A Godly Response To Life's Trials
3/1/12 | by Ken Ramey | Pastor-Teacher
What a difference a day can make. Any of us could wake up on any given morning and by the time the day is over something unforeseen happens that alters our life forever.
No one understood this reality more than Job. One morning this godly man rose early to worship the Lord and intercede for the spiritual well-being of his ten children just like he did every morning. But by the end of the day, all of his children were dead, all his flocks were stolen by raiders, all his possessions were destroyed by fire, and his entire body was covered with painful boils.
Job lost more in a day than most of us will lose in a lifetime. The only thing he didn’t lose was his wife, and based on the counsel she gave him to just curse God and die, he probably wished he had lost her too! But instead of cursing God, Job chose to bless God for all the bad things that happened to him. His initial response to his unspeakable tragedy was “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job. 1:21). He later exhorted his wife, “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity” (Job 2:10).
Job’s friends, while well-intentioned, weren’t much help to him either. Their compassion and comfort were short-lived, and after sitting in silence with him for seven days, they began to counsel Job about the cause of his suffering which put him on the defensive. For 35 chapters they debated the question, “Why do people suffer?” Finally, God had enough of their ignorant discussion and He arrived in a whirlwind and interrupted Job and his friends. He never addressed the reason for Job’s suffering. He simply redirected the conversation to Job’s response to suffering.
Through a series of rhetorical questions and powerful descriptions of God’s sovereignty in creating the world, God essentially asked Job, “Who do you think you are to question me or try to understand my grand design in your suffering?” Job immediately humbled himself and repented. Through it all, Job learned a valuable lesson about suffering that every one of us needs to learn. When faced with trials, rather than focusing on the reason for the trial, we need to focus on our response to the trial. Instead of trying to figure out why we are suffering, we need to learn to trust God that He is sovereignly, wisely, and lovingly working out all the circumstances of our lives for His glory and for our good.
In his helpful book, Trusting God, Jerry Bridges writes the following:
All people-believers as well as unbelievers-experience anxiety, frustration, heartache and disappointment. Some suffer intense physical pain and catastrophic tragedies. But that which should distinguish the suffering of believers from unbelievers is the confidence that our suffering is under the control of an all-powerful and all-loving God; our suffering has meaning and purpose in God’s eternal plan…He always has a purpose for the grief He brings or allows to come into our lives. Most often we do not know what that purpose is, but it enough to know that His infinite wisdom and perfect love have determined that the particular sorrow is best for us. God never wastes pain. He always uses it to accomplish His purpose. And His purpose is for His glory and our good. Therefore, we can trust Him when our hearts are aching or our bodies are racked with pain.
God’s purpose and plan for our lives are frequently beyond our ability to understand. Little did Job know that behind the scenes God was teaching Satan a much-needed lesson; that when a true believer faces trials they respond with persevering faith. The real question regarding Job is not “why did Job suffer” but “why did Job worship God.”
Satan questioned the genuineness of Job’s relationship with God. He assumed the only reason why Job worshipped God was because God had blessed Him so much. So in order to prove the genuineness of Job’s faith in Him, God gave Satan permission to do whatever he wanted to Job, except kill him. But even after Satan let all hell break loose, destroying every aspect of Job’s life, Job continued to worship God. He understood that adversity was a normal, natural part of life. He said, “Man is born for adversity; as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). He understood life is “short-lived and full of turmoil” (Job 14:1). But in spite of the adversity he faced, he expressed his unconditional commitment to God with these words, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him” (Job 13:15).
The bottom line of the story of Job is this: the way Job responded to trials in his life proved to Satan the genuineness of his relationship with God. This same principle applies to you and me. How we respond to trials in our lives is one of the greatest tests of the genuineness of our relationship with God. Our response to life’s trials proves whether our faith is genuine or counterfeit; real or fake.
That’s what James was getting at in the opening verses of his letter to Jewish believers who had been scattered all over the world as a result of persecution. They were being persecuted by the Gentiles for being Jews and they were being persecuted by the Jews for being Christians. They were surrounded by trials on all sides; they were coming at them from all directions. In the midst of this distressing situation, James instructed them how to properly respond to the trials they faced. He wrote, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).
Trials are a normal, natural part of life. They are unavoidable. It is impossible to escape them. So we shouldn’t be surprised when trials come, we should expect them to come; especially if we are a Christian. And when they come, God expects us to respond with a joyful attitude that is based on a deep-down sense of peace and confidence that God is in perfect control of everything and no matter how bad things may seem, we know He is using them to glorify Himself and to conform us to the image of His Son (cf. Rom. 8:28-29). God’s ultimate goal for every Christian is to make us like Jesus Christ and trials are His primary means of accomplishing that goal. We will never fully develop into who God wants us to be unless we go through trials.
There are few things as fascinating in nature as a butterfly emerging from its cocoon. When you were a child, I’m sure that many of you, like me, found a cocoon and placed it in a jar and watched with wonder as this amazing event unfolded. The story is told of a young boy who witnessed this transformation. When the butterfly started to break out of his cocoon, the boy noticed how hard it had to struggle to free itself. The process was very slow. In an effort to help, he reached down and widened the opening of the cocoon. Soon the butterfly emerged but its wings were all crumpled and shriveled. Something was wrong. The butterfly, which should have spread its wings and flown away, could only helplessly crawl around on the ground because its wings never fully developed. What the boy had not realized was that the struggle to get out of the cocoon was essential for the butterfly’s muscle system to develop. In a misguided effort to relieve the God-designed struggle, he had crippled the butterfly from ever becoming the beautiful creature God created it to be.
The trials of life are much like the cocoon of the butterfly. God uses the struggles that we go through to develop our spiritual “muscle system.” Adversity is essential to our growth as Christians. But when we face adversity, like that boy who was unaware of the necessity of the struggle, we want God to relieve us from it; to make life easier for us. Yet God in His wisdom knows that to remove adversity from our lives would cripple us and keep our spiritual character from being fully developed. So He wisely and lovingly uses adversity to strengthen us and ultimately transform us into the beautiful image of Jesus Christ.
Getting Back In The Spiritual Groove
9/1/12 | by Ken Ramey | Pastor-Teacher
At the end of the summer, it’s not not uncommon for Christians to feel distant from the Lord and dry in their soul. During the summer months we typically get out of our normal schedules and routines, we go on vacations, things are generally more laid back, and it’s easy to become lazy. This naturally affects our spiritual disciplines. Our time spent communing with God in His Word and prayer often becomes sporadic and in some cases non-existent. Neglecting, rushing, or simply going through the motions of our “quiet time” inevitably results in a cold, dreary heart toward God and a lack of zeal for His glory. That might be the condition of your heart right now. But it doesn’t have to remain that way.
My own heart was recently encouraged when I read the August 11 entry of Spurgeon’s classic devotional Morning and Evening. Here is what he wrote:
Numbers of Christians can view the past with pleasure, but regard the present with dissatisfaction; they look back upon the days which they have passed in communing with the Lord as being the sweetest and the best they have ever known, but as to the present, it is clad in a sable garb of gloom and dreariness. Once they lived near to Jesus, but now they feel that they have wandered from Him, and they say, "O that I were as in months past!" They complain that they have lost their evidences, or that they have not present peace of mind, or that they have no enjoyment in the means of grace, or that conscience is not so tender, or that they have not so much zeal for God's glory. The causes of this mournful state of things are manifold. It may arise through a comparative neglect of prayer, for a neglected closet is the beginning of all spiritual decline. Or it may be the result of idolatry. The heart has been occupied with something else, more than with God; the affections have been set on the things of earth, instead of the things of heaven. A jealous God will not be content with a divided heart; He must be loved first and best. He will withdraw the sunshine of His presence from a cold, wandering heart. Or the cause may be found in self-confidence and self-righteousness. Pride is busy in the heart, and self is exalted instead of lying low at the foot of the cross. Christian, if you are not now as you "were in months past," do not rest satisfied with wishing for a return of former happiness, but go at once to seek your Master, and tell Him your sad state. Ask His grace and strength to help you to walk more closely with Him; humble yourself before Him, and He will lift you up, and give you yet again to enjoy the light of His countenance. Do not sit down to sigh and lament; while the beloved Physician lives there is hope, nay there is a certainty of recovery for the worst cases.
As we move into the Fall season and get back into our regular routines at work, school, and church, let me encourage you to get back into a the groove of spending time with God on a daily basis. Begin by admitting to Him where you are at spiritually, confess any self-confidence or self-righteousness, put off anything that has distracted your heart from Him, and ask Him to revive your passion for Him and restore your intimacy with Him and grant you the grace and strength to read His Word and pray every day.
Be sure to set a consistent time and place for your daily devotions. It also helps to have some sort of reading plan rather than just turning to “wherever the Spirit leads you.” For instance, pick a book of the Bible and read a chapter or two a day until you’re finished and then go on to another one. Or you can choose a short book, like Lamentations or Philippians, and read through it every day for thirty days. If you’ve never developed the habit of having a “quiet time” before, you could start by reading a Psalm a day or the Proverb that corresponds with the day of the month. Whatever plan you choose, the key is walking away from your time in God’s Word with a verse or phrase or word or principle or command or warning or promise that you can mull over and apply during the course of your day.
The first step to implementing biblical truth into your life is to pray about it. Talking to God about what you just read is the most natural way to transition into a time of prayer. Then take a moment to praise and thank God for who He is and what He has done for you. Confess any sin in your life and then spend the remainder of your prayer time interceding for your family members, your neighbors, coworkers, classmates, fellow church members, and our church along with its various ministries and missionaries.
It always takes a few weeks to get back in the groove of work or school, and it’s the same when it comes to getting back close to God. So start small and stick with it and you will once again enjoy the sweet sunshine of His presence in your life.
Walking With The Giants
5/1/12 | by Ken Ramey | Pastor-Teacher
Do you have a hero? Someone who inspires you? Someone you admire? Someone you revere? Someone you look up to? Someone you strive to be like? Did you know that God commands us to have heroes? Hebrews 13:7 says, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” This is a Biblical mandate for having heroes!
One of my heroes is David Brainerd, the zealous missionary to the American Indians who lived and ministered in colonial America. In his introduction to The Life and Diary of David Brainerd, Jonathan Edwards stated that God has two ways of presenting true religion and challenging us to live it out. The two ways are doctrine and example. Throughout the history of the church, God has not only raised up powerful preachers to teach us His Word, but He has also raised up powerful examples to show us how to live out what is taught in His Word. Edwards considered Brainerd one of those powerful examples that God raised up whose life was worthy of imitation.
There are many other powerful examples throughout church history whose lives serve to inspire us to honor God with our lives. Remembering the great men and woman of the past is critical to the spiritual life of every Christian today. That’s why the last couple of summers we have picked a biographical book to read through together as a church. Two years ago the men read the incredible biography of Hudson Taylor and the women read the heart-wrenching stories of women from around the world who are part of the persecuted church. Last summer we all read Through Gates of Splendor, the inspiring story of Jim Elliot and his four friends who died bringing the gospel to the Auca Indians in the jungles of Ecuador.
This summer we have chosen to read a collection of condensed biographies called 50 People Every Christian Should Know. Beloved pastor and author Warren Wiersbe has done the body of Christ a great service by widely researching and simply summarizing the stories of fifty godly men and woman from the past. By encapsulating the lives of these spiritual giants, he has made them easily accessible to those of us who might never take the time to read their entire biography but can still glean some rich insights and gain inspiration and renewed perspective for our lives from those who have faithfully gone before us.
I want to encourage everyone in our church to get a copy of this book and read through it during the months of June, July, and August. I promise you your spiritual life will never be the same. The renowned British preacher Martyn Lloyd Jones said that next to reading the Bible, the one thing that helped him grow and mature the most in his walk with Christ was reading the biographies of other Christians. My prayer is that this summer all of us will grow and mature in our walk with Christ as we have the privilege of walking with these spiritual giants.
A Reminder To Read Your Bible
3/1/12 | by Ken Ramey | Pastor-Teacher
In a recent sermon I heard, I was reminded of a fascinating and convicting passage in the Old Testament that I had forgotten. Before the nation of Israel entered the Promised Land, God, through His mouthpiece Moses, gave them instructions regarding the king they would appoint to rule over them. Besides not being a foreigner and not multiplying horses and wives and wealth for himself, God ordered that the king was to write out his own copy of the Scriptures and read it every day. Listen to the words of God in Deuteronomy 17:18-20:
Now it shall come about when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself a copy of this law on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. It shall be with him and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, by carefully observing all the words of this law and these statutes, that his heart may not be lifted up above his countrymen and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, to the right or the left, so that he and his sons may continue long in his kingdom in the midst of Israel.
What a creative way for God to ensure that the appointed leader of His people was very familiar with His Word so he would fear and obey Him and walk humbly before Him. Most of us have multiple copies of God’s Word lying around our house so there is no need for us to write out a personal copy. Nevertheless, we should be committed to reading it “all the days of our lives” so we will not stray away from God and His will for our lives.
Furthermore, we must never take for granted the amazing privilege of having our own copy of the Bible. There are persecuted believers in countries hostile to Christianity who have never seen a whole Bible or an entire church has to share one copy of the Scriptures. In the latest Voice of the Martyrs newsletter, a Christian worker in Iran said, “I have seen people copy the whole Bible by hand in notebooks so they can have their own copy.” Some Christians who have received a Bible that was smuggled into their country have to hide it because if they get caught with it, they could get arrested or even killed.
In light of this, it is sad that those of us who do have Bibles of our own don’t read them more regularly, especially in our tech savvy culture where the Scriptures are as easily accessible as an app on our phones or tablet computers.
In his excellent book Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life, J. I. Packer included the following compelling story:
Dr. Thomas Goodwin described an episode during his student days when he went to hear a certain Puritan preacher named Mr. Rogers. His subject was the Scriptures. And in his sermon he talked to the congregation about their neglect of the Bible. He impersonated God saying to them, “I have trusted you so long with my Bible; you have slighted it, it lies in your houses all covered with dust and cobwebs; you care not to listen to it. Therefore, you shall no longer have my Bible.” And he acted like he was carrying away their Bibles from them. Then he impersonated the people by falling down on his knees, crying out and pleading with God, “Lord, whatever you do to us, take not your Bible from us; kill our children, burn our houses, destroy our goods; only spare us your Bible, don’t take away your Bible.” Again he impersonated God’s response saying, “Well, I will try you a while longer; here is my Bible for you. I will see how you will use it, whether you will love it more…observe it more…practice it more, and live more according to it.” Goodwin said that the entire congregation was moved to tears and that he himself was so overwhelmed with conviction that he hung on the neck of his horse weeping for 15 minutes before he was able to mount.
Packer concluded, “This anecdote takes us to the very heart of Puritanism. The congregation’s reaction shows that Rogers was touching their conscience at its most sensitive point. For Puritanism was, above all else, a Bible movement. To the Puritan the Bible was in truth the most precious possession that this world affords....To his mind...no greater insult could be offered to the Creator than to neglect His written Word; and, conversely, there could be no truer act of homage to Him than to prize it and pore over it, and then to live out and give out its teaching. Intense veneration for Scripture, as the living Word of the living God, and a devoted concern to know and do all that it prescribes, was Puritanism’s hallmark.”
May it also be the hallmark of our lives and our church; that we would honor God by prizing His Word and poring over it and living it out and giving it out to others.
Having A Heart For The Harvest
1/1/12 | by Ken Ramey | Pastor-Teacher
Throughout the history of the church there have been those who have stood out above the rest as having an intense, burning passion to reach the lost. Here is how a few well-known men expressed this passion:
“I see the world as a sinking ship, people are trapped, destined for doom; God gave me a lifeboat and said, ‘Moody, save all you can!’”
missionary to the American Indians
“I cared not where or how I lived, or what hardships I went through, so that I could but gain souls for Christ!”
“Give me Scotland or I’ll die!”
preacher of the Second Great Awakening
“O Lord, give me souls or take my soul!”
the Apostle to the Gentiles
“I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsman according to the flesh, who are Israelites” (Rom. 9:2-4).
These are the words of broken, driven men. They were broken with a compassion for the lost and driven by a passion to reach the lost. They all followed in the footsteps of another broken and driven man; their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It was Jesus who said the main reason He came to earth was “to seek and save that which was lost” (Lk. 19:10). Jesus had great compassion for the lost and an even greater passion to reach the lost. While He was on earth, He sought to pass that compassion and passion on to His followers.
We are most familiar with the Great Commission (Mt. 28:19-20) in which Jesus, before returning to heaven, gave the final orders to His disciples to carry on His mission to seek and save the lost. But we must not forget what could be called the Great Compassion (Mt. 9:35-38) when Jesus gave the first orders to His disciples to join Him in the mission to seek and save the lost. Matthew records:
And Jesus was going about all the cities and the villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. And seeing the multitudes, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and downcast like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.’
This passage marks a major transition in the ministry of Jesus. He had been performing all sorts of miracles in order to prove His divine power and authority. Up until this point the disciples were just spectators. They were following Jesus around watching Him work. He was working all alone in the massive harvest of souls. And after all He had seen and experienced, His heart was about to burst. It was time to get the disciples involved in the harvest.
In order to motivate them to come and work alongside Him in harvesting souls, He poured out His compassion for the lost and His passion to reach the lost. Compassion was Jesus’ consistent response to the people with whom He came into contact (cf. Mt. 14:14; 15:32; Lk. 19:41). His heart was grieved by all that He saw and experienced and His natural reaction was to reach out and help people. Why did His heart break so? He looked past the fronts and façades and saw people for who they really were and where they were going. He saw them as lost sheep wandering to the slaughter. To make matters worse, there were more distressed, downcast people than there were people willing and able to share the gospel with them. So Jesus exhorted His disciples to beg God to raise up and send forth more people who could reach the myriad of lost souls.
By telling His disciples to pray this prayer, Jesus was setting them up. Little did they know they were going to be the answer to their own prayers. It’s not enough to pray. Anyone who prays for God to send workers into the fields needs to be willing to be one of them. In essence Jesus was saying, “You’ve been watching and praying long enough. It’s time for you to get involved in the work!” And with His very next breath, Jesus commissioned and sent out His twelve disciples to spread the message of salvation throughout the land of Israel (cf. Mt. 10:1-42).
Jesus knew that if and when we sincerely pray that lost people will be reached with the gospel, we will be more ready and willing to reach them ourselves. As we begin another year together as a church body, I want to encourage all of us to be regularly praying that God would grant us a heart for the harvest; that He would give us greater compassion for the lost; that we would see people like Jesus saw them; and that we would faithfully and boldly take advantage of every opportunity God provides us to share the gospel with lost people with whom we come into contact.
Another man who stood out in church history as having an intense passion to reach the lost is Horatius Bonar. He wrote following in his book Words to Winners of Souls:
The fields are vast, the grain whitens, the harvest waves; and through grace we shall go forth with our sickles, never to rest till we shall lie down where the Lamb Himself shall lead us, by the living fountains of waters, where God shall wipe off the sweat of toil from our weary foreheads and dry up all the tears of earth from our weeping eyes. Some of us are young and fresh; many days may yet be, in the providence of God, before us. These must be days of strenuous, ceaseless, persevering, and, if God bless us, successful toil. We shall labor till we are worn out and laid to rest.
How People Change
9/1/11 | by Ken Ramey | Pastor-Teacher
This past spring semester in Ironmen we read through the book How People Change by Paul Tripp and Timothy Lane. This past summer during Adult Equipping Hour we watched the companion video series. If you’re like me, you benefitted greatly from being exposed to this material on how to experience lasting heart change in our lives. One of the keys to changing and growing to become more like Jesus Christ is being closely and consistently connected to other believers who have a passion for Christlikeness. The best way to build these close, edifying relationships that will help you along the path of spiritual maturity is to get plugged into one of our Grow Groups. Grow Groups are designed to create the kind of Christian community that is essential for our individual growth in grace to occur. God never expected us to grow on our own. But our sinful, self-centered tendency is to avoid the very relationships we need to personally grow and mature in Christ. When we come to Christ we also come to His Church. God ordained that every believer be part of the body of Christ, the Church. None of us will ever be all that God wants us to be apart from the fellowship, encouragement, and accountability provided by being vitally involved in the lives of other believers. However, we all know that being involved with other believers is time consuming and at times complicated. Relationships are messy, but as one author said, they are a mess worth making! For example, listen to the this compelling testimony of one family’s experience in a small group that meets in their home. What this woman says is central to understanding the importance of relationships if we are going to grow in godliness:
My husband and I have been a part of the same small group for the past five years.... Like many small groups, we regularly share a meal together, love one another practically, and serve together to meet needs outside our small group. We worship, study God’s Word, and pray. It has been a rich time to grow in our understanding of God, what Jesus has accomplished for us, God’s purposes for us as a part of His kingdom, His power and desire to change us, and many other precious truths. We have grown in our love for God and others, and have been challenged to repent of our sin and trust God in every area of our lives.
It was a new and refreshing experience for us to be in a group where people were willing to share their struggles with temptation and sin and ask for prayer.... We have been welcomed by others, challenged to become more vulnerable, held up in prayer, encouraged in specific ongoing struggles, and have developed sweet friendships. I have seen one woman who had one foot in the world and one foot in the church openly share her struggles with us. We prayed that God would show her the way of escape from temptation many times and have seen God’s work in delivering her. Her openness has given us a front row seat to see the power of God intersect with her weakness. Her continued vulnerability and growth in godliness encourage us to be humble with one another, and to believe that God is able to change us too.
Because years have now passed in close community, God’s work can be seen more clearly than on a week-by-week basis. One man who had some deep struggles and lots of anger has grown through repenting of sin and being vulnerable one-on-one and in the group. He has been willing to hear the encouragement and challenges of others, and to stay in community throughout his struggle.... He has become an example in serving others, a better listener, and more gentle with his wife. As a group, we have confronted anxiety, interpersonal strife, the need to forgive, lust, family troubles, unbelief, the fear of man, hypocrisy, unemployment, sickness, lack of love, idolatry, and marital strife. We have also grieved together, celebrated together, laughed together, offended one another, reconciled with one another, put up with one another,... and sought to love God and one another. As a group we were saddened in the spring when a man who had recently joined us chose to leave. I say this because, with all the benefits of boing in a small group, it is still just a group of sinners. It is Jesus who makes it worth getting together. Apart from our relationship with him..., we have nothing to offer. But because our focus is on Jesus, the group has the potential to make a significant and life-changing difference in all our lives.
...When 7 o’clock on Monday night comes around, I eagerly look forward to the sound of my brothers and sisters coming in our front door. I never know how the evening will go, what burdens people will be carrying, how I will be challenged, or what laughter or tears we will share. But I always know that the great Shepherd will meet us and that our lives will be richer and fuller because we have been together.
... I hope that by hearing my story you will be encouraged to make a commitment to become a part of a small group and experience the blessing of Christian community within the smaller, more intimate setting that it makes possible.
That is my hope too! On the first two Sundays in September, you will have the opportunity to sign up to join one of our Grow Groups. Each Grow Group meets either every week or every other week on various nights throughout the week and in various locations throughout the Lake Conroe area. While we have given each of our Grow Group Leaders the freedom to choose their own topic of study (i.e. a book of the Bible, Sunday sermon application, reading/discussing a Christian book, etc.), they are all committed to creating the kind of small group dynamic described by the previous testimony. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of something as precious and powerful as that!
5/1/11 | by Ken Ramey | Pastor-Teacher
Over the past few years God has been exposing my propensity to rely on my own wisdom and strength to live and minister and the necessity to rely more on the wisdom and strength He provides in the person and work of His Son Jesus Christ. It was Jesus who said, “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5). While I can do nothing apart from Christ, I agree with the Apostle Paul who said, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). Paul also said, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith (i.e. trust, reliance, dependence) in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20). In other words, after Paul came to know Christ as his personal Lord and Savior, he realized he no longer had to earn God’s favor by striving to achieve a righteousness of his own like he had done all his life (cf. Phil. 3:4-6). He could simply rest in the righteousness Christ had earned for him through His perfect life and substitutionary death on the cross. And it was this amazing act of self-sacrificing love that captivated and motivated Paul to live a life of obedience to Christ. He said, “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for HIm who died and rose again on their behalf” (2 Cor. 5:14).
I have found myself praying more often each morning that I would be captivated and motivated by Christ’s love for me and that I would remember that who I am in Christ is more important than what I do for Christ. A conviction is developing in my heart that too many of us as Christians are guilty of living the Christian life apart from or without Christ. All of us realize our desperate need of Christ for salvation. But for some reason we don’t realize that we need Him just as much for sanctification. We are like the Galatians who Paul had to confront for foolishly trying to be perfected by the flesh rather than by faith in the power that Christ provides through the Holy Spirit (cf. Gal. 3:2-3). That doesn’t negate our responsibility in the sanctification process. Paul told the Philippians, “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed...work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). We are commanded all over Scripture to obey what it says so that we will grow and change into the image of Jesus Christ. But if you’re like me, you need to be regularly reminded that the Christian life isn’t about what we do for Christ but rather relishing in and relying on what Christ has already done to make it possible for us to become like Him.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m trying to do a better job in my sermons of reminding us that it is only by relying on Christ that we are able to do what the Bible tells us to do. One of the main marks of biblical preaching is that Christ is always exalted as the One who makes the sermon doable. Tullian Tchividjian, the new pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, touched on this in one of his recent blogs. He wrote about gospel-centered preaching which he believes is “the only type of preaching that will rescue the church from Christless Christianity.” He included a profound quote from Michael Horton, Professor of Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California and host of the nationally syndicated radio broadcast, The White Horse Inn. Horton wrote:
Scripture is of no use to us if we read it merely as a handbook for daily living without recognizing that its principle purpose is to reveal Jesus Christ and his gospel for the salvation of sinners. All Scripture coalesces in Christ, anticipated in the OT and appearing in the flesh in the NT. In Scripture, God issues commands and threatens judgment for transgressors as well as direction for the lives of his people. Yet the greatest treasure buried in the Scriptures is the good news of the promised Messiah. Everything in the Bible that tells us what to do is “law”, and everything in the Bible that tells us what God has done in Christ to save us is “gospel.” Much like medieval piety, the emphasis in much Christian teaching today is on what we are to do without adequate grounding in the good news of what God has done for us in Christ. “What would Jesus do?” becomes more important than “What has Jesus done?” The gospel, however, is not just something we needed at conversion so we can spend the rest of our Christian life obsessed with performance; it is something we need every day–the only source of our sanctification as well as our justification. The law guides, but only the gospel gives. We are declared righteous–justified–not by anything that happens within us or done by us, but solely by God’s act of crediting us with Christ’s perfect righteousness through faith alone.
Tchividjian concluded his blog entry with the following helpful challenge to preachers:
Don’t make the mistake of assuming that people understand the radical nature of what Jesus has done so that your preaching ministry is focused primarily on what people need to do. The “what we need to do” portions of the Bible are good, perfect, and true–but apart from the “what Jesus has already done” portions of the Bible, we lack the power to do what we’re called to do. The good commands of God, in other words, do not have the power to engender what they command. They show us what a sanctified life looks like but they have no sanctifying power. Only the gospel has the power to move us forward. This is why the Bible never tells us what to do before first soaking our hearts and minds in what God in Christ has already done. The fact is, that any obedience not grounded in or motivated by the gospel is unsustainable. No matter how hard you try, how radical you get, any engine smaller than the gospel that you’re depending on for power to obey will conk out in due time. So, preach the gospel!
Please pray for me as I seek to live and minister in greater dependence on Christ and to preach sermons that maintain a biblical balance between “what we need to do” and “what Jesus has already done” so that all we do for Christ will be done in response to and in reliance on what Christ has done for us!
Snakes & Satan
3/1/11 | by Ken Ramey | Pastor-Teacher
I hate snakes! There is nothing that gives me the willies more than seeing a snake slithering along the ground. Since I moved to Texas 12 years ago, I’ve had the revolting experience of hacking snakes to pieces on my driveway, back patio, front walkway, in our back yard, and the side garden. Thankfully, none of them have been very big, probably because God knows I couldn’t handle it (1 Cor. 10:13). Nevertheless, snake stories are common in these parts and anyone who has ever chopped a snake’s head off knows the rest of the snake continues to writhe for a while in an eerie sort of way. We can learn a profound spiritual lesson from the neurology of a headless snake.
Last month’s issue of Christianity Today carried the following snake story about a missionary couple stationed in the jungle.
One day an enormous snake-much longer than a man-slithered right through their front door and into the kitchen of their simple home. Terrified, they ran outside and searched frantically for a local who might know what to do. A machete-wielding neighbor came to the rescue, calmly marching into their house and decapitating the snake with one clean chop. The neighbor reemerged triumphant and assured the missionaries that the reptile had been defeated. But there was a catch, he warned: It was going to take a while for the snake to realize it was dead....For the next several hours, the missionaries were forced to wait outside while the snake thrashed about, smashing furniture and flailing against the walls and windows, wreaking havoc until its body finally understood that it no longer had a head. Sweating in the heat, they had felt frustrated and a little sickened but also grateful that the snake’s rampage wouldn’t last forever....At some point in their waiting...they had a mutual epiphany. “Do you see it?” asked the husband. “Satan is a lot like that big old snake. He’s already been defeated. He just doesn’t know it yet. In the meantime, he’s going to do some damage. But never forget that he’s a goner.”
According to Genesis 3:15, the curse on the serpent was not just that he would have to slither on his belly all his days, but ultimately his head would be crushed by the coming Messiah. When Jesus died on the cross and reemerged from the grave triumphant, He conquered (i.e. decapitated) Satan and sealed his eternal doom (Heb. 2:14; Rev. 12:9). However, Satan is still thrashing around and wreaking havoc in the world, and will continue to do so until Jesus returns and banishes him to hell for all eternity (Rev. 20:2). We can be grateful that Satan’s present day rampage won’t last forever (Rev. 12:17). There is coming a day very soon when God will eventually crush Satan under the feet of Christ’s followers (Rom. 16:20). Knowing that we are warring against a defeated foe should assure and embolden us as we live and minister in light of the reality that the One who lives in us is far greater than the dead snake frantically but futilely writhing and flailing about in the world (1 Jn. 4:4).
Resolved: To Glorify God In Everything
1/1/11 | by Ken Ramey | Pastor-Teacher
In Steve Lawson’s compelling book, The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards, he writes, “Every great Christian leader has a master passion, an overruling ambition that dominates his life and drives his soul. It is that in which he most believes, that which most captures his mind and enflames his heart. Such a chief aim controls him and defines his very reason for being. This supreme sense of purpose becomes a motivation so strong that it empowers him to overcome all obstacles and overrides all adversity. For Jonathan Edwards, this passion was...the glory of God” (p. 63).
As a young man, Edward’s heart was captured by the glory of God. He became convinced from His study of God’s Word that God’s ultimate end in all things is His glory. And since God Himself has made His glory His highest end, Edwards concluded that bringing glory to God must be his primary purpose and preeminent pursuit in life. Consequently, glorifying God became Edward’s greatest goal in life and he pursued it with a riveting, relentless resolve. His famous “70 Resolutions” were an expression of his passion and desire to glorify God in every area of his life. He evaluated everything in his life in light of God’s glory. It may have been that he actually asked himself the question in every situation and in every decision, “Will this glorify God?” or “What will glorify God most?” Can you imagine what your life would be like-what kind of year 2011 would be-if you resolved to ask yourself this question before doing anything or saying anything or watching anything or listening to anything or eating anything or buying anything or going anywhere or spending time with anyone....Isn’t that a practical way to apply 1 Corinthians 10:31 where Paul said, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
Glorifying God relates to every area of our lives because He is honored or dishonored by everything we do! As Christians we are prone to make a distinction between what we consider sacred things (i.e. reading our Bibles, praying, going to church, etc.) and secular things (i.e. going to work, playing golf, going to the mall, cutting the grass, watching a video, etc.).
But all these things are the same to God. That’s why we must do everything to the glory of God (i.e. selling a part, fixing an engine, bidding a job, signing a contract, building a house, digging a ditch, teaching a class, diagnosing a patient’s problem and prescribing medicine, driving a truck, trading a stock, feeding the animals, plowing a field, flying an airplane, drilling for oil, wrapping an athlete’s ankle, caring for a sick child, counseling a needy person, surfing the internet, designing a piece of jewelry, waiting on tables, arresting a criminal, changing a dirty diaper, making dinner, doing your homework, watching T.V., going to the movies, listening to music, reading a book, looking at a magazine, teeing off, catching a bass, crushing a serve, riding a horse, etc.).
Glorifying God must be the over-arching purpose, the all-consuming passion, the never-ending pursuit of all of our lives. But we must never forget that we can’t glorify God in our own strength. Sheer will power is not enough. Edwards knew that no matter how resolved or determined he was to glorify God, in order to keep his 70 Resolutions he would have to rely solely on the grace of God through the enabling power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. In the preamble to his resolutions, he acknowledged his humble dependence upon God in the pursuit of God’s glory. He wrote, “Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.”
As we launch into a new year, may the unwavering resolve of Jonathan Edward’s motivate us to glorify God in everything we do. And may Jesus Christ serve as both our model and means as He was the only one who ever glorified God completely in every area of His life. Ultimately, we must rely on His power in order to reflect His life which perfectly reflected the glory of God.
Slave Or Son?
11/1/10 | by Ken Ramey | Pastor-Teacher
Chuck Swindoll is one of my preaching heroes. Early on in my ministry I purchased a set of his study guides which have proven to be an invaluable resource in helping me understand, apply, and teach God’s Word. During one of my recent study times, I came across something he wrote that had very little to do with the passage I was studying but had a whole lot to do with where I was in my relationship with the Lord. I want to share it with you in hopes that it will encourage and challenge your heart as it did mine.
When we feel like we’ve blown it in our efforts to live for Christ, the following words, from a missionary who wrote to author David Seamands, could be ours:
I know all the answers, all the Scriptures, and can quote the exact chapter and verse. But it is all in my head. The God I serve is never pleased with me and is certainly nothing like the gracious loving God I say I believe in - and tell others about. Why can’t I practice what I preach? I feel like a fake.
Seamands contends that these feelings of inadequacy and frustration result partly from viewing our relationship with God more as that of a servant to a master than a child to a loving parent. He elaborates on how these perspectives can affect our feelings toward Him...and toward life.
The servant is accepted and appreciated on the basis of what he does, the child on the basis of who he is. The servant starts the day anxious and worried, wondering if his work will really please his master. The child rests in the secure love of his family. The servant is accepted because of his workmanship, the son or daughter because of a relationship. The servant is accepted because of his productivity and performance. The child belongs because of his position as a person. At the end of the day, the servant has peace of mind only if he is sure he has proven his worth by his work. The next morning his anxiety begins again. The child can be secure all day, and know that tomorrow won’t change his status. When a servant fails, his whole position is at stake; he might lose his job. When a child fails, he will be grieved because he has hurt his parents, and he will be corrected and disciplined. But he is not afraid of being thrown out. His basic confidence is in belonging and being loved, and his performance does not change the stability of his position.
Ouch!” That’s what I said when I got done reading this convicting comparison of those who live and minister with the mindset of a slave and those who live and minister with the mindset of a son. Following the study guide’s suggestion, I took a moment to read Galatians 4:4-7 which says, “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.” When I read that last verse, my eyes filled with tears because I tend to relate to God as a slave more than a son.
Granted, the analogy of a slave/master is used many times in Scripture to depict our relationship with God (cf. Dt. 15:15-17; Mt. 20:25-28; 25:14-30; Lk. 12:35-48; 17:7-10). Paul frequently referred to himself as a “bondslave” (cf. Rom. 1:1; Gal. 1:10; Phil. 1:1). Many Christians often fail to live with this vital slave/master mindset. By God’s grace, I’m not one of them. But I am the Christian who often fails to live with the son/father mindset.
How about you? Would you say you relate to God more as a slave to a master or as a son to a father? I’m convinced that having a more balanced perspective could relieve our fears and frustrations and restore our joy and confidence and help us live and minister simply because we are captivated and motivated by our Father’s great love for us.
Living Life As A Blind Amputee
7/1/10 | by Ken Ramey | Pastor-Teacher
The other day my oldest son Zach played me a song off a new Christian rap album he wants to buy, or I should say, he wants me to buy for him. The song was about staying pure from sin. While I couldn’t make out many of the lyrics, I did here one line about being a “blind amputee.” My mind immediately recalled the words of Christ in Matthew 5:29-30 where He told His followers, “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.” What Jesus was implying here is that our eternal destiny is at stake with how we deal with sin in our life. This reality should motivate us to take radical steps in “amputating” sin from our lives.
A few years back I read an unbelievable article in the Houston Chronicle about a 27 year old mountaineer from Aspen, Colorado named Aron Ralston who almost died after getting his arm pinned by an 800-pound boulder while hiking in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park. For five long, lonely days he threw his body against the rock and chipped away at it in order to free himself. When he used up the last of his food and water, he realized his only chance of surviving was to cut off his arm. So he began by breaking the bones in his arm and proceeded to saw it off with his dull pocketknife. Then he rappelled down a canyon and hiked about six miles before he came across some other hikers who had him airlifted to a local hospital.
This amazing story illustrates that anyone who has a will to live will do anything it takes not to die. Ralston wanted to live so bad that he was willing to amputate his own arm. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are expected to take the same radical approach toward sin in our lives. Obviously, Jesus wasn’t commanding us to literally gouge out our lustful eyes or cut off other sinful body parts. The principle is simply this: we must remove or cut ourselves off from anything in our life that has the potential to cause us to sin. Our sinful flesh is constantly looking for ways to satisfy itself. The Bible warns us to “make no provision for our flesh” (Rom. 13:14). In other words, we must not provide our flesh with any opportunities to feed itself. We need to make it very hard for ourselves to sin. We need to be honest about those things we are tempted by and be willing to get radical in the way we escape temptation. That might mean getting rid of things we have in our home that appeal to our flesh (e.g. cable TV, books and magazines, the internet, Blue Bell icecream, etc.) or driving a different route to avoid places where we have given into temptation (e.g. the bar, the strip joint, the jewelry store, the donut shop, etc.) or it may mean even getting another job or moving to a different neighborhood, as long as you understand the real problem ultimately lies not in your external environment but inside your heart (Mt. 7:20-23).
This is one aspect of the doctrine of mortification which is a theological term that simply refers to the duty of every believer to kill sin in our lives with the help of the Holy Spirit’s power who indwells us. Paul succinctly explained the concept of mortification in these words: “If you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:13). That is to say, if we continually give in to the desires of our sinful flesh with no repentance or remorse, we are probably not saved and will die in our sin (Rom. 6:23). But if we are constantly fighting against the desires of our flesh and see forward progress in our battle with sin and temptation, that assures us that the Holy Spirit resides in us and we are on our way to heaven where we will be forever freed from sin (Rom. 8:16-17).
But until that glorious day, we must struggle against sin day and night with the strength God provides us by His Spirit. We will lose some of the skirmishes along the way but we will eventually win the war. You can always recognize those spiritual soldiers who are constantly at war with their sin by their battle scars. Many of those who have fought in the military often have a patch over their eye and are missing a limb. Like them, may we find great joy in living our lives as blind amputees which distinguishes us as faithful soldiers of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Becoming More Devoted To God In Prayer
3/1/10 | by Ken Ramey | Pastor-Teacher
As you know, I recently started a new Wednesday night series at The Bridge entitled “Lord, Teach Us To Pray.” That was the request the twelve disciple’s made to our Lord Jesus Christ because they were intrigued by the frequency with which He would retreat to a quiet place to be alone with God in prayer as well as the intimacy with which He communed with His Heavenly Father. Also, they had likely concluded that his private prayer life was the secret behind the public manifestation of God’s power in His life and ministry. In answer to their request, Jesus gave them a sample or model prayer to follow when they prayed. We know it today as the Lord’s Prayer.
The Lord’s Prayer is by far the most famous prayer in the world. It has been repeated millions, maybe even billions of times by countless people and is regularly recited in churches all around the globe. Unfortunately, what most people don’t realize is the Lord never intended this prayer to merely be recited but to influence and inspire our own prayers. The Lord’s Prayer serves as an outline of the basic topics that we should include in our prayers, along with the attitudes and desires that should be expressed in our prayers.
From what we’ve been seeing in our study in the book of Acts, the disciples not only patterned their prayers after the Lord’s Prayer but also prioritized prayer in their lives and ministries like they had observed in their Lord’s life and ministry. One of the underlying themes of Acts is the disciples’ devotion to prayer (cf. Acts 1:14; 2:42; 6:4). Throughout the New Testament, devotion to prayer among God’s people is not only modeled but also commanded (cf. Rom. 12:12).
My purpose for teaching through the Lord’s Prayer over the next couple of months is so that we as God’s people would be more devoted to prayer so that we would see the power of God manifested more in our personal lives and in the life of our church. The old saying is so true: no prayer-no power; little prayer-little power; much prayer-much power.
We will never experience all that God has for us until we learn to frequently and fervently seek His face and our daily time spent alone with Him in prayer is what we look forward to the most. It’s convicting when you consider the fact that God wants to spend time with us far more than we want to spend time with Him. Imagine receiving a personal invitation from a king, president, or some other famous person requesting you to spend time with them. Most of us would drop everything to take advantage of the opportunity. How unthinkable it would be to respond by telling them that we are too busy or have more important things to do. But how much more unthinkable it is to not take advantage of the undeserved invitation that the God of the universe has given His children to spend time with Him because we are too busy or have more important things to do.
As God’s children, we should be so greatly humbled and deeply grateful to have direct access to His presence through Christ’s shed blood for us that we never squander that unfathomable privilege. Jesus Christ suffered and died on the cross so that sinners like us could boldly approach His throne of grace (cf. Heb. 4:16; 10:19-22). In the words of Warren Wiersbe, “The very privilege of prayer is ours at a great price....To neglect prayer is to cheapen everything Jesus accomplished for us at Calvary and is doing for us now in glory” (On Earth As It Is In Heaven, 13).
When we consider how Christ interceded for us through His death on the cross and how He continues to intercede for us through His prayers at the right hand of God, we should be compelled to come boldly into His presence and ask Him anything we want. We know we have an advocate with the Father and we can expect He will give us whatever we ask if we are obeying Him, living a life that is pleasing to Him (1 Jn 3:22) and asking for spiritual things that are in accordance with His will for us. For every believer who comes before God as an obedient, expectant child to his father, God will smother them with blessings above and beyond anything they can ask or could even imagine.
Please be praying that God will use this series on the Lord’s Prayer to make a life-changing impact on all of us, especially me. Also please pray that we would see His power made more manifest, namely in more people in our community coming to know Christ as their personal Lord and Savior and more people in our church growing into the likeness of Christ. And if your schedule does not allow you to attend The Bridge on Wednesday nights, I want to strongly encourage you to listen to this important series online, especially the introductory sermon I preached on February 10 entitled “Talking to God As His Son."
The Bible From Beginning To End In 2010
1/1/10 | by Ken Ramey | Pastor-Teacher
During 2010, we will be commemorating the 10th Anniversary of Lakeside Bible Church. It still seems like just yesterday that we planted the church with a group of like-minded families who wanted to see the entire Lake Conroe community impacted by the Word of God. From the beginning our mission has been to glorify God by proclaiming and living His Word so that people come to know Jesus Christ and grow to be like Him. God has been faithful these past 10 years to bless the ministry of His Word by establishing a thriving body of believers who are committed to being doers of His Word and not merely hearers.
One of the things we have emphasized throughout the years is the importance of spending time reading and studying God’s Word every day (i.e. Quiet Time). We have also encouraged people to read through the entire Bible every year by including a reading schedule in our weekly bulletin. But the sad reality is few Christians spend time in God’s Word on a daily basis, let alone have ever read the Bible from cover to cover.
As I’ve been thinking about special ways to commemorate our 10th Anniversary over the course of this next year, I can’t think of a more special way than by having everyone who is part of our church make a commitment to read through the entire Bible in 2010. I’m sure many of you have always wanted to do that and maybe even attempted to do it but you have never made it through the wilderness in Leviticus or you’ve run out of steam somewhere in the Minor Prophets. Part of the reason you have yet to read through the entire Bible is you have been trying to do it solo without any encouragement and accountability from others.
I’m convinced that if we all commit to making this daunting, demanding journey together it is more likely that the majority of us will be able to make it from beginning to end. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone in our church could say that they have read every word that God wrote to us? Can you imagine how God could transform our church as a result of so many of us being exposed to a daily dose of His living and active Word? Our walk with God will be deepened, our spiritual discipline will be developed, our prayer life will be enriched, our marriages and families will be strengthened, our evangelism will be empowered, our giving will be increased, our service will be energized, and our passion for Christ will be intensified.
There are lots of Bible Reading Plans available to help people read through the Bible in a year’s time. Recently I came across a Bible Reading Calendar that combines what I consider the best features of all the plans I have used in the past. It allows a person to read through the Old Testament once, the New Testament twice, the Psalms twice, and the Proverbs 12 times. I anticipate it will take an average of 30-45 minutes a day to keep up with this rigorous reading schedule. This may require us to restructure our daily routine to make reading God’s Word the priority. We may have to wake up a little earlier or go to bed a little later or use our lunch breaks more strategically or turn off the TV or curb the amount of time we spend emailing, twittering, and surfing online. But remember the rewarding results I mentioned earlier that will experience when we put God and His Word over and above everything else in our lives.
I encourage you to pick up a copy of the Bible Reading Calendar in the foyer and make yourself accountable to your spouse, parent, brother, sister, or a fellow member of our church to follow it for the next 12 months. It seems only appropriate that a Bible church like ours be filled with people who love the Bible so much that they are not content to just read parts of it but they want to read all of it. May God grant all of us the grace we need to rise to this spiritual challenge.
The Reformation And Why It Matters To Us - Pt. 2
11/1/09 | by Ken Ramey | Pastor-Teacher
In the last issue of Lakeside Life, I provided you with a brief historical overview of the Reformation. Now I want to give you a basic theological overview of the doctrines related to the gospel that were rediscovered by the Reformers. While the Reformers did not agree on every doctrine (i.e. church government, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, end times, etc.), they did agree on the essential matters pertaining to salvation. They summarized their shared beliefs with five Latin phrases or slogans in order to clearly distinguish themselves from the errors of the Roman Catholic Church. These five statements are commonly referred to as the “Five Solas” (i.e. Sola Scripture, Solus Christus, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, and Soli Deo Gloria). Sola is the Latin word for “only” or “alone.” So the five driving doctrines of the Reformation were Scripture Alone, Christ Alone, Grace Alone, Faith Alone, and the Glory of God alone.
1. Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)-The Only Foundation of our Salvation
The Bible is the only inerrant, infallible standard of faith and practice. As the inspired Word of God, it is the ultimate authority regarding what we should believe and how we should live. Scripture takes precedent over the declarations of popes, councils, creeds, and customs. Furthermore, under the illumination of the Holy Spirit, the Bible can be interpreted by individual believers and not just by the church (i.e. priests and councils). The Reformers were responsible for translating the Bible from Latin into English to make it accessible to lay people, not just the clergy.
[Ps. 19:7-11; Ps. 119; Isa. 40:8; 66:1-2; 2 Tim. 3:14-4:4; 1 Pet. 1:23; Heb. 4:12; Rev. 22:18-19]
2. Solus Christus (Christ Alone)-The Only Mediator of our Salvation
Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and man. Neither Mary, the saints, or priests can bridge the gap between sinful men and a holy God. Christ interceded once and for all by dying on the cross as a substitute to bear the punishment that sinners deserved. The person and work of Jesus Christ is sufficient in and of itself for salvation. In Him, we have everything we need for life and godliness.
[John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Cor. 2:1-2; 15:1-3; Phil. 2:9-11; Col. 1:13-22; 1 Tim. 2:3-6; 2 Pet. 1:2-3; Rev. 5:12]
3. Sola Gratia (Grace Alone)-The Only Source of our Salvation
Salvation results only from God’s unearned and undeserved grace. It is a free gift of God. Man can do nothing to merit it. Human beings are spiritually dead and are incapable of cooperating with God in salvation (i.e. synergism). God does everything all by Himself (i.e. monergism). Salvation is not dependent on any human work (i.e. methods, techniques, strategies, etc.). God accomplishes it all by His grace.
[Rom. 3:23-24; Eph. 1:3-8; 2:1-9; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 2:11; 3:3-7]
4. Sola Fide (Faith Alone)-The Only Means of our Salvation
God’s grace can only be received by faith. Good works cannot save anyone. God saves those who place their faith alone in Christ’s work on their behalf. At the same time, true saving faith is always accompanied by and evidenced by a life of good works. The Reformers said, “A person is saved by faith alone, but faith that saves is never alone.”
[Rom. 1:17; 3:26-28; Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8-10; Titus 2:14; 3:8]
5. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)-The Only Goal of our Salvation
Since salvation is accomplished solely by God’s will and action, He alone deserves the glory for it. Only God is worthy of glory. Popes, saints, priests, etc. should not be worshipped or glorified. God’s glory was the underlying motive of the Reformation and the sole purpose of the Reformers. They lived their lives for the glory of God.
[Gen. 1:1; Ps. 19:1; Isa. 43:7; Rom. 11:36; 1 Cor. 10:31; Eph. 3:20-21; Phil. 4:19-20; 1 Tim. 1:17; 2 Tim. 4:18; 1 Pet. 4:10-11; 2 Pet. 3:18; Jude 24-25; Rev. 4:11; 14:7]
The Five Solas along with the Doctrines of Grace were the hallmarks of the Reformation and are the essence of reformed theology. Generally speaking, an individual or church that is reformed embraces the theology that rose out of the Reformation. The “Five Solas” were developed as a biblical reaction to the false doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church and the “Doctrines of Grace” were developed as a biblical reaction to the false doctrines of Arminianism. Consequently, being reformed means completely denying Roman Catholic theology to which Reformed theology rose in opposition (i.e. the five solas) and denying Arminian theology which rose in opposition to Reformed theology (i.e. the five points of Calvinism). Practically speaking, every Christian and every church is either Arminian or Calvinistic. Most Christians and churches today are Arminian in doctrine and practice. The minority are Reformed/Calvinistic (i.e. Presbyterian, Reformed Baptist, LBC).
Now there are some other distinctives of reformed theology like the Regulative Principle of Worship (i.e. only do what is clearly delineated in Scripture), Covenant Theology (i.e. no distinction between Israel and the Church), Infant Baptism (i.e. baptize babies into the covenant community), and Amillennialism (i.e. literal 1000 year reign of Christ on the earth). A church or individual Christian need not adhere to these beliefs in order to consider themselves reformed. While our church does not agree with these secondary distinctives of the reformed theology package, we are in essence a reformed church. That being said, I personally think it is unwise to ever allow yourself or your church to be labeled a reformed church or a Calvinistic church. When people hear about our church or refer to our church I don’t want their first thought to be, “They hold to the teachings of John Calvin.” I want them to hear and think, “They hold to the teachings of the Bible.” I want us to be known as Biblicists, not Calvinists.
Nevertheless, it is important that we have a historical perspective on our faith. We need to understand that we are heirs of the Reformers and consequently, guardians of the gospel that they recovered during the Protestant Reformation. The Reformation marked the recovery of the doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone. These truths are clearly taught in the Scriptures and no reformer or other human being should be given credit for the doctrines themselves. Sad but true, these precious truths had been all but lost before the time of the Reformation. And in His sweet providence, God chose certain men at a certain time in history to recover the very gospel itself. It is this gospel by which we are saved. And we who confess the evangelical faith in our day would be remiss if we failed to remember and appreciate the role these men played in times past.
It is sad that most Christians today are unaware of the role the Reformers played in the history of the church, let alone the theological truths surrounding the gospel they recovered. This is tragic considering the fact that these truths are not only essential for our salvation but they serve as the foundation for any true church. The current distressing state of the evangelical church has motivated some to call for a modern reformation. This was the dying cry of James Montgomery Boice, former pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. In his book, Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace, Boice lamented that so many churches have become worldly and desperately need to recover their rich spiritual heritage by repenting of their worldliness and rediscovering the same truths about the gospel that the Reformers did. He wrote that without the Five Solas and the Doctrines of Grace, “we do not have a true church, and certainly not one that will survive very long. For how can any church be a true and faithful church if it does not stand for Scripture alone, is not committed to a biblical gospel, and does not exist for God’s glory? A church without these convictions has ceased to be a true church, whatever else it may be.”
The Reformation And Why It Matters To Us - Pt. 1
9/1/09 | by Ken Ramey | Pastor-Teacher
The Reformation is arguably the most significant event in the history of the church. In this issue of Lakeside Life, I want to provide you with a brief historical overview of the Reformation. In the following issue, I want to give you a theological overview of the core doctrines that were at the heart of the Reformation. Our church stands in the rich heritage of the Reformation and the biblical truths recovered during the days of the Reformation are at the heart of our church and should be in the heart of every Christian.
The Reformation was a religious movement that occurred in Europe in the 1500-1600’s that aimed at reforming the doctrines and practices of the church which eventually resulted in a major division in the church that remains today. Since its birth on the day of Pentecost, the church had slowly drifted away from the truth taught by Jesus Christ and the apostles which had been canonized as the New Testament. By the 15th and 16th centuries, amidst vast political upheaval and cultural changes, the church had fallen under the control of the Roman papal system and had become completely corrupt and heretical. It was teaching a false gospel which distorted the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith alone in Christ alone. The church taught that a person had to do certain things in order to earn their way to heaven thus undermining the sufficiency of Christ’s work on the cross for salvation. During this time a movement arose within the Roman Catholic Church to purify the church and to bring her back in line with God’s Word. Those who sought to reform the church were either killed or kicked out of the church. Those who survived ended up starting their own churches which eventually became known as Protestant churches because they protested the Catholic Church.
God had raised up numerous men to get the church back on track before the 15th and 16th century. John Wycliffe (1320-1384) began criticizing the errors of the church nearly 200 years before the official Reformation began. His greatest contribution was translating the Bible into English. He helped pave the way for the coming Reformation which is why he is called the “Morning Star of the Reformation.” Similarly, John Huss (1360-1415) preached against the abuses of the church (i.e. papacy, purgatory, pilgrimages, worship of saints and relics, etc.). Church authorities accused him of being a heretic at the Council of Constance and had him burned at the stake. They also ordered Wycliffe’s remains to be dug up and burned. The order wasn’t carried out until 1428, 44 years after Wycliffe’s death. God used these men along with others to prepare the church for what would occur over the next 200 years.
The Reformation officially began on October 31, 1517. On this day a monk named Martin Luther, who had become increasingly disillusioned with the doctrine of the Catholic Church, nailed a list of 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. The church door functioned as a public bulletin board where important notices were displayed. Luther’s 95 Thesis listed all the things that were unbiblical about the sacrilegious sale of indulgences. For example, a man named Tetzel who was commissioned to sell indulgences to raise money to build St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome used the following infamous motto to motivate people to buy an indulgence on behalf of a deceased loved one: “When a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs!” Luther’s bold denunciation of Tetzel and others like him launched a series of events that culminated in Luther being condemned and excommunicated from the church.
Luther’s leading role in the Reformation was born out of his study of the book of Romans. In the quiet solitude of the monastery, the guilt-ridden monk had discovered the glorious truth of the gospel that a person is made right with God by faith rather than by performing good works like confession, sacraments, self-flagellation, pilgrimages, worshipping relics, etc. He left the monastery and began teaching others based on the authority of the Bible how the church had departed from its doctrinal foundations. He claimed to have recovered New Testament Christianity, namely, that the Scripture teaches that salvation is by grace through faith alone in Christ alone for the glory of God alone.
When Roman authorities demanded that Luther recant his views at the Diet of Worms, he refused. He told them, “Unless shown by Scripture and by reason that I am wrong, I will not recant. My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot recant of anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other. God help me. Amen!” Even though they condemned him and declared him a heretic and an outlaw, they were unable to stop the fire that he had started. When the Catholic rulers of Germany were ordered by the Holy Roman Emperor to enforce the Edict of Worms, some of them protested and came to be known as “Protestants.”
From its humble beginnings in Germany, the Reformation quickly spread throughout Europe and the world. Eventually, Geneva, Switzerland replaced Wittenberg as the center of the Protestant movement and John Calvin replaced Martin Luther as the face of the Reformation. Calvin’s expositional preaching and theological writing defined and defended the doctrine of the Reformation. No other theologian in church history wrote more extensively or effectively about biblical doctrine than Calvin. That’s why when the leaders of the Synod of Dort needed a biblical response to the “five points of Arminianism” which were being promoted by the disciples of Jacob Arminius, Calvin’s teaching regarding salvation was organized into five categories to refute Arminiasm. They are known today as the five points of Calvinism or the doctrines of grace. Calvinism, as it is commonly called, remains the clearest expression of the doctrinal distinctives of the Reformation.
Calvin established an academy in Geneva-which by the way became known as the Protestant Rome-to train the many Protestants who fled there seeking refuge from the persecution throughout Europe. Many later returned to their country bringing the Reformation with them causing it to spread to England, Scotland, and Holland. It continued on to America through the Puritans. It continues today in conservative Presbyterian and Reformed Churches both in America and around the world. Even though we are an independent, non-denominational church and don’t think it wise to officially label ourselves as a reformed church (i.e. Lakeside Reformed Bible Church), we do embrace the theological distinctives regarding the gospel that rose out of the Reformation. We’ll talk about that next time.
Aiming To Please
9/1/08 | by Ken Ramey | Pastor-Teacher
If you’re like me, you experience a certain sense of exhilaration every Fall. It’s a new beginning. It’s a fresh start. It’s a time to reevaluate and refocus. It’s a time to set goals. It’s a good time to remember and refocus on our greatest goal that we as Christians should always be aiming at in our lives; namely, pleasing God. In 2 Corinthians 5:9, Paul writes, “Therefore also we have as our ambition...to be pleasing to Him.” Paul’s priority passion was to live a life that was pleasing to God. His ultimate desire was that every word, every action, every thought, every emotion, every decision, every interaction with others would bring God pleasure. More than anything else, he wanted to know that God was pleased with his life.
This profound principle of pleasing God is weaved throughout the New Testament. In an attempt to personally apply the key verses and passages that talk about pleasing God, I organized them in what seems to me to be a natural flow of thought. The following is a simple outline that I came up with to regularly remind myself that pleasing God needs to be the primary focus of my life.
MY DAILY PASSION:
“to be pleasing to the Lord”
“I seek not to please myself but Him who sent me.” (John 5:30)
“I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.” (John 8:29)
“One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord.” (1 Cor. 7:32)
“Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that, as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God….” (1 Thes. 4:1)
“No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him....” (2 Tim. 2:4)
MY DAILY PURSUIT:
“to find out what is pleasing to the Lord”
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Rom. 12:1-2)
“For you were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light…trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.” (Eph. 5:8-10)
“Whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.” (1 John 3:22)
MY DAILY PRAYER:
“that the Lord would work in me that which is pleasing to Him”
“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)
“For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:13)
“For this reason also…we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects….” (Col. 1:9-10)
“Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever, Amen” (Heb. 13:20-21)
Given our sinful tendency to seek to please others (Gal. 1:10; 1 Thes. 2:4) and ourselves (2 Tim. 3:4; Heb. 11:25; James 4:1-3; Rom. 15:1-3) rather than seeking to please God, we need to cry out to God, “Oh God, I can’t please you and I won’t please you unless you help me.” We must plead with God to turn His face toward us and grant us the grace and strength to be pleasing to Him. To maximize the effectiveness of our plea to be pleasing to the Lord, we must honestly confess to Him the specific areas in our life that are not pleasing to Him. For starters, zero in on one area that you know is not pleasing to the Lord and beg Him to make you pleasing to Him.
My favorite scene in the classic movie Chariots of Fire is set on a Scottish moor where the famous runner Eric Liddell is talking with his sister Jenny about the timing of his return to missionary work. She was concerned that his commitment to running was taking priority over his commitment to serving the Lord. He took hold of her and said, “Jenny, I believe God made me for a purpose; for China. But He also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” It pleased God to use Liddell as a powerful testimony for Christ at the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris. When he found out that the trials for the 100 meter race which he had trained for would be held on Sunday, he refused to compromise his conviction to not run on the Sabbath, and so he ran in the 400 meter instead and stunned the world by winning the gold medal. He ended up returning to China and died in a Japanese internment camp a few months before the end of WWII. May his life inspire us. God made us all for a purpose; for His pleasure. Let us live our lives in such a way that we can say with Eric Liddell, “I feel His pleasure.”
The Most Important Thing About Us
7/1/08 | by Ken Ramey | Pastor-Teacher
The 20th century Chicago minister, A.W. Tozer, said it best in his classic book The Knowledge of the Holy: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” In other words, the most important thing about a person is his/her view of God. Every person that has ever lived or ever will live, lives their life based upon their view of God. Every thought, every action, every emotion, every word, every decision, every movie we watch, every radio station we listen to, every book we read, everything we buy, everywhere we go, how we treat our spouses, how we raise our children, how we relate to our parents, how we interact with our brothers and sisters, how we treat our neighbors, how we do our jobs, how we study for exams, how we have sex, what we do with our free time, what we eat, what we drink, how we vote, what we believe about abortion, what we believe about war, how we respond to tragedy, how we wake up in the morning, the kind of church we attend are all related to our view of God. Every detail of our lives is determined by our concept of who God is. Therefore, the greatest need of every person is a proper view of God.
The foundation for a proper view of God is the Bible. God wrote the Bible so we could know who He is and what He is like. Over and over again the Bible emphasizes the incomprehensible, incomparable greatness of God (cf. Isaiah. 40). And yet, instead of maintaining a high view of God, the Church today has unworthy, insufficient thoughts about Him. At no other time in her history has the Church needed to have a transforming vision of the greatness of God than right now. I heartily agree with what John Piper said in The Supremacy of God in Preaching:
People are starving for the greatness of God. But most of them would not give this diagnosis of their troubled lives….The greatness and the glory of God are relevant. It does not matter if surveys turn up a list of perceived needs that does not include the supreme greatness of the sovereign God of grace. That is the deepest need. Our people are starving for God….Our people need to hear God-entranced preaching. They need someone, at least once a week, to lift up his voice and magnify the supremacy of God. They need to behold the whole panorama of his excellencies….God himself is the necessary subject matter of our preaching, in his majesty and truth and holiness and righteousness and wisdom and faithfulness and sovereignty and grace. I don’t mean we shouldn’t preach about nitty-gritty, practical things like parenthood and divorce and AIDS and gluttony and television and sex. What I mean is that every one of those things should be swept up into the holy presence of God….It is not the job of the Christian preacher to give people moral or psychological pep talks about how to get along in the world; someone else can do that. But most of our people have no one in the world to tell them, week in and week out, about the supreme beauty and majesty of God.
That’s my goal as your pastor and preacher: to set forth the God of the Bible in all His glorious greatness so that we will grow to know Him more accurately, love Him more intimately, and obey Him more completely. May He be pleased to graciously help us achieve this goal as we study and apply His Word together.
How To Listen To A Sermon - Pt. 2
5/1/08 | by Ken Ramey | Pastor-Teacher
By God’s grace and for His glory on Mother’s Day I will walk across the stage at Grace Community Church and receive a doctorate degree in expository preaching. I want you to know that during that much anticipated moment I will be thinking of you with fond affection and great gratitude in my heart for how you all have come alongside me and our family to support us during these past three years. Thank you for your faithful prayers and encouraging words and patient understanding along with the many practical ways you served us to free up my schedule to read and write and attend classes. We truly couldn’t have done this without you. As I’ve said before, I really feel like we earned this degree together and I trust God will bless our church richly for the sacrifices we all have made to make this achievement possible.
My primarily goal in pursuing a D. Min. was to become a better preacher for you. At the same time, I hope you have been challenged and equipped to be better listeners of the preaching of God’s Word. In researching for my dissertation on the listener’s responsibility in preaching, I came across a helpful article that Philip Ryken wrote to his congregation to instruct them regarding the right way to listen to a sermon. May God use it to further equip you to get the most out of His Word.
How to Listen to a Sermon
By Dr. Philip G. Ryken • Window on the World
Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia • September 22, 2002
Copyright reserved • Internet access via www.tenth.org
Shortly before college I read Mortimer Adler’s little classic How to Read a Book. That may sound like an odd title. After all, how could somebody read the book unless they already knew how to read? And if they did know how to read, then why would they need to read it at all?
How to Read a Book turned out to be one of the most important books I have ever read. Adler quickly convinced me that I didn’t know how to read a book after all—not really. I didn’t know how to ask the right questions while I was reading, how to analyze the book’s major arguments, or how to mark up my copy for later use.
I suspect that most people don’t how to listen to a sermon, either. I say this not as a preacher, primarily, but as a listener. During the past thirty-five years I have heard more than three thousand sermons. Since I have worshiped in Bible-teaching churches all my life, most of those sermons did me some spiritual good. Yet I wonder how many of them helped me as much as they should have. Frankly, I fear that far too many sermons passed through my eardrums without registering in my brain or reaching my heart.
So what is the right way to listen to a sermon? With a soul that is prepared, a mind that is alert, a Bible that is open, a heart that is receptive, and a life that is ready to spring into action.
The first thing is for the soul to be prepared. Most churchgoers assume that the sermon starts when the pastor opens his mouth on Sunday. However, listening to a sermon actually starts the week before. It starts when we pray for the minister, asking God to bless the time he spends studying the Bible as he prepares to preach. In addition to helping the preacher, our prayers help create in us a sense of expectancy for the ministry of God’s Word. This is one of the reasons that when it comes to preaching, congregations generally get what they pray for.
The soul needs special preparation the night before worship. By Saturday evening our thoughts should begin turning towards the Lord’s Day. If possible, we should read through the Bible passage that is scheduled for preaching. We should also be sure to get enough sleep. Then in the morning our first prayers should be directed to public worship, and especially to the preaching of God’s Word.
If the body is well rested and the soul is well prepared, then the mind will be alert. Good preaching appeals first to the mind. After all, it is by the renewing of our minds that God does his transforming work in our lives (see Rom. 12:2). So when we listen to a sermon, our minds need to be fully engaged. Being attentive requires self-discipline. Our minds tend to wander when we worship; sometimes we daydream. But listening to sermons is part of the worship that we offer to God. It is also a prime opportunity for us to hear his voice. We should not insult his majesty by looking at the people around us, thinking about the coming week, or entertaining any of the thousands of other thoughts that crowd our minds. God is speaking, and we should listen.
To that end, many Christians find it helpful to listen to sermons with a pencil in hand. Although note taking is not required, it is an excellent way to stay focused during a sermon. It is also a valuable aid to memory. The physical act of writing something down helps to fix it in our minds. Then there is the added advantage of having the notes for future reference. We get extra benefit from a sermon when we read over, pray through, and talk about our sermon notes with someone else afterwards.
The most convenient place to take notes is in or on our Bibles, which should always be open during a sermon. Churchgoers sometimes pretend that they know the Bible so well that they do not need to look at the passage being preached. But this is folly. Even if we have the passage memorized, there are always new things we can learn by seeing the biblical text on the page. It only stands to reason that we profit most from sermons when our Bibles are open, not closed. This is why it is so encouraging for an expository preacher to hear the rustling of pages as his congregation turns to a passage in unison.
There is another reason to keep our Bibles open: we need to make sure that what the minister says is in keeping with Scripture. The Bible says, concerning the Bereans whom Paul met on his second missionary journey, “that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11; NKJV). One might have expected the Bereans to be criticized for daring to scrutinize the teaching of the apostle Paul. On the contrary, they were commended for their commitment to testing every doctrine according to Scripture.
Listening to a sermon—really listening—takes more than our minds. It also requires hearts that are receptive to the influence of God’s Spirit. Something important happens when we hear a good sermon: God speaks to us. Through the inward ministry of his Holy Spirit, he uses his Word to calm our fear, comfort our sorrow, disturb our conscience, expose our sin, proclaim God’s grace, and reassure us in the faith. But these are all affairs of the heart, not just matters of the mind, so listening to a sermon can never be merely an intellectual exercise. We need to receive biblical truth in our hearts, allowing what God says to influence what we love, what we desire, and what we praise.
The last thing to say about listening to sermons is that we should be itching to put what we learn into practice. Good preaching always applies the Bible to daily life. It tells us what promises to believe, what sins to avoid, what divine attributes to praise, what virtues to cultivate, what goals to pursue, and what good works to perform. There is always something God wants us to do in response to the preaching of his Word. We are called to be “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22; NKJV). And if we are not doers, then we were not hearers, and the sermon was wasted on us.
Do you know how to listen to a sermon? Listening—really listening—takes a prepared soul, an alert mind, an open Bible, and a receptive heart. But the best way to tell if we are listening is by the way that we live. Our lives should repeat the sermons that we have heard. As the apostle Paul wrote to some of the people who listened to his sermons, “You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart” (2 Cor. 3:2-3; NKJV).
How To Listen To A Sermon - Pt. 1
3/1/08 | by Ken Ramey | Pastor-Teacher
As you know, I recently completed the first draft of my doctoral dissertation entitled Expository Listening: The Listener’s Responsibility in Preaching. During my research I came across two brief articles on how to listen to a sermon that I thought were so helpful that I included them in the following appendix which I trust they will be used by God to further encourage and edify you to become better listeners whenever you sit under the preaching of His Word.
How to Listen to a Sermon: A Pastoral Perspective from the Past & Present
George Whitefield (1714-1770) was a British Methodist evangelist whose powerful sermons fanned the flames of the First Great Awakening in the American colonies. The following is an excerpt extracted from Sermon 28 of The Works of the Reverend George Whitefield published by E. and C. Dilly, London, 1771-1772.1
How to Listen to a Sermon
By George Whitfield
Keys for getting the most out of what the preacher says.
Jesus said, “Therefore consider carefully how you listen” (Luke 8:18). Here are some cautions and directions, in order to help you hear sermons with profit and advantage.
1. Come to hear them, not out of curiosity, but from a sincere desire to know and do your duty. To enter His house merely to have our ears entertained, and not our hearts reformed, must certainly be highly displeasing to the Most High God, as well as unprofitable to ourselves. 2. Give diligent heed to the things that are spoken from the Word of God. If an earthly king were to issue a royal proclamation, and the life or death of his subjects entirely depended on performing or not performing its conditions, how eager would they be to hear what those conditions were! And shall we not pay the same respect to the King of kings, and Lord of lords, and lend an attentive ear to His ministers, when they are declaring, in His name, how our pardon, peace, and happiness may be secured? 3. Do not entertain even the least prejudice against the minister. That was the reason Jesus Christ Himself could not do many mighty works, nor preach to any great effect among those of His own country; for they were offended at Him. Take heed therefore, and beware of entertaining any dislike against those whom the Holy Ghost has made overseers over you. Consider that the clergy are men of like passions with yourselves. And though we should even hear a person teaching others to do what he has not learned himself, yet that is no reason for rejecting his doctrine. For ministers speak not in their own, but in Christ’s name. And we know who commanded the people to do whatever the scribes and Pharisees should say unto them, even though they did not do themselves what they said (see Matt. 23:1-3). 4. Be careful not to depend too much on a preacher, or think more highly of him than you ought to think. Preferring one teacher over another has often been of ill consequence to the church of God. It was a fault which the great Apostle of the Gentiles condemned in the Corinthians: 'For whereas one said, I am of Paul; another, I am of Apollos: are you not carnal, says he? For who is Paul, and who is Apollos, but instruments in God’s hands by whom you believed?' (1 Cor. 1:12; 2:3-5).
Are not all ministers sent forth to be ministering ambassadors to those who shall be heirs of salvation? And are they not all therefore greatly to be esteemed for their work’s sake?
5. Make particular application to your own hearts of everything that is delivered. When our Savior was discoursing at the last supper with His beloved disciples and foretold that one of them should betray Him, each of them immediately applied it to his own heart and said, 'Lord, is it I?' (Matt. 26:22). Oh, that persons, in like manner, when preachers are dissuading from any sin or persuading to any duty, instead of crying, 'This was intended for such and such a one!' instead would turn their thoughts inwardly, and say, 'Lord, is it I?' How far more beneficial should we find discourses to be than now they generally are! 6. Pray to the Lord, before, during, and after every sermon, to endue the minister with power to speak, and to grant you a will and ability to put into practice what he shall show from the Book of God to be your duty. No doubt it was this consideration that made St. Paul so earnestly entreat his beloved Ephesians to intercede with God for him: 'Praying always, with all manner of prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and for me also, that I may open my mouth with boldness, to make known the mysteries of the gospel' (Eph. 6:19-20). And if so great an apostle as St. Paul needed the prayers of his people, much more do those ministers who have only the ordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit. If only all who hear me this day would seriously apply their hearts to practice what has now been told them! How ministers would see Satan, like lightning, fall from heaven, and people find the Word preached sharper than a two-edged sword and mighty, through God, to the pulling down of the devil’s strongholds!
Holding The Ropes
1/1/08 | by Ken Ramey | Pastor-Teacher
William Carey was the pioneer of modern missions. He was a simple cobbler who made and repaired shoes in England. While he worked, he prayed and wept over a map of the world that he kept in front of him in his shop. One day a friend said to him, “There is a gold mine in India but it seems almost as deep as the center of the earth.” Carey immediately replied, “I will venture down but remember that you must hold the ropes.”
During January 3rd through the 19th, I have the wonderful opportunity of venturing to India to minister alongside our missionary families serving at The Pastoral Training Institute in the city of Pune. The first week I will be one of the speakers at The National Expositor’s Conference, an annual gathering of like-minded pastors from all over India sponsored by PTI. My wife, Kelli, and Jeanne Nelson will be with me during the conference. I will be preaching several messages and teaching six seminars on expository preaching. Kelli is helping in leading worship as well as teaching a couple of seminars for the pastors’ wives. Jeanne will be serving in various ways throughout the week (i.e. registration, book sales, meals, etc.) as well as ministering to our missionary wives alongside Kelli.
The second week I will teach a class on The Pastoral Epistles for the PTI students. My goal is to preach through 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus in five days. It should be an exhausting but exhilarating week of ministry.
Every time I visit India, I am overwhelmed by the incredible “gold mine” of ministry opportunities in a predominantly English-speaking country where 1/6 of the world’s population resides (i.e. over 1 Billion). The majority of Indians are blinded by the idolatrous religion of Hinduism. As you walk through the streets you cannot help but have your “spirit provoked within you” as Paul’s was as he walked the streets of Athens (cf. Acts 17:16-34). Like the Athenians, Indians are very religious but they worship in ignorance. They have “exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator” (Rom. 1:25). They need the true knowledge of God proclaimed to them.
Some may ask how can a few people from one small church in Texas possibly make an impact in what appears to be a bottomless pit of need. One way is to train and equip national pastors and lay people to clearly and accurately proclaim and to live the truth of God’s Word in their local communities. I’m excited that our church has this opportunity to play a part in the advancement of God’s kingdom in India. It is an honor for me to represent Lakeside Bible Church as we seek to fulfill “The Mission” across the street and around the world. But like Carey, I would ask that you “hold the ropes” by praying for Kelli, Jeanne, and me while we are in India. Your task here while we are gone is just as important as our task there in India. Who is more important? The one going down into the mine or the one holding the ropes? Both are equally and extremely important. Someone has to go and preach and someone has to stay and pray. It’s a team effort.
Martin Luther, the man God used to spark the Protestant Reformation in the early 1500s, traveled around preaching and contending for the doctrine of “justification by faith alone.” He had a friend who was equally convinced of the importance of disseminating this doctrine. They both agreed that Luther would preach, write, and debate while this friend would live in the monastery and pray for Him. However, the more he prayed for Luther and the more he heard about all that God was doing through Luther, the more his heart was burdened for all the people who still hadn’t heard the liberating truth about salvation. Consequently, he felt compelled to leave the monastery and join Luther in the harvest.
My earnest hope is that, as you pray for us while we are in India and you hear about the work God does in and through us, you will be compelled to go the next time the Lord provides Lakeside Bible Church with an opportunity to minister there or some other part of the world. But for now, thank you for your willingness to labor in prayer on our behalf. We covet your prayers.
Does God Believe In Athiests?
11/1/07 | by Ken Ramey | Pastor-Teacher
One of the most well-known British authors of the 20th century was C.S. Lewis. Countless people have been profoundly influenced by his brilliant and imaginative writings. In his early years as a professor at both Cambridge and Oxford, he readily admitted his reluctance to accept the existence of God. Yet the more he investigated the evidence, this self-proclaimed atheist found himself being convinced in spite of himself. Listen to how he described his personal encounter with God:
You must picture me alone in my room, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting hand of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me…I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed, perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious : the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore the Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance to escape?
C.S. Lewis discovered that no matter how hard you try it is impossible to escape God. You can deny Him, ignore Him, or explain Him away, but you can’t get away from Him. He’s everywhere. No matter where we turn we are confronted with the reality of His being. He has made it abundantly clear that He is there by revealing Himself in five unmistakable ways.
1. CREATION (Romans 1:20)
God has revealed Himself to us through the world around us. His fingerprints are smeared all over the place providing us with convincing evidence that He did it; He created everything.
2. CONSCIENCE (Romans 2:14-15)
God created mankind in His image and implanted in all of our hearts and minds the knowledge of right and wrong. We all have the innate sense that someday we will be judged according to our actions.
3. CANON (2 Timothy 3:15-16)
God wrote the Bible to explain to us everything He wanted us to know about Him. But He can only be known personally by those whose hearts are opened by the Holy Spirit to understand His Word.
4. CHRIST (Hebrews 1:2-3)
God also explained Himself to us through His Son Jesus Christ. He is God in human form. The way a person comes to know God is through the person of Jesus Christ (cf. Jn. 17:3).
5. CONVERSION (2 Corinthians 3:18; 4:3-6; 5:17)
God has opened the eyes of countless individuals and changed their lives in ways that are nothing short of miraculous. These radical conversions bear witness to the life-changing power of God.
Despite these five undeniable proofs that God exists, there still are many people who foolishly try to suppress the evidence. Psalm 14:1 says, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’.” By refusing to admit the existence of God, we sadly consign ourselves to a meaningless existence of our own. J.I. Packer, in his book Knowing God, said it best:
We are cruel to ourselves if we try to live in this world without knowing about the God whose world it is and who runs it. The world becomes a strange, mad, painful place, and life in it a disappointing and unpleasant business, for those who do not know about God. Disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul.
I trust this bolsters your faith in the existence of God and further equips you to share with others who are “blundering through life blindfolded” the joy and hope you have in knowing God and seeking to honor and obey Him with your life.
10/1/07 | by Ken Ramey | Pastor-Teacher
Imagine for a moment that all of us have the opportunity to go on a mountain climbing expedition. We are standing together at the foot of a huge mountain looking up wondering how in the world we are all going to make it to the top alive. Our guide is an expert mountain climber. He’s been up and down this mountain many times. He steps forward and says, “We have a treacherous journey ahead of us. The only way to make it is to work together-you must all help one another. I’ve seen my share of people who have foolishly tried to scale this mountain alone. A few lucky ones made it, but most of them either fell to their death or froze to death.” He continues, “Now I want each of you to break up into groups of 10-15. Each group will be assigned a seasoned guide who will lead your group up the mountain. He will have a rope tied around his waste and each of you in turn will tie the rope around your waste so that all of you are tied together. Then you will follow each other up the mountain. As you climb together, if one of you slips or gets stuck on a cliff, the others can help you.” He concludes his talk with a warning: “It is imperative that you stick together. You’re survival depends on it!”
Despite this warning, some of us decide that we don’t want to be bothered by climbing together in a group. It is awkward climbing with a rope tied around your waste. It slows you down. You consider yourself a pretty good climber so you really don’t need anyone else’s help. Besides, the mountain doesn’t look that difficult to climb. What eventually happens is you either slip and fall to your death or you get caught on a precarious ledge and you freeze to death.
Now those who chose to climb together in a group also slipped and fell at times but because they were connected by a rope to other people, the impact of their fall was absorbed by the rest of the group. Some even got stuck on dangerous ledges but the others were able to pull them to safety. Consequently, they all made it to the top.
In reality, all of us are on a mountain climbing expedition called the Christian life. The path that we must all travel on toward spiritual maturity can be extremely treacherous at times. The best way to ensure that we will make it to the top is to stay tied together with other Christians. When we are linked together with someone farther up the mountain and someone below us on the mountain, there is safety, stability, and strength. When we slip and fall into sin, there are other people to absorb the impact of our fall and pull us from danger. But if we climb alone with no support system around us, one wrong move and we’ll become a spiritual statistic. We will get stuck on a ledge or fall to our death and there will be no one to hear us scream for help.
The Bible says, “Two are better than one because they have good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up” (Ecc. 4:9-10). These verses explain why it is so important for us to have strong relationships with other like-minded believers who can disciple us and hold us accountable in our walk with Christ. Every one of us needs to be discipled by older, more mature believers, and at the same time, all of us should be in the process of discipling those who are younger in the Lord than we are.
Simply defined, discipleship is a spiritual friendship with the goal of helping one another become more like Christ. One of the best places to establish spiritual friendships is in a Grow Group. The goal of our Grow Group ministry is to provide a forum where spiritual friendships can develop that will help us grow and mature in Christ. So let me encourage you to get plugged into one of our Grow Groups this Fall. Your spiritual survival may very well depend on it. God never intended us to make this spiritual journey alone. He wants us to travel together.