7/29/2011

Pure Spiritual Milk

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Pastor, theologian, and author John Stott passed away Wednesday at the age of 90.  A quick perusal at the number of memorials written about him in the last 24 hours will give you an idea of the impact this man had on Christianity in the U.S.  One of the men dramatically influenced by Stott is John Piper.  Piper had his heart opened to the wonders of God's word by Stotts's dedication to expository preaching.  When writing about discovering the meaning of the word of God Piper writes:

And of course what God means is staggeringly important and glorious and horrible and tender and rugged and shocking and ravishing and relevant. And implications are crashing down on me every minute, and my heart is churning with shock and wonder and fear and hope and sorrow and joy and cries for help. This is what I have been waiting for all my life. 

A couple of questions come to my mind when I read that quote.

The first question is "Are you and I affected that deeply by the preaching of the Word of God?" Does God's word humble us, afflict us, comfort us, and change the very nature of our lives?  It should.  We need to pray that God would open our hearts to the wonders found in His word.

The second question is one that keeps me up at night.  "Are we members of churches where the scriptures are faithfully taught to us?"  I am not talking about spiritual self-help sermons that reference scripture.  Does your pastor open up the word of God and teach you what it says?

Here are couple of things to look for if you aren't sure.

If your pastor only teaches topical sermons then you might want to be wary.
If your pastor often bases his sermons off of Christian books you might want to be wary.
If your pastor's sermons seem to be mostly stories and illustrations, you might want to be wary.

I am not saying every pastor that preaches a sermon in these ways is wrong, but these types of sermons should not be the primary form of teaching.  You cannot teach the whole council of God in these ways.

I think it is absolutely critical that you find a church that teaches you what the bible says.  This means finding a church where the pastor teaches through books of the bible.  There is no way to truly know what scripture is saying if you are constantly teaching it out of the context of the book it is written in.

Nothing is more important in finding a church home than this.
Not worship style.
Not children's ministry.
Not community service opportunities.

The single most important characteristic of a church is whether or not the truth of the word of God is faithfully taught and explained to the saints.  Nothing else equips God's people to complete the mission He has given us of making His name great among all the nations.

Are you being fed the spiritual milk of the word of God that leads to maturity (1 Peter 2:2) or are you settling for a watered down imitation?
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7/27/2011

When We Worship As We Ought

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 “When we worship God as we ought that's when the nations listen.”


The quote above is from a man named Edmund Clowney.  It appeared in my Twitter stream yesterday and immediately caught my eye for a couple of reasons.  The first reason being I wholeheartedly agree with what Clowney says here.  The second being I think I am probably in the minority in that belief here in the south and in my hometown of Rome.  
The biggest problem facing the churches of the bible belt is a low view of God.  Let me explain why I believe this to be true.
I have read some church growth material and spoken to numerous pastors both of established churches and new church plants.  When it comes to the topics of how to disciple the saints and reach the lost, worshipping God for who he is shows up pretty far down the list.
Here are some of the things that tend to come up as ways to make the church more effective:

  1. Serving the community
  2. Exciting, relevant style of worship
  3. Practical teaching
  4. Creativity in the Sunday gathering and in programming
  5. Maintaining an up to date website

Now let me be clear that I don't think that anything on that list is sinful or wrong.  Those are very good things for churches to keep in mind as they plan.  And if the church was a secular institution then I think everyone of those things should be extremely important.  Of course, the church is not a secular institution.  It is the bride of Christ and He has already told us in His word what makes His church successful in accomplishing the mission He has given it.

The mission of the church is to proclaim the gospel to all the nations so that God may be worshiped and glorified throughout the earth.

We are not called primarily to relieve social injustices, or world hunger, or any other societal ill that exists.  That doesn't mean we don't get involved in those issues, just that they are not our primary focus and that when we do involve ourselves in them we do so with an eye to using our involvement as a platform to proclaim the glories of God and His gospel.

God tells us how to accomplish this:  by teaching and preaching the word of God.

Romans 1:16 and 1 Corinthians 1:18 tell us that the power to affect salvation lies in the message of the gospel.  
2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that scripture is enough to equip God's people for every good work.
Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:1-5 to always be teaching sound doctrine from the scriptures.

Why do we think that God's method for accomplishing His mission for His church is somehow outdated or not enough?

In their book The Trellis and the Vine, Colin Marshall and Tony Payne summarized  the bible's teaching on church ministry this way:
However, despite the almost limitless number of contexts in which it might happen, what happens is the same: a Christian brings a truth from God's word to someone else, praying that God would make that word bear fruit through the inward working of His spirit.
That is the call of the church and for every believer in the church.  Proclaim the truth of the word of God to others and pray that the Holy Spirit would cause it to bear fruit.  Nothing else will bear fruit for the kingdom.  When we are faithful to do this, then our view of God and our people's view of God is lifted up.  Only then can we worship Him as He deserves.

When we teach the truth of who God is from His word, people know God for who He is and turn the world upside down with His gospel.

When we teach the truth of who God is from His word, we learn to worship Him for who He is.

When we worship God for who He is in all His majesty, in spirit and truth, then, and only then, will the nations truly take notice.
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7/25/2011

Come, Follow Me

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Why do we make the Christian life so complicated?

I think Jesus intended to make our walk with Him fairly simple. (Don't mistake simple for easy.  A genuine walk with God will be extremely difficult, just not complicated.)  His call to His disciples was a hard to misinterpret (or ignore) "Come, follow Me."

What strikes me about our tendency to over-complicate our walk with God is the way we make mountains out of spiritual molehills while all the while ignoring the actual mountains.  So while we split churches and end friendships over matters such as worship style, drinking alcohol, and which programs to use, we seem to have no issues with neglecting the clear commands of scripture that pertain to ourselves and our churches.

One example that has been brought to my mind recently is James 1:27.

 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
 James is telling us that ministering to orphans and widows is pure and undefiled religion in God's eyes.  These are people who have no standing, no way to give us anything in return for our aid to them.  To see His children become ministers of the gospel to people like this is extremely pleasing to God.

But when is the last time your church had serious discussions about how to bring the gospel to these people?  How much time have you spent asking this question to yourself?

One other thing to keep in mind.  Our call to the down-trodden and "least of these" people of the world is not just to meet their physical needs.  It is not enough to provide food, clothes, money, and shelter to those who need it.  We are called to bring the gospel to them.  It does no good (none at all) to ease the hunger pains of a man and not tell him of the Bread of Life or to quench his thirst and not tell him of the Living Water.

Stop making your Christian life so complicated. Search the scriptures for what moves the heart of God, for what He has commanded you to do, and get about doing those things through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Be light, be salt, be the ambassador for the kingdom God intends for you to be.

Go, follow Him.
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7/19/2011

Amazing Grace?

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Acts 2:41 tells us that in one day of gospel proclamation, 3000 people were saved.  What do you think would happen today if we heard of 3000 people being saved at one time.  What would our reaction be?

I think I know the answer to that question.

I spent the past week on vacation with my family on St. George Island off the coast of Florida.  It was a much needed and appreciated week of rest and family time.  On the way home this past Saturday I was listening to a Christian radio station that I found after searching for some music to listen to as we traveled through south Alabama.  In between songs, the station had a Christian news segment where they highlighted some notable events in the Christian world.  What interested me was the announcement right in the middle of the segment that at a Steven Curtis Chapman event, 3000 people came forward to accept Jesus Christ as their savior.

I don't want to discuss today the likelihood that all those were genuine professions or whether the whole gospel was proclaimed.  What struck me as I listened to the report was the manner of the report itself.  The person announcing the 3000 conversions was obviously operating under the assumption that all 3000 people were genuinely converted by the gospel and were now adopted sons and daughters of Jesus Christ.  What amazed me was that the announcement of 3000 souls converted by the gospel was sandwiched in the middle of a couple of other stories and received the same excitement and enthusiasm as the announcement of concert dates. There was no noticeable excitement or amazement over 3000 conversions at one event.

I confess that my first reaction was one of cynicism.  I thought that probably a good number of the supposed conversions were false and I assumed that some seeker sensitive, half gospel was probably presented.  The truth is I wasn't there and I don't know the circumstances of the event or of the conversions.  But if the gospel was presented in all its power and if in His grace God regenerated the hearts of 3000 people, shouldn't that be cause for wonder and amazement?

We know from Acts 2:41 that at least at one time 3000 conversions at one time was a biblically notable event.  We also know that there is great joy in heaven when even one sinner repents (Luke 15:7,10).  So how can the conversion of so many people cause nothing but a tiny ripple in the evangelical pool?  How can we be so nonchalant about this?

Because we don't understand what the bible teaches about sin and salvation.  I know this isn't true about everyone (all though none of us understand these things completely) but I can't help but think it is true about the evangelical world as a whole.  How else do you explain our apathy to an event like the one described above?

If we really are, as the bible teaches, dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1, Colossians 2:13), then any person repenting and believing in the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross is a miracle no less supernatural than Jesus raising Lazarus or Jairus's daughter from the dead.

I know that I write about doctrine a lot.  I know that to some that may be off putting.  But please know this.  My heart breaks to see people living outside the truth of God's Word with low, incorrect views of God.  They are missing out on the glories of the Savior and the joy He desires for them to walk in because they do not know Him as He reveals Himself to be.

Doctrine matters to our joy.

We can't even celebrate the saving power of the gospel in the lives of those we love without sound doctrine.

Without sound doctrine we hear of 3000 souls being saved and shrug it off like it is normal.  It is not normal.  It is a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit through the power of the gospel and we should be moved by the grace and power of our God in salvation.

God's choice to save sinners from His just wrath should move us to praise and thanksgiving.

God's grace to sinners (like us) should actually be amazing to us.
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7/06/2011

Not Guilty

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"Not Guilty"

With those two words, the Casey Anthony trial came to an end yesterday.  The case, the trial, and the verdict all aroused deep passions in a very large number of people and much of that passion was in evidence minutes after the verdict was announced.

"Not Guilty"


Thanks to the internet and social media like Facebook and Twitter, we were able to know the reactions of countless numbers of people just moments after Casey Anthony was acquitted of the most serious charges of murder, manslaughter, and child endangerment.  The comments I saw fell primarily into two broad categories.  The first being "How could the jury let her off.  She is obviously guilty and a terrible person.  What is the world coming to?".  The second being "Now Caylee Anthony will never get justice".

I am amazed, but not that surprised, at the amount of people who are dead sure that Casey Anthony is guilty of premeditated murder.  Never mind that no one really knows exactly what happened or that the jury who heard every piece of evidence acquitted her.  People just know she is guilty.  What happened to Caylee Anthony is a tragedy, but we should not presume to judge Casey Anthony.  God alone knows what happened and He alone has the right and authority to judge her.

It is also up to God to make sure that justice is done.  The idea that on this fallen world, true justice can ever occur is false.  We should not be surprised that justice was not done in this case.  The truth is that even if Casey Anthony were found guilty, true justice would not have been done.

"Not Guilty"

What saddens me the most about all this is that so many Christians are outraged that this woman who is believed to have committed such atrocities (and undoubtedly made some terrible mistakes in judgment) is now been declared not guilty.  She is free to resume her life with no further legal consequences for her actions.  Justice has been denied and a guilty (in our minds) woman is walking free!  We are offended that justice has been denied.

Yet we seem to think it ordinary and worth no outrage that we, guilty of sinning against the Most High God, have been declared not only "Not Guilty", but perfectly righteous due to the blood of Jesus Christ.  If a great perversion of justice has occurred, it is in our own lives. Where are the tweets and the status updates questioning our own acquittal?  Has the grace of God become so commonplace that we have lost the wonder and the awe over what Christ accomplished on the cross for us?

We have been spared the just punishment we deserve and are allowed to walk free! God has replaced justice with grace and mercy!

In reality, the Casey Anthony story is our story.  We are guilty, we deserve to be punished for our crimes against God, and yet we have been declared "Not Guilty" by the Judge of all creation.
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