Does church make a Christian?

Or in other words, can someone really be a “Christian” but never go to church? In short, “Yes” and “No” but before you roll your eyes because of a flip-flopped answer, let me explain.

Someone does not have to go to church to be a Christian. The Bible does not directly say, “Thou shalt go to church or thou art not Christian.” Yet to not go to church does not make Bible-sense. Its like a train saying, “I don’t need tracks,” or a fish saying “I don’t need the water.” The longer a “Christian” separates himself from the community the less like Jesus he becomes. Just like a train without tracks becomes derailed and fish without water becomes deadly.

My step-father is a carpenter. One day while on the job his table saw slipped and it sliced through his finger. That finger was dead, but at the hospital the doctor did surgery and reattached it to his hand. It healed and grew strong again. That is the miracle and power of being connected to the body.

You can’t take your finger off and on without consequences. Some might prefer to have a prosthesis that can be removed whenever, yet if you ask a person who has a prosthesis, like my friend Darrell, they will agree the real thing is so much better. To have real blood pumping through your veins connected wholly to the body is in our design (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:12-26).

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:23-25)

A Christian who doesn’t care to gather and connect with other Christians in the church is no different from a football fanatic who thinks his best view of the game is from the comfort of his couch. He will cheer for his favorite team or player though he is missing out on the amazing reality of rubbing shoulders with others other fans, even players on the team. As Kyle Idleman echoes in his radical book Not a Fan,

“The biggest threat to the church today is fans who call themselves Christians but aren’t actually interested in following Christ. They want to be close enough to Jesus to get all the benefits, but not so close that it requires anything from them.”

There is more to “encouraging one another” than saying kind words and cheering each other on. Encouraging means I will get off the bleacher and onto the field. I participate in the action. I will listen to the calls from the coach and the Playbook. I will hold a block or run a screen. I will cart an injured team mate to the locker room and help him rehabilitate. I will commit to being a team player and show up week in and week out, even bulk up between games.

I think I have overused that illustration, but I did so to make a point. That’s what followers of Christ do. Christians, church going Christians, are not passive or solitary. That makes the church wonderful and wonder-filled, especially when you got more fingers than toes and other complications that naturally come with a body. Being part of a community is more than just being a card carrier with benefits.

Yes, you can be a Christian and not go to church. However, a self-proclaimed Christian who does not belong to the church is not practicing biblical Christianity at all.


2 Corinthians Study: Boast in Weakness

What does God want me to do with my money? How should I respond to someone who has wronged me? What is the purpose of suffering and hardships? Can’t I boast a little bit? These are some of the questions you will discover as you read through 2 Corinthians.

Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church has a different flavor than the first. It is more personal and pastoral. You see Paul roll up his sleeves and wear his emotions on them. Paul loves the church and so should we. How can we love the church despite all its people problems? Paul gives us practical insights. There is something for everyone. Just take a look at this 2 Corinthians Study: Boast in Weakness

Click to download 2 Corithians Study

making much of Christ in a messy church

messy church

What do all soap operas have in common? Soaps have a never aging cast. They are predictable, yet still leave their audience surprised. They are scandalous, yet acceptable to the masses. Soaps live up to the name “daytime drama” filling plots with family messes, immorality, and power trips. After a quick reading of 1 Corinthians, you’d think it was a script for an episode of “Days of Our Lives” or “Guiding Light”. Corinth is a church wracked by division, money problems, and immorality. Certain church members are visiting prostitutes while others are promoting celibacy. One leader is having an affair with his step-mom and rather than dealing with it the church accepts it. Corinth is a mess.

Does this church sound like any you know? If we were honest, the first century church of Corinth resembles the church of our century. That’s why Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is one of the most relevant books in the Bible for the current church (and church goer). It is for people struggling to live together inside the church and live for Christ outside the church. It’s a letter for Corinth and a letter for you.

History of Corinth: To understand Corinth, you need to understand its history. The city itself dates back to the Peloponnesian War (431 BC). It became a Greek city-state and the seat of the Achaean League under Alexander the Great. Later, Corinth was destroyed by the Romans (146 BC), but 100 years later it was rebuilt by Julius Caesar (44 BC). So in Paul’s day, Corinth was newly rebuilt and revitalized.

Life in Corinth: Corinth (pop. 700k) was a happening city. First, it was the hub of trade between Rome and Asia and probably the wealthiest city in Greece. Its three harbors and overland route through its isthmus nicknamed it “the bridge of the sea” and made it the shortcut and emporium of half the world. Second, Corinth was multicultural and multi-religious. Romans, Greeks and Jews mingled together. The city’s the most popular god was Aphrodite, the goddess of love. She supported the economy with a thousand “Corinthian girls” or temple prostitutes. Corinth was coined as the Vanity Fair of the Roman empire; alike to London, Paris, New York or Las Vegas today. The label “To act like a Corinthian” carries the same weight as “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”

It is easy to see how the church and Christians at Corinth would be influenced by its community. Corinth was a messy town with a messy church. Yet what town or church isn’t messy? Corinth could be any town or any church. It could be your town and your church.

1) When moving to a place like Corinth, be driven by a love for Jesus and His church (1:1-9)

Paul grew to love the Corinthians with Christ-like affection, though he never had to deal with any church so inflated, so immoral, so indifferent to his sufferings, or so cheeky towards his teaching. To understand Paul’s unconditional love for the church you need to travel back in time a few years to the beginnings of his relationship with the city.

Origin of the Gospel in Corinth: Paul was driven to Corinth (50-51AD) after a difficult time in Thessalonica and Athens (Acts 17:1-34). He didn’t go alone, but was assisted by Priscilla and Aquila, his tent-making buddy. Soon after arrival Paul preached the gospel (Acts 18:1–18) and opposition grew fierce. Discouraged, Jesus spoke to Paul in a vision assuring him that He had ‘many people’ in the city (Acts 18:10). With this encouragement, Paul stayed for 18-months, ‘teaching them the word of God’ (Acts 18:11) and a new church was born.

Origin of the First Letter: A few years later (54-55 AD), while in Ephesus (vs.16:8-9; Acts 20:31) ‘Paul the Apostle’ (v.1) penned this letter the “church of God, which is at Corinth,” (v.2a) likely, many small groups meeting in homes. To Paul, a letter was better than a phone call, but not as good as a visit.

It is obvious, Paul’s love for Jesus and the church are intertwined and dripping over every word. Proof of his love is seen in the sizable greetings and thanks portion of his letter (vs.2b-9). What Paul also reveals is the theology behind his love for the church and how we should think about the church. First, it belongs to God (v.2a). Second, its members are sanctified in Christ and becoming holy (v.2b). Third, it is made up of all those everywhere who call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (v.2c). Fourth, God is faithful to it. These are universal truths about any church anywhere at anytime. What’s not to love about the church when you look at it through these eyes? What do you love about the church? How do you express thanks for it?

2) When ministering in a messy church, claim Jesus as the undisputed center (1:10-17)

Paul’s original mission to Corinth was successful. Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, was baptized, with all his house. He started meeting in a room near the synagogue, which was made available by Titus Justus. It was there Paul preached for many months. What did he teach them? He taught them from the Law and the Prophets about Jesus. What do you think he had wished he had taught them? Probably nothing different, knowing Corinth. This is a great lesson for us to make Jesus the central topic of our discussions and teachings.

Overview of 1 CorinthiansWhat happens when Jesus in not made center? Corinth becomes the case and point. Here begins one of three different segments of the letter to the Corinthians: divisions (v.10). Who is it that reports division to Paul? (v.11) Chloe’s house. What’s the reason for division? (v.12) Certain leaders had “groupies”. Christian celebrity worship is not just a 21st Century thing. The first century church had groupies too. At Corinth(ian Idol), the “groupies” rallied around either Paul (the founder), Apollos (the pastor), Cephas (the rock, Peter), or Jesus (the One and Only). It’s uncertain how the cliques formed, yet the text gives clues that is concerns the one who baptized them (v.13) or tickled their intellect (v.17). And what about the “Christ” groupies? Likely they were pious groupies. In either case, when Jesus is not the undisputed center of your life, ministry or church you flirt with idolatry.

How can we minimize groupie-ness? Notice how Paul does it (vs.13-16). He simply, yet emphatically points to Jesus. The thing for which to watch for is the way in which Paul consistently relates every subject and problem in Corinth to the centrality of the Person and work of Jesus Christ (v.17). Paul’s cure for division in the church is unifying around the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Paul’s has a “we’re not alone, we’re in this together” view of the church. To him, if the church would just acknowledge its ultimate allegiance—Jesus—then the church would have a much better probability of getting along. Later, Paul uses a beautiful image to describe the church as “one body, many parts.” (12:20) and Jesus as the “Head of the Body, the church” (Colossians 1:18). Regardless of our differences, indifferences, and messes, the church is still Jesus’ beautiful Bride (Ephesians 5:23). It’s a beautiful mess because Jesus is its center.

3) When making much of Christ, be prepare for the world to think it is feeble and foolish (1:18-31)

If Jesus is your undisputed center, people will think you are foolish (vs.18-21). Paul echoes this by saying there are two types of people in this world: 1) people think the cross is the idea of fools or 2) people who think it’s the wisdom of God. There isn’t much room in between. The gospel message doesn’t rest well with the populace. It’s just not cool to be Christian. Never was and never will be. Remember, before Paul came to Corinth he reasoned with the intellectuals and philosophers on Mars Hill in Athens? They thought he was a fool—a babbler—and mocked him. Paul could wax profundity with the best of them, but on his way to Corinth, he determined to shelve all “human” wisdom and eloquence, instead he preached the gospel in its uttermost and humblest simplicity (v.23; cf. 1:17; 2:1–5).

How is preaching of the gospel opposite of what the Jews and Greeks desire, yet exactly what they need? Concerning God’s redemptive plan the Jews think the cross is feeble and the Greeks think the cross is foolish (vs.22-23). The wise and strong of this world reject the cross, but it is the only means by which God will accept them. The plan of the cross for your neighbor is feeble and foolish. However, for those called by God, the cross is the greatest display power and wisdom of God’s (v.24). We must acknowledge the divide, but continue to bridge it with the simple, powerful, and truthful message of the cross of Jesus Christ. As John Stott said, “The gospel of the cross will never be a popular message because it humbles the pride of our intellect and character. Yet Christ crucified is both God’s wisdom and ours. It therefore manifests His power too, “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” (Romans 1:16)”

How do we begin to compare the power and wisdom of God to man? There is no comparison. “The foolishness of God is still far wiser than man’s most wisest thought and the weakness of God is still far more powerful than man’s most strongest feat” (v.25, my paraphrase). Is God “foolish” or “weak”? No. So why does Paul use the words “foolish” and “weak” to compare God and man? He is showing how polar opposite the power and wisdom of God and man really are. Comparing God to man is like comparing the power of gravity with a refrigerator magnet.

I felt like a fool this week. While walking through my neighborhood I saw a group of guys I’ve visited before sitting outside their gate. They greeted me from a distance and welcomed me over to them. There was a new man in the mix, a well-dressed older man with a whitening beard. He immediately asked me if I was Muslim, which is a common question since I speak a little Arabic and sport a beard too. I said, “No, I go the way of Jesus the Messiah.” He quickly responded, “So do I. I go the way of all the prophets. Do you go the way of the prophet Mohammad?” I said, “No, only the way of Jesus.” He then opened the gauntlet, “Do you believe Jesus is the Son of God? Do you believe in three gods? Can God be a baby? Can God die?” I was being shredded, gut-checked, and mocked. I felt so unloved, yet so calm. My only response was, “Can God can do the miraculous? (i.e. Create something from nothing, cause the sun to stand still, part the Red Sea, raise the dead, heal the sick) Have you read Jesus’ words in the Injil?” My questions and invitation seemed to rest on deaf ears. I said my goodbyes and left feeling like a fool, moreover, I was filled with sorrow for their souls.

The Corinthians forgot something important, which we often forget too. They thought they were somebodies, but forgot they were nobodies. They were proud and thought they arrived. They forgot they were weak, lowly, and despised (vs.26-29). The words “low” or “despised” are often used of slaves. Interestingly it is estimated that 400,000 of the 700,000 residents of Corinth were slaves. Not everyone in Corinth was the “cream of the crop.” Do not forget who you were before Christ. How do the words “low” and despised” remind you of Jesus’ own entrance into this world? Jesus was born in a manger, He worked as a carpenter, He hung out with sinners, He did not claim to be the returned King yet, and He suffered a criminals death rejected and despised. Jesus was the humblest, strongest and wisest man to ever live.

I’ve got nothing. When I stand before God at the end of my life, my brawn and brains will not be enough, my dollars and donations won’t amount to much, my good works or merciful acts won’t stack up. To boast in my little stack of stuff is silly. Nothing I boast in tops out Jesus Christ. He gives me serious grounds for boasting (vs.30-31). When I boast in Jesus, I boast in something God the Father and God the Spirit also boast in too. I want to make much of Jesus Christ.

No matter where you are or live the church is messy (like a soap opera), however, Jesus is still the founder and sustainer of it. It is His, He bought it with His blood, and it’s His living organism in the world today bringing people to Himself. May you serve the church of Jesus joyfully, especially, as you go to hard to reach places with hard to reach people who think your message is foolish and feeble, or disciple messy believers. Like Paul, you are in good company. Make much of Christ.

What is it like to go from being on staff at a local church to being on preparation for the foreign mission field?

First, my goal for this answer is to educate the church on the life of it’s mission. It is not so the church will “feel sorry for the missionary”, but give a window to peer through helping the church pray more effectively and engage more purposefully. It is also to help the church understand the seriousness of the call of God, in the same manner as the Apostle Paul let us in on his difficulties. Second, my goal for this answer is to help the church catch a vision to where God has called them.

I think the transition from pastor to Jesus’ mission is a natural transition. Both the pastorate and mission field have the same goal in mind. To see the church of Christ and His fame grow among the nations. As a pastor (or church member your task is to do so locally, and as a missionary your task is to do so globally.

Being a pastor and member of the local church has given me a love for Jesus’ church. The church I grew up in and the church I’ve been an assistant pastor at for the last 8-years have both encouraged and cultivated my love for Jesus and His mission through the church. As a teenager, I was discipled purposefully by two mission-minded deacons and a team of youth leaders. They got me involved in serving Christ as a teenager. It is important to look at the young people in your church not as the future of the church, but as the church now.

Before becoming the assistant pastor of Battle Ground Bible Church, I was on a yearlong church planting apprenticeship in South Africa. It was a turning point in my life. For the first time I could honestly see myself sharing the gospel on the foreign field. Also, I being in Africa I got a bug for Africa [maybe more than one bug!]. I wanted to go back. So when I interviewed for the position at BGBC, they were aware they might release me in the future to go to the mission field. They cultivated that desire by giving me opportunities to lead short trips overseas to help our missionaries, to spear-head their own vision to plant churches locally, and explore opportunities to serve in Africa. When Sarah and I married, they funded a trip we took to the Congo to equip youth leaders and pastors. Then a year later when we desired to take a vision trip to Chad, they were excited to support us. BGBC gave us a lot of freedom to follow Christ call and prepare us for that call.

In August, we were commissioned from BGBC to begin raising prayer and financial partners. That last Sunday on staff was incredibly emotional. We shed a lot of tears. It was an Acts 13 moment I will remember the rest of my life. We left a lot of friends, spiritual family, and our small group which was our major source of spiritual accountability. When we drove away there was a huge void of constant fellowship.

To be honest, the first few weeks I was in a spiritual funk. I did not take a course on how to succeed transitions. While on staff I was use to a great schedule–a routine I understood–and an office where I could have some quiet study time. That changed while we were on the road. I guess, I can understand what it is like when a retired couple is around each other after working their entire lives, only we were 3 years into our marriage. It’s been a good adjustment being around Sarah and our daughter 24-hours a day, 7-days a week. I realized I am pretty blessed to have this opportunity. It’s had it’s challenges and learning curves. You really get to know someone on a long road trip. Although for our family the road trip has been 6-months long.

An emotional day came when we sold our home in December. We were ecstatic that we were able to find a buyer so soon and not lose a load of money, which is surprising in our current housing market. Although excited we were a bit sad. It was the first time we’ve felt homeless. We could no longer go back to the comfortable living room we created, play in our grassy backyard, or pick veggies from our summer garden. Our home is now a Honda Element. We’ve enjoyed the generous hospitality of friends, family and churches while being on the road, but it can be exhausting. We’ve really been living our life on display for all to see. That’s difficult when you’re not feeling good, tired, or having a difficult day with your spouse or teething child.

It took me about a month to pull out of that funk. We’ve found a crazy schedule that’s worked for us on the road. More importantly we’ve found times to be in the Word and pray together. And we’ve discovered creative ways to keep accountable to our church while being so far away.

Sarah and I have been surprised by God’s grace. We would have never dreamed we would be at the place we are 6-months into our preparation for the mission field:
•    We have reached 85% of our required support goals. On our way to 100% by June.
•    We have acquired over 250 prayer partners.
•    We have added 3 families to our team [including 13 children, but soon to be 14].
•    We have sold our home without going into debt.
•    We have signed up for language school beginning in August.

Not that we seek confirmation from God for the steps we take, but God has been expediting the  road that leads to Chad. We take it that He really want the gospel starved “Z” to hear the good news and see the church of Jesus rise where it is not.

thumb licks [3.14.12]

Fight sin is tiring.

The gospel of art.

8 ways to protect your children from sexual abuse.

5 reasons God said “NO.”

Why daylight savings time is pointless.

Harold Camping admits sin and doomsday predictions.

Be careful what you say to your pastor.

Why imposters love church.

3 Little Pigs. If it were told today in today’s world.

Kony 2012. I hope this movement does not make this man famous, but that justice would be taken. I appreciate this letter from a fellow brother in Africa to a lady who has questions about Kony.

why I love my church

This is the first day I step off the pastoral staff of Battle Ground Bible Church, but it is also the first day I step onto your mission outreach team. Although the role of my family will change within BGBC, we will still be an outreach arm linked to this church in North Africa.

For the last 6-months I have been thinking about this day. I am reminded of Paul the Apostle’s third missionary journey when he gave his farewell message to the elders at Ephesus [Acts 20:17-38]. I can feel what he feels. I can understand his heart for the church. If I could I would make this my farewell address to my church too.

Paul had little time left to talk to the elders of the church in Ephesus [vs.16-17].

                  I only have one hour left with you.

Paul spent 3 years in Ephesus, which is longer than he spent in anyone place [vs.18,31].

I have spent almost 8 year with you [began September 21, 2003].

Paul wears his emotions on his sleeve. He cares for this church as a shepherd who suffers with his sheep [vs.19,31].

                  I wouldn’t consider myself a stiff board.

Paul was bold in his preaching. He did not hold back [vs.20-21].

                  I did not shrink back either.

Paul leaves Ephesus under the conviction of the Holy Spirit [v.22].

                  I take my family to North Africa by the call of God. Our family is gripped by the glory of God.

Paul anticipates the journey ahead to be difficult and full of trials, but worth the risk [vs.22-23].

                  I know it will not be easy in the desert among the unreached peoples.

Paul views himself as nothing and Christ as everything. Even his ministry is of Christ and for Christ [v.24].

                  I am humbled by the ministry of Christ and ministering for His namesake.

Paul encourages the church to preach the gospel with boldness [vs.25-31].

                  I have sought to protect this church and uphold the doctrine on which it stands.

Paul has worked hard, earned his keep, and challenged the church to give to the mission of Christ [vs.32-35].

                  I have labored hard for you because Christ is my boss.

Paul, not knowing if he would see them again, was sorrowful because he loved their faces [vs.36-38].

                  I know I might not see you soon, but we will see each other again if we are eternal friends!

In summary, Paul is saying to the church in Acts 20, FAITHFULNESS IS WAY BETTER THAN LIFE [vs. 24-25]. As missionary Bill Bentley to Mexico said, “I don’t want make a living, I want to make a [faithful] life.” Faithfulness to my call is far more important than whether I live—whether I live at all or live comfortably. Faithfulness is better than life because the rewards are literally out of this world and God is gracious.

I am grateful that I am not leaving BGBC because of disgruntlement, conflict, joylessness, tiredness, or unfaithfulness. I am leaving BGBC with joyful sorrow because I will severely miss the immediateness fellowship, worship and mutual ministry of this Body of Christ. I have not viewed being a pastor at BGBC as being a job, but a joy. I love my church.

Why I love the church?

1. Jesus sacrificially loves it. [Ephesians 5:25] He built it, established it, died for it, and is still the Head over it.

2. God is glorified through it. [1 Timothy 3:15] He is working out His eternal plan through it.

3. I am a member called to it. [Hebrews 10:24-25] It is the most precious reality on earth [and a glimpse of heaven].

When I first arrived at Battle Ground Bible Church I was 23 years old. I was green. I had just graduated from Bible College. I spent the year before serving in South Africa as a church planting apprenticeship and then served at Montrose Bible Conference for a summer leading evangelism workshops. While at Montrose I had a conversation over lunch with a missionary from Bangladesh named Sam Smoker. We were exchanging funny names churches we had attended. In the course of that conversation he mentioned the name Battle Ground Bible Church. That week I found BGBC’s name on a pastoral search placement list and the rest is history.

Why I love my church?

1. I love the way you have stirred my growth in Christ.

I have grown exponentially since coming to BGBC. Not only have I grown facial hair and a little belly, but also more importantly I have grown up in my faith. That didn’t just happen. Growth doesn’t happen in isolation. It happens in a community of likeminded Jesus followers. God designed growth to happen in togetherness. As a church you have stirred me, shaken me, encouraged me, matured me, prepared me, and helped me to want to be more like Jesus Christ.

You have prayed for me. Bore patiently with me. You have prodded me to continue to dig deep into the Word. You have sent me to pastor conferences for spiritual encouragement. You sent me to seminary to continue my education. And now, you are ready to send me oversees as a light for Christ. Thank you for not holding back in stirring my growth. “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” [Hebrews 10:24-25]

Your pastors need to be stirred. Thank you for stirring this one!

2. I love your fellowship and deep friendships.

God has used many of you to stir me to love and good works. Like Paul, you have helped guard my heart from carelessness [v.31], shallowness [v.32], covetousness [v.33], laziness [v.34], and selfishness [v.35].

I have been spiritually and physically refreshed from bike rides with Steve “Z”. I have enjoyed friend chicken and birthday cakes with Edith. I look forward to Sunday hugs from motherly Karen O’Leary. Every Tuesday I hunger lunchtime talks with Brent Childs. I will miss slugging bats with Rollie and praying with the sweaty men on my softball team. I will miss random calls and quirky questions from Sheila Norton. I will miss having a secretary like Joyce [aka: boss]. I will miss the ministry of music played by the fingers of Greg and Alana.

I have cherished prayerful cards from Linda Wheat, Arnetta Berenda, and the Turpin’s. I am grateful for the roof top talks with Steve Fry while hammering shingles onto my home. I will miss praying with Granny Dee Marion [and watching how she did not waste her illness]. I have learned how to suffer graciously by watching Charlie Haines. I am blessed by the visual expression of the Zinn’s and Miller’s when the Word of God is preached. And I could go on and on listing VIP’s [Very Important Partners] in this church.

Fellowship is partnership. Partnership is more than just a liking of a sports team, talking about the weather, or ranting about the warts of our church. Fellowship is having a common partnership is what matters the most—the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul said, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” [Philippians 1:3-6]

3. I love the great teaching and godly leadership of Pastor Kenny Loehe.

Those who know Kenny know he proclaims the Word of God with boldness. He is not an ear tickler. He does not hold back out of fear of man or a desire to please people. He faithfully and meticulously exegetes the Word of God, and delivers meat that I am forced to gnaw on. Steak is hard to swallow sometimes, but I’d rather chew on steak than suck blended spiritual food out of a straw of baby bottle.

You have expanded my vocabulary. In my Bible I have a list of words that I still need to go to the dictionary for a definition. I have learned how to use the word flagellation and ghastly without sounding boyish. I suppose I will now need to subscribe to Readers Digest and enrich myself with Word Power.

You have also expanded my love for the church, the Word of God, and living a real faith. I have had the privilege of seeing you work from behind closed doors. I have seen you wrestle through sermon preparation trying to apply the truth to your life, your family, and your church family. I have watched you suffer with your people, weep for them, pray over them, losing sleep because of them, and unconditionally loving them [even the difficult ones].

Kenny, I will miss you. You are my pastor. You have been just the pastor I’ve needed. You have shepherded my heart.

4. I love your gracious generosity.

As a pastor, it is humbling to know that the money I have to buy groceries comes from the generosity of faithful givers. You have given above and beyond.

When I first arrived at BGBC, as a single guy, I had nothing to my name other than a few books, a folding chair, and an extra pair of glasses. The church had a pantry party and afterwards I literally had enough boxes of Mac & Cheese to last me through a famine. A few Christmas’ ago an unknown group of people bought me a new wardrobe, a suit coat, neckties, and really sweet Super Man PJ’s. The gifts were individually wrapped with encouraging verses and letters. Each day in December I was able to open a new gift. When Sarah and went to North Africa earlier this year we got news that Emma Lawson was having a bake sale to support our vision trip. We were so blessed that the kids of our church get ministry and Christ’s mission.

The first Sunday Sarah came to visit our church you lovingly encouraged our blossoming relationship. When I asked for her hand in marriage you came alongside us with generous support. When you learned that we were having our first child you showered us with baby clothing, diapers, wet wipes, and other baby goodies. I think we are still working through all the diapers and we have only bought Justus one original outfit.

Your generosity over the years has been overwhelming, but an incredible blessing. I challenge you to continue to be a blessing to the next assistant pastor and his family. As you have blessed me, I would hope you would also bless him. I have bragged about you to Pastor Jeremy and Jen. I am excited to see how you will come alongside them in the days ahead. A generous church is a Jesus-centered church.

5. I love the young people of this church.

Young people keep you real. You cannot hide or fake your spiritual walk around them. I have enjoyed ministering to and being ministered by the teens of our church. Though sometimes they make me want to pull out my hair I have enjoyed praying with many of them through difficult times, discipling them through a critical life stage, and learning the great privilege of partnering with their parents to serve the whole family. It truly takes a church to raise a child!

The student leaders have been a source a spiritual growth for me. Hannah Starrett, Betsy Goodale, Amy Stratton, Brittany Ristau [Scheiner], Debbie Hill [Fights], Greg O’Leary, Andrew Ristau, Emily Ristau, Levi Starrett, Kyle Miller, and Wonho Rhee are just a handful of student leaders that have challenged me to live more like Jesus, love Jesus, and model servant leadership like Jesus. Many of these youth have been a source of spiritual conviction to many adults because of their love for Christ and willingness to serve Him.

The youth leadership team is a family to me. Many of you have served together with me for years. Some since the day I started [i.e. Starrett’s and Norton’s]. You have struggled and suffered alongside the youth teaching, modeling, and discipling them in the truth of the Bible and reaching out to them the gospel. I am incredibly proud of our young people and I know the students and youth leaders will be a blessing to our new assistant pastor.

I love how the church supports and spiritually invests in the youth. I am grateful for the slew of older ladies who faithfully pray over the youth. We never have a shortage of scholarships for retreats or camps. We never have a shortage of homes will to host events or fellowships. We never have a shortage of volunteers willing to pour themselves into the lives of the young people of this church. We never have a shortage of opportunities for our young people to serve in the church [1 Timothy 4:12]. Thank you for loving the youth who are the younger generation of this church. Keep it up and our church will live long into the future.

6. I love your mission-mindedness.

Missions and gospel outreach is in the DNA of BGBC. You love what God is doing globally and are willing to invest locally. You have encouraged and supported the youth of the church to consider short-term missions, which has spurred some to go out or be sent out. Bethany has gone to Dominican Republic and Costa Rica. Hannah has a heart to do linguistics work where people have no Word of God. And you have fueled my passion for global gospel outreach. Continue to go, sent, pray to the Lord of the harvest!

7. I love my small group.

The people in our small group are so different, but yet we so much the same. We are all a work in progress that is willing to work hard to help each other be more like Christ. Anand David has blessed me through his passion for Christ and longing to live for him. He asks me hard questions that keep me sharp and vulnerable. I have learned a lot about perseverance from him as he has waited for a godly bride.

It has been a joy to see Brad Kerns and Pete and Brittany Ristau own their faith and explode spiritually as young adults. Both Pete and Brad have move from being boys to being men! Austin & Hannah Mattern have become great new friends. Even though I know little about farming and country living their passion for Jesus has brought life to our group.

Janel Haines has been a rock to both Sarah and me. There is not one person in this church that does more behind the scenes in this church than her. She has her hands in almost every ministry it [i.e. youth ministry, children’s ministry, Children’s church, gardening, VBS, writing cards, prayer support, counseling, and more] and she obviously loves it. Her growth in Christ has been nuclear and the radiation from her spiritual walk has leaked into the lives of many in our church including the Hutts!

8. I love our spiritual leaders [deacons].

I remember the first time I met the leaders of Battle Ground Bible Church. I was sitting across the dinner table with them at The Hour Time. Immediately I had a respect for these men who dedicated themselves to the church. These men absolutely love this church, and they sincerely care about one another. These men have been used by God to trim my young, rough, and thorny branches.

These men have held me accountable through some spiritually challenging days. They have held the frontlines with me—a man who sometimes lacks confidence—helping me gain a backbone. I have appreciated it when they have confronted sin, rebuking at times, and challenging my vision to make sure it meshes with the Word of God and the spiritual direction of the church. These men have certainly stirred me to godliness.

I love meeting with Mike Fights over a tasty breakfast. He is my David and I am his Jonathan. His wear-it-on-your-sleeve kind of love for the Word and God is contagious. Cort Starrett is a software engineer for a living, but he has been used of God to do some hardware engineering on my heart. Cort intimidated me for a long time, until realized he is wired as one who likes to get to the point of matters. Now I want to be like him. I enjoy Phil Kerkoff’s generosity and knack for the practical. Dave Criswell is simply a rock and prayer champion. Gary Elliott and Todd Rice are full of wise insights and keep our long meetings sane. Deacons meetings—though long—have never been a drudge but a delight.

Together, us leaders have walked through some difficult minefields casting vision for the church, while upholding the doctrinal and theological integrity of the church. We have made some decisions that have met opposition. Yet these men would rather stand before God and give an account to him than please man.

I will miss praying over and pouring over Christ’s church with them men. I will miss caring for and coaching our church to be more like Christ with these men. I will miss the bond of brotherhood with these men. By the way these men lead this church they have reminded me that FAITHFULNESS IS BETTER THAN LIFE.

“And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem [North Africa], bound in the Spirit, not knowing what shall befall me there; except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may accomplish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that all you among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom will see my face no more.” [Acts 20:22-25]

danger of modern day CPM’s

Danger of Modern Day CPM’s
This is a review of Reaching and Teaching, by M. David Sills

CPM’s is the current wave of getting the gospel quickly into unreached communities. What is a CPM? CPM stands for: Church Planting Movement. Ideally the concept is an incredible vision with the multiplication of Christ’s church blooming where they have never been planted. The idea behind a CPM is to plant a church that plant churches that plant more churches. Thus you have a movement of churches being planted.

However, in the modern missions era speed to get the gospel out is the goal rather than making sure believers really get the gospel. M. David Sills in his book, Reaching and Teaching adds, “Global Christianity is growing in such a way that truth is considered to be that which works; pragmatism rules in the absence of propositional truth.” [29]

Missionaries are more into wrestling with which level of contextualization they are comfortable with and the best way they can orally speak the stories of Scripture [don’t get me wrong these are not horrible issues to wrestle]. All the while they are wavering from what really matters in the mission: the gospel, in all its gruesome and gorgeous culture-transcending glory.

About 10-years ago, I was involved in a church planting apprenticeship in the Western Cape of South Africa. There I observed a church planting movement 25+ years in the making. That is a long time, according to modern CPM’s. In the Cape there were multiple churches in multiple locations working together to get the gospel spread throughout their region. The planter was committed to these people for life [i.e. multiple generations]. Not only were churches being planted, but pastors were being trained and discipleship was happening within the churches at a healthy rate. Sills echoes,

“When the church growth outstrips your trained leadership, you are in trouble; weak and dysfunctional churches abound. [24] If we are not training national believers to believe biblically solid Christian doctrine and to interpret the Word of God correctly, the day will soon come when those who represent Christ in this world will be preaching a gospel that Jesus never gave.” [29]

What is essential before a church is capable of being autonomous? Or the leadership is fully trained? Here is where opinions differ. Let’s side with the Puritan view of ministry, “The basic qualification of personal godliness and giftedness coupled with single-minded learning in the interpretation of the Scripture; a spirit of prayerfulness; a deep care for the people of God; and the ability to unfold the mysteries of the gospel in a manner which reached into men’s hearts and touched their consciences–and all set within context of a prayerful dependence on the Lord.” [169] The Puritan’s planted solid churches, which still have remnants today.

Here is a solid CPM vision that I recently took note of while in  North Africa, an unreached climate:

“The team recognizes that, for the health of the church, at some point it will be necessary for the team to disengage from the church-planting process.  Recognizing that other missions may still be in progress, the team will remove itself from any participation it has within the church. When the following are present in the church, the team will disengage: first, there is at least a 3rd generation church (the 1st church has planted a 2nd church, and the 2nd church has planted a 3rd one). Second, the churches contain all the key elements of church as defined by the team.”

The key word above is generation. The key to gospel ministry and leaving a CPM is to be sure the people get the gospel, are growing in grace, and are engaging others with the gospel. The gospel is what transforms lives, reinforces righteous living, and marks true church planting movements. The urgency to get the gospel out to unreached people is great, but it must be packaged with generational reaching and reaching. There is a danger in using Speed as the best option to get the gospel to the unreached; rather patient discipleship over generation[s] making sure the gospel sinks below the surface of a communities culture.

Book Reviewed: M. David Sills, Reaching and Teaching, Moody Publishers, Chicago, IL. 2010.

I would highly recommend this book to new missionaries or seasoned missionaries considering new methods.

when church becomes stale

Have you ever bought a bag of potato chips that you just did not enjoy, but felt obligated to eat them? So you munch on small portions of the chips for weeks with a bad attitude until they become stale enough you do not feel guilt for throwing them away. Has your attitude towards your church become like a bag of stale potato chips?

I mingle weekly with church goers who have become stale with church. For whatever reason they have become distracted by a bad attitude, mumblings of other attenders, or become stale of hearing towards the good news of the Word of God. Is there hope for staleness without throwing the church out?

First, it is important to discover if I am stale towards church or hearing the Word? Here are some common complaints said from those who exhibit seeds of staleness:

  • “Church has become so boring and I totally know what to expect.”
  • “The pastor never ends on time. We have things to do. Besides my kids can’t sit through that long of a service.”
  • “The sermons are not relevant or interesting. Rather they make me feel guilty and discouraged.”
  • “No body notices me anymore. Not even the pastors. They treat me like an outsider or stranger.”
  • “We are a busy family and Sunday is our only time to rest and relax.”

If you have recently stated one or more of these to yourself or another person you could be harboring a stale attitude towards church or hearing the Word. Again, is there hope for staleness without throwing out your church?

I want to share portions of  a great article by Colin Marshall. This article deals with how you serve and minister to one another on Sundays and prevent yourself from staleness…

Once we make the attitude shift from being passive pew sitters and receivers to active workers and givers, there is no end to the difference we can make to others. All of the suggestions below are of the informal type—things we can do at our own initiative. They are the types of involvement that every congregation member can have. The key is to observe what happens around you and respond to people’s needs. Think through Sunday mornings chronologically. What can we do before, during and after the service?

Before Worship

Preparation. One of our great contributions is our preparation. The preacher should not be the only one preparing for church. We prepare by praying for the preacher, the musicians, the service leader, the Bible readers and the newcomers. We prepare by studying the Bible passages so that we maximize this learning opportunity by being sensitized to the issues and questions in the passages being taught. Such preparation also has other benefits. We are better equipped to enter into discussion with others if we have looked at the passage beforehand. It is also a great encouragement to the preacher to know that the congregation is eager to understand the Bible and willing to put in some effort. Preaching is hard work, both for the preacher and the listeners. An intelligent question, comment or observation upon the sermon is an enormous motivating factor for the preacher who, week by week, has to try and engage the congregation’s minds and hearts in the word of God. Those who sit in the pew can make a great contribution to those teaching from the pulpit.

Meeting visitors and newcomers. We enjoy meeting our friends at church, but we need to develop a nose for new people. We need to sit with them and help them feel comfortable in this strange place by introducing ourselves and explaining what is going on. We should greet the non-Christian friends of other members and introduce our friends to others. It’s all about genuine hospitality. The way we welcome and look after people when they visit our homes should be a model for the household of God. And genuine, relaxed hospitality will slowly evaporate some of the prejudices held by outsiders.

Arriving early. All of this requires that we arrive not on time or late, but early. That may be the greatest miracle of all.

During Worship

Active listening. People in the pews have an enormous impact on those who are teaching and leading. Communication is always a two way process. Energetic listening through taking notes, making eye contact with the preacher, sitting at the front, laughing at jokes (even old ones), will spur on the preacher. It is very hard to preach enthusiastically to a sleepy, distracted, fidgety group. Our active listening will also infect others with enthusiasm for learning, just as our fidgeting will discourage them. Unbelievers will also pick up that these ideas are worth listening to if they see rows of regulars eagerly soaking up the Bible.

Singing. Similarly, those in the pew can be a great help to the singing and leading of music. It is everyone’s responsibility to share in the corporate singing of the congregation. The music may be well chosen and played but if it is poorly sung it is disheartening. Our enthusiasm and gusto in singing the great anthems of the faith is of great help to those around us and those leading the music, even if we can barely hold a tune.

Newcomers. Keep attending to newcomers’ needs. If they can’t find their way around the Bible or the service outline, or they don’t have a Bible, or they need to find the nursery, help them yourself. t’s all about being observant and outward-looking.

After Worship

Discuss God’s Word. We have just heard the word of God and we spend all of Sunday lunch talking about the movie we saw the night before. It isn’t right and we know it, but many of us are just uncomfortable starting up ‘spiritual’ conversations. If you get the ball rolling, others will pick it up. During your preparation and the sermon, think up some comments or issues to raise with others. Asking “What did you think of the sermon?” will usually put your neighbor into a coma, but making a specific comment like “I didn’t know Abel was a prophet. What makes someone a prophet?” may generate a fruitful conversation. Even if the conversations don’t always get off the ground, your enthusiasm for learning the Bible will be contagious and non-Christians will see that church is not dull and boring but fascinating and life shattering.

Pray with others. Use the time right after worship to meet others and find out their concerns and pray quietly with them. This will look a bit weird to newcomers with pairs of bowed heads all around the building, but they will know that we love each other and trust God’s providence.

Newcomers. Newcomers tend to leave fairly quickly so we have to move fast by identifying the visitor in our pew and offering them conversation immediately the service ends. It’s all very purposeful: make sure they are welcomed properly by you and your friends, maybe introduce them to the minister and help them see how they can fit in to the congregation. You may have to postpone catching your friends until after the newcomers have been cared for.

Stay late. Once you catch this vision of church, you are always the last to leave because the opportunities to minister don’t end until the last person leaves. Gone are the days of fitting church in between breakfast and brunch. Ministry of the pew takes time. Church requires a lot of effort, if we are to build the body of Christ.

Check out these stale hearing preventions:

“For those of us who have been Christians for a while, it becomes easy to think that we’ve pretty much exhausted the possibilities of the Christian life. We can settle into a routine of activities at church and in our small groups and Bible studies, with little expectation of anything new. The familiar becomes the predictable, and everything from here on out will be more of the same. We dip our teaspoon into the vast ocean of the living God. Holding that teaspoon in our hand, we say, ‘This is God.’ we pour it out into our lives, and we say, ‘This is the Christian experience.’

God calls us to dive into the ocean. He call us into ever new regions of his fullness, his immensity, his all-sufficiency. There is more for us in Christ than we have yet apprehended. Let’s never think that we have him figured out or that we’ve seen all he can do. The Bible is not a guidebook to a theological museum. It is a road map showing us the way into neglected or even forgotten glories of the living God.” 
- Ray Ortlund, When God Comes to Church

unity: sharing is caring

As a kid, I was reminded often “sharing is caring.” I was a selfish kid who did not share my stuff with other kids.

When it comes to the church sharing is caring too. In the church, it is more than a childish jingle—it is a unity that leads to maturity in Christ. In Ephesians 4:1-6, we learned the church is called to walk as one in Christ with humility, gentleness, patience and love, but this can come with its challenges. We quickly discover that diversity and immaturity within the church can cause conflicts between one another.

What is the cause of disunity in the church? There are many causes, but the primary challenge to unity we will look at today is when you use your God-given gifts for your own agenda. God did not give you spiritual gifts to make you happy, to have others in the church stare at your sweet spiritual skills in awesome wonder, nor did He give them for the praise of your glory. If this is how you view spiritual gifts it is a challenge to the unity of the church and your own spiritual maturity.

Spiritual Gifts bring diversity to the church [Ephesians 4:7-10]

When it comes to spiritual gifts there are many gifts, as we will see, but only one Giver. For Ephesians 4:7 declares, “But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” What is grace referring to in this verse? Grace refers to the ministry of spiritual gifts that come from Christ. Grace is expressed through the gifts of the Spirit, which He has shared with the church to resemble the ministry of Christ. Who are the recipients of Christ’s grace-gifts? According to the verse, “each one of us.” In other words: all followers of Christ share grace-gifts [cf. 1 Corinthians 12:7, 11]. No one in the church misses out on these spiritual Christmas gifts.

How are these grace-gifts made possible? In Christ, the Conqueror of sin and death. Who by His grace died, buried, resurrected and ascended victorious. Christ is like the conquering king who showers His subject with spiritual gifts. Note the interesting quotation from Psalm 68:18, “When He ascended on high He led a host of captives and He gave gifts to men,” which was a praise song that explains how kings brought gifts to the people of Israel. The reason for these gifts was to praise God. Paul links the idea of triumph and applies it to the Son of David—Jesus Christ—whose ascent to the Father declares victory over sin and death [vs.8-10; cf. 1:19-22].

Christ is supreme ruler over all things and shares with His people diverse gifts for His praise. Diversity would seem to at odds with unity, but this is not the case within the church. That is the beauty of the church and the grace-gifts of Christ. The diversity of gifts is given for the purpose of the church’s unity and Christ’s glory.

Spiritual Gifts bring maturity to the church [Ephesians 4:11-16]

What is the diversity of gifts God gives to His people? In this text there are only four gifts [who are persons] presented, “apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teacher.” [v.11] Are there more than these given? Yes,[1] but these four are mentioned specifically in context in relation to building Christ’s church. Within these gifts you will see how unity is brought together through diversity, maturity and ministry.

First, the diversity of gifts is for ministry [vs.11-12]. Christ gifts people within the church, “to equip the saints for the work of ministry and building up the body of Christ.” Each gift has an important role, as described in Ephesians, in declaring the mystery of Christ to all people [cf. 2:20; 3:5].

Apostle Directly chosen by Christ for a foundational role in unveiling the mystery of Christ [1 Cor. 12:28].
Prophet Directly called by God for a foundational role in proclaiming the mystery of Christ [2 Peter 1:19].
Evangelist Directly called to share with message of the Gospel [2 Timothy 4:5; Acts 21:8]
Pastor-Teacher Directly called to [shepherd] care for the followers of Christ [Acts 20:28; Colossians 1:7-8; 4:12-13]

Many look at this verse and think, “Is ministry just for professionals? Or people in leadership?” It might look that way, but as you read on gifted leaders are not to do the ministry for you they equip you to do ministry, so that the body of Christ might be built up. If not, then the church will be ill equipped to continue to spread the message of Christ. Think of a school whose teachers did not train students, a business whose employees did not build a product, or a parent that did not feed their child. So the church is gifted with leaders to equip, train and feed their members. Now the church is different than a school, business or family in the stability, longevity, and authority. Christ will build His church and schemes of man or Satan will not stop what Christ has started.

Second, ministry is for unity and maturity [v.13]. The goal of ministry is that the church would be built up in unity and maturity. As we minister for Christ and to one another the result with be continued growth of the church. Some churches look more like ratty childlike tree house made from scrap lumber and metal sheeting that need constant attention because no one is doing any work of ministry to maintain unity. Other churches are like colossal monuments of stone built with strong engineering and careful precision to stand the test of time with little to no maintenance because they understand the unifying and maturing work of ministry. In either the case, the load is not entirely on the leaders, for the entire church is in the cause together becoming more like the fullness of Christ.

Third, maturity is for spiritual security [vs.14-16]. Spiritual security is important for the church. How does spiritual maturity keep the church secure? The church will be secure from false teaching [14]. No church is ever at a point when it is mature enough to be not be deceived by false teaching. Like naïve children we need to be aware of the deceptive lies that are stirring that seek to sweep away the unity of the church. Therefore, the church must be secure in love being able to share with one another how to grow in Christ [15]. Mature followers are not ashamed to share hard things to help one another, and mature followers are willing to accept biblical counsel in order to be more like Christ.

Also, the church will be secure in working together to keep each other strengthened [16]. Every part of our body is important from the head [Christ] down to the toes. Anyone who has ever had a sprain knows how important our joints are to strength. Mark it down; you will not mature as a follower of Christ unless you are involved in ministry. If you go to church just to fill your mind with knowledge, but do not do anything with what you know you will not grow. Your growth will be stunted and you will become spiritually stagnant.

Our pastor often uses use the illustration of the Dead Sea to describe spiritual growth. Why is the Dead Sea called dead? The Jordan River goes into the sea, but no river goes out. The Dead Sea is all input, but no output. It just gets saltier and more stagnant. Nothing can live or grow in it. Likewise, followers of Christ who do not use their spiritual gifts will become just like the Dead Sea if they just input knowledge and do not output service.

How can you prevent yourself from being stagnant and dead in your walk with Christ and your involvement at church? It begins by using your diverse gifts for the unity and the maturity of the church and your relationship with Christ. Diversity of gifts does bring unity to the church and glory to Christ. A church that walks in unity shares their gifts, which have been graciously given to them for the care of one another and the glory of church. Sharing is caring when it comes to the unity of the church.

What is your spiritual gift[s]? The best way to discover your gift is through prayer to God, counsel with your leaders, and implementation. How are your gifts being used? Are they being used for your glory, or for the glory of your church and Christ? If ministry is a chore rather than something you cherish, then you have a pretty good idea you are serving for the wrong reasons and you are a challenge to the churches unity. How would the work of ministry be different if you looked it as “get to” rather than “have to”?

[1] Cf. I Peter 4:11; Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12

how to pray for your church

As a pastor, I can relate to Pastor Paul as he writes to the Ephesians. I love the church. I love the church God has called me to pastor. I am so encouraged by the people’s faithfulness and hunger for truth. I think about them often in my prayers. How should we pray for our church? In Ephesians 3:14-21, we are given a peek into the heart of Paul’s prayer for the church.

Paul begins his prayer on his knees [v.14]. There are many different ways to pray—you can pray standing up, arms raised high, flat on your face, or on your knees. Praying on your knees is the most common way we often think of praying. What is the significance of praying on your knees? Bowing to our knees is a symbol of humility to God’s authority. It is a sign of reverence [cf. Romans 14:11; Philippians 2:10]. Kneeling is the outward appearance of the inward affection. Paul in essence is bowing before his Father the Creator and name Giver.[1]

When we think about our churches it is easy to complain about what is not happening according to our expectations, but praying wish lists to God for your church are not helpful for you or your church. As Paul prays for the church he mentions three things: He prays that the power of God over that goes beyond what they can think, that the love of God for that goes beyond what they can think, and that they give God glory that He can go beyond what we can think.

1. Supernatural Strength [Ephesians 3:16-17a]

The first request for the church is for the power of God. How great is the power of God? God’s power is unfathomable. It is glorious [cf. Romans 6:4; Colossians 1:11]. Now if God were to pour all of His power into you, do you think you could stand the strain? Those who come face-to-face with the power of God are never the same.

God’s power doesn’t want to co-dwell with anyone or anything in our hearts. He wants Christ only to fit in the temple He has established within His believers. The believer’s life is like a house, through which God goes from room to room. In the library [mind], He catalogs the useless and worthless images and knowledge. In the dining room, He replaces our worldly appetite with spiritual hunger and thirst. In the living room, He challenges our worldly companions and activities. In the garage, He rummages through all the clutter. In the closet, He sheds light on the hidden sins. He desires to dwell in the entire house. Only when He had cleaned every room, closet, and corner of sin can He be at home.[2] Are there rooms you would rather God not see? What room needs the most renovation?

Prayer for the power of God is important so that the church does not waver from its commitment to Christ. If Christ has taken up residence in our hearts He has the authority to establish His rule over all that we are and do.[3] At times He will renovate the dwelling place for the purpose of cleanliness and Christlikeness.

2. Limitless Love [vs.17b-19]

The second request Paul pray’s for the church is that they know the immensity and incomprehensibility of God’s love. God’s love secures and anchors the believer in Christ. Love is the soil in which believers are rooted and will grow [rf. agriculture], the foundation upon which they are established [rf. Architecture; Colossians 1:23].[4]

Why is love so important? Without love the church has no real motivation to serve God and one another [cf. 1 Corinthians 13]. Without love you cannot grasp the greatness of God [cf. Romans 8:35-39]. What does ‘width, length, depth, and height’ indicate about God’s love? When I think about knowing the love of Christ I think of explorers charting new lands or a pioneer divers plumbing the depths of the sea. However, when I chart and plumb the love of God I do not reach an end or run out of discoveries. I will spend an eternity discovering the vast territory of Christ’s limitless love. His love surpasses knowledge. That does not give me an excuse for not trying to understand God, it just cannot be understood over a cup of coffee.

It seems strange to pray for knowledge of the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. Equally as strange is that Paul pray’s that the church be filled with the fullness of God. What we know is that they are already share in the fullness of God at salvation [cf. 1:23; Colossians 1:19; 2:9-10]. The believers in the church simply grow in the fullness of God. They are to become what they already are—that they may become all that God wants them to be in Christ.[5]

3. Give Glory to God [vs.20-21]

As Paul meditates upon the greatness of Gods power and limitless love he is moved to give God praise.[6] Praise is often the result of meditating upon what we know about God. This is called doxology—a study of glory—praise based on doctrine. Paul is moved to praise God because He is able to do more than we can think, ask or imagine [v.20]. In other words, you cannot ask from God too much because Gods gifts exceed our capacity. Paul cannot help but give praise to God.

When you shout out the words, “Glory to God,” it’s like a football team carrying their coach off the field on their shoulders or a standing ovation to a beautiful performance. There is in the heart of every person a longing to give glory. We are wired to worship. We worship anything from rockstars to athletes to hot wheels. The main reason people do not worship God is that He is not as real to them as other things they admire. Is God real to you? Do you admire Him? Do you give Him glory?

Think of the most popular and powerful people you know. Google says Lebron James, Peyton Manning, Tiger Woods, the Kardasian’s, or Obama. Historically, Google says Obama,  Julius Cesar, Abraham Lincoln, Alexander the Great or Martin Luther King. As John Piper says, “The most admirable of men are only meteors on the sky of history—they last about a third of a second and then are gone. But God is like the sun. And generation after generation He rises and never fades in His glory.”

The arena of glory to God today is in the church. The church is the stadium and amphitheater of the God’s glory and the main character and hero of the divine drama is Jesus Christ. The mystery hidden for ages in God is “that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.” [3:10] The church reflects Gods glory to the world.

In conclusion, as you pray for your church pray for the power and love of God by giving God glory that He can go beyond what you can think. God can do more in and through your church than you can think or imagine. The church of Christ is a beautiful anthem praising the greatness of God. He is using your church even with its personal flaws to display His perfect glory.

Here are some practical ways to pray for your church:

  1. Call your pastor and ask how you can pray for the church.
  2. Get with other members of your church and pray for your church.
  3. Write a prayer for your church.

[1] God gave people names [Gen.35:26; 1 Sam.25:25] and He gives His creation names [Ps.147:4; Is.40:26].

[2] Adapted from Robert Munger’s, My Heart Christ’s Home, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1954.

[3] L. Morris, Expository Thoughts on the Letter to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 104.

[4] Stott, 135; and Lincoln, 207. (Cf. REB: ‘With deep roots and firm foundations’)

[5] D.A. Carson, Spiritual Reformation, 195.

[6] Cf. Phil.1:19; 4:19; Col.1:9-14; 1 Thess.3:12; 1 Cor.1:5

reconciliation by the way of the cross

Hostilities and tensions between people are a serious part of this world. From the Middle East to mid-town America there are people who cannot get along even amidst peace talks. Will peace ever come? Can real peace be a part of our world? How can I be at peace with my overbearing family member, bullish co-worker, “frenemies,” or nagging church member who is consistently unfair or unreasonable?

Dealing with these deep-rooted tensions are not easy. God is well aware that we need to be at peace with one another. Peace usually does not happen through 1000-page peace talk agreements, becoming the next Dr. Phil family, grueling divorce settlements, or court ordered conflict resolution seminars. Permanent peace can only happen through the reconciling work of the cross of Christ.

Real Tensions & Religious Hostility [Ephesians 2:11-12]

When Paul writes to the Ephesians he is aware of the tensions between new Christians coming from Gentile and Jewish backgrounds. It was not easy for the new community of Christ to worship with one another. Jews and Gentiles came from radically different backgrounds, but through the cross they are can come together as one.

The tensions between Israel and the world have been happening ever since God chose them to be a His holy nation from among all the pagan and idolatrous nations of the world [Deuteronomy 14:2; Isaiah 43:1]. The Bible describes the special covenant relationship God has with the Hebrews, as His people [Genesis 17:7; Exodus 6:7; Romans 9:4-5] for His glory [Isaiah 49:3; Jeremiah 13:11]. Their circumcision marked physically their covenant relationship with God [cf. Genesis 17]. The Jews were given special access to God through their priesthood and possession of the Temple, which is where God dwelt [Exodus 29:42-43]. God designated the Hebrews as a divine picture displaying His glory to the world.

According to the Jews, the Gentiles were uncircumcised pagans who lived like wild, scavenging dogs.  Therefore, the Jews segregated themselves from Gentiles. Over time the Jews had a deep hatred towards the Gentiles for their irreligious practices and debase lifestyles. To the Jew, there was no debate, salvation was of the Jews.

On the flipside, the Gentiles viewed the Jews as weird because of their legal forms of clothing, behavior, and biased religious practices. They viewed the Jewish circumcision as mutilation of baby boys. They thought the Jews were unsociable because they refused any contact with Gentiles. Imagine what it would been like if you were a [spiritually] unclean Gentile having a Jew take a religious bath after touching or meeting with you, or calling you an “uncircumcised dog.” Not a way to win friends and influence people.

Now Paul, the author of Ephesians was a Jew, which is quite common of other characters in the New Testament. He lived by the Law and loved being a Hebrew [Philippians 3:5]. Before coming to Christ he was a Christian killer because it was offensive to think that another group of people would claim to be the people of God [Galatians 5:11]. It wasn’t until Paul met Jesus on the Road to Damascus that his eyes were opened to the reconciling work of Christ. He realized that without Christ—as a Jew or non-Christian—meant no eternal hope. Jesus, the Messiah, was a radical paradigm shift in the Jews understanding of God’s divine plan for humanity. All the promises that were given to Israel were now open to the rest of the world through Christ.

Your Spiritual Emancipation Proclamation [Ephesians 2:13-18]

“And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons. And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defence; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages…And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.”[1]

On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which ordered all slaves to be freed. This began the long road to restoring peace and equality between all Americans. It took about 100 years before racial reconciliation took effect through the leadership of Martin Luther King in the early 1960’s. To this day these tensions are still real in our world.

In Ephesians 2:13-19, Paul writes about our Spiritual Emancipation Proclamation. Through these words, “But now in Christ,” [cf. 2:4] we are given seven distinct benefits of Christ’s peace: we are “brought near by the blood of Christ” [v.13], He “has made us one” [vs.14], He has “broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility” [v.14], He “created one new man in the place of two” [v.15], He “reconciles us to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility [between Jews and Gentiles]” [v.16], He “came and preached peace” [v.17], and through Him “we have access in One Spirit to the Father” [v.18]. Herein is documented our freedom, which was bought and paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Peace appears 4 times in this passage. The world’s idea of peace is often living in prosperity and happiness without the interference of harm or imposition of rights. However, the biblical idea of peace means to put together two things that have been broken. What is broken? Man’s relationship with God is broken. How is it made right? The cross of Christ reconciles mans relationship with God [vertically] and mans relationship with one another [horizontally]. To reconcile means to set up or restore a relationship of peace not existing before. It is the thought of a ravaged wife desiring to be reconciled to her husband who has left her; a worried mother longing to be reconciled to their prodigal; or a lost sinner needing to be reconciled to God. How huge it is to reconcile a sinner to a peaceful relationship with God.

In Christ, we have freedom and the gateway to become reconciled with God and man. Jesus unveils to all men—Jew and Gentile—on one eternal plan: in Christ, we have one Savior, one cross, one body, one new man, one Spirit and one Father [4:4-6; Galatians 3:18; Colossians 3:11]. Christ reconciled the gap between the Jews and the Gentiles, making it possible for any man to become right with God because “He is our peace.”

Israel was once the display of God’s glory, but now in Christ the church would be the display of His glory. Today it is common to believe there are two covenants—one for Jews and another for Christians—however, biblically there is only one New Covenant given to man in Christ. There are not two ways to God; rather there is only one way to God [cf. John 14:6]. As John Piper argues this may appear intolerant, disrespectful, undemocratic, unpluralistic, offensive or anti-Semitic,[2] rather it is biblical and Christ-centric. Jesus, the Messiah, has become the focal point of redemptive history, and both Jews and non-Christians need Jesus because He is their only peacemaker.

Together we are Building the New Temple of God—The Church [Ephesians 2:19-22]

Being one in Christ for both a Jew and Gentile Christian would have been a cultural and spiritual adjustment. Think about what it would have been like to be a Jew and hear that Christ abolished the Law of Moses or to be a Gentile and know that the Temple of God was no longer a physical structure. A Jew would ask, “Why did Jesus abolish the law?” The simple answer, is that there was no longer a need for the Law because Jesus has fulfilled the Law. The Law of Moses still has its uses, primarily in showing people their sinfulness and ultimately in providing the basis for the condemnation of Jews who do not believe in Christ [Luke 18:18-27; Romans 2:14-16].

The Jewish temple in Paul’s day was an enormous building. In fact, Herod the Great modified the Temple in Jerusalem to be an eye-catching structure. In Ephesus, there was another temple, the Temple of Diana, which was a magnificent structure that some say rivaled the Parthenon. For both the Jews and the Gentiles worship in a Temple was a vital and central part of their lives. However, those in Christ—the holy temple—within the church are now the gathering of people worshiping God. It important to realize YOU are the place God dwells? You reflect Christ.

It would have been a huge and humbling pill for a Jew to swallow to acknowledge a Gentile as being a part of God’s redemptive plan for mankind, let alone “citizen” of the same divine kingdom. Through Christ, Gentiles have been invited into God’s divine plan and believing Jews have been invited into the church of Christ.

The church at large is a beautiful picture of God’s reconciling work through the cross of Christ. The Church is the living organism, which displays the Glory of God. Jesus Christ is the Head and High Priest of the church interceding on behalf of its members. We all function as priest having access to God anytime and anyplace. We are the living stones of His Temple [1 Peter 2:5], being built up in Christ, who have Him as our chief cornerstone. Without Him the whole thing crumbles. Without Christ there is no foundation to build upon, no stones can fit together, nor can the building grow [vs.20-21].

Like was said in the beginning, dealing with these deep-rooted tensions and hostilities are not easy. God is well aware that we need to be at peace with one another. Permanent peace can only happen through the reconciling work of the cross of Christ. If God can reconcile Jews and Gentiles in Christ, what other relationships can God reconcile? Your overbearing family member, bullish co-worker, “frenemies,” or nagging church member who is consistently unfair or unreasonable.

[1] An excerpt from the Emancipation Proclamation written by Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863.

[2] John Piper, Israel and Us Reconciled in One Body. September 27, 1992.

[3] Robert L. Saucy, The Church in God’s Program. Moody Press, Chicago. 1972. 34.

it takes a village [to build up a follower]

When I think about Old Europe I am drawn to the massive cathedrals. These marvelous monuments to Christendom took hundreds of years, thousands of man-hours, and millions of dollars to build. Dedicated craftsmen have embossed cathedrals with ornate artwork, colorful stain-glass, meaningful sculptures, and rich relics, which all add to the message of Scriptural themes. To this day these cathedrals are engineering marvels.

The church is often misunderstood and misapplied. As beautiful as these cathedrals and churches may be they are not the church. The church is not a building—it is people. The church is built up by followers of Christ displaying the glory of God and discipling one another to godliness.

The purpose of the church is quite important as it relates to the growth of the people within the church. Discipleship is often described as a one-on-one personal if not private endeavor. As we disciple someone in Christ the first things we teach them is about private growth: practicing devotions, private prayer life, and personal obedience. This is good and true, however, the personal growth in Christ also happens biblically through community within the Body of Christ [1 Corinthians 12:7; Ephesians 4:12]. Seldom is discipleship viewed as a community project.

EPHESIANS 4:11 And He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

Ephesians 4:11-16, teaches us about the corporate aspect of discipleship. Once a follower commits to Christ they can immediately contribute to the Body of Christ [cf. Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:1-10; 1 Peter 4:11]. Without contribution to the Body of Christ we fail to mature in our faith or have accountability to continue in our faith. Christian growth does not happen in isolation, rather growth happens in community. According to verse 13 there are three aspects of discipleship that cannot happen in isolation: unity, mature in knowledge, maintaining a measure of fullness of Christ.

Unity of the faith is the first and most obvious aspect of community discipleship. Communities have common goals for the benefit of one another. God’s people are moving towards the goal of one faith. Faith is not just personal, but it is a public way to stir one another to faith and good works [cf. Hebrews 10:22-25; Philippians 1:27]. This means followers are using their God-given gifts for His glory and the growth of the community. New believers need to see the unified community of faith [cf. Colossians 2:7].

The second aspect of community discipleship is maturing in the knowledge of the Son of God. Knowledge is not only a personal entity, but refers to the community of followers [cf. v.12]. The knowledge of Christ is the core of the church. Together we encourage one another know Christ and make Him known. This maturity of knowledge is illustrated by infants of who are immature and unstable, like a storm-tossed boat blown in all directions by the winds of false teaching [v.14]. Mature followers are able to discern more clearly what is true and false, but new followers need to grow in their knowledge of Christ. Knowledge of Christ is not an end in itself, rather being transformed by Christ is the goal of this knowledge [cf. 1 John 2:3-4].

The third aspect of community discipleship is maintaining a measure of fullness of Christ. This is the end result of community discipleship—being like Christ.[1] Now the church is already the fullness of Christ [1:23; cf. 4:10], but the future element is still present in our need to be like Christ. The maturity of this growth is measured by nothing less than Christlikeness.

Community discipleship is critical to the growth of the individual followers. Rechargeable batteries do not power up by themselves. They need to be plugged into a power source in order to be recharged. So it is with Christian maturity—followers cannot grow apart from being plugged into the church.

Christ is both the Builder and the Foundation of the church [2:20; cf. 1 Timothy 3:15]. Without a connection to the community of Christ—the local church—we cannot grow, as we ought. If we do not encourage new believers or immature believers to be connected to the Body of Christ they will remain immature, if not disillusioned by true Christian growth. A believer can growth through Bible Study, prayer and personal obedience, but more complete growth happens in the context of the church community. When this is happening the members of the body are being built up and growing the way God intended.

It takes a village to disciple a follower. The church is that village, and together we can encourage one another to unity, mature knowledge, and fullness of Christ. As John Stott says, “Maturity in unity which comes from knowing, trusting, and growing up in Christ.”[2]

[1] John Koessler, True Discipleship. Chicago, IL. Moody Publishers, 2003. 180.

[2] John R.W. Stott, God’s New Society. Downers Grove, InterVarsity, 1979, 169.

marks of the messenger

This week I read through the book Marks of the Messenger by J. Mack Stiles. It is a concise book that’s not easy to put down. I highly recommend this book to any teacher, youth leader, missionary, church leader, or follower of Christ desiring to live a gospel-centered life. I am seriously considering the possibility of having our children’s ministry leadership read the book this coming year as we share the gospel with our community and core families.

A messenger is marked by his character–the character of Christ. Jesus asks His followers to be so concerned about what I am doing, but more about who I am becoming. people of faith [18]. Jesus is not. The greatest obstacle to healthy evangelism is pragmatism: “doing evangelism” before we ever think who we are meant to be as evangelists [19].

Living a gospel-centered life is God’s expectation for His followers. “The gospel,” in modern language, means, “Breaking News!” And the news is good news, because there was bad news before [27]. As Timothy Keller often says, “The gospel is not the ABC’s of the Christian faith, it is the A-Z’s.” The cross of Christ and the gospel message that streams from the cross is the river that rage my entire life. People need to see their sin in all its horror, not so they are motivated to “clean up their act,” but so they fall at the feet of Jesus knowing that He is their only hope [31].

Have you heard people say that Christianity is a crutch? They’re far too optimistic. We don’t need a crutch; we need spiritual defibrillators [27].

One of the greatest dangers is to assume those passing in the church hall, sitting in the pew next to you, or your small group companion understands the gospel. We must ask the hard questions, probe deeper, and see if the gospel is really taking root in peoples lives. Stiles, in his book, mentions Kevin Roose, a Brown University student going undercover at Liberty University all the while other students assuming he is a follower never asking him about his faith. A follower to many Christian is–one who goes to church, prays and says they believe in God–nothing more than moralism and cultural adaption. The gospel goes deeper than that. It changes the core of a man. At least that is what God intends for the gospel to do.

The challenge for healthy evangelism is to stop trying to clean people up through rules rather than bring them to the cross [44].

The imperative of the church and its followers is to display the glory of Christ as it shares the gospel. The church does not exist to make me happy; it demonstrates the truth of Christ to a watching world [103]. The church is the gospel made visible [Mark Dever, The Church, 767].

What is the gospel? Check out these posts about the gospel:

gospel gumbo

lies we believe about following Christ

5 terrifying truths about Christianity

plan G

what’s IT?


Why do most people not ahead church? Do people that don’t go to church believe in God? Some often assume that just because someone doesn’t go to church that they do not believe in God. The fact is, many do not understand the unchurched. If you were to interview an unchurched you would come to understand:

1. Unchurched believe that any religion is okay, as long as it helps you.

We live in a universalistic world that thinks it is sophisticated and politically correct to say that all roads lead to God. I hear the masses say, “You can believe what you want, I will believe what I want, and we are all okay.” The fastest growing religion in America and the world is tolerance which has the motto’s: “everything can be right” or “nothing is certain.”

Is that really true? Can anyone make that claim? What we understand from each of the major religions of the world is that everyone thinks they are right and others are wrong, even those who claim to be agnostic or atheist. Can they all be right or wrong when they are all truly different at their core? No.

2. Unchurched are curious about the spiritual, but put off by religion.

People are generally fascinated and intrigued by the spiritual. However, they do not want to be tied down by any one belief or give up control to God. As I talk to many unchurched youth I am overwhelmed by their desire to know about God, faith, and the afterlife, but not commit to it. 4 out of 5 American’s call themselves deeply spiritual [Aug.26, 2002 Barna Update], but base their faith on their circumstances not on absolute truth or formal religion. People do not want a religious system running their lives, telling them to stop sleeping with their partner, to obey “stupid” moral standards, to quit abusing substances, or to start forgiving their parents.

3. Unchurched do not know what Christianity really is all about.

A few weeks ago I was meeting someone for lunch. While waiting I was talking to another person waiting for a friend too. This person began to complain about their work and how they were glad to be on lunch break.  Every other word that came out of their mouth was an expletive. When they were finished venting they asked, “What kind of work do you do?” I have to laugh inside when people ask this question. Mostly for the response that follows, “I am a pastor”. He just looked at me with that I-am-embarssed-for-cussing-like-a-sailor-in-front-of-a-minister-look.

After an awkward pause he said, “Oh, you know, I am a Christian too!”

I did not doubt him, but I did question, “That’s great. Where do you go to church?”

“Oh, I do not go to church.”

“Why is that?”

“Well you do not have to go to church to be a Christian,” was his dogmatic reply.

Many consider themselves Christian by default because they live in America, their mom was a Christian, or because they went to a denominational church sometime in the past.  Two-thirds of people who do not go to church say that they are Christians [Barna, 2000], while half of those same people do not celebrate Easter which is a big Christian holiday. It doesn’t take you long to learned that not everyone who says their a Christian really believes that Jesus Christ can save them from all their sins or that He is the only way to eternal life.

4. Unchurched do not know what to believe for certain.

Many who claim that they are Christians in the previous point are uncertain about one thing: where will I go in the afterlife? That is the age old question. The common answer is, ” I do not know. Does anybody? I think I am good enough.” Today, there are many unfounded theories about God and His plan for life after death. Some will say, “God is a good God and will be gracious to me. Of course, He will forgive everybody.”

5. Unchurched are searching to fill an empty void.

How good is good enough? Who sets the standard of the scale of goodness? We like to set the standard by weighing our goodness against anthers goodness. I might think, “Well, I am not as bad as Hitler or that molester I heard about on the six o’clock news.” Who says you are not as bad? We like to project upon God our good standing and impose upon Him mercy.

I would like to propose that when reading the Bible from cover to cover it is clear–I do not deserve His mercy, I am not a very good person at all, I desperately need God’s grace to cover my sin, and belief in God’s Son is the only means to an afterlife of peace. I absolutely believe that a daily relationship with Jesus Christ is what will fill the empty void and longing of our heart. Jesus is certain, poses great questions to the ultra-religious [John 8:54-59], and claims to be the way truth and life [John 10:20]. Nobody goes to heaven but through Him [John 14:6].