Sunday, July 29, 2007

Vital Signs of a Healthy Church part 1

The past two decades have seen Christian bookstores bombarded with books about church growth, breaking growth barriers, overcoming obstacles that prevent growth, and so on ad infinitum. I've read many of those books, and I’ve attended several of the various church growth seminars. One book, however, stands head and shoulders above the rest. This book gives the best examples of church growth. It provides the best insight into how God desires His church to be managed. I highly recommend that all who read this post immediately procure a copy of this book and read it from front to back.

The book is called Acts of the Apostles, it's written by Luke, the beloved physician, and it's the fifth book of the New Testament.

Acts is the ultimate church growth book. Acts is the divinely inspired record of the Jerusalem church’s explosion, and the spread of the gospel throughout the Roman Empire. In Acts we learn that those early churches had, “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6) with the proclamation of Christ crucified.

On the Day of Pentecost, Peter preached Christ crucified, and “there were added unto them about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41). That chapter concludes by saying that the Lord “added to the church daily such as should be saved” (v. 47). Chapter four of Acts declares that thousands more believed and were added to the church (4:4). In spite of this phenomenal numerical growth the focus of both chapter two and four is on the condition of the church rather than the addition to the church. That is a good model for all congregations and pastors to follow. Focus on the condition of your church and the addition part will naturally happen.

While Acts is the ultimate church growth book, it is important to bear in mind that it is a record of the gospel’s spread before the completion of the NT. There are events in Acts that are transitional and non-repeatable. There are special things that happened in Acts that will never happen again; like speaking in tongues, casting out demons, healing the lame, and declaring new revelation. We cannot make the mistake of saying, “If it’s not in Acts then we can’t do it”, but we also cannot say that “If it is in Acts then we have to do it.”

Paul wrote to Timothy that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) This is God’s word to us; it is historical, doctrinal, and practical, and it teaches us how to evangelize the lost, disciple believers, do mission work, and establish churches.

Acts 4:32-37 reveals at least three vital signs of a healthy church. God’s Word says:

And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need. And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus, Having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
The first vital sign of a healthy church is...

Spiritual Unity

The first half of v. 32 says that “the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul.” The church in Jerusalem had grown so big that Luke does not give a number; he just says the “multitude.” That fantastic growth was a direct result of the action recorded in v. 31, “And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.”

God’s Word, boldly and faithfully proclaimed, will never return void. The people had trusted Christ as their Savior, and then joined the church by the thousands! Understand that it was the Lord who had added to the church daily such as should be saved. Not market-driven programs or slick schemes. The Lord added to His church as His word was humbly obeyed and powerfully proclaimed.

Imagine the diversity of a congregation that size. Even though thousands of new Christians were added together, the Bible says that they “were of one heart and of one soul.” They were united! And spiritual unity in a church is a powerful testimony to the community. Disunity, fighting, bickering, and quarrelling in a church is also a powerful testimony to the community, just not the kind of testimony that glorifies God and edifies the body.

This church was a united church, a church that was of “one heart and one mind.” Unity is different from uniformity. These church members were not clones of one another; they were not uniform, but they were united. Do you have any idea how thousands of people can come together and be of one heart and soul? It is only by the power and grace of Jesus Christ! What this multitude of people shared was a faith in Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. Notice two things that enabled this church to be of “one heart and one soul”.

  • Ministering to each other. This church was preoccupied with ministering to each other. They were intent on meeting their fellow Christian's needs. Theirs was a humility that stemmed from seeing others as more important than themselves. It's an attitude that Paul exhorted all faith communities to exhibit. Philippians 2:3 says, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.”
  • Reaching the lost world. They ministered to each other and they focused on taking the gospel to the world. The church had, and has, a powerful message to proclaim. Acts 4:12, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” The Jerusalem church was busy reaching the lost (Acts 4:4, 8, 19-20, 31).
Their unity was a result of focusing on those priorities Jesus had left them: selflessly loving each other and boldly proclaiming Christ to a lost world.

The first vital sign of a healthy church is spiritual unity.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Out to Lunch

I'll be out of the blogging routine for the next couple. Currently I am preaching a revival for the Corinth Baptist Church in Dry Prong, LA. Once the reveival is over I'll be heading to Garland, TX to attend the Missions Conference of the Rodgers Baptist Church. I most likely will not be making any posts during the next two weeks.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Save the Planet! Stop Eating Meat!

I am not a scientist. I do not understand all of the theories being promoted by the Al Gore crowd. That’s alright; I’m certain that Al Gore doesn’t understand all of the theories of global warming that he espouses. My buddies at Doses of Reality have recently posted a good article on this topic. You can read it here.

Like I said, I’m ignorant of most of the “scientific” implications of global warming, but the studies by a group of Japanese scientists have produced some interesting data. Did you know that the environmental impact of a single purchase of beef is equal to driving a car non-stop for three hours? Follow this link to read a brief article on the study. What follows is part of the story…
That means that 2.2lb of beef is responsible for greenhouse gas emissions which have the same effect as the carbon dioxide released by an ordinary car travelling at 50 miles per hour for 155 miles, a journey lasting three hours. The amount of energy consumed would light a 100-watt bulb for 20 days.
I guess if I’m in the mood for steak I’ll have to drive less, or go about in the dark for a few days. Of course, the Vegetarian Society’s Su Taylor has an idea…
Everybody is trying to come up with different ways to reduce carbon footprints, but one of the easiest things you can do is to stop eating meat.
Not likely.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Earn $1 Million

Think it is impossible to save $1 million over your lifetime? It may not be as difficult as you think. It all depends on how attached you are to your TV. In an article for Jeffrey Strain, siting recent studies, suggests:

A recent study found that it would take $1 million for someone to be willing to give up TV for the rest of their lives…If you decided to give up TV and invested the money you saved, you would get that $1 million — and probably a lot more.

Strain’s article lists the costs of owning and watching TV - the price of the unit, the price of the stand/cabinet on which the unit sits, the cable bill, etc. I found the most interesting entry in his list to be the commercials. You may be thinking, “Wait a-minute…how do commercials cost me anything?” Here is Strain’s answer:

Commercials are there to get you to buy products — and they are effective. Economist Juliet Schor estimated [1999] that for every hour of TV a person watches each week, he or she will increase his or her annual spending by about $200

The average U.S. household has at least one TV set turned on for about seven hours a day. For argument’s sake let’s allow that the TV is not being watched for all 49 hours, but at least half of that time - 24.5 hours - is not a stretch. Although, it may be a stretch on your finances.

So what does this all add up to? Say you’re 25 years old and you initially spend $2,000 for your TV, DVD player, entertainment cabinet and gaming system after getting your first job. Add in monthly costs of $100 for cable, $10 for electricity use, $20 for renting movies, $25 for buying games and $20 for an occasional pay-per-view event, and you’re looking at $175 a month. Add in another $525 a month extra you spend due to the influence of commercials if you are the average person, and you are costing yourself $700 a month watching TV…If you instead invested this money and received a return of 8% compounded annually over 45 years until you’re 70 years old, you would have more than $3.7 million in your account.

Who knew?

Monday, July 16, 2007

"Heil Bush!"?

Congressman Keith Ellison represents the 5th District of Minnesota. I wonder if all the good people of Minnesota’s 5th district (which inculdes Minneapolis) are as delusional as their Congressman? Why do I refer to the diligent democrat as delusional? Because of this Toby Harnden article in today’s Telegraph. While speaking to a gathering of “Atheists for Human Rights” the Congressman likened the destruction of the 9/11 attacks to the 1933 Reichstag fire.

“It’s [the 9/11 attacks] almost like the Reichstag fire, kind of reminds me of that…After the Reichstag was burned, they blamed the Communists for it, and it put the leader [Hitler] of that country in a position where he could basically have authority to do whatever he wanted.”

Thus President Bush is likened to the Fuhrer. In fact, Bush is even more maniacal than Hitler because the Reichstag fire did not cause near as much damage or loss of life as did 9/11.

I’m not sure what is worse: the fact that a US Congressman would make such an asinine statement, or the fact that said asininity would be approvingly applauded.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Following Jesus pt. 2

The Compelling Cause

Since the beginning of time people have followed charismatic leaders. These leaders were followed because they promised revolution, riches, prominence, land, or an ideological reform. Jesus was and is no ordinary leader. He is the compelling Christ, and He demands that those who would follow Him take up His compelling cause.

What is that cause?

The compelling cause of Christ is to proclaim the gospel of Christ and man's need to repent and believe that gospel. When Jesus bid Peter, Andrew, James, and John to follow Him He promised that they would become "fishers of men". Let it be clearly stated that Christ calls men and women, first and foremost, to follow Him. Naturally, to follow Christ means to go where He is leading.

While passing through Jericho Christ led His followers to the base of a tree up which a small scoundrel named Zacchaeus had scampered. Looking up and speaking to this crooked bureaucrat Jesus said, "For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). Near the end of His earthly ministry Jesus plainly told His followers, after they had been arguing about "place" and "prominence", "For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45)

Followers of Christ will be fishers of men. That does not guarantee a large haul for every follower, but it does demand that nets are continually cast and mended. Followers of Jesus Christ will be committed to the compelling cause that drove Christ to the cross. God the Son was sent by God the Father to preach, to die, and be raised for the purpose of redeeming man from his sins to the glory of God. Christ said to the Pharisee Nicodemus, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved." (John 3:16-17)

The compelling cause of Christ is not to win fame, fortune, or on fields of battle. The compelling cause of Christ is not one of safety and ease. The call of Christ is not to your best life now. In fact, Christ did not then and does not now call followers to safety. His is a call to service.

Must everyone who seeks to follow Christ quit their jobs like Peter and the gang? In order to serve the cause of Christ some may be called to leave behind a comfortable career and a certain retirement. The fact is that not everyone will be called to literally leave their jobs, but a follower but understand that his career is not his calling; instead it is where his calling is fulfilled. There should be a distinct difference expressed in the follower's work and play. How distinct? How distinct was Jesus?

Followers who embrace this compelling cause see everything that is under their control as an instrument to impact their world. Therefore, the primary role of parents is not just to ensure their kids are fed, clothed, and educated. As important and essential as those things are, the primary role of parents is to communicate the reality of Christ to their children! Children are not just little copies of their parents, they are real people who can become followers of Christ and impact their world for Him.

"The liberating reality of all this is that nothing in life is more important than Christ and His cause. All of life's decisions and attitudes are formed by this dynamic. Everything of value in our treasure chest – whether it is money, career, friends, possessions, or property – is all there for the cause. Every thing within our grasp is a means to reflect the compelling Christ to those who need Him. The early disciples not only saw Christ as a compelling person worthy of their full devotion but also heard Him call them to a compelling cause."

The Complete Cost

Christ freely offers salvation to all who will repent and believe the gospel, but there is a cost involved. Christ had to be crucified in the sinner's place. Salvation cost the Son His life; which He freely offered, and the Son says that the would-be follower must count the cost before following Him.

"And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them, If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace. So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple."
(Luke 14:25-33)

People will follow a leader who provides food for their belly; a leader who can heal the sick, make the blind to see, the lame to walk, the mute to speak, and the deaf to hear. Who wouldn't want to follow that guy? There are many people who will follow someone or something as long as they are getting what they want. Show me how to have my best life now and I'll be behind you 100%!

At the beginning of Christ's ministry the response was overwhelmingly positive…but uncommitted. The majority of people would stick around as long as Jesus was feeding 5,000 men with only five barley loves and two small fishes! But when He began to teach that He was "the bread of life…came down from heaven" then the crowd began to murmur. When He said "I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." They became perplexed and started to quarrel, and "When they had heard this, said, 'This is an hard saying; who can hear it?'" Beginning with His "Bread of Life" sermon "many if His disciples went back, and walked no more with Him" (John 6:35-38, 51-52, 60, 66).

There is a cost involved in following Jesus. Peter and Andrew dropped their nets to follow Christ. James and John walked away from their father Zebedee who was in the boat mending the nets with them. Followership demands that the follower be willing to forsake everything for Christ. The follower's love for Christ must be supreme; even more than his love for his own family. The word "hate" from Luke 14:26 does not suggest animosity. It simply means that the follower's love for Christ must be so intense that all other love looks like hatred in comparison.

That is a high cost. That is what Christ demands of those who would follow Him.

When Christ passed by those four fishermen on the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee He interrupted their routines and disrupted their careers. If they were to follow Christ then they would have to drop their nets, because followers are netless believers. What are nets? A net is anything that inhibits or prohibits our non-negotiated commitment to follow Christ.

Anything? Anything! Everyone recognizes that siren calls of alcohol, lust, greed, and the like are serious nets, but the net that entangle would be followers are not always sinful or shameful. The call to followership is costly because it is a call to complete surrender. The Lord Jesus Christ is not interested in pieces of you. He is after the whole package! Christ desires to be the primary focus of your life, not just your Sunday mornings. He seeks to be your primary concern in all of your existence, not just "spiritual" matters.

What is in your hands? To follow Christ your hands have to be empty. Your pockets don't have to be empty. Your mind doesn't have to be empty. Your heart doesn't have to be empty. Just your hands. A fully devoted follower must have empty hands. Is there something you refuse to let loose? Are your hands bloodied from rope burns where you've tried to follow Jesus while holding onto the net? Do you value your nets more than Christ?

The compelling Christ calls you to take up His cause, but there is a cost. The hymn writer Judson Van de Venter phrases it perfectly:

All to Jesus I surrender,

All to Him I freely give;

I will ever love and trust Him,

In His presence daily live.

Following Jesus pt. 1

In his book Following Christ author Joe Stowell relays an account from the life of John Herman, a man who had earned two Ph.D.s and whose lifelong ambition had been to meet the famous defense attorney Clarence Darrow. Darrow became famous (and infamous) for his 1925 defense of the high school teacher John T. Scopes who was accused of having violated a Tennessee law (Butler Act) that forbade the teaching of evolution in public schools because it contradicted the account of creation in the Bible. This case was dubbed the "Scopes Monkey Trial" by the press and was made into a play and motion picture – Inherit the Wind – starring Spencer Tracy as Clarence Darrow. Late in the life of both Herman and Darrow it was arranged for the two men to meet.

"Sitting in the attorney's living room, Herman asked Darrow, 'Now that you've come this far in life and you're not doing much lecturing or teaching or writing…how would you sum up your life?' Without hesitation, Darrow walked over to a coffee table and picked up a Bible. This took the guest by surprise, since Darrow was an atheist who had spent mush of his life publicly ridiculing Scripture.

'This verse in the Bible describes my life.' Darrow turned to the fifth chapter of Luke, the fifth verse. He changed the 'we' to 'I': 'I have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing.'

He closed the Bible, put it back on the coffee table, and looked Herman straight in the face. 'I have lived a life without purpose, without meaning, without direction, I don't know where I came from. And I don't know what I'm doing here. And worst of all, I don't know what's going to happen to me when I punch out of here.'"

In the late 1960s Paul Anka wrote English words to the song, "Comme d'Habitude," by French composer Claude François. This resulted in "My Way", which became the signature song for Frank Sinatra; as well as the theme song for many Americans.

To think I did all that;

And may I say - not in a shy way,

"No, oh no not me,

I did it my way".

For what is a man, what has he got?

If not himself, then he has naught.

To say the things he truly feels;

And not the words of one who kneels.

The record shows I took the blows -

And did it my way!

In spite of ole Blue Eyes' confident assertion the fact is this: man doing things his way has never led to peace, joy, contentment, or fulfillment. Modern generations have been freer to do things "its way" than any previous generation. If the "lead your own life", "do your own thing", "if it feels good do it" culture was it all that it is cracked up to be then recent generations would be overwhelmed with joy.

That is not the case.

Man can do things his way. He may live a life that is full. He may travel each and every highway. He may plan each course. He may stand tall, love, laugh, and cry. He may say the things he truly feels, and not the words of one who kneels. The record may show, that he took the blows, and did it all his way.

But the end result of "all that" is always success void of significance, satisfaction that is short-lived, and enjoyment that is empty. This is because life was not designed to be lived "my way". Life is meant to be lived according to His way!

At the divinely appointed time Jesus Christ came into Galilee preaching the radical message of repentance; a total transformation of the inner man from doing life "my way" to doing life "His way". That message was followed up with a radical call. He said to Peter and Andrew, James and John: "Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men" (Mark 1:17). Mark records that Peter and Andrew were casting their nets when Jesus bid them to follow Him. Their response was one of radical obedience: "Straightway they forsook their nets, and followed him".

Zebedee's sons were mending their nets in the boat with their father when Jesus passed and issued this call of followership. Their response was equally radical: "And straightway he called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after him."

Why?! Why did these men who had their own careers, their own lives, their own families and routines and rituals. Why did they drop their nets, walk away from the boat and follow Christ?

The Compelling Christ

In Ecclesiastes 3:11 Solomon wrote "he [God] hath set the world in their heart". In other words, God has put eternity in man's heart. Man is created in the image of God, and therefore has an eternal purpose. This explains why nobody (including Solomon who had tried everything) can be satisfied with his or her endeavors and achievements apart from Christ. Life under the sun is empty and vain unless it is lived in submission to the Son!

John Piper writes in his book Don't Waste Your Life:

"God created me – and you – to live with a single, all embracing, all transforming passion, namely a passion to glorify God by enjoying and displaying His supreme excellence in all the spheres of life…The Bible is crystal clear: God created us for His glory. Thus says the Lord, 'bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth; Even every one that is called by my name: for I have created him for my glory' (Isaiah 43:6-7). Life is wasted when we do not live for the glory of God."

To live for the glory of God in all things, even in your eating in drinking, is to live for Christ in all things, even in your eating and drinking. For Christ "is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created…all things were created by him, and for him"
(Colossians 1:15-16).

It is easy to question whether or not these fishermen ever wondered if their lives would amount to more than just piles of fish, the small Galilean towns that surrounded the Lake, and the occasional visit to Jerusalem for the feast days.

Who knows? The Bible does not communicate the psychological or physiological reasons these men may have had for dropping their nets and following Christ. That is because those reasons were secondary at best and unimportant in reality. Peter and Andrew, James and John "straightway forsook their nets, and followed him" because it was Christ who called! This is testimony of the compelling Christ. This was not the summons of a social revolutionary, an ethical philosopher, religious guru, or good teacher. This was the radical call to followership given forth by the Christ, the Son of God.

Why wouldn't you follow Him? He did not come to be served, but to serve "and to give his life a ransom for many"
(Mark 10:45). He was come that "[we] might have life, and that [we] might have it more abundantly" (John 10:10). When some fickle followers turned away from following Jesus, He turned to the Twelve and asked, "Will ye also go away?"

Peter's response should be the universal answer. He said, "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the Living God." (John 6:67-68)

Behold the Lamb of God who is come to take away the sins of the world. Look at the compelling Christ and His marvelous grace which is greater than all our sin. And as you look ask yourself: Why wouldn't I follow Him? Who will you follow if not the Christ?

Good Books

Lately I have been a little slow on my reading. I’m currently involved with more books than I’ve finished. I am the type of reader who has several books going at once. I normally have one book for a certain part of the house, and whenever I’m in that section of the house I read that book. Of course, there are some books which I always have with me, but those selections are always the books I’m using as resource material for my Bible study. Since I’m preaching through Mark’s gospel I’m reading a lot of material on that Biblical book.

But that’s not all I’ve been reading. What follows is a synopsis of the three books that I have recently finished.

Conservative pundit Mark Steyn provides some fascinating demographic data in his book America Alone. Like most political commentators, from the right or the left, Steyn is a sarcastic know-it-all. Through the sarcasm and arrogance, however, is a valid thesis. What do you have when you add to the welfare state a multiculturalism attitude and a declining birthrate? If you answered “civilization collapse” then pat yourself on the back. Europe fits the above criteria. Muslims are immigrating to Europe in droves, taking advantage of the welfare system, and cranking out babies in 2 or 3 times the number of their European counterparts. Add to those facts that Muslims who live in France are more inclined to view themselves as Muslim and not French, and then you have the potential for social upheaval.

I followed America Alone with They Just Don’t Get It by Colonel David Hunt (US Army retired). I picked this book off the Barnes & Noble shelf for two reasons. First, I wanted to hear what Washington didn’t get, in the opinion of this retired Army colonel. The second reason is a personal one, and this is the primary reason for my reading this selection. My first battalion C.O. in the Army was, yes, you guessed it, Colonel David Hunt. Have you seen the movie A Few Good Men? Col. Hunt was a lot like Col. Jessup, except, as far as I could tell, he wasn’t a liar. He did have Jessup’s presence. What, In Col. Hunt’s mind, do the folks of Washington not get? That they are spineless jellyfish instead of leaders. That the bureaucracy is to large and inefficient to wage must less win the War on Terror. And to win this war, or any other, you have to kill the bad guys.

By far, the best book that I have lately read is Following Christ by Joe Stowell. Christianity is not a project it is a person, and Stowell clearly yet powerfully challenges the reader to drop his net, take up his cross and follow Christ. This is an excellent and challenging read. It’s not a self-help book. It’s not a book about increasing your self-esteem. It is a book about followership, and

I highly recommend it.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Message of Christ’s Ministry

Every moment of Christ's earthly ministry was according to the divine timetable. Christ was doing the Father's will in the Father's time. His method was to preach, and the message that Christ preached was the gospel: Christ crucified, buried, risen, and coming again (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

In light of that message, how are we to respond? We are to repent! In fact, the message of Christ distilled into one word is repentance. Notice that Mark said Jesus "came…preaching the gospel" and the content of His gospel message was:
"The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel."
Repentance was always the message that Christ proclaimed.

  • Matthew 4:17 – "Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand"
  • Matthew 12:41 – "The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here."
  • Luke 5:31-32 – "They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."
  • Luke 13:3, 5 – "Except ye likewise repent, ye shall all likewise perish."

The message of repentance was also what John proclaimed (Mark 1:4; Matthew 3:2). This is what the apostles proclaimed: "And they went out, and preached that men should repent" Mark 6:12. On the Day of Pentecost Peter boldly preached this same message: "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38; cf. 2 Peter 3:9).

Paul preached this same message. Speaking to the philosophers and skeptics in Athens on Mars Hill Paul proclaimed: "God…commandeth all men every where to repent: because He hath appointed a day, in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man who He Hath ordained; whereof He hath given assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead." (Acts 17:30b-31)

Christ preached that you should "repent and believe the gospel". Those are not two separate actions. They are two sides to the same coin. Christ's command to repent and believe the gospel is synonymous to His telling Nicodemus "ye must be born again" (John 3:3, 7). To be born again you must turn (repent) from your sin, and turning from your sin requires faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. "Repentance signifies a change of direction; faith toward the Lord signifies a change of devotion." (Acts 20:21) But these are not two divergent or even parallel paths; they are one in the same. A heart that is devoted to Christ will also be directed toward Him. Devotion determines direction.

It must be understood that Jesus' message of repentance is not self-reformation or a new resolution, but it is the inner change that gives rise to a new God-centered, Christ-exalting behavior. Biblical repentance is an internal change of mind and heart rather than mere sorrow for sin or mere improvement of behavior. The word "repent" is translated from the compound Greek word "metanoeō". The first part (meta) is a prefix that regularly means movement or change. An example is "metamorphosis" which means to change in appearance or manner. The second part (noeo) refers to the mind; its thoughts, perceptions, dispositions, and purposes. Therefore, the basic meaning of repent is to experience a change of the mind's perceptions, dispositions, and purposes.

John the Baptist's teaching from Luke 3:8, 10-14 illustrates the relationship between repentance and behavior. He says to those who come to him for baptism:

Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, 'We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham…And the people asked him, saying, 'What shall we do then?' He answereth and saith unto them, 'He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise. Then came to him publicans…'Master, what shall we do?'…Exact no more than that which is appointed you. And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, 'And what shall we do?'…Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages.

This means that repenting is what happens inside, leading to the fruits of new behavior. Repentance is not the new deeds, but the inward change that bears the fruit of new deeds.
(John Piper, "Thoughts on Jesus' Demand to Repent", April 19, 2006.)

Christ's command to repent does not discriminate. All need repentance. Just as all must be born again because "that which is born of the flesh is [only] flesh"
(John 3:6), so all must repent because all are sinners (Romans 3:10, 23).

The Lord did not mean, when He said: "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance"
(Luke 5:32), that some people do not need repentance. He meant some think they do not need to repent (Luke 18:9). No one is excluded. All need repentance. The need is urgent. "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel…
Except ye likewise repent, ye shall all likewise perish" (Mark 1:15 & Luke 13:5)

What is meant by perish? It is the final judgment of God upon those who do not repent. The gospel, the good news, is that the rule of God has arrived in Jesus to save sinners before it arrives at his Second Coming in judgment. So the demand to repent is based on the gracious offer that is present to forgive, and on the gracious warning that someday those who refuse the offer will perish in God's judgment.

After Christ's resurrection He commissioned His church to continue the call for repentance throughout the world. "Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem"
(Luke 24:46-47).

Christ's call to repent goes to all the nations. It comes to us, whoever we are and wherever we are, and lays claim on us. This is the demand of Jesus to every soul: Repent. Be changed deep within. Replace all God-dishonoring, Christ-belittling perceptions and dispositions and purposes with God-treasuring, Christ-exalting ones.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Use the Oxgoad's Rating

Online Dating

At first I was a little shocked, but I received this rating because the words "death" and "dead" are used multiple times. I'll take that. You cannot talk about the life of Christ without talking about His death, burial, and rersurrection.

(HT: to my online buddy Josh Gelatt)

Monday, July 9, 2007

Bare Butts & the Peace Mom

Of all the news stories that flashed across my Google Reader today there were two which gave me a good chuckle. The first story is out of New York. Neil Rhodes pastors the nondenominational Times Square Church. The 8,000 member church meets in a building on Times Square. The same building which is scheduled to have a billboard wrapped around its exterior.

Perhaps you are thinking, “There is nothing unusual about that. After all, it’s Times Square; just one giant advertisement.”

Ah, but this is no average advertisement. The Christian Post article states:

The proposed billboard will promote “Washlet” – a bidet toilet that cleans the posterior with water and warm air The billboard, which would run on both sides of the church’s outside, would feature several photographs of nudes with their bottoms facing outward and smiley faces painted on their buttocks.

As you might expect, Pastor Rhodes does not think that giant sized, smiley-face painted derrieres will be conducive to worship. At least not the worship of Christ. The pastor was quoted as saying:

You walk into a church building, you have naked bodies before your eyes – how are you going to close your eyes and seek God?” asked Rhodes in the New York Post. “It’s wrong as far as we’re concerned.

I feel bad for this congregation, and I hope the billboards do not go up anywhere let alone on the exterior of a building where a church meets. Still, I cannot help but chuckle a little bit.

The second humorous news story involves everyone’s favorite activist mother - Cindy Sheehan. You may remember that Sheehan “retired” from the anti-war movement in May. Evidently her retirement was not from activism in general, just the War on Terror in particular. According to Peace Mom the “Bush regime” has hurt and misled the American people and President Bush deserves impeachment. Sheehan is threatening to run against the Speaker of the House if Pelosi fails to start the impeachment ball a-rolling. Here is what Peace Mom told the AP:

“I think all politicians should be held accountable…Democrats and Americans feel betrayed by the Democratic leadership. We hired them to bring an end to the war.”

Sheehan said she will run as an independent against the San Francisco Democrat in 2008 if Pelosi does not file articles of impeachment against Bush by July 23. That’s when Sheehan and her supporters are to arrive in Washington D.C., after a 13-day caravan and walking tour starting from the group’s war protest site near Bush’s Crawford ranch.

Although Sheehan has never held public office, she said she already has the name recognition and would not have to run against Pelosi in a primary.

“I would give her a run for her money,” Sheehan said.

The NixGuy perfectly sums up why this story is funny.

Democrats will either have to take her seriously, or dismiss Sheehan as a publicity-seeking self-interested rabble rouser. Which of course, is exactly what she has been all along. The Democrats liked her when she camped out in Crawford. Not so much, now.

Christ’s Ministry Begins

At His baptism Jesus Christ was introduced to the world as the beloved Son of God; the One in whom the Father was well pleased. That blessed event was immediately followed by 40-days of temptation at the hands of Satan while in the wilderness. After 40 days of fasting in the wilderness, with the wild beasts, all the while receiving the worst that Satan has to offer, the weakened Lord received from the angels much need ministry.

In Mark's gospel, the event which followed the baptism and temptation of Christ was the launch of what A.T. Robertson refers to as the "Great Galilean" ministry. Mark writes in verses 14-15 of chapter one: "Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel."

From this text it would appear that Jesus walked out of the Wilderness and into Galilee, but that would be an inaccurate timeline. The white space between verses 13 and fourteen is close to a year; what some theologians refer to as the "year of obscurity". The time between Jesus' temptation and the arrest of John the Baptist is not recorded in the synoptics. The little information that is available if provided in the Gospel of John. The "white space" time between Mark 1:14-15 included:

  • Jesus making His first disciples – John 1:35-51 (Andrew, Peter, John, James, Philip, and Nathanael).
  • Turning the water into wine – John 2:1-11 (This first miracle of Christ occurred in Galilee and some of His followers were present, but Christ had neither fully launched His ministry nor officially called the disciples.
  • Brief sojourn in Capernaum – John 2:12
  • First Temple cleansing – John 2:13-22
  • Interview with Nicodemus – John 3:1-21
  • Parallel ministry with the Baptist – John 3:22-36 – This is the time in which some of John's more ignorant disciples made their jealousy of Jesus known to John. His magnificently humble response was "This my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease." (vv. 29b-30)
  • John's arrest & Christ's departure for Galilee – John 4:1-4 – This information is concurrent with Mark 1:14, but what Mark does not record is what occurs in John 4, namely the…
  • Interview with the Samaritan woman – John 4:5-42

After sticking around in Samaria for two days, Jesus departed for Galilee.

There are three aspects of Mark 1:14-15 which need investigation: the moment of Christ's Galilean ministry launch, the method of His Galilean ministry, and the message of His Galilean ministry. As will be seen, the moment was according, as with all moments, to the divine timetable of the Father. The method and the message are the same, not only for Christ's earthly ministry, but for the ministries of His churches in every age and every place.

The Moment of Christ's Ministry

Certainly Christ did not wait to begin His ministry until this moment, but the majority of all four gospels deal with His ministry from this point forward. What was it that was special about this moment?

For starters it is clearly evident that the Son always operated on the Father's timetable. Never was Christ impatient with the Father's plan, nor was He slow to accomplish the plan according to the Father's timeline. Everything thing the Son did; every move, every decision, every action, every word was regulated by the eternal "plan…foreordained before the foundation of the world"
(1 Peter 1:20). And this was always the case; as Paul wrote in Galatians 4:4, "But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons."

Throughout His ministry Christ repeatedly spoke of "His hour". Early on He would be heard saying, "Mine hour [or time] is not yet come" (John 2:4; 7:6). John would explain on two different occasions that "his hour was not yet come" (John 7:30; 8:20). As the time of the cross grew nearer however, one would hear Christ say, "The hour is come that the Son of man should be glorified" (John 12:23; cf. 17:1; Matthew 26:18).

According to the foreordained plan of God, Jesus Christ was to begin His "Great Galilean" ministry once He had learned of John the Baptist's incarceration. Why had the Baptist arrested? John had been hurled into Herod's dungeon because he had fearlessly condemned Herod's moral wickedness. Herod had convinced his sister-in-law Herodias to leave his brother Philip for him. That adultery is wicked enough, but it is compounded by the fact that his new wife happened to also be his niece! Herodias was the daughter of Antipas' brother Aristobulus.

The following is a lengthy but fantastic quote from MacArthur's commentary.

John the Baptist's imprisonment and death, just as his heralding the King of kings, were in God's divine plan and timetable. The end of the Herald's work signaled the beginning of the King's. Herod and Herodias believed they freely controlled their province, and certainly the destiny of the insignificant Jewish preacher who dared condemn them. It is amazing how the proud and arrogant think they act in perfect freedom to accomplish their selfish ends, when in truth their decisions and actions only trigger events that God scheduled before the foundations of the world. (John MacArthur, Matthew 1-7 (Chicago: Moody, 1985), 104.)

The Psalmist David wrote in Psalm 31:15a, "My times are in thy hands".
Kansas was wrong! All we are is not "dust in the wind". Instead, our times are in God's hands. You are not forced to live with the fearful expectation of what "fate" may bring. Do not view life as dust blown in the winds of chance. Don't lay awake at night wondering if you'll wake up in the morning. Your "times", short or long, rich or poor, sad or happy, sick or healthy, are in His hands.

I don't feel that I have all the answers; I don't even know all the questions. Sometimes I wonder: Where is my sanity? Where is my security? Here is the answer: Psalm 31:15, "My times are in Thy hand." My Father knows best.

The time had come for John to decrease and Jesus to increase, and so it was that Jesus "came into Galilee preaching the gospel" right on schedule.

The Method of Christ's Ministry

Mark says that Jesus was "came preaching". The Greek word is "kerusso" which means "to publish, to proclaim openly", and while the word is normally translated "preach" (or some derivative of preach) it is also rendered as publish and proclaim. It is publicly making known a message.

The point to be noted is that to preach is not to argue, reason, dispute, or convince by intellectual proof, against all of which a keen intellect may bring counterargument. We simply state in public or testify to all men the truth which God buds us state. No argument can assail the truth presented in this announcement or testimony. Men either believe the truth, as all sane men should, or refuse to believe, as only fools venture to do. (Lenski as quoted by John MacArthur, Matthew 1-7 (Chicago: Moody, 1985), 108.)

Like John, Jesus came not disputing but preaching, and He preached with authority; which has nothing to do with style and everything to do with source and content. Some knowledgeable fellow addressing a congregation and speaking with emphasis is not preaching, nor is preaching some ignorant fellow ranting about this, that, or some other thing. It is most definitely not a few good stories flavored with a Bible verse, peppered with several jokes, and punctuated with a poem. "Preaching is the proclamation of certainties, not the suggestion of possibilities." (Ibid., 108.)

No preacher is Christ. No preacher has inherent authority. A faithful preacher's authority is delegated to him by the Father as a result of preaching His certain truth under the directive of His divine commission.

It is a serious mistake for God-called ministers to abandon their responsibility to preach the Bible. In the final analysis, God will hold us accountable for making His word plain. On judgment day preachers will not be asked where they went to seminary or whether they earned an advanced degree. They will not need to present membership statistics or submit their annual budgets. It will not matter how popular they were or whether they could make people laugh. Instead they will stand before a holy, heavenly tribunal and will be asked, "Did you preach the Word?" Those who followed their own agenda or even worse, the world's agenda will no doubt hand their heads in shame. But many humble preachers, who were held in little esteem, will on that day shine in the brightness of their Father's glory. For in their proclamation of God's Word they were faithful to the end. They will hear Him say, "Well done faithful servant!" (Darrell W. Sparks, "The Charge to Travis G. Gilbert" preached on October 6, 2003.)

The charge to preach the word extends beyond the office of pastor. This proclamation of Christ is to be made not only from pulpits but across coffee tables, in the break room, at the restaurant, and wherever an opportunity is presented.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Charismatic Gifts

Late in June I posted an article on Baptists and Tongues. That post generated a decent amount of comments - yes, seven comments is a fair amount for one of my blogs, and I have no problem counting the spam comment and my reply to it! Considering the discussion that post created, I am pleased to provide you, dear reader, with a link to the most recent Pyromaniacs post - Cessationism Again.

Phil and his
merry blogging band have repeatedly posted on this issue, so you will be able to find supplemental information and discussion on this topic if you nose around the Team Pyro site.

Just be careful and don't burn yourself!

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

The Son’s Temptation

Mark's economy of words is quite amazing. In one verse he depicts what Matthew and Luke take eleven and thirteen verses respectively to describe. Mark used the Greek word "ekballo" (word translated "driveth") which literally means "to cast out…to throw out from within" (cf. Mark 1:34, 39). It indicates the necessity of Christ's temptation. Just as being baptized was part of the Father's plan for the Son so was His wilderness temptation.

The wilderness is a place of lonliness and danger. MacArthur describes it in this manner: "The wilderness of Judea is a hot, barren, and desolate area…an area of yellow sand and crumbling limestone…the hills are like dust heaps, the limestone is blistered and peeling, the rocks are bare and jagged and often the ground sounds hollow. Nowhere in Palestine could Jesus have been more isolated or in less comfort."

Compare Christ's environmental conditions with those of Adam. Adam lived in Eden; a paradise. Adam lived where everything was provided for him, and everything was good. The beasts were not wild but tame and under Adam's dominion. While in that perfect setting Adam fell to Satan's single temptation. The Second Adam was continuously tempted by the enemy in the desolate wilderness "with the wild beasts". He would not yield! "What better proof can there be that spiritual and moral failure are not caused by circumstances but by the character and response of the one who is tempted?"

Mark does not delineate the tests that Christ endured. He does imply that the temptation was continuous. He used a present tense participle, speaking of continuous action during the forty day period. Matthew and Luke record the intense climax and Mark the daily battle.

The word "tempted" simply means "to test". God never tempts (tests) men to do evil. James 1:13 states, "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man [with evil]". Satan, however, does tempt men with evil and to do evil. The devil intended for Christ to sin and disobey. God overruled and used the tempting to display the Son's holiness and worthiness.

That is also God's plan for all His children. Christians cannot be tempted in a way that God cannot use for their good and His glory. That is why James is able to write, "My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations" (1:2). God will always use the trials and tests of life to produce good when the test is met in His power, because God's desire is to turn into victory that which Satan intended for failure (Genesis 50:19-20, "Fear not: for am I in the place of God? But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good.")

Therefore, temptations should be anticipated. The believer must never be naïve enough as to think that he is exempt from testing. Christ had to endure suffering and temptations, and so will those who are in Christ. Constant preparation and continual reliance on God will enable the Christian to gain victory.

Be encouraged, Christian, for Christ was "in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15), and "For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted." (Hebrews 2:18) The Lord endured and was victorious over real temptation, and the believer may also experience victory by resisting the temptation as did Jesus. This means that one must be filled with the Holy Spirit.

  • Romans 8:8-9 – "So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his."
  • John 16:33 – "These things have I spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world."
  • 1 John 4:4 – "Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world."

When Martin Luther was asked how he overcame the Devil, he replied, "Well, when he comes knocking upon the door of my heart, and asks 'Who lives here?' the dear Lord Jesus goes to the door and says, 'Martin Luther used to live here, but he has moved out. Now I live here.'" Satan has no entrance to the Christ filled life.

To resist temptation one must be Christ centered and scripture saturated. In each of the three specific temptations that Matthew and Luke record Christ responded each time with scripture. In the wilderness Christ fleshed out Psalm 119:11, "Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee." Sin is unable to dominate the mind that is saturated with God's Word.

Christ has left an example for the believer to follow, as the apostle Peter stated (1 Peter 1:21). There is the example of His baptism.
"Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38). As in every area, Christ submitted to and perfectly obeyed the Father. Every person who has trusted Christ as Savior should be scripturally baptized.

The Lord is also the perfect example in resisting temptation. Keep your eyes focused on Christ and His example. Christ has been there before us. He has weathered the worst storm that Satan can offer, and He did it while in the most harsh of environments. That same victory is available to every Christian: "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it." (1 Corinthians 10:13)

No hurdle focuses on the hurdles as he runs. He would trip and fall if he did. From start to finish the hurdler keeps his eyes on the goal, encountering the hurdles one at a time. Even so, "Let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.