For a few weeks now, I have been writing on the issue of the local church and fellowship. I thought I would take a break from the study side of this issue and share a report on V4L’s outreach to local pastors. As you know, one of our goals is to equip, encourage, and come alongside local pastors in order to strengthen the churches in our city. We believe this will have a direct effect on the next generation. Almost two years ago, we began an initiative to get to know the pastors in our city. It began simply by meeting with these guys for coffee in order to build relationships – to get to know them. Since then, we have forged deep and intentional relationships with thirteen pastors in our area. It may not seem like a lot, but this corps of men is committed to the purity of the gospel and transferring that to the next generation. They don’t play at it. They are serious about it.
Last year, we held our first annual “Pastor & Family Picnic” on a hot, muggy summer day. Though sweltering, the turnout was fantastic and the fellowship was sweet. Throughout the year, we continue to maintain contact and seek to support and encourage these pastors in any way we can. They are on the frontlines of ministry and it is hard. They and their families are often giving without receiving at all. We want to be the ones giving to them. We have lent a listening ear when it was needed. Dad has been able to fill the pulpit when they need a break. Our family knows what it means to invest as a pastor’s family, having previously been in the pastorate.
This year the “Pastor & Family Picnic” was another success. The picnic saw much better weather and new faces. You know people are enjoying themselves when they stay late – and that is the way we like it. The BBQ from our local town and the side dishes made by the ladies were relished by all. The abundance of kids thoroughly enjoyed themselves throughout the three-acre property on which we live. I think our neighbors may have wondered what war had descended upon their quiet little neighborhood. The night ended well as we rounded out the evening with a bonfire.
As I made my way around to talk with everyone, I could not help thinking of the gospel potential that was standing in our front lawn. Represented in our front yard were men and women who are committed to the purity of the gospel both in preaching and discipleship. I don’t pretend to think that we have anything overly profound to offer these fellow laborers. However, we are grateful that the Lord has given our family the privilege to labor alongside these Pastors and their families. If I can strengthen these leaders in a small way, praise and glory be to God. May His Kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
[Be sure to check out our Facebook page for a few more photos]
My last blog was about my reconciliation with my earthly father. I feel I must share my journey before reconciliation. How does one live when separated from an earthly father? How did I live before we were reconciled?
When Christ became my Savior, my life was changed. Psalm 27:10 says, “When my father and mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.” The Lord has “taken me up” many times in my life. His Spirit has guided me through this journey.
We can only forgive one another when we have seen ourselves before a Holy God. When we become broken over our sin and who we are without Christ, we become thankful people at the foot of the cross.
Hebrews 1:1-4 says, “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.” (NKJV)
This, my friend, is the only power in life strong enough to cause the heart to forgive completely – to live a life with purpose.
When I am given the privilege of sharing a devotional with a group of people, I love to use objects, props, or word pictures to drive home my point. A few Sundays ago, after I wrote the blog about my earthly father, the Lord did an amazing thing for me – He gave me a live word picture.
I was standing in my church singing the glorious truths of my Savior and what He has done and is doing for me. My pastor was standing in front of me. His little girl crossed the isle to hug him and he reached down and tightly held her hand. Oh the joy that flooded my soul at that moment. “Yes, Lord, this is a picture of what my Heavenly Father has done for me.” All those years in my young life, Christ stood beside me, holding my hand, becoming ever so real to me. This, my friend, prepared me for my journey to be reconciled.
If you ask how I could forgive the deep hurt of the past, I would answer that it certainly wasn’t anything good in me. Remember the passage in Hebrews?
- Christ purged my sins (He went to the cross for those sins).
- Christ sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high.
- Christ is the brightness of His (the Father’s) glory.
- Christ upholds all things by the word of His power.
I’m curious. Does anyone else have this “problem”? You are studying a biblical issue in order to prepare to teach or understand it more deeply and, as you study, the Lord begins to funnel everything in your life towards you living it versus just knowing it? Sound familiar? Mind you, I am not complaining, but I stand amazed at the faithfulness of my God to do His transforming work in my life. He simply does not leave me alone. And I am ok with that.
P4C this year
As many of you may know, the P4C Summit this year is focusing on the issue of the church – the scriptural basis for it and the implications it has for our lives. Always, when we (V4L) decide on a theme for a conference, I begin my regular mode of operation – spending significant time in the word studying the topic. I also couple this with reading what other biblical scholars have to say. However, something begins to take place in my life as I do. The Spirit, quite methodically and with great precision, begins to shape everything in my life around what I am learning. I suddenly realize, “Wow, God is really doing a work in my life in this area. How cool is that?”
Living it versus just knowing it
Upon reflection, God has been working in my heart in a concentrated way regarding the church for the last couple of years. I have always believed the local church was foundationally biblical and of upmost importance. However, knowing it is one thing, living it is a completely different thing altogether. Over the last couple of years, I have come to realize that in order to apply the biblical implications of the local church, you have to take the initiative. Though fellowship with believers should be an organic process, it will not happen by osmoses. It takes time. You have to initiate relationships and, once initiated, they have to be cultivated like you would cultivate a garden. When they flourish, they will bring forth fruit.
Invest in the local body
True fellowship needs to be communal. Do not be constantly looking for fellowship somewhere outside of your community. Sure, you may have friends around the globe; however, these friends will not be able to engage with you on a daily or weekly basis. Sometimes you may go years and never see friends who are elsewhere. But those in your local body, if the relationships are intentionally cultivated, will know you. They will know your weaknesses and your strengths. They will be able to encourage or rebuke you, if necessary.
By God’s grace
By God’s grace, this is what I have done and continue to do in my own local body of believers. I can testify that it has been life changing. It has taken investment of time and vulnerability on my part, but the fellowship that I have gained is invaluable. I am being built up in my relationship with Christ. I am not the same person I was when I started. I have brothers who hold me accountable and pastors who preach the word. I know good churches are hard to find, but make sure that your preconceived ideas of what the church should be are not getting in the way. I urge you to pursue it. If you are in a good church where the word is preached but the fellowship is lacking, you be the one who starts the Bible study. You be the one who takes people out to coffee and spends time getting to know them. You be the one who decides I am going to just do it! You will not be sorry you did.
We are excited to introduce to you the next episode in the series ‘Is Church Important?’ Building up to P4C13, we are working 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 episode is an interview with Ben Russell, an Associate Pastor at Westwood Church, home church of the Cavanaugh family. Ben explores the question, ‘Why Church is Important?’
“Maleness” is a mystifying and frustrating state, as many females will readily testify. It often drives men to climb dangerous mountains, fight aggressive foes, and pursue a beautiful woman.
But perhaps one of the most daunting, frightening, and fulfilling of male pursuits is fatherhood. Postmodern culture is working hard to downplay the importance of traditional, and more importantly, biblical fatherhood. But its absolute necessity still weighs upon the consciences of men and women alike.
As a boy and young man, I gave no thought to this universal, non-optional truth. My Father worked hard to provide for our family, and, in spite of the negative impact of his own father’s life, he was a spiritual leader to our family. He loved God, God’s Word, and God’s people. He hungered for sound, biblical preaching and talked of spiritual matters and witnessing opportunities around the dinner table. My dad was no spiritual giant, but he did his best, under God, to put Christ and His Word before our family. He was a good example of a simple, hardworking man working to lead his family in the things of God. His life and leadership were flawed but still used of God to guide me to follow Christ. My ignorance of his importance in my young life did not alter the indispensability of it.
My own journey in fatherhood is undeniably linked to my earthly father. As a single man anxious for a wife and family, I longed for and envisioned the life of a godly man – the nearly perfect husband and father. I observed the flaws of others, especially those older, and purposed to avoid those pitfalls. But once children arrived, I discovered that even fatherhood could not escape the effects of my flawed and fallen humanity. My Lord has been gracious to me, having given me a faithful wife and two sons who know and follow Christ. It is not unusual for people to complement me on the good job I have done as a father. But if these years of following Christ and leading a family have taught me anything it is that the grace of God displayed in my sons is more in spite of me than because of me. Every good gift comes from God. There is no room for boasting. Being a father is a great and grave responsibility. Little did I know when I set out on the journey those few years ago. The final chapter is yet to be written, but I envision future generations of my descendants following Christ more committed and more passionate. Who would have thought that a Kentucky coal miner born just before the turn of the 20th century who lived a godless life would have great grandsons who have traveled the globe as ambassadors for Christ? Thank The Lord for my father who turned the tide by the grace of God.
Having recently turned 59 and just celebrating my 30th Father’s Day leads me to bask in the goodness and grace of God. Thanks to a wife who has done a commendable job of turning the hearts of her sons to their father and the providence of God in preserving us thus far, mine is a truly blest life. In the words of Dicken’s Bob Crachet, “I am a happy man. I am a truly happy man.”
To God alone be glory,
[Image courtesy of photographybybritton.com]
Last week, we began to talk about how we “do church”. It is a big subject when you are trying to dissect it biblically and then apply it daily. There are the “marks” that should characterize and define each local assembly. However, when you are grounded in the biblical “marks”, there must be an outworking daily in the life of a congregation, flowing from a heart that loves Christ. It is paramount that you have biblically sound preaching and life-to-life discipleship must be woven deeply in the fabric of your congregation. But, if these things are true, what is the glue that holds all these “marks” together? Sure, it may be a direct or indirect result of sound preaching or effective discipleship. The gospel must be central. But without this characteristic it surely spells lifelessness in a body. It is none other than pure, biblical, New Testament flavored fellowship of the believers.
Biblical fellowship has been destroyed in our churches today. Ask the average person what “fellowship” is to them and you will receive a variety of answers and concepts. They will most often tell you something that has no remote resemblance to biblical New Testament fellowship.
Let’s just say this: You have not had “fellowship” nor are you having a “fellowship” when there is a social gathering. Within the context of our culture, social media does not classify as fellowship. Fellowship of believers is not even common social interests that we have among one another. Nor is it common unities around a particular “don’t” that certain Christians may or may not have. The implications of biblical fellowship are far deeper within the context of the local church than most of us have ever experienced before.
We have to turn to the book of Acts to purify the definition that has tarnished the prevalent understanding of fellowship. Acts opens up with the believers receiving the promised Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The New Testament believers were then empowered to live as a redeemed people. At the end of Acts 2, we see that the natural outworking of the Spirit is genuine fellowship. Verse 42 [ESV] tells us, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” If you read the remaining verses of chapter two you will notice the New Testament believers were marked by selflessness. Everything was done with the local body in mind [people of God]. The local church was not just another social activity to be worked into their life; the local church was their life. The people of God were the main concern. They were ready to meet every need – physical or spiritual. If we take a look at the word devoted in verse 42, it reveals the intensity and depth of fellowship. The word meant to be intently engaged, to constantly attend to no matter the cost. Does this sound like any fellowship you know?
Fellowship Starts with You
If you want true fellowship in your local church, you are going to have to devote yourself to it [Acts 2:42-47] . True fellowship shares life with others. It requires transparency and vulnerability – a heart and hand that is opened not closed. In order to have true fellowship as the people of God, it will require you to give emotionally, spiritually, and physically. If we are to have true, intentional, New Testament fellowship in our churches, the initiative will have to begin with you. Fellowship demands you to be intentional. You may have to step out of your comfort zone. You will have to become vulnerable. If you do not desire intentional fellowship with the people of God, then you need to do some soul searching. Fellowship is pursuing relationship even when it hurts or is inconvenient. Fellowship is when believers are united together on the same side of the struggle. Jerry Bridges says this about Acts 2: “Those first Christians of Acts 2 were not devoting themselves to social activities but to relationships.”
How will the world know that we are authentic if we do not have love for one another? Jesus said to His disciples, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another [John 13:35 ESV].”
When viewed biblically, there is no room for lone ranger Christianity in the economy of God. WE must pursue fellowship with the people of God.
I would like to share a personal testimony about my earthly father.
Several years ago, when my husband, Charles, was preaching through the 10 commandments, he came to the 5th commandment: “honor your father and mother.” I felt I had always tried to honor my father. Over the years we had not seen each other because he and my mom had divorced and communication was slim. My father’s relationship with me was not adversarial, just not close. There had been a lot of miscommunication and lies told in my family over the years.
I was convicted in my heart that my honor for my father had been a head knowledge but it had never reached my heart! I began to make a scrapbook of his grandchildren whom he really did not know. I put information in there to inform him of the kind of young men they were becoming. I tried to call him more often. I was pleading the 5th commandment in my heart.
It is amazing, when we obey the Lord, how He will bless our obedience.
My father sent me a birthday card, which he had not done in years. In the card were money and a note directing me to take the guys out to eat. Daniel, my oldest, was preparing to go to be a part of a ministry working with troubled youth. My father called and wanted to pay for the whole trip. If you knew all of the background, from which I have spared you, you would realize that this was God working.
I love the definition one of the dictionaries provides for the word “honor”: “A keen sense of right and wrong: adherence to action of principles considered to be right (to conduct oneself with honor).” Proverbs 1:7 says, “When a man’s ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.”
A few years ago, my father was dying of liver cancer. I went to where he lived in Memphis to take care of him in the hospital. The Lord allowed me to show him the love of Christ. My brother told me that he had been reading his Bible next to his chair in his home.
My two sons came to visit my father and they had an unbelievable time with him before he died. One day while he was in the hospital, he called me to his side. He said to me, “Pam, you know I love you.” I responded, “Yes.” He said, “Do you love me?” And I said, “Yes.” He then said, “then we are square.” It was his way of repenting and clearing the slate of past offenses.
Joel 2:25 says, “And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten.” The Lord was so merciful and gracious to restore to me all the years that had eaten away my relationship with my earthly father. I am so grateful for that beautiful Sunday morning that the Lord moved on my heart to take the steps toward honoring my father.
As I celebrate Father’s Day this year, I have a hope in my heart that I will see my dad again one day in heaven and I rejoice on earth of his love and the memories that I cherish.
Our culture is in no way conducive for ‘doing church’. It is very easy and comfortable to hold a strong and biblical theological position on the church without ever actually applying it in our everyday lives. However, theology that never reaches to the heart and works its way out into application is dead religion. There is really no reason for believing it. Belief produces conviction and conviction gives way to living that bears evidence of the grace of God.
When we hear words like ‘fellowship’ or phrases like ‘bear one another’s burdens’ [Gal. 6:2] within the context of the local church in scripture, they have meaning. They are not cultural studies of some ancient people gone by. It is speaking to us today and holds implications for how we structure and live our lives as Christians within the context of the local church.
But what does it mean to actually ‘do church’? This is a massive issue and one that is very difficult to deal with in one post. There is almost two parts. There is the element of daily or weekly church life that must be true, but then there are the ‘marks’ that make up a healthy church and should be guiding factors if we are looking for a local body to join.
This week I am just going to deal with the latter half of this issue. To deal with it, I am brining in some support from 9Marks Ministries [you should check out this ministry]. They have produced two-minute videos dealing with 9 biblical marks that should be evident in a church. Obviously many churches are in various stages of these biblical marks, but they are the pillars that should make up our thinking and that we should strive to cultivate and pray for…always remembering that we strive in the humility of Christ and His Spirit.
2. Biblical Theology
3. The Gospel
It is not unusual for parents to want to mind their children’s business as their children get older. After all, if they have been good parents, they have already been doing it for some time. But, as we saw in part one, it is not our place to do so when they are adults.
Or is it? Perhaps there is more to this matter than what is obvious. As we finish our look at Psalm 112, we will see that our children’s future is our business. But how do we mind it? It’s all wrapped up in the life and legacy of a God-fearing man. What makes him happy and what gives him hope are essential elements in this very important matter, as we have seen. But there is more.
III. The Heart of a God-fearing Man; vv. 4-9.
All that we saw in Part 1 leads us to an obvious deduction to which the Psalmist now brings us. This God-fearing man has a religion of the heart, and his heart is seen in his habits.
A. He Is a Guided Man, v. 4a.
Jesus said it this way: “He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life” Jn. 8:12. David trusted in this: “You will show me the path of life…” Ps. 16:11.
Darkness is a synonym for adversity. And the God-fearing man is no stranger to adversity, in spite of his life enriched with God’s blessing. Some adversity is self-induced, since the God-fearing man is not perfect. Some is not his fault. All adversity is providentially arranged for his good and growth and his God’s glory. So he walks with the confidence of David who said; “Though I walk in the midst of trouble You will revive me…” Ps. 130:7.
B. He Is a Gracious Man; v. 4b.
A gracious man is full of grace. He has known the grace of God and makes known the grace of God in his dealings with others. The love of God is shed abroad in his heart, and he deals kindly with those dear to him and those not so dear.
C. He Is a Generous Man; v. 5a.
A God-fearing man does not have to have a lot in order to give. He can give himself.
D. He Is a Genuine Man; vv. 5b & 6.
He is the real deal. He is real about his faults and needs. He cannot allow pretense in himself.
E. He Is a Grounded Man; vv. 6-9.
He is grounded in God’s Word, established on God’s promises, convinced of God’s goodness, and settled in God’s plan and purpose.
All of this is to say that he is a godly man. He is not a perfect man, but he is a godly man.
IV. The Heritage of a God-fearing Man, v.2.
We must interpret this passage in light of the Old Covenant economy. But we must not do so to the exclusion of its New Covenant application. This man is a man who looks and sees beyond the limited circumstances of his own life and times. He is a man of vision; a vision for multi-generational Christianity.
A. A Vision of a Mighty Seed
Do you stop to think how you live your life will affect your descendants? What do you picture your descendants doing 30 years from now, 100 years or even 300 years from now?
What does mighty mean? It means many or numerous. This was a particular sign of God’s blessing under the Old Covenant. And while I would not be so presumptuous as to equate God’s blessing with a large family under the New Covenant, it would be wise for us to divorce ourselves from the prevailing view that children are to be limited for the sake of convenience.
But “mighty” also means strong, resilient, steadfast, and advancing. And is this not what we should desire and envision for our descendants, that they should be strong in Christ and His Gospel, resilient, even impervious, to the assaults of this world, steadfast in the Faith, and advancing for Christ and His kingdom? Should this not be our prayer? It is mine; that none of my descendants or their spouses would be lost or bring reproach upon the name of Christ, but that each succeeding generation would produce more godly fathers and husbands, mothers and wives, and young people all committed to changing their generation and the next generation for Christ.
B. A Vision of a Merciful Sovereign
None of these things of which I have spoken is possible in the life of any man or woman apart from the mercies of our great God: “the generation of the upright shall be blessed.” This upright, God-fearing life with its blessings is the gift of God. A converted and committed progeny is a gift as well. We work as though it depends on us. We pray as though it depends on God. And we live with that assurance.
This is how we mind our children’s business, especially when they are older. The investment and involvement have been made years earlier. The legacy of a God-fearing man comes out of a life lived before the face of God. What makes you happy, what gives you hope, what is in your heart are all the building blocks of a lasting legacy. So, go ahead. Mind your children’s business, and start today.