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

Links: 

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

Links: 

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

Links: 

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

Links: 

Bitterness or Blessing?

We all go through hard times, disappointment and pain. But how are you dealing with it? How is it affecting you?

Grab a Bible and do this little exercise in the book of Ruth:

  1. Read Ruth  1:1-5 | Write out the bad things that  happen to Naomi.
  2. Read Ruth 1:6-18 | Write out the good things that  happen to Naomi.
  3. Read Ruth 1:19-21 | What does Naomi focus on?
  4. Ask yourself the question, “What do I focus on? Bitterness or blessing?”

half-glass

Naomi has a lot of bad things happen in her life and because of her firm faith in the sovereignty and providence of God, she assesses that God’s hand has been at work in this bitterness. And she is right; God’s hand of judgment has been on her family and she has suffered personally for it. But what is she missing out on? She doesn’t see God’s hand in bringing good things to her too. She doesn’t see that He provides the food that paves the way for her return to the covenant land of blessing and rest. She doesn’t see the highly unusual loyalty and love from her formerly pagan daughter-in-law, Ruth, who  gives up everything to be with her through her pain. She misses out on the blessings and only focuses on the bitterness.

Now, I don’t blame Naomi for this. It’s the human way. I  do the same thing. When I have problems my vision becomes very near sighted and those troubles become the defining features of my life. Yet, when I read chapter 1 of Ruth, I discover that I don’t want to be the person that misses God’s good things even when I am suffering from  painful things.

I’m not advocating just “positive thinking” or even for you to forget your problems, but rather for us to have eyes open to the greater works of God. It’s not about your glass being half-empty or half-full, it’s about knowing where the water is coming from; it’s about raising your eyes to the Source. This doesn’t mean that you stuff your problems away,  stop bringing them before God or keep from sharing with others, but it does mean that you express your faith in God by taking time to look for, thank God for, and share with others the good things in your life as well.

It’s not about your glass being half-empty or half-full, it’s about knowing where the water is coming from; it’s about raising your eyes to the Source.

So, here’s what I’d encourage you to do. If you find yourself regularly bummed out or depressed because of the harder, more bitter things in your life: Make a list of the bitter things (that you will continue to pray for, work on and share with others) and then make a list of the blessings (and try to make that list 3 times as long).

But, how do you do it? How do you find the good things to list out?

  1. Pray. Begin to ask God to open your eyes to His hand of blessing at work in your life.
  2. Provision. Think of how God is providing for your normal daily needs.
  3. People. Think about the people God has brought into your life, specifically other believers that God is working through to show you His love.
  4. Ask others. Maybe you really are like Naomi and you just can’t see it. Then it’s probably time to meet with a close friend and tell them your chapter 1, and let them help you read between your bitternesses and help you find the sweet that God is already blessing you with… even as you continue to pray for the harder things to be resolved.
  5. Christ. Ultimately, we have been given every spiritual blessing in Christ. His death in place of ours. Our life filled by His. If we forget this, we will become bitter, because we will encounter very difficult things like cancer, unemployment, death of loved ones and more, and it will be the love of the One who entered our pain beyond what any other friend can ever do, that will help us to still see God’s smiling face.

How did it work out for Naomi? Well, God’s blessings became too much for her to ignore. In chapter 2, verse 20, she begins to admit that God has not stopped in His kindness, like she had first thought. And by the end of the story, the same women she told to call her “Bitter” praised God for providing her with redemption.

We will go through hard times, it’s unavoidable, but even then God has not stopped in His kindness toward us, and in Christ God has provided for our redemption, leading us to glory.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified. – Romans 8:28-30

The Bible in 311 Words

In the beginning, the all-powerful, personal God created the universe. This God created human beings in His image to live joyfully in His presence, in humble submission to His gracious authority. But all of us have rebelled against God and, in consequence, must suffer the punishment of our rebellion: physical death and the wrath of God.

Thankfully, God initiated a rescue plan, which began with His choosing the nation of Israel to display His glory in a fallen world. The Bible describes how God acted mightily on Israel’s behalf, rescuing His people from slavery and then giving them His holy law. But God’s people -like all of us- failed to rightly reflect the glory of God.

Then, in the fullness of time, in the person of Jesus Christ, God Himself came to renew the world and restore His people. Jesus perfectly obeyed the law given to Israel. Though innocent, He suffered the consequences of human rebellion by His death on a cross. But three days later, God raised Him from the dead.

Now the church of Jesus Christ has been commissioned by God to take the news of Christ’s work to the world. Empowered by God’s Spirit, the church calls all people everywhere to repent of sin and to trust in Christ alone for our forgiveness. Repentance and faith restores our relationship with God and results in a life of ongoing transformation.

The Bible promises that Jesus Christ will return to this earth as the conquering King. Only those who live in repentant faith in Christ will escape God’s judgment and live joyfully in God’s presence for all eternity. God’s message is the same to all of us: repent and believe, before it is too late. Confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, and you will be saved.

gospel-centered-teaching

Excerpt from Trevin Wax’s book, Gospel-Centered Teaching, pages 49-51. I highly recommend this book for anyone with a mind to teach from the Bible.