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Gospel-Driven Sanctification

Tullian Tchividjian is a pastor and grandson of Billy Graham.  His blog is often helpful and insightful regarding the Christian life.  Today’s post was especially helpful and I thought I’d share it with you all.

Gospel-Driven Sanctification

In light of the recent discussion regarding the nature of Christian growth and sanctification, I thought I would re-post the helpful quote below from Sinclair Ferguson. In it, he reminds us that any piety and pursuit of holiness not grounded in, and driven by, the gospel will eventually run out of gas:

The first thing to remember is that we must never separate the benefits (regeneration, justification, sanctification) from the Benefactor (Jesus Christ). The Christians who are most focused on their own spirituality may give the impression of being the most spiritual … but from the New Testament’s point of view, those who have almost forgotten about their own spirituality because their focus is so exclusively on their union with Jesus Christ and what He has accomplished are those who are growing and exhibiting fruitfulness. Historically speaking, whenever the piety of a particular group is focused on OUR spirituality that piety will eventually exhaust itself on its own resources. Only where our piety forgets about us and focuses on Jesus Christ will our piety nourished by the ongoing resources the Spirit brings to us from the source of all true piety, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Sinclair reminds us that the secret of gospel-based sanctification is that we actually perform better as we grow in our understanding that our relationship with God is based on Christ’s performance for us, not our performance for him. In fact, those who end up getting better are those who increasingly realize that their relationship to God does not depend on them getting better. This means… that Christian growth does not happen first by behaving better, but believing better–believing in bigger, deeper, brighter ways what Christ has already secured for sinners (Col. 1:12-14).

That’s a great reminder.  My prayer for Thrive Church is that we keep “believing better…in bigger, deeper, brighter ways.”

 

What Is The Biggest Problem In The Church Today?

The following is a brief paragraph by Kevin DeYoung, a gifted pastor and theologian. I thought it was particularly poignant in light of our upcoming message on Sunday, where we’ll discuss the role of Elders in refuting bad/errant theology. 
 
“What is the biggest problem in the church: people can’t stand us or we can’t stand the gospel? What is the goal of theology: to paint an attractive picture of Jesus or to say what God has already said? What is our biggest failure: we’ve turned people off or we’ve compromised our beliefs? Does the future of evangelicalism lie with progressives who can adapt and change or with conservatives who remain faithful to the old paths? Are Christians today basically too mean or too cowardly? Is our God too big and scary or too small and puny? Of course, some will not like the way I’ve framed the options, but these are some of the issues going on under the surface.”
 
To read the entire article go visit the Gospel Coalition.  I’d love to hear your insights.  See you all on Sunday. 
 
Pastor Jason

How Much Do We Pay For Peace?

This week at Thrive we’ll be talking about the Role of Elders in opposing false teachers.  Throughout my lifetime I’ve heard the term “false teachers” used to refer to those outside the church, but rarely within it.  In contrast, Scripture tends to use it more often for those who are supposedly within the Body of Christ.

This is disturbing on at least 2 levels.  First, it is disturbing on a cultural level in that our current worldview, which is so enamored with the idea of peace that it will take that peace at any price, has infiltrated the Church to such an extent that we too desire peace at any cost; even at the cost of the Gospel.  Secondly, it is disturbing on a spiritual level.  The question being, do we even recognize false teachers within our churches, or in the church at large?  Do we recognize the cost we are paying for peace?  My greatest fear is that the answer to both questions is, “No.”  We are spiritually deadened, or spiritually ignorant, or both.  One could argue that the evidence of false teacher’s infiltration in the church is the presence of this pernicious idea of peace at any cost. What a subtle and dangerous ploy on the part of the Enemy to instill false teaching that by its very nature teaches the acceptance of more false teaching.

The world, for its part, would never allow teaching that was antithetical to its worldview in their institutions.  This is evidenced by the increased removal of all religious references from public spaces.  So who has the greater conviction for their beliefs, the Church, or the World?  Calvin, in 1548, had similar inclinations.  “For, if the children of this world, when dangers arise, increase their solicitude and watchfulness, it would be disgraceful for us, when Satan is using his utmost efforts, to remain careless and inactive, as if we were in a state of peace.”  (Commentary on Titus. 207)  The question remains, “How much do we pay for peace?”

Pastor Jason

How Will We Escape If We Neglect So Great A Salvation?

Hebrews 2:1-4  For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.

Last week at Thrive we talked about the responsibility of the Elders in refuting false teachers.  We described false teachers as those who pervert, distort, add to, or detract from the Word of God.  And while we gave a few examples of false teaching, we didn’t go into a great deal of detail as to how false teachers tend to work.  I hope this short post will speak to that in some measure.

I chose this particular passage for a couple of reasons, the first being the phrase, “So that we do not drift away from it.”  What the writer has heard, and what he is warning the church not to drift away from, is the Gospel message.  And I love that phrase “drifting away” because it perfectly describes much of the false teaching out there today.  On Sunday we talked about the more obvious, anti-Scripture type of false teaching.  This false teaching is usually so obvious that any spirit-filled believer can distinguish it from true doctrine.  A greater danger to believers individually, and the church collectively, are those false teachers who are “just barely off”, those who have drifted away.  These kinds of false teachers may not deny the truths of the Bible, they just neglect to give them all to you.  They focus on one aspect of God’s truth, to the exclusion of another.

For instance, how many of us have heard messages that speak exclusively about the love of Christ.  It is truly a great thing that in His grace, God loves us, but if I were to speak solely about His perfect love, and neglect to talk about His perfect justice, then I’ve distorted the truth of Scripture (drifting away) and essentially created a God of my own making.  This is idolatry.  And it points out the great need of the Elders (pastors) to constantly and consistently frame their sermons around Scripture.  The hunt and peck method of preaching, where the pastor culls his points from many different portions of Scripture, or the felt needs type of preaching, where the pastor focuses solely on the congregation’s needs to the exclusion of what the Bible calls, “the full counsel of Scripture,” leave the church dangerously open to this distorted type of false teaching.  And there might come a time when a church needs to hear a sermon on a particular topic, whether based on their need, or on a particular doctrine, but the wisest and safest method of preaching is that which is centered on and structured around a passage of Scripture.  And the most difficult aspect of this truth is that not all hunt and peck or felt needs pastors are doing so with ill-intentions.  Many, if not most, truly love their people and are trying to meet their needs.  But they’re doing so in a way that, ironically, is actually doing their people more harm.  This is why Paul told Titus to refute for the purpose of reconciliation.  As I said on Sunday, it all comes down to our belief, not only in the Inspiration and Inerrancy of Scripture, but also in the Authority and Sufficiency.  So like the writer of Hebrews I ask, “How will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?”

 

Pastor Jason

Spirit Quickening

Hey guys.  I came across this quote today by A.W. Pink, one of the great preachers and theologians of the 20th century. For those of you who were not able to make last week, we talked about the importance of being “poor in spirit.”  Surely this quote is a great example of why we need to recognize our spiritual poverty.

“The quickening of the spiritually dead into newness of life is therefore an act of amazing grace: it is an unsought and unmerited favour. The sinner, who is the chosen subject of this Divine operation and object of this inestimable blessing, is infinitely ill-deserving in himself, being thoroughly disposed to go on in wickedness till this change is wrought in him. He is rebellious, and will not hearken to the Divine command; he is obstinate and refuses to repent and embrace the Gospel. However terrified he may be with the fears of threatened doom, however earnest may be his desire to escape misery and be happy forever, no matter how many prayers he may make and things he may do, he has not the least inclination to repent and submit to God. His heart is defiant, full of enmity against God, and daily does he add iniquity unto iniquity. For the Spirit to give a new heart unto such as one is indeed an act of amazing and sovereign grace.

A.W. Pink “The Spirit Quickening”

 

Pastor Jason

 

Persecution? What Persecution?

Preparing for a sermon on Matthew 5:9-12 and came across the following quote by A.W. Pink, a pastor and theologian from the last century. It’s helpful to remember that despite the fact that we’re called to be peacemakers, more often the Bible tells us we’ll face adversity and persecution.  What does the lack of persecution in the church today tell us about the state of the church today? Could it be that we’re capitulating to the world’s system? How do we develop a worldview wherein we reach said world’s system, and yet do not become conformed to it?  Come listen to our discussion on Sunday. Until then, enjoy the quote.

“It is a strong proof of human depravity that men’s curses and Christ’s blessings should meet on the same persons. Who would have thought that a man could be persecuted and reviled, and have all manner of evil said of him for righteousness’ sake? And do wicked men really hate justice and love those who defraud and wrong their neighbours? No; they do not dislike righteousness as it respects themselves: it is only that species of it which respects God and religion that excites their hatred. If Christians were content with doing justly and loving mercy, and would cease walking humbly with God, they might go through the world, not only in peace, but with applause; but he that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution (2 Tim. 3:12). Such a life reproves the ungodliness of men and provokes their resentment” (Andrew Fuller). It is the enmity of the Serpent—active ever since the days of Abel (1 John 3:12)—against the holy seed.     A.W. Pink

Pastor Jason

Thoughts on Newtown

This is a letter of encouragement and caution to all my brothers and sisters in Christ.  The terrible events of Friday, December 14th will live forever in the hearts and minds of our nation.  26 people are dead.  It is heartbreaking.  And the fact that it happened just a few days before Christmas only highlights the enormous burden we carry as followers of Christ, and bearers of the one and only answer for such evil.  We must be His ambassadors at this time.  We must speak His Word clearly and carefully, if we are to fulfill our duty as Christians, and we must be His hands and feet to a sin-sick world.  These are our primary duties, and I encourage you all to keep that in mind.

Unfortunately, the internet has been filled with Christian responses that were anything but Christ-like.  They seem to come in one of two categories.  First, there are the “I told you so,” posts.  These usually come in the form of, “This is what happens when we take Christ/prayer/Christian values out of schools.”  I read one post that said, “Where was Christ in this school shooting?”  And Christ’s supposed reply was, “You already told me I didn’t have a place in your schools.”  Now I realize that this may have seemed cute and clever, but frankly it is neither.  We are not called to be clever; we are called to be Christ-like, and I have a hard time believing that the Son of God who cried at His friend’s funeral, and openly forgave His own murderers, would stoop so low as to win an argument with witty catch phrases.

The second category of Christian response has been in the form of political debate, usually around the issue of gun control.  And while it is true that these horrible events may well, indeed will most likely, spark a debate in this nation around our gun laws, this is neither the time nor the place for such a debate.  Now is the time for mercy and grace.  Now is the time for followers of Christ to seek His face in prayer and intercession for the weak and hurting.  Now is the time to reach out to these communities in love and compassion.  To do anything else is to seriously misalign your priorities.  To engage in political debate, when we could be acting as the hands and feet of Christ, means we have already lost the war, because we have already told the world that the answer to this problem is physical and fleshly, when in reality it is a spiritual battle.  This tragedy did not occur because our nation no longer allows prayer in schools.  It did not occur because of the presence of, or lack thereof, of gun laws.  This terrible tragedy occurred because we live in fallen world, filled with lost men and women.  This tragedy occurred because man cannot meet his greatest need on his own.  This tragedy occurred because sin always produces death, and we alone have the solution to this problem, and that is Christ, whose birth we are celebrating this season.  If this is not our message, then we are utterly lost.

So, Christian, how should we respond to the tragedy in Newtown?  May I suggest first, that we pray for the families involved.  As a parent who has lost a child I can tell you that clever platitudes and bumper-sticker theology simply will not do at a time like this.  What these families need is the body of Christ, lifting them up in intercessory prayer.  There are perhaps no more comforting words in all of Scripture than Romans 8:26-27, “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us.with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”  Second, pray for the pastors, churches, and Christians in Newtown and the surrounding area.  They will, no doubt, be flooded with questions.  Pray that God would call to their minds His Word, and that He would give them both mercy and boldness as they point people to Christ. Third, consider how you and your church could minister to the victim’s families, and the community at large.  As the saying goes, “Talk is cheap.”  So how can you help?  Fourth, be aware of the ministry opportunities around you, and always be prepared to give an answer for the faith that is in you (1 Peter 3:15).  Our nation is searching for answers right now, which means we have an opportunity like never before, to share the Gospel, and give them the one and only true answer.  Finally, pray for Christ-like compassion and tenderness of heart.  We will not win this world to Christ using the world’s weapons.  Instead, we look to Christ, the author and finisher of our faith, who bravely, and compassionately laid down His own life for ours.  This is how we should respond to Newtown.  So I ask you Christian, how will you respond?

Mission Insights 1

Missions Insights 1:  The Gospel Is Simpler Than We Make It.

I’ve just returned from a week long missions trip to Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas Mexico.  While in Tuxtla, we did door to door evangelism and discipleship, as well as evening evangelistic services, all in preparation for a church plant in the area.  I brought two of the young people from our church, and we teamed up with four others from Southpoint Church in Grove City, Ohio.  We were partnered with high school students from an English speaking Christian school in Mexico, and they acted as our translators.  We were also partnered with a local resident to do door to door evangelism.  To say that God proved Himself again and again on this trip would be an understatement.  We saw over 100 people come to know Christ, and in their inaugural service, Missio Sion had 28 adults and 46 children in attendance.  God was, and continues to be, incredibly faithful and good.  During my time in Mexico, I was happy to discover that God was teaching and confirming in me, a number of truths that I hope will be helpful to you, and to our church as a whole.  This marks the first of several posts on this particular subject.  I hope they are beneficial to you.  Without further ado, let’s begin.

1.  The Gospel Is Simpler Than We Make It.
I am a committed preacher and theologian.  I believe one responsibility the church bears is to preach and teach good doctrine from the pulpit, and in small groups.  But sometimes, we in the American church have a tendency to complicate the Gospel more than necessary.  The beauty of the Gospel is that a child can understand it at age 4, and then spend the rest of his or her life studying that same Gospel, never exhausting its riches.  And I don’t know if it’s our American education, or our desire to be thought of as wiser than we are, but sometimes we so complicate the Gospel that we fail to actually preach and share it.  The “Romans Road”, or “Four Spiritual Laws” aren’t the only ways to share the Gospel, they may not even be the best way in our particular culture, but they’re a good place to start.  Is lifestyle evangelism necessary?  Of course.  Do we need to earn the right to share the Gospel with many people in our culture?  Yes.  But can we at least be honest enough with ourselves to admit that those objections are often little more than excuses as to why we don’t share the Gospel, when we know we should?  If we would share the Gospel in the simplest of terms, it would, at the very least, be a starting point for a conversation, and perhaps many conversations, that may one day lead to a person coming to know Christ.  But it all begins with a simple Gospel presentation.
Perhaps your excuse for not sharing the Gospel is that you don’t know all the answers.  Guess what.  Neither do I.  Neither do any of us.  The idea that any of us would have all the answers is ridiculous.  We serve and worship the God of the Universe.  What are the chances that we know and understand all He does?  And who wants to learn from a “know-it-all” Christian anyway?  You should see the surprised, refreshed look on some people’s faces when you tell them, “I don’t know.  But I still believe.”  It makes them realize that they don’t have to have it all figured out in order to accept Christ.  They simply need the faith that God provides.
So I want to challenge you all today.  Do you have a plan to share the Gospel?  A quick internet search of “The Romans Road,” or  “Four Spiritual Laws,” will bring up countless resources to help you prepare.  Those aren’t the only means of evangelism.  They may not even be the best.  But they’re a start.  They’ll provide you with an outline at the very least.  Do you have a plan for sharing the Gospel today?  

Secondly, could you share the Gospel in two minutes?  If not, you’ve overcomplicated it.  People don’t have to understand every aspect of Scripture in order to be saved.  You probably didn’t when you got saved.  Our children don’t when they get saved.  Converts in the Bible didn’t understand everything when they got saved.  But can you share the essential truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a few short minutes?  Work at this.  Prepare yourself.  This is the very command of Christ.  Will you obey?  The Gospel is simpler than we make it.

 

Mission Insight 2

Missions Insight 2:  More People Are Willing To Listen To The Gospel Than We Think

I’m still working through all the things I learned while serving in Mexico, but one of the things I’m certain about is that more people are willing to listen to the Gospel than we Christians tend to believe.  Now to be clear, I don’t believe anyone “wants” to hear the Gospel outside of the work of Christ’s grace.  The Bible couldn’t be more clear about our total depravity resulting in our hatred of, and rebellion to God.

Romans 1:28-32  And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; 32 and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.

What I mean is that we greatly underestimate the common grace of God, in creating people who are naturally curious, inquisitive, and concerned about things of a spiritual nature.  After all, we are, believers and unbelievers alike, eternal, spiritual beings.  So it should come as no surprise that eternal, spiritual beings are interested in things relating to eternity and spirituality.  They may disagree with your opinion.  They may not like your opinion, but far more people are willing and interested in hearing your opinion regarding your faith than you are probably of aware of, and statistics agree.
A Lifeway Research poll, conducted in 2009, showed that over 50% of the people polled would be willing to receive information about Jesus from a family member or friend.  (http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/religion/2009-03-25-baptist-evangelize_N.htm)
And in Thom Rainer’s book, The Unchurched Next Door, 6 out of 10 people who do not regularly attend worship, said they would be willing to accept an invitation to pick them up for church, or meet at the church, to attend a worship service.  This means that an invitation to worship, or an invitation to share your faith, is more likely to be welcomed than not.  So the statistics, in this instance, are in our favor.
Unfortunately, not all the statistics are in our favor.  Another recent study by Lifeway reports that 80% of the people who attend church regularly believe they have a personal responsibility to share the Gospel, but only 61% have done so in the last 6 months, and almost half (48%) said they have never invited someone to attend church, or a church event with them.  (http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/08/31/study-most-churchgoers-never-share-the-gospel/)
So why the disparity in numbers?  Well we know one thing for sure, it’s not that they don’t know how to share the Gospel.  A full 75% of people polled said they felt comfortable sharing the Gospel.  By and large, our churches have done a good job training people to articulate their faith.  So what’s the problem?
I believe the problem is one of selfishness.  People are more concerned about their own reputation than they are for their coworkers/friends/neighbors.  I know this sounds harsh, but can you give me a better reason?  Can you explain to me why we ignore the Great Commission?  If we really do hold the answer to all the world’s problem (Christ) then why would we ever keep it to ourselves?  It can only be selfishness and the desire for comfort.  We simply do not wish to appear strange or unlikeable.  We do not want to create an “uncomfortable” atmosphere in our place of employment.  We see evidence of this in the study itself.  75% said they feel “comfortable” sharing their faith.  Here’s the problem:  God isn’t nearly as interested in your comfort as He is in your obedience.  I doubt the Apostle Paul was “comfortable” during much of his ministry.  He says he was…

2 Corinthians 11:23-27  …in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. 24 Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. 26 I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; 27 I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.

And yet, through all of this he would say...

2 Corinthians 12:10  Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

So I encourage you today; be strong in the Lord.  More people are willing to listen than you think.  Our needs, as eternal, spiritual beings, are evident in all of us by the work of God’s grace.  Would you tell someone about that grace today?

Missions Insights 3

Missions Insights 3: Relationships Are Essential

This is the third installment in our series, “Missions Insights.”  As you know, this series stems from a recent mission trip our church took to Mexico.  We were, in my opinion, quite successful in our efforts, and saw many people saved.  However, as the week went on, I realized the innate limitations of one-time, cold-call evangelism.  In this post I would like to explore some of the limitations present in this kind of evangelism, as well as talk about ways we can do evangelism better, primarily, through pre-existing relationships, and through intentional relationship building for the purpose of Evangelism.

Let me be clear, I do not write this to tell you not to do cold-call evangelism, I simply realize that certain limitations exist when doing that type of evangelism, and that it should not be the only, or even the primary source of our church’s evangelism.  I’d like to explore some of those limitations, but first, I should define “cold-call evangelism.”  Cold-call evangelism is sharing the gospel with someone with whom you do not have a relationship.  The most popular example of this kind of evangelism would be going door to door in a neighborhood.  As a church, we do not, right now, practice this kind of evangelism for several reasons.

First, American culture in the 21st century does not lend itself to this kind of ministry.  We all value our privacy, perhaps over any other anything else, and we view these kinds of intrusions as rude.  Just this morning I heard the doorbell ring, and looking out the door and seeing it was a delivery man, I didn’t answer.  He could leave it at the door and I wouldn’t have to go downstairs.  I let phone calls from numbers not in my contact list to go to voicemail.  If it’s important, they’ll leave a message.  If not, then I saved myself from having a banal conversation.  My point is that I view these kinds of intrusions as rude and inconvenient.  How much more then, when a total stranger knocks on my door.

Secondly, at least here in Northeast Ohio, the only people who regularly go door to door are Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and political surveyists.  I have absolutely no desire to be lumped in with any of these groups.  While mowing my grass last year, I saw a pair of Mormons go to every door in my neighborhood, and even though I had just seen my neighbors out in the yard, when the LDS knocked, my neighbors pretended not to be home.

Third, and this is most important, we live in a society inundated by data, information, and opinions.  As I write this I’m sitting in the food court of a local mall.  I literally cannot count the number of signs all around me.  I’m listening to music on my headphones, but can still hear the muzak being piped into the mall, and there are at least 5 tables set up in the area around me selling various goods.  I am inundated with information and there’s no way I can process it all.  Furthermore, there’s no way I can believe it all.  I know this is a mall, but is it really that different than what most of us face on a daily basis.  Because of search engines like Google, we literally have any information we want at our fingertips.  Why then, would someone take my word for it, a total stranger, when I share the gospel?  It only gets worse when their first impression is that I’m rude, because I’ve interrupted them, and they’re afraid I might be a cultist.  It just doesn’t make sense for our community.  If you it works where you live, then by all means do it.  It was profoundly successful for us in Mexico.  I plan on doing the exact same thing on next year’s trip.  My dear friend and mentor in the ministry has done it at his church in Mississippi for years and has been quite successful, but for our purposes, it isn’t a tenable option.

Now, before someone responds with, “I like my way of doing things better than your way of not doing things,” let me say that I do believe there’s a better option.  I believe that personal relationships are absolutely essential to evangelism.  Because of all the reasons I’ve just given and more, people are unwilling to hear from strangers.  We have to be able to earn the right to share the gospel with people.  I know that we have the right, and the command from God to witness, and I don’t downplay that.  But in order to successfully share the gospel, we are going to need to be intentional about building relationships that will allow us to share the gospel with our friends, family members, and neighbors.  We have to begin looking for areas in people’s lives that would offer us the opportunity to share the gospel.  My wife is excellent at this.  Just this last week a coworker called her with questions about the Bible, and the reason they called is that Brandy has been intentional about talking about her faith.  She shares her faith regularly.  We must learn to practice intentional, relational evangelism.  If we don’t, we are not going to lead people to Christ in our culture.  As much as my ego would like to think that my ministry in the pulpit is shaping people’s lives, and it is to some extent, the truth of the matter is, most people are more influenced by their friends and family than they are by their pastor’s sermons.  This means that my responsibility on Sundays is to prepare the church to do the work of the ministry.  (Eph. 4:11-13)

Now to be sure, this kind of ministry comes with its own problems, the greatest of which is that it means you, the church body, are going to have to overcome your own fears, failures, and experiences in order to share your faith.  You are going to need to be better equipped with the Word in order to answer people’s questions and share the gospel.  This is not for the faint of heart.  It takes faith.  But when we are obedient to do it, it reaps far greater, longer-lasting fruit than any other type of evangelism.  So let me encourage you, as your pastor, pray for divine appointments today with your friends and neighbors, that God would give you the gumption to share your faith, and that your friend would have a heart willing to listen.

Mission Insight 4

Missions Insight 4: The Word Of God Is More Powerful Than We Imagine

It’s no surprise, especially to the members of Thrive Church, that Hebrews 4:12 is my favorite verse.  I quote it all the time.  It says…

Hebrews 4:12  For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

As Christians, we know the Word is powerful, because the Word says it is powerful.  We know it has the power to change lives and draw people to Christ.  We know it is unlike any other ancient book, and that it is alive and active.  We know it is the very word of God.  This is traditional, historic, and sound doctrine.  The problem is, even though we give this theological truth lip-service, our actions say something else.  (I’m speaking broadly of the majority of Christians.  Without a doubt there are many who believe and behave rightly in this regard.)  If you were to determine what we believe about God’s Word based solely on our behavior, then I think what you would discover most often is that we believe the Word is helpful and good, but ultimately inadequate to meet all our needs, particularly in the area of evangelism.

If my perception of the American church is true, then two things are necessary.  First, it is incumbent upon the church to equip the saints for the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:11-13), but I fear we’ve confused the work of equipping the saints, with the work of producing curriculum, or creating programs.  Programs and curriculum are most certainly helpful when it comes to equipping the saints for evangelism, but they are not what ultimately produces an equipping ministry.  Only the Word of God can do that.  Teaching, preaching, exhorting, rebuking, and applying the Word of God to the lives of men and women is the very best tool we have for evangelism, because in the Word of God is power.  As my father is fond of saying, “The power is in the proclamation.”  Should I be able to share my testimony in two minutes?  Yes.  But more importantly, I should be able to share the Gospel in two minutes.  I should be able to explain and apply the Word of God to the lives of my friends, neighbors and coworkers, because it is the Word of God that has real, lasting power.  Your testimony is good and important.  The record of what God has done in your life should be shared with others, but you must remember that what He did in your life is only a tiny part of His ultimate plan for Redemptive History.  So if given the option of sharing a thin sliver of what He’s done (your personal testimony), or sharing the broad strokes of Scripture (the Gospel), we should opt for Scripture, because Scripture is powerful.  This means, as I shared with our congregation last week, that we must make the study of God’s Word a priority in our lives.  We must make knowledge of God’s Word central in our focus.  If we are unable to share the Gospel, which necessarily consists of Scripture, then we are ill-equipped as believers, and we are not doing the very thing we were created to do.  But let me caution you not to use your ignorance of Scripture as an excuse not to evangelize.  What we have to realize is that making disciples of the whole world is a command of God.  So not sharing the Gospel isn’t an option.  Thus, we must better prepare ourselves to handle the Word.

Secondly, we must reestablish our commitment and faith in the Word.  You see, for many Christians, that we should share is a given, but how we should share the Gospel is not.  Again, your personal testimony is great and powerful, but it is not ultimately what is most powerful.  Ultimately, there is no greater force in the universe for the work of heart transformation, than the Holy Spirit of God, through the Word of God.  In an individualistic, subjective culture like ours, our testimony is easily dismissed.  It’s easily forgotten.  “Well that’s good for you.  That’s your truth; it’s just not mine.”  But the Word of God is different.  Of course people can try to dismiss it.  They’ll say it’s just an old book.  They’ll say it’s not for today.  They’ll say we take it too literally.  But what they cannot say, in their heart of hearts, is that it is untrue.  They may say it with their mouths, but Paul tells us in Romans 1, they cannot dismiss it in their hearts, because they were created to hear and understand it as true.  We were created to hear from God.  As humans, even stained with sin and dead in our trespasses, we cannot dismiss the Word.  It is power.  It is authority.  And when we share the Gospel, it is essential.  The Word of God is more powerful than we ever imagined, and if we would train ourselves to apply it to the lives of our unbelieving friends, we would see a harvest the likes of which we cannot imagine.  If only we would be faithful.

Mission Insight 5

Missions Insight 5

Prayer Is A Supernatural Act With Supernatural Results

 

As you may well remember, if you’ve been following this series of posts, I am attempting to examine some of the truths I learned while on a recent Missions Trip to Tuxtla Gutierrez Mexico.  This week’s post is simple, but profound.  Prayer is a supernatural act, with supernatural results.  As believers we know this.  We believe this.  But I wonder how often we actually practice it.

This truth became evident to me while we were walking the streets of Tuxtla.  Each day we would walk our designated block, going from home to home and sharing the Gospel.  All around us, as we passed side streets and alleys, we could see others in our group doing the same thing.  For a week, everywhere you turned in this neighborhood, you saw people meeting, sharing the Gospel, engaging in Gospel conversations, and inviting people to church.  I’m ashamed to admit that I was shocked at the outcome of most of those conversations, especially conversations between two native speakers.  By and large, most people who were invited to church, or invited to accept Christ, did so.  This was especially true amongst the locals who were already members of the church we were serving.  I wondered if it was the language barrier, or the cultural barrier that kept me from being equally successful until I realized, it was actually a prayer issue.  Frankly, they had prayed about this week, and for these people, more than I had.  I am a pastor, a church planter, and a husband.  I am bi-vocational.  I help lead worship.  I write this blog.  Overall, I’m a pretty busy guy.  That’s not a complaint, or even a humble-brag.  It’s just true.  And the sad truth is, I was not, to use the evangelical lingo, “prayed up,” for this trip.  I had not prayed the way I should about people coming to Christ.  I had not prayed as I should about the work we would be doing, and the people we would be meeting.  My prayer life, in this regard, was quite weak.  And it showed.

The nationals on the other hand, were passionate about their work.  It was evident that they had been praying, and were continuing to pray for a great harvest.  Everyday I saw them huddle in a group to pray.  Everyday I saw them praying over their address list.  And frankly, their prayers were answered.  Each evening more and more people showed up at the church service, and more and more people’s lives were being changed.  It was amazing.  It was incredible.  It was supernatural.  And why shouldn’t it be?  Prayer itself is a supernatural act.  Wonder of wonders, we are talking to the Almighty God, Ruler of Heaven and Earth, the Alpha and Omega.  He is seated in the heavens, doing whatever He pleases, and yet He takes time to hear from me.  That’s a miracle.  It’s supernatural.  If I’m not willing to recognize that, then I am not going to have a very productive prayer life.  If I’m not spiritually attuned to that truth, then it’s no wonder my work suffered, and my results were disheartening.  James 4 tells us…

 

James 4:2b-3  You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.

 

If I understand this verse correctly, and I think I do, then it means that my prayers go unanswered for two reasons:  Either I haven’t actually prayed for the thing, or else I’ve prayed and asked for the wrong thing, or for the right thing but for the wrong reasons.

So what does that mean for us as a Church?  First, it means we’ve got to know what we ought to be praying for.  Scripture is replete with things we ought to be praying for, but for the sake of brevity and focus, let’s agree to pray for two distinct needs.  1) We should pray that lost people in our community would come to know Christ (Matt. 28:16-20).  2) We need to pray for workers to lead those lost people to Christ (Matt. 9:38).

The second thing we’ve got to commit to do, is to actively, and obediently be praying for these things.  As James tells us, it’s not enough to know what we ought to be praying for, if we’re not actually doing it.  So I ask you, as your pastor to join me in praying for that lost men and women in our community would come to know Christ, and that God would provide more and more people from our church, to be leading these people to Christ.  If we will do this one supernatural act, I really do believe we will see supernatural results.

Gardening And Sin

Gardening And Sin…

 

This year Brandy and I decided to take up a bit of backyard gardening.  Now if you’d told this born and bred city boy a decade ago, that one day he’d be digging, tilling, weeding and planting, he’d have laughed at you; but whether it’s age, new interests, or simply trying to make my wife happy, I decided to come along for the ride.  All in all we had a decent little turn out.  We had more tomatoes than we really knew what to do with, though our peppers were a bit lacking.  We had plenty of romaine for the first part of the summer, but it ran out by mid-July or so.  Anyway, a few weeks ago it was pretty evident that most of the garden had yielded all it was going to for the summer, so in the interest of neighborly relations, I decided to pull it all up and rototill it.  (I did this because it’s what the internet said to do, and that’s how we city boys figure these things out.)  As I was pulling out tomato and pepper plants, and not a few weeds, it occurred to me that I’d actually learned a few things from this little gardening project that were non-garden related.  For your consideration, here are two.  I’m sure I’ll not be the first to notice these things, indeed it was their similarity to Christ’s words about seeds and soil that brought them to my mind in the first place, nonetheless, here they are for your benefit.

 

1.  It’s difficult, in the absence of fruit, to distinguish between worthwhile plant, and worthless weed.  

 

Early on in the gardening process, when weeds would begin springing up, but before the garden plants had begun producing vegetables, it was really different, at least to this untrained eye, to distinguish between the two.  I spent half of my time worrying I’d just pulled up a pepper plant, or a zucchini sprout.  As the summer went by, some of the vegetables we planted produced nothing at all.  Because we didn’t really know what we were doing, we kept waiting for them to produce, rather than tear them up.  In hindsight I’m sure this was the wrong thing to do, because they inevitably took nutrients that the productive plants around them needed.

 

It’s not too difficult then, to apply this same truth to the church, and to christians in general. Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares, or his words in Matthew 7:19-20 come to mind…

 

Matthew 7:19-20  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 “So then, you will know them by their fruits. (NASB)

 

I sometimes wonder how much time the church spends pouring energy, resources, and time into people who will never yield fruit.  Let me be clear, I’m not talking about “backsliding,” or “nominal” Christians, though I really don’t like those terms.  I’m not talking about Christians who have fallen into sin, or who aren’t living up to their potential.  We’ve all been there, and we’re thankful for those hardworking, faithful, patient brothers and sisters in Christ who didn’t give up on us.  What I am talking about are those people who frankly, are not Christians, but who cannot be convinced otherwise.  We know they’re not Christians, because there’s no fruit in their lives, but they hold onto the lie that they walked down an aisle, or were catechized, or were baptized, and they suck the time and energy that could be spent in feeding and growing those who genuinely want to become more mature.  The great difficulty as a Christian, is determining who fits in which category, and who to spend your time and energy on.  Which one is a weed?  Which one is wheat?

 

2.  Weeds are well-protected and hard to get rid of.

 

Almost every weed I pulled up had an extensive root system, digging both deep and wide into the ground.  It reminded me so much of sin.  Here was this utterly worthless thing, strangling all the good things around it, ruining the chances of any real, lasting production.  What’s worse, they had dug down deep into the soil.  They’d wrapped and entwined themselves around vegetable plant roots and fence posts and other weeds.  It was a mess.  Getting rid of them was careful work because the wrong move meant destroying other, important roots.  Interestingly, Jesus told us to go ahead and yank them up, regardless of the damage.

 

Matthew 5:29  If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.

 

Apparently, according to Jesus, pulling the weeds of sin out, even if it means damaging the plants around it, is preferable to allowing the weeds of sin to remain, and come to large, life-strangling maturity.  I’m reminded of the words of James 1…

 

James 1:15  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (NIV)

 

As I see it, there are two things I can learn from this.  First, when I recognize sin in my life, there is no effort too great, in order to get rid of that sin.  I don’t know what that looks like for you.  Maybe it means you need to stay off the internet, because while you’d like to look at church blogs, what you actually look at is far less wholesome.  Perhaps it means you need to spend less, or even no time with that friend, who seems to always drag you into sin.  Maybe it means you need to change the music you listen to.  I’ll never forget the day I realized there were certain artists that, no matter how much I liked their music at one time, I simply wasn’t going to be able to listen to because of the way they made me feel, the desires they stirred in my heart, or the memories they produced.  Or maybe they mean something entirely different for you.  I can’t apply these truths directly to you.  Only the Holy Spirit can do that.  Just know, He is all around us, speaking to us in the simplest of ways, even through our gardens.