To Trust in God’s Justice (07.06.14)

To Trust in God’s Justice – Psalm 94

Johnny watches as little Jack cheats to win the race, he complains to his dad, “But that’s not fair!” And his dad, sage of all sages, blessed with the wisdom of many fathers before him, aptly responds, “Son, life isn’t fair.”

We’ve heard it (or said it) a hundred times, but is that right? If God stands for justice and has all power and wisdom to carry it out, then shouldn’t life, of all things, be fair? Yet injustice occurs… people get away with stuff all the time. Why is God’s justice so slow in coming? Why? Because God is merciful.

Big Idea: God’s delayed justice is for our good and His glory, but it won’t be delayed forever.

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Thoughts: God’s vengeance is only offensive if you don’t think sin is a big deal. 

In the Bible the essence of stupidity, of foolishness is to think God doesn’t exist; and closely related is to think, that God doesn’t see or know what [the wicked] are doing.

When we read this psalm we need to see that we did not begin as the righteous in this story, but as the wicked facing judgment. That is our position apart from Christ and the delay is God’s mercy, so we might trust in Him.

God is ready to ride through this chaotic world WITH you; and help you to find greater joy in Him than anything, anyone, or anywhere else you could be.

Life isn’t fair… yet, and that’s a good thing.
Scripture: And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:7

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  - Romans 12:19

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— Romans 9:22-23

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An Embassy of the Kingdom

This week I read two books on the exciting topic of Church Membership. Yesterday I told you about book number one and now I will tell you about book number two:

Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus by Jonathan Leeman

churchmembership

 

Like Rainer’s book, this one is also small (postcard size, 139 pages), which again is helpful to me. It is part of the new 9Marks books on building healthy churches, all which fit into this unburdening size. But don’t let it fool you, Leeman’s brevity does not keep him from painting a complete and winsome picture of church membership. To compare, in my opinion Rainer’s book aimed to take the ordinary church attenders/members and shift their attitude toward the church resulting in growth for them and their church. However, it is conceivable that an attending person could engage with Rainer’s book, commit to his 6 pledges and still not retain an official status as a “member.” Leeman’s book, on the other hand, helps the pastor, elder, layperson see the importance of the entire structure, founded in the biblical text and with specific Gospel oriented purpose for our world whereas you will immediately run to your pastor and ask “What must I do to become a member?!” Where Rainer’s book wants you to become a better member, Leeman’s helps you see the glorious purpose of the church, God’s design in its uniqueness, and practical ways for membership to facilitate a greater representation of Jesus to the world (even in our flawed churches).

I think that the primary gift that this book brings its readers is to make a big deal about church membership. In Leeman’s introduction he makes some grand statements regarding church membership and his purpose for writing this book:

My primary purpose is to show you what church membership is, because it’s not what you think it is. I’m not going to defend it, not directly anyhow. I’m going to present a vision for it. And here’s my prediction: if you grab hold of how the Bible views church membership, it just might change the shape of your Christianity. (p 18)

Pretty bold, isn’t he. But can I tell you, having finished the book… he did. At least for me. At least my vision of Christianity was altered, and I hope as I continue to work through these ideas that it will change its shape too.

What kind of changes are we talking about? It begins with viewing the church as the primary human authority on earth to affirm and give shape to your Christian life.

Just as the Bible establishes the government of your nation as your highest authority on earth when it comes to your citizenship in that nation, so the Bible establishes the local church as your highest authority on earth when it comes to your discipleship to Christ and your citizenship in Christ’s present and promised nation. (p 25)

Well, that sounds pretty different from something that I go to once in a while, duck in, get “fed,” talk to a few people about sports or the weather, eat a donut and duck back out. It honestly sounds a little scary because it might change how we live our lives. Jesus gave authority to the church, but does that mean we have too? We are so used to thinking about the church in terms of optional engagement that performs a service for us (like a country club, or gym membership). But Leeman, while address the many other metaphors describing the church, wants to help us begin by thinking through the church as an embassy of Christ’s future kingdom.

What’s an embassy? It’s an institution that represents one nation inside another nation. It declares its home nation’s interests to the host nation, and it protects the citizens of the home nation living in the host nation. (p 27)

If you lose your passport while on foreign soil, an embassy doesn’t make you a citizen, but it will affirm what you don’t have the authority to declare yourself – citizen of the United States. Similarly the local church functions to recognize people publicly as Christians. Leeman again:

Jesus didn’t leave us to govern ourselves and to declare ourselves his citizens. He left an institution in place that both affirms us as believers and then helps to give shape and direction to our Christian lives. (pp 29-30)

If we say “I’m with Jesus,” its through the local church that we get to show it to be true, which then gives the world somewhere to look to see what Jesus’ people are like.

Let me finish this review/recommendation with Jonathan Leeman’s “Twelve Reasons Membership Matters.” I hope you’ll check this out, and if it intrigues or upsets you, then please, by all means get the book and read the rest for yourself. The church is worth it.

“Twelve Reasons Membership Matters” by Jonathan Leeman

  1. It’s biblical. Jesus established the local church and all the apostles did their ministry through it. The Christian life in the New Testament is church life. Christians today should expect and desire the same.
  2. The church is its members. To be a church in the New Testament is to be one of its members (read through Acts). And you want to be part of the church because that’s who Jesus came to rescue and reconcile to himself.
  3. It’s a prerequisite for the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is a meal for the gathered church, that is, for members (see 1 Cor. 11:20-33). And you want to take the Lord’s Supper. It’s the team flag that makes the church team visible to the nations.
  4. It’s how you officially represent Jesus. Membership is the church’s affirmation that you are a citizen of Christ’s kingdom and therefore a passport-carrying Jesus representative before the nations. And you want your representation to be authorized. Closely related to this…
  5. It’s how you declare your highest allegiance. Your membership on the team, which becomes visible when you wave the flag of the Lord’s Supper is a public testimony that your highest allegiance belongs to Jesus. Trials and persecution may come, but your only words are, “I am a Christian.”
  6. It’s how you embody and experience biblical images. It’s within the accountability structures of the local church that Christians live and experience the interconnectivity of his body, the spiritual fullness of his temple, and the safety and intimacy and shared identity of his family.
  7. It’s how you serve other Christians. Membership helps you to know which Christians on planet Earth you are specifically responsible to love, serve, warn, and encourage. It enables you to fulfill your biblical responsibilities to Christ’s body (for example, see Eph 4:11-16, 25-32).
  8. It’s how you follow Christian leaders. Membership helps you know which Christian leaders on planet Earth you are called to obey and follow. Again, it allows you to fulfill your biblical responsibility to them (see Heb. 13:7, 17).
  9. It helps Christian leaders lead. Membership lets Christian leaders know which Christians on planet Earth they will “give an account” for (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2).
  10. It enables church discipline. It gives you the biblically prescribed place to participate in the work of church discipline responsibly, wisely, and lovingly (1 Cor 5).
  11. It gives structure to your Christian life. It places an individual Christian’s claim to obey and follow Jesus into a real-life setting where authority is actually exercised over us (see John 14:15; 1 John 2:19; 4:20-21). ItIt’s God’s discipling program.
  12. It builds a witness and invites the nations. Membership puts the alternative rule of Christ on display for the watching universe (see Matt 5:13; John 13:34-35; Eph 3:10; 1 Pet 2:9-12). The very boundaries, which are drawn around the membership of a church, yield a society of people that invites the nations to something better. It’s God’s evangelism program.  (pp 79-81).

But I thought it was just a gathering of God’s people? Yes, it is, and much much more. And it is for our good, and God’s glory.

Not a Country Club

I love the church. I know you’re thinking, “Really, Derick? You, as a pastor, love the church, so surprising.” Surprising I know, but true. The more I study the Bible the more I become amazed at all the church is to do and be. God has set up the church to be a wondrous and God-glorifying gathering of those who love Him. But I also work at a church, and I’m part of a church, and I have friends and families at other churches, and I read the news about churches and with all this I know that we aren’t all doing such a bang-up job all the time. There are a lot of reasons for this, and the purpose of this post is not to get into all of those reasons, but I do think that one reason we are able to find amazement in the words of Jesus and Paul about the church and yet find disappointment in our own experiences is simply because of our own mis-understanding of the church and how we belong.

We don’t tend to have a good idea WHY we are part of the church. Do you? What does that even mean to be a member or to belong?

I read two small books this week on the idea of church membership, and so in this post and the next I’d like to share them with you:

I Am a Church Member: Discovering the Attitude that Makes the Difference by Thom S. Rainer.

churchmember

Now, this book is little. About the size of a postcard and only 79 pages long, and I love that. It’s hard for me to find time to sit down and read a book, but this one was incredibly inviting, so I had too. Inviting is exactly how’d I describe Thom’s style of writing. You are easily invited into a discussion that could easily be a top-shelf theological discussion, but he makes it plain without making it any less biblical.  Probably the most unique aspect of Thom’s book is that he places your attitude toward the church at the fore-front. He isn’t trying to get you to help your pastor organize the best church structure or get you to infiltrate the elder board so you can make some real changes. Instead he wants you to read these six chapters and make six pledges that will begin to change how you look at your church, are committed to your church, pray for your church, serve your church and through it all, as you change, he believes that your church will begin to change to.

Here’s an (inviting) excerpt:

Join me on this journey of discovering or rediscovering the privilige and joy of church membership. And before you get caught up in the meaning of church membership take time to read the next brief chapter. Let us then take six steps carefully and prayerfully. And at the end of each step, let us be willing to make a commitment, a real commitment to our church.

When this journey is over for you, two things will likely take place. First, you will likely have a new or renewed attitude about your church. You will learn the joy of being last instead of seeking to be first. Instead of being a whiner complaining about what’s wrong with your church, you will be a unifier seeking what’s best for your church.

Second, your church will begin to change. It will become healthier because one of its members is healthier. And as the church gets healthier, it will have a greater impact on its community and the world. (pp 6-7)

And another:

Their view of membership is more aligned with country club membership. For them, membership is about receiving instead of giving, being served instead of serving, rights instead of responsibilities, and entitlements instead of sacrifices. This wrongful view of membership sees the tithes and offerings as membership dues that entitle members to a never-ending list of privileges and expectations, instead of an unconditional cheerful gift to God. So, what does the Bible say about church membership? I’m glad you asked. (p 11)

It’s a perfect book for the ordinary church-goer who is ready to stop treating the church like a country club, soccer team or a volunteer organization and start embracing it for what God created it to be. It can begin with you, and with me: I am a church member.

 

Stay tuned for a brief look at “Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus” by Jonathan Leeman.

 

The Gospel Is More (05.11.14)

The Gospel Is More – Ephesians

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Love infomercials? Have a favorite? Ever bought from one? Infomercials aren’t just another way to sell a product, they are products built upon a foundation of hype. Wild claims of life altering inventions all for just 19.95, if you act now. Claims that almost always fall short.

The past two weeks we had been tracking with Jesus’ commission to proclaim the Gospel to all, with last week specifically looking at Paul’s journey to do just that. And yet, as you trace Paul’s life it would seem that the very Gospel he had to proclaim was failing him. He was beaten many times, left for dead, shipwrecked and put in chains.

But when Paul got the chance to write to others about the Gospel… it wasn’t that he had anything less to offer, or anything different… but that in his living, in his studying and in the Holy Spirit’s revelation to Paul… there was so much more.

While infomercial products might just be another in a long list of things in this life that don’t live up to expectations;

The Gospel brings believers into more than we can ask for or imagine.

Sunday night, we looked at Paul’s letter to the Ephesians to see the “MORE”, to see 5 benefits of the Gospel:

1. Gospel Generosity (aka: The God Who Gives)
2. Gospel Transformation (aka: Christ Who Changes Everything)
3. Gospel Living (aka: New Life for New Living)
4. Gospel Maturity (aka: Christ Ruling More)
5. Gospel Community (aka: The Church is a Wonder)

Thought: God is ready to give to you everything; everything that is good that He has to give… through the Gospel. Don’t miss it. Don’t set your sights too low by asking for just health, or riches, or talent, or physical beauty or fame and success… God can give it, but it doesn’t live up to the hype. Instead, go for the best thing that God has to offer… The Gospel. 

Scripture: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, - Ephesians 1:3

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. - Ephesians 2:13

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. - Ephesians 3:20-21

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God’s Plan (05.04.14)

God’s Plan – Acts 13-14

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It’s one thing to know the mission of the church, but it’s another thing to be confident that it will succeed. If it is going to succeed we don’t just need a mission, but we need a fool-proof plan! But as we look around at the church, local, national and global it seems like there are more problems than answers and more fools than plans.

In the book of Acts, and in the situations surrounding many of the New Testament letters, we find that the early church had just as many problems, set backs and apparent failures. So if the problems were there even back then, and we clearly see the now, we might wonder, “how can we be sure that this whole ‘church thing’ will all turn out okay?”

What evidence do we have that God has a plan and it will get accomplished.

Sunday night we took a look at Acts chapters 13 and 14 (Paul’s first missionary journey) to see that God is carrying out detailed plans ensuring the successful mission of the church.

And I shared 8 observations about God’s plan:

  1. God’s plan is God’s plan.
  2. God’s plan is through the church.
  3. God’s plan is empowered by the Holy Spirit.
  4. God’s plan is rooted in history.
  5. God’s plan is centered on Jesus.
  6. God’s plan involves the proclamation of the Gospel.
  7. God’s plan never fails.
  8. God’s plan has specific individuals in mind.

Thoughts: God did not intend for us to walk the Christian life alone nor is his plan primarily carried out by individuals, but by the body of Christ. 

What we’re really saying when we talk about a certainty in God’s plans is actually a reflection of our certainty of God himself. God’s plans are built into who He is, His character.

Christians, does this mean we know each and every turn? No, but it means we know the God who does. And in the hands of the master tactician with all sovereignty, wisdom and power… we can be sure of the mission’s success. There are people who will say “yes” to Jesus, will you help me find them?

Scripture: When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord;(A) and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. - Acts 13:48

I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by His grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles… - Galatians 1:14-16

In [Christ] we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will… - Ephesians 1:11

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Our Mission (04.27.14)

Our Mission – Acts 1-2

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What’s next?

It’s just two words, but they can be frightening if you don’t have a good answer. Graduating high school. In a serious relationship. A few years into your career. People want to know, “What’s next?”

In Acts 1 Jesus’ disciples ask Him “what’s next?” and in answering Jesus gives them a mission that become their “next” and our “right now.”

Jesus invites us into our mission: Proclaim the Gospel to all by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Thoughts:  It’s not uncommon to hear people talk about the Spirit being a Spirit of power, but often we fail to remember what the Spirit empowers us to do. His primary work of empowerment is for the purpose of proclaiming Jesus crucified and risen from the dead so that people will repent and believe.

Pentecost was a unique working of the Spirit to convey the message that would speak to his normal work. To give a promise that is for all people, all whom God calls; and when they repent and believe; the Spirit is now theirs as well.

So the next time you are asked the question, “What’s next?” Take a deep breath. Respond with gentleness, respond with respect, but take the opportunity to let them know: This is what’s next. This is the plan. This is my five year plan and my ten year plan. This is what God wants me to be part of. This is what is right now. To proclaim the Gospel to all by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Scripture: :  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. - Acts 1:8

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” - Acts 2:38-39

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. - 1 Corinthians 15:58

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Because He Lives! (04.20.14)

Because He Lives!

Easter Sunday

Movie makers are willing to change true stories to make more believable or inspiring films, but what happens when people take away the physical resurrection of Jesus in order to make Christianity more believable?

We lose Christianity.

Sunday night, Easter Sunday, we looked at 5 primary implications of Jesus’ resurrection and how we wouldn’t have anything of value without it:

1) Because He lives Jesus is exalted & God is glorified.
2) Because He lives your forgiveness is sure and secure.
3) Because He lives Jesus works on your behalf.
4) Because He lives you will be raised too.
5) Because He lives you can believe.

Thoughts:  Jesus’ love isn’t grounded in my value, my love-ability or innate worth; Jesus’ love for us is grounded in his desire to bring glory to the Father.

If it is by Jesus’s death, if it is by his own blood that he signs the check and pays the bill then it is his resurrection that confirms that his check was good. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is the receipt that confirms God accepted his payment as full and complete.

The claim of Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection from the dead is Christianity’s most ostentatious claim. It is wild. It is odd. And yet, the thing which sounds most ludicrous (the message of the Resurrection) is also what gives me the most confidence for believing it to be true.

Scripture: And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. - 1 Corinthians 15:14

He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. - Romans 4:25

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. - 1 Corinthians 15:58

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