Wednesday, October 24, 2007

How Do We Avoid "Rabbit Trail" Diversions in Ministry
...focus on equipping people with the Word of God

"To the Law, and to the testimony, if they speak not according to this Word: it is because there is no light in them." -Isaiah 8:20

t's a wearying thing to make the wheelhouse of your preaching a detailed dismantling of the "isms" of error plaguing the church today. While it is helpful to know and warn people about what teachings are aberrant and dangerous to the health of the body of Christ; it is quite another thing to give them the lion-share of your conference, Bible study, or pulpit activity.

The church in America today could be classified as being "biblically illiterate." We have so focused on methods and programs, or built entire conferences around the newest "flavor of the month twist on truth", or been consumed with the latest fad or gimmick promising another five steps to personal contentment... but with no cross, that the Scriptures are no longer front and center for the everyday average Jane and Joe in the pew. Even pastors have become entertaining raconteurs, CEO's, song and dance men, religious psychologists, and spiritual entrepreneurs; rather than men of God who faithfully mine deeply the truth of God's Word and proclaim it with fear and trembling; honor and power; humility and grace, love and boldness - men who will take seriously the command of our Lord to Peter when He said, "feed My sheep."

IOW, there is a famine in the land beloved, and people are starving for the Word of God.

Spurgeon tells it this way:

"In the days of Nero there was great shortness of food in the city of Rome, although there was abundance of corn to be purchased in Alexandria. A certain man who owned a vessel… noticed many hungry people straining their eyes toward the sea, watching for the vessels that were to come from Alexandria with corn. When these vessels came to the shore, one by one, the poor people wrung their hands in bitter disappointment, for on board the galleys there was nothing but sand which the tyrant emperor had compelled them to bring for use in the arena. Then the merchant… said to his shipmaster, ‘Take thou good heed that thou bring nothing back with thee from Alexandria but corn; and whereas aforetime thou hast brought in the vessel a measure or two of sand, bring thou not so much as would lie upon a penny this time… for these people are dying, and now we must keep our vessels for this one business of bringing food for them.

Alas, I have seen certain mighty galleys of late loaded with nothing but mere sand of philosophy and [entertainment], and I have said within myself, ‘I will bear nothing in my ship but the revealed truth of God, the bread of life so greatly needed by the people.
May the ship of Christian music, Christian book publishing, Christian radio and TV, Bible conferences, blogs, websites, podcasts, CD's and MP3's bring to the shores of a drowning world, its galleys full of nothing except the life-preserving hope of God’s Word through the gospel of Jesus Christ! Amen?

Plain and simple: what people need to know is the Word of God.

So I say this with great humility this morning knowing full well the wickedness of my own wretched, sinful heart that is so easlily distracted by the things of our times: may I imploy all you pastors, itinerate ministers, evangelists, apologists, teachers, seminary professors... God's people need God's Word! You are not called to be clever. They need, I need to hear it; to know it; to learn it; to obey it; to meditate on it day and night and have it become the joy and rejoicing of our hearts. The most effective way to contest against error is to proclaim truth; the truth of Scripture. May we all as "Bereans" know the genuine so well that when the counterfit arises you will be able to spot it immediately and apply His divine truth as the corrective--fot it alone is sufficient "for all matters of life and godliness."

Paul encouraged his true son in the faith with this manifesto on the sufficiency of God's Word:
"All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." -2 Timothy 3:16-17

Feast your hearts and minds on the Word of God - Psalm 1.
Psa. 1:1 Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
Psa. 1:2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.
Psa. 1:3 And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
Psa. 1:4 The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.
Psa. 1:5 Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
Psa. 1:6 For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.

Spurgeon Gives the Sense of It
Verse 1. "BLESSED"—see how this Book of Psalms opens with a benediction, even as did the famous Sermon of our Lord upon the Mount! The word translated "blessed" is a very expressive one. The original word is plural, and it is a controverted matter whether it is an adjective or a substantive. Hence we may learn the multiplicity of the blessings which shall rest upon the man whom God hath justified, and the perfection and greatness of the blessedness he shall enjoy. We might read it, "Oh, the blessednesses!" and we may well regard it (as Ainsworth does) as a joyful acclamation of the gracious man's felicity. May the like benediction rest on us!

Here the gracious man is described both negatively (verse 1) and positively (verse 2). He is a man who does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly. He takes wiser counsel, and walks in the commandments of the Lord his God. To him the ways of piety are paths of peace and pleasantness. His footsteps are ordered by the Word of God, and not by the cunning and wicked devices of carnal men. It is a rich sign of inward grace when the outward walk is changed, and when ungodliness is put far from our actions. Note next, he standeth not in the way of sinners. His company is of a choicer sort than it was. Although a sinner himself, he is now a blood-washed sinner, quickened by the Holy Spirit, and renewed in heart. Standing by the rich grace of God in the congregation of the righteous, he dares not herd with the multitude that do evil. Again it is said, "nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful." He finds no rest in the atheist's scoffings. Let others make a mock of sin, of eternity, of hell and heaven, and of the Eternal God; this man has learned better philosophy than that of the infidel, and has too much sense of God's presence to endure to hear His name blasphemed. The seat of the scorner may be very lofty, but it is very near to the gate of hell; let us flee from it, for it shall soon be empty, and destruction shall swallow up the man who sits therein. Mark the gradation in the first verse:

He walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor standeth in the way of sinners,

When men are living in sin they go from bad to worse. At first they merely walk in the counsel of the careless and ungodly, who forget God—the evil is rather practical than habitual—but after that, they become habituated to evil, and they stand in the way of open sinners who wilfully violate God's commandments; and if let alone, they go one step further, and become themselves pestilent teachers and tempters of others, and thus they sit in the seat of the scornful. They have taken their degree in vice, and as true Doctors of Damnation they are installed, and are looked up to by others as Masters in Belial. But the blessed man, the man to whom all the blessings of God belong, can hold no communion with such characters as these. He keeps himself pure from these lepers; he puts away evil things from him as garments spotted by the flesh; he comes out from among the wicked, and goes without the camp, bearing the reproach of Christ. O for grace to be thus separate from sinners.

And now mark his positive character.

Verse 2. "His delight is in the law of the Lord." He is not under the law as a curse and condemnation, but he is in it, and he delights to be in it as his rule of life; he delights, moreover, to meditate in it, to read it by day, and think upon it by night. He takes a text and carries it with him all day long; and in the night-watches, when sleep forsakes his eyelids, he museth upon the Word of God. In the day of his prosperity he sings psalms out of the Word of God, and in the night of his affliction he comforts himself with promises out of the same book. "The law of the Lord" is the daily bread of the true believer. And yet, in David's day, how small was the volume of inspiration, for they had scarcely anything save the first five books of Moses! How much more, then, should we prize the whole written Word which it is our privilege to have in all our houses! But, alas, what ill-treatment is given to this angel from heaven! We are not all Berean searchers of the Scriptures. How few among us can lay claim to the benediction of the text! Perhaps some of you can claim a sort of negative purity, because you do not walk in the way of the ungodly; but let me ask you—Is your delight in the law of God? Do you study God's Word? Do you make it the man of your right hand—your best companion and hourly guide? If not, this blessing belongeth not to you.

Verse 3. "And he shall be like a tree planted"—not a wild tree, but "a tree planted," chosen, considered as property, cultivated and secured from the last terrible uprooting, for "every plant which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up:" Matthew 15:13. "By the rivers of water;" so that even if one river should fail, he hath another. The rivers of pardon and the rivers of grace, the rivers of the promise and the rivers of communion with Christ, are never-failing sources of supply. He is "like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season;" not unseasonable graces, like untimely figs, which are never full-flavored. But the man who delights in God's Word, being taught by it, bringeth forth patience in the time of suffering, faith in the day of trial, and holy joy in the hour of prosperity.

Fruitfulness is an essential quality of a gracious man, and that fruitfulness should be seasonable. "His leaf also shall not wither;" his faintest word shall be everlasting; his little deeds of love shall be had in remembrance. Not simply shall his fruit be preserved, but his leaf also. He shall neither lose his beauty nor his fruitfulness. "And whatsoever he doeth shall prosper." Blessed is the man who hath such a promise as this. But we must not always estimate the fulfillment of a promise by our own eye-sight. How often, my brethren, if we judge by feeble sense, may we come to the mournful conclusion of Jacob, "All these things are against me!" For though we know our interest in the promise, yet we are so tried and troubled, that sight sees the very reverse of what that promise foretells. But to the eye of faith this word is sure, and by it we perceive that our works are prospered, even when everything seems to go against us. It is not outward prosperity which the Christian most desires and values; it is soul prosperity which he longs for. We often, like Jehoshaphat, make ships to go to Tarshish for gold, but they are broken at Ezion-geber; but even here there is a true prospering, for it is often for the soul's health that we would be poor, bereaved, and persecuted. Our worst things are often our best things. As there is a curse wrapped up in the wicked man's mercies, so there is a blessing concealed in the righteous man's crosses, losses, and sorrows. The trials of the saint are a divine husbandry, by which he grows and brings forth abundant fruit.

Verse 4. We have now come to the second head of the Psalm. In this verse the contrast of the ill estate of the wicked is employed to heighten the coloring of that fair and pleasant picture which precedes it. The more forcible translation of the Vulgate and of the Septuagint version is— "Not so the ungodly, not so." And we are hereby to understand that whatever good thing is said of the righteous is not true in the case of the ungodly. Oh! how terrible is it to have a double negative put upon the promises! and yet this is just the condition of the ungodly. Mark the use of the term "ungodly," for, as we have seen in the opening of the Psalm, these are the beginners in evil, and are the least offensive of sinners. Oh! if such is the sad state of those who quietly continue in their morality, and neglect their God, what must be the condition of open sinners and shameless infidels? The first sentence is a negative description of the ungodly, and the second is the positive picture. Here is their character — "they are like chaff," intrinsically worthless, dead, unserviceable, without substance, and easily carried away. Here, also, mark their doom, — "the wind driveth away;" death shall hurry them with its terrible blast into the fire in which they shall be utterly consumed.

Verse 5. They shall stand there to be judged, but not to be acquitted. Fear shall lay hold upon them there; they shall not stand their ground; they shall flee away; they shall not stand in their own defence; for they shall blush and be covered with eternal contempt.

Well may the saints long for heaven, for no evil men shall dwell there, "nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous." All our congregations upon earth are mixed. Every Church hath one devil in it. The tares grow in the same furrows as the wheat. There is no floor which is as yet thoroughly purged from chaff. Sinners mix with saints, as dross mingles with gold. God's precious diamonds still lie in the same field with pebbles. Righteous Lots are this side heaven continually vexed by the men of Sodom. Let us rejoice then, that in "the general assembly and church of the firstborn" above, there shall by no means be admitted a single unrenewed soul. Sinners cannot live in heaven. They would be out of their element. Sooner could a fish live upon a tree than the wicked in Paradise. Heaven would be an intolerable hell to an impenitent man, even if he could be allowed to enter; but such a privilege shall never be granted to the man who perseveres in his iniquities. May God grant that we may have a name and a place in his courts above!

Verse 6. Or, as the Hebrew hath it yet more fully, "The Lord is knowing the way of the righteous." He is constantly looking on their way, and though it may be often in mist and darkness, yet the Lord knoweth it. If it be in the clouds and tempest of affliction, he understandeth it. He numbereth the hairs of our head; he will not suffer any evil to befall us. "He knoweth the way that I take: when He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold." (Job 23:10.) "But the way of the ungodly shall perish." Not only shall they perish themselves, but their way shall perish too. The righteous carves his name upon the rock, but the wicked writes his remembrance in the sand. The righteous man ploughs the furrows of earth, and sows a harvest here, which shall never be fully reaped till he enters the enjoyments of eternity; but as for the wicked, he ploughs the sea, and though there may seem to be a shining trail behind his keel, yet the waves shall pass over it, and the place that knew him shall know him no more for ever. The very "way" of the ungodly shall perish. If it exist in remembrance, it shall be in the remembrance of the bad; for the Lord will cause the name of the wicked to rot, to become a stench in the nostrils of the good, and to be only known to the wicked themselves by its putridity.

May the Lord cleanse our hearts and our ways, that we may escape the doom of the ungodly, and enjoy the blessedness of the righteous!


Carla Rolfe said...

Let me add one more quote from Spurgeon:

"It is a great thing to begin the Christian life by believing good solid doctrine. Some people have received twenty different "gospels" in as many years; how many more they will accept before they get to their journey's end, it would be difficult to predict." (source)

I'm convinced that if there more of what you suggest going on among local churches, fellowships, associations, conferences, blogging, in books and every other area where Christians use their voice to relay a message, our churches and our people would only be blessed, and be strong in sound doctrine.

Were this to happen, there would only be more of what Spurgeon describes in the first part of this quote, and much less of what he describes in the second part. How incredible it would be to see that come to pass.

silly old nana said...

Amen and amen.
By the grace our Lord, I have been praying for you and other servants of the gospel. Thanks for sharing what is going on in your heart and exhorting fellow laborers in the Lord. May God's Word be proclaimed and honored this day all over the earth as the world has never seen or known before. Blessed be His holy Name now and forevermore.

SJ Camp said...

Thank you both:
How easy it is for any of us to be diverted from what is essential to what is fleeting. May the Lord guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus and keep them glued to what is His will and work.

In His grace,
2 Cor. 4:5-7

nextverse said...

Thanks brother for your continued challenge to those of us whose task it is to feed the sheep. Week after week, the temptations mount to succumb to the passions of the world / which now are the passions of the church / that demand to be met - in shallow sentimentality, self-centered ministry endeavor, and all the glitz of tinsel town.

May God in His grace, by the power of His Word alive in us continue to make us His servants of mercy. Make us preachers, instant!