Currently we are in a series at Redemption Chapel called “Christian Atheism.” The idea behind this series is that many times as Christians there is a contradiction between what we say we believe and how we live our lives day in and day out. Many times we claim to be theists but in reality we live like atheists. I had the privilege to preach during this series and dived into the idea of having a “sacred/secular split” lifestyle. Below is that sermon. I hope it’s a blessing and a challenge to you.
Seminary was a great experience. I gained a ton of knowledge about the Bible, theology, and ministry practices. However, I quickly learned that full-time ministry came with a host of things seminary never prepared me for. There are some things you can’t learn in seminary and the only place you’re going to learn them is in the thick of ministry.
That is what this book is all about. 15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me is an easy read that includes short chapters from various writers on topics you will not learn in seminary. These are topics you will only learn as you pursue ministry in the local church. Some of these topics are things like what to do when your church is dying, leading your wife, managing volunteers, handling conflict, and knowing when to leave your church. All these topics and more are talked about and the reader is given practical insight into each of these important topics.
I really enjoyed this book and there are few things stood out to me about that I’d like to mention. First, it has a Gospel and Biblical focus. The writers are not just talking about these topics and giving their opinions on what to do. The advice and application given in each area is Gospel-centered and based upon Scripture. The writers call the reader to remember the Gospel frequently and encourages them to obey God’s Word in these areas. Second, the chapters are short and practical. The topics are not beat to death but instead hit on in a timely and focused manner. Each chapter includes a ton of practical things the reader can apply to their own ministry context. Third, seminary is upheld as an important thing but not the only thing. The writers don’t bash seminary. They instead talk highly of it but are honest about its weaknesses and shortcomings. One writer says, “We do not intend to denigrate the valuable work of seminaries. Rather, we want to help young pastors, seminary students, and other aspiring ministers learn from our experience how God fits a man to be a faithful and effective minister” (page 145).
I’d highly recommend this book to anyone who is either in or has attended seminary and desires to go into local church ministry. I would also encourage those currently in ministry to read this book and gain some practical insight on these important topics.
Even though Christians are forgiven of their sin they still struggle daily with the indwelling sin that remains in them and will remain in them until the Lord returns. This is why Colossians 3:5 calls us to “put to death therefore what is earthly in you.” Christians are called to not tolerate or put up with sin but instead make war against it every single day through the help of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:13).
One of the places we see this ongoing battle with exemplified is in Romans 7:7-25 when Paul shares his own struggle in this area. Some interpreters have taught that this text refers to Paul’s life before coming to faith in Christ but a careful reading of the text seems to reveal this is referring to Paul’s present life as a follower of Jesus. There are a few things he mentions in his fight against sin that are true of every Christian and those are what I want to highlight in this post. Christians will struggle with sin but there are some characteristics that will always be present in their war against sin.
A desire to practice righteousness. Every Christian will have a deep desire through the work of the Spirit to obey God. Part of the regenerating and saving work of Jesus is to put in us a heart that longs to practice righteousness in our lives. So no matter how strong the battle against sin is in the Christian’s life there will always be a abiding desire to obey their Lord. Through this passage you can sense Paul’s desire to do what’s right even though he says he often fails to do it. He highlights that desire in verse 18 when he says, “For I have the desire to do what is right…” That’s a mark of a true Christian in the ongoing fight against sin. It was true in Paul’s life and will be true in ours as we follow our Lord while making war with the sin that remains within us.
Delight in God. This is closely tied to the point above but Christians will delight in God. That means delighting in His presence, delighting in His commands, and delighting in our growing relationship with Him. When Christians find themselves consumed with sin and delighting in things of the world they will be unsettled. They will sense the conviction of the Spirit and will be uncomfortable. A true Christian will be miserable the longer they walk in disobedience to their Lord. They have been given a heart that delights in God and delighting in anything else doesn’t cut it. Paul mentions this in verse 22 when he says, “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being.” He goes on to say that even still he sees the sin that remains in him that is constantly pulling him away from delighting in God. However, when Christians find themselves delighting in anything other than their Lord there will be a sense of conviction. There will at times also be correction from the Lord as we see mentioned in Hebrews 12:5-11.
Inner battle between the flesh and the Spirit. This is where all the stuff explained above comes together. The Christian has two natures abiding within them and those two natures are at constant war. There is the new man and the old man and they are going at it daily to gain ground in our hearts and lives. The presence of this conflict is not a sign that someone isn’t a Christian. In fact, it’s completely opposite because this conflict actually indicates someone is a Christian. If someone wasn’t a Christian this conflict wouldn’t be present. It’s precisely because they have a new nature that there is an inner war happening every single day. If you read through this passage you see this battle between the flesh and the Spirit happening in Paul’s life. Christians throughout history have had and will continue to have this conflict going on within them.
The good news for Christians is this battle with sin is only temporary. There is coming a day when our sin will be completely done away with. Until then we keep fighting and along with Paul we proclaim “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (v. 24-25).
One of the topics I haven’t spent much time teaching on in our student ministry is eschatology (or commonly called the end times). One of the reasons may be because of my own shifting in views of how I understand what the Bible teaches about the end times or the fact it’s an area of theology that contains so many various views it’s hard to know what exactly to focus on when you teach on this topic to students. It can be a tough topic to address in any setting and especially in student ministry.
Recently we did a series called “This I Believe.” In this series we walked through the major points of Christianity and covered topics like the Bible, Godhead, Angels & Demons, Mankind, Salvation, and the Church. To wrap up the series we talked about what we as Christians believe about the end times.
As I said earlier, this is a topic that contains many different views that all fall within orthodox Christianity. There are multiple views on the rapture and the millennial kingdom as well as different views on how to interpret the book of Revelation. There are also different views on the relation of the church and Israel and how that plays out in thee end times.
So with all those competing views what did I decide to land on when it came to teaching my students about the end times. I decided to focus on the major things we do know and that the Bible is clear on while not addressing (maybe I will in a different setting one day) some of the areas of debate like timing of rapture or nature of the millennial kingdom. My focus was on three main events: return of Jesus, final judgment, and eternal state (heaven and hell).
You can watch the entire talk below and see how I handled these topics.
Fundamentalist by Joey Svendsen. This was by far the most raw and honest book I have ever read. However, it was much needed in my life right now. In this book Svendsen shares about his legalistic upbringing in the church as well as his ongoing struggles with mental illness. One of the main themes throughout this book is Svendsen’s journey of understanding his own salvation. He shares about how he use to view the “sinner’s prayer” as a checklist of things he must say and how he felt guilt about certain behaviors or activities all the while wrestling with his faith. He continues to share his stories of faith, doubt, and mental illness all the way up into adulthood. The subtitle of the book gives you a peak into the beauty of this story – “Stories of a mentally ill, obsessive compulsive, legalistic youth group kid turned pastor.” It’s a book that shows how our upbringing can impact us in huge ways and how our own brokenness keeps us from seeing and enjoying the beauty of the Gospel. This was a great read but I say that with caution. If you’re offended by Christians who cuss and are comfortable with talking about sex and related issues openly this is not the book for you. If you are familiar with Svendsen and his work with the BadChristian community this will come as no surprise. I’d still recommend the book but be warned there will be things in this book that don’t comfortably fit into the “Christian book” category. But that’s ok; it’s a great book!
Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. This is one of Bonhoeffer’s most popular books and it stands as a classic on the topic of Christian community. In this little book Bonhoeffer lays out what Christian community is (chapter 1) and then follows that with what daily life looks like with other believers (chapter 2) as well as with yourself (chapter 3). The final two chapters deal with ministering to others as well as confession within the Christian community. The entire book is deeply rooted in Scripture but also extremely practical for Christians among all generations. This book helped me see exactly what God calls me to when it comes to community as well as how that should practically look in my life. There are encouragements in this book that may not come naturally or easy for us in our world today but I believe Christians reading this book, including myself, would do well to follow what Bonhoeffer is suggesting. I’d highly recommend this book to anyone who is desiring to get a good framework on what Christian community is and how it looks practically within the church.
Uncomfortable by Brett McCracken. This is another book on the topic of Christian community. Like the title suggest, the theme of this book is being “uncomfortable.” McCracken argues that both our faith and community as Christians is and should be a bit uncomfortable. In the first section on “uncomfortable faith” he lays out how our faith calls us towards the uncomfortable. Everything from the cross, holiness, love, mission, and more doesn’t come naturally to us. Faith propels us to believe and live out some uncomfortable truths. Then he gets into section two on “uncomfortable community.” In this section he dives into various parts of Christian community and how they are important and needed no matter how uncomfortable they make us. For example, he deals with topics like racial diversity, worship styles, and church authority. Two things really stood out to me about this book. First, McCracken rightly admits there is no “perfect church” and that searching for a church that is the perfect fit for you is the wrong approach. In our culture of consumerism this is a much needed reminder. I needed it and I think others do as well. Second, he lives out what he writes. He shares about how his own church context is not the most comfortable to him and how his church isn’t the “perfect fit” for him. He shares stories and illustrations from this part of his life and it’s extremely helpful.