Christianity 201

October 13, 2018

He Knows Your Works, Love, Faith, Service and Patient Endurance

Six months ago we introduced you to Martha Anderson who has been writing devotions at Strengthened by Grace since January, 2014 and is the author of four books available on Lulu.com.

El Roi–The God Who Sees

I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first.  Revelation 2:19

In Revelation chapters 2-3 there are letters to seven churches that are scattered throughout what was then called Asia.  God told John to write down both their strengths and their weaknesses. What strikes me as I read the letters again is this:  the words, “I know your works,” are repeated again and again. They are phrased a bit differently in some of the letters, like to Smyrna in 2:9, “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich)” and to Pergamum in Rev. 2:13, “I know where you live.”

Not only does God know the seven churches’ works, but He knows our works.  He told them things like, You have lost your first love, in Rev. 2:4 and, You have reputation of being alive, but you are dead.  Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.  Remember then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent.  Rev. 3:2-3

God didn’t just tell them words of rebuke, but also words of encouragement.  For instance, He told the church at Ephesus that they worked hard and had patient endurance.  Plus, they didn’t tolerate false teachers. To the church in Philadelphia, God told them that He knew that although they had little power, they had kept His word and didn’t deny His name.  God spoke of rewards to those who conquer and who keeps His works until the end.

† My question: What if God were to write you a letter?  What would He say? What strengths would He mention and what words of encouragement would He give?  Does it help you to know that He sees your heart, that He knows the things that you have done that no one else knows about, and that He knows the path you have taken?

If God were to say to you, “I know your works,” would that be a comforting and encouraging statement?  When Hagar fled from Sarai in Genesis 16 because Sarai was dealing with her bitterly, the angel of the Lord came and spoke blessings to Hagar in the wilderness.  So Hagar called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, You are a God of seeing, for she said, Truly here I have see Him who looks after me. vs. 13.  That is where the name of God, “El Roi” is first used.

‡ El Roi, the God who sees, is a good thing.  God sees our works and He looks after us. He sees our love and faith and service and    patient endurance, and He will reward us for those things.  On the flip side, He also sees the things that we need to repent of. As Hebrews 4:13 tells us, No creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.  It is much easier to shed off the yuck knowing that God  has my best interest in mind.

Forgive me for when my love grows cold and I tolerate false idols and teachers.  Wake me up so that you will not find my works incomplete. And thank you that You can trace my path and see my heart for You when no one else can.  You are the God who sees and who rewards.

 

September 17, 2017

Sunday Worship

While worship – acknowledging the worth of God – should be part of our everyday lives, we tend to do this best in a corporate setting. While we began this series saying that worship is more than just music; more than what we sing; we often forget that in that same corporate setting, we can ascribe worth to God, along with his majesty and greatness and power, in the words we pray.

This begs the question: Should those words be planned or spontaneous? While the terminology may differ if you’re taking a course in public speaking, rhetoric, debate, etc., in The Church we usually speak of extemporaneous worship vs. liturgy. So in prayer we’re talking about prayers which are generated on the spot, as opposed to those read from prayer books, from the prayers found in the Bible itself, or prayers simply written in advance.

Although the context is slightly different, I’m often drawn to this verse in this debate:

What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.
-1 Corinthians 14:15 ESV

While I’m sure there is much to find online about the negative aspects of spontaneous prayer — “Well, uh, Lord we just want to tell you and Lord we just want to ask you from the bottom of our hearts that, um, well, Lord… I just forgot what I was going to say…” — there are times when prayers simply overflowing from a heart of both gratitude and devotion are exactly what is needed.

But instead, we want to focus today on the positive aspects of perhaps planning to use something which has been previously written. This is a small part of an article by David Bennett at the website Ancient and Future Catholics. Click the title below to read the entire article.

Objection: Why Do You Pray Using a Book

1. Written Prayers Provide a Solid Structure for Worship
The original intention of using written prayers was to provide a basic order for worship and prayer. This basic order can be traced back to the earliest church, and the words and phrases of most written prayers and liturgies (such as you may encounter in a Catholic or Orthodox Church) are practically lifted verbatim from the Bible or the writings of saints. The traditional order of worship includes the spiritually necessary parts of a worship service: confession, thanksgiving, communion, etc.

2. Written Prayers Allow for Common Prayer
The early Church was a tight-knit community. Today, thanks to Western enlightenment values, many tend to view Christianity as a highly personal matter. The early Church did not. Therefore, they often prayed many prayers together, and always would offer an “amen” after the presider said his words. The idea that everybody comes to worship to sing a few songs, hear a sermon, and pray their own spontaneous prayers that do not include the entire assembly is foreign to early Christian ideals, and was not a generally accepted way of worshipping until the latter half of the 20th century.

3. Written Prayers Allow For Real Freedom of Worship
(See # 1) I remember trying to piece together something for morning devotions, asking myself continually, “where in the heck do I start?” This became a bigger problem as I would spend more and more time just wandering during my private prayer time. Once I discovered the written forms of Morning and Evening Prayer, I found that having the structure actually gave me more freedom. Instead of wandering aimlessly, lacking any focus, I had a structure to work within. Keep in mind, written prayer forms allow for plenty of spontaneity, if not more, than structure-less prayer. Think of it like a football game. There are structures and rules…but…think of how much excitement is allowed within the structures! If we showed up to a field every Sunday and just acted spontaneously, we would rarely have as much fun as playing football, because the form of football is a proven, fun game. In the same way, liturgical form worship is proven, meaningful, and biblical worship, where a whole lot of cool things happen.

4. Written Prayers Connect Us to the Past and to the Wider Church
When we pray written prayers together, we are doing so with billions of past and present Christians. Thus, when praying written prayers we are not spiritually isolated within our own region or time period. Instead we are saying prayers that have been faithfully said throughout history. We are praying with Africans, Asians, Europeans, etc, and not just those of our same culture. Think of how many people have recited the Lord’s prayer, or the Agnes Dei, or the Sanctus. The number is certainly in the billions and includes peoples of all races and classes.

5. Written Prayers Are Time-Tested
Most well-known written prayers, including those used during Mass by Catholics, Orthodox, and some Protestants, are time-tested because of their theological orthodoxy and clearly-stated themes. I have been in many non-liturgical churches, and sometimes the spontaneous prayers are so long and rambling that I wish the pastor had written down something! Sometimes they are so theologically thin that they seem so sickly and superficial when compared to great prayers of the past.

6. Jesus Gave Us a Set Form For Prayer
When Jesus taught us to pray, he gave us what has been traditionally called “The Lord’s Prayer” or, more commonly in Catholic circles, the “Our Father.” When Jesus gave his disciples this prayer, he gave them a useful form, which they could use and build from. He did not say, “when you pray, simply speak to God like you’re his best buddy, and say whatever comes from your heart.” While spontaneously speaking to God from the heart is very important, Jesus’ model for prayer is a form, showing the value of this type of prayer.

7. Written Prayers are Scriptural
Liturgical prayer, that is, prayer mixed with ritual, is firmly rooted in ancient Jewish worship. Ancient Jewish worship was not only strikingly ritualistic, but relied heavily on written prayers (for example, the Psalms). Christian worship follows in this pattern. Catholic worship even regularly integrates a Psalm (or similar canticle) into daily and weekly prayer services and Masses, usually sung, as in ancient Hebrew worship. This shows that many written prayers used in Catholic worship are taken directly from the Bible! Thus, written prayers allow a person to “pray Scripture.” Many written prayers that are not directly taken from the Bible are nonetheless full of biblical themes and symbols. Thus, far from being unbiblical, written prayers are probably the most biblical prayers available.

Does this mean there is no value to spontaneous prayers? Of course not! While written prayers are good for a variety of reasons, their use does not exclude made-up prayers. In fact, having a written form as a basic structure allows one real freedom to be spontaneous. Yes, written prayers can be misused, and are often said by people who don’t believe them, but this is hardly the fault of the prayers themselves. Spontaneous prayers can be misused as well. So why not give written prayers a try?

September 14, 2016

What it Takes to Have a Church

by Clarke Dixon

What do you have to have to have a church? Here are some possible answers I’ve heard along the way:

  • you have to have mission and vision statements.
  • you have to have music that reflects the culture outside the church.
  • you have to have music that reflects the culture within the church.
  • you have to have PowerPoint for the sermons, shorter sermons, or even no sermons.
  • you have to have a constitution, a budget, a proper system of governance, and a bunch of paperwork.  . . or risk losing your charitable status, which of course everyone knows you have to have.
  • you have to have buildings and paid staff.
  • you have to have programming for every age group and for every felt need.
  • you have to have values that reflect the society around you, which means ever changing values of course.
  • you have to have a worship experience that makes each person feel affirmed and good.
  • you have to have a good consumer experience for a happy customer.

House ChurchWhat does the Bible say you have to have to have a church? What better place to go than the Books of Acts where we read about the earliest Christians and the origins of the Church. In looking to the book of Acts there is one sentence that captures what you have to have to have a church:

Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. Acts 2:46-47

Did you notice what was there in the first church without which you cannot have a church? No, not food. Just two things: “The Lord,” and “those who were being saved.”

“The Lord.” You cannot have a church without the presence of the Lord. And by Lord we do not mean just any god, or God in a generic sense. This is the LORD, Who created the heavens and the earth, Who created all life including humanity, Who called Abraham with a promise, Who rescued His people from slavery in Egypt, Who gave His people the Law and the covenants, Who came to humanity in Jesus, and bearing a cross for our sin He rose from the dead, Who comes to us in the Holy Spirit, Who ensured we had a record of all this and more in the Bible. That LORD. The church is not in the business of promoting spirituality but rather has a ministry of reconciliation. We introduce people to that LORD. You can have all the things people generally think you have to have to have a church, yet if you are missing the presence of the Lord, then you don’t have a church.

“Those who were being saved.” We can read the entire book of Acts to be introduced to those people and find out what they are like. When we do we find out that they are an imperfect people, a growing and learning people, a praying people, a listening people, a preaching and reaching people, a generous people, a missionary people, a hope filled people, a changed people, and a willing-to-be-persecuted people. You have to have people like that to have a church.

Lego ChurchThere are some practical implications in needing only two things to have a church:

Church is a people rather than an organization. In the Book of Acts we are not given a manual on how to organize a church. Sometimes we might wish we were! We are given, rather, the story and stories of people responding and relating to the Lord. We do well to remember that we organize as churches, not for the sake of the organization created, but for the sake of the people God is re-creating. As you read through the book of Acts you never once hear a church named. There is no “Calvary Baptist,” or “Grace United,” or the like. But you hear time and time again about the Lord, about people, and about the Lord in relationship with people. When we celebrate a church anniversary, which is something we love to do for we like any excuse to have our cake and eat it too, we are not celebrating how long an organization has been organized. We are celebrating the lives that have been changed by God through the lives of the people who have been changed by God.

The church is something we always are rather than something we sometimes do. It is funny how when asked to describe our churches we quickly report on Sunday morning attendance. Instead we ought to report about what happens throughout the week. We should speak of the saints on their knees in prayer, those who visit, those who give, those who encourage, those who volunteer, those who forgive, those who are patient, those who are peaceful, those who are joyful, those who are self-controlled. . .  you get the picture. In the Book of Acts you never hear of a church described by numbers in attendance on a Sunday morning. But you you do read of people living their lives for the Lord every day. Church is what we always are, not something we sometimes do.

That you only have to have two things is good news for the small church. I must admit to being discouraged when I read a book written for small church pastors then realize they are written by superstar pastors, or that by “small church” they mean a church of 200. That is so not me, and so not us! Good news, to have a church you do not have to emulate the big churches and do everything they do. We are not to follow the lead of bigger churches, we are to follow the lead of the Lord. Small church leaders can learn to say as the church leadership said in Acts “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.” (Acts 15:28)

That you only have to have two things is good news for a church under threat. We are told we face the threat of becoming irrelevant. From that perspective, the first Christians must have seemed supremely irrelevant. The apostle Paul discovered that the Gospel was “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1st Corinthians 1:23). Yet the presence of the Lord together with the presence of God’s people was turning the world upside down.

Perhaps someday we will face the threat of losing our charitable status as we do not keep in step with a society that keeps changing step. Look to the first Christians. Never mind a privileged position in society, they were persecuted. Yet with the presence of the Lord and the presence of a people who set themselves to the task of keeping in step with God’s Holy Spirit, not even the gates of hell could stop the Church.

What do you have to have to have a church? Look to the Book of Acts where they did not have charitable status, buildings, mission and visions statements, organs, worship bands, a multitude of programs for every age, denominations, PowerPoint, constitutions, church growth consultants, or a very organized clergy. (Some days it seems the church I pastor still lacks organized clergy!) All they had was the presence of the Lord, and the Holy Spirit filled people of God. And it was brilliant. When we have those two things, it still is!

Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Clarke Dixon is a Baptist pastor in Canada; read more at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

November 27, 2015

Judgment Begins with the Family of God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we visit a new author who is also indexed at Faithful Bloggers. Theology in Overalls is written by Rev. Gregory Crofford. We looked at about eight different articles, but many were longer than we use here, so we settled on this one. Click on the title below, then click the “Home” button at the top to look at other stories.

Forgive us, Lord, for we have sinned!

They’re triumphant words, a hymn I sang often as a child on Sunday nights:

‘Tis a glorious church, without spot or wrinkle, washed in the blood of the lamb.

You’d think that 123 years after Ralph Hudson penned those 1892 lyrics that we’d be much closer as the people of God to that vision. But when I look at the church today, I realize how dry like a desert we are, how broken, how guilty, how desperately in need of God’s forgiveness and cleansing. We have forgotten that 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 is addressed to a group of believers, the Thessalonians. God calls the church to be sanctified, to be pure in her culture and her systems, yet we have fallen pitifully short and the watching world has surely noticed that we are no different than they.

Forgive us, Lord, for we your people have sinned!

No denomination has a corner on the market on righteousness. Across the spectrum of churches, things are awry. There’s no need to make a laundry list of offenses. That list is added to every day in online newspaper articles or on social media, undercutting our sacred mission in the world.

Forgive us, Lord, for we your people have sinned!

We look around us at our culture and see it plummeting downward. Too quickly, we are ready to call down upon those who make no claim to Christian faith the fiery judgment of God. But have we forgotten that God’s judgment falls first upon us, the church? Peter reminded his readers:

For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17, NIV, italics added).

Acts 5:1-11 is the fearful story of Ananias and Sapphira. Because they misrepresented to Peter the price that they had received for selling their land, Peter warned Ananias: “You have not lied to men but to God” (v. 4). Later, to Sapphira he asked: “How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord?” (v. 9). Because of the cover-up – their complicity in lying – both fell down and died, first Ananias then later – playing dumb – Sapphira. If nothing else, doesn’t this story teach us that harboring known sin in our lives has negative physiological effects upon us? If that is true for individuals, what effect upon the overall health of our churches is there when corporately we look the other way when there has been wrongdoing? Shall we be surprised should God one day look at us, his people, and declare:

Ichabod! The glory has departed (1 Samuel 4:21) ?

The Psalmist wrote:

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:24, NIV).

My prayer first of all is for myself, that I will remain transparent before God, allowing the Holy Spirit to convict  me of sin, leading me to ongoing change in my heart and life. But can it stop there? As God’s people, the church, let us acknowledge where we have allowed wrong ecclesiastical practices to go unchallenged and unchanged. Only then can the spiritual revival we seek take hold and make us the holy people God wants us to be. Surely, only a transformed people can transform our world (Matthew 5:13).

Together, let us pray:

“Almighty God, we your people have merited nothing but your disdain. In word, thought and deed, we as your church have failed; we have sinned. Like a land in drought, we are spiritually dry. Again and again, we have sought to increase our power and wealth rather than lifting up the powerless and destitute. We have run after position and fame, forgetting that your son, Jesus, divested himself of his glory, becoming a humble servant. Grant that we your people may  see the sinful log in our own eye then trust you to remove it. Do not repay us, your church, according to our transgressions or we will surely be lost! Forgive us, cleanse us, and fill us anew with the love and presence of the Holy Spirit. Help us, we pray, as your church not to conduct business as this world does, but show us a different way, your higher way. Hear us, we pray, for it is in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, that we with humble repentance offer this prayer, AMEN.”

May 18, 2015

Skipping Church

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:29 pm
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As I prepared to post today’s devotional, I was reminded that next Sunday, a well-known U.S. megachurch is simply shutting down for the Memorial Day weekend. I have a great admiration for these people, but I think this sends the wrong message. If lived in their community and attended their church, I would voice my displeasure next week by not showing up. (Oh, wait… never mind!)

Today we pay a return visit to the blog, Finding the Holy in the Mundane by Rachel Stephenson.  Click the title below to link.

Going to the Chapel

Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of His return is drawing near. Hebrews 10:23-25 (MSG)

Hebrews 10                        Romans 12:1-5

As I child I don’t remember missing church. At some point during my childhood, I’m sure I did, but nothing springs to mind. It wasn’t until my sometimes rebellious young adulthood that I would skip church on purpose.

When I did, and my mom caught me, she would quote the verses above to me.

Like I shared with you all the other day, I’m not a great rule follower. The people I work with will attest to that. It’s not that I’m opposed to rules. I’m all for rules. I just need to understand the reason for the rule. I like to call myself a “big picture person” because it sounds better than “rebellious.”

Why should the believer attend church or meet together with other believers? That sounds like just another rule someone made up until you look back to the beginning of Hebrews 10. The author does a great job explaining the difference between the old ways of relating to God, through repeated animal sacrifice, and the new way made possible by Christ’s death on the cross.

The writer of Hebrews quotes Jeremiah. The Message paraphrases it this way:

This new plan I’m making with Israel isn’t going to be written on paper,
isn’t going to be chiseled in stone; This time “I’m writing out the plan in them,
carving it on the lining of their hearts.” Hebrews 10:16 (MSG)

God’s agreement with humanity now involves a relationship, not simply a contract. Christ’s sacrifice makes it possible to come directly to the Father. God wants an intimate, personal relationship with each person. He wants those who believe in Him to be a living example of personal connection and relationship.

The church is more than a building. The church is an entity that ministers God’s love to the world. No individual can accomplish what the connected, interrelated, united body of believers can accomplish. When Paul wrote to the Romans, he compared the church to the human body. Each person is interdependent on the others in the body to accomplish the work God plans.

Paul says that each believer finds meaning in being part of the body. No organ or body part would be productive or function properly on its own without all of the parts of the body working together. In the same way, a believer who does not make himself a functioning part of the church body by attending and being involved, will never be fully realize the potential God has for him.

While the combined effort of organized believers influences the world outside the doors of the church, there is a ministry within the body as well. The mix of young, old, male, female, seasoned and novice believers, the serious and the carefree, the detail oriented and the big-picture dreamers all come together to help each other affirm and motivate one other as each individual lives life. Varied experiences and gifts allow individuals to encourage and minister to the needs each other in the body.

As the day of Christ’s return draws near, the church is a place of refuge for both the believer and non-believer.

Be part of The Body—it’s crippled without you!

Father, thank you for giving us a living example of the intimate relationship you want to have with each of us. I will be active in the body of believers and do my part to share, motivate and encourage those in the church.

March 10, 2015

A Time to Mourn, A Time to Feast

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Today’s thoughts are from the unnamed writer at Justified And Sinner, based in California. Click the title below to read at source.

Time for Church? Time to Celebrate or be Reverent?

8  They gave an oral translation of God’s Law and explained it so that the people could understand it. 9  When the people heard what the Law required, they were so moved that they began to cry. So Nehemiah, who was the governor, Ezra, the priest and scholar of the Law, and the Levites who were explaining the Law told all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God, so you are not to mourn or cry. 10  Now go home and have a feast. Share your food and wine with those who don’t have enough. Today is holy to our Lord, so don’t be sad. The joy that the LORD gives you will make you strong.” 11  The Levites went around calming the people and telling them not to be sad on such a holy day. 12  So all the people went home and ate and drank joyfully and shared what they had with others, because they understood what had been read to them. Nehemiah 8:8-12 (TEV)

There are those that think church is a time for high reverence.  For everyone to sit calmly and sedately, to not make noise.  To somberly listen to the music, the sermon, play their part in the responsive readings and prayers.

And while I know we are to be in awe of God, I think the somberness of church can be taken too far.  This is especially true when God is at work. At work as He reconciles and restores His people. Seeing God at work, whether it happens when God’s people are gathered together, is an awesome thing. I am not saying being irreverent, but that our definition of reverence needs to be changed, changed to include the joy of God’s love, manifested in our lives.

As people hear God’s word, things happen.  This is why it is so critical that they are told, as they were in the passage above, in a way they can understand!  The Holy Spirit’s work is amazing, as the Spirit breath’s life into people.

You see it in this passage, as the crowd has to be told that this day, the one God has made, is not a time for weeping and mourning.  They heard the Law, they knew where they fell short, and hearing the law grieved them.  They had a heart that was no longer stone (see Exodus 36:25) but flesh, and was still broken, damaged by the sin.  Their hearts were broken because they realized how they had rebelled against God, how they had treated the special relationship He had created, where He would be their people, and He would care for them, love them, and protect Him, for He is their God.

Hearing that was painful.  So much, that the priests had to go around and assure them of God’s love, and teaching them not to mourn, not to cry, this is God’s day.  As they gather they are told that this is the day, He has set aside for us to rest, to be at peace, to know His love.

Not the day to mourn, not the day to dwell on the failures of our past, but the day to celebrate!  You are His people!  He has restored you! He is your God, you are His people, and nothing will separate you from Him.

The result is amazing!  They leave the gathering and go and feast together. Even the poorest of the poor are provided for, as they celebrate His love.

IF this was the pattern before the Crucifixion, before Jesus rose from the grave. How much should it be now?  For now we can explore the height, the depth, the width, the breadth of His love.   Now we can realize that He has brought us to life with Christ in our Baptism.

Church, a place for mourning and tears because of our sin?  Now, there are times and places for that, This is the time for a feast, for a celebration, to realize that the Lord is with us!

So make sure you don’t miss the celebration … and when you are there, celebrate!


Do you have a scripture passage or theme you’d like to see explored here? Use the “Submissions and Questions and Contact” page in the right margin to let us know.

 

March 5, 2015

Have You Lost Your First Love?

A link to this was added as an update to Sunday’s post, but I felt it worth giving full attention to it today. Randy Davis is another author we linked to in the past at Thinking Out Loud. Click the title below to read this at source and look at other articles.

Have You Lost Your First Love?

This is a followup on my sermon from Revelation 2:1-7 titled What’s Love Got to do with It? The theme was, have you lost your first love when it comes to your relationship to Christ?

But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. (Rev 2:4-5 ESV)

These questions may serve as a diagnostic help as we probe our own hearts and ask this question, have I lost my first love in regard to following Christ as my Lord and Savior? All Christians should take stock of their lives from time to time. We need a spiritual checkup to see if we are spiritually health. These questions are certainly not exhaustive. I’m sure the reader can think of others that need to be asked. However, maybe these will help you and me think about our lives before Christ and ask that question, have I lost my first love?

  1. Have you stopped praying daily?
  2. When you do pray is it out of duty?
  3. When you pray, do you take time to think about God and wait on his reply?
  4. Does your faith influence the way you live your public life?
  5. When you make important decisions, do you consider what Scripture says? Do you pray about it?
  6. Do you use the phrase, “I prayed about it” as an excuse to do what you want to do?
  7. Do you read the Bible often?
  8. When you read Scripture, do you read with understanding?
  9. When you read Scripture, do you find surprising ideas that you have not seen before?
  10. Do you find it hard to go to church?
  11. Do you see “Church”as something you are a part of or something that you just attend?
  12. Do you spend a lot of time being critical of others at church?
  13. Is church attendance something you do when there is nothing else to do?
  14. Do you let hobbies, personal interests, sports, and other lesser matters keep you out of church?
  15. Do you feel close to other church members?
  16. Do you fellowship with church members and consider them your closest friends?
  17. Do you understand that church membership means a close spiritual bond between each other?
  18. Do you feel accountable to your fellow church members?
  19. Do you not attend church because you don’t like someone there?
  20. Do you do the work of the church?
  21. Do you volunteer or do you have to be asked and begged to take a position in the church?
  22. Do you think it is someone else’s responsibility to teach, serve on committees, chaperone at children and youth functions, etc.?
  23. Does your love for God cause you to tithe and give generously to the church?
  24. Do you think that a few dollars every now and then is all that is needed to serve God?
  25. Do you share your faith with others?
  26. Do others know you are a Christian by your behavior, your language, your attitudes?
  27. Do you believe that Christians should carry out a mission endeavor whenever possible?
  28. Would you refuse to go on a mission trip if it were offered to you?
  29. Do you give consideration to the poor and their needs?
  30. Are you put off by someone’s poverty, race, heritage, etc.? Would you refuse to minister to them or to fellowship with them?
  31. Given the chance to witness to someone about Christ, will you refuse?
  32. Do the two great commands, to love God and to love your neighbor, impact the way you live?
  33. As a Christian, do you think there should be limits to things you want or do you think you should buy whatever your heart desires?
  34. Are you proud or are you humble in the way you live and treat others?
  35. Do you think that worldly practices are fine for a Christian to practice?

November 16, 2014

You’re So Vain, You Probably Think This Sermon is About You

The Voice – II Cor. 3:18 Now all of us, with our faces unveiled, reflect the glory of the Lord as if we are mirrors; and so we are being transformed, metamorphosed, into His same image from one radiance of glory to another, just as the Spirit of the Lord accomplishes it.

The Amplified Bible – II Cor. 3:18 And all of us, as with unveiled face, [because we] continued to behold [in the Word of God] as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are constantly being transfigured into His very own image in ever increasing splendor and from one degree of glory to another; [for this comes] from the Lord [Who is] the Spirit.

 

Have you ever been in church and the pastor is preaching and after awhile it occurs to you that the whole sermon seems to be directed at one particular person’s situation? It’s almost embarrassing. It’s like everyone knows the minister is referring to Dan or Shirley or Marg or Jason, so why doesn’t he just go all the way and use their names?

But then, mysteriously, you’re drawn into a long conversation with Dan, Shirley, Marg or Jason a few weeks later, and you get the distinct impression that the sermon hasn’t changed a thing in their life; that whatever it was that made it so blatant to you and everyone else that it was about them, seems to have misfired or otherwise not taken root.

I suppose there are a number of possibilities here, of which three are:

  • They were tuned out for most of the sermon; not paying attention
  • The pastor’s remarks registered, but they assumed it applied to someone else, never considering it might be them to whom the sermon was most directly speaking
  • The application and needed next steps registered, but were eventually dismissed or forgotten
  • perhaps the cost of change or the price of obedience was simply too high

The Bible tells us we’re not simply to be hearers of the word, but doers of the word; but sometimes we mess up the hearing part which cancels out the rest.

James 1:22-24 (The Message) Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like

Imagine not knowing what you look like.

People do this everyday however. The middle aged man steps into his souped up sports car, turns the music on the sound system up high, and believes he is still 18. He starts flirting with his assistant at work and with the receptionist at the dentist’s office, and forgets he’s graying; that he has a wife and kids.

He needs a mirror.

The woman who goes out to lunch to with four friends and then spontaneously offers to pick the tab for everyone’s meal before they embark on an afternoon of shopping, slapping down the credit card at store after store, forgetting that the bank has already canceled her other credit card because of too many missed payments, and her income prospects for the foreseeable future are rather dim.

She needs a mirror.

We all need a mirror. An accurate one. One that doesn’t distort the truth. The clearest, most focused mirror is God’s word. It shows us what right living looks like. It tells us where we’ve messed up. What we can do to get back on track. What it will take for us to stay on track. You can read more about this four-fold purpose of scripture by clicking here.

Sometimes the sermon is about you. It’s like there’s no one else there.

…Now then, imagine the same scenario, but it’s more like a bad dream. The pastor preaches a similar sermon, but everyone turns around stares directly at you. But weeks later your life is unchanged.

What would your excuse be?

February 16, 2013

Strengthen The Things That Remain

Rev 3:2  Rouse yourselves and keep awake, and strengthen and invigorate what remains and is on the point of dying; for I have not found a thing that you have done [any work of yours] meeting the requirements of My God or perfect in His sight.  (AMP)

Rev 3:2 Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. (NIV)

Bob Dylan borrowed this text and asked the question, “When you gonna wake up and strengthen the things that remain?”

But what are the things that remain? Matthew Henry writes:

Some understand this of persons; there were some few who had retained their integrity, but they were in danger of declining with the rest. It is a difficult thing to keep up to the life and power of godliness ourselves, when we see a universal deadness and declension prevailing round about us. Or it may be understood of practices, as it follows: I have not found thy works perfect before God, not filled up; there is something wanting in them; there is the shell, but not the kernel; there is the carcase, but not the soul—the shadow, but not the substance. The inward thing is wanting, thy works are hollow and empty; prayers are not filled up with holy desires, alms-deeds not filled up with true charity, sabbaths not filled up with suitable devotion of soul to God; there are not inward affections suitable to outward acts and expressions. Now when the spirit is wanting the form cannot long subsist.

Warren B. Smith at the blog titled Herescope, looks at the difference between a succumber and an overcomer, in reference to today’s scripture and others:

Overcomer –one who patiently waits for Jesus Christ’s return, hates evil, tests and tries false teachers and false apostles, labors for the true Jesus Christ with patience and does not faint under pressure (Revelation 2:2-3); one who does not fear suffering and is faithful unto death (Revelation 2:10); one who holds fast to the name of Jesus Christ and does not deny the true faith of Jesus Christ (Revelation 2:13); one who holds fast, is not seduced by false teachers and false teachings and keeps the works of Jesus Christ unto the end (Revelation 2:20-26); one who is watchful and strengthens the things that remain, remembers what he has received, holds fast, and is always ready to repent (Revelation 3:2-3); one who keeps the Word of Jesus Christ, does not deny His true name, and holds fast to what he has (Revelation 3:8-11); one who is willing to be rebuked and chastened (Revelation 3:19).
 
In short, one who is faithful to Jesus Christ and all that He teaches in His true Holy Word.
 
Succumber — one who does not wait patiently for Jesus Christ’s return, does not hate evil, does not test and try false teachers and false apostles, does not labor for the true Jesus Christ with patience and does faint under pressure (Revelation 2:2-3); one who does fear suffering and is not faithful unto death (Revelation 2:10); one who does not hold fast to the name of Jesus Christ and does deny the true faith of Jesus Christ (Revelation 2:13); one who does not hold fast, is seduced by false teachers and false teachings and does not keep the works of Jesus Christ unto the end (Revelation 2:20-26); one who is not watchful and does not strengthen the things that remain, does not remember what he has received, does not hold fast, and is not always ready to repent (Revelation 3:2-3); one who does not keep the Word of Jesus Christ, does deny His true name, and does not hold fast to what he has (Revelation 3:8-11); one who is not willing to be rebuked and chastened (Revelation 3:19).
 
In short, one who is not faithful to Jesus Christ and all that He teaches in His true Holy Word.

At the blog, For His Glory:

When a church is tolerant of sin, when it stops moving forward spiritually, it becomes a sick church, and eventually a dead church. That was the case with another church, the church in Sardis. And here was Jesus’ prescription for spiritual recovery: “Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God” (Revelation 3:2 (NIV)

This church in Sardis looked good on the outside, but the fire was gone. So Jesus essentially told them, “Wake up! Stay with me – there is still hope.”

And he says the same to those today who are tolerating evil, who have gone from a little compromising to full toleration rationalization of it. It’s time to wake up.

Chris Crain examines the waking up theme; here is a short excerpt:

Sardis was captured two different times while the watchmen failed to watch.  The city was taken by Cyrus II (547 BC) and Antiochus III (214 BC) by sneak attack.  This church was asleep.  They had missed opportunities.
Spiritually, the church was in a coma (cf. ESV Study Bible) and close to dying, but there was still hope.
Jesus is able to wake the dead.  Jesus gives life to the church.  No man-made program can resurrect the dead.  The church was given life on Pentecost.  The life of the church comes from the power of the Holy Spirit.
When the believer (or church) becomes dull, lifeless and sinful, the Holy Spirit is grieved and the fire is dimmed.

Romans 13:11-12 Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.

Dr. Stacy L. Spencer offers some application:

  1. Wake Up! Sometimes, we can fall into a lull or go through the motions and not realize that we are sleepwalking through our best years. Every morning you ought to wake up earlier so you can spend time with God and get to working on your future. You still have time to do it but you have to wake up now.
  2. Strengthen what remains and is about to die. There’s something you were doing that was great but it’s in danger of dying because you’ve neglected it. You still have time to get it back because it’s not dead you just have to strengthen what remains.
  3. Jesus has not found your deeds complete. Have you done everything that God put in your heart and mind to do? If not, then you are not finished. You can’t move on to the next level until you’ve finished everything on the previous level. Finish what God told you to do so he can take you to the next level this … year.

On the ‘wake up’ theme today, we’re including Keith’s Green video, Asleep in the Light.

January 2, 2013

Preaching on Sin

We’ve frequently borrowed from the blog Daily Encouragement, but today’s post from Stephen Weber is a classic article he wrote for a blog experiment, Clear Minded.  You can find it and one other article here.

“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine”(2 Timothy 4:2). 

“For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).

Stephen C. Weber Preaching on sin; how the pendulum has swung even in my lifetime on this issue. Many my age and older will recall when sin was regularly addressed from the pulpit boldly and forthrightly. However now there’s (in my observation) far less preaching on sin and a great reluctance among many preachers to address sin specifically.  I have given some thought as to why this is so:

1. Preaching on sin is seen as “legalistic.” Let me address several understandings of legalism as I have heard the word used:

  • Legalism is a system where it is preached or assumed that following a certain set of rules is the source of salvation. That is; what we do or don’t do in following these rules determines our eternal destiny. The faithful preacher must forcefully renounce this form of legalism.  The Biblical teaching is that we are saved by grace through our faith in Christ and His finished work.
  • Legalism to many means a varying list of man-made rules regarding all manner of issues such as dress, entertainment, technology, etc. These issues vary by geography, denominational background and age.  Brooksyne speaks of growing up with “clothesline” preaching where the preacher specifically addressed specific dress standards (usually focusing on the women).  She really didn’t understand grace till Bible College. The faithful Biblical pastor will see that any addressing of and denunciation of sin has a solid Biblical foundation and is not merely a cultural or personal preference.

However the man of God must be committed to preaching the whole counsel of God including addressing sin and its terrible consequences. Proclaiming the moral standards of Scripture is not legalism!

2. Preaching on sin may turn off newcomers or “seekers.” That’s true, particularly in this age of relativism in which we live. However the proclamation of God’s truth should not be motivated by this as long as the message also contains the gospel of redemption.

3. We need to focus on the positive and God’s love and grace. Absolutely, but again proclaiming the whole counsel of God will certainly include addressing sin.

4. This behavior is so popular and it’s now legal or “constitutional”. This is a major detriment to sound Biblical preaching. Many behaviors that were once recognized as sinful have become popular and  legalized according to the laws of man.  The law of God is far greater and our mission is to proclaim His law as truth rather than man’s.

5. We are not to judge others and we are to be tolerant of all. These are two of the dominant attitudes of our day. The apostle Paul, in practicing church discipline, passed judgment on the immoral brother and certainly did not tolerate his behavior in 1 Corinthians 5.

6. Addressing these behaviors is hateful and mean-spirited. This is silencing many preachers of righteousness. We are flooded with new meanings for hateful and mean-spirited, particularly if its addressing sins that are politically correct and have growing acceptance in society at large.

7. It will make those who may be involved in the sinful behavior feel bad about themselves. Better to feel bad and hear and hopefully heed a warning than live in ignorance.

8. Pastors may feel they shouldn’t address a subject matter unless they have it 100% conquered. Certainly we should expect our pastors to live a righteous life and not be a hypocrite. As the Spirit deals with them they should repent of their sin, seek to please God, and be an example to their spiritual flock.  However they should proclaim God’s Word even though they may not have fully attained.

A corollary attitude from the pew may be a feeling that the pastor shouldn’t preach on any subject matter unless he himself has no problems with it or any other issue.  You would have to wait for a perfect pastor (none exist) or more likely one who is proud and self-deceived!

9. People just don’t want to hear this kind of preaching anymore. Indeed some don’t. But our call to preach the Word and proclaim the full counsel of God is not based on popularity polls.  But let me speak here as one earnest Christian in the pew (as I normally am now since I am not in pastoral ministry at this time and thus regularly preaching from the pulpit. I feel I speak for many but of course not all.)

  • A strong denunciation of sin may not be the most “enjoyable” message but I am challenged and edified when I hear God’s truth proclaimed and sin denounced.
  • The issue addressed may apply directly to me.  Ouch! That can bring conviction, a healthy work of the Holy Spirit.   May the Holy Spirit keep my heart soft so that I may feel His conviction and deal with the troubling matter in my life rather than blame the pastor for preaching the Word. My discerning response should not be “this sure annoys me” but rather “is this true according to the Scriptures and what action should I take.”  If it is I need to deal with it and thank God for a preacher who cares enough and is bold enough to bring it to my attention.

10. The pastor may not have it completely right when seeking to apply a Biblical principle to a modern issue. That may be so but if you value your pastor you should also value his counsel, input, and thoughtful study on current matters. Listen as a Berean checking the Scriptures yourself.

11. Even issues very specifically addressed in the Bible may tend to be skirted around or in some cases reinterpreted from what has been their normal understanding. I am also wary of what some new translations and paraphrases are doing with words and traditional understanding of sinful actions.

May God help me and my many pastor friends to truly preach the whole counsel of God!

 

Please note: Certainly I am aware that many pastors continue to boldly address sin and my pastor has tackled many of these topics.

~Stephen C. Weber

You’re invited to visit Stephen’s regular blog, Daily Encouragement.  Click the image below:

Daily Encouragement dot Net banner

 

 

November 15, 2012

Show Your Power, Lord

Today we flash back to a C201 post from exactly two years ago…

What do you do if the Passover has already passed over, the Red Sea has already parted, and the son has already stood still? Habakkuk no doubt felt like he’d missed Israel’s “glory days.”

Habakkuk 3:2(NIV) LORD, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, LORD.
Repeat them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.

We do the same thing. It’s easy to wish that we could see the miracles. Maybe you missed the “third wave” of the charismatic movement in the 1970s; or missed the ocean baptisms of the Jesus movement, also in the ’70s. Maybe you missed the moment at a Creation Festival; or couldn’t attend a particular year of Promise Keepers. Perhaps you weren’t there when that church doubled its attendance in six months; or when that individual was dramatically healed, or another delivered from a particular addiction.

Or maybe you didn’t miss a thing, but feel like nothing compares to Old Testament signs and wonders or first century miracles. Like Habakkuk you say:

Habakkuk 3:2(NIV) LORD, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, LORD.
Repeat them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.

But always remember how he ends this particular chapter. Even if life appears to be the opposite of all that you’d like to see, even if, as the Brits say, it’s all gone pear shaped; our faith is not shaken. It doesn’t negate the prayer of verse 2, but in 17-19 the prophet puts things in a larger perspective:

Habakkuk 3:17-19a (NLT) Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
and there are no grapes on the vines;
even though the olive crop fails,
and the fields lie empty and barren;
even though the flocks die in the fields,
and the cattle barns are empty,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord!
I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!
The Sovereign Lord is my strength!

 

– = – = – = –

My reading of chapter 3 of Habakkuk was inspired by listening to a great sermon by Darren Whitehead, a teaching pastor at Willow Creek.

June 20, 2012

Who We Are In Christ

I’ve previously run the poster version on the characteristics of Christ followers, but had never seen one where someone had taken the time to provide scripture links for all the various attributes we hold to as the people of God.  So, when I found this at the blog DiveInScripture, I knew I had to reblog it here. (You might want to copy the link and send it to friends. Just copy and paste this paragraph and they can read it at source.)

 Loved by God Jhn 3:16
 Forgiven Col 1:14
 Confessing the Lordship of Jesus Over Our Lives Phl 2:11
 Saved by Grace through Faith Eph 2:8
 Loving God with All of our Hearts, Souls & Minds Mat 22:37
 Born Again Children of God Rom 8:16
 Delivered from the Powers of Darkness Col 1:13
 Redeemed from the Hands of the Enemy Psa 107:2
 Called with a Holy Calling 2Ti 1:9
 Created in His Image Rom 8:29
 Not of This World Jhn 17:16
 Of God’s Household of Faith Gal 6:10
 In Love with God 1Jo 4:19
 Seeking First His Kingdom & Righteousness Mat 6:33
 Abiding in His Love 1Jo 4:16
 Healed by His Stripes 1Pe 2:24
 Free from Fear 1Jo 4:18
 Crowned with His Loving Kindness & Tender Mercies Psa 103
 Redeemed from the Curse of the Law Gal 3:13
 Free from the Law of Sin & Death Rom 8:32
 Heirs of Eternal Life 1Jo 5:11-12
 Heirs to the Blessings of Abraham Gal 3:14
 Heirs of God & Joint Heirs with Jesus Rom 8:17
 Blessed with All Spiritual Blessings Eph 1:3
 His Workmanship Created in Christ Jesus Eph 2:10
 Strong in the Grace That Is in Christ Jesus 2Ti 2:1
 In Rightstanding with God 2Co 5:21
 Established in Righteousness Isa 54:14
 Living in His Kingdom Col 1:13
 Humbling Ourselves, Casting All Cares Upon Jesus 1Pe 5:6-7
 Getting Our Needs Met by Jesus Phl 4:19
 Able to Be Partakers of the inheritance, Giving Thanks to the Father Col 1:12
 Studying to Show Ourselves Approved of God 2Ti 2:15
 Awakening to Righteousness & Sinning Not 1Cr 15:34
 Commended to God & the Word of His Grace Which Is Able to Build Us Up Act 20:32
 Believing God’s Word Mar 13:31
 Blessed Because We Hear the Word of God And Keep It Luk 11:28
 Abiding in Jesus & His Words Abide in Us Jhn 15:7
 Always Meditating on God’s Word Jos 1:8
 Living by Every Word That Proceeds from God Mat 4:4
 Rooted & Built Up in Him & Established in the Faith Col 2:6-7
 Building Our House Upon the Rock Mat 7:24-25
 Being Transformed by the Renewing of Our Minds Rom 12:2
 Increasing in the Knowledge of God Col 1:10
 Letting His Truth Set Us Free Jhn 8:3236
 Covenanted to God Hbr 8:610
 Filled with All Joy & Peace in Believing Rom 15:13
 Doers of the Word Jam 1:22
 Sons & Daughters of God Gal 3:26
 The Body of Christ Eph 1:22-23
 Laborers together with God 1Cr 3:9
 Servants of the Most High Act 16:17
 Having the Mind of Christ Phl 2:5
 Walking in Newness of Life Rom 6:4
 Led by His Spirit Rom 8:14
 Trusting in the Lord Acknowledging Him in All Our Ways Pro 3:5-6
 Putting on the Lord Jesus Christ Gal 3:27
 Partakers of His Divine Nature 2Pe 1:4
 Walking with Love & Living by Faith 1Cr 13 & Rom 1:17
 Predestined to Be Conformed to His Image Rom 8:29
 Pressing on to His High Calling Phl 3:14
 Allowing the Greater One to Dwell in Us 1Jo 4:4
 Letting Our Request Be Known to God Phl 4:6
 Asking in the Name of Jesus Jhn 15:16
 Receiving the Request We’ve Asked For Mar 11:24
 Receiving All the Promises of God 2Cr 1:20
 Fully Convinced That What God Has Promised He Is Able to Perform Rom 4:21
 Believers Mar 9:23
 Abiding in His Rest Hbr 4:3
 Walking & Acting Like the Word Is True Jam 2:17-18
 Holding Fast Our Confidence Which Has Great Reward Hbr 10:35
 The Elect of God Col 3:12
 Filled with the Holy Spirit Act 2:42:39
 Complete in Him Col 2:10
 Going in His Name Mar 16:15-18
 Strong in the Lord & in the Power of His Might Eph 6:10
 Filled with the Knowledge of His Will in All Wisdom & Spiritual Understanding Col 1:9
 Not Moved by What We See Rom 4:19
 Strong in Faith, Giving Glory to God, Not Wavering with Doubt or Unbelief Rom 4:20
 Imitators of Jesus Eph 5:1
 Walking As He Walked 1Jo 2:6
 Praying without Ceasing 1Th 5:17
 Walking by Faith Not by Sight 2Cr 5:7
 Casting Down Vain Imaginations, Bringing Every Thought into Captivity to God’s Word 2Cr 10:4-5
 Holding Fast Our Confession of Faith Hbr 10:23
 Calling Things That Be Not As Though they Were Rom 4:17
 Fighting the Good Fight of Faith 1Ti 6:17
 Reigning in Life Rom 5:17
 Exercising Our Faith & Patience Hbr 6:12
 Considering Jesus, the Apostle & High Priest of Our Confession Hbr 3:1
 Observing & Doing the Lords Commandments Jhn 14.21

 Putting on Love Col 3:14
 Loving Our Neighbors As Ourselves Mat 22:39
 Walking in the Wisdom of God Jam 1:5
 Kings & Priest Rev 1:6
 Givers Luk 6:38
 Intercessors 1Ti 2:1
 Wearing God’s Armour Eph 6:10-18
 Doing All Things through Christ Who Strengthens Us Phl 4:13
 Daily Overcoming the Devil 1Jo 4:4
 More Than Conquerors Rom 8:37
 Overcoming by the Blood of the Lamb& the Word of Our Testimonies Rev 12:11
 Exercising Our Authority Over the Enemy Luk 10:19
 Destroying the Works of the Devil 1Jo 3:8
 Convinced That Nothing Can Separate Us from the Love of God Rom 8:35-39
 In Everything Giving Thanks 1Th 5:18
 Establishing God’s Word Here on the Earth Mat 16:19
 Receiving Abundantly, Above All We Ask or Think Eph 3:20
 Walking Worthy of the Lord Col 1:10
 Telling Everyone about Jesus Rom 16:25
 Thinking on these Things Phl 4:8
 Giving God All the Glory Rom 16:27
 Blessing the Lord at All Times. Continually Praising the Lord with Our Mouths Psa 34:1
 Definitely Looking For His Soon Return 1Th 4:15-18

May 19, 2012

Following Jesus Into: The World, Love, Death

Today I spent some time studying the blog of Jeremy Myers.  Jeremy was a pastor in a conservative church until he had an epiphany that caused him to take a second look at the traditional church structure.  While not everyone will agree with all his conclusions, I think we can be challenged by his writing to think a little (or a lot) outside the box.  The following are teasers from three recent blog posts he wrote, you’ll need to click the TITLE of each to read the full article…  (If you’ve only got time for one, choose the middle one!)

Following Jesus into the World

In my book, Skeleton Church, I suggest that church is best defined as “The people of God who follow Jesus into the world.” Jesus wants to take the church out of our buildings and into the streets and parks of our towns to love and serve the people who are there.

What will this look like in your town and your community?

…Nobody really knows what church will look like ten, twenty, or a hundred years from now. Even the path to get wherever we are going is full of questions and uncertainty…

[click the title to continue reading]

Following Jesus into Love

There are several characteristics which define and identify those people and churches who are following Jesus into the world.

First, they will be known for their love.

Christians should be the most loving people on earth, not just by what we say, but by what we do. People should not have to be told that Christians are loving, but should tangibly see our love in what we do for others daily.

One of the best ways to reveal this is not just in loving one another, but also in loving those whom others hate.

In Luke 6:27-28, Jesus tells His disciples that they must be characterized by love for their enemies. They must love them, bless them, and pray for them. In a world that wants the death and destruction of our enemies, those who love, bless, and serve their enemies are viewed as traitors…

[click the title to continue reading]

Following Jesus into Death

Followers of Jesus will be characterized by death and resurrection.

We all want to experience the resurrected life of Jesus, but before we can rise to new life in the future, we must die to ourselves and die to our past. The church that does not die chooses instead to live in a vegetative state on artificial life support.

We cling to the past, to the traditions and to the forms of church handed down to us from the eras of Constantine, the Reformation, and Industrialism. Churches that cling to these past forms are still living, but without any real life. This fight to keep from dying allows us to survive, but only as the living dead.

It is when we embrace death that we rise again to new life…

[click the title to continue reading]

Luke 9:57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

Matthew 16:24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.

 

February 19, 2012

Church Year in Review

The church annual business meeting is a both longstanding tradition, and requirement

Over the next few weeks, several churches in my part of the world are holding their annual meeting.  Though required by law, it’s also a good opportunity for churches to step back and see the ‘big picture’ of church life, consider what God is doing through their efforts, thank God for His provision and look forward to the future.

The danger of course is to reduce meetings like this to statistics; to pie-chart and bar-graph church life to extremes. I doubt the first century church did this kind of record-keeping, and the Apostle Paul — who had a great mind when it came to understanding justification and atonement — was somewhat fuzzy on if or when he had baptized people.

Ohio pastor Paul Clark at the blog Vision Meets Reality doesn’t post very often, but back in December he linked to his church’s annual report which begins with 13 measures of a healthy church:

1. People are coming to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
2. Our missions program is expanding locally, nationally and globally.
3. People are making public professions of faith through baptism.
4. Attendance in worship services is increasing.
5. The worship experience is vibrant, enthusiastic and intergenerational.
6. There is broad participation in serving throughout the ministries.
7. New ministries are beginning as God imparts vision.
8. Guests are being connected to church life.
9. Covenant membership is increasing.
10. Our budgetary needs are being met.
11. Leaders are being developed and placed in ministry roles.
12. Scripture is central to our message.
13. Staff relationships are healthy.

That’s the kind of church I want to be a part of; though I think the eleven hour round trip would take its toll after a few Sundays. Although he pastors a larger church, I believe these goals are viable at some level for churches of all shapes and sizes.

What else does a healthy church look like?  Here’s how The Message translates two familiar passages:

Acts 2:38-39Peter said, “Change your life. Turn to God and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, so your sins are forgiven. Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is targeted to you and your children, but also to all who are far away—whomever, in fact, our Master God invites.”

 40He went on in this vein for a long time, urging them over and over, “Get out while you can; get out of this sick and stupid culture!”

 41-42That day about three thousand took him at his word, were baptized and were signed up. They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers.

 43-45Everyone around was in awe—all those wonders and signs done through the apostles! And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met.

 46-47They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. People in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved.

Acts 4:31While they were praying, the place where they were meeting trembled and shook. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak God’s Word with fearless confidence.

 32-33The whole congregation of believers was united as one—one heart, one mind! They didn’t even claim ownership of their own possessions. No one said, “That’s mine; you can’t have it.” They shared everything. The apostles gave powerful witness to the resurrection of the Master Jesus, and grace was on all of them.

 34-35And so it turned out that not a person among them was needy. Those who owned fields or houses sold them and brought the price of the sale to the apostles and made an offering of it. The apostles then distributed it according to each person’s need.

February 15, 2012

Tim Chester: Communities of Performance versus Communities of Grace

Tucked away in the November, 2008 archives of Timothy Chester’s blog is a fascinating distinction between two types of Christian community. He writes:

In performance-oriented churches people pretend to be okay because their standing within the church depends on it. A ‘sorted’ person is seen as the standard or the norm, and anyone who is struggling is seen as sub-standard or sub-Christian. In this kind of environment to acknowledge that you’re struggling with sin is difficult and distressing.But this is the opposite of grace. Grace acknowledges that we are all sinners, we are all messed up people, all struggling, all doubting at a functional level. But grace also affirms that in Christ we all belong, all make the grade, all are welcome, all are Christians (there are no lesser Christians).

Imagine such a church for a moment:

  • Here is Andrew: he sometimes uses po rn because he struggles to find refuge in God.
  • Here’s Pauline: she sometimes has panic attacks because she struggles to believe in the care of her heavenly Father.
  • Here’s Abdul: he sometimes looses his temper because he struggles to believe that God is in control.
  • Here’s Georgina: she sometimes has bouts of depression because she struggles to believe God’s grace.
Communities of Performance Communities of Grace
*the leaders appear sorted *the leaders are vulnerable
*the community appears respectable *the community is messy
*meetings must be a polished performance *meetings are just one part of community life
*identity is found in ministry *identity is found in Christ
*failure is devastating *failure is disappointing, but not devastating
*actions are driven by duty *actions are driven by joy
*conflict is suppressed or ignored *conflict is addressed in the open
*the focus is on orthodoxy and behaviour (allowing people to think they’re sorted) *the focus is on the affections of the heart (with a strong view of sin and grace)

When they [Abdul, Paulina, Georgina and Andrew]  come together they accept one another and celebrate God’s grace towards each other. They rejoice that they are all children of God through the work of Christ. And they remind one another of the truths each of them needs to keep going and to change. It’s a community of grace, a community of hope, a community of change.


In a later post, Chester noted that communities of performance impede mission; that is to say they prevent real ministry from taking place:

Communities of Performance Communities of Grace
*talk about grace, but communicate legalism *people can see grace in action
*unbelievers can’t imagine themselves as Christians *unbelievers feel like they can belong
*don’t attract broken people *attract broken people
*the world is seen as threatening and ‘other’ *people are loved as fellow-sinners in need of grace
*conversion is superficial (people are called to respectable behaviour) *conversion is radical (people are called to transformed affections)
*people are secretly hurting *people are open about their problems
*people see faith and repentance as actions that took place at conversion *people see faith and repentance as daily activities
*the gospel is for unbelievers *the gospel is for both unbelievers and believers
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