CUT ARIGHT! A WORD OF CHRISTMAS ENCOURAGEMENT FOR PREACHERS AND TEACHERS

Years ago I heard RC Sproul say that Christmas can be a time of anxiety for pastors/teachers. Teachers and preachers deal with the same stressors as everyone else, but are also tasked with teaching on an incredibly familiar story. Because of its familiarity, teachers can overthink it and get too fancy with it instead of simply letting the biblical story speak for itself. This anxiety can even be worse for teachers who’ve been in the same church for many years.

It’s a little crazy that Christmas can cause this angst, but it does. I know because I’ve experienced it myself.

In light of this, I want to share some words, first from John Calvin, and then a few of my personal thoughts to help those of you who may be dealing with this anxiety right now.

In 2 Timothy 2:15, where Paul tells Timothy to “rightly divide” the Word, John Calvin explains that Paul,

“…advises Timothy to ‘cut aright,’ lest, when he is employed in cutting the surface, as unskillful people are wont to do, he leave the pith and marrow untouched. Yet by this term I understand generally, an allotment of the word which is judicious, and which is well suited for the profit of the hearers. Some mutilate it, others tear it, others torture it, others break it in pieces, others, keeping by the outside never come to the soul of the doctrine. To all these faults he (Paul) contrasts the ‘dividing aright,’ that is, the manner of explaining which is adapted for edification; for that is the rule by which we must try all interpretation of scripture.” 

Said simply, teachers should aim to teach the Word to edify the listeners. The seasonal task, then, is to build our listeners up with the great truths of Christmas.

Here a a few suggestions to keep anxiety down and yourself on track this Advent season:

  1. FOCUS: Commit extra time to be quiet for prayer, study and worship. This season is so filled with Christmas “stuff” that you can end up filled with the stuff of Christmas and not filled with the Holy Spirit. The people you influence need YOU to be a stabilizing reminder that Christmas is supposed to be about Jesus.
  2. SIMPLIFY: Instead of preaching or teaching to other teachers or to find a new angle on an old story for people who’ve heard the Christmas story for decades, speak in simple terms about Jesus and why His birth STILL matters. It’s the greatest story the world has ever heard and it’s interwoven with the story of every individual in the room. 
  3. ENCOURAGE: Statistically, the holiday season has a higher rate of depression than any other. It’s impossible to understand everyone’s pain, but you can encourage them that we have a Savior who does and who will one day wipe away every tear. His first coming should encourage every heart to remember that the Gospel promises He’s coming again.

Believing Him for You,

ULTIMATE ACCOUNTABILITY: LIVING IN LIGHT OF THE PAINFUL FALL OF MEDIA GIANTS

Americans have recently witnessed the fall of some media giants. Wow, these stories have been disheartening to say the least.

Amidst my sadness over these stories, however, I’m actually glad about a couple of things:

  1. I’m glad that some of the wounded women have found their voices and mustered up the courage to speak up and say something. Because they did, though they were victimized, they are no longer victims; they are overcomers. They might not feel that way yet, but they are in my eyes. I applaud their strength and I hope each woman who was assaulted finds help toward healing and moving forward with peace.
  2. I’m also glad that people who seemingly got pass after pass to behave badly because of their position and power are finally being held accountable. Talent and profit should always be trumped by truth and character. Maybe accountability among the powerful will become more commonplace as a result of these events. I’m hopeful that is the case.

Speaking of accountability, the truth is, we all need it. We may not be high profile predators but we all have struggles and temptations. But we don’t just need accountability because of the possibility of how badly things can go without it – we need it to help us reach our potential. A little accountability can go a long way in keeping us on the right track toward reaching our goals.

Inviting accountability into our spiritual lives is absolutely essential. The beloved Howard Hendricks (aka, “Prof”) from Dallas Theological Seminary used to say that we are all headed to an ultimate final exam and because of that we need to check in on one another and see that we’re staying on track, getting ready for that moment.

The ultimate judgment is not in the eyes of public opinion; it’s in the presence of God. Hebrews 9:27 says, “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.”

According to scriptures, judgment will be different for those who do not accept Jesus as Lord and Savior and for those who place their faith in Him.  In the end, unbelievers will ultimately receive judgement for their sin (Rev. 20:15).

On the other hand, believers will be welcomed into His glory. There, in His glory, believers will give account and receive rewards for deeds of service done for His kingdom. This is what Paul was referring to in 2 Corinthians 5:9, “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”

Before God is where each of us will have our ultimate moment of accountability. When I think about that moment I don’t look with disdain at fallen media figures, I look with absolute awe at the Savior who made a way for me to be forgiven of my sin.  And I thank God for my family and friends who encourage me and hold me accountable to stay the course of faith.

For His Glory,

BUILDING A LEADERSHIP PIPELINE FOR THE NEXT GENERATION

The chair was oversized, soft and the perfect place for a late afternoon nap. With kids running around the living room and dinner preparations clanging in the kitchen, he slipped into blissful slumber. We watched in amazement as he slept through all the commotion. Nothing could wake him.

Without warning the incredibly annoying alarm vibrated the entire condo signaling the dryer was finished. It was as if that wonderful comfy chair transformed into the electric chair. The sweet slumber instantly turned into wide-eyed panic. Jolted, his arms flailing, feet running but not yet on the ground, the alarm sent my friend into a flurry to save himself, and our vacationing families, from certain peril. The memory still produces side splitting laughter to this day.

I occasionally find myself in similar situations, but it has nothing to do with sleep. The daily routines, the regular commotion of life and the endless to-do lists swirl around enough to keep me, and probably everyone on occasion, from being aware of some underlying issues that need attention.

It often takes an alarm to jolt us into paying attention to something important. This is true for organizations as well as individuals.

In the EFCA, we had a recent alarm that sounded in the form of some research stating the average age of our Senior Pastors is 55 years old and the we have an increasingly aging missionary force here and around the world.

While we thank God for these faithful servants, this discovery left us with some very important questions for our movement. Where are our young leaders? Who is going to take the place of our retiring leaders when they are done? What are we proactively doing to mobilize the next generation?

The alarm is sounding in the EFCA!

This alarm is why I’m giving the next season of my life in ministry to Apex.

Apex serves the local church by mobilizing emerging leaders who advance the Gospel from here to everywhere. Our experiences in cities all over the world provide the context for Gospel Fluency to see and speak the Gospel in all of life. We exist to provide a variety of training experiences and missions opportunities to young people in order that they might glorify God and build His kingdom with their lives.

It is our clear directive to be a leadership development pipeline from middle school beyond college graduation providing the clear and reachable next step for each participant’s faith journey. So many young people are being asked what they are going to do with the rest of their lives. We believe that if we can motivate and train for next week it will set the direction for the rest of their lives. It’s our deep desire to build an environment where young people are inspired to give their best to building the kingdom of God right now. We want to see a generation of servant leaders introducing their peers to Jesus and that starts the moment they return home.   

Apex is doing its part to answer the alarm bell. We are proactively working with churches to mobilize the next generation. It would be our privilege to partner with you as you seek to leverage every part of your ministry to help students be disciples who make disciples.

If you have any questions or want to get more information on who we are and what we do please visit our website where you will find more in-depth descriptions of our experiences and contact information. 

 

David and Shawna Boerema serve as US Project Directors for Apex. For 20 years they have served in local church student ministry and are passionate about helping students take the next steps in their walk with Jesus. David also serves as the Associate Director of ReachStudents for the EFCA’s Eastern District. Dvid and Shawna live in Central Pennsylvania with their two boys and love to be outdoors, travel and appreciate a cup of finely crafted coffee.

david.boerema@efca.org  –  Shawna.boerema@efca.org

 

THE KEY TO MINISTERING TO MILLENNIALS

BY COLEMAN RAFFERTY

Despite its self-contradiction, the principle that exclusive, objective truth is unknowable has gained much traction in younger generations today. Our postmodern age has indoctrinated specifically the millennial generation with claims such as, “the truth is relative,” and, “what’s true for you may not be true for me.” But Jesus said that all His disciples, “will know the truth” (John 8:32). He even called Himself, “the Truth,” at the exclusion of all other options (John 14:6).

Claims like these are scandalous today where exclusive declarations of truth are considered unloving, unfair, and outright false. However, the problem with our postmodern concept of truth is that it leads people to relativism, insecurity, and eventually causes them to feel lost and unfulfilled in the middle of a truth-less sea. Thankfully, Jesus did not support our modern conception of truth. Jesus spoke of a type of truth that leads to an objective, confident, satisfied life—that being, the life of a person who has heard and seen, in the living Word of God, that Jesus is the culmination of their quest for truth.

Among the many distinctives that set apart Jesus’ disciples, Jesus lists one key distinctive that will prove helpful here. Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31b-32). In other words, followers of Jesus will abide in His word, and in doing so come to know the freeing truth. Thus, to discuss how a Christian can help this truth decayed generation come to the light, I want to share a couple of marks of a disciple who is abiding in God’s word. These are true for millennials just like every other generation.

Stranded in the middle of a truth-less sea, many millennials are struggling and taking on water, since their refuge has been hidden from them. However, Jesus speaks a word of hope to their drowning souls. Jesus says, “If you abide in my word… you will know the truth” (John 8:32). When a person is drowning, all they want is a refuge, a place to grab onto, or better yet be grabbed by, that is strong enough to secure their deliverance from the rising waters. This refuge, Jesus says, is His word.

God’s word confronts our relative society by proclaiming that there is one objective, exclusive, wonderful truth—Jesus Christ Himself, “and there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Thus, an insistence on God’s Word will equip and inform younger generations that relativistic, postmodern thought is not good news, despite how appealing it may sound.

Not only does the Word of God equip younger generations to reject unhelpful relativism, it also provides a spiritually thirsty, insecure generation with a confident, satisfied hope in Christ. After Jesus tells His disciples that in His word they will find and know the truth, He informs them that the truth will set them free (see John 8:32). For those who are captive to the 21st century lies about where people can find their satisfaction—whether that be in a significant other, money, or human praise; God’s Word informs us that true, lasting satisfaction is only found in a total surrender to Jesus as Lord (see John 6).

While our society tells us to look inward to find our security, Jesus instructs us to do quite the opposite. The quest for security that looks inward often leads to insecurity, but Jesus gives the hope of confidence and security because He promises freedom based on His own merit and not our own. Jesus says, “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). To the insecure, unfulfilled younger generation, God’s word provides a confident and satisfied hope found in Christ alone.

While the contemporary postmodern movement has only led people to be insecure, unconfident and unsatisfied, the Word of God provides the hope we need. While some may say the Bible is an antiquated book, the truth is that, “the word of God is living and active” (Hebrews 4:12a). So, for anyone aspiring to encourage younger generations, take Jesus’ advice and never stop insisting on His living, sufficient and unbreakable Word. In doing so, many will come to be secure and satisfied in the objective, exclusive, wonderful Truth Himself.

 

Coleman Rafferty is a Sophomore Biblical and Religious studies major at Messiah College. He was born in Massachusetts and raised in Northern Virginia as the youngest of three brothers. He came to faith in Jesus Christ during his junior year of high school, and has felt a passion to teach God’s Word ever since. He spends his spare time reading good books, playing sports with his friends and engaging in theological discussion with all who are willing, and some who are not.

BEWARE THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

Have you heard this joke? A person bought an elephant for a friend’s room. The friend thanked him to which the person said, “Don’t mention it.” 

Think about it, you will get it. Hint: What is true of the elephant in the room? 

Does your church have the proverbial elephant in the room? That uncomfortable issue no one wants to mention, the problem no one is willing to talk about and, therefore, it never gets challenged. 

Sometimes it’s a leadership issue. Weak-kneed elders or those who are too strong. Perhaps it is roles and responsibilities that we expect to be covered that are not; sin in the camp that is swept under the rug; a power hungry church boss that ignores the direction of the leaders; a gossiping spirit; prayerlessness; an unwillingness to listen to God. 

Some churches can’t remember the last time there was a new birth. Sometimes it is the old adage, “this is just the way we have always done ministry and we are not about to change now even though it is not working any longer. Like Tevya in Fiddler on the Roof a church declares, ‘TRADITION!’, that codified social interaction that just seems to make life go on peacefully year after year based on a particular congregational worldview that the group is comfortable with … until … uncomfortably, it is not. 

For every church there will be a different situation. You know what it is for your church. And even though people know it is there, because we are afraid to cause a stir, or offend someone, we tip toe around the elephant in the room, and it never is dealt with.

So what should happen with an elephant in the room? An elephant will just take up all the space in the room unless it is led away. For a church to grow and stay healthy, it is imperative that spiritual leaders acknowledge the elephant in the room, not be afraid of it, prayerfully seek God about it and take steps to deal with it. Difficult? Yes. But to not deal with it means the church will slowly suffocate by the sheer size and weight of the elephant and never be free to grow into what God intends the church to be.

We have Biblical examples: 

  • Isaiah 54 refers to the Jewish nation becoming barren because they did not share the blessings of God with the nations so that others could come to faith and worship God. 
  • Acts 6 refers to the elephant of racism when the Hebrew church was ignoring the needs of the Hellenist believing widows.
  • 1 Corinthians 1 confronted the elephant of jealousy, division and quarreling.    
  • 1 Corinthians 5 judged the elephant of sexual immorality. 
  • Galatians 1 condemns the elephant of deserting the grace of Christ and turning back to the law. 
  • Paul confronted Peter to his face for the elephant of hypocrisy when he separated himself from the Gentiles whom God was calling to Himself.      

The list could go on, but I think you get the point. Biblical leaders were not afraid to call out sin or sinners in the church and thereby removing the elephant from the room. It is time to acknowledge our elephants, call them what they are, be transformed by what is Truth, and move on to freedom in our congregations.