What’s The Real Problem?

If one’s greatest problem is loneliness, the good news is that Jesus is a reliable friend. If the big problem is anxiety, Jesus will calm us down. Jesus is the glue that holds our marriages and families together, gives us purpose for us to strive toward, wisdom for daily life. And there are half-truths in all of these pleas, but they never really bring hearers face to face with their real problem: that they stand naked and ashamed before a holy God and can only be acceptably clothed in His presence by being clothed, head to toe, in Christ’s righteousness.

 Michael Horton 
(Joel Osteen and the Glory Story: A Case Study, 2007, Westminster Seminary California.)

“Close the front door and open the back door”

 

I reviewed some of the church growth material coming from our denominational headquarters. One publication said that, in order to get our churches growing again, we should “open the front doors and close the back doors”… What we actually need to do is to close the front door and open the back door!  If we really want to see our churches grow, we need to make it harder to join and we need to be better about excluding people. We need to be able to show that there is a distinction between the church and the world –  that it means something to be a Christian. If someone who claims to be a Christian refuses to live as a Christian should live, we need to follow what Paul said and, for the glory of God and for that person’s own good, we need to exclude him or her form membership in the church.

 Mark Dever  Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Crossway, 2000, p. 156-157.

Theology Drives Methodology

I had the opportunity to meet and attended one of Jonathan (Jono)  Sims service in Tennessee. I appreciate him for preaching God’s word with passion and grace. May God continue to raise up preachers like Jono who stands for the truth with boldness and with a tender heart to shepherd God’s people.

Preachers and Preaching

  1. It is wrong to put direct pressure on the will. The will should always be approached primarily through the mind, the intellect, and then through the affections. The action of the will should be determined by those influences.
  2. In the end it may produce a condition in which what has determined the response of the man who ‘comes forward’ is not so much the Truth itself as, perhaps, the personality of the evangelist, or some vague general fear, or some other kind of influence.
  3. The preaching of the Word and the call for decision should not be separated in our thinking
  4. This method surely carries in it the implication that sinners have an inherent power of decision and of self-conversion.
  5. There is an implication here that the evangelist somehow is in a position to manipulate the Holy Spirit and His work. Some organizers today even predict the results.
  6. This method tends to produce a superficial conviction of sin, if any at all. People often respond because they have the impression that by doing so they will receive certain benefits.
  7. You are encouraging people to think that their act of going forward somehow saves them.
  8. It raises the whole question of the doctrine of regeneration. This is the most serious thing of all. This work is the work of the Holy Spirit, and His work alone, no one else can do it. And as it is His work it is always a thorough work; and it is always a work that will show itself.
  9. No sinner ever really decides for Christ.

 D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones  – Preachers and Preaching, Zondervan, 1971, p. 269-279 (summary of his main points).

Wrong Direction

Sadly, the influence has been in the wrong direction, as we see evidence that our culture has begun to permeate our churches. The church is seduced by the social agenda of wealth and pleasure, and has condoned sinful compromises. There is moral decay within the church, with highly publicized scandals involving ministers, and divorce statistics which are not much better than those outside the church. Think of all that we and our churches would have to repent of if a spirit of holiness began to captivate us. How can America be influenced by an inconsistent and hypocritical church?

 Erwin Lutzer
America’s Spiritual Crisis, Revival Commentary, v. 1, n. 2, p. 11.

 

All Things Subject to Christ

There may be circumstances in your earthly lot which at this moment are peculiarly trying.  You look around and wonder how this or that circumstance will terminate.  At present it looks very dark–clouds and mists hang over it, and you fear lest these clouds may break, not in showers upon your head, but burst forth in the lightning flash and the thunder stroke!  But all things are put in subjection under Christ’s feet!  That which you dread cannot take place except by His sovereign will–nor can it move any further except by His supreme disposal.  Then make yourself quiet.  He will not allow you to be harmed.  That frowning providence shall only execute His sovereign purposes, and it shall be among those all things which, according to His promise, shall work together for your good.  None of our trials come upon us by chance!  They are all appointed in weight and measure–are all designed to fulfill a certain end.  And however painful they may at present be, yet they are intended for your good.   When the trial comes upon you, what a help it would be for you if you could view it thus, “This trial is sent for my good.  It does not spring out of the dust.  The Lord Himself is the supreme disposer of it.  It is very painful to bear; but let me believe that He has appointed me this peculiar trial, along with every other circumstance.  He will bring about His own will therein, and either remove the trial, or give me patience under it, and submission to it.”

J.C. Philpot
The Subjection of All Things Under the Feet of Jesus.

Male Headship

There’s no gridlock with God…no stalemate…no tie game. If a husband and wife have talked things out, but cannot come to agreement on a matter, the Bible teaches that the husband’s authority prevails. By divine design God has entrusted to the husband leadership and authority with which to wisely and lovingly rule the household. The husband is not guaranteed the smartest decisions–but God does expect him to exercise leadership in the home and to have the power to veto (break up an impasse with his vote).  However, this does not give him the right to be arrogant and to flaunt his authority, or to run roughshod over other family members’ feelings. He has no right to refuse to listen to his wife, to withdraw from confrontational discussions, to act in anger, or to act in a non-understanding way (1 Peter 3:7). He has no right to exasperate his children or anyone else in the family. He must love his wife even as Christ loves the church and gave Himself up for it.  Because of the Biblical doctrine of ‘male headship,’ I place (and I believe God places) the brunt of the responsibility for family growth, happiness, and harmony, upon the husband. Since he is the one entrusted with leadership, he is the one chiefly responsible for leading the family towards the goal of Christlikeness.

 Peter Wise

God-Given Growth – Mark Dever

Everybody wants their church to grow. When a church doesn’t grow for a while, some begin looking for those to blame. Some might say “our sign is too old.” Others might say that the church is doing evangelism all wrong. Still others might blame themselves, and decide that they’re just not friendly enough. The preacher, the leaders, the surrounding community, all can come in for their share of blame. But are any of those people the cause of real church growth? Isn’t God the one really to blame? What should we Christians think of contemporary church-growth thinking?

First of all, it must be said that the Bible is a pro-growth book. From the garden of Genesis to the city of Revelation, God is a God who shows something of His life and energy through growth. Most growth is a good thing in this life. So I want to grow as a husband and father. I want to grow in my competence in my job. And as a Christian I want to grow in my Christian life. So what about our church — do we want our local church to grow? How does that happen? That’s what we want to consider in this article.

If we go back to the beginning of the Bible, there we find in the first chapter that God commands the creatures of the land and sea to multiply: “God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth’” (Gen. 1:22). Similar commands are given to Adam and Eve, and then to Noah and his sons after the flood. From there on in the Bible we see that God our Creator has continued to give life, from calling Abram to follow Him, to calling the Jews back home from their Babylonian exile.

It’s important for us to remember this as we consider our local church. Some people today seem to think that a church grows because it has a popular program, or because the pastor is a good communicator, or because the leaders are wise. All of these may be present in a growing church. But behind all these factors is God Himself. It is God that grows the church through His Gospel by His grace.

The rain accomplishes God’s purpose to make things grow (Isa. 55:10–11), but it is still God who gives the growth. In the same way, it is God who gives new life by His Spirit (see John 3). He is both the Creator and the re-Creator.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Cor. 3:6–7). Any true church growth is from God, whatever means He may choose to use. Just as Jesus’ first disciples followed Jesus because He called them (John 15:16), so today we follow Him only because He first calls us. God grows the church He planted.

He does so by giving us spiritual life by giving the gift of repentance (see Acts 11:18). It is God’s kindness to us that He ever puts in our rebellious souls a distaste for our revolt against Him. In His mercy, He makes us to feel the bitterness of our choices. In His love, he causes us to turn. This new life that God gives comes through belief in the Gospel — which belief we were appointed for (Acts 13:48). Our “appointment” to such belief again makes the point that spiritual life and growth are from God. He opened the door of Lydia’s heart to respond to Paul’s message (Acts 16:14). It is by God’s “grace you have been saved through faith. And this not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8–9).

And God brings about such repentance and faith by His Spirit’s using the preaching of His Gospel. So when the message about Christ is preached in Antioch, Luke describes the results as “the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord” (Acts 11:21). Notice it is the Lord who is credited with this church growth. Faith comes through hearing the message (Rom. 10:17).

And the churches are strengthened by hearing the truth (Acts 16:5). So, whether we’re talking about growth through conversion, or growth in being built up and maturing, it is God’s work through the appointed means of preaching God’s truth, and most especially the Gospel, what Jesus called “the word of the kingdom” (Matt. 13:19). Such church growth could even be called “the word of the Lord” spreading (as it was in Acts 19:20) so identified is such growth with the Gospel message.

So if the above is all true — if church growth is from God, then what difference should that make in our churches and in our lives? Here are seven suggestions based upon the Bible’s teaching about church growth. Pray for these in your own life and in the life of your pastor. And share them with others in your church, including the pastors, elders, and deacons.

In order to see God’s church grow, we should use the means God has given to us. As we’ve seen, preaching the Gospel is the normal way God grows His church. Added to this, there is also prayer. Again and again in the book of Acts we find the early Christians at prayer. And as we beseech God for conversion and for maturity, we find God granting our prayers. The more we pray the more we acknowledge that God is the reason for any growth that comes. We acknowledge, in humility, that any growth that comes does not ultimately come from us.

The late great evangelical theologian Carl Henry once said that “numerical bigness has become an infectious epidemic.” When too many of us measure growth mainly in terms of numbers, we show that we forget how deceptive crowds can be. So, the crowds that cheered Jesus one day, called for His crucifixion the next. Even if our church is growing numerically, usually these days in America such numerical growth is more reflective of population redistribution than it is of new conversions.

We can’t control when someone is converted. Though some evangelists may try through well-intentioned manipulation, the human heart is beyond being manipulated to give up its revolt against God. Only a new set of loves — replacing love for self with love for God — can end our revolt, and only God’s Spirit can give that love. Therefore our job in evangelism is to pray for conversions, and work for them by regularly and faithfully sharing the Gospel as well as we can. Work on your own understanding of the Gospel. Think carefully about ways you may be able to improve in sharing it. Work to create opportunities. You can’t make sure someone becomes a Christian. But you can make sure they’ve heard the Gospel.

There is more to church growth than new converts. Those of us already converted can mature in our faith. We can learn to count trials joy, and grow in our love for one another. Remember that maturing is as much growth as seeing new people converted. Certainly in our own lives, we never finish growing in this life in terms of our spiritual maturity.

One way we are certain the church needs to grow is in we ourselves growing, and especially in our humility and self-conscious dependence on God. The Bible’s teaching that God gives growth is important for us to remember so that we won’t become prideful in our church when it does grow numerically. It is also important to encourage us in our humility. Knowing that growth is His gift should increase our time spent in prayer and remind us of our dependence upon Him.

Getting all this right calls us to trust God more and to thank Him for the growth that He does give. When Paul was discouraged in Corinth at the lack of growth in the church, God encouraged him in a vision by assuring him that many would be converted there (see Acts 18:9–10). Most of us, however, don’t have that kind of supernatural encouragement. We do know from God’s Word, however, that God promises His Word will not go out without accomplishing His purpose. But we may not be around to see the harvest from seeds that we plant. As Charles Bridges (a great nineteenth-century Anglican pastor) said, “The seed may lie under the clods till we lie there, and then spring up” (Christian Ministry, p. 75). Some sow, and others reap (John 4:36–38), but God deserves the praise for all the growth that happens.

Finally, realizing the truth about church growth should help us to keep going. It should encourage us to endure in the face of opposition, rejection or indifference. Ezekiel was called by God to preach to a people that wouldn’t listen — their refusal to listen took nothing away from Ezekiel’s faithfulness (see Ezek. (3:7–9; 33:32). How could evangelists go to unresponsive lands and keep preaching if they were constantly counting converts and gaining their main encouragement from that unsteady source? How could you and I be faithful in witnessing to friends and family over the years if we allowed ourselves to be discouraged by initial rejection, or even continuing disinterest? Our continuing to pray for someone is a testimony of our faith not in them or in ourselves, but in God. Jesus’ parable of the sower warned us that there would be a variety of responses to the Word (seeMatt. 13:1–23). And we can be confident that God will bring all His own to Christ, not one of them will be missing (see John 6:37). Present success is not always visible. We should be encouraged to realize that the calling all Christians and all congregations share is one to faithfulness, not immediately apparent success. God may in His providence even disperse our local congregation. But His plan for His universal church is certain victory. Of that we can be sure. The church’s final and ultimate growth is not in question.

Why I’m Reading the Bible in Ten Different Places

 By: Bob Kaulin (Worship Matters Blog)

Read entire post here:

I’m reminded daily how little I know of God’s word.
I’ve been reading the Bible for over 40 years. The more I read the more I feel like I’m just scratching the surface. I don’t want to master the God’s Word. I want God, through his Word, to master me. And I’ve got a long way to go.

I’m understanding better how Jesus is the story line of the bible.
In one sitting I read about the instructions for the tabernacle in Exodus, Job’s cry for a mediator, the failure of the Israelite kings, a psalm extolling the steadfast love of the Lord, the promise of a righteous branch in the prophets, Jesus being rejected by those he came to save, the testimony of Jesus’ death and resurrection in Acts, instructions for godly living in the Epistles, and the consummation of all things in Revelation. I feel like I’m getting a biblical theology lesson every morning.

I’m more convinced of God’s sovereignty over all things.
I still don’t understand how moral responsibility for our choices and God’s sovereignty over our actions work together. Not sure I ever will. But I’m increasingly certain that Scripture contains both, and that this should produce peace and security in my life, not striving and confusion. The God who knows the end from the beginning, who intends evil for good purposes (Gen. 50:19), who directs the paths of arrows (2 Chron. 18:28-33), who ordained the details of Christ’s death and resurrection (Acts 4:27-28), and who has already assured us of his final triumph over death and Satan – this God – can surely handle whatever difficulties and trials I face.

Familiar verses speak to me in unexpected ways.
The other morning I was reading chapters 7&8 from Isaiah. God told Ahaz that He was going to defeat his enemies, and told Ahaz, “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven” (Is. 7:10). But Ahaz played the false humility card and refused. “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test” (Is. 7:12). God said He Himself would provide a sign of his promise. “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call him name Immanuel” (Is. 9:14). While those words had an immediate fulfillment, they were finally fulfilled in the birth of Christ. Tears filled my eyes as I realized that Ahaz never dreamed that God would ultimately prove his faithfulness by giving up his own Son as our substitute. God is always better than we expect.

I’m appreciating God’s holiness more than I used to.
God judges sin in the Bible a lot. Of course, there’s a lot of sin in the Bible to judge. Immersing myself in Scripture each day reminds me that God is not who my culture says he is. He’s not apathetic toward sin. He hates it with an unyielding, consuming, terrifying hatred. Which make giving up his Son to endure his wrath in my place all the more amazing.

I’m encountering God in his Word more often.
You might think that reading so much of the Bible at one time doesn’t allow time for reflection and engaging with God. That hasn’t been my experience. It usually takes me between 30-45 minutes to read 14 chapters. I read at a normal pace, but still have time to meditate on, cross-reference, or memorize a passage. And frequently I’m aware of God’s Spirit speaking to me, working on my heart, molding my will to his own.

Are Preachers Preaching or Just Talking?!

“The aim of that kind of expository preaching is to help you eat and digest biblical truth that will make your spiritual bones more like steel, and will double the capacity of your spiritual lungs, and will make the eyes of your heart dazzle with the brightness of the glory of God, and will awake the capabilities of your soul to experience kinds of spiritual joy you did not know existed.”

– John Piper

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