Monthly Archives: May 2019
This week I am preaching on Hebrews 6:1-8. Verses 4-6 are some of the most difficult verses in all of Scripture to understand. I thought it was important to review the rules and principles for interpreting Scripture as I waded into the passage.
I believe that Scripture should be interpreted using a literal (also called normal or plain), grammatical, historical hermeneutic. This approach incorporates the following principles:
1) Interpret the passage literally. Accept the plain sense unless it doesn’t make sense.
2) Examine the grammar of the text. Study the parts of speech and verb tenses. This allows for figures of speech and the language of appearance.
3) Study the circles of context. Each verse must be interpreted in its various contexts (immediate context, context of the book, other books written by the same writer, whole of Scripture). What comes before/after the verse? Does the author use the same word/concept in other parts of the book? If so, it should be interpreted consistently throughout.
4) Examine the historical context. What can you learn from the culture and history of the time in which the book was written? How does this help you understand what is presented in the verse or book?
5) Compare Scripture with Scripture, allowing it to interpret itself. Don’t build a doctrine on an isolated verse. Find out what the whole of Scripture says on the issue.
6) Recognize the progressiveness of revelation. God added more and more detail as time went on.
Book Review: Leading Small Groups: How to Gather, Launch, Lead, and Multiply your Small Group, by Chris Surratt
Chris Surratt, Discipleship and Small Groups Specialist for LifeWay Christian Resources, believes that small groups play a vital role in helping lay the foundation for taking the gospel to the ends of the earth. He was written a basic primer to help small group leaders create environments where spiritual growth can take place and communities changed.
In explaining the purpose of his book, the author says,
This book is written and designed to take you through the journey of building your own small group. That group could be in your home, a neighborhood clubhouse, a break room at work, or a classroom at the church. The location does not matter; what matters is what takes place inside it.
There will be practical tips you can use immediately as you start your new small group or look to make your current group experience better. Every chapter will end with a set of questions to answer as you work through that step of the journey. I would suggest returning to this book as you walk through the different stages of your small group. There are a few things you will need to know from the beginning, and the rest will become more necessary while “on the job.”
The book is divided into four parts. Section I focuses on Gathering your Small Group. The author defines what a small group leader is and does, how to create biblical community, and how to prepare. Section II deals with Launching your Small Group. It includes recruiting and advertising and kicking the group off right. Section III gets into Leading your Small Group. It explains how to facilitate a group meeting, showing biblical hospitality, practicing genuine authenticity, developing service, being on mission, and developing a Bible study. Section IV discusses Multiplying your Small Group. It discusses how to keep the group healthy and growing and how to stay healthy as a leader. The author includes a number of resources and ideas in the Appendix.
Disclosure: I received this book free from B&H Publishing through the B&H/Lifeway Bloggers program http://www.bhbloggers.com/. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.
Pastor Jeremy Writebol has written an insightful post encouraging pastors and church members to say faithful to their churches and ministries. In his post, “In Praise of Faithful Endurance,” he begins by saying,
“I can do this all day.”
I love how Captain America says that with a bloodied lip and bruised cheek. And as he gets back up, dusts himself off, and pulls the straps of his shield tighter around his arm he jumps back into battle, never willing to give up.
The ethos behind this kind of endurance is rare among us today, especially in the church. Too often, many churches are like revolving doors: people come in, stay a while, find something that bothers them, and then move along to the next church.
I don’t say that to pass blame. There are many good reasons to leave one church and find another. Nor do I intend to say that this problem only exists among non-staff members. However, ministry does require resolve, and those who are in it for the long haul encourage others to faithfully endure.
Click on the link to read the rest of his thoughts.
His post reminded of two men that I served with. Dr. R. Kent Hughes, one of my mentors, was in pastoral ministry for over 40 years, 27 of those years at College Church in Wheaton, IL. I was on staff at College Church from 1986-89. Kent now teaches at Westminster Theological Seminary in Glenside, PA. During my time in Russia, I joined John & Naomi Musgrave in watching a live stream of Jerry Mitchell’s final sermon at Crossroads Bible Church in Bellevue, WA. Jerry retired after 38+ years at the church. I was on staff at Crossroads from 1990-2004.
I have now been a pastor for 33 years. Articles like the one I quoted and men like Kent and Jerry encourage me to keep going. As Writebol says in closing his post, “May we all be long-haul, faithful believers for the sake of the name of Jesus!”
I was teaching a course for Regent University on Hermeneutics, the principles for interpreting the Scriptures. During week seven of the eight-week course, one student asked, “Could you explain to me the purpose of this course? I don’t understand what we’re supposed to do.”
Maybe you feel like that student when you try to read the Bible. Perhaps it seems like you are dropped into the deep end of the pool and you don’t know how to swim to the side. You feel as if the Bible comes with a warning label, “You must be this smart to study the Bible,” and you don’t measure up. Perhaps you have given up on Bible study and just rely on the pastor to tell you what to think.
You need to be careful because that attitude could be a sign of spiritual immaturity. In Hebrews 5:11-14, the author identifies four signs of spiritual immaturity. By implication, I think he also gives us clues about four steps we can take toward spiritual maturity. He explains that spiritual maturity comes through practice and discipline. You have to train yourself for godliness.
Spiritually immature people have stopped listening to the Word of God (11). The author interrupts his explanation about the high priesthood of Jesus (5:1-10) to issue a stern warning. While he has more to say, he recognizes that his readers’ eyes have that glazed over look. The problem is not that the material is challenging but rather that the readers have stopped listening. Instead of making progress towards spiritual maturity, they are regressing towards spiritual infancy.
One of the first symptoms of spiritual regression or backsliding is a dullness towards the Bible. Sunday School class is boring, the preaching is boring, and anything spiritual is boring. The problem is not with the Sunday School teacher, the pastor, or the Bible. The problem is with the individual.
Spiritually immature people are unable and/or unwilling to teach others (12a). While not everyone has the gift of teaching, all are to teach others. Mature people ought to be able to share what they are learning with those who are less mature than themselves. They look for opportunities to serve rather than hoard everything for themselves.
Spiritually immature people live on a bland diet of basic truths (12b-13). Not only had the readers failed to move forward spiritually, but they had lost their grasp of the basic truths of Scripture. They needed a remedial “Bible 101” course. They had never grown beyond Jesus-loves-me-this-I-know. As valuable as that truth is, there is so much more about Jesus in Scripture than that one phrase. The readers did not grasp the “word of righteousness,” the teaching of the gospel that will result in right standing with God and lead to upright living. No one should remain a spiritual infant forever. All should make progress in their spiritual growth.
Spiritually immature people lack the skill of applying the Word of God to their lives (14). Spiritual babies don’t just lack information, they lack experience. A person becomes mature by using their information to make decisions that are in harmony with God’s will. Spiritual maturity comes through practice and discipline.
|Stopped listening to the Word of God (11)||
Listens carefully to the Word of God
Unable/Unwilling to teach others (12a)
|Able/Willing to teach others|
|A bland diet of basic truths (12b-13)||
A balanced diet of basic & more challenging truths
Lack of skill in applying the Word of God (14)
Trained skill in living the Word of God in daily life
Train yourself for godliness.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on May 26, 2019. It is part of a series of sermons on the book of Hebrews. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.
Walter Kaiser, a leading evangelical scholar, issued a simple but striking statement in his commencement address at Dallas Theological Seminary in April 2000 – a stirring challenge that should grip the hearts of all who are called to the ministry of biblical preaching and teaching. Those who enter the pulpit to preach, Kaiser admonished, should always be pointing to a text of Scripture.
When a man preaches, he should never remove his finger from the Scriptures, Kaiser charged. If he is gesturing with his right hand, he should keep his left hand’s finger on the text. If he reverses hands for gesturing, then he should also reverse hands for holding his spot in the text.
He should always be pointing to the Scriptures.
Some time back, one individual questioned why I was going to Russia. They said that short-term ministry trips were “a boondoggle.” “They are a waste of time and money. Why don’t you make a video and send that instead of going yourself?”
Yes, it is expensive for me to go to Russia once a year to teach. Yes, it takes up two weeks of my time. Yes, it pulls me away from home. Yes, I have to raise the funds in order to go. Yes, I am not 20 or 30 years old anymore and it takes longer for me to bounce back from jet lag. Yes, I could send a DVD or teach via Skype or Face Time.
But there is no substitute for being present. There is no substitute from sitting across the table and sharing a meal and listening to a Russian pastor or church elder share about the challenges of ministry. There is no substitute for laying your hands on their shoulders and praying for them specifically. There is no substitute for putting your hand on a church leaders’ shoulder and saying you understand what they are going through and looking them in the eye and sharing what God taught you through similar circumstances. There is no substitute for living with them for a week or two and identifying with their challenges.
As Westerners, we pride ourselves on being “efficient” and “effective.” We want to do things as quick and cheap as possible. But you cannot put a price tag on the ministry of presence, of showing up, and being “with you.” The ministry of presence is priceless.
Yes, it is expensive for me to go to Russia once a year to teach. It costs time, money, and wear and tear on my body. But it is well worth the cost. And I will gladly pay it again.
Philippians 2:17 – “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.”