Thursday, September 14, 2017

Edification - The Growth-Focused Service of the Church

We're all involved in a building project. Anyone who is a believer in Jesus Christ is also a disciple.  That's a loaded term that has the basic meaning of being a learner or a follower.  Our pursuit is Christ-likeness and our teacher is Christ Himself.

God uses a LOT of tools to help us grow as Christians.  Historically, the church has used the phrase "means of grace".  One of the major means of grace that God has chosen to use for thousands of years is the Church.

The Church is not a building, but a people.  The Greek word for church is "ekklesia", which could be translated "a called out assembly".  God has called out people, through salvation, and put us together into various churches in order to display His glory through the spread of the gospel and the growth of disciples. Simply put, we need each other and God has designed that we help each other.

Ephesians 4 tells us precisely God's plan for our spiritual growth as disciples of Christ:

Ephesians 4:11-13 - And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head-- Christ-- 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.

This passage tells us a few things.  Firstly, the entire building project is the plan of God and also under His direction.  We do things His way because it is His project, not ours.  Secondly, Jesus has placed gifted men (in the case of the modern church, evangelists and pastor-teachers) in order to equip the saints (that's all of us) to do the work of the ministry.  Pastors are not the paid professionals who do all the work.  They are equippers.  Thirdly, we all do the work of the ministry - serving one another, teaching one another, loving one another.  It's our responsibility.  Fourthly, we all grow up together through the power of Christ and become more like our Savior.

This whole plan shows why the church is vital to your Christian growth.  You can't do ANY of this stuff by yourself.  Oh, you can read the Bible and get some knowledge about God and the gospel, but you can't live it out on your own.  You were meant to be part of a growing body of believers who love and serve God by loving and serving others.

While our church is small and doesn't currently have all the age-segregated programs some other churches might have, there are plenty of opportunities for both learning God's Word and applying God's Word in the context of the relationships you will build here.  The challenge is to not sit on the sidelines, but jump in and get involved.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Evangelism - The Soul-Seeking Mission of the Church

"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."

Elwood Blues (yes, I am going to quote one of the Blues Brothers) once claimed that he and his brother Jake were "on a mission from God".  Of course, their mission was to get a fictitious band back together to complete a movie plot.  Our mission, however, is direct from the Captain of our salvation and Lord of the universe.  And it involves something far more important than the comedic elements of a Saturday Night Live spin-off.  It involves the eternal destiny of everyone with whom we come in contact.

You see, for reasons known only to God, He has given us a major responsibility and privilege in being a part of the growth of His kingdom.  I call it a responsibility because Matthew 28 (and the other parallels of this passage) is a command.  He doesn't make this an option.  A former pastor of mine, who I greatly respect, many times would remind us that "the Great Commission is not an option to be considered; it is a command to be obeyed".  We aren't allowed to opt out of making disciples.  We simply must obey our Lord's command.

I call it a privilege because I can't believe that we get to be involved in God's saving work!  This is not a drudging requirement.  It is something to rejoice in.  God uses US to keep people out of hell!  He allows US to be a small part in his glorious work of salvation!  He calls US to evangelize the lost.

Evangelize the lost.  What does that mean?  There are two parts of this to understand.  First, what does it mean to evangelize?  And second, who are the lost?  So, technically speaking, "evangelism" comes from the Greek word "euangelizo", which means to proclaim good news.  The good news that we proclaim consists of the historical facts of the gospel - the sinfulness of every human being in the eyes of God, the sinless life of Jesus (the eternal Son of God), the sacrificial death of Jesus, and the resurrection of Jesus.  Along with the historical facts, we also need to proclaim a call to respond to those facts.  Biblically speaking, we are to call people to repentance (to turn from their sin) and faith (to turn to God by trusting in Jesus alone).  If we fail to give either the historical facts or the plea to respond, we have failed to evangelize.  We have failed to share the gospel.

The second question involves to whom we are to share the gospel.  Who are the lost people we are to reach?  The simple answer to this question is EVERYONE!!!  The person who lives in Iran and knows only Islam is lost and so we are to send missionaries (and go as missionaries) to reach them with the gospel, sometimes at great peril to our own lives.  The person who lives next door to us and knows Jesus as only a curse word is lost and so we are to build relationships with them in order to share the gospel with them.  Our family members, our coworkers, friends and anyone else we come in contact with are lost and in need of the gospel.  Our evangelistic responsibility knows no ethnic barriers, no culture barriers, no social class barriers, no gender barriers, no barriers at all.  We are to share the gospel with everyone.

And, as we do, God saves some.  This is the joy of our work.  God uses us to reach people and we get to see them come to know the Lord.  We get to see the Lord convict them of sin.  We get to see the Lord change them from hating Him to loving Him.  We get to see them experience forgiveness of sin.  We get to see God cause them to grow in their faith.  We get to see them go out and share the gospel with others.

This is the only reason we are still breathing.  God has left us here to share the gospel with the lost.  Let us never shy away from this awesome privilege.  Let's get to work!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Exaltation - The God-Honoring Purpose of the Church

Psalm 99 begins with the proclamation that the Lord reigns and ends with the command, "Exalt the LORD our God, And worship at His holy hill; For the LORD our God is holy."  This is a great summary of a major theme that runs through the entirety of Scripture.  God is king and we exist to declare that and worship Him for it.

This is basically what we mean when we say that Grace Baptist Church exists to glorify God.  In fact, if you look at our mission statement, it reads, "Grace Baptist Church exists to glorify God by bringing people into God's family through the gospel, building them up into mature followers of Christ, and training them for ministry in the church and to the world."

That's a lot of words!  And we don't expect everyone can remember something like that, so we have boiled it down to 4 words that all begin with the letter E (of course I alliterated - I'm a Baptist after all).  These are Exaltation, Evangelism, Edification, and Equipping.  This is what we do and who we are.

First and foremost, we are here because God created us in order to exalt him.  While it is true that God created everything for His glory (see the 2nd question to the Catechism for Young Children), God has uniquely designed the local church to be a display of His glory.

Display of His glory.  This is what we mean when we talk about exaltation.  We, as the people of God, exist as a display of God's glory.  We don't make God more glorious than He is.  We can't. But, we do display the glory that is there. Everything we do - preaching the gospel, singing songs, praying together, reading Scripture, teaching the Bible, eating food a pot-lucks, sending out missionaries, ministering to our community, discipling one another, disciplining errant church members is designed by God and must be planned by us to display not our own greatness, but the greatness of the God who saved us.

This is the primary mission of the church - to exalt the Lord our God.  And, it's the primary interest of God as well - His own glory.  It's good for us to have the same motivation as God, isn't it?  So, let's keep that motivation at the center of everything we do.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

God cares. Now what?

In the last couple of posts, I have tried to emphasize (from the Scripture) that God genuinely cares about you.  He loves you.  He is compassionate toward you.  He knows that you are weak and in need and He is right there with you to help you.  Jesus showed this throughout His earthly ministry as he met people where they were and helped them both physically and spiritually.  He came not to be served, but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for sinners.

So, now what?  I began talking in the last post about what we should do in response.  Once you recognize that God cares about you and has the power to help you, you should come to Him.  This only makes sense.  If you knew a doctor had the only cure to your deadly disease, you would be stupid to not go to him for help.  Well, it's the same with God.  He is the only one who can help you and loves you enough to give His own Son for you.  So, come to Him for help!  Pray to Him.  Ask Him.  Believe in Him.

And (to quote Journey) don't stop believing.  Keep on trusting Him even as you struggle through the difficulties of your life.  Even as you deal with pain and loss and suffering and disappointment and joy and love and EVERYTHING, keep trusting God.

NOW...bring others to Him.  This is exactly what Jesus taught when he transitioned from compassionate ministry in Matthew chapter 9 to collaborative mission in Matthew 10.  He gathered a special group of men together (we'll talk about them sometime in the future) and sent them out to bring others to Himself.

Honestly, if you really believe in the God who loves you so much He gave His Son for you, how can you keep Him to yourself?  How can you not tell others?  You don't need a degree in theology to bring someone to Jesus.  You just need to know people (who are sinners) and know Jesus (who is the Savior).  I'm not saying you shouldn't always be learning more of Christ, because you should.  But, it is not your knowledge that people need.  It is your God.

So, what are you waiting for?  If you know Jesus, share him with others.  Perhaps God will use you to bring someone to Him.

Monday, July 03, 2017

God cares. So what?

So, God cares.  If you've paid any attention to the sermons from chapters 8 and 9 of Matthew, you have heard this resounding chorus over and over.  Jesus showed the compassion of our heavenly Father.  In these 2 chapters, Jesus heals people; he touches people; he eats with people; he raises the dead.  In short, Jesus cares.

In fact, the passage we just looked at in Matthew 9:35-38 tells us that Jesus looked out at the crowd of people coming to him with a lifetime of problems and he was "moved with compassion for them".  What a statement!  The God of the universe, who upholds all things by the word of His power, cares about the every day problems people have.

In the last entry, I said we would look at why this matters and what we should do.  Well, I think the answer to the first question should be obvious.  What can you usually do about the situations you find yourself in that bring you pain?  NOTHING!!  Usually, though there may be little steps we can take to better ourselves if our problems involve finances or health, we have no way of actually changing the situation.  That is why we are so distressed when we find ourselves in these situations.

But, God can change it!  In fact, He is the only one who can completely turn a situation around.  He is the only one who can completely heal.  He is the only one who can completely solve any financial situation.  He is the only one who, when He chooses not to solve your problem, can help you persevere through the problem.  So, it matters greatly that He cares about you.

Now, what do you do about it? Well, there may be a lot of little (and some major) things that you can do about your specific situation. But, in general, there are only two things that you can and should do throughout the entirety of your life as you face problems. And those two things are found in every passage we have looked at in Matthew 8 and 9.

First - come to Jesus.  Pray to Him.  Plead with Him.  Tell Him what your problems are and how you feel about it.  Ask for His help to solve the situation.  Sometimes He will miraculously change what is happening in your life.  He did in each one of these cases in Matthew.  Sometimes, He will make you go through the problem because it is better for you in your quest for holiness and Christ-likeness to endure.  Consider that some of these situations in Matthew had been going on for years.  And, of course Jesus already knows what you're going through.  He's God!  But, remember, He cares about you.  So, come to Him with your doubts.  Pray to Him about your fears.  Plead with Him in your despair.  This is what about half of the Psalms are about!  It's good for your soul to do this.

Secondly - keep trusting Jesus.  One of the hardest things to do as your are struggling with your situation is to keep the faith.  It's easy to give up...particularly if it seems like God is disinterested in you.  But, don't give up.  Don't lose heart.  This is why Jesus gave the parable of the widow and the unjust judge - to teach us to continue coming to him with our needs and to keep trusting Him to do what is best for us.  Remember, God is faithful, even when we are faithless.  If you are His child, NOTHING happens to you but what is good for you.  And, God is a loving heavenly Father who only does what is right and good.  Remind yourself of the character of God and of His love for you.  Remember the cross and the love God showed for you as He poured out His wrath for sin on His Son.  Remember, that if God is for us, who can be against us?  Hold tightly to the truth that NOTHING can separate us from the love of God.

Romans 8:38-39 - For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Does God Care? (and does it matter?) - Reflections on Matthew 9:18-26

"Man who is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble."

These words were spoken by someone who knew what trouble in life was all about.  Job had lived his life as righteously as he knew how.  He was so righteous that even God bragged about him.  God blessed him in many ways - he was wealthy, had a good marriage, had many kids, and was well-respected in his community.

And, then things went south for Job.  Unknown to Job, Satan stood before God and accused Job of only trusting God for the benefits he received.  So, God allowed Satan to test Job.  He lost everything.  Robbers stole everything he had and burned all his fields.  All of his kids were killed in a "freak accident".  And Job's wife turned on him and told him to "curse God and die".  Talk about a rough time.

All this happens in the first few chapters of the book of Job.  The rest of the book (chapters 3-37) is a heart-wrenching account of Job's misery and his 4 "friends" telling him it's all his fault.  Job wonders why God allowed all these things to happen.  Job cries out to God for 34 chapters asking Him for an answer or a solution or, at the very least, to just let him die.  And God is silent...

Do you sometimes feel like Job?  Admit it.  Sometimes life throws so many curve balls at you that you have no idea where to turn next.  You get beat down.  You're hurt.  You feel alone.  And God seems absent.  You wonder, does God even care? And, if He does, what does it matter?

I'm reminded of the story of Job as I contemplate what we looked at last Sunday in Matthew 9:18-26. Here were 2 people of different social standing, that had life-altering problems.  One was a synagogue official named Jairus.  The other was an unknown woman in a crowd.  Jairus' daughter got so sick that she was at the point of death, and died during this account.  The woman had an incurable bleeding disorder for 12 years!  Neither one had hope of help from anyone around them.

And then along came Jesus.  He brought hope.  He could do something about their problems.  He had healed people, cast out demons, directed storms and waves.  If anyone could help, He could.  But, did he care enough about them to stop what he was doing and actually help?  The answer was a resounding YES!!!

When the synagogue official came to Jesus, pleading for Him to come with him and raise his daughter, Jesus dropped everything and followed him.  In the midst of the crowd during the journey, the woman touched Jesus' clothes and was immediately healed.  Jesus stopped and offered her not only physical healing, but deeper spiritual healing as well.  Then Jesus raised Jairus' daughter from the dead - an feat unheard of even today!  Yes!  Jesus cares.

But, does he care about you and me?  This was the question Job was asking for 34 chapters.  This is, I'm sure a question you ask all the time.  We have real problems.  And sometimes the answers seem few and far between.  Does God even care?

The answer to that question is a resounding "YES!!!".  God does care.  The old hymn "Does Jesus Care" answers the question this way:

Oh, yes, He cares!  I know he cares.
His heart is touched with my grief.
When the days are weary, the long nights dreary,
I know my Savior cares.

So, know this.  When you are at the end of your rope and everything seems to be against you, if you are a child of God, He cares for you.  In the next post, we'll look at why this matters and what we should do.

Monday, January 02, 2017

"As the deer pants for the water brooks, So pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, While they continually say to me, 'Where is your God?' When I remember these things, I pour out my soul within me. For I used to go with the multitude; I went with them to the house of God, With the voice of joy and praise, With a multitude that kept a pilgrim feast. Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him For the help of His countenance."

I must confess something.  I have been in a desert.  I have been in this desert for a long time.  Eight years ago, I left the full-time ministry to go back to work because our church couldn't continue supporting me and paying our bills at the same time.  But, I began wandering into the desert before then. Partly through life circumstances, partly (mostly?) through my own sinfulness, I began a slow but steady walk away from the "streams of living water" to try to drink from "broken cisterns". As God said through the prophet Jeremiah, it is an astonishing thing. But, it is true.

No, I didn't cheat on my wife, or abandon the faith, or anything like that.  But, is pastoring without passion any less of a sin? Is preaching without praying any better than not preaching at all? I tend to doubt it.

I think every pastor goes into the ministry with a great desire for the glory of God. We all long to see people come to know the Lord, grow in their faith, and extend the kingdom. But, sometimes, we get weary. Things don't go as we had hoped. The church we are pastoring doesn't grow, but shrinks. People who we have loved and served turn on us and, worse yet, turn on God.

And the human response is to wander into the desert. To stop caring as much. To stop praying as much. To begin to go through the motions, hoping to just survive.  Some of that describes what I have been going through.  Oh, I love the people in my church.  I always have.  I have wept over them and prepared messages for them and taught them.  But, while I was doing that, I was not weeping over my own soul or studying God's Word in order to know God myself.  In short, I was dry.  I was thirsty, but not going to the Fountain.  I was just flopping in the sand. And my ministry was not in the power of the Spirit, but in the half-hearted effort of a sinful man.

Well, something has happened to me over the last six months.  It is hard to describe, but I can tell you that I am not who I have been for the last eight years. No, I am not perfect.  In fact, I am far from it.  But, I have a new-found hope and trust in God.  I long for Him like I never have before.  I want others to have this same longing I do.  I can say, without a doubt, that I am now ministering from an overflow of the work of God on my life and not just from my own strength.

Does this mean that everything is going to go perfectly?  Did it for David?  Will the church I pastor suddenly grow by leaps and bounds?  Will we see thousands getting saved, families reconciled, sin fought against?  Maybe some of that will happen.  Maybe it won't.  I have been praying for a revival first in my heart and then in the hearts of our people.  But, the answer to that prayer isn't up to me, it's up to God.  For now, I am happy to be out of the desert and, once again, drinking from the fountain of living waters. And I pray that I may be able to serve God's people from the overflow of what I am drinking.