What’s for Dinner?

It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word of God.
~ Luke 4:4

Whole Words

Have you ever eaten like a pig? Have you ever been so starved you ate like a hungry dog when food was set before you? Have you ever said you were starving? Were you actually starving? Probably not.

You’ve probably seen, or could imagine a scene where a starving man at last lays hold of food and he can’t shove food and drink in his mouth fast enough. What do you think would happen if you sat a starving man down to a feast of rich food? Reality is probably much different than what you imagine.

To Build a Bridge

In 1942, the Japanese captured Scotsman Ernest Gordon and others as they attempted to sail from Indonesia to Sri Lanka and took them back to Singapore. They were force marched to a prison camp in the jungles of Thailand. There Gordon was part of the labor crew forced to build the infamous bridge on the River Kwai. The bridge was a part of the Japanese railway to transport supplies and support their planned attack on India.

The conditions in that concentration camp were reportedly some of the worst known in World War II. Unlike many others, Gordon survived the prison camp for over three years until the Japanese surrender in 1945 and he was liberated. Gordon endured malnutrition and extended starvation among other unimaginable tortures and sufferings. They had been fed just enough to barely keep them alive. It was not enough for many. It was said that for every railroad tie laid there was one life lost among the prisoners. Gordon himself was even sent to the “death house” in the camp where they sent prisoners who were expected to die soon, and yet he still survived.

When Gordon was freed, he was taken to a British military hospital set up in Rangoon in Burma for treatment. Gordon described himself and the others as living skeletons and they did not fall on tables of food when they first arrived like hungry lions on a wildebeest. They did savor some fresh brewed tea and fresh baked white bread, but they couldn’t eat much of anything they did eat. What they could eat was nothing very solid and Gordon said it was quite a long time before he could eat any meat at all. These men had to be slowly brought back to life and relied on small portions of soft food and heavy doses of vitamin and mineral supplements. Most of us have never known starvation like that.

If you’re like me, you look forward to all the family gathered around the Thanksgiving table for the best meal of the year. You probably even skimp on breakfast and lunch in preparation. What if this Thanksgiving the family was all gathered around the table and Grandmother didn’t bring food to the table, but instead brought pictures of turkey and ham? What if instead of anyone eating anything, she read aloud some of her recipes for sweet potato pie and cranberry salad? Would you be pleased? Would you in any way be satisfied?

As Gordon and the other men survived extended starvation and malnutrition in the camp, they began to be more interested in pictures of food than pictures of calendar girls. They pinned up pictures of roast beef, apple pie, potatoes, and chocolate cake on the walls of the hut. They took great pleasure in listening to a recipe for angel food cake being read aloud, and were tantalized by the pronounced ingredients. Of course, they couldn’t have truly enjoyed what they most longed for if roast beef and potatoes along with hot apple pie were set in front of them. That’s the sad reality of their situation.

The Bible is Food

The Bible compared to food is a common metaphor in the Bible itself. The prophet Amos spoke the word of the Lord about a time coming when there would be a famine, not of bread and water, but a famine of “hearing the word of the LORD” (Amos 8:11). Job treasured God’s word more than his meal (Job 23:12). Jesus charged Peter to “Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17). Paul charged the elders of the Ephesian church to “feed the church of God” (Acts 20:28). Peter echoed the charge he had received as he charged elders to “feed the flock of God” (1 Peter 5:2).

The food Christians need fed is the word of God. The primary job of preachers is to feed people the word of God. Bad preaching is bad food. A steady diet of bad preaching is like a steady diet of junk food. In twenty-one years of ministry I’ve been persistently dismayed by the amount of junk food preaching coming from pulpits. I’ve been even more dismayed by the number of people that prefer junk food preaching over wholesome and nourishing preaching. They pass by roast beef and potatoes preaching for potato chip and candy bar preaching.

Paul warned about people having itching ears and it shouldn’t surprise us when sugar-addicted children choose the line doling out sugar sticks as opposed to the line where real meat, fruit, and vegetables are well-prepared and served. It is sometimes the case that people prefer junk food preaching because they’re always chasing a sugar rush through light snacks that any grandma worthy of the matronly office would tell you will ruin your dinner.

Gordon and the bridge builders in the Valley of the Kwai would tell us it’s not always the case though. It is sometimes the case that people have been malnourished and starved for so long that they cannot tolerate hearty and substantial food. Their praise of bad preaching in churches and at conferences is more like Gordon’s men drooling over pictures of roast beef and potatoes while they were nowhere near ready to actually eat such a meal. Like POW’s, many Christians are so used to being fed only enough to barely sustain life that they are just not ready to enjoy a Thanksgiving feast.

A Prescribed Food Regiment

A preacher’s job is not to beat and berate such sick sheep who are ready to die, and to give them only a thick steak to eat would be cruel. Paul told Timothy that Christ’s servants must be gentle, patient, and meek to feed, or teach, God’s flock with the greatest care (2 Timothy 2:24-26). Being “right” doesn’t give you the right to be harsh, hot-headed, and rough instead. God’s flock needs to fed with the faithful word (Titus 1:9) in order to be healthy and mature properly (Ephesians 4:11-16).

Paul put it best when he charged Timothy, “Preach the word” (1 Timothy 4:1). That “word” means all the scripture, or the whole Bible (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Faithful, persistent exposition of the Bible gives people God’s words and is like taking the best fresh ingredients and preparing a hearty meal. It is a proper balance of sweet and savory. It is a nourishing and satisfying blend of spices mixed with the raw ingredients.

You may have been suffering biblical starvation for so long that you’re more concerned with the idea of real food than you are actual food. For the good of your soul and the souls of your family, ditch the junk food and go to where you will be nourishingly fed God’s whole words (Proverbs 19:27).

Speaking Non-Signs

… they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.
~ Acts 17:11

Non-Signs the Bible is Being Preached

I‘m unaware of any preacher at any time who has not claimed to be preaching the Bible, or at least claimed the Bible backed up what he was saying. Paul charged Timothy to “preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:2), which he defined as all of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16). Preaching the Bible is the main duty of every preacher of the Word and the standard of judgment for his faithfulness (James 3:1).

How can you be sure the Bible is being preached when you go to church? That could be a big answer. The church is responsible for that, so it’s also an important answer. I suppose we could come up with numerous ways of confirming the biblicalness of a sermon. I want to approach this from the other direction. We mistakenly assign authority to a message by a number of trappings that have nothing to do with the actual content of the sermon. I am going to give you seven non-signs the Bible is being preached. The presence of any or all of these signs in no way ensures the Bible is actually being preached.

1. A six-pound, three inch thick, black leather bound Bible is laid open on the pulpit

Such a Bible makes an impressive visual, but is the Bible necessary? Is it being used? We’ve all heard sermons where the preacher read his springboard text and then never returned to the Bible at all. If he would have closed his Bible and laid it aside after reading the text, it wouldn’t have changed a thing about the sermon. Some preachers have said the same things repeatedly for so long, they don’t even need a Bible in the pulpit to preach from. If the Bible is not being read, explained, and applied from the pulpit, the Bible is not being preached.

2. The preacher told you God gave him the message

The more a preacher primes the congregation by telling them God gave him this message, laid it on his heart, or otherwise told him to preach it, the more wary you should be. The sermons I have heard most qualified with those kinds of statements were the most obviously not from God, because they were not preaching the Bible. God did such with Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, Peter, and Paul. This is how he communicated his word through his prophets and apostles. That revelation is complete and we already have it. He is not giving new revelation today. God has given preachers a message. It’s called the Bible and has sixty-six books. There are thirty-nine Old Testament books and twenty-seven New Testament books. Your preacher should take a text and preach it, and then you can be sure it is a message from God because it’s on the page in front of you.

3. The preacher says things you agree with

Just because a preacher is saying what you want to hear or what you like to hear, that is no sign he’s actually preaching the Bible. He may cycle through your pet doctrines like a politician hitting the talking points at a political rally, but that doesn’t mean He’s preaching the Bible. Ear-tickling comes in many forms and one of those forms is the preacher regularly regaling the congregation with their favorite doctrines or topics. The Scripture Paul told Timothy to preach is profitable for doctrine, but also for reproof and correction (2 Timothy 3:16). He warned that itching ears abound that will not endure actual Bible preaching (2 Timothy 4:3). If God is holy and we are sinners, then God’s words will cross us sooner or later. If the Bible is being preached, you Christian church goer will be reproved and corrected.

4. The preacher says some things that are in the Bible somewhere

A preacher can make true statements from the pulpit, but still not be actually preaching the Bible. On the whole, making true statements is better than making false statements, but that still falls short of the command to preach the word. Bible preaching is when the text is explained and applied. The content of the sermon consists of what is explicitly stated in the text and the consequences properly deduced from the text. It isn’t enough that the sermon’s substance can be found in the sixty-six books somewhere. It must be found in the text, if he’s to preach the Bible.

5. The church has the “right” doctrinal statement

The church may have a statement of faith that hits all the right points in your mind, but that doesn’t mean the Bible is being preached from the pulpit. Because we are humans and fallible, we can be inconsistent. We can be orthodox in one area and heterodox in another. But even if all our doctrinal ducks quack on cue, that doesn’t mean Scripture is being explained and applied every week. If a church’s doctrinal statement is actually biblical, then preaching the Bible will affirm it again and again. If Bible preaching causes you to lose articles from your doctrinal statement, that is a good indication those articles weren’t biblical to begin with. The true orthodoxy of a church is not measured by it’s church documents, but by the Bible being regularly preached from the pulpit.

6. The church and/or the preacher has the “right” pedigree

The church’s particular bona fides in terms of their lineage or associations, does not mean the Bible is being preached. The fact that a church came from, recognizes, or otherwise fellowships with another particular church does not mean the Bible is being preached. Similarly, the fact that a preacher has a certain last name, certain family connections, or the endorsement of certain other preachers does not mean he is or will actually preach the Bible. Some churches are more concerned about a preacher’s connections when it comes to having him preach, or even in calling a pastor, than they are whether he will stand up, take a text, and preach it.

7. The preacher looks like a preacher

We put more stock in appearances today than perhaps any generation before us. Many have the idea of what a preacher should look like in their minds. A man may have a matching three-piece suit, french cuffs, shiny shoes, and coordinated necktie and pocket square, but that has nothing to do with whether or not he’s preaching the Bible. For some, facial hair for a preacher is an abomination, while the absence of it is unmanly for others. We are far too concerned about appearances and set up standards that are nowhere to be found in the pages of Scripture. A preacher may fit well your idea of what a preacher should look like, but that doesn’t mean he’s preaching the Bible.

Conclusion

I have given you seven non-signs the Bible is being preached. You may think I’m saying the things I listed don’t matter at all. I am not saying they don’t matter at all. I am saying they don’t matter more than the fact the Bible is not being preached from the pulpit. If you believe in the inspiration of Scripture, inerrancy of Scripture, authority of Scripture, and sufficiency of Scripture, then you must accept no less and nothing else than God’s Scripture being opened, read, expounded in its original context, and applied to the saved and unsaved today.

Swipe Right for a Pastor

This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.
~ 1 Timothy 3:1

What a pastor must be.

I don’t understand this newfangled world we live in. I feel a dinosaur at times. I’m crusty and curmudgeonly. I get that, but I’m not wholly averse to technology and its advances. I’m decidedly no sympatico with Luddites. Take online dating, for instance. I’m barely aware of online dating, though that’s what the kids these days are doing. The mechanics of it seems easy enough. An interested person fills out some forms and makes their profile. This information is surreptitiously fed into an over-mechanized piece of equipment, which is in the dank innards of an empty factory in a post-industrialized city somewhere in the midwest. The machine commences to whirring and churning while puffing and coughing and emitting all sorts of steampunk noises. The carefully crafted algorithms do their work and out comes the suggested matches for the criteria you have specified.

Of course, the convenience lies in the “online” part of the whole scheme. You have no need to besmudge your shoes with unidentifiable mixtures of oil and grease from the abandoned factory. No, no, the information is wirelessly, and might I add, magically, transmitted to your handheld device and appears on your screen. You are presented with a few digital photos and brief statements about the person in said photos. You then swipe right to approve this person as a potential date, or you swipe left to expunge them from your account because you do not approve of their few photos and statements about themselves. It’s not at all clear to me what happens to the unfortunate lot swiped left. Are they then surreptitiously fed to the whirring and puffing mechanical beast? I suppose America will never know.

Some who are better apprised than I will entertain the possibility my outline of the process may not be entirely accurate. I readily admit the possibility. I’m not ashamed of it. In the interest of artistic integrity though, I had to fill in the blank spaces left in the procedure of it all after the fifteen seconds of Google searching I engaged in. I do take my place in the industry seriously.

The gist of using the dating app is as follows: a person makes a quick decision based on thin criteria and thin knowledge that the alleged does or does not meet said criteria. Though honesty is barely a part of the process, if we are being honest, people primarily swipe right or left based on the looks of the person in the photos. That’s about as superficial as the apology of a politician.

What are you looking for in a pastor?

One would hope a church looking for a pastor would not be anything like dating app users in their search for a match. A guy can hope like Teddy Roosevelt said, “When you’re at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hold on.” I hope that my hope is not misplaced, but I have heard some things that greases the grip.

If it were not so sad and serious, it would be funny what people are sometimes looking for in a pastor. Some do not want a pastor too old, or too young if it comes to it. Some insist upon gray hair, and others would rather not. Some are deemed too short, too fat, too bald, or just plain too ugly. After all, they reason, I’m going to spend a lot of time looking at him up front. Some require certain degrees of formal education and some have very settled ideas about his dress and mannerisms. His manner of speaking must be pleasing, and, to some, he absolutely must not have the offense of hair upon his face. His sermons must not be too long, and I don’t know if anything would be considered too short these days. This is not to even mention all his wife must measure up to, if he could possibly be an acceptable pastor to a church.

Some will suspect hyperbole in the previous paragraph, but there is not as much as you might think. I have sometimes heard people talk about what they are looking for in a pastor, and if I were tasked by editorial to write the copy for their advertisement, I would conclude it with, “Peter, Paul, John, et al, need not apply.” If your pastoral search criteria means that neither Jesus nor any of his apostles could be the pastor of your church, then just go ahead and swipe right on every pearly tooth grinner whose name sounds like Hinny Ben, or Lowell Joesteen.

What he must be

A pastor may be many things. He may be tall, short, thick, or thin. He may be formally educated, or not. He may be polished, or young, or old, or any number of things. He might stutter or mispronounce certain words. He might fill an armchair as though everyone were wearing armchairs tight about the hips this season. His grammar might be impeccable, or he may not know a diphthong from a dangling participle. He might be all kinds of things, but there are a few things he must be. Whether he has gray hair, dark wavy hair, or no hair is not important at all. Choosing a pastor should be nothing like a beauty pageant, or using a dating app, if I want to maintain the purity of the metaphor. Whether he meets the requirements of God’s breathed out word is utmost important and vital to the spiritual health of the Lord’s church. So, what must he be?

First and Second Timothy and the letter to Titus are commonly referred to as the pastoral epistles. The qualifications and disqualifications of a man for pastor are clearly spelled out in them. Reading through the letters, we pick up at least five must-haves for a pastor.

  1. He must be enabled and put into the ministry by God (1 Timothy 1:12).
    He must be called and gifted by God for the ministry. The local church plays a role in confirming a man has been gifted by God for the work of the ministry, meaning he possesses the necessary abilities to fulfill the office as outlined by Scripture. The church must also confirm he meets the qualifications for the office, which is not a list they produce in a brainstorming session. Those qualifications are spelled out in Scripture. The man must give evidence of this call of God on his life and the church must confirm it.
  2. He must be a godly man (1 Timothy 3:1-7; 6:11-14; 2 Timothy 2:21-22; Titus 1:6-8; 2:7-8).
    The qualification lists are dominated by aspects of character. This does not mean his orthodoxy is unimportant, but his statement of faith does not trump the character of his life. He must be of good reputation and a man who pursues holiness in life. He must be self-controlled and abstaining from sinful temptations. He must be just in his dealings and not a hot head.
  3. He must be able to teach (1 Timothy 3:2; 2 Timothy 2:2, 14-16; 4:1-2; Titus 2:1).
    He has to have the ability and willingness to teach God’s word. He must be able to make the word of God understandable to his people and applicable to their lives. These are gifts that must be given by God, and if a man has them, he can and should be improving them. If a man does not have them, no amount of sincerity or seminary will put it into him. He must be able to instruct those who are in error and to refute the error.
  4. He must know the Bible (2 Timothy 1:13; 2:23-26; 3:14-17; Titus 1:9-11; 2:15; 3:9).
    He doesn’t have to possess all knowledge and perfectly understand all mysteries and prophecies, but he has to know the Bible and should be growing in his knowledge of the Bible. He should not be a man who boasts of his ignorance, but rather he should acknowledge it and labor to erase it as much as possible. Having the ability to speak does not mean anything if he doesn’t know his subject. How is a man going to mature and equip saints in the word if he doesn’t know that word himself? How is a man going to identify and refute error if he does not have a thorough knowledge of the truth?
  5. He must be wholly given to the work of pastoring (1 Timothy 4:15; 5:17).
    He must not be a disinterested or lazy man. He must be a diligent laborer who works at his preaching and teaching. He must not be a man given to trimming and finding shortcuts to his work. He must be a man who puts his hand to the plow and does not look back.

Again, a pastor may be many other things that make him more or less useful in the work of pastoring, but these are things he must be. These are the qualities a church must be looking for when searching for a pastor. I’m not recommending a church have low standards in what they are looking for. I am saying a church should have God’s standards in what they are looking for in a pastor. Ultimately, a church should be looking for a pastor after God’s heart and not after the image they’ve come up with from throwing their gold in the fire.

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