciting it again. While memorizing Romans 2, I neglected an entire sentence. The only way that I knew that I was in error was by revisiting the passage. I make a point to repeat passages that I’m memorizing on a regular basis. Put the words in front of you and recite aloud. There is no better substitute.

7. Meditate on what a passage teaches

Our doctrine and theology should always be directed by Scripture not the other way around. As you meditate on Scripture, think about what it is teaching. Understand what the words mean in context. Think about what each sentence is saying. I take time to think about different areas of doctrine that are influenced by the passage. For example, does the passage teach us anything about who God is? Does the passage teach us anything about what God has done? Is some truth of redemption revealed? Does it teach us about how our lives should be lived or how the church should be led? This should open your mind to a deeper understanding of doctrine.

8. Keep track of your thoughts

Keeping a journal of your thoughts is particularly fruitful when paired with meditation. As insights arise from thinking about the teaching of a given passage, it is good to write them down. I have known many people who write their thoughts in a notebook or other physical journal. Others prefer an electronic journal. I personally have a Microsoft Word document that I update with thoughts from meditation. I like to summarize what each paragraph of Scripture has to say and make an outline of a given book. Cross references with other books or passages are also really helpful. Then, whenever I want to return to my thoughts, I can take a look at what I had previously written. Sometimes I recognize that my previous understanding of Scripture was flawed. At other times my views are solidified.

I hope that this post has illustrated the next step in Bible intake from simply reading a passage or passages. As we get into the Word, it is important for us to get the Word into us.

John Wright is a professor of Math and Biology at Mineral Area College and is an elder candidate at First Baptist Church in Park Hills, MO. He is also a guest blogger for the Founders Midwest website. If you would like to attend the Southern Baptist Founders Conference Midwest, be sure to check out our Facebook page or visit our website for more information.

Dying Well: A Lesson from the Reformers

By Jeremiah Greever

I’m currently preaching through the book of Acts at the church I pastor – First Baptist St. John. My congregation has graciously sat through my Martyn Lloyd-Jones approach to Acts – slow and intentional exegesis. After 15 months of walking through Acts, we have come to the death of the first Christian martyr recorded in Acts 7:60 – Stephen. There are many fascinating details to Stephen’s killing (ex. his courage in preaching to his killers, his similarities to Christ in death, his certainty of assurance in death, etc.), but perhaps the most interesting is that Stephen is not unique. While he certainly is unique in his death being recorded in the revealed Word of God, he’s not unique in being killed for the faith and his powerful final words.

As Protestants everywhere celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation last October 2017, I am reminded of the many dear men and women of the faith who were martyred for their faith during the Reformation. As I’ve considered Stephen’s death, I’m gripped by the similarities between his and many of the Reformer’s final words as they came to the end.

For instance, John Hus who was burned at the stake in 1415 with Wycliffe’s Bibles as fodder, exclaimed at the end, “in 100 years, God will raise up a man whose calls for reform cannot be suppressed.” William Tyndale, stated before being strangled and burned at the stake in 1536, “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes!” Another influential reformer – Hugh Latimer – famously encouraged a fellow martyr at the end, “Be of good cheer, Master Ridley, and play the man, for we shall this day light such a candle in England as I trust by God’s grace shall never be put out.” Lady Jane Grey wrote to her 14-year-old sister, Katherine, a day or two before she was martyred, “Live to die, that by death you may enter into eternal life, and then enjoy the life that Christ has gained for you by His death. Don’t think that just because you are now young your life will be long, because young and old die as God wills.”

Other lesser known martyrs of the Reformation documented in Foxe’s book of Martyrs include Laurence Ghest who was burned at Salisbury in 1508 and whose ‘Mind attempted to be swayed by fatherly affection for wife and seven children’ (Foxe, Vol 4, page 126-7). Or Matthieu Dimonet who was burned at Lyons and suffered “Great problems with the temptations of his parents, brethren and kinfolks, and the sorrow of his mother, nevertheless he endured to the end.” (Foxe, V 4, page 414). These and many other martyrs of the Reformation remained determined in the certainty of death to look to the One who had saved and sustained them.

And as we remember these dear Christian brothers and sisters, we remember that many others throughout history have given their lives for the truth. Hebrews 11:35-38 is a firm reminder that for centuries Christians, nameless and forgotten by the world, have given their lives for a greater cause than themselves. While it is good to remember these dear Christians of the faith for their obedience even to death, we must be careful not to venerate these humans. As fallen humanity, we have tendencies to always make idols of especially good things like Christians who have given their lives for the faith.

Instead of venerating these saints of old and trying to emulate their sacrifice, Christians should follow their examples of looking solely to Christ at the end of life. I’m struck at the emphasis of many Christians at the point of death. Their focus is always on Christ, His resurrection, and His faithfulness in the midst of persecution and death. After experiencing a vision of the Son of Man awaiting his presence, Stephen’s final words are recorded in Acts 7:59-60, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” In Moses’ final address to Israel before his death, he declares in Deuteronomy 33:26, “There is none like the God of Jeshurun (Israel).” King David’s final recorded words were, “The anointed of the God of Jacob.” (2 Sam. 23:1) Even Paul’s final letter, likely written near the end of his life, concludes with the words, “The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.” (2 Tim. 4:22).

The biblical trend is obvious – God’s people at the end of life are focused on God and His faithfulness, rather than on themselves or other earthly sentiments. The application for believers is equally obvious – follow the example set by both our biblical and Reformation forefathers and focus on Christ until the end. Run the race with endurance that is set before us (Heb. 12:1) until the very end. And when the final days on earth come for each of us, may we be found looking solely to Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith.

Jeremiah Greever is a professor of Bible at Missouri Baptist University and pastor of First Baptist Church St. John in St. Louis, MO. He is a part of the leadership team of Founders Midwest and is an occasional speaker at the annual Southern Baptist Founders Conference Midwest. If you would like to attend the Southern Baptist Founders Conference Midwest, be sure to check out our Facebook page or visit our website for more information.