Last week we did a very brief fly over of church History and observed the last couple hundred years, its effect on the church, and its current state. This has set us up perfectly to delve into the next major cog in the wheel of the church – the context of scripture. Most of what we think about the church is formulated from our experiences and personal opinions derived from those experiences. It is not the norm to see a believer say something like this: “ I am committed to the local church because the scriptures say…” Rather, they often say something along these lines: “Well, I think this is what the church should look like or should be…”
However, there are two major points that need to be addressed in order to understand “The Church” in the context of scripture. And a third will be more applicable in nature. When we understand them properly, we can then draw profound implication from scripture for our lives in regards to the local church. They are as follows:
1. The Church Proper
In the context of scripture, the word ‘church’ is almost always referring to a local assembly. Some would argue that it always does. The Greek word for Church in the New Testament is “Ekklesia”. The word carries the idea of a congregation or an assembly with a particular focus on a specific group that comes together for a purpose. So, while it can refer to the global church in reference to all believers, the majority of the context is focused on a specific assembly. Yet, there is ‘the church proper’ that refers to all believers. This is important to understand because it connects us in heart and mission. It makes up the beautiful bride of Christ that He loves so much. For example: Jesus tells Peter in Matthew 16:18 [ESV], “You are Peter, and on this rock [Jesus, referring to Himself] I will build my church”. It is obvious from the text that Jesus does not have in specific congregation in mind when he states this [though it could be implicated]. He is truly referring to ‘the Church proper’ – all of those who have been and will be redeemed. You could even spell it out in all caps for emphasis – ‘THE CHURCH’.
2. The Church Particular
While Jesus did not have a specific congregation in mind in Matt. 16:18, He did have the local church in mind. In fact, to quote one author, “It [the Church] is never used to designate a national or international body.” And as we move into Acts and into the rest of the New Testament, the ‘Church’ begins to take on shape and form. It comes alive, and we see the actual meat and bones of what it can and should look like. The face of the church begins to become visible even in all its imperfections. It’s not just a good idea; it’s a reality with a design and purpose. This is ‘the Church particular’. We begin to see that it is not just some nebulous group of people we have labeled ‘The Church’. These are actual local assemblies living out daily with one another what ‘The Church’ was intended and created to be. It’s a visible reality. For example, we see Paul writing multiple letters to various “churches” [plural] that he established during his missionary journeys [Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Etc.]. He gives detailed and personal instruction – sometimes rebuke – to each particular congregation. He tells them specifically how they are to conduct themselves as the church. Timothy received two letters laying out detailed admonition on how to lead his particular church as a pastor. He even gives specific instruction on church government and practice. Acts 15 tells us how Paul “went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches [plural]” that he had established in previous missionary journeys.
3. The Church: God’s Program
The basic truth we are dealing with here is that God has a program and that program is the local church. It is through the local church that believers are equipped and furnished in the gospel. It is through the local church that relationships are built and a base is established to launch God’s people into the world to spread the gospel. We often seek to come up with programs that inadvertently replace the church. Maybe it’s because ‘The Church’ has not done its job or maybe we have failed to understand what the scriptures have to say about God’s program. Whatever the case may be, we need to call God’s people – maybe even ourselves – back to the program that God began some two thousand years ago. It is time to return to the program that allows us to experience community that we were created for, and to bring glory to the Head of the Body – Jesus Christ.
Do you ever have those moments – you know, those “awe, aha” moments – in your daily life?
This past week I had a “How does God do that?” moment!
I lost the only key that goes to my Nissan car. “Well,” I figured, “the key is, of course, going to cost a lot of money to get programmed for the car.” I did not respond favorably and, I confess, murmuring in my heart was my immediate reaction.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I just talk out lord to the Lord, even reason with Him, as if He is in the room! J “Lord, I really do not have the money to get this key replaced.”
Well, after I finished that ridiculous conversation, I decided to call a friend that I had visited that past weekend in St. Louis. I thought that maybe I had lost it there. But she had not found it. Before we hung up the phone, she prayed with me. As she prayed, my darkened heart was melted and drawn to my Savior as I realized how great God is and that this was His plan.
Matthew 6:8 says, “Be not ye, therefore, like unto them, for your father knows what things you have need of, before you ask him.”
The interesting thing that my dear friend prayed in her prayer was, “Lord, maybe you could send a rebate to Pam to cover the cost of the key!” I must confess that when I heard that, I thought to myself, “a rebate? I don’t think so. I never mail off rebates!”
The next day I sent to where I serve as a caregiver for a man in my community three days a week. Each time I serve him, when it is time for me to leave, he has to sign my time sheet to mail to the insurance company. This time, he walked across the room using his walker and handed me the signed sheet. Also in his hand was a check that he had received in the mail from his insurance company because he had paid too much to the hospital. He told me that he wanted me to have this check to pay for my lost key! Okay, so this definitely qualifies as a rebate! J
I literally burst into tears and as I stood there I thought, “how does God do that?” I am so blessed that He does – love so amazing, so divine. What has God done in your life lately in which you recognize Him and say, “How does God do that?”
With the up and coming Passion4Christ Summit this fall, I have been doing a lot of thinking, reading, and studying around the theme – ‘The Body: God’s Plan for Church’. The whole idea and topic of the church conjures a load of misconceptions, disappointments, and even bitterness in the minds and hearts of believers. Say something about the church and you might get a myriad of answers, opinions, and deep-rooted feelings on the issue.
That thing you do…
Since the 18th century and the turn of the 19th – up until the last 40 to 50 years – “The Church” was something that you either “went” to mainly because culture necessitated it or out of tradition. Communities were built around “The Church” [you could even say a building in this context] and if you were not a part of the congregation then you were considered a heathen or outsider. The church was as much a part of the social structure in American Western culture as baseball. It was just something you should do.
As all traditions, the newer generation looks for something different – whether that would be in the name of being more real, exciting, or a mixture of both. Sometimes they throw off tradition all together as the 60’s bear evidence. The 70’s to 90’s saw the rise of the mega church, which offered anything and everything a family might need or want – desiring most of all to make people feel warm and welcomed. At the turn of the 20th century, this soon burned people out. While keeping some elements of the mega church, the new century gave way to culture relevance and a more “hip” approach. “Big Churches” began catering to smaller groups where relationships became more the central focus.
However, none of this brought us closer to a biblical outworking of “The Church”. We have seen whispers of it, but we have failed to delve into the scriptures to gain a biblical understanding of what it is and what it should look like.
Lets get radical
Over the course of the next few weeks, I would like for you and me to delve into the word together and discover what the scriptures mean by such intimate terms as the “the body of Christ” or “the bride of Christ”. I want to discover the lost meaning behind true fellowship and what implications the “local church” might have in regards to the gospel and the furtherance of God’s glory. I hope you join me each week. Not that I have anything profound to say but because I believe the scriptures have something to tell us that may radically change the way you look at life.
It is the nature of parenting that parents be involved in their children’s lives. Detached parents are ineffective parents. The more involved the parents, the healthier the parent-child relationship. We do not generally accuse parents of young children of being too involved in their children’s lives. A child’s life and development are the parents’ business.
But as children approach adulthood that relationship changes. And as Christian parents, it is not always easy to make the shift from total involvement to measured and wiser involvement. We have always known what is going on in our children’s lives, guided their steps, and corrected their mistakes. In particular, the father can struggle with laying aside his God-given protective instinct to watch his son or daughter grow as an adult. Who among us does not struggle with the desire to continue our involvement in our children’s lives to the point of minding their business instead of our own. After all, in the past , their business was our business.
The truth is, one day we will be gone. Would it not be nice to have something to say about or some influence over the direction the lives of our descendants will take? Is there something one generation can do to affect the lives of the generations to come?
Men, I am convinced we are a vital element in the direction the next generation takes. While their is no magic or even spiritual wand we can wave over our children to assure their salvation and godliness, more than we know men, we have an influence for godliness in the lives of our descendants. God is calling us to live our lives and make our decisions with a view to the next generation. I offer some Biblical thoughts from Psalm 112 that I hope will help form your conscience on the subject.
I. The Happiness of a God-fearing Man
Be careful lest the world forms your conscience in this matter. Happiness is not an end but the by-product of knowing God. And what makes us happy goes a long way toward setting a coarse for the next generation. The psalmist challenges us with two seemingly contradictory truths: fear and faith. Their seems to be an incongruity here. How do we reconcile happiness and fear? After all, the Scriptures often say “fear not”. Are fear and happiness compatible? The fear of God and faith in God are not contradictory. They are complimentary. They are absolutely compatible and indispensable to one another. The man who fears God most, trusts God most. The man who trusts God most,fears God most.Their is another element in the happiness of a God-fearing man. It is not specifically mentioned in Psalm 112, but it cannot go unmentioned. The psalmist says in another place: “If You, LORD, should mark iniquity, then who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You that You may be feared” (Ps.130:3,4). The carnal mind would presume upon grace; take advantage of forgiveness, but not the one who fears The Lord. The God-fearing man leaves a legacy of happiness. He is happy in his fear of God, his unwavering trust in Him, and the assurance of God’s forgiveness in Christ.
II. The Hope of a God-Fearing Man
The hope of a Christian is not a vague positive attitude but a sure expectation based on the truth of God’s Word. The God-fearing man has the hope of an enriched life. God sees fit to bless Him in various yet consistent ways. Under the Old Covenant those blessings were primarily outward and material. Under the New Covenant, they are primarily inward and spiritual. The life of the righteous abounds with blessings, often beyond what can be immediately seen.
To know Christ and His forgiveness, to have His Word and His promises is to have an enriched life.
Part of this enriched life includes an enduring righteousness. There is an enduring quality to the life of a God-fearing man. There is a persevering quality. The Psalmist mentions it here. “His righteousness endures forever.” The God-fearing man perseveres because he is preserved by his God. He is not merely religious in the human sense. His piety and commitment are not matters of convenience.
So what do these things have to do with minding your children’s business? We will look more closely at this in part two.
Its hard to believe that five years ago this past March we began the exciting journey of Vision4Living Ministries. So much has happened since then. Last October marked our fifth annual Passion4Christ Summit. 2012 saw us host our first Family Leadership Conference in a foreign country. This year, we are preparing the launch of our newest resource – Legacy Conference – which will be April 24-26, 2014. Our God has lavished His grace upon our efforts to equip the leaders and families of the church to transfer the gospel and all we treasure to the next generation. We have seen fruit abound in ways we never imagined possible. Our God has done exceedingly and abundantly above all we expected.
However, prayer has played a key role in this work. When we began V4L, we initiated a prayer team that has been praying regular for us throughout each year. In fact, many over the years have shared that they are praying, and we never knew it. We know that prayer is not just a part of the work… it is the work. This is where God’s people commune with Him and usher in His will for the kingdom. It is the means that our sovereign God has ordained to see His work accomplished. The faithful prayer of a righteous man does avail much. Donald Whitney put it this way:
Some say, “if God is sovereign, why pray?” I say, the question should be the exact opposite, “if God is not sovereign, why pray?”
So in short, we are inviting you to join our prayer team. We do not ask you to consider quickly or lightly. It is a commitment that will require time and attention. As we grow as a ministry, we understand and feel the burden to bathe everything we do in prayer. But we cannot do it alone. We need a team of prayer warriors who will storm the throne of grace as we seek to do the work. In fact, you will be the forerunners of our ministry. You will pave the way as we do the will of God.
If you desire to join the ministry:
- Consider the responsibility
- Commit intentionally
Serving with you,
Make sure to check out the following pilot episode in the series ‘Is Church Important?’ Building up to P4C13, we want to develop the concept of the importance of the local church from a personal level – interviews with real people from a real local church. Why? Because this year’s theme is ‘The Body: God’s Plan for the Local Church’.
This pilot episode is an interview with Jeff Knight – elder at Westwood Church, home church of the Cavanaugh family.
Be sure to stay tuned in the coming months for additional videos!
This past Sunday, my pastor spoke on one of the fruits of the Spirit from Galatians 6 – Faithfulness.
Faithfulness means being utterly reliable and true to your word. I feel that, today in our society and even in Christian circles, we lack faithfulness. The question to ask ourselves is: “Do I trust God enough to show up?”
I’m faithful to church, job, family, marriage, and as a citizen of this country. As my pastor, Dave Teruel, said, “It is more than a religious exercise.” Our ultimate example of faithfulness is Christ. I am so grateful that my salvation is not dependent on how I feel, but on God’s faithfulness.
Hebrews 13:5b says that the Lord will never leave us or forsake us. We must be faithful to glorify Christ. We cannot hide in our culture, but we must set our light on a hill. We must be faithful to interact with our culture. Are you running from it or going and making disciples?
Our faithfulness should not be works based, but worshipping God in truth. In order to be faithful, we must be open to God’s Word. His Word reveals the reality of faithfulness in what Christ did on the Cross.
We are we true to our word? Does the Lord find me faithful in all areas of my life? Only through His Spirit working in me can I be found faithful.
Psalm 36:5 says, “Thy mercy, O Lord, is in the heavens, and thy faithfulness reaches unto the clouds.” Ponder what Christ has done for you.
Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “ It is because of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not, they are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness.”
“Great is Thy faithfulness,” O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.
“Great is Thy faithfulness!” “Great is Thy faithfulness!“
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
“Great is Thy faithfulness,” Lord, unto me!
Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thy own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!
1 Corinthians 1-3
There is never an end to new programs, gadgets, or gizmos when it comes to “ministry”. A casual walk through a Christian bookstore these days, will give you no end to the “newest” thing that will help make your ministry a “success”. Do not misunderstand me; there is a place for resources and tools. Object lessons are wonderful tools to proclaim the glories of the cross. A play – in the right context – can bring alive the story of God’s redemption. A book can communicate what biblical gospel ministry should look like. Even Christ left us with His creation, which on a visually level constantly declares the glory of who He is [Ps. 19:1].
However, ministry has become increasingly pragmatic. We are afraid we will offend people; we want people to feel like they fit in; and this leads to fashioning our churches to have a more hip and relevant appeal. But lets not just pick on the “liberals” of ministry. How about the so-called conservatives? We look for ways to attain unto Christ through our “holy standards”. Human effort as opposed to faith in the grace of God motivates us. The fear of being “worldly” leads us to believe that being “in the world” will destroy us. Or maybe, you are one of those who fits somewhere in between…
The question remains: how are we to discern if our ministry is centered in the work of the cross?
The glory of God vs. the greatness of a man
Cross-centered ministry has not a morsel of space for the building up of ones greatness. When you proclaim “Jesus Christ and Him crucified”, it is a message of Christ alone. When Christ is proclaimed, the individual must decrease and Christ must increase [John 3:30]. This is the measurement of successful cross-centered ministry. This is how you know. No matter how seemingly wise, indispensable, or far reaching the success of a person’s ministry, if the cross is not their glory and their passion for you is not the same, they proclaim another gospel. Paul rebuked the Corinthians believers for their attachment to men rather than Christ – i.e. “ I follow Apollos”, I follow Cephas”, or ‘I follow Christ” [1:10-17.
Realize your message is foolishness to the world
The world cannot and does not understand the things that are spiritually understood. “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing [1:18].” Man’s wisdom says, “You have what it takes to be what you want to be.” The gospel tells us, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of Christ.” “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God [Eph. 2:8].” Remember: we proclaim something that is as completely foreign to the world as a fish out of water. All have sinned and because of that sin, man is blinded to the “foolishness” of the cross.
We proclaim the cross; the Spirit reveals cross
Do you fall into the trap of thinking that you are the one who reveals to people the truth? Do not. You cannot reveal the truth; only the Spirit of God can. 1 Corinthians 2:10 tell us, “These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything even the depths of God.” It is your job to proclaim the cross. It is the Spirit’s job to reveal the truth. Do not take responsibility for something that the Lord never gave us. Do your job – proclaim the gospel – and pray for the power of the Spirit to work. Adrian Rodgers said, “I can preach truth, but only the Holy Spirit can impart truth.”
The cross implicates your ministry work
We have already touched upon some simple yet profound implications. As we draw this post to a close, I leave you with a quote from D.A. Carson:
“Ultimately wisdom if from the world and is opposed by God, or it is God-given and tied to the cross. There is not middle ground. Those who try to create some middle ground by imitating the Corinthians – who confessed the Jesus of the cross but whose hearts were constantly drawn to one or another of the public philosophies and values of the day – will gain nothing but the rebuke of Scripture.”
Life is full of cliches, and the Christian life is no exception. It is not unusual for Christians to become comfortable with “christianeeze” words and phrases and to use them while giving little or no thought to their meaning. In the process, we fail to honor God with our words, shortchange ourselves by not thinking things through, and do not give a clear message of Christ and His Gospel.
One of the phrases often used when talking with someone about the Gospel and salvation is “a personal relationship with Christ”. People are often told that their greatest need is a personal relationship Christ. And they are also often told that if they will repeat a certain prayer, come forward in a meeting, or perhaps do some other outward religious act, they will have this relationship that is so necessary.
It is not uncommon for those who preach or otherwise promote the Gospel to get the order wrong. The question is not whether a right relationship with God is important. It most certainly is. In evangelism, the question is what is of first importance to the unconverted person.
In a day when people are starved for solid, genuine relationships, social media saturation not withstanding, I want to propose that the person who is not a Christian should not be encouraged to seek a personal relationship with Christ. And I challenge the reader to sight a clear instance of the call of a sinner to such in the New Testament. In the New Testament sinners are called upon to repent or turn from their sins, believe on The Lord Jesus Christ, or call upon The Lord. I am not able to find an instance when an unconverted person is challenged to consider the issue of a personal relationship. A drowning person does not need to get to know the lifeguard in a personal way. He needs to be rescued by him. I realize that human illustrations break down, but the point is still valid. The one who is lost in sin needs to be rescued. That is why the sinner needs Christ, because Christ is forgiveness, pardon, and rescue for the sinner who comes to Him in faith.
The truth of a relationship with Christ is a blessed reality for the follower of Christ. Does the believing sinner come into a personal relationship with Christ? Certainly. But it is the glorious result of looking in faith to Christ and Him alone for salvation. I challenge you (with the help of God’s Spirit) to make sinners aware of their sin and the judgement to come. Point them to Christ as the only Savior. Then watch those who trust Him enter the blessedness of a glorious relationship with our great God.
As I wind down my series on leadership, I am reminded of the various leadership gurus, pastors, mentors, and men and women in history who have left us with abundant food for thought in their written and spoken words. We quote them often in various avenues in the social media outlets. Their thoughts and words have been tried through much study and life experiences. The wisdom we find in these words is founded in the unchanging principles of God’s word – whether they were Christian or not. After all, everything that is true has its roots in the One who is Truth. Their words have been our mentors. Their life experiences – tried by fire -have help light our path. They have inspired us to achieve beyond personal gain. Their selflessness has burned within us a passion to continue in their steps. And those who have known and held true to the gospel have pointed us to Christ and His glory. We have learned from their mistakes and found joy in their triumphs.
On twitter and Facebook this past week, I asked people to send me their favorite leadership quotes. I wanted to hear from you the words and thoughts of men and women that inspired you to grow as a leader. I have sifted through all kinds of material, and I can say that it has run the gamete – some made me laugh while others cause deep reflection. In any case, I have left you with the ones that I thought you would find enjoyable:
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” —John Quincy Adams
“I must go, they have gone, and I am their leader” – Unknown
“The very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.” – Theodore Hesburgh
“Convictional leaders propel action precisely because they are driven by deep convictions, and their passion for these convictions is transferred to followers who join in concerted action to do what they know to be right.” – Al Mohler
“The world is run by tired men.” – Unknown
“If the person you are talking to doesn’t appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear.” – Winnie the Pooh
“Spiritual leadership is knowing where God wants people to be and taking the initiative to get them there by God’s means in reliance on God’s power.” – John Piper
“ Successful people are willing to do things that unsuccessful people will not do” – John Maxwell
“The leader is able to lead others because he has conquered himself” – J Oswald Sanders
“Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, your aren’t.” – Margaret Thatcher
“He who has much to teach must suffer much; and he alone can speak of the deepest things in the economy of God who has sooner or later entered into fellowship with the suffering of God.” G.C. Morgan
“It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.” – Abraham Lincoln