12/20/2010

Gospel Driven: God Reigns Supreme

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We start our case for a gospel driven ministry the same place we (should) start everything - with the sovereign God of the universe.  What we mean by sovereign is that the God of the Bible, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has absolute control over everything in the universe.   Here is how the Psalmist put it in Psalm 103:19...


The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.

According to Isaiah 46:8-11, God has declared the end and the beginning and there is nothing that can thwart His purposes or plans.  He is a sovereign God with plans for His creation.
 “Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country.  I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it."
God is absolutely sovereign over all His creation.  He has plans that He has in the past and will in the future put into motion, all of which are guaranteed to accomplish what they are intended to accomplish.  What this also means for us is that, as ruler of all and creator of all, He is the source of all authority for us as His followers.  Our responsibility is to find out how He intends His creation to function (including ourselves) and line up with that intent.  Since His purposes cannot be thwarted, our best ministry strategy is to align ourselves with His purposes.  It does not behoove us in any way to invent or dream up new purposes for the church under the guise of relevance or some other trendy catchphrase.  God's purposes are eternal and always relevant to whatever time and place we find ourself.  (I am not talking about methodology here.  Methods change and improve but purpose and mission never do.)

Because there is a God and because He is the absolute ruler and authority over all, He is the place we start when it comes to determining what our ministry should look like.  We should have as the highest priority determining, to the extent He has revealed them, the nature and focus of God's purposes.  Then we will have a foundation from which to understand the part God has planned for us to play.  Any other foundation is ,at best, foolishness and ,at worst, idolatry as we set our plans and purposes up as superior to the sovereign king of all.


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12/16/2010

Sun Stand Still by Steven Furtick

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Steven Furtick's desire is to inspire us to pray what he calls "Sun Stand Still" prayers as we pursue God.  The phrase comes from the story of Joshua where God makes the sun stand still in the sky in response to Joshua's prayer so that the Israelites will have time to completely defeat their enemy.  Furtick believes that if we have audacious faith and pray "sun stand still" prayers, then we will see God do amazing things in, around, and through us for His glory.

I have to say that I began reading this book with some skepticism.  I think we have all heard or read about how God will move mountains for us if we will just have faith and let God work.  What I appreciate about Sun Stand Still is that Furtick repeatedly brings us back to aligning ourselves with God's character and purposes as revealed in scripture.  Really, what this book is advocating is that we live our lives as disciples of Christ in such a way that we actually need faith in God daily.  The reality is that way too many professing Christians don't really need faith because we have our lives mapped out and have done a pretty good job of providing for ourselves.  We don't really need God all that much on a day to day basis.  Sun Stand Still challenges that lifestyle and encourages us to live and dream in such a way that we must rely of God and His faithfulness regularly.  We are told in scripture to walk by faith and not by sight and this book challenges us to do just that.
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12/15/2010

Slave by John MacArthur

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MacArthurs's latest book, Slave, begins with the question "What does it mean to be a Christian?"  MacArthur contends that some of the confusion over what an authentic Christian is stems from an unfortunate mistranslation of the Greek word doulos.  Doulos always means slave in the Greek, yet it is often translated servant in our English translations.  MacArthur gives 2 reason why he believes this mistranslation has occurred:


1) Given the stigmas attached to slavery in Western society, translators have understandably wanted to avoid any association between biblical teaching and the slave trade of the British Empire and the American Colonial era.

2) From a historical perspective, in late-medieval times it was common to translate doulos with the Latin word servus. Some of the earliest English translations, influenced by the Latin version of the Bible, translated doulos as servant because it was the more natural rendering of servus.
The main thrust of the book is two fold.  The first is to demonstrated why slave is the proper translation of doulos and second to examine the implications of viewing ourselves as slaves of Christ.  I thought the book handled both of these issues with thoughtfulness and especially appreciated the connection between being slaves of Christ to being sons of God.

As with all MacArthur's writings, scripture was found abundantly throughout.  I especially enjoyed the chapters detailing the life of John Newton and the chapters detailing the doctrines of salvation.  I think this book is a great addition to anyone's library and I wholeheartedly recommend it.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com <http://BookSneeze.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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12/13/2010

Gospel Driven: The Gospel

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The first step in having a gospel driven ministry is to have a right understanding of the gospel itself.  I do not intend to exhaustively cover every aspect of the gospel in one blog post, mainly because that isn't possible.  I would live to lay out a simple, but I hope robust gospel explanation.  If we don't understand the gospel, we cannot hope to orient an entire ministry philosophy around it's proclamation and teaching.  One way to summarize the gospel, and the way I am going to do so today, is by looking at it from a 30,000 feet perspective. From that perspective the gospel is summarized like this: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Reconciliation.

Creation
The gospel begins and ends with the sovereign God of the universe.  At its core, the gospel is about God, not man.  As we know from Genesis, God created everything by the word of His mouth.  We also know from Colossians 1:16 that all things were created not only by God but for God.  Everything in existence was made by God to bring Him glory, including mankind.


Fall
Genesis 3 tells us the story of how Adam and Eve succumbed to the temptation of the enemy and fractured all of creation in the process.  By choosing to disobey God, by choosing to believe they knew better than God what was good for them, they allowed sin to enter into our world.  We learn in Romans 8:19-20 that to this day, all of creation suffers under the curse of God due to sin.  We also learn in Romans that because of Adam's disobedience, death has come to all of his descendants.  We are all born alienated from God and objects of His wrath (John 3:36).  We are dead in our sins and there is nothing we can do to change that.

Redemption
Fortunately for us, not only is God just, holy, and righteous, but he is also merciful, loving, and gracious.  According to His good pleasure, He has chosen a people for His own possession.  Jesus Christ, God's son, came to earth as one of us, lived a perfect life, was killed on a cross, and resurrected from the dead.  While on the cross, He absorbed the wrath of God that we deserved as punishment for our sin.  He became sin for us so that we could become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).  Jesus Christ and His work on the cross is the only way to be saved from our sin and be reconciled to God.


Reconciliation
One day in our future, Jesus is returning to establish His rule over all creation.  He will reconcile all things to Himself (Colossians 1:20).  He will rescue creation from its curse and He will gather all of His people so that He might be glorified for all eternity.

The beginning of the gospel is God and the end of the gospel is God.  In order to have a gospel driven ministry, we must be sure we know and understand the gospel as best we can.  We must become students of the gospel.  Then and only then can we begin to learn how to form a ministry around the beautiful gospel of Christ.
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12/10/2010

Gospel Driven Ministry

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One of the most persistent questions for church leaders is "What should our ministry look like?"  What should the focus be, what programs should we implement, what things should we emphasize, etc.  What I would like to do over the next couple of weeks (maybe more) is to suggest an answer to those questions and then to offer some supporting arguments for that answer.

The answer I have in mind isn't unique or brand new.  It isn't even all that controversial.  As a matter of fact, many churches already operate this way and many others would say they do.  I do think that it is so simple, so fundamental that many churches assume it is happening even if they don't spend all their time talking about it to their people.

The answer, I believe is simple:  All ministry should be gospel centered, gospel driven, and gospel saturated.  Now, like I said, many churches do this already and many think they do.  I believe wholeheartedly that having a gospel centered ministry does not happen by accident.  If you do not constantly, intentionally bring your people back to the gospel then they will drift away from it.  If you assume the gospel then your people will miss it.

So, what I would like to do is lay out what I believe to be the biblical support for this type of ministry.  If you want to study ahead, you can read the outline below and if you want a copy for yourself I have prepared a very simple document that you can download here.  The first step in this process will be to define the gospel from a biblical perspective and that will be where we begin tomorrow.

The outline below is by no means exhaustive as far as biblical support for a gospel driven ministry, but I do believe it is enough to mandate that we move in that direction as church leaders.

As I write on each individual component, I will update this post with links below.


The Case for a Gospel Driven Ministry


  1. The triune God is the sovereign, supreme ruler of the universe
    1. Colossians 1:15-20
    2. Deuteronomy 4:35
    3. Deuteronomy 32:39
    4. 2 Kings 19:15
    5. Isaiah 40:25-26
  2. God created everything to be a display of His infinite glory
    1. Colossians 1:16
    2. 1 Corinthians 10:31
    3. 1 Peter 4:11
    4. Romans 11:36
  3. In the fall, sin fractured everything in creation
    1. Romans 5:18
    2. Romans 8:20-21
  4. Because of sin, all people are incapable of glorifying God
    1. Romans 3:9-20
    2. Isaiah 64:6
    3. Jeremiah 17:9
  5. God has chosen a people to glorify Him
    1. Isaiah 43
    2. Psalm 33:12
    3. Acts 13:48
    4. 1 Peter 2:9
    5. Ephesians 1:3-10
  6. God has redeemed this people through Christ
    1. John 14:6
    2. Romans 5:1
    3. Romans 8:1
  7. The power of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel is the only power that can effect salvation for the lost
    1. Romans 1:16
    2. 1 Corinthians 1:18
    3. Romans  10:13-14
    4. 1 Corinthians 1:21
  8. The power of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel is the only power that can effect obedience to the commands of Christ for the redeemed.
    1. Romans 8:26
    2. Galatians  5:18-25


Therefore…….

  1. The ministry of the Gospel is of the highest priority
    1. Proclaiming it to the lost
    2. Teaching it to the redeemed
    3. Learning to live it out in community
    4. Passing it on to the next generation of believers (disciple making)
    5. Making all decisions as a church based on the advancement of the gospel mission (Proclaiming, Teaching, Living, Discipling)
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12/06/2010

"Radical" by David Platt

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I just finished reading David Platt's book Radical: Taking Your Faith From the American Dream.  I was thoroughly challenged by the time I finally completed the last chapter.  Platt contends that our American version of Christianity is quite different from the radical faith that Jesus intends for us to have.  He lays out the gospel message and reminds us that one of the reason God saves us is to make His glory known to the ends of the earth.  The means by which God expects us to take the gospel and His glory global is discipleship.

Having heard from several people who read the book before me, I was expecting Platt to spend more time than He did talking about helping the poor across the globe.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that about half the book is spent on the gospel:  what it is, why God saves us, and how He calls us to make disciples.  I have heard some concerns that Radical emphasizes giving materially to the poor so heavily that many could walk away from the book feeling guilty that they aren't doing enough or that there is some minimum amount they should be giving to be a "radical" Christian.  I understand the concern but did not find that to be a problem as I read the book.  I understand David's passion and believe that we all could stand to be reminded of our brothers and sisters in Christ who are less fortunate than we are.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this book.  Just don't read it if you aren't ready for your faith and lifestyle to be seriously challenged.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com <http://BookSneeze.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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12/05/2010

We Walk By Faith, Not By Sight

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2 Corinthians 5:7 is a verse that gets thrown around a good deal in Christian cirlcles.  That verse, as the title of this post might suggest, says that believers in Christ walk by faith and not by sight.  What that means is that regardless of what we see around us, we live our lives trusting in our God.  So, no matter what our circumstances are, no matter how hopeless they seem or how confusing they may appear, we live not by what our circumstance may suggest.  We live according to our faith in the God who loves us and saved us.  We live by faith in our God who tells us that He works all things for our good (Romans 8:28).

In my experience, the reminder that we walk by faith most often comes from those who, truth be told, don't need all that much faith to walk.  Life is pretty good for them.  No matter where they look, they can see plain evidence of the goodness of God.  I include myself in that category.  For the most part, we know where our next meal is coming from and we don't have to worry about finding ourself out on the street.  We talk about living by faith, but how much do we really depend on God on a daily basis?  I don't think I really knew what walking by faith really meant until the Thursday before this past Thanksgiving.  Until that day, walking by faith was just another truth that I believed but didn't really understand.  In the weeks since that day, I am learning more each day what walking by faith and not by sight really means.

Of course, at this point, you are wondering exactly what happened that Thursday that led to this epiphany for me.  I came back to the office from a pretty intense time of prayer with some other pastors and went into a meeting where I learned that, due to financial circumstances, my position of Adult Ministry Pastor would no longer be funded after the end of this year.  I believe that a great deal of prayer went into making this decision and I do not think it was made lightly by any means.  Of course, even with that being true, the fact of the matter is that I am going to have to find a different way to support my family.  I immediately went home to tell my wife and called some of my closest friends so that they could begin praying for us.

Let me tell you a few things I am learning about walking by faith....

It is terrifying.  Walking by faith doesn't always mean feeling confident that everything is going to work out ok.  It means choosing to believe even though everything in you is screaming "What are you going to do?  Why is God doing this?"

It is a choice.  Like I said, it is choosing to trust in God even though you have no idea what He is up to or why He has chosen the methods He has.

It is hard.  It is anything but easy in this economy to know that you are only a few weeks away from having no income and not freak out.  It is hard to trust sometimes.  My flesh does not like the idea that my only option is for God to come through, but I know that really all that has happened is that now I am aware that He is my only hope.  The reality is that He has always been my only option, I just needed to have my eyes opened to it.

It is good.  In the end, it is good to fully trust my God.  The sad truth is that it takes something like losing a job for us to really throw ourselves completely at His feet.  The great truth is that He will take our jobs from us if that is what it takes to bring us fully to Him.

So, please pray for us.  We are leaning how to fully trust our God and to place all our confidence in Him.  It isn't easy and I could use more faith and strength in this.  We have worked hard to get to a place where my wife can stay home with our kids and the prospect of her going back to work is a hard one to swallow.  Pray for our children, that God would protect their hearts through all this.

We walk by faith and not by sight.

Like an awful lot of our faith, the reality of it often looks a lot different than our idea of it.  The last few days have been some of the toughest for our family since I married Katherine over 12 years ago.  I also believe that they will become some of the best days for our family as God uses this to draw us closer to Him and detaches us from the things of this world.

We walk by faith and not by sight.

In this process, we believe that God is clearly calling us away from what has been our home church for 11 plus years.  All four of our children have been born while we were members here.  If you are a Northsider reading this, know that we love you guys and deeply mourn our leaving.  There is some uncomfortable-ness about the whole process but we fully believe that God is in control and that He is doing what is best for us and for His Kingdom.

We walk by faith and not by sight.
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12/04/2010

False Hope

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When you really stop and think about it, it is amazing how easy we have made it to become and be a Christian in our culture.  All you have to do in many churches is raise your hand and maybe repeat a prayer and you are in.  When I was a kid you at least had to walk down the aisle and shake the preacher's hand.  Today, even that much of a public commitment is deemed too likely to scare people from making a decision.  The Bible never talks about following Jesus in the same ways that we seem to.  Consider the following passages of scripture, all dealing with following Jesus.


Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. -- Matthew 16:24
And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. -- Matthew 10:28
Jesus said to him, "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." -- Matthew 19:21
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. -- Luke 14:26


This sounds a little different than raise your hand and repeat after me, doesn't it?  It gets even better (or worse). Read what Jesus tells some men who come to Him and ask to follow Him.

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”  To another he said, “Follow me.”But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”  And Jesus  said to him,“Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”  Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.”  Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” --Luke 9:57-62

Keep in mind, these are men coming to Jesus with the intent and desire to follow Him.  It almost sounds like Jesus is trying talk them out of being His disciple, doesn't it?  It certainly is a far cry from the seeker sensitive model that has become so popular in so many places today.  Jesus isn't really trying to talk them out of following Him but He does want them to be perfectly clear what the cost is of being His disciple.  All attachment to this world must end.  Our jobs, our dreams, even our own families must become nothing compared to our love and devotion for Jesus.  Nothing less than total surrender to Him is acceptable.

Too often we are scared that if we lay it all out for people to see (like Jesus did) then no one will want to follow Him.  My fear is that because of our easy believe-ism methods of "salvation", our churches are being filled with people who think they are saved because they raised their hand or intellectually agreed to the claims of Jesus, when in reality they are as lost as the day they were born.

Is there any basis for this kind of thinking?  Is it really possible that a great number of our church members are not really followers of Christ at all?  Or am I just being an alarmist?

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’  And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ -- Matthew 7:21-23
Jesus isn't talking about pagans and outlaws in this passage.  He is talking about people who lived their lives believing that they were following Him and serving Him when in reality they were doing neither.  What a terribly tragic thought!  There will be people who stand before Christ one day who attended our churches, who served in the nursery, who sang in the choir, who led ministry teams, who Christ will turn away because He never knew them.


We must proclaim the whole gospel so that the Holy Spirit can convict and draw people to the cross.  We do no one a favor by trying to widen the narrow gate.  There is a reason that Jesus said there are few that find it: it isn't an easy way. If we try to make it easier, all we really end up doing is giving people a false hope that in the end may turn out to be no hope at all.



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12/01/2010

Where Is Your Hope?

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The obvious answer is "My hope is in God."  I wonder, though, how many of us would find that the answer to the question and the reality of where our hope is found are two different things.  My family has gone through some circumstances recently that God has used to shine a light into some of the depths of my heart.  What I have found is that I have quietly and, probably unintentionally, been hoping and trusting other things in my life apart from Him.  He is graciously removing some of those things so that I can recognize how much I was trusting in them instead of Him.

Our flesh is a cunning, crafty thing.  It will do things that we don't recognize as being unhealthy for us.  If we are not careful (and sometimes even if we are careful) our flesh will start trusting in worldly things.  The tricky part of the whole process is that often the things we begin to trust in are not evil and wicked but are good and right things.  We can find ourselves placing our trust and hope in our families, our jobs, our ministries, or any number of other good gifts from God.  The problem with all those things is that they are not God.  Here is what God told Israel through the prophet Hosea:

But I am the Lord your God from the land of Egypt, you know no God but me and beside me there is no savior. --Hosea 13:4
The truth is that salvation is found no where else apart from God.  He alone is God, in Him alone is salvation, and in Him alone is our hope.  Sometimes, in His love and grace, He removes from us good things because they have become places we are placing our trust.  He allows circumstances to enter our lives that compel us to face the reality that apart from Him there is no salvation, no hope.  It isn't an easy thing to walk through when He loves us this way, but praise His name that He is willing to make us uncomfortable to draw us closer to Himself.  Sometimes the only way we will trust solely in Him is when there is nothing else to hope in.

Praise His name that He will bring us to a place where we must say, "In Christ alone is my hope."
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