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Beckwith Baptist Church Service LiveStream

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LiveStream

Hi everyone,
I’ve been working on getting a live-stream church service up and I think I’ve figured it out. I’m very glad for some helpful internet services that make the job easier!

Here’s the plan:

This Sunday at 10am I will LiveStream a church service (much like we’re used to) to a series of online platforms. Unfortunately, YouTube is NOT one of them, but it’s available a few other places so I think everyone should be covered. Here’s how to access it.

The easiest way is to go to the church’s website at:

https://beckwithbaptist.wixsite.com/beckwithbaptist/live-stream

It will also stream on our church’s Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/BeckwithBaptistChurch/

It will be simulcast on my Art of the Christian Ninja FB Page too:

https://www.facebook.com/ArtOfTheChristianNinja/

It will also be available on YouTube here:
https://www.youtube.com/user/wipeoutal/

If you have any questions, let me know.

By the way, the church also now has Zoom Conferencing software that will allow me to host a Small Group study for everyone no matter where they are — and one of the coolest features is that people without internet can join the group using a special phone number! I’m looking forward to trying that out, so stay tuned for that soon.

It’s Not Your Church (Gospel of John Series)

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Please open to John 2:13–17 and let’s read it together. But before we do, a little context.

Remember where we are in the Gospel of John. I told you last time that the Wedding in Cana was on the third day, but commentators are actually divided about whether the days in John are meant to be taken literally as 24-hour time periods or are more like “literary organizing statements” meant to alert the reader that these stories should be read as one thematic unit.[1] I lean towards the later.

Whatever the case, in the Gospel of John, Day one has a delegation sent out to interrogate John the Baptist. Day two John declares Jesus to be “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (1:29). On day three, a couple of John the Baptists’ disciples, John and Andrew, leave John the Baptist and spend the day with Jesus, eventually bringing Simon Peter (1:35-42). Jesus then heads to Galilee and on day five and finds Philip and Nathanael. By day seven – seven usually being a pretty significant number in the Bible – Jesus hasn’t gathered all his disciples yet, but has a core group who attend the Wedding in Cana where Jesus turns water into wine. We talked a lot about the imagery of that event a couple weeks ago.

Now, with His earthly kingdom inaugurated, the Lord, Saviour and King Jesus, with His disciples, heads into Jerusalem – the royal city, the capital city, and heads straight to the Temple, the most important place in the entire world, because it was the place where YHWH accepted worship, where sins were atoned for, where he invited all of humanity to find Him and know Him.

And in comes Prince Jesus, King Jesus, the God-man, the Son of God, the law-giver, the One who wrote the rules for how they should worship, the One who gave the plans for how it should be constructed, for what was acceptable as worship and what was not. Here comes the Son of the One to whom this temple was dedicated, in the time of the Passover, the most important Jewish festival, a reminder of God’s power to punish the wicked by bringing pestilence and death, but also how He miraculously delivered His people from that curse through “the blood of the lamb” (don’t miss that connection), and rescue his people from slavery. Jesus is the God of the Israelites, the plague bringer, the One who sent the angel of death, and also the Lamb who was slain and whose blood must be shed and wiped on the doorposts for people to be saved. Jesus was the One to whom this Temple was dedicated and who had sent prophets into the world to declare this place as the one and only place on earth where humanity could deal with their sin and get right with their Creator. And what does He see?

 “The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple, he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there.” (2:13)

The Passover was a time of pilgrimage for not only the Jews but for all those who had chosen to follow God, including gentile proselytes. The Law of Moses commanded that all who come during this time of year bring their best animals to sacrifice as an atonement for their sins, a way to show how serious was, how sin leads to death, and to remind everyone how gracious God is for accepting the death of an animal, the temporary exchange of the animal’s blood, instead of requiring the death of the human being.

The temple was constructed in such a way that everyone on earth could come and worship God, bring prayers, and get right with Him. But, since God’s holiness was meant to be paramount, what you see is a series of gates and doors and chambers leading from the outside of the temple, all the way into the holy of holies.

On the outside was the Court of the Gentiles, or the Court of All-Nations[2], to which Herod had added a huge, 35-acre platform and a sort of porch, called the Royal Stoa, which had many columns and a roof. The Court of All-Nations, was where the world was invited to come and pray and worship God – even those who were not full converts to Judaism. Next was the middle part which was only for the Jews, God’s chosen people. Next came the Temple area where only priests could go. Then, through another gate was the Holy Place where only a few priests could go, and finally, there was Veil separating priests from the Holy of Holies, the throne room of God, where only the High Priest could go, and that only once per year.

The whole of the temple was designed as a way for people to come and connect with God, hear His Word, see the cost of their sin, make sacrifices and prayers, and understand that not only are they separated from God by their sin – but also invited by God to get right with Him and become one of His people.

But as Jesus walks into the Courtyard of the Gentiles, the Court of All-Nations, probably under the Royal Stoa, what did he see? The nations of the world accepted, by His chosen people, praying, being taught God’s Word, connecting everyone to the only path of salvation, the One, True God? No. They had taken the Court of the Gentiles and turned it into a shopping mall. They used this area to exploit the pilgrims who needed to exchange their currency for that used at the temple and to buy their animals for sacrifice. Not only had they commodified the worship of God, but were doing it in the very place where the nations were invited to come and pray.

To contemporize this, think of it this way: We take Communion Sunday pretty serious at our church. Each month we set aside time where I talk about the importance of Communion, give time for personal reflection, give a warning about taking it with a good heart, and give an invitation for using the Lord’s Supper as a way to get right with God and renew your relationship with Him and His church. It’s a big deal.

Now, imagine that next week you bring a friend to church. This person knows nothing about Christianity but you’ve been talking to them about your faith, they’ve realized their sin, have felt the weight of their guilt, and want to be made right with God. They beg you to take them to church next week so they can have their consciences cleaned, so they can experience new life, so they can be right with their Creator.

But when you come to the door, instead of seeing the communion table laid out with dishes with little pieces of bread and tiny glasses of grape juice, you see the whole back two rows of pews exchanged for a couple ATMs and machines that make change. And when you look to the front, there’s a vending machine full of little, plastic bags of bread and wine.

You tell your friend to get out their debit card so they can get some cash, telling them that it costs $4 per transaction. But then they need to put the ATM cash in the change machine because the vending machine only takes change, and the change machine costs another $4 bucks. Then, when they go to the vending machine, the little pack of bread costs $12. You tell your friend that they need to do this because it’s the only way that you can be right with God, and if they don’t that God will still be angry with them.

Your friend isn’t allowed to sit down because each of the pews has a little door with a lock on it only allowing people who have paid for the privilege of sitting. So, you unlock your pew, sit down, and your friend stands next to you in the aisle. You tell them not to worry because if they give you a little money to contribute to the cost of the pew, they can sit down next week.

When it comes time for Offering, instead of music you see a commercial for some books for sale in the library, and another commercial for how great tasting our communion bread and juice is compared to other churches  — and how much more God loves people who use our vending machine. But when the plate is passed for offering, you learn that we don’t take Canadian currency anymore, but instead, we take Beckwith Baptist Bucks that can be bought in packs of 5s, 20s, and 100s. Your friend wants to be right with God and doesn’t know any better, so he fumbles with his wallet as the usher stands there waiting for him to get out their debit card again to buy some Beckwith Baptist Bucks. He doesn’t have a lot of money, so he opts for the $5 Buck, and gets a glare from the usher. You whisper in your friend’s ear that it’s generally understood that people who give more are more blessed by God and that anyone who is poor or sick or out of work must not be right with God. You tell them that maybe they should give a little more and that way God might be happier and then give them more money. They take out their wallet again and buy $20 more Beckwith Baptist Bucks.

How are you liking this version of the church? Do you see anything wrong with it? That’s like what Jesus walked in on that day. And, in fact, it’s what a lot of churches through the ages have looked like. This is the kind of church Martin Luther and the Reformers were fighting against – the church exchanging money for salvation. In fact, it wasn’t too long ago that it was common practice in some Anglican, Presbyterian and Catholic churches to charge “pew rent” to families so they could sit down during service.

What does Jesus think of this? How does Jesus react to His people putting up barriers to His free gift of salvation? How does Jesus react to people messing with His Word, His Law, and His Worship? Read from verse 14:

“And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, ‘Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.’ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’”

This Isn’t Your Church

Jesus takes it seriously. Jesus’ Father’s House, His House, the House of Worship given by God as the one place on earth where the world can come to Him – had been turned into a shopping mall that exploited, rather than invited, those who wanted to meet God.

I want you to consider a couple of passages before we move on here. Turn with me to Leviticus 10. At the beginning of Leviticus God tells Moses how to set up the tabernacle, who will be His priests, and how they are to conduct their worship. In Leviticus 8 God consecrates Aaron and his Sons to be priests and shows them what to do. In chapter 9 Aaron gives an offering and it is accepted by God. But then, look at chapter 10:

“Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘This is what the LORD has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’’ And Aaron held his peace.” (Leviticus 10:1–3)

At the very beginning of the Temple Worship, while everything was still new, Aaron’s sons tried to offer incense their own way, instead of how God authorized it and were instantly killed. How seriously does God take the worship in His temple? Very seriously. His way or death.

Some of you might think, “Oh, that’s Old Testament stuff. God doesn’t do that in the New Testament.” Turn to Acts 5:1–11. This event takes place right at the very birth of the Christian church. It says,

“But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.

After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.”

How seriously does God take worship, offerings, lying to the church, and grieving the Holy Spirit of God? Very seriously. Ananias and Saphira abused the church through deception and threatened it right at its very beginnings, and just like Nadab and Abihu, God needed to show how serious this was. He wants “great fear” to come upon the whole church in regards to these things.

Some of you might think, “Oh, that was only during biblical times at the birth of the church. Jesus wouldn’t do that now. He’s much nicer now.”

Turn to Revelation 2:18–29:

“And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: ‘The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze. I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works. But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. Only hold fast what you have until I come. The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. And I will give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”

If you have a red-letter Bible, it’s easier to note that these are the words of Jesus. How seriously does Jesus take the theology morality of his church? Very seriously.

Back up to Revelation 2:13-16. Jesus says,

“I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.”

How seriously does Jesus take false teaching and causing His people to stumble into? Very seriously.

You see, the temple of the Jews wasn’t their temple. Solomon’s Temple wasn’t Solomon’s. Herod’s Temple wasn’t Herod’s. And in the same way, this church is not your church. This isn’t my church. It’s Jesus’ Temple, Jesus’ Church. Jesus is the One who saves people, who calls people to it, who enables worship, who raises up and brings down leaders, who defends it, energizes it, equips it, and disciplines it.

He has set up in His Word the way he wants to be worshipped, the way the church should be organized, the attitudes of the hearts of the believers who come, and how they are supposed to treat one another and the world around them – and He takes it very seriously.

Remember what happened when the Corinthian Church started messing with the Lord’s Supper? God killed some of the people in the church. (1 Cor 11:30). Yes, He gives us a lot of freedom within those boundaries, but don’t be mistaken that we can do whatever we want here. There are things that we can do within these walls, in our meetings, in our homes, in our services, that invite the judgment and discipline of God.

We love to sing about Jesus as accepting and loving and generous and kind – which He is. He exchanged Himself for us on the cross. He bled and died for us. He gives us new birth, a new spirit, raises us from death to life, and gives us hope and peace and joy and eternal life. That’s all true. Jesus broke down all the walls of the temple by dying and rising again. No more Court of the Gentiles. No more place where only Jews can go. No more Holy Place. The veil is torn and the Holy of Holies, the presence of God, the Holy Spirit, no longer dwells in one place that only one person can see once per year, but is now in the hearts of every believer. We, as individuals, and we the church are now the Holy of Holies, the Temples of God.

But, Christians, you must also realize that God’s love and Jesus’ grace does not give us permission to do whatever we want. He’s not only our Saviour, He’s also our Lord. Jesus says that we show our love not just through singing and praying, but though “obedience” (John 14:15).

Turn with me to Hebrews 10:19-31. These are words written to Christians who had been suffering for their faith. Words written as an encouragement and a warning about how they conduct themselves as believers and as a church,

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 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.

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

Conclusion

My conclusion for you today is for you to consider these words and take them seriously. I want a “great fear” of God to come upon you in regard to how you relate to Him and His church.

Take time to consider what you know about the Christian life, about your own personal sins, personal holiness, your devotional life, about how believers should operate as individuals and as a group.

  • About whether you and this church is humbly obeying God in how you treat your soul, your family, your fellow believers, those on the leadership team, and the community around you.
  • Are you in a right relationship with everyone, humbly submitting to the ones God has told you to humbly submit to, and pursuing unity and peace? Check your heart for your attitude about those who are here, and those who are not. Examine yourself for whether you are acting humbly, perusing unity, giving grace, bearing with one another in love.
  • Examine your mind and heart during worship and the reading and study of God’s word. Where was your head and heart at during the songs? Focused on Jesus or somewhere else? Where was it at during the reading of scripture? What about during this sermon?
  • Examine yourself for how you are contributing to the needs of the church? Are you giving your tithes and offerings obediently, sacrificially, joyfully, and generously? Or are you holding back? Is God pleased with how you use your money and possessions or not?

“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7–8)

 Our God is gracious and forgiving, with love that endures, but He is also a consuming fire. Jesus says to we believers in Revelation 3:19, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” How do we escape Jesus’ reproof and discipline? Though zealous worship and repentance.

  • What has Jesus been telling you lately?
  • What has He told you to start doing or give up?
  • Who has He told you to get right with?
  • Who has He commanded you to submit to, but you have been refusing?
  • In what ways have you individually, and we the church, felt Jesus’ love through reproof and discipline – and in what ways must we increase our zeal and make sure we repent.

Consider these questions, especially as we are about to have communion together. This week, read God’s Word and ask Him to bring you to passages that you need to see. Meet with God’s people and ask God to speak through them. Get on your knees, on your face, and ask God to show you your sin and from what you must repent so that you will not fall into His hands and face His discipline – either now, or at the judgment seat of Christ.

 

[1] Borchert, G. L. (1996). John 1–11 (Vol. 25A, p. 145). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MGy1wdGKX2k

When Should a Christian Leave their Church or Denomination? (Post-CLRA Meeting Report with Q&A)

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Update on CLRA Meeting

I thought it important to start with a quick update on the meeting Jason and I went to this week. I don’t want to take up the whole sermon time with it, but it’s important, and you are all invested in what is happening so I want to make sure you’re informed.

There were actually four meetings in a row. We began with worship and a quick orientation by the leaders of CLRA outlining why we were there and a quick discussion to make sure we were all on the same page. Pastor Paul Carter, the point leader of CLRA, explained that the whole point of the day was to be a one-stop-shop where we could pray together, hear from the CBOQ leadership about how they are dealing with the LGBTQ issues, talk amongst ourselves as church leaders, and then get a presentation from another denomination that has already dealt with the issue properly.

To be honest, this has gone on far longer than I even knew. I told you last week that this all came about because of Danforth a few years ago but it was actually 7 years ago that this came up in the Norfolk association. One of the pastors there tried to go through the process of confronting another pastor who was giving some false teaching but ended up getting in trouble himself at the CBOQ head office. That event is actually what spawned the creation of CLRA and Danforth is only the most recent example of the same issue they’ve been trying to deal with for a long time.

I could get into more detail about what’s been going on for the past years, but suffice to say that there hasn’t been a lot done. People have talked, committees have been struck, paperwork has been shuffled, emails sent, plans made — but ultimately nothing has been done to confront the actual issue of what to do with pastors and churches who are teaching and doing unbiblical things. And that’s where the frustration comes from. Lots of talk, not enough action.

To give an example of what’s been happening, let me tell you about one e-mail. The CBOQ struck a committee to discuss how they could deal with these kinds of issues. This committee took a long while to come up with six phases they would go through to “deal with challenging issues”. We are currently on phase 3 where they encourage churches to talk to about the issue before moving on to phase 4 where they get feedback from the churches.

They decided to send out an e-mail telling people that they were planning to launch phase four soon, but apparently, the first draft of the e-mail wasn’t to the liking of the CBOQ staff, so they took it to another group so they could edit the e-mail. That tweaking on one email took over a month. I got it a couple weeks ago and it absolutely reads like it was written by a committee more interested in not offending anyone than actually saying anything. This caused confusion among the churches and head office was inundated with calls by confused church leaders. And the churches who want to see decisive action taken on what they see as an obvious issue are very frustrated.

When the president and former president of CBOQ came into the meeting, it felt tense. The two men were obviously nervous and defensive. When they sat down their tone was immediately aggressive and accusatory towards the pastors and leaders of CLRA. They talked for a long time and were given a chance to answer questions from the crowd, and it was a very frustrating thing to listen to. We kept asking pointed, specific, questions like, “Do you believe that homosexuality is a sin?” or “Will the CBOQ be decisive and deal with this issue?” or “We already agreed on this in 1988 and 2003 and have systems in place to deal with it at an association level, will you support those systems?” – and they just refused to give clear answers. If you’ve ever watched a politician bob and weave around reporters questions and dodge issues they don’t want to talk about, you’ll know how it felt. It was very disappointing.

When the two of them eventually left, the gathered leaders only had a short time to talk but I think they all felt the same way as I did. Pastor Paul voiced his frustration, as did some others, said it was generally agreed that the CBOQ was badly broken, hopelessly divided, the head office woefully inadequate to the task, and that the conference is probably unfixable outside a mighty work of God. Pastor Paul then made the suggestion that there was really only one, last ethically right thing left to do: Present one final, clear, decisive, formal motion at the next CBOQ Annual Assembly Meeting in June that essentially presents them an ultimatum. Stand by the word of God, stick to the principles the CBOQ has historically agreed on, and create a discipline and policing mechanism to deal with the churches who refuse — or don’t.

And that’s the current plan. Pastor Mark Bertrand, who has been part of this process from day one and has even been sitting on various CBOQ committees, will get a few smart folks together to draft that motion, send it out to the CLRA churches, and then we’ll probably meet one more time before the meeting to nail down the exact wording.

The general consensus is that a motion like that will be thunderously defeated at the floor, but at least then everyone will know where they stand. And that’s where we’re at as a church too. Jason and I are waiting for CLRA to get back to us with a draft of that motion, and we’re waiting and praying for the next Annual Meeting.

(There was a brief Q&A at this point. To hear it, listen to the Audio Podcast version.)

Why This is Important

I know I said that I wanted to get back into the Gospel of John this week, but I really feel like we need to cover why this topic is important enough that many churches would consider leaving the CBOQ over. I can absolutely see people saying, “Why can’t we just all get along? Why do we have to argue at all? Why not just let them do their thing and we’ll do ours and then we don’t have to divide? Hasn’t there been enough division in church history? Doesn’t God talk about the importance of unity? Won’t it affect our church’s reputation if we are the ones to leave? Can’t we just all stay together for the sake of the things we actually agree on?”

And those are very good questions. No church, and no Christian, should take division, divorce, or disfellowship lightly. Whether it’s us talking about the churches of our denomination, the individual congregation we attend, or our ministries, work, contracts, friendship, families, or marriages, our hearts should be oriented toward unity, working things out, being gracious, open-minded, forgiving, putting up with one another’s issues.

Consider the words of Romans 12:9-21:

“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honour. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honourable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

That’s an extremely clear passage of scripture dealing with human relationships. It covers inside the church and outside. It covers friends and family, troubled people, and enemies. It keeps telling us to be kind, gracious, humble, loving, and extremely patient with everyone who we come in contact with — just as Christ has been with us.

And so, you’d think that it would go doubly when dealing with other churches, right? The Bible is super clear about Christians seeking unity. Paul pleads with churches to remain united under the banner of Christ. So why would we be talking about division and disunity with the CBOQ? After all, shouldn’t we be doing what Romans 12 says?

Leaving a Church

Yes, and no. Yes, we need to be loving and patient, but no, we should not remain in partnership with everyone who calls themselves Christian. And the nuance is important.

Right now, there’s a huge problem in the Christian church with division and what is sometimes called “church hopping”. A lot of Christians tend to treat churches like restaurants. They go, try the food, if they like it they stay, but if they get bored, the chef changes the specials, or one of the waiters has a bad day, they take off and go try a different restaurant. The consumerism of the culture has seeped into people’s brains so much that they believe that they can treat the local church like a store and their ministries like a product. And they sometimes leave a church with as much thought and prayer as they would give switching from Freshco to Independent, or from Petro-Canada to Pioneer. They only think as far as their own feelings.

I would argue that most Christians who leave churches leave for non-biblical reasons. They don’t follow through on Romans 12, they don’t go through Jesus’ teaching on how to deal with offences from Matthew 18, they don’t get council or humble themselves like Paul wanted Euodia and Syntyche to. They just leave. And that’s bad for the church they leave because the church can’t grow past whatever issue they left because of, it’s bad for the church they go to because these people are bringing baggage with them, and it’s bad for the people themselves because they are missing the blessing of what God promises to those who humble themselves toward their fellow believers.

We don’t want to be like that. But, does a person have to stay in one church forever? Are there good, biblical reasons to leave a church? And, as to our own issue, are there good reasons for a church to leave a denomination? Yes, there are. There are actually 4 I found in my study.

Four Reasons to Leave a Church/Denomination

The first reason to leave a church is if heresy is being taught from the pulpit about foundational, scriptural truths. Listen to Galatians 1:6-9:

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”

There is a lot of wiggle room for different opinions about secondary teachings in the Bible. A person’s view of the end times, their view of creationism, or what version of the bible is the best one are all good discussions, but they are not primary and they’re not reasons to leave a church. What we’re talking about are things that are in the Apostles Creed. If the church has a dozen amazing ministries, a great kids program, and an awesome band, but doesn’t preach the Gospel, God wants you out of that church. They are accursed.

The second reason to leave is “If the leaders of the church tolerate seriously errant doctrine from any who are given teaching authority in the fellowship.” (I got a lot of help from this blogpost by John MacArthur on these four reasons.) In other words, if there is no system in place to discipline and remove false teachers. If the first reason to leave is that they’re teaching heresy, the second would be that the church simply isn’t interested in correcting heresy. Listen to Romans 16:17-18,

“I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.”

This is the church that has a good preacher and lots of good foundational documents on their website — a good statement of faith, membership covenant, etc. — but if anyone teaches anything different from what is in scripture, they have no system, no way, even no desire to confront that teacher. You go on Sunday and hear a decent sermon, but the Sunday School teachers are unskilled and full of wrong ideas, or the Small Groups are studying dubious books or false teachers, the music leader speaks with biblical falsehoods or sings unbiblical songs, or the library is full of contradicting and heretical materials. This is also a red flag — and is, in fact, the main reason why the conservative wing of the CBOQ is considering leaving. There are churches who are in clear violation of scripture — on the LGBTQ issues and others — but the CBOQ has not demonstrated a will or desire to discipline them or allow the associations to deal with it. Letting wolves roam around the sheep is a huge problem and a reason to leave.

The third reason to leave is similar to the second one, but it is if the church refuses to confront sin or discipline members who are sinning blatantly. I won’t get you to read it, but you’ll hopefully remember from 1 Corinthians 5 that Paul gives the church a lot of trouble for letting people in the church get away with some pretty disgusting stuff. And not only refusing to discipline them but actually bragging about how open-minded and non-judgmental their church is. This is another red flag — that they don’t take sin seriously.

Not that they are all spying on one another, breathing down each other’s necks with everyone afraid to move lest they get hammered by the pastor — we’re talking about people who are in obvious sins. I’ve heard of churches who have caught men molesting the kids in the church but refused to call the police or tell the church. That person just leaves and goes on to do it at a different church. That’s terrible. We’ve talked about the dangers of not confronting sin many times and that the most loving thing we can do is to drag sin into the light and deal with it. If a church doesn’t take discipline and sin seriously, then they don’t take God, salvation, scripture, or love seriously. We would all agree that a parent who doesn’t discipline their child, or who doesn’t pull them back from danger, does not truly love them.

We, as a church, cannot say we love the people of Danforth or Norfolk or any other church in the CBOQ who is teaching and practicing error if we are not willing to step up and say so. It is cruel of us to allow a group of people we are in association with to go on listening to and believing wrong things about God because we are too afraid to tell them the truth and bring their pastor or leadership to account.

The fourth reason to leave a church is if the church is marked by hypocrisy, giving lip service to biblical Christianity but refusing to actually live it out. We read 2 Timothy 3 last week, but turn there anyway. Hopefully, you’ll remember this list describing people in the church who want to be called Christians, who even want to be pastors and leaders in the church, who want everyone to see a “form of godliness” but are in fact hypocrites who will not submit to Jesus.

How can you tell if you are attending or in fellowship with this kind of church? Paul describes it this way, “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be…” now look at this list:

“Lovers of self”. This church promotes itself, not Jesus or the Gospel. They talk about how great their pastor is, how cool their ministries are, how good their band sounds — but not about the work God is doing there. The fruits of repentance, obedience, and humility are nowhere because the church doesn’t love Jesus, they love themselves, so that’s what they talk about.

Next, this church is full of “lovers of money”. Having a big building and a gym and fancy tech isn’t bad — and having a small church full of old stuff doesn’t make you better than them. How can you tell if the church is a lover of money? All the conversations seem to revolve around money. Maintenance issues, how to spend the money, how to save the money, they argue about budget items, they talk a lot about how much tithing there is, the rich people are in places of authority even though they’re not godly, and things like that. Whether a church is rich or poor, if they spend more time talking about money than they do praying, studying the word, and presenting the gospel, it’s a bad church.

Next, this church is “proud, arrogant”. How can you tell? Because they constantly compare themselves to other churches. They think they’re better than them. When other churches or preaches or ministries come up in conversation it’s always comparative — who is better, who has bigger numbers, who has bigger building, who raised more money. The preacher slams other churches in his sermons, and the culture of the church shows that they think they’re better than others.

I’ll stop there, but consider the rest of the list for yourselves. Have you ever heard of or been to an “abusive” church or seen an abusive pastor? They absolutely exist. And they’ll abuse under the guise of being “fundamentalist” or even “tolerant”. There are churches and pastors and ministries who teach their youth to be “disobedient to their parents” under the guise of being radically sold out to Jesus. Some churches are “ungrateful”, others “unholy”. There are “heartless” churches who don’t care about the marginalized or oppressed. There are “unappeasable” churches who are always complaining and arguing about something. There are “slanderous” churches who promote gossip and talk about people behind their back – even from the pulpit.

And there’s more for you to consider. These are churches and church leaders, as verse 5 says, who have “the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” What does the Apostle say we should do when we come across churches and ministries like this? “Avoid such people.”

Conclusion

Why? Because a little yeast works its way through the whole dough (1 Cor 5:6). Because bad company ruins good character (1 Cor 15:33). Because if you partner with willfully sinful, unrepentant, heretical people, you are guilty by association and they will invariably drag you into their sin.

Now, let me be clear. That doesn’t mean you’ll ever find a perfect church. We’re not a perfect church. What we’re trying to be is a church that is actively working towards godliness through the power of God. That’s all that can be expected. A good church, a good Christian, a good association, a good friend, a good partner, is not one that never sins – it’s one that recognizes their sin and is working on it. They see the hypocrisy in themselves and want to deal with it. They see greed and they want it to stop. Not because they are trying to earn God’s love or show off, but because they trust God’s way, trust God’s Word, fear and respect God as Lord, and know that sin is dangerous, sin is corrupting, sin is a trap, and sin cost Jesus His life, so they want to be free of it. And they preach a message that tells people how to be free of it by the power of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

The CBOQ, if they keep going the way they are going, doesn’t seem to want to do that. They have tolerated sin and error for years, and have had ample opportunity to deal with it. That’s why we’re on the fence waiting to see what they’ll do with this final ultimatum.

So my encouragement to you is to pray for the CBOQ that the leadership would repent. For the churches that are in sin, that they would repent. For the leadership of CLRA, and for us to make wise and careful steps over the coming months.

My further encouragement to you is to consider your own history with churches. Have you ever left a church for wrong reasons and need to repent and ask forgiveness? Are you here for the right reasons? Are you considering leaving, and are those reasons godly? Do you know people who have left their church, this one or another, and need to be confronted about why they did it? Perhaps God is calling you to do that.

And finally, I would ask you to consider our own church’s issues. Are there any weeds in our garden? Are there sins that we, as a church family, need to repent of? Are there things we’ve let slide that God has convicted you of, but you’ve been afraid to bring up? Let’s deal with them so that we can all stand clean before God and not be mired in sin. How can we ask for the Holy Spirit to bless our gatherings and grow our church if we have sins God has been telling us about, but we refuse to confront? God will not bless disobedience.

Let’s take the speck out of our own eye, before we go and try to deal with the log in the CBOQ’s.

How Do I Experience The Power of God? (HC:LD18c)

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Imagine following in the footsteps of Moses – how huge a task that would be. Moses is probably the most important person in the Old Testament. It was through Moses that the nation of Israel was delivered from Egypt. It was Moses that led and judged the people for decades. It was Moses that climbed Mount Sinai to meet with God, and Moses who shone with the Shekinah glory, terrifying the people by his closeness to God. It through Moses that God gave Israel the Law, the Priesthood, the Tabernacle, and the Pentateuch. He wrote Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and most of Deuteronomy.

Just for a moment, turn back a page to Deuteronomy 34:10–12,

“And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the LORD sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.”

Those are big shoes to fill. Now, turn back to the first lines of the book of Joshua:

“After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, ‘Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory.”

Now there’s a big job, right? It’s no understatement to say that the people of Israel are a tough group to try to lead – and now Joshua not only has to deal with the daily problems of the nation but actually lead them in countless battles to conquer the entire Promised Land.

And Joshua has seen how this goes. He’s been Moses’ right-hand man since they left Egypt. He was there as Moses ascended Mount Sinai, and he saw Israel worshipping the Golden Calf when they came down. Joshua was one of the twelve spies Moses sent to explore the Promised Land and knew how strong the armies and how fortified the cities were. He watched as the courage of Israel fell, was there as they turned on Moses and Aaron, and saw the heartbreak in Moses’ face as the people lost faith in God. He saw that over and over. God makes a promise, the people break faith almost instantly, they blame or even try to kill the leader, and the nation suffers. I can’t imagine how trepidatious he must have been when Moses laid his hands on him, telling him he would be the next leader of Israel – and how difficult it must have been to see Moses die.

Tough for Everyone

What Joshua was feeling is something that all Christians can relate to. Like Israel and Joshua, someone enters our life to tell us God’s plan of deliverance, we then experience God’s power-saving us from our slavery to sin, and then we enter a new reality where we now live in relationship with God. And in that new reality, we are sometimes like Israel – rebellious, short-sighted, faithless, foolish – but eventually, we come around to God’s plan. And we are sometimes like Joshua – blessed to have a mentor who is close to God, get commissioned for some kind of ministry, and are released to go forth to win victories in God’s name.

But all along the way, like both Israel and Joshua, even though we have experienced God’s promise and power, it often seems unnecessarily difficult. People let us down – or we let ourselves down. The enemy sends temptations and lies that we fall for. We face a challenge – or series of challenges that look so daunting that we wonder how we could ever go through them. Whether it’s the ministry God has given you, the struggles of raising a family, or just your own, individual troubles, I’m sure you know how Joshua might have felt.

And I’m sure you wonder, as I have, just as Joshua and Israel did as they stood on the edge of the Jordan looking out over land full of enemies – how am I going to get through this? Have you asked that question? That’s not a question that God is unprepared for. God knows what’s going on in your heart, just as He knew what was going on in Joshua’s. God knew Joshua needed a message of hope and strength beyond himself, and so God, in His grace, gave him the recipe for success. And I believe it’s the same recipe for us today. It’s the same recipe I’ve been introducing for the past couple weeks as we’ve been covering the ascension of Christ.

Heidelberg LD18

I’ve been holding off going through the actual questions of the Heidelberg because I wanted to do some introductory stuff, but I think now’s the time to bring them in because, if you’ve been following the last two sermons they’ll make a lot more sense.

So, question 46 is,

“What do you confess when you say, he ascended into heaven?”

and the answer is,

“That Christ, before the eyes of his disciples, was taken up from the earth into heaven, and that he is there for our benefit until he comes again to judge the living and the dead.”

We’ve already covered a lot of that. Jesus, in His resurrected body, ascended into Heaven in view of many witnesses, is there “for our benefit”, and will come back again.

Question 47 comes next saying,

“Is Christ, then, not with us until the end of the world, as he has promised us?”

And the answer is,

“Christ is true man and true God. With respect to his human nature he is no longer on earth, but with respect to his divinity, majesty, grace, and Spirit he is never absent from us.”

That’s what we covered last week, right? Jesus is in heaven, but within the mystery of the Trinity, because of the Holy Spirit, He is also with us.

Brief Excurses: The Hypostatic Union

Question 48 follows up with a technical question,

“But are the two natures in Christ not separated from each other if his human nature is not present wherever his divinity is?”

In other words, if Jesus has a human body in heaven, isn’t it impossible for him to be two places, or a million places, all at once? The answer given here is,

“Not at all, for his divinity has no limits and is present everywhere. So it must follow that his divinity is indeed beyond the human nature which he has taken on and nevertheless is within this human nature and remains personally united with it.”

If you’ve been around me for the past couple weeks you know I’ve been dropping the term “hypostatic union” into conversations lately. That’s what this is all about. “Hypostatic union” is the complex term for how theologians describe that Jesus can have two natures at the same time – fully God and fully man. It’s not that we can really understand it, but that we accept it because it’s what the scripture teaches.

Keep your thumb in Joshua, but turn with me to Hebrews 1:1-4 which begins by explaining the hypostatic union saying, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.”

That term, “nature” is the Greek word HUPOSTASIS, where we get Hypostatic. Jesus, the man, has the same, exact nature as God. Jesus was born fully human, died a human death, had a bodily resurrection, and still has that resurrected, glorified body right now – the same kind of body we will get when Jesus comes back. His humanity takes nothing away from His godliness – meaning in adding flesh He never subtracted from His Godliness. And His godliness takes nothing away from His humanity – meaning that His life, temptations, pain, and death were the same as any human faces. One creed says it this way: that Jesus’ two natures are perfectly unified “without confusion, without change, without division, without separation”.Hence the term: Hypostatic Union. This is a critical part of understanding who Jesus is.

Three Benefits of Christ’s Ascension

But now we come to question 49, which is the kind of question we’ve seen all along,

“How does Christ’s ascension into heaven benefit us?”

In other words, “So what?” Ok, so Jesus ascended into heaven and a bunch of stuffy theologians come up with a weird, complex term to explain something nobody really understands. So what?

Well, the answer is what we’ve been talking about for the past few weeks. It says that the reason Jesus’ ascension is a benefit to us is that,

“First, he is our Advocate in heaven before his Father. Second, we have our flesh in heaven as a sure pledge that he, our Head, will also take us, his members, up to himself. Third, he sends us his Spirit as a counter-pledge, by whose power we seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God, and not the things that are on earth.”

So first, it says that Jesus is our Advocate before the Father. If you recall, I’ve brought up the image of Jesus as a lawyer a few times lately. That’s what an advocate is. Jesus, as our Advocate defends us before the Judge of the universe (Romans 8:34; 1 John 2:1). If it were not for Jesus as our Advocate, we could never approach God – not even in prayer.

Listen to 1 John 2:1,

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”

When you blow it as a Christian, who stands up for you? Jesus does.

Listen to Romans 8:34,

“Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”

When Satan accuses you, shames you, makes you feel guilty, and says you deserve condemnation, who supports you, advocates for you, defends you, and stands with you between Satan and God? Jesus does.

If your still in Hebrews, turn to Hebrews 4:14–16,

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

When you are afraid, tempted, weak, in need, who makes it so you can come near to the throne of God and receive the grace you need? Jesus, the Son of God. The One who can sympathize with you, who has compassion on you, because He lived a human life and faced everything you’ve faced, but can also stand before God because He is without sin. If you are a Christian today, one who has asked forgiveness for their sins in the name of Jesus, then Jesus isn’t up there judging you, angry with you, disappointed in you – He’s advocating for you.

The second benefit we’ve already covered a lot, that what happened to Jesus shows what will also happen to all those who follow Him. He died and rose again, so will we. But look at the third benefit of Christ’s ascension: That Jesus “sends us his Spirit as a counter-pledge, by whose power we seek the things that are above…”.

We’ve talked about that a lot too – that Jesus had to leave so the Helper would come (John 16:7) and what I want to close on today is how that works.

Life With/By the Spirit

If Jesus is up there advocating for us and has sent the Holy Spirit to be our Helper, how do we tap into that power? How do we get that help? How do we face all the trials and temptations and pain and battles and disappointments that are going to inevitably come – and do it in a way that we know that God is at work? How do we tap into the supernatural power and promises that God has said He would provide?

This is something I’ve been chewing on for a while now and the answer is far simpler than you might think. And the answer is to live by, or walk with, or keep in step with the Spirit of God. Now, what does that mean?

For that I want you to keep your thumb in Joshua, but turn with me to Galatians 5:16-26. It begins,

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”

Stop there.

There’s the problem, right? Our flesh, our sinful side, our former self, has desires that go against what God wants. Our bodies, which are still affected by sin, still have to deal with addiction, stress, fear, anxiety, depression, hunger, thirst, lust, and all the rest, and it is always pulling us in the wrong direction. Our spirits want to connect to God and live His way – to be kind, patient, self-controlled, joyful, temperate, loving – but our flesh fights against us. It wants to fulfil our desires in bad ways. Our fear fights with our faith. Our depression fights with our desire to worship. Our lusts fight with our desire for purity. Our willpower fails, we lose self-control, and we go for immediate gratification – even if it makes us sick.

So how can we win more battles than we lose? It says in verse 16, by “walking with the spirit”. That answer hasn’t changed for thousands of years. It’s the same answer that God gave Joshua. Look back at what God says to Joshua in 1:5. He was about to face a lot of enemies and was surrounded by a lot of weak, sinful, difficult people. He had his own weaknesses too.

So what was the recipe?

“No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.’”

Over and over God tells Joshua to be “strong and courageous”. In our culture that might sound like God is telling Joshua to “suck it up”, “get tough”, “try hard”, “workout”, “do it right”. But that’s not what it means. God gives Joshua lots of promises. That He will always be with Joshua, that God will secure the victories, God will make sure they get what He promised them, God will make him prosperous and successful.

But how can Joshua make sure that he gets those promises? How can he be strong enough and courageous enough to do what God is calling him to do without blowing it? By walking with, walking by, living by the Word of God. Look at verse 7,

“Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”

The promises weren’t something Joshua and Israel would gain through their obedience – they were something they would lose by their disobedience. We often get that backwards. We think that if we do good things God will reward us. That’s not how it goes. It’s the opposite. All of God’s promises are already available to His people. The Armor of God, the Fruit of the Spirit, freedom from condemnation, the peace that passes understanding, answers to prayer and spiritual and temporal blessings are all ours already because they are promised to us – and God never breaks His promises. God secured those promises in Jesus Christ. That’s what the Lord’s Supper is about. But… but… God leaves it to us to access those promises. God told Joshua to eat, sleep and breathe His word – to read the Law over and over, to meditate on it, to remember everything that God had said – or Joshua would forget and turn away.

Now, turn back to Galatians 5 and notice how similar it sounds. Joshua wants to know how to conquer the Promised Land. God says, “Walk with me. Do things my way.” We want to know how to escape the works of the flesh, the sinful desires that keep us so messed up, and be able to live by the fruit of the spirit. God says, “Walk with me. Do things my way.”

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.”

Look back at that list in verses 19-21 and take a moment to see yourself in there. I’m sure you’ve asked yourself. How do I get rid of this fleshly desire for sexual immorality? How do I rid myself of all the addictions I run to when I get worried or stressed out? How do I stop being so angry, argumentative, and bitter? How do I get rid of my penchants for superstition? How do I stop being jealous of people? You’ve been a Christian for a while, but these things still plague you. They’re almost automatic – your body seems to jump at the chance whenever it can – almost before you can even decide to. How do you deal with that?

Now, look at the list of the fruit of the Spirit. I’m sure you’ve prayed, “Lord, how do I experience real love? How do I find real peace? How can I become more patient and kind? How do I start doing good things instead of the bad things I keep doing? How do I become gentle? Where do I get some actual self-control, because my willpower just isn’t doing the trick?”

It comes by “walking by the Spirit”. What does that mean? It means the same thing it meant to Joshua. Joshua was told that the victories are already won. Just walk in and take the land. God is with you. God will fight for you. God will make sure it happens.

What did Joshua have to do? Cross the Jordan, walk with God, and remind Himself every single day that God is with Him. I’m sure there were times he said to himself “I don’t have to be terrified. I don’t have to be dismayed. The Lord my God is with me wherever I go. I don’t have to be terrified. I don’t have to be dismayed. The Lord my God is with me wherever I go.”

In the same way, Christians can say, “I don’t have to sin. I don’t have to be discouraged. I don’t have to be afraid. Christ Jesus has crucified my flesh with its passions and desires and I have new life by the Spirit. All I have to do is believe it, ask Jesus for help, and walk where He tells me to go.”

Ordinary Means of Grace

You see, it’s not about trying harder, going through a Bible in a Year program, pulling up your socks, and white-knuckling your way into becoming more patient, kind, self-controlled. It’s about reminding yourself that God has already won those victories in your life and invites you to simply take them. These promises are available – but they do not come to those who do not ask.

In Joshua 7 we see Israel blow it big-time. After the huge success of the fall of Jericho, Joshua and the people of Israel are feeling pretty confident. So confident they forget to ask God what to do next, someone breaks God’s law, and when they head off to their next battle they get utterly wrecked. Why? Because they stopped obeying God’s word and depending on God for their victory.

God was happy to give them victory – right up until they forgot about Him and started thinking that the victory was their own. Right up until someone decided to go against His word and do what they shouldn’t. Then they lost the blessing – until they dealt with the sin. That’s how it goes, and that’s how it always will go. God will give you the victory over that sin you want to kill. He will demonstrate great power in your life – but only if He gets the credit for doing it.

But let’s get practical. How do we walk in step with the Spirit? What does that look like? What did it look like for Joshua and Israel? What did it look like for Moses and Elijah? What did it look like for Peter and Paul? What did it look like for Jesus? Same answer.

Through what Christians have called the ordinary means of grace. If the question is, “How do I, as a believer, get access to all the Grace the Lord wants to give me for all the needs I have? How do I walk in step with the Spirit? How do I find Jesus every day? How do I hear His voice, find His wisdom, feel His presence, get His protection, sense His correction when I’m going wrong, and know His comfort when things are hard?”

The answer is so very simple and has been the same one forever: It is the simple, daily obedience of talking to God in prayer every day, regularly reading and sitting under the teaching of God’s word, participating in the life of the community of believers, and reminding ourselves of what God has done through the ordinances He provided.

That’s how it worked for Israel, for Jesus, for Peter, and how it works for us. Sure, there are special times when God shows up in a unique way, but God isn’t playing a game of “catch me if you can” where we have to go looking for Him. God makes Himself available everyday all day, and is interested in every part of our life, and has given us these ordinary ways to connect with Him regularly. Talking to God every day, sitting under the teaching of God’s Word regularly, participate in a community of believers, and follow the ordinances of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism.

Conclusion

That sounds too simple, too easy – there must be something more complicated that God wants, something that specifically targets my own sin, my own issue, my own fears – some special book or discipline or exercise – but ask yourself how easy is it really?

How hard do you find it to read God’s Word and pray every day? How hard is it to attend church once per week, 52 weeks in a row? How hard is it to fully participate in a worship service? How hard is it to commit yourself to serve in even the most simple ministry? How hard is it to fully participate in the Lord’s Supper with repentance, reverence, and celebration? How hard is it (or was it) to submit to baptism and attend someone else’s? How hard is it to have other Christians over for a meal? Or, how hard is it to ask other Christians to pray for you?

It’s actually very hard, isn’t it? Those ordinary means of grace sometimes feel almost impossible! They should be easy! There are a dozen things we do every day without even breaking a sweat. So why is reading God’s word and praying every day so hard? Why is Sunday morning such a struggle? Because the enemy knows that these simple things, prayer, studying God’s word, and being here together, are the single greatest weapon we have to defeat him.

If the enemy can get you distracted with 1000 good things – but keep you from your devos, you’re an easy target for temptation and lies. If he can get you bitter against just one person at church, and keep you from attending or being able to pay attention – you’re an easy target for temptation and lies – and then he can use you to divide the church and wreck it for everyone.

That’s why Sunday morning is such a battle, why prayer is such a battle, because the ordinary means of grace are so incredibly potent that they can dismantle the works of the enemy in our lives. They are what keep us in step with the Spirit. They are what help us bear fruit in our lives. They are what allow us to hear the voice of God. And they are the ways by which we are able to conquer sin.

My encouragement to you is to commit to these ordinary means so you can walk in the Spirit, walk with Jesus, and let Him destroy those sins and strongholds in your life.

The Gift of the Holy Spirit (HC:LD18b)

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Turn with me to Luke 24:50-53 and then we’ll be headed into Acts 1. Luke and Acts are actually two parts of the same work, both written in about 60-70AD by Luke, a gentile, Christian doctor who travelled with the Apostle Paul and was commissioned by someone named Theophilus to write a history of the life of Jesus and the beginnings of the Christian church.

So, let’s take a look at how Luke ends his first book. The events of Passion Week occur in chapters 22 and 23, the resurrection and Jesus’ appearing to His followers and disciples are covered in chapter 24 – and then at the very end of chapter 24, in verse 50, Luke closes off with a little summary of the Ascension, which he will describe in greater detail in Acts. It says,

“And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.”

If you recall last week’s message, you’ll remember that on the night of His betrayal, while He was still in the Upper Room after the Lord’s Supper, and then even more as they walked to the Garden of Gethsemane where He would be arrested, He was teaching them and preparing them for this moment. He told them of His imminent death, resurrection, and then ascension. He told them that even though He would die, and they would be in great sorrow, He would rise again – but even then He couldn’t stay long, but would ascend to the right hand of the Father to prepare a place for them (John 14:3). But even then they wouldn’t be alone because He would send the Helper, the Holy Spirit who would continue His work – and do even more through them than Jesus could ever have done Himself.

That’s what we’re talking about today.

The Ascension

Turn over to Acts 1 and let’s read there. Acts 1:1–11:

“In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, ‘you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’

So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 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.’ And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’ Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away.”

Now skip down Acts 2:1,

“When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.”

So, the timeline kind of works like this. Jesus was crucified the Passover and the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost. Pentecost literally means “the fiftieth day” and was on the 50th day of the Passover. So Jesus dies on the Passover, rose again 3 days later, and our passage in Acts here says that Jesus appeared to his disciples over a period of 40 days. So, if you math that out, Jesus ascended on the 43rd day of the Passover, meaning that the disciples waited seven days in Jerusalem between Jesus ascension and the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, bringing about the next phase in God’s plan, the birth of the Holy Spirit empowered Christian Church.

Once the Holy Spirit comes we see a remarkable change in the followers of Jesus. Remember last week I told you how scared they were, locked away in a room, afraid to get the same treatment as Jesus? Not after Pentecost! Once the Holy Spirit comes we see a very different group of people.

Suddenly they can speak languages they could never speak before – not through education or study, but because the Holy Spirit just made it happen. Then, as a result of the sound of mighty wind and fire, and the commotion of the voices, a group of people starts to build outside. Let’s read that together in Acts 2:5–18:

“Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.’ And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others mocking said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’

But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.’”

Peter, the one who, over and over denied Jesus, who locked himself in a room afraid to be hurt because of what Jesus had stirred up, who had been rebuked by Jesus, along with the other disciples for his lack of belief, and had been given the great commission to “go into all the world and proclaim the gospel” (Mark 16:14-15), had sat in that room for a whole week after Jesus ascended. But once the Holy Spirit came, what do we see?

We see Peter stand up before crowds of people, Jews, Gentiles, Pharisees, Sanhedrin, everybody, and boldly proclaim the risen Lord Jesus. This uneducated fisherman stands before thousands of people gives a powerful sermon, full of prophecies and scriptures, speaking with conviction, accusation, authority, bravery, and humility.

Look how he ends his sermon in verse 36,

“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

These are not the words of a coward. This doesn’t even sound like the same man from a few weeks before, does it?

That’s the power of the Holy Spirit in someone’s life and was exactly what Jesus had promised. Jesus said that after He ascended, the Helper, the Holy Spirit would do something new. No longer would God be with them, as in, alongside them, but after Pentecost, God would come and live inside of them. (John 14:15-16) And from the inside, with promptings and empowerment, they would learn things and be capable of things that they would never have been able to otherwise. The Holy Spirit would help them in their walk with God by being like a Geiger counter for lies, always pointing them to the truth if they would listen. He would teach them more than Jesus had ever been able to, and take away the blinders so their hearts and minds could finally understand what He had been saying. He would help them love the unlovable, forgive the unforgivable, reconcile the irreconcilable, empower and guide them for the mission He was sending them on, and allow them – even when things were at their most dark and most difficult – to experience joy, peace, and patience that surpasses their understanding.

That’s what we see here in Peter on the day of Pentecost.

But keep reading. Look at verse 37.

“Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’”

There’s another fulfillment of one of Jesus’ promises about the Holy Spirit. Remember what Jesus said in John 16:7-8,

“Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…”

Here’s the fulfilment of that promise. Some of these people standing before Peter were ones that had been chanting “Crucify Him” at Jesus’ trial. Peter tells the whole crowd that it was because of their sin, their hard hearts, and their rebellion that they crucified their Lord Jesus Christ. That was only a month ago! How does a group of thousands go from “We hate Jesus so much that we want to mock Him while He is beaten, scourged, humiliated, paraded down the street bleeding in a crown of thorns, and then nailed to a cross” to being “cut to the heart” and asking the followers of Jesus what they need to do to be forgiven?

There is only one explanation. A movement of God, the promise that Jesus made that the Holy Spirit would convict people of their sin, cause them to feel guilt and shame, and change them into people who want to repent and be forgiven. No one changes that much or that quickly unless the Holy Spirit does it for them.

Maybe some of you know a story like this. Maybe this is your story. Someone in absolute rebellion, hates God, hates Jesus, hates religion – and then boom! they turn their life over to Jesus. A rebellious child or selfish friend that suddenly, and for no reason, comes to their senses and wants to make things right. A drunk or addict who didn’t just get off of their substance, but has fallen down before God in repentance and is now a new man or new woman, a new creation and you would have never guessed what their old life looked like. A prideful, arrogant, jerk turned into a humble servant. A person full of anxiety and fear, out risking it all in Jesus name. Someone crippled by grief and depression changed forever into someone with a thankful heart who encourages others. That doesn’t just happen. They didn’t just read a good book and get some counselling. That’s a miracle. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit. That’s why we depend on Him. That’s why we pray.

The Holy Spirit for Everyone

But now, look at verses 38-39, what Peter tells the crowd they must do in response to the conviction of the Holy Spirit,

“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.’”

I want you to notice three things here. First, I want you to notice that we don’t save ourselves, but it is the Lord our God who calls us to salvation. That way we can’t take any of the credit for it. He gets all the glory. Second, I want you to notice that the gift of the Holy Spirit isn’t just for the apostles or those people a long time ago, but for all believers, everywhere, for all time.

But third, I want you to notice the responses that God requires of those who feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit. The response of a person who wants to be saved is to “repent and be baptized”. To repent simply means to “turn around”, change your direction, change your behaviour, change your mind. Admit you’re going the wrong way and turn around. This is the first step of being saved. Admitting that you’re wrong and God is right. Admitting that you are a sinner who loves your sin and who needs Jesus to save them from that curse. There are many who will feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit, but not many who actually repent. You must admit yourself to have broken God’s law, broken your conscience, be in need of forgiveness, and then ask God for that forgiveness – or you will not be forgiven. Even if you get baptized and go to church your whole life, telling people you are a Christian – if you do not admit you are a sinner, repent of your sin, and ask forgiveness, you are not saved, you are still going to hell, and you do not have the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Baptism doesn’t make you a Christian, nor does baptism make you cleansed from sin. Baptism is the outward sign of what has happened inside you. It is the first, symbolic act of obedience for a believer in Jesus. In baptism, you are saying that you have been cleansed by Jesus on the inside, the way that taking a bath cleans you on the outside. In baptism you are saying as you sink into the water, that you are dying to yourself, you are no longer your own, but now belong to Jesus, that your sinful self has died, has been pinned to the cross and buried in the tomb with Jesus – and then, as you come out of the water you are rising again as a new person, justified and sanctified by Jesus, utterly changed by the Holy Spirit, a new being with a new life. In Baptism you are publically identifying yourself as a follower and ambassador of Jesus Christ. That you love Him so much that you are willing to obey Him no matter what He tells you to do, and you’re not afraid to tell everyone.

So our response to the conviction of the Holy Spirit is to repent and be baptized. What does God do? He forgives us and gives the gift of the Holy Spirit. The moment we humble ourselves and ask forgiveness we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit inside us. Not upon baptism, not when a pastor or priest lays his hands on us, not once we’ve spoken in tongues or done some kind of miracle – the very moment of our conversion, the moment we admit sin and ask forgiveness, the Holy Spirit goes from “with us” to “inside us”.

And at that moment we are made new. From that moment we have all the promises that Jesus made to the disciples, all the promises of the New Testament, available to us.

Conclusion

Now, I’m getting a little ahead of myself here, because we’re not actually supposed to talk about the Holy Spirit until Day 20 of the Heidelberg, but I really feel like we need to cover this, because it’s critically important that we realize as individual believers and as a church that all the things we want to see happen and every good thing God will do through us as individuals or as a church, will only happen if we are dependent on and in communion with the Holy Spirit.

We have family members, husbands, wives, children and grandchildren who we desperately want to be saved. Will they be saved by our own actions or words or nagging or discipline? No. They will be saved when the Holy Spirit moves in their hearts.

We are facing stresses and problems and anxieties and frustrations that are stacking up against us so high that we not only have no idea how to deal with it all, but we feel like we are always on the edge of collapse. How will we have the wisdom, discernment, patience, and strength to get through? By reading self-help books, trying a new diet, and making a really good list? No! It will only be by the presence of the Holy Spirit empowering us beyond our human capabilities.

We want to see our church grow and impact our community and raise up leaders and missionaries and motivated disciples who will go out and change the world – but we’ve got financial issues, and leadership issues, and volunteer issues, and practical issues. How will this happen? With clever posters and websites and ministries and music and fun events? No! It will only happen if we allow the Holy Spirit to show us what to do, convict us of sin, empower us to ministry, raise up new workers for the white harvest, and then only if He goes out and does the work of convicting the world and changing people’s hearts before we ever get there.

Look back at our passage in Acts 2:42, about what the church looks like when the Holy Spirit has free reign over a group of people – before it gets corrupted by politics and sin and selfishness; before the enemy sent corrupt leaders and brought down great persecution on them, and all the rest. Look at what the church looks like moments after it was born, as they experienced the new miracle of the presence of the Holy Spirit inside of them:

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

That is my desire for me, you, your family, my family, this church, and the community around us. To love God’s word and each other. To see God’s power at work regularly. To be a united community of sacrificial love that takes care of each other, enjoys each other, worships regularly, and whose number grows because God keeps saving our family members, friends and neighbours. I’m sure that’s what you want too…

I don’t believe that’s something that only happened a long time ago. I believe that the same Spirit that inhabited them inhabits us today – but we no longer understand how to listen to Him. It’s my hope to talk about that over the next couple weeks, so we can all understand what it means to have the Holy Spirit inside us, and how to walk with Him so we can experience that kind of power and presence and hope here and in our homes.

My invitation to you is to read the Book of Acts and look at what the Holy Spirit does among God’s people, to whet your appetite and make yourself hungry, even desperate, for the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life – to begin to pray that you would know Him better, understand what it means to hear Him, feel Him, and have Him inside you.

The Nature of Christ (HD:LD6)

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I heard an ad on the radio for the Canadian Legion that started with something like, “Think of all the things you enjoy in life, like summer fun, going out with your family, kissing your kids goodnight. We can take these things for granted because a veteran didn’t. They fought so we could have the freedoms we enjoy without thinking every day. So thank a veteran and join the Legion.”

I think any right-thinking individual wouldn’t argue too much with that statement. We know that there are countries in the world that are still torn by war and oppression and that those powers have tried to export their ways onto free countries. And we know that many Canadian soldiers have gone to war with these evils to protect our freedoms and those of others around the world. I think that anyone with even a passing knowledge of just twentieth-century history would agree with that. The only ones that argue against it are the ones who simply don’t know their history books.

Along that same vein, I’ve found that the more a person studies the Bible, theology, and church history, the more they should be thanking God for the heritage of theological veterans that have come before us. We should be thanking God every day that we live where we do and when we do. We take so much for granted about what we know about God these days, especially in conservative churches like ours. But the truth is that the most fundamental things we believe about God, things which we talk about every day, even things that the average non-church going Canadian knows and speak as though they were patently obvious were once hard-fought battlegrounds.

But those hard-fought battlegrounds are slipping away more and more. There’s an old phrase; I don’t know who said it first, but I’ve heard it from many different people, and it says, “There are no new heresies, just old heresies dressed up in new clothes.” I read a similar thing from Albert Mohler who said, “False teachings emerge anew in every generation it seems, but inventing a new heresy is quite a challenge. After all, once every doctrine vital to Christianity has been denied, all that remains is a change in packaging.”[1]

As one learns more about church history it becomes blatantly obvious all the so-called “new ideas” people have about God, Jesus, or the church, are not “new ideas” at all, just old heresies in new packaging.

Spiritual AIDS

Whenever I attend or watch a pastors conference someone always asks the keynote speaker the inevitable question, “What are the biggest problems with the church today?” and the answer never changes: People don’t know their Bibles.

Perhaps the best answer I heard was John Macarthur:

He said, in essence, that the weakness of the church is not a singular issue, it’s a holistic issue. Just as the AIDS virus doesn’t kill you, but weakens your immune system so that other diseases can kill you more easily, so the bland, vanilla, imprecise preaching of the Word weakens Christians and leaves them open to a thousand “heretical diseases” which can kill their soul. And therefore, the cure isn’t to treat the symptoms with a bunch of topical studies or fancy ministry packaging, but to get to the cause, to kill the virus by preaching and teaching the Bible with precision and clarity at all levels.

That means not only preachers that are extremely concerned for the accurate preaching of the Word, but elders who labour in their own realms of teaching. It means small group leaders choosing good, biblical material for their groups rather than merely interesting material. It means Sunday School teachers doing the work to make sure they know their Bibles well and are more interested in their children falling in love with the Bible than just being babysat and getting their craft done. It means parents doing the work to study the answers to their kids’ difficult questions so they can give good answers and ask “Did you read your Bible?” as much as they ask “Did you do your homework?”.

But that takes time, effort and energy – and reading, studying, learning, prayer, humility – which are things our society generally doesn’t do well. Which is why we are spiritually unhealthy, infected, and in danger.

Defining Heresy

Turn to Paul’s letter to the Galatians 1:6-12. He says,

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Paul was writing to the Galatians to combat the false, heretical teaching that had cropped up, that was corrupting people’s faith in Jesus, and was honestly shocked at how fast it had happened. He had preached to them the one, true, and pure gospel – the truth about Jesus – and he had just barely left town before they started believing dangerous lies – especially the like that Jesus’ death on the cross wasn’t enough to save them, but that they also needed to follow all the Jewish laws too or God wouldn’t accept them. It was a dangerous, false teaching that struck at the heart of the gospel.

Paul’s argument there is threefold, right? First, there is only one gospel and many counterfeit ones, so don’t be fooled. Second, the gospel isn’t something that man came up with but was given to man by revelation from God. And third, anyone who preaches something different from the truth is an accursed heretic who is hurting the church.

When Christians use the word “heresy” or “heretics” need to be very careful. Heresy simply means to believe something that is wrong about the established doctrines, so technically, every time someone says something that departs from Biblical truth even a little bit its heresy, but that’s not how it’s used. When we say “heretic” or “heresy” we’re not talking about people who are still learning, who use bad analogies, or who are simply making mistakes because they’re still trying to figure it all out. We wouldn’t call a new Christian or the kids in the Sunday School heretics because they aren’t 100% accurate. Instead, the word “heresy” is reserved for teachers who purposefully distort biblical truth in such a serious way that they attack the very essence of the Christian faith.[2]

Martin Luther was excommunicated by Rome as a heretic because he taught that Christians are justified by faith alone. Luther replied that the Catholic Church and the Pope were heretics because they had departed from a biblical view of salvation. But that wasn’t the case for all of the disagreements. The Reformers, and many churches today, still disagreed on lots of things, even important ones like the Lord’s Supper and Baptism and how the church is to be structured, but they didn’t label each other heretics, just as we don’t label most other protestant churches heretics – it’s just differences in interpretation.

That’s not to say there haven’t been dozens of important debates over the centuries which remain today. In fact, the more we learn about the Bible, Theology, and Christian history, the more we realize that there really is nothing new under the sun. The wrong theology that people have today are the same errors that people argued over, fought against, declared counsels to settle, and even shed blood over, hundreds of years ago. We really do stand on the shoulders of giants – and must of us don’t even know it. But sadly, a lot of those old theological victories are being forgotten.

I don’t want to go over the data again, but I want to remind you about a couple of important surveys conducted over the past couple years about the beliefs that Christians hold today which I’ve talked about before. The first is from Lifeway[3] and the other is from Ligonier[4]. I’ll link them on my blog if you want to read them, but the results are dismal. Lots of self-proclaimed Christians don’t believe in sin or hell and believe everyone is basically good and will go to heaven to see all their relatives. And the beliefs about Jesus are all over the place!

And people’s beliefs about Jesus are just as bad. Half believed God makes mistakes. A little over half believe Jesus isn’t God but was created by God. Less than half strongly agreed that Jesus rose from the dead. Only two-thirds of Christians say that Jesus death on the cross is the only way to remove the penalty of sin, and less than half believe that He’s coming back.

Where’s the good news in that message? If people are basically good, God doesn’t care about sin and accepts worship from other religions, and everyone goes to heaven anyway, then why even talk about Jesus? But also, if God makes mistakes and Jesus death wasn’t enough, then how can anyone be sure of their salvation? If the word of God isn’t true, then what should we believe? What about all the Bible verses where Jesus makes exclusive claims or talks about sin? What do we do with those? How can God be good and just if ignores sin? How can God be perfect and holy if He allows evil people into Heaven? Doesn’t God care what we say about Him? Is the Bible just a pile of human contradictions? Where’s the good news? Where’s our hope then?

As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:13-19,

“But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain…. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

I saw a great example of this on Instagram this week where I saw this comic: On one side there’s a man at a booth with a sign that says John 3:16 and a huge line of people in front of him. Next to him sits another booth that says, John 3:16-21. The joke is that a lot of people really like the message of John 3:16, but not so much when they read it in context.

Turn there with me. It starts with the famous verses:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Everyone loves that verse, right? But let’s keep reading,

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

Hey, that’s pretty good, we can get onboard with that. Keep reading: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned…” Still good…

“…but whoever does not believe is condemned already…”

Uh oh…

“because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

That’s not very inclusive, is it? What do we do with verses like with verses like these, or like John 14:6 where Jesus says,

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

or Acts 4:12 which says,

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Or the one that we talked about last week in 1 Timothy 2:5,

“For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus…”

Those statements are either the gospel truth and the most important decision ever – or a lie. The only choice is to either believe them as the exclusive claim that Jesus is the only way to be saved, or to deny them, ignore them, or rewrite them so they say something that we prefer.

This is why we’re going through the Heidelberg Catechism. Not because it’s a divine document, but because it’s one of the greatest teaching tools to summarize the Biblical teaching about salvation through Jesus Christ in a way that people can learn. It’s a way for us to do what John MacArthur said: to learn and preach and teach the Bible with precision and clarity so we can combat that “spiritual AIDS” he was talking about. HIV may not have a cure today, but there is a cure for “spiritual AIDS”, right? There is a way to combat heresy, right? It is to commit to learning and teaching the Bible with precision and clarity. Especially about the question: “Who is Jesus Christ?” We must get that right because so much rides on that answer. Because with precise and clear teaching on Jesus comes hope, confidence, understanding, as Jesus called it, “Light”. If we are vague or wrong about Jesus, we’re in the dark, we lose hope, we are to be pitied – but if we get it right, then our faith, hope, strength, and confidence in the love of God will grow.

Heidelberg LD6: The Nature of Jesus

Take a look at the questions in today’s lesson from the Catechism. Recall a couple weeks ago when I gave that courtroom illustration talking about how Jesus was the perfect mediator between God and Man because he was both a perfect human and yet also God? Well, I got a bit ahead of myself because the structure of the catechism doesn’t really mention who that perfect mediator is until Question 18.

Remember, this document is meant to be an apologetic, a logical argument, teaching people the basics of theology, right? It’s designed to set up a problem and then show us why Jesus is the answer. First, it explains the misery of sin, why sin must be punished, and how we can’t save ourselves or wriggle away from God’s wrath. Then, when we understand our desperate position, it gives us a glimmer of hope: that there is one way we can be saved – if someone else takes our punishment. But (and this is where we were a couple weeks ago), that person would need to be very special and have very unique qualifications:

As question 15 said,

“He would need to be One who is a true and righteous man, and yet more powerful than all creatures; that is, one  who is at the same time true God.”

That narrows the field, doesn’t it? And that reasoning is clarified in today’s questions, as Ursinus makes the case in Question 16 for why Jesus is the only one who fits the qualifications:

“Why must he be a true and righteous man?”

The emphasis here is on the “man”. Why does our perfect mediator need to be a human being?

“He must be a true man because the justice of God requires that the same human nature which has sinned should pay for sin. He must be a righteous man because one who himself is a sinner cannot pay for others.”

We covered this a little bit last time, but the answer here is simply that the only way to pay for God’s wrath against human sin is for a human to die, right? Equal payment is just. If someone owes you a toonie, you don’t accept a button. If someone is condemned to jail, he can’t send a picture of himself or his pet poodle.

But this mediator must not only be human but a perfect human. They cannot have any sin of their own to pay for, or they wouldn’t be able to die in someone else’s place, right? Again, we talked about this in the previous sermon.

Look at question 17:

“Why must he at the same time be true God?”

So we know why our perfect mediator, the one who can take our place, must be a human, but why must that person be God too?

“He must be true God so that by the power of his divine nature he might bear in his human nature the burden of God’s wrath, and might obtain for us and restore to us righteousness and life.”

Essentially, because no mere human is strong enough to handle the full wrath of God for all the sins of those who believe for thousands of years multiplied by millions or billions of people. Only one who had the power of God could do that.

Just saying that reminds us of how much Jesus loves us, doesn’t it? What a Saviour, to face that kind of agony for us when we have done nothing to deserve it.

Now to question 18:

“But who is that Mediator who at the same time is true God and a true and righteous man?”

Here we see that apologetic, logical progression of the questions: Ok, so if we agree to all that has come before, about the qualifications for the perfect mediator, then who fits those qualifications? Who has the power to save us from the wrath of God and cleanse us from sin?

“Our Lord Jesus Christ, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. (1 Cor 1:30)”

We sure quoted that passage a lot during our study of 1st Corinthians, didn’t we?

And question 19 comes quickly on the heels:

“From where do you know this?”

And the answer:

“From the holy gospel, which God himself first revealed in Paradise. Later, he had it proclaimed by the patriarchs and prophets, and foreshadowed by the sacrifices and other ceremonies of the law. Finally, he had it fulfilled through his only Son.”

The only One who fits the bill, the only One who meets the qualifications is Jesus. The only one who fulfills the promise to Eve, to Moses, to Isaiah and Mary… the only One who fulfills all of the Laws and who was foreshadowed in all of the sacrifices and ceremonies of the Old Testament is Jesus!

But do you see how this all falls apart once we degrade our belief in the authority of the Word of God, ignore the clear teaching of scripture, and incorporate heresies and false teachings about the person and work of Jesus?

Let’s go back to question 1. Do you remember it? When you face trials and troubles and pains beyond your ability to cope with or comprehend, when you face death and guilt and shame and eternity, when you come to the end of yourself, when you are, as 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 says, “afflicted… perplexed… persecuted… and struck down…”,

“What is your only comfort in life and death?”

Your answer cannot be, “Me, my own strength.” Because it is spent. I can’t be “My medicines or my religion or another person” because they are not enough. Or worse, if you have been listening to false teachers or being lazy in your study, believing lies about Jesus, then when you come to the end of yourself and look for strength in the god you invented for yourself you will find it lacking and say, “He isn’t enough. I don’t know where my hope is. I’m not sure anymore. I have no hope.”

But the answer of a faithful believer, one who has done the work to be diligent and precise and humble in their learning says,

“My only and greatest comfort in life and death is ‘That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit e also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.’”

Therein lies our hope – in the one and only Saviour Jesus Christ, whom we must know only from the true and infallible Word of God.

So, are you reading it? Are you studying it? Are you meeting with other believers to work out your faith with fear and trembling? If you are not, then you are going to be in trouble when trials come. But if you are strong in your faith, strong in your study, in your theology and understanding of the Word, strong in your knowledge of Jesus Christ, you will be able to echo the words of 2 Corinthians 4:8-10:

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed….”

Because you will know the One, True Jesus.

[1] https://albertmohler.com/2007/03/30/there-are-no-new-heresies-new-thought-isnt-new/

[2] https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/none-dare-call-it-heresy/

[3] https://lifewayresearch.com/2016/09/27/americans-love-god-and-the-bible-are-fuzzy-on-the-details/

[4] https://thestateoftheology.com/

Church Relationships Can Get Complicated

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Welcome to the 60th sermon in of our study of the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians! We started this series in April of 2016 and we’ve covered a lot of ground over the past couple years, but after long last, we’ve reached the final section where Paul is wrapping up the letter with his final greetings and instructions. Let’s open up there and read 1 Corinthians 16:5-24.

“I will visit you after passing through Macedonia, for I intend to pass through Macedonia, and perhaps I will stay with you or even spend the winter, so that you may help me on my journey, wherever I go. For I do not want to see you now just in passing. I hope to spend some time with you if the Lord permits. But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.

When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord, as I am. So let no one despise him. Help him on his way in peace, that he may return to me, for I am expecting him with the brothers.

Now concerning our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to visit you with the other brothers, but it was not at all his will to come now. He will come when he has opportunity.

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. 14 Let all that you do be done in love.

Now I urge you, brothers—you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints—be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer. I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence, for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. Give recognition to such people.

The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord. All the brothers send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.

I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.”

This is one of those sections of the Bible that, on the surface seems like a weird one to study. What sort of life-changing message can we get from some 2000-year-old travel plans, a list of weird Greek names, and a signature? This seems like one of those sections that we should skim through and move past to get onto meatier stuff. After all, we’re only one page-flip away from 2nd Corinthians which is chock full of memorable and life-changing verses.

But, as Christians, we believe that when 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable …” it means that even sections like this one – and other boring ones like genealogies and number lists – are also somehow “profitable” to our souls. This isn’t addendum, but is, in fact, the Word of God meant to teach us about something.

So, as we read it we must open ourselves to what God wants to say, pray about it, do a little study, read a couple of commentaries, and then a whole lot of things start to spring forward.

The Church is God’s Gift

Actually, the more I dug into this one the more I got out of it. It was tempting to turn this section into a mini-series of its own, but I won’t. Though I think it would be interesting, I think it’s time to be done with 1 Corinthians and move on to something else.

If I had to summarize this final section, the general message, and the application of it for us today – though there are many others – I would say it this way: church relationships can get complicated.

When we come into a personal relationship with Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, we are given a lot of gifts – freedom from sin, the presence of the Holy Spirit, a new outlook on life, spiritual gifts – but one of the biggest gifts we’re given is the church itself. All through the Bible, we see that when God gets hold of someone’s heart He not only restores them to Himself, but also to His people. At the birth of the Christian church in Acts, we see the Holy Spirit empower the disciples to spread the message, but the message of salvation doesn’t lead merely to individual life changes but the creation of a new society. The Acts 2 believers didn’t just have a new, personal faith in Jesus, but devoted themselves to each other.

Jesus said to His disciples in John 13:34–35,

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

And then 1 John 3:14 says,

“We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers.”

“The brothers” there refers to our church family. One way we know we love Jesus is that we love our church family. And a few verses later we read the same concept started in the negative. In 1 John 4:20 it says,

“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”

So conversely, one way we know that someone doesn’t actually love Jesus, or isn’t really saved, or is in unrepentant sin, is that they distance themselves from or even talk negatively about other Christians.

When the church started to face greater persecution and started falling apart, which we read about in the book of Hebrews, one of the first things that started happening was that the believers started distancing themselves from each other. As the flock was disbanding out of fear and inconvenience, the author of Hebrews says in 10:23-25,

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

He says, “Don’t give up hope, don’t give up the faith, trust in God – and one way to demonstrate that faith is to take care of each other, encourage one another, and keep meeting together. And as things get worse meet together even more!

Museum vs Hospital

But this isn’t often our natural inclination, is it? We live in a radically individualistic society already, one that doesn’t want to submit themselves to any groups – whether they be marriage, schools, political groups, or churches – but when it comes to days of trouble or trials or dealing with difficult people many people’s usual habit is to back away, isn’t it?

When trouble comes to us or to those around us, one temptation that often comes is to run away. We go through a difficult time and lock ourselves in our room and refuse to come out. Men and women go from partner to partner unwilling to face tough times with them. Couples go to their own wedding with a prenuptial agreement in their back pocket outlining what happens if they decide to leave. Men abandon pregnant women because being father is too hard. We join a club for fun and leave when things don’t go our way. A friend starts to become too needy, too dramatic, too complicated, and we stop asking how they’re doing, stop taking their calls, and hide them on our Facebook feed so we don’t have to see it. Most people tend to run from what they perceive as “negativity”.

This happens with Christians too as people hop from church looking for one feeds their wants and desires, but has zero drama and costs them nothing. “Church hopping” or “church shopping” is so popular that the Christian satire blog, “The Babylon Bee” has dozens of articles making fun of it.

One was entitled, “Local Family Commutes 700 Miles To Attend Church That Meets Their Exact Specifications” Another gave “8 Steps to Finding the Right Church” and includes things like, “Make sure the worship band plays only the genre you like”, “If the preacher doesn’t have 20,000 twitter followers, you’re in the wrong place”, but it was number 7 that jumped out at me. The satirical advice was, “Pick a church where everyone pretends to be happy. If anyone breaks down sobbing or insinuates that they need prayer for some sort of malady or ill fortune, everyone will understand if you excuse yourself to check out the other church down the road. You want a place where no one will burden you with their personal struggles. You don’t need that negativity in your life!”

The reason that satire works is because there’s a hint of truth in it. People tend to run from sickness, sadness, and “negativity”, but the truth is that the church is full of it. I know that’s not a popular statement, and it’s easily misconstrued, but it’s the truth.

Remember Luke 6:27-32 when the Pharisees saw Jesus hanging out with the tax collector named Levi, the one who would later be called the Apostle Matthew? Turn there. It says,

“After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And leaving everything, he rose and followed him. And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’”

To eat with these people told everyone that Jesus considered them to be important, good contacts, even friends, and that blew minds of the men who were supposedly experts in religion and God’s Law. They wouldn’t be caught dead at that table! But how does Jesus answer?

“And Jesus answered them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.’”

In other words, Jesus didn’t come to gather a bunch of hypocritical people who, as the Babylon Bee article said, “pretend to be happy”, He came to call to Himself those who admit that they are sick. And what do you call a building where a bunch of sick people gathers in order to get well by a physician? A hospital. The church is a hospital.

Some people see the church as a museum, a clean place full of precious pieces of untouchable art. Each individual person and family protected from the other behind glass/ Everyone standing with their hands in their pockets because they don’t want to negatively affect anything around them. As each person look around all they see is rules, signs, protective ropes and security systems. Each family, each person, each artwork putting on their best face, trying to project an image that looks good so more people will want to come to the museum. That’s the mission of the museum. House perfectly preserved, untouchable beauty to attract people.

And that’s how a lot of folks see the church. They think, “The only way people are going to be attracted to Jesus is if I look good, look on top of things, look financially successful, look like I’ve never been tempted, never sinned, never had a bad thought, never argued with anyone.. that I serve perfect, act perfect, that my kids are perfect, my clothes are perfect – and then God will be happy with me, happy with the church, and send more people to our museum.”

And what happens when people come into that museum? Have you ever taken a kid to the museum? What are the rules? Dress nice, hands in pockets, don’t touch anything, don’t talk too loud, and pretend like everything in it is interesting even though it’s actually boring, confusing or weird. Has any kid you’ve ever met ever wanted to go to the museum for their birthday party? (The Children’s Museum in Gatineau doesn’t count!). Why? It’s uncomfortable.

Another question: What happens if you sneeze at the museum? You apologize, you feel awkward as your indiscretion reverberates off the walls – people give you the stare to think, “Hey, don’t you know that we’re in a museum! No noise! No sickness! No nothing! Just walk around with your mouth shut and look happy!” Sometimes the way we do church sends the same message.

But Jesus didn’t come to gather pieces of art for display, he came to call the sick and heal them. The church is not a museum. It’s a hospital full of people that need care. What happens in a hospital? Chaos. People with all kinds of maladies, from broken bones to cancer to mental illness to addiction are all stumbling through the door in need, desperately trying to get help. People come in their grubbiest sick clothes because they really don’t care how they look – they just want help. They aren’t trying to look cool, they’re not hiding their pain, they’re not pretending, they know that if they want help they need to say what’s wrong.

How do you feel in a hospital, surrounded by sick people? If you’re like me you feel a few things. Sometimes, if you’re really sick, you don’t really care what’s going on. You’re so worried about your own mess or whoever you’re looking after that you don’t really care about other people. You couldn’t care less that you haven’t showered or you’re carrying around a bag of barf and a urine sample. Pride is out the window. You just want the physician to come to help you.

Sometimes, when it’s not so urgent, you band together with the other people in the waiting room, right? You share stories, you ask what’s going on, you empathize with the mother who has the colicky baby, or the poor guy that came limping in, or the old person that is having a hard time with their documentation. You’re not judging anyone, you’re not mad at anyone for being at the hospital. Your pain brought you to a place where you need help, but it surrounded you with people who also need help – and it’s natural to start to realize that some of them are worse off than you and it should compel the empathy inside you to grow.

Have you ever sat in a clinic where you are brand new and come across someone who has been going there a while? You go to chemotherapy, or physio, or some kind of medicine or treatment for the first time and you’re nervous, confused, hopeful, scared, and you wonder if anyone has ever gone through this – and then someone sits next to you and says, “Hey, are you in for the same thing as me? Yeah, I’ve had that treatment, I’ve been on that medicine a couple times. It was no fun at first, but it works. I found it easier to take if I mixed it with juice. And don’t forget to drink water because I forgot and that messed me up. Oh, and it’s going to make you sore and tired, so be prepared for that. But after a while it really does work.”

There’s no judgment, no pride, no competition, is there? No, just two people that admit they need help from the same doctor coming together to share and support.

There are a great many illustrations for salvation, but one of the best is that our sickness is sin, the diagnosis is terminal, and Jesus is the Great Physician who is not only the doctor, but the cure. The only requirement He has is that we admit that we are sick and come to Him alone for the remedy. He does not save those who do not admit that they are sick. He despises hypocrites who put on the holier-than-thou, “I’m fine”, museum act.

Which means the people Jesus calls together are going to become a hospital church full of people in various stages of sickness and treatment, right? So it makes sense to treat each other as such. I’m in need of Jesus, you’re in need of Jesus. I’m a sinner, you’re a sinner. And sometimes, just like sick people, we need to give more help, more time, more love, more patience than other times. If someone limps in the door and says, “I’m sick.” We welcome them, introduce them to the Great Physician, and then help them, right? We don’t tell them to go fix themselves before introducing them to the doctor, right? We don’t turn away or pretend we’ve never been sick! We embrace them because that’s what Jesus did for us.

Travel Plans

What does this have to do with our passage today? I want you to take a look at the subtext of what Paul says here. Turn back to our passage in 1 Corinthians 16:
In verses 5-9 we read about Paul’s travel plans. What’s going on there? Remember, the Corinthians have just sent envoy after envoy, with question after question, because their church was in crisis after crisis, and they needed Paul to come. What does Paul say, “I want to come but I can’t right now. I will come and stay for a while, but for now I need to be in Ephesus. There are a lot of good things happening and a whole lot of problems, and I need to be here.”

That’s not what the Corinthians wanted to hear, was it? Sometimes people don’t come when we call – even the Apostle Paul to Corinth. Paul needed to stay in Ephesus? Why? Because God was working and so was Satan. The Corinthians had to be patient.

Sometimes our whole world is falling apart and the person we call on to help doesn’t come. That can cause bitterness, anger, resentment, to grow in our hearts. We get mad at God for not making that person help us, we feel foolish for asking the wrong person, or angry at the person for not coming, which tempts us to react in a sinful way.

  • “I was in trouble and the pastor or deacon or small group leader didn’t come – so I’m going to gossip about them and call them names behind their back.”
  • “I needed help and I reached out to my friend, but they said they couldn’t right now – so I’m going to never speak to them again.”
  • “I pulled away and no one noticed soon enough – so that proves no one cares and I’ll do something to harm myself.”

It’s hard sometimes, but the truth is that the only person we can really count on to show up when we need Him is Jesus. The only one who knows what we’re going through and promises help is Jesus – but He requires that we admit that we’re sick, that we need Him, and that means prayer, reading scripture, worshipping, and waiting on Him.

Timid Timothy

But what did Paul do? He sent Timothy. That’s a good thing, right? “I’m sorry, I can’t help you right now, but I’ll send along someone that will be able to.” But look what it says about Timothy in verse 10:

“When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord, as I am. So let no one despise him. Help him on his way in peace, that he may return to me, for I am expecting him with the brothers.”

Paul was strong, powerful, authoritative, respected. Timothy was, in a word, fragile. This wasn’t a warning to protect Timothy from the bad people in Corinth – but a warning to the church themselves to be nice to poor Timothy! He was young, timid, and had been through a lot already in his young life. He was the son of a mixed marriage, his father died when he was young, and he was chosen by Paul at a very young age. Timothy became one of Pauls’ right-hand guys, but his job often meant heading to troubled places either before Paul could get there or after Paul had stirred the pot. And it had gotten to him. He was a stressed out dude that even had stomach troubles. I feel for Timothy because I’m a lot like him right now.

As you all well know, sometimes church leaders, or parents, or teachers, even though they know what they’re doing, even though they are trying to do the work of the Lord, end up becoming very fragile because of things going on in their life. They used to be stronger, but now they can’t take a lot of pressure. They fall apart more easily. They need more naps and less confrontation. They need to be treated more gently. You can almost hear Paul saying, “Timothy is a godly leader and he’s going to say some things you don’t like, but I know how mean you guys can be. So be nice to Timothy! I want him back in the same condition I sent him!”

Isn’t it interesting that the Corinthian church, which had so many troubles and needed so much strong leadership, was sent timid Timothy? And that, with a warning! Oftentimes it’s the fragile, weak leader, or weak parent or weak friend that God uses in our lives the most. They aren’t ever-present, they aren’t super-strong, and they get overwhelmed easy – but they’re exactly the right person and God uses them. Why? Because they know they need Jesus. They’re not going to try to be Jesus for you, they’re going to point you to Him. They’re going to know how you feel. They’re going to be able to sympathize with your struggles like no one else. And in their weakness, they realize how much they need the Great Physician to do the work for them. They don’t have confidence and strength in themselves, they aren’t going to tell you to buck-up and try harder – they have learned to put their faith and gain their strength from someone greater than them – and that’s what you need.

Awesome Apollos

And look at verse 12,

“Now concerning our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to visit you with the other brothers, but it was not at all his will to come now. He will come when he has opportunity.”

Apollos was the exact opposite of Timothy. The phrase “now concerning” meant that the Corinthians asked about Apollos. I wonder if it was, “Hey Paul, if you can’t come, can you send Apollos?” Apollos was actually from Corinth and was not only an amazing preacher, but a super-popular travelling speaker, very smart, powerful in speech, and bold in his demeanor. He had actually gone on tour, defending Christianity and teaching all over the place. He was like Ravi Zacharias from last week. He was so good that some people thought that Paul was jealous of Apollos because he was so popular.

What is so interesting here, and sort of funny, is that the Apostle Paul “strongly urged” Apollos to go to Corinth and Apollos said “No! Well, maybe I’ll go if I feel like it.” I find that amazing. Timid Timothy was Paul’s shell-shocked, PTSD ridden foot soldier, sent into battle after battle – while Apollos was more like a James Bond style spy, wandering around in fancy hotels, hanging out with cool people, and doing whatever jobs came up.

Sometimes, even when you’re the Apostle Paul, people don’t do what you want. Sometimes the one you think would be right for the job says no, and you end up with someone you wouldn’t have chosen. And that leads to temptation, right? You want to resent the Apollos you wanted and dump on the Timothy you didn’t. You resent the teacher, the parent, the child that doesn’t meet your expectations. You asked God for an Apollos spouse, an Apollos friend, an Apollos partner, but you got a Timothy. Which leads to sinful comparisons: “Apollos wouldn’t have done that. Apollos wouldn’t have said it that way. Apollos would have listened to me. Apollos would clean his room. Apollos would let me use the car. Apollos would treat me the way I want to be treated. And here I am stuck with you, timid, Tummy-Ache Timothy.”

But the truth is that God didn’t want Apollos there. God wanted Timothy there. Tummy-Ache Timothy was the right person for the job. Your weak or sick parent, child, teacher, pastor, brother, sister, friend, husband, or wife – is the right one, and God can use them to do things that Apollos never could. The question is whether you trust that God knows what He’s doing.

Conclusion

There are, of course, more names there, but let’s close with verses 13-14,

“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.”

This is the end of the letter and a final summary of what he’s been saying. He addresses them like soldiers on the battlefield, or for our illustration today, nurses and fellow patients on the ward.

“Be watchful” means “stay awake” or “be on guard”. They had let all kinds of sickness and infectious and germs into their hospital church because they weren’t paying attention, weren’t on guard, weren’t doing best practices, and had fallen asleep on the job, and people were getting spiritually sicker and sicker. The command here is to wake up.

“Stand firm in the faith” means “Remember the foundation of the gospel.” They had not only let infections and germs run rampant among them, but they had lost the medicine! God the Father, Jesus the Saviour, and the Holy Spirit were always available to them but they had gotten so distracted by sin and had put their faith in so many other remedies that they had forgotten Jesus. Paul says, “You know the only treatment is pure faith in Jesus. Go back to that.”

“Act like men” means “stop being such a chicken and start doing the right things”! These caregivers had become too afraid, too distracted by sin, too overwhelmed by the enemy, to be able to help anyone. When they tried, they failed, because they were trying in their own strength – so they stopped trying. So Paul says, “Get back in there and help some people! Pray like you mean it, serve like you mean it, love like you mean it, worship like you mean it, study like you mean it!”

“Be strong”, means not in yourself obviously, but in God. This isn’t about pulling up your socks, it’s about reorienting yourself to the One from whom you get your strength. Remember one of the first things Paul said in chapter 1, “God chose the foolish, weak, and low things on purpose.” (1 Cor 1:26-31) In other words, God works most among the sick because that’s where He gets the most glory because that’s where people know they need Him most.

And if there was any doubt about where the strength comes from we see it in verse 14: “Let all you do be done in the love.” Our greatest strength isn’t in our personality, our bodies, our cleverness, or our words, it’s in our ability to love God and love others, because He first loved us.

Stewarding Our Abilities: Understanding Why You Are Here

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Sermon Text:

We’ve been working through a series on Stewardship over the past few weeks. Stewardship is the word that Christians usually use to talk about how we see and use all the good things that God has given us in this world. Our jumping off point was 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 where Paul is asking the church to set aside some money he can bring with him to help out the needy church in Jerusalem, but hopefully, by now we’ve all realized that godly stewardship encompasses so much more than just our finances.

We’ve talked about a lot of subjects in this series. We’ve talked about the reputation the church has with the world around us when it comes to money, why we pass the plate on Sundays and the importance of building a habit of a lifestyle of generosity.

We’ve covered a few big Stewardship questions, the first of which is “Whose is it?”. Regardless of whether it’s our time, talents, treasure, or testimony, the first question Christians need to ask is, “Whose is it?”. The answer to that question radically our outlook. If it’s mine then I can do whatever I want – but if it’s God’s, then that means I’d better ask Him what He wants me to do with it.

That led to the study of the Parable of the Talents where we asked the second big question, “What am I supposed to do with it?” and the most general answer to that question was simply, “God wants us to do something with it that will serve others and honour Him.”

Next came a discussion of the “risk” of using what we have and how our perception of God changes how we see everything we have. If we believe God is generous, then we will be generous with others – but if we feel God is holding out on us, then the risk sharing is too great and we end up holding onto things more tightly and share a lot less.

Which brings us to last week’s message where we moved from not only talking about taking the risk to do “something” with what God gives us but how to use these gifts “best” We started with God’s gift of time and how to perceive and use it in a biblical way.

Along the way, I came up with a brief statement to challenge us and clarify what Christians believe about the use of their time, talents, treasure, and testimony. It simply says, “Everything is God’s and I am a steward of His resources. I will use what He has given me, as best I can, His way, despite the risks involved.”

Are you with me so far? If you want to get caught up on the series, head to my Art of the Christian Ninja blog and you’ll be able to read and listen to them all there.

Talents and Abilities

Today I want to talk about the stewardship of our Talents and Abilities, but first I want to show you this:

David Green said at the end there, “We do not own this company but we’re the stewards.” His son, Steve Green said, “This business has been blessed by God. He has given the family the skills and ability, the opportunity, the time, the ideas – all of these have come… from God, and so for us to lay claim to any of that would be wrong.”

And then Debbie Kinsey, “Management Ministries Coordinator” – which I don’t know what that is, but it sure sounds like an interesting position – she said she heard an employee say, “I clean restrooms and I clean floors to help David Green get the gospel spread worldwide.”

That is a group of people that have a good, Christian understanding of Christian stewardship.

Whose Am I? – Radical Individualism

It all goes back to our first question, right? Whose is it? – but in this case, it’s a little different. It’s not, “Whose is it?? It’s, “Whose am I?” All throughout the scriptures, we are reminded that everything is God’s – the sky, the seas, the animals – but we sometimes forget that we ourselves are God’s.

We live in a radically individualistic society. For a long time societies, cities and nations were built on the premise that the family, the church, our countrymen, the state, the king, or God was the highest thing of value, worth the higher honour, and the most worth protecting, that has shifted in our culture to the highest value being individual rights.

It used to be that if someone’s life was going off the rails, they were making bad decisions, they were being selfish, you could say, “Don’t you know that you’re hurting your family, you are having a bad influence on your friends, you need to change your ways because your life is having a negative effect on those around you.” That concept is more and more foreign today.

Now, we are told from a very early age that we are special, distinct from the group, that the highest consideration in our life should be our own needs, wants, desires, hopes and dreams. This is seen as breaking the bondage of the oppressive forces that have held people down for so long – parents, religion, government, teachers, and everyone that says “no”. The heroes of modern stories are less and less the ones who put themselves second and fight for others or the “cause”. Now more and more of our society’s “heroes” are the ones who break away from everyone else, do what they want, and become whatever they want to be. Instead of running toward others, they run away, and then attract likeminded others to them.

I like superhero movies and I’ve noticed that even the superhero genre is affected. Superman used to put himself at risk and fight for “truth, justice and the American way”, but now he’s brooding, distant, and seems only to fight begrudgingly. If you’ve seen the new Superman movies you’ll remember Superman’s Mom’s advice:

“I never wanted this for you. Be their hero, be their monument, be their angel, be everything they need you to be – or be none of it. You don’t owe this world a thing. You never did.”

That’s radical individualism. Even though you’re Superman, sent to earth to help people and be a good example, his mom is like, “Meh. Who cares about the world? Do whatever makes you happy, kid.”

As we’ve moved farther from God we’ve become more enamoured with ourselves. As we’ve allowed sin to dictate more and more of our actions, we’ve pushed God and others more and more to the side. As we grow more radically individual, our moral compass gets more out of whack. Think about it? What do the rise in abortions, the legalization of drugs, the crazy divorce rate, social media addiction, the destruction of our environment, the military’s consistent recruitment struggles, and the legalization of assisted suicide have in common? Radical individualism.

If the universe revolves around you, then why keep the baby if it will just be a burden to you? If my desires matter most, why not get stoned whenever I want, even when at work or driving? If my happiness and comfort is paramount why stay in a difficult marriage? Why not litter everywhere and mow down a rainforest? Why should I put myself at risk of getting shot somewhere overseas or be stationed somewhere I don’t want to live? And then, if it’s all about me, why not kill myself when I feel like I’m not accomplishing what I want to do anymore?

We Are Not Our Own

That is the absolute opposite of what Christianity teaches. The Bible teaches us that we are not our own. Listen to some of these verses: “…you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 137:13) “You clothed me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews.” (Job 10:11) The way you look, how your body is built, your height, eye colour, beauty and deformities are all designed by God. Same with your neighbour, your child, and your friend.

Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  That means that not only did God design us, but also made each of us able to do good works, and then prepared some things for us to do!

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says to Christians, “You are not your own, you were bought at a price.” The Bible doesn’t present anyone in this world as free.[1] We are either slaves to sin or slaves to Christ. Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.” (John 8:34) An unrepentant sinner doesn’t actually do whatever they want, they do what sin wants them to do – which is why it ends up destroying them. In the same way, a Christian doesn’t do whatever they want, but instead have given themselves to God. They were ransomed from hell by the death and resurrection of Jesus. He paid the price and now owns them.

Romans 6:16-18 says it this way,

“Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.”

The Bible doesn’t present anyone as being free in the ultimate sense (full-autonomy). No one. Everyone is in servitude to someone – either sin or Jesus. Christians recognize this and say, “I’m so sick of being tossed around and beaten by the my slave master, Sin. I am regretful of all that it has made me do and wish I could get away from him. But I’m trapped and he owns me.” Jesus says, “I will pay your ransom. I will buy you back from sin and death. I will trade my life for yours and then be your new master, your new Lord. And my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Come and be with me.” Part of being a Christian is making Jesus not only our Saviour, but our Lord. And recognizing Him as Lord means recognizing that we are not our own.

You Are a Gift

But there’s another way that we are not our own. Throughout the Bible people are presented as gifts to one another. I can’t think of anyone in the Bible that was placed on earth to be by themselves.

It was not good for Adam to be alone, so God presented Eve to him, and they were to live life together. Abraham was brought out of obscurity not to be made special, but to be the father of nations by which the Saviour would come. Joseph wasn’t made the most powerful man in Egypt because he was so talented, but so the Israelites could be saved from famine. David wasn’t made king because he was so strong and popular, but because He was a servant of God who could defend and lead his people. His successes and failures affected everyone. The times when things to really wrong in the Bible is when people get selfish. Their sin ends up spreading all over the place and ruining all kinds of things.

Consider Jesus. Listen to Colossians 1:15-18, “

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.”

That’s quite a description, isn’t it? Everything was “created through him and for him”.  The word, “firstborn” there doesn’t mean Jesus was created, it’s a title. He’s the prince of all creation, the one who will inherit it all. Everything is His. He is preeminent.

Now listen to Him teaching His disciples in Matthew 20:25-28,

“Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’”

Jesus, the preeminent One, says, “No one on earth, not even me, is an island unto themselves. Everyone is a gift to everyone else.” Jesus didn’t come as king of the universe, but as the ultimate servant, the ultimate gift to mankind.

That’s how Christians see themselves – not as mere individuals, but as gifts to each other. First, when we are born, we are given as gifts to our family. We cherish babies of all kinds because they are gifts to us from God. Then, as we grow, we live and serve our family, placing their needs above ours – and they do the same for us. We learn how to serve and be served as we are part of a loving family. Then, we leave our family and we are given as a gift, and receive the gift of a spouse. We get married to someone who helps in ways our family can’t – and we help them in ways their family can’t. In the ups and downs of marriage we learn how to be more holy, more selfless, more humble, more giving, more sacrificial – in short, more like Jesus. And then, in marriage we are given as the gift to our own babies, and the cycle continues.

But more than that. Throughout our lives God gifts us to more people. We are given as a gift to our country to be a good citizen. We are a gift to our church. We are given as a gift to our friends and neighbours. We are given as a gift to our workplaces, our employers and employees, to help each other flourish and find meaningful work in this world.

But as I said, this all gets messed up when selfishness and radical individualism take hold of our hearts, when we start to erect borders and walls between us and others.

  • We try to erect the wall of racism, saying that our people group is better than another, refusing to help or listen to others because of a difference in skin colour or nationality.
  • We erect economic walls believing that rich people are better than poor, or poor are better than rich, or the middle is better than anyone else.
  • We erect walls between the sexes, chauvinism that says men are better than women, and messed up feminism that says women are better than men.
  • In the church we see all kinds of these walls, like ageism where young people and old people can’t get along, even long enough to sing the same song.

The devil plays us against each other and they we do his work for him. All of these divisions are ungodly, sinful, and dangerous. Galatians 3:26-29 says to believers,

“…for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”

It says, “Guys, the divisions are gone. It’s not about you. You’re all family now. So live for each other.”

The Bible says repeatedly that God has given each of us different sets of gifts to steward. Some have more time, others less. Some have more talents, others less. Some have more money, others less. Some have more experience, others less. Our job is just to figure out what God has created us to do and then go do it. And whatever that is, it’s always going to be about honouring God and serving others.

Three More Things

I just want to say three more things and then I’ll close.

God Don’t Make No Junk

First, I hope that this study helps to changes our perspective of ourselves and others. Sometimes we look at ourselves or someone else and think, “Wow, I’m useless. I’m not strong enough, not brilliant enough, not creative enough, not old enough, not young enough, not experienced enough, not put together enough. God made me wrong and I don’t really have a place in this world. If I was more like this person or that person then I’d really do good, but I’m not.”

I hope this study helps you see that no one is useless. No one is an accident. And, because of the grace of God, no one is beyond his ability to use for His Kingdom. You have strengths, even if you haven’t discovered them. You have abilities, even if you’ve buried them under a pile of sin, fear and shame. But even if you were utterly incapable of doing anything – like a newborn baby – you would still have inherent worth because you are a child of God and one of His image bearers. As they say in the South US, “God don’t make no junk.”

I thought it was really interesting when David from Hobby Lobby in the video said that he used to feel guilty because his whole family went into ministry but he had a heart for selling things in retail stores. He felt bad because he thought that God like ministers, missionaries, and Sunday school teachers better. Why? Because he had a poor understanding of what God expected of him.

If you are constantly comparing yourself to others and trying to be something God didn’t create you to be, you are going to feel like junk. And, on the other side of the coin, if you judge people by your own standards and not God’s, then you are going to see them as junk. You are going to look at your own weaknesses, and the weaknesses of others as problems, excuses as to why you and them aren’t good enough for God to use. And you will want to do what we all do with junk that has no value, that is worthless – you’ll want to throw yourself or them away.

But that’s totally wrong. As long as David thought that God only wants people to be pastors and missionaries he felt like junk. But once he figured out that God didn’t make him to be in full time ministry in a church, he finally figured out he can be in full time ministry by serving God in and through passion he has for managing retail stores and selling craft supplies. That’s amazing! And it’s true for you too. God calls very few people to be missionaries and pastors and teachers. He calls most people to serve outside the church, in their families, neighbourhoods and workplaces. And He uses people of all sorts to do it.

Moses stuttered. Abraham was old. Hosea had a super messed up marriage. David was a hothead who wanted to kill people who he didn’t like and then had an affair. Jonah ran away from his mission. John Mark ran away too. Elijah suffered from ministry burnout. Paul was blind, sick, and used to chase and murdered Christians. Timothy was so stressed out he had stomach problems. Lazarus was dead. And yet God used them mightily.

Whether you think yourself too weak, or you are that prideful person who keeps judging others as disqualified. Listen again to 1 Corinthians 1:26-31, “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;  God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’”

We Will Be Judged

Second, I want you to realize that at the end of time, the Bible says that Jesus will evaluate every person, every Christian’s contribution to the life of the church and the deeds they have done. Just like the master came home and took account of what his stewards did with their talents, so will Jesus inspect what we have done with what he has given us. Listen to the words of Romans 2:6-8, “God ‘will repay each person according to what they have done.’ To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.” 2 Corinthians 5:10, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”

How we use the abilities, talents and spiritual gifts that God has given us will be judged. Listen closely. Christian, your salvation is assured, because that is dependent on the work of Jesus Christ. Listen to 1 Corinthians 3:11-13, “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.”

The foundation of our salvation is built by Jesus, but the life we build on that foundation, the way we use the gifts we’ve been given according to our ability, that will be judged.

We do well when we cultivate a healthy fear of God in this area.

How to Use Them Best

The third question of stewardship, if you remember, is “How do I use it best?”, right? So how can we use our talents and abilities best? That’s a tough one to answer because they are so varied, but let me try.

If you are serving in your wheelhouse right now, you know you’re where you’re supposed to be, then great. Give me a call and talk to some Christian friends about how you can grow in that area. But if you are like a majority of people and haven’t got that figured out yet, then what I want you to do three things:

First, ask God if you are doing the right thing or if you should change? Ask Him to guide you to where you are supposed to serve Him and be open to His call. I’m only a preacher today because I decided one day to be open to a radical change. So open your heart and ask God.

The second is to explore your gifts. In other words, try different things. Take a few personality tests, a spiritual gifts inventory, and a job placement test. Volunteer for different things to try them out. If you stink at it, that’s ok. You’re allowed to make mistakes here. We still love you. What better place is there to experiment with your interests than surrounded by a loving church family, right? There are a lot of people who are serving in the wrong place either because of fear or obligation or confusion. I don’t want that for you.

And third, I want you to get brave and talk to people who care for you about what they see in you, what your strengths and weaknesses are, and then listen. Be willing to try doing what they see in you instead of dismissing it out of fear or because it’s too much work.

[1] https://www.gotquestions.org/slave-to-sin.html

God, Money, and the Church

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Audio:

Text:

“Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me.” (1 Corinthians 16:1–4)

The calendar is kind of weird this year. I would go as far as to say it borders on ironic. Did you know that the first day of Lent, which is, historically, the 40 days of preparatory fasting that comes before Easter is on Valentine’s Day? It’s hard to start your fast on the same day that someone gives you a big box of chocolates and takes you out for a special dinner.

And, did you know that Easter Sunday is on April Fool’s day this year? Again, bordering on ironic considering how completely central Easter is to Christianity and how many people in these days think that believers are just being fooled into believing lies so they’ll give up their money or go to hell. And yes, that’s my segue into what we’re talking about today, money and the church.

I punched the words “church money meme” into google I got about 20 million hits so I think it’s pretty safe to say there is a lot of anger and misunderstanding about money and the church out there. Even among Christians there is division. Some people think that we should never talk about money in church while others are all about the fundraising for good causes. Some people get offended when anyone talks about their money, especially preachers. I looked back over my sermons over the last 6 years here and while I’ve tangentially mentioned money in lots of sermons, from what I saw I’ve only preached on Tithing once and that was in August 2012, so I think we’re probably due – plus it’s the next verse of our 1 Corinthians study.

Here are a few examples the kinds of things I saw online:

The first one is super common. It’s a standard misquoting of 1 Timothy 6:10 where people assume it says, “Money is the root of all of evil.” And so the thinking is, “If money is evil then why ask for it at church?” That’s logical thinking because it points out hypocrisy. The church claims to be good and then asks for something evil.

I’m not going to preach memes today, but let’s just get the actual quote from 1 Timothy 6 and see what it actually says and I’m going to give it some context, starting in verse 6, “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (6:6-10)

What’s this about? That money is evil? No, it’s about being content and not chasing riches. Would you agree that people who are constantly discontent, always wanting more, never having enough, are miserable people? They can’t be happy, can they? So, the warning comes that discontentedness is a trap that leads to destruction, because a heart that is never happy, but has an unbridled craving for more, is going to get you into trouble!

Another standard theme that comes up a lot is that it’s horrible for a church to ask for money. After all group of people dedicated to helping others wouldn’t ask for money, right? Jesus would never ask for money, would He? God doesn’t need our money, does He? Isn’t it horrible that someone would walk into a church poor, hungry, falling apart, and then be taken advantage of by being manipulated into giving their little bit of money away?

I completely understand this indictment and kind of agree with it. Unfortunately, there are way too many churches that call themselves Christian but are merely schemes to take people’s money. The health and wealth, prosperity preachers and the legalists are both to blame for this reputation. They both play on guilt, shame, false theology, false promises, and false threats in order to take people’s money. Then they use the media to spread their false gospel so that the culture thinks we’re all like that. So whenever the church talks about money it’s usually seen it through the lens of the prosperity gospel. It’s a similar misunderstanding to what we talked about last week with the treatment of women in the church.

So let’s tie those two things together – women and money – and see what Jesus did. Take a look at Luke 8:1-3:

“Soon afterward he [Jesus] went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.”

There’s Jesus, traveling with a group of men and women. Some were His chosen disciples, others followed out of love. What is notable here how many women were there and how many different social levels they came from. Everyone from outcast Mary to the wealthy socialite, Joanna followed Jesus! And what were these women doing? Giving Jesus money and supplies for His ministry, which He accepted and gave to Judas to hold onto – who then stole from Him, but that’s another story.

Giving to Jerusalem

Talking about money can be a divisive topic – even more so when it is wrapped in religion. So my plan is to stay away from my own personal views and simply give you a biblical picture of what God says about how money and the church work together.

Let’s start with our passage today in 1 Corinthians and work our way out from there. We see that it starts with “Now concerning” which we learned a long time ago means that Paul is changing topics and moving on to the next question that they had asked him in their letter to him. They asked something like, “We heard that some of the churches were taking up collections to help out the Christians in Jerusalem, what are we supposed to do?”

Part of Paul’s mission, along with planting churches and sharing the gospel, was to collect funds to help the Christians in Jerusalem who were under terrible persecution (Gal 2:10). Jerusalem was under attack and was facing a famine. And while the Jews were harassed by all kinds of troubles, Christians had it even worse because not only were they living in a war zone but were also under attack from their own non-believing relatives and former friends. They were very poor.

This wasn’t a revolutionary idea. We don’t see “survival of the fittest” in the Bible. Generosity towards the care of the poor, the needy, the weak, and the stranger, is one of the foundational principles of the Old Testament and the teachings of Jesus. In the Law of God given to Israel, Deuteronomy 15:7-8 says, “If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.” Generosity was commanded.

So, in the same way, the churches were “ordered” or “directed” to take up collections to help the poor and needy. We see this same ask in other letters in the New Testament (Rom 15:16, Acts 11:29, 2 Cor 8:4). And it’s this collection order that came from the Apostles that I want to take apart a bit.

Regular Lifestyle Generosity

The first thing I want you to notice is the regularity of the giving. It says, “On the first day of every week”. This wasn’t meant to be a one-time donation, a single moment of help during a crisis, but meant to foster a lifestyle of generosity. All over scripture, from beginning to end, in Genesis, the Law, Psalms, Proverbs, and Prophets we see generosity towards those in need as one of the key marks of the lifestyle of the believer. Of course, the OT Law also demanded regular contributions for all kinds of reasons, 10% for the priests to live on, 10% to pay for the religious feasts (Lev 27:30-33, Num 18:21-24, Deut 14:22-27), and every three years a special offering for the poor, but these were a more like taxes than charity. And there were even more commanded times of giving – the Sin Offering, Guilt Offering, Burnt Offerings, Cereal Offering, Drink Offering, Peace Offering, Offering for Vows… which added up to a lot of giving. Israel was forced to get into the habit of being generous.

Jesus came to fulfill the Law and often spoke and told parables about sacrificial generosity, caring for the poor, and regular giving. He equated selfishness with unbelief that leads to hell (Matthew 25:31-46) and praised the generosity of a poor widow who gave her last two cents to the temple as an act of obedience and faith (Mark 12:41-44). Then, continuing this teaching, the Apostles, throughout the letters of the New Testament commanded believers to remember to, “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” (Romans 12:13) This lifestyle giving can’t be done in one swoop. The regularity of it is meant to reflect the change of heart that comes when we repent of our sins and make Jesus our Lord. It shows that we see the danger of the love of money and the benefit of serving others generously and sacrificially as Jesus did every day.

The way that this was taught to the Corinthians and the rest of the churches was to connect their giving to the weekly church service. The day of worship had already been changed from the Jewish Saturday Sabbath to the Lord’s Resurrection Day on Sunday and they were either being told to bring their donation to the church to be kept in one pile or to add it up in in a special place at home, like we would keep a penny jar, until Paul got there to take it to Jerusalem. Later, in 1 Timothy 5 we see this giving expanded to include paying those elders who taught the Bible.

The thing that we see here is regular lifestyle generosity. Why do we take an offering at church each week? Because it’s consistent with scriptural teaching and gives Christians the encouragement to get into the habit of giving and meeting needs regularly.

Stewardship

Second, I want you to notice that it says, “each of you”. No one was exempt. That bumps into one of the charges those memes had against the church, doesn’t it? There’s the guy that shows up with his life falling apart and then gets guilted and manipulated into giving. And sadly, that happens. Some false teachers say that if you give money to the church then God is obligated to bless you. They say that the more you give the better off your health and relationships and finances will be. But that’s unbiblical. We come to Jesus as Saviour of our souls and source of eternal life, not as some kind of Santa Clause pyramid scheme that is meant to fulfill our earthly wishes for health and wealth.

What the Bible does teach is that “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24). And, as we already said, that constantly worrying about money and security and stuff is drain on our faith and a poison to our soul. Jesus says, “…do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles [or “Unbelievers”] seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:31–33)

Christians know they don’t own anything in this world, but that everything is God’s (Matthew 25:14-30) and we are merely stewards. That’s why Christians talk a lot about Stewardship. Christians know that we don’t own our homes, cars, clothes, or money. It’s not ours to control. We did not have them when we were born, we don’t have them for most of our lives, and we won’t have them when we die – and so we realize that dedicating our lives to worrying about building and keeping piles of stuff is ultimately “vanity and a striving after wind…”. Ecclesiastes teaches us this.

So we say along with Job, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21) We’re merely stewards of what we have and our faith in God tells us that whatever we have in our hand isn’t really that important because God can either give us more or take it away. He can multiply it like the loaves and fishes or dry it up with a drought –that’s up to Him. All we can do is be faithful with what He has and trust Him to give us what we need.

And so, on each Lord’s day, every one of the believers in the church was instructed to open their hands and demonstrate that they trust God more than they trust themselves through the exercise of giving. It is an act of faith, obedience, and sacrifice that says, “God, everything is yours. I trust you. I know you love me. I’m holding nothing back. Use this to take care of people and I trust you’ll take care of me too.”

Now, the argument comes, “Well, if God is so powerful, why doesn’t He just give them what they need? Why does God need money at all? If everything is God’s and He can make miracles, why does He need my money to do it? Why not just send rain to the deserts, have manna fall from heaven in the cities, heal all the sick, fix all the lame, give everyone a job… why does He want my money?”

First off – it’s not your money, it’s His… but second… He will. When all is said and done, at the end of our time here, He will do all those things. But in the meantime, God is doing His work to sanctify us – to make us more like Jesus. How does He do that? By giving us the opportunities and the choice to help each other – or not. By giving our planet enough to go around and then requiring that we share it with each other – or not. By making some places in the world flourish with an abundance of food, medicine, education, and more – and then allow other places to ave needs – and then give us the means to move around and help each other – or not. He creates the opportunity for sacrifice, generosity, and love, but, as always He leaves the choice to us. It is in making the choice to love that we become more like Jesus.

Generosity is A Choice

Notice that here, and this holds for the rest of the New Testament, the compelling of generosity by religious taxes and the amounts required to give is gone.

Jesus fulfilled the law and upped the ante for His followers. Remember the Sermon on the Mount? The Old Testament Law told people not to murder and forced them to get along on pain of death, Jesus says, “It’s not about murder, it’s about the sin of out of control anger. Be peacemakers. Figure out how to reconcile with one another.”

The OT Law said, “Don’t commit adultery” or you’ll be put to death. Jesus said, “The issue isn’t adultery, it’s the sin of lust that causes you to be an adulterer in your heart. Do everything you can to deal with that.”

The OT Law said, “Don’t break your oaths or else you’ll be punished.” Jesus says, “It’s not about just breaking oaths, but living a whole life where everything you say is simply true.”

The bible teachers the time were saying that God said it was ok to love your neighbours and hate your enemies, but Jesus says, “No. God doesn’t want you to hate people. He wants you to love everyone and do good to them – even your enemies.” That’s harder, isn’t it? That requires more. That requires divine intervention, God’s work in our hearts.

The OT Law told people what to do and what not to do. Be generous or else. But Jesus got to the root of the problem – the sins of selfishness, fear, worry, greed, and said, “I’m not going to force you be generous. I’m not going to prescribe percentages and consequences. I’m going to be generous to you, serve you, give everything for you – my whole life as a demonstration of my love for you – and then ask you to do the same for everyone else. I’m going to invite you to be generous as I am generous.”

And anyone who is a Christian, anyone who understands what Jesus did for them, who understands God’s love for them, who figures out all that was given for them, who finally has that moment where the sacrificial generosity that Jesus showed them clicks – will get it. They’ll realize what the wealth of love they’ve been given, and the generosity of their God, and it will become natural for them to be generous with others.

Conclusion

We’ll talk more about this next week, but I want to leave you with two questions. First, do you know why we pass the plate on Sundays enough to explain it to others? And second, have you begun to grasp how wide and long and high and deep the love of Christ is for you (Eph 3:18), and does your life reflect that generosity to others?

Women Should Keep Silent? (Let’s Talk Context!)

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“As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.” (1 Corinthians 14:33b-35)

Oh boy, have I ever been looking forward to preaching on this passage…

 

No one likes to be told to shut up – least of all, in my experience, women. If I tell my guy friends or my sons to “shut up” it goes a lot better than if I were to tell my wife, daughters, or female friends.

But, unfortunately, that’s a reputation that some pastors, churches and Christians have. One accusation consistently brought against the Christian church is that we are anti-female, oppressing and restricting women. And of course, horrible stories like the homeschooling parents who kept their children starving and chained to their beds, or the various reports of religious communes and cults that force women and children into servitude don’t help because they are invariably called “devout Christians” at some point by the media.[1] [2] [3] And, in our post-Christian, post-church culture, it’s natural to lump everyone who calls themselves Christian together with them. The pastors are cult leaders, the men are mysogonist pigs, the women are fools or terrorized, and the children treated no better than slaves.

I’ve heard from a few of you that some people around this area have even wondered if Beckwith Baptist Church is a cult. Long gone are the days when the small, local, Baptist church was seen as a beacon of morality. Now, the most basic Christian terms like “Christian”, “pastor”, “elder”, “deacon”, “biblical “authority”, “submission”, evoke among the culture pictures of abuse, brainwashing, and financial exploitation. People don’t know the difference between David Koresh and Jamestown, Westboro Baptist Church, or the evangelical church around the corner. Conversations with people about “going to church” or “being a Christian” these days have a lot of baggage, so it’s little wonder that some are ashamed to admit it.

And when it comes to a passage like we are looking at today, it’s even worse. Christians aren’t automatically given the benefit of the doubt to explain what it means, but instead beaten over the head with it as it’s used as confirmation bias for outsiders to spread false beliefs about what goes on here.

And within the church this is the kind of verse that people tend to avoid. They like the Gospels and Proverbs and Psalms and whatnot, even Revelation and Romans, but when it comes to this kind of verse, it’s just easier to pretend it doesn’t exist. But it doesn’t work, does it? There’s always that nagging voice inside of you that says, “What have you gotten yourself into? These people look all nice and happy now, but there’s a secret underbelly where some really bad stuff happens. These women aren’t happy, their afraid – you just don’t see it yet. These kids aren’t loved, they’re terrified to show their true feelings. These church men are all the same – they preach love and grace but secretly they are using religion to control women, harm their kids, and take people’s money. Be careful. Don’t get sucked in.”

These Christians tend to stay on the outside, never really giving themselves fully to Jesus, God, or their church, because they’re afraid they are going to be let down. They feel drawn to God, drawn to worship, drawn to Jesus. They love the message of Salvation, the idea of having a community of believers, and the practical ways that the Bible is changing their lives, but they are secretly afraid of learning too much, seeing too much, engaging too much, of finding out what Christianity is really all about.

Then a terrifying thought hits their brain: “You’re being lied to. You’re being manipulated. This church says that they’re not a cult, but that’s what all cults say isn’t it? It’s when you get into the inner circle that things start to get scary and oppressive.”

So they come to church on edge, waiting for confirmation of this little voice in their head. They start to watch the news with new eyes, seeing how much damage religion is doing around the world, and the horrible things people have done in the name of Christ. They start to remember personal stories of difficult times when they went to church as a kid, or stories their family has told, and remember that there was a lot of hurt there. Now when they attend it feels different. Now the people seem a little stranger, less trustworthy, and all the messages seem to be about judging and hating others, giving more money, and unquestioning submission to some human authority.

They usually come for a while, hoping all this isn’t true, but then, without fail, someone says or does something to confirm everything they’re thinking. A pastor commits adultery, a youth worker abuses a child, a trustee is caught stealing, a small group leader starts a fight. And their fears are confirmed so they leave angry, sad, frustrated, feeling stupid and used, vowing never to get fooled again.

They still have a hunger for God in their heart, but they keep that all to themselves now. They stay home, read the bible themselves, or start to experiment with other religions.

This story has been played out over and over in the church. Perhaps you know someone who has gone through it, or perhaps you secretly thinking some of this yourself.

So what do we do at times like this? It is my belief that everything I just described is a direct Satanic attack on the souls of people seeking God and who believe in Him. He’s a liar, a master deceiver, a manipulator who has been playing this game for a long time. So what is the solution to these sorts of lies? What are we to do when we come across a difficult passage like this that stirs up so much inside us? The only way to defeat a lie is with the truth, and so instead of avoiding these passages, we have to dig into them. We need to confront our biases and our fears and be willing to allow God’s Word to tell us what He is really saying.

So I want to do that today. I want to give us four questions to ask when it comes to these types of difficult passages so we can have a deeper faith, more trust in God, and a stronger witness to the unbelieving world.

Does this Sound like the Biblical God?

The first question I want you to ask yourself is “Does my interpretation of this passage sounds like what Jesus preached and what the rest of the Bible teaches?”

Let’s read it again,

“As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.”

What does that sound like to your modern ears? Based on your personal history and worldview, what does that sound like? It sounds like the Apostle Paul is telling all women everywhere to keep their mouth shut when they come to church, right? He cites God Law as his authority and in verses 37, which we didn’t read, he says, “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord.” It sounds like he’s saying, “God says women in all churches for all time need to shut up. Jesus says a woman asking questions is terrible.”

Sounds close, right? But is it? Does that interpretation line up with what the rest of the Bible says? Not even close. What does the Bible say? It says God created woman as the other half of His image, a compliment and gift to man, different in many ways, but equal in dignity, worth, purpose (Gen 2). It was sin that turned men against women making them use their physical strength to oppress, subjugate and enslave them.

When God gave Israel His Law, they had come from a world full of violence, superstition, oppression, and evil. His people were to be different so He broke them away from the norm and gave them a higher set of standards that elevated the status of women and children, giving them rights and protections under the Law they never had before.[4]

And it gets better. In the New Testament. Jesus treated women and children with so much more respect and care than the culture ever did. He didn’t see women as sexual objects, or judge them by their beauty, age, marital status or anything else. He simply saw them as genuine persons worthy of love and respect. He met with them, protected them, listened to them, taught them, and cared for them as no one else would, and then taught his followers to do the same.[5]

I want to play a clip from a man named Todd Friel who is the host of Wretched TV and Radio. He talks a little funny, but he’s a good, Christian guy and I think this clip helps us understand something important about the Christian view of women.

         

I could do a whole sermon on the biblical view of women, but that’s not the point today. Does the Bible teach that men should oppress women? No. Now, does it teach that women should shut up in church?

Well, in the same letter in chapter 11 it says that women are allowed to pray and prophecy in the church. It says, “…but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head…” I won’t get back into the issue of head-coverings, but notice that there were women praying and prophesying in church. In the Old Testament we have women like Meriam and Deborah leading worship and speaking publically to the people. Psalm 68:11 (NET) says, “The Lord speaks; many, many women spread the good news…” In the New Testament we see the Prophetess Anna speaking at the temple (Luke 2:36-38), Philip the Evangelist’s four daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:9), and the Apostle Peter saying at Pentecost, “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dream…” (Acts 2:17).

Clearly, from scripture, we can say that women have the same spiritual availability to not only teach, prophecy, and share God’s Word but were doing it in the Christian church right from its inception.

So if Jesus elevated the status of women, and the church has been a champion of women’s rights, and so many other places in scripture say women can speak in church, what’s going on here?

What’s the Historical Context?

That’s the second question: “What’s the historical context?”

Notice that he’s not just telling women to change their behavior, but everyone! He tells those coming to church and eating all the food to stop it (let’s be honest, that’s probably the men). He tells those who are getting drunk at church to stop it. He tells those who are flipping out like they did at the pagan temples to stop it. He tells everyone who is being noisy and disorderly to stop it. He tells those who are yelling and singing over each other to stop it. He tells the tongues speakers to limit themselves. He tells the prophets and preachers to take turns. That’s men and women.

He’s like the referees at a hockey game where a brawl has broken out. He’s blowing his whistle, separating fighters, sending some folks to the bench and others to the locker room. He’s restoring order.

And another issue he’s dealing with is that there were a specific group of women who were disrupting the church services with questions. Whether it was because they didn’t understand what was going on and wanted to learn, or they were arguing with the points the teachers were making, or something else, these women were causing trouble in the church.

We’ve talked a lot about context over the past while so I won’t bore you with a repeat, but there are two things I want you to remember: the situation with the headdresses and the problem of disorderly worship.

Remember how messed up and chaotic the church services in Corinth were. Everyone in the church was doing whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, as loudly as they wanted, right? Remember the context of 1 Corinthians 14 where Paul is talking about what it means to be orderly in church. That’s a really important part of what’s going here. Paul’s not singling out women, but listing a whole bunch of things that are going wrong in their church services. One of those things, among many, was this group of women.

It’s likely the same group of women who were being addressed in the head coverings controversy. Remember when we talked about them we saw that there were some women that were coming to church and were not only causing disturbances but were embarrassing their husbands by they causing scenes, flaunting their sexuality and independence, and were being a bad witness to the church and the rest of society. In that lesson, we talked about how one of the big issues was that these women were disobeying God by refusing to submit to the biblical teachings of complementarianism and male headship (again, something I’m not going to repeat here). That’s very, very similar to what’s going on here.

It’s not that these women weren’t allowed to pray, prophecy, speak in tongues, worship, or serve – it was that they were part of the disorderly service problem and needed specific correction. They were asking so many questions that it was causing a ruckus (just like those speaking in tongues were). Sure, they were allowed to learn, but the worship service wasn’t the time to be interrupting with a bunch of questions.

Notice as well that this is addressed to wives. That’s what gives us a clue that this is connected to the headdress and male headship issue. It’s likely that these women weren’t just politely asking too many questions, but were actually making a scene, being out of control with their words, and reflecting badly on their husbands and families. So Paul gives them the same message as before – respect your husbands enough to show some self-control and bring your spiritual concerns to them privately first.

I wonder if this also speaks to the women who refuse to talk to their husbands about anything spiritual at all, but instead keep all those conversations for their Christian girlfriends, small groups, pastors, and Christian professionals. They have so little respect for their husband’s spirituality that they leave them completely out of the conversation. They have an issue in their heart and need counsel, a question about the Bible, need some wisdom or direction, or help with some other part of life, and don’t even talk to their husbands about it, but immediately go to their pastor, small group leader, or Christian friends. What does that say about how much they value and respect their husbands opinions? That it has zero value. That’s hurtful to the marriage disrespectful to the husband. Wives, talk to your husbands first about what’s going on in your heart. Don’t leave him out of the mix.

Application

The first question is, “Does my interpretation of this passage line up with what the rest of the Bible teaches?” and the second question is “What is the greater historical context of this difficult passage?” . So, the third and fourth questions are simply, “What does this passage mean?” and “Will I submit myself to it?”

So, what does this passage mean? It means that the Bible elevates women, not degrades them. They have equal access to God’s Holy Spirit and are invited to learn and participate in church worship services just like men, and are under the same rules to keep it orderly. But, it also means that there is a lesson there about self-control and humbly submitting to how God wants to do things. It means that you don’t get to say whatever you want to say whenever you want to say it. It means practicing patience and submission to authority. It means respecting your husband enough to include him your spiritual walk, asking his thoughts, listening to his answers, even if it makes you uncomfortable or you don’t feel like he’s up to it.

In the end, once we study this passage, and strip away our own bias, what we see here are some verses about the godly attitudes of humility and respect? Humility and respect toward God and His rules for how we live our life. Humility and respect for your church family, placing their desires above your own. And humility and toward your husband, and that’s something that, I think, everyone can understand and agree on.

I encourage you to be introspective this week about this. Have you let Jesus take control of your tongue, your pride, and the openness between you and your spouse in your marriage? Are you practicing humility and respect in these areas?

 

[1] https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/christian-couple-who-starved-held-11859360

[2] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-42701297

[3] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/waco-tv-series-siege-truth-what-really-happened-david-koresh-branch-davidians-cult-fbi-paramount-a8179936.html

[4] https://www.gotquestions.org/womens-rights.html

 

[5] https://www.crossway.org/articles/how-jesus-viewed-and-valued-women/

Resolutions (And How to Stick To Them)

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The start of the year, as I said last week, is a time when a lot of people take time to evaluate where they are in life and make some decisions about making some changes, often called “New Year’s Resolutions”. They feel convicted that some area of their life needs to change, and the tossing out of the old calendar seems like as good a time as any to start.

Some people focus on their physical health, vowing they will eat healthier and exercise more. Others focus on their work life, telling themselves that this is the year they will finally get a better job, get that promotion, take that training they’ve been putting off, get a raise, or change their habits so they’ll be more effective. Some people turn towards relationships, running through the list of people on their contact list and deciding to purge the toxic people and make new friends, get reconnected with old ones, spend more time with their family, or even decide to start a family for themselves. Some decide to be more environmentally conscientious or to do better with their money. Others look more deeply at their spiritual side, vowing to meditate more, get more “centred”, pursue things that bring more meaning, and finally figure out why they have been put on the earth in the first place.

I think all of these are good things. I applaud anyone who puts down the remote and their phone, turns off the computer, gets quiet and does some self-evaluation. Introspection is usually a genuinely positive thing that is a good step towards true, substantial, life-change.

But no matter how much introspecting and resoluting we do, it often doesn’t get very far, does it? For every New Year’s Resolution there’s a breaking of that resolution. We want to be better, but temptation is too strong. Diets are abandoned, the new guitar sits dusty in the corner along with all the books to be read. Gyms are packed full in January but back to their regular clientele by February – not they care considering all the 1 year, unbreakable memberships they sold. The folks who made the resolutions feel like failures – but repeat the cycle for their birthday, when spring comes, when school starts, and then again the next year.

So, what can we do to make sure that those changes stick? Well, there are two things that we need to do before we ever make those changes. We need to talk to God, and we need to find accountability.

Bringing it to God

The first thing we need to do when it comes to these moments of resolve is to make sure we talking and listening to God. There is a real danger if our introspection and decision making is done in a vacuum. What I mean by this is that we as individuals shouldn’t be doing all this evaluating and resolving without including others in the mix. We, by ourselves, are generally not very good at either figuring out what’s wrong with us or how to fix it. We will usually err one of two ways, either toward pride, thinking too much of ourselves, giving ourselves too much credit, and making excuses for ourselves, or we’ll err too much toward the negative, beating ourselves up, evaluating ourselves too harshly, and change things we really don’t need to.

For example, we assume that people don’t like us because of our looks so we spend time changing our body and clothes, and it turns out that it’s because we’re actually a jerk who doesn’t shower enough. Or we assume that we’re amazing at drawing or singing or writing, so we figure it’s time to let the world see our wonderful works, but it turns out that we’re actually terrible at it. Or vice versa, we look at our art or listen to ourselves sing or play or write and we think we’re terrible, but if people saw it, they’d actually really like it.

So, the first thing we need to do when it comes to these things is to make sure that what we are deciding to do, or the thing we want to change, lines up to reality – and that can’t happen without including others in the mix.

And the most important “other” we need to be sure to include is God, for He is the source of all truth and the one who knows us best. Proverbs 16:9 says, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” Or Proverbs 19:21, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.” Psalm 127:1-2 says, “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.”

Non-Christians, and too many believers make these grand decisions without ever consulting God or His Word, and so everything is messed up from the very start. John Calvin once said, “Man’s nature is a perpetual factory of idols”. The Bible says it this way in Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

When we make these resolutions or life-changing decisions without bringing them to God and listening to Him, we will almost always be listening to our own deceitful heart and feeding our idol factory. I’ll use myself as an example: I turned 40 this week so I posted to Facebook asking for any tips. Most of them were about taking care of my physical self because it gets harder from here on in. Buy a scale, watch the diet, exercise more, sleep enough, take care of my knees, start taking vitamins – only one person told me to buy a red convertible and embrace a mid-life crisis. And all those physical things are good advice I need to take, but what happens when I decide to do this without talking to God?

Well, I slip into the error of 1 Timothy 4:8 that says, “Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.” In other words, it’s possible for me to make all these wonderful resolutions but actually miss the real problem. My issue isn’t that I eat too much sugar, not enough vegetables, and watch too much tv. If I solved all that myself, I would be healthier, sure, but God isn’t simply concerned about my weight and vitamin intake.

The deeper issue is that there are areas of my life I haven’t fully turned over to God and still believe myself to be in control of. I still believe that my way of handling stress, sadness, or temptation is better than God’s. I still believe that God won’t provide comfort or help or peace, so I go looking for it in an idol called food or entertainment. The issue isn’t sugar intake or lack of self-control, the issue is that I don’t trust God enough, I don’t fear God enough, I don’t believe God’s promises enough. Which come down to an inadequate prayer life, a stale worship life, lazy bible reading and study habits… which cause me to drift from God and leave me open to demonic temptation.

When I talk to God about this and list to His word, the problem becomes clearer, more understandable, deeper – and I see that the solution isn’t a weird diet and exercise plan or some vitamins, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ, where I decrease and He increases, where I fall at His feet and ask Him to be my greater joy, where I realize that He’s not saving me from merely bad habits, but deadly sins that leave me spiritually weak and an easy target for the enemy of my soul.

And now the solution come more clear that if I am on my knees more, read God’s word more, learn to trust Him more, believe Him more, and ask Him for more grace – that I will learn that Jesus will help me more than my idols will and I will gain more joy from His good gifts of food and work than I did before when they were my slave masters.

Do you see what I mean? It’s no different with any other resolution we may have. We feel convicted to learn guitar, build better relationships, become more successful in our work – and we think we need to simply rejig our schedule and buckle down, but when we come to God with those things He shows us so much more.

Our desire to learn guitar is a deeper desire for acceptance, love, to feel special, to fill a gap in our heart – which are all Gospel issues addressed when we realize we are already loved. Our desire for better relationships, more friends, better friends, or closer ties to family, ends up becoming a journey that shows us where we have grown bitter with unforgiveness, reveals our fear of abandonment, our habit of blaming others, or a realization that we hate ourselves and use others to distract us from that self-hatred – which are all issues that are addressed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ and a closer relationship with God. Our desire for success and commitment to work more hours ends up, when turned over to God, becomes a realization that we are never satisfied, that we are addicted to adrenaline, that we’re afraid of failure, or that we have been working somewhere doing something that God never wanted us to do in the first place – which are all Gospel issues, addressed by finding our identity and purpose in Christ and the practice of listening to the Holy Spirit more.

Accountability

So the first thing we must do whenever we feel that sense of conviction or are making a big decision like this, is to invite God into the conversation, but we also need to invite others. This is the greatest disadvantage of our society’s turn towards radical individualism. When the only voice in our head is ours, and the only standard for good that matters is whatever we decide, we’re in trouble. When the only people we’ll allow to talk to us is the echo chamber of people that think and act like us, we’re in trouble. Certainly the greatest form of accountability is reading God’s Word and listening to the conviction of His Spirit, but we can’t do that alone either. We were designed to be in community. When we become a Christian by trusting in Jesus as our Saviour, He gives us a lot of gifts, and one of those is to be made a member of the Body of Christ, the church. (1 Cor 12:27).

It is this community that Christians are meant to be part of most, where our closest relationships outside of that of God and our family are formed. Not our sports team, community clubs, affinity groups, or even para-church and ministries, as wonderful as those are. Christians are meant to be part of a growing, diverse, Christ-centred, church. It is with the church that we share our hopes, struggles, sins, fears, and convictions. It’s within the community of a Word-centred church that Christians experience God’s teaching, rebuking, correction and training in righteousness. It is in the church that we grow the most in our faith.

Now, there are some churches that have taken up the world’s view on things and have decided to become more and more homogeneous, more and more alike, more uniform, separating people from those that are unlike them, and that’s not good. It is in our diversity of ages, experiences, maturity, preferences, hopes, fears and struggles, that we grow most. Sure, it’s nice to hang around people that are like us – same age, same experiences, same backgrounds – and it has its place, but that’s not where we grow most. We do ourselves a disservice when we remove ourselves from the diversity of the church.

For example, say you’ve been thinking and praying about some changes in our life and have come to some resolutions and conclusions. You’ve felt God’s conviction, have read God’s word, and think you’ve got a good handle on things. How do you know you’re hearing right? How do you know you’re not stuck in an echo chamber, just hearing what you want to hear? What about your blind spots? And if you did get it all right, how will you get started? And you know you’re weak, so how will you make sure you stick to it? “God will do it for me!” is true, but God most often works through His church.

We need to listen to people that are wiser and older than us, people who have struggled with similar things and have seen God’s victories, people who have been reading the word and praying for longer than us. We need people to help us choose good books, good helps, good tools, based on their experience. We need people younger than us to give us inspiration, energy, unique perspective, to ask questions we never thought of, to introduce us to tools and concepts we’ve never considered, and to cheer us on. We need elders to lend us wisdom, deacons to visit us in our struggles, small groups to pray for us, and the presence of children to hold us to a higher standard. We need to see amazing, Godly people that give us a standard to strive for, and see a whole bunch of messed up people so we know we’re not alone in our striving.

The church is where we experience the “one anothers” of love, encouragement, spurring to good deeds, serving and being served, instruction, honour, kindness and compassion. (1 John 4:12, Heb 3:13; 10:24, Gal 5:3; Rom 15:14; 12:10, Eph 4:32)

Listen to the words of James 5:13-20,

“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”

James is a very practical book of the Bible. If we have issues in our life that need changing, what James calls “sufferings”, what are we to do? Bring it to God and pray. Then what? Tell the church and ask others to pray. What if you’ve sinned? What if you’ve totally messed something up? Are you to keep that secret because sinners don’t belong at church and everyone will just judge you? No. Confess the sins to people at church and pray that God will heal your heart and the situation. Why? Because prayer has power, and the prayer of many has more power. What if someone wanders away from the truth, follows lies, and gets all messed up? Someone from the church should go get them, tell them the truth, and bring them back (Gal 6:1).

All of this is God working through the church. We’re never meant to do any of this on our own.

Conclusion

I’m not sure what’s been going on in our heart and life over the last month or so, but I am sure that every single one of you experience some sort of conviction to change something in your life – maybe multiple somethings – and you feel you need to do something about it. Some of you are trying to ignore that feeling because you’re too lazy or too afraid of failure. Others are ashamed of their issue and want to keep it secret – either because it’s something that will get them in trouble, or something they think is too shocking to share, or they think their alone, or their afraid of being judged. Some have already started and failed at their change, and feel guilty about it. Some look at the mountain of changes they feel they need and are utterly overwhelmed. Some have physical handicaps, others emotional weakness, that make it harder. Some have spiritual and religious problems they can’t get past, others have addictions that keep them bound to failure.

My simple point today is this: Allow those convictions, those desires for change to drive you to your knees before God, into His Word, before the face of Christ in prayer – to be the fuel that runs your prayer life and makes you desperate for God’s forgiveness and healing.

And then, once you have started working with God, bring it to the church. Vow that you are going to be honest, once and for all, about what you are struggling with. Vow that you are going to drag the sin into the light so it can lose its power and finally be dealt with.

In invite you to call me so we can talk about it. Talking to your pastor is a great place to start and walking with you and helping you is one of my greatest joys. If not me, then talk with one of the deacons or a Sunday school teacher or a Christian friend. If we can’t handle it, we’ll help you find someone that can – and then stick with you along the way.

Not only that, but make the commitment that you are not only going to make sure you are at church for as many Sundays as you can get here, but that you are going to join a small group, the youth group, a study group, or some other place where Christians are invited to share, pray, and grow together. Not simply because you are supposed to, but because you believe that it is when the church gathers that God chooses to do most of His work.

How to Find Hope When Hopelessness Strikes

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Advent 1 - Where to find hope

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Malachi is the last book in the Old Testament and shines like a beacon in a dark place. And those who first heard it really needed a beacon because even though things weren’t at their darkest, it still wasn’t a great time in the life of Israel.

Malachi was a prophet that lived about 400 years before Jesus and 100 years after the Babylonian exile. He came on the scene in the years after Nehemiah and Ezra had already rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and reinstituted the sacrificial system, but things were still pretty bleak. Though things were going ok for the generation that had come back to their homeland of Judah things were far from perfect. The prophets that had encouraged them to rebuild their temple had given promises of blessing, renewal, expansion, prosperity, peace, that would come when God’s glorious presence would once again come to the temple.

But when they looked around at their life they were disillusioned – it wasn’t anything like that. Sure, they were no longer being oppressed in a foreign land, but the glory days of expansion under King David and the peace and prosperity under King Solomon were long distant memories. Now they were the least important territory in Persia under Artaxerxes, were barely getting by, suffering from droughts and crop failure, and were constantly fighting with their neighbours.

It wasn’t just the living conditions and lack of plenty that bothered them, there was also a spiritual drought. Sure, the temple was rebuilt, but it was much smaller and spiritually inferior to the great Temple of Solomon. God had shown up to help Esther save the nation and Nehemiah rebuild Jerusalem, but they thought that once the final stone was laid at the temple that the miracles would automatically rain down on them, but it seemed that God’s presence had all but left their nation. Even the Holy of Holies seemed deserted.[1]

Of course, the problem wasn’t that God was gone, but that their hearts were far from him. Their worship was lethargic and empty of love or passion. They constantly complained about God’s lack of love and how he was unjustly punishing them. They even withheld their tithes because they were worried they wouldn’t have enough. It can be summarized in Malachi 3:13-15, “Your words have been hard against me, says the LORD. But you say, ‘How have we spoken against you?’ You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the LORD of hosts? And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.’”

Disappointed with God

Have you ever felt this way? What’s the point of following God? Where’s the gain in following all God’s rules, doing things His way, which is almost always harder, and then things just getting worse? God is the “Lord of hosts”, the “God of gods”, the “God of angel armies”, but where is He? The arrogant, self-willed, atheistic, non-believers all seem like they are doing better than us. And people who are outright committing evil, mocking God to His face, are getting away with it! What’s the point in believing in God when He never does anything to make our lives any better?

That was the attitude of the Israelites during the time of Malachi, and it’s the attitude of many today. They were tired of waiting, tired of suffering, tired of not having enough, tired of seeing evil get away with it, tired of calling themselves the people of God and then losing every other battle to those which they used to conquer easily. God wasn’t blessing anything they were doing, so they blamed God for all their problems.

But Malachi doesn’t allow for that. Malachi comes to God’s defense. He reminds them that God is more than happy to bless them, but refuses to bless their sin. He reminds them that God was the one that chose Israel and has stayed committed to them, showing them great love even when they had completely turned their backs on Him, and then restored them back to their land. And what was their response? To worship and praise and obey and give thanks and take care of each other? No… it was to grumble, complain and dishonour God by bringing worthless, impure offerings – to withhold their worship, love, and obedience – to commit sexual sins, divorce each other, and marry unbelievers – to dishonour and live unjustly towards one another – and to live as hypocrites who say one thing and do another.

He tells them that they aren’t receiving God’s blessing right now because their hearts and lives are a mess… which is a story we’ve all heard so many times, right? Almost to the point we’re tired of it. I know I can start to feel that way.

God, where’s the good news!? Why is everything so hard? Marriage is hard, and parenting is hard, and getting older is hard, and being young is hard, and being sick is hard, and staying healthy is hard, and our spiritual life is hard, and there are so many temptations, and there is so much pain and uncertainty – and that’s just the tip our own little iceberg. This world is a whole other thing. I don’t understand what the government are doing, corporations seem to be getting more powerful and sometimes more evil, people seem to be getting either more gullible or more selfish. Nature itself seems to be going crazy as people panic about climate change, natural disasters, and species extinction. And then we have crazy scientists who are doing all sorts of terrible things like creating human embryos and then destroying them, messing with human genetics, cutting off heads and putting them on other people’s bodies – it’s like a sci-fi movie out there right now!

Our spirits cry out to God, we hit our knees, we cry out to God and nothing seems to happen. We read our bibles, say our prayers, go to church, and nothing gets any better. Sure, maybe we’re distracted for an hour or two, but invariably it all comes crashing back on us. Or worse, we come into church hoping for an uplifting message with some answers and just hear once again how our problems are somehow all our fault – and we go home feeling even more miserable. Seems to be the same story over and over, right?

Then it’s easy to slip into the mindset that Malachi was writing about: What’s the point of all this religious stuff? What’s the point of believing in God if things are just going to be miserable anyway? Where is God when all this insanity is going on? We hear stories about amazing things happening in India, China, and Florida – but what about Beckwith, or Ottawa? And like Israel, we get disillusioned and disappointed with God and start to back off our faith.

Instead of tithing as we should, we keep a little more back each week because we are worried about the budget. We think, “God hasn’t given us enough money, so how can we afford to tithe?”

We start to skip church events, skip Sundays, drop out of ministries – after all, there’s lots of work to be done and attending church hasn’t really produced anything other than guilt and broken promises about “finding joy in suffering”.

We start to indulge a little more in the things that bring us temporary joy – porn, drinking, drugs, food, violence, entertainment – and it gives us that little rush we weren’t getting when we were trying to connect with God. Sure, it produces some shame… but if we keep at it we know that the shame will eventually be quieter.

We pull away from our Christian friends, stop going to small groups, stop calling our accountability partner, stop listening to Christian music, because it all just reminds us about how everyone else in the world is either just as miserable or better off– and I don’t want to hear from either one of those people.

So we head to the doctor in hopes of a medical solution, and they are more than happy to give us something that numbs our feelings and forces us into unconsciousness at night.

Sure, we still call ourselves Christians, but we stop reading the Bible because it just produces more guilt and we rarely pray, except to complain to God about how unfair life is, how He’s not doing His job, how if He’d just fix things then we’d come back to doing what we’re supposed to. But the prayer bounces off the roof, nothing changes, and we start to contemplate not only why we started to believe in the first place, but whether God even exists at all.

It would be far easier if He didn’t, we think. If God didn’t exist, then nothing matters. There are no consequences, no Hell, just oblivion. That, by definition is hopelessness, and that’s not only where a lot of people are today, but where Israel was headed during the time of Malachi. By the time we reach the birth of Christ, except for a few people, hopelessness had almost totally engulfed the nation.

Where to Find Hope

What is the cure for hopelessness? The simple answer is hope. “Hope that does not disappoint”, as Romans 5:5 puts it. What message does Malachi give to these people whose faith was falling apart and who were losing hope? Look at the very end of Malachi, the last of the Old Testament. Open up to Malachi 3:16. After all the complaining and faithless and disobedient had had their say against God, another group immerges:

“Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the LORD and esteemed his name.”

Pause there a second. In this nation that had all but fallen away from God, there was one group that was still faithful, one group who had not bowed their knee to another god, one that had continued to remain obedient despite all the troubles they had seen. How?

Look what they did. They “spoke with one another”. I’m sure most of you have gone camping and had a camp fire. These days they make you buy your wood from the store at the campground, and it’s really expensive, so you really need to enjoy every little piece. You start with a nice fire, but as the night wears on, the wood burns down, the logs get smaller, until there is only one little charred block, with a tiny flame, surrounded by orange embers. So what do you do? You stoke the fire, right? When the flames are dying down, and you’re all out of wood, what do you need to do to make sure it doesn’t go out? You bring the embers together, you keep the flame alive by bringing the warmth together. In order to kill a fire, you spread it out, right? To keep it going, you pull it together.

In the same way, when the fire of faith is burning low, believers should be drawing together to keep the flames of faith alive. And what did they do? They spoke with one another. What did they speak about?

Hebrews 10:23-25 shows believers who were in a very similar situation. Oppressive government, dangerous times, losing hope, and it says, “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.”

They confessed their hope to one another: “What brings you hope this week? How have you seen God this week? What do you remember of God’s covenant to us? How has He been faithful to you this week?”

What else did they speak about? They stirred one another up to love and good works. “How have you been doing this week? How can we help you? How can we help others? Have you been caught in sin? How are you doing with forgiveness?”

What else did they speak about? They encouraged one another. “I know you feel miserable right now, but you’re doing great. I know you feel lonely but I’m here. I know you feel your prayers aren’t answered, but I assure you God is listening and doing more than you know. I know you feel stuck, but I see such wonderful potential in you. God is doing something amazing with you and I can see it. Don’t give up!

Another group in Ephesus was going through a similar situation, living in evil days, and the Apostle Paul says this in Ephesians 5:15-21, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit…” Which all makes sense right? Sinning by drinking or doing drugs isn’t really going to help, right? But look what he says next, because it’s really important. Essentially, he says what Malachi and Hebrews says:

Verse 19, “…addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

How do you keep your hope up when things are getting hopeless? When the fires are going out in your heart? Satan will tell you to get alone. Turn away from God, away from friends, away from prayer, away from church, away from your spouse and children, to get alone – so you are an easier target. What does God say? Not just “Speak to each other.” But “sing to each other!”

He says, if you are down and feeling hopeless and want to feel more hopeful and closer to God, get together and sing to each other! Sing your praise, sing your thanks, sing about God, sing about Jesus… but not just to feel better, but out of submission and reverence for Jesus. When we sing songs of faith together our hearts knit together, and then fall before Jesus.

How do you fire up dying coals? Blow on them! So how do you encourage yourself when you feel your faith is dying? Draw together with other believers and speak and sing!

Elijah is John the Baptist

Let’s close by reading the end of Malachi, the last words of the Old Testament, starting in 3:16 again,

“Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the LORD and esteemed his name. ‘They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him. For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts. Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.”

I can almost hear the words of the faithful in response to this, “Yes God! We will keep meeting together, keep remind one another, keep speaking your name and singing your songs. We believe you will completely save us one day. But when, God? When will you come and deal with the evil once and for all? When will you come and raise up your people like the sun? When will healing come? When will you tread down the wicked and cause us to leap for joy?

And God tells them the sign to wait for in 3:5 that will kick off this glorious time,

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”

Who was this one that would come right before the “great and awesome day of the Lord”? Who would come to prepare the land so it wouldn’t be “utterly destroyed”? According to the Bible and the words of Jesus it was John the Baptist, who would come and proclaim Jesus’ coming as Son of God and Saviour of the world. (Matthew 11:7-14; Luke 1:17).

Choose to Meet

Next week we enter into the Advent season, the season of waiting and preparing ourselves for Christmas. I know that for some of you this is a wonderful time that you are looking forward to, and that there is much to be cheerful and thankful for. And I know that for some of you, you’ve got so much going on in your life and in your souls that even the idea of celebrating Christmas seems like more of a chore than a blessing.

My encouragement to both of you is to keep doing the things that will point you and others to hope in Jesus. If you are having a good season right now, then that’s great, come to the church events, host people in your homes, make excuses for people to get together and invite those from outside your usual circles so more people can encourage one another. And if you are going through a struggling season right now, then I encourage you to clear your schedule and be willing to accept these forthcoming invitations so you can be with your fellow believers more and more. Honestly decide in your heart that you will make your church family and various Christian events a priority, to meet with Christian friends, and to find ways to sing and talk with each other – as medicine for your soul! If you are sliding into hopelessness, that’s the recipe for hope – and there’s no more perfect time of year to make excuses to get together to speak and sing with one another than Christmas time, right?

[1] Acosta, D. R. (2016). Lord of Hosts. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press. & ESV Study Bible Malachi Introduction.

Spiritual Gifts, The Body of Christ, and The Weakest Members

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47 - Spiritual Gifts

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Christmas is coming and I’m very excited already. I went to the Christmas store at the Carleton Place nursery and officially got myself in the mood. There was free mulled cider, cookies, Christmas music playing in the background… I love the colours and lights and trees and everything. I’m a huge fan of Christmas and though I’m practicing some self-control by not putting up my tree yet, I’ve already busted out a shuffle of my Christmas Music Playlist and have sung along to such wonderful hymns as “Grandma Got Ran Over by a Reindeer” and “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas”.

And while I love all the colours of Christmas I’m just like anyone else and know that a big part of the season is the exchanging of gifts. I’ve already sent out my list to some key family members, ordered some for people online, and have been talking with grandma about what the kids want.

I was thinking back as to the best Christmas gift I ever received. And while I’ve gotten a lot of cool gifts there was one that stuck out in my mind as the best one. It was 1989, I was 11 years old, and desperately wanted the hottest new item of the season – the one that none of my friends had and which would complete my life so I would never need anything again. I didn’t grow up in a family with a lot of money and this thing would cost a lot. I was cool about it though. I didn’t beg or remind my parents over and over. I just sort of left out a picture of it on the counter, circled it in the Sears catalog and kept turning to that page and leaving it open, and just, like, casually bringing it up naturally in conversation.  Nothing annoying.

I absolutely didn’t think I was going to get it – at all. But on Christmas morning, on grandma’s couch, I couldn’t believe when I opened up the box that it was there… a Nintendo GameBoy complete with Super Mario Land and Tetris! The greatest thing I’d ever seen in my life. It was a huge moment and I barely contained myself.

I loved that thing for a long time, got every accessory, and played it constantly – until the Sega Game Gear came out two years later. The Sega Game Gear had something that the GameBoy didn’t – a colour screen. And I was hooked, but I knew that my parents would never get me another game system, especially since the one I had was still great. So what to do?

[This is a painful, regretful memory actually. I get a little misty just talking about it.]

The Game Gear came out in October of 1991 and was $150. The GameBoy, brand new was $100, but I had all the accessories.

So 13 year old me, by myself, without my parent’s knowledge, went down to the only pawn shop in town and sold it to the guy. It was insane. Somehow, between his talking and my idiotic mind, I ended up giving him my GameBoy, all the games, and all the accessories and walking out with something like $40 or $50. I still remember standing outside the store, with the money in my hand, wondering what happened, and wondering where I was going to get the extra $100. I never did. [Ugh, that hurts to share.]

Spiritual Gifts

I’m sure you’ve gotten some pretty memorable Christmas gifts, right? Maybe even ones that you, hopefully, still have and cherish to this day? Well, today we are going to open up to 1 Corinthians 12 and read about something that God gives all believers, which the Bible calls “Spiritual Gifts”. So please open up to 1 Corinthians 12 and we’re going to read it together.

As you open I want you to marvel at our giving, generous God. God gives us life and this amazing world to live in – and then we sin and mess it up. And then God gives us His Law to guide us and teach us how to live the best way together – and then we sin and mess ourselves up. And then God sends prophets and teachers and leaders to guide us back to Him – and we don’t listen to them, even going so far as to reject and murder them. And then, even while we were yet dead in our sins, having made ourselves His enemies, God sends His Son to show us how to live, teach us the truth, inaugurate His kingdom, and then take the death and punishment we deserve, having God the Father’s wrath poured out on Himself, exchanging Himself sinners. And then He rose again to conquer death and offers us the free gift of salvation, justification, sanctification, for all who would believe – not for all who would do amazing works, or follow the rules, or perform religious acts – but simply by faith in Jesus as the Risen Saviour.

But the gifts don’t end there. Once we accept Jesus as Lord the gifts keep on coming, and the greatest gift that Christians receive is the presence of the Holy Spirit living in us. Just as God’s presence dwelt in the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle with Moses, or the Temple in Jerusalem, so now the Spirit of God dwells in everyone who believes(1 Cor 9:19). When His disciples wondered why Jesus would be dying and then leaving them to take His place in Heaven, He said, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7) Jesus said that it is better to have the Holy Spirit inside us than Jesus walking beside us! And He does some amazing things for us.

In John 16 Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will be our Helper, helping us with evangelism, convicting the world of sin, showing us how to be righteous, warning us of spiritual dangers. He helps our minds to see the difference between good and evil, lies and truth, light and darkness. It says that He helps us understand the Bible. It’s not just priests and preachers and scholars that can interpret the Bible, because every believer who is dependent on the Spirit will be taught by Him. In John 14 the Holy Spirit is called the Counsellor who comes alongside us to encourage us, guide us, inspire our good works, and never leave us (Jn 14:16). He binds Christians together with God and each other, causing us to love Him and one another (1 Cor 12:13). He teaches us who Jesus is and helps us to worship and glorify Him (John 15:26, 16:14; 1 Corinthians 12:3).

It is the Holy Spirit that causes us to produce Godly fruit. When we are convicted that we do not love enough, that we are at war within ourselves, that we are too angry, or out of control, Galatians 5:22-23 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” [1]

That is a LOT of gifts from God to Christians. And yet, how often are we like me at age 13, taking these awesome gifts and disregarding them, ignoring them, or just callously throwing them away in favour of something else the world has to offer – that just ends up not working out anyway.

1 Corinthians 12

Let’s read though 1 Corinthians 12 together and see what we can learn. We’re going to do a quick study of it because there’s a lot there, and then at the end of this message I’m going to point you at a good resource where you can really dig deeper into it.

“Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.”

First, I want you to notice that Paul wants to make sure that believers are not “uninformed” about Spiritual Gifts – which means it behooves us to put some time into public and private study regarding the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives and the discovery and use of our spiritual gifts.

There’s a few ways to do this. One is private study of course. Taking it upon yourself to read and study scripture and some good books on this topic. Second is to go to RightNow Media and watch something called “Your Divine Design” by Chip Ingram. I watched a couple of them and they are a great overview. And third, I’m actually going to be working with the leadership team to put together a 36-week leadership training course for the church where one of the things we cover is how to discover and use our Spiritual Gifts.

The second thing I want you to notice here is the contrast of influences we see here. Before you were saved you were “led astray” or “influenced” toward useless, pagan, idolatrous things. He talks about “mute idols”, pointing back to what we talked about during our discussion of eating meat offered to idols, right? That the actual statues of the gods were just mute, stone carvings. But even though the statues were mute, the followers were not. These cultic religions were full of wild displays and all kinds of ecstatic speech where they would claim to have special words from the gods or the afterlife.

Paul acknowledges that this happens and gives the warning again that there are only two teams: Team Jesus and Team Satan, and sometimes they look similar. Both have great influence over their followers. Satan often makes false copies, or imitations, of what God does in order to confuse and tempt people away from the true faith.

But Paul gets down to brass tacks and says, “These pagan idol worshippers are absolutely being influenced by the spiritual realm and have some kind of ‘gift’ from the demons, but they are forgeries of what God gives. How can you know the difference? Because when the Holy Spirit gives a gift to someone it always points them and everyone else to Jesus. All the other influences, the false gifts, the demonic powers, all point people away from Jesus. That’s the litmus test.”

We’ll see that later in the chapter, but that’s an important place to start. We see a lot of gifted people, some with some incredible sorts of power, even spiritual power. How do we tell if it’s from God or from Satan?

The same way we tell whether we have a good compass or not. A good compass always points North. A bad compass wobbles around and points all sorts of other directs. The Holy Spirit always points to directly to Jesus as Saviour, Lord and the focus of our worship. The other powers won’t. They will wobble around and point everywhere else except Jesus. This tells us something important about why we are given these gifts, right? We are given them to point people to Jesus! Not to lift ourselves up, not to build our popularity, not to keep to ourselves, not even to draw people to our church, but to bring glory and praise to Jesus and accomplish the works He has given us to do!

What are the Gifts?

So, the natural next question is “Ok, so what are the gifts?” That’s what Paul covers next. Start in verse 4:

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.”

That is a lot of different gifts, and it’s not even all of them because he lists more in verse 28, “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.” And there’s even more listed in Romans 12 and Ephesians 4.

Now, this study can go deep because each one of these gifts requires some study, right? What does it mean to have the gift of prophecy or miracles or discernment or tongues? What does it mean to have the gift of helping or administrating? And is this even the full list? For example, in the Old Testament Joseph and Daniel are given a gift from the Spirit of God to interpret dreams (Gen 41; Dan 1) and Bezalel is given a spiritual gift to help him make works of art (Exo 31). What about those?

Well, I’m not going to explain every gift because we can study privately, but let’s pull out a few things and see some important points are here.

A Variety of Gifts

First, from 4, notice that there is a “variety” of gifts. One of the problems in the Corinthian church that seems to carry forward today is that people were belittling some of the gifts and only desiring the ones that put on a good show – like tongues. They wanted their church to look like the pagan temples where people were flipping out and speaking in crazy languages, and Paul knew that this sort of thing was not of God.

They didn’t want what the gifts God had given them, but wanted what they had before. They didn’t accept the gift that the Holy Spirit gave them, but complained and wanted something more flashy, more exciting, more interesting.

The Babylon Bee is one of my favourite websites because it gives satirical articles about different things going on in the church and culture. One recent one was entitled, “Unlucky Charismatic Gets Boring Gift Of Hospitality” and part of it said,

“’A man with the ‘really cool’ gift of prophecy reportedly moved throughout the room at Wade’s church and read each member’s aura to determine which spiritual gift the Holy Spirit had granted. Wade grew more and more excited as he approached, but was devastated as he learned he just had the “super lame” gift of hospitality.

‘Ugh, hospitality, are you serious?’ Wade said as the church prophet announced he had detected the Christian virtue as Wade’s supernaturally bestowed talent. ‘I was really pulling for something cool like tongues or healing.’

‘Heck, I’d even take teaching at this point. This sucks,’ a downcast Wade added. At publishing time, Wade had consoled himself by focusing on the fact that he hadn’t gotten something even worse, like giving.”

That’s a perfect example of what was happening then and what happens now. Christians who haven’t learned about the Spiritual Gifts get a little understanding of what they are and then immediately want whatever one gives them the most strokes. They want evangelism so they can be the next Billy Graham, or Teacher or Pastor because they think then they can be a super Christian that everyone looks up to, or healings or miracles or tongues so that everyone can see the power coming out of them.

Do you see the problem there? They are really only concerned about their own glory. And what was the difference between spiritual gifts from Satan and ones from the Holy Spirit? That they point to Jesus. This was the danger that the church was falling into, and that some churches fall into today. The Satanic work of stealing God’s glory.

Look at verses 12-26. This is what they were doing to each other in the church as they disparaged their own gifts and belittled others:

“For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”

This is where we get where we call Christians the “Body of Christ”. The Apostle Paul equates the parts of a church to be like the parts of a human body. Sure, there are some upfront parts that everyone sees – eyes, muscles, skin – but there are a lot more parts that people don’t see that are just as important – like our heart, liver, and pancreas.

No part of the body should tell another part of the body they are more or less important. That would be crazy! In the same way, no part of the church should call their own, or any other Christians gift unimportant! This brings division to the body.

We do this all the time in the church. Say someone is an “encourager” or a “helper”. That’s their gift. They love sending notes and cheering people up. Or they love to show up and help do the chores in the church. What do we do with them? “Oh, you’re friendly! You should be in charge of all the greeters! Oh, you’re a good helper, you should be a Deacon!” Hold on! Do they have the gift of leadership? Do they have the gift of administration?  Nope. Which is why when they end up being “promoted” they are miserable at it, which makes them miserable, and everyone else miserable. But what happened? We took them out of their gifting and put them somewhere they weren’t meant to be! We took a hand and tried to make it into a mouth. We took a heart and tried to turn it into a pancreas.  And it didn’t work.

Weaker Members

I want you to notice something really neat in verses 22-25,

“…the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.”

This is a huge part of being in God’s Upside Down Kingdom. Who gets all the glory in worldly kingdoms? The warriors and intellects, right? People that are strong, fast, smart, clever… and everyone else is less important, right? What does the world do with “weak”, and “less honourable” parts like the mentally challenged, sick, hurting, immature, elderly. We hide them. We avoid them. We lock them away. Worse, these days we kill them.

What does this verse say? It says that the weaker parts of the body are “indispensable”. The parts with “less honour” or need to be taken care of, are bestowed greater honour. The parts that require protection we protect.

Think of your own body. There are certain parts we take really good care of, right? We wear eye protection and athletic cups because eyes are really sensitive.

What happens when you poke someone in the belly or get something in your eye? The whole body constricts. The head drops, the elbows and arms come in, the knees come up, the muscles contract, to protect damaged area. When one part of our body gets hurt, the other parts naturally protect it. That’s a picture of what’s supposed to happen in the church.

Some people in the church are designed by God to be the arms, legs, knees, elbows, and muscles. Able to take a beating and keep moving. Other members are designed to be weaker. Not less important, but weaker so they can do a special job. A knee can’t do what an eye can do, right? But when the eye gets hurt? Everything stops, right? The rest of the body surrounds it.

What is a church supposed to do with weak and hurting people? We surround them, help them, protect them, care for them, using our own gifts to serve them. Maybe the knee and the elbow can’t come up with a good plan, but the brain can, and the knee and elbow use their strength to protect. The brain can’t cry out for help, but the mouth can. We all work together.

The whole point is that there are a variety of gifts given by God on purpose. So Paul says, “There aren’t just three gifts meant to bring attention to yourself, there are a whole variety of gifts, and none of them are accidents or unimportant.”

Whatever gift you have, it wasn’t your idea. These gifts are not earned. You didn’t ask for the gift you got. They are not chosen or appointed or voted on by people. It is God alone, the Holy Spirit, who administers the gifts among His people.[2] To reject or call one better or more important than another is a great sin. God controls the gifts, not us. It is the believer’s responsibility to seek God’s guidance, read His word, pray and listen to see which gift God has given you and how God wants you to use it for His purposes!

For the Common Good

And that’s the second point, found in verse 7.

“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

Paul answers the questions, “Where do the gifts come from?” From the Spiritual Realm. “How can we tell which ones are from the Holy Spirit or a demon?” Because the good ones point to Jesus. “What are the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives?” He says there are a variety and gives examples. Then he answers the question, “What are they for?” They are given by God for the common good of the church.

Incidentally, that’s what Paul means in verse 31 when he says, “But earnestly desire the higher gifts.” We know after some study that he doesn’t mean that some gifts are better than others, right? He just told the church to stop competing with each other and belittling some people because of their gifts. So what does this mean?

The encouragement is to desire gifts that will spread more and love for the common good, not to bring attention to ourselves. It means that instead of desiring gifts that put on a good show and make us look good, to instead earnestly pursue that which would build up the church and glorify God the most. It leads directly into what Paul is going to talk about in chapter 13, that no matter what gifts we have they need to be motivated by and done with love.

Conclusion

Let me conclude with this: Ephesians 2:10 says, Christians are God’s “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

Part of those good works are simply the helpful life that all Christians are meant to lead, but it also has to do with the spiritual gifts you have been given. You and I were shaped to serve God and the church. And we won’t feel like we fit until we are working in the place we were designed to be. You will never feel more joy or satisfaction than when you work within your spiritual gifts. And conversely, as long as you are trying to do things you weren’t designed for, jealous of someone else’s gift, or belittling others, you will never feel the satisfaction that comes with serving God with His special gift to you.

So my encouragement to the Christians here is to take some time to further study this passage and discover your spiritual gift, then tell others what it is, and then allow us to help you live it out! Check out that Chip Ingram study called “Your Divine Design”, check out GotQuestions.org and read some more about it, and prepare yourself to do the leadership course we’re starting soon.

Finding and using your gift means you’ll have to say yes to some things and stop doing other things, but that means you’ll be coming more in line with how God created you to live, which is always better. It is God who builds our church, not us. His way is best, not ours. His glory is our highest purpose, not ours. Our task is to simply follow His plan to work together as an effective body.

[1] https://www.gotquestions.org/Spirit-today.html

[2] Life Application Bible Commentary, 1&2 Corinthians, Pg 169-170

 

God’s Established Order: 5 Roots of Authority in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16

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42 - God's Established Order

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A lot of people today really hate the concept of authority. We think that this problem is just for kids who don’t want to listen to their parents – freaking out in the cereal aisle or complaining about a gift when they don’t get what they want. It’s just more obvious in children when they do things like wanting to paint their bedroom black, refuse to clean their room, or more serious things like quitting school, dating someone dangerous, or running away.

But rebelling against authority doesn’t stop when we turn 18 or move out of the house. Rebelling against authority is woven into our very natures and is a continuous struggle every day of our life.

Our boss tells us what to do and we decide to do something else because we either don’t want to or we think we know better. The government sends an evacuation notice during a disaster and people sit in their homes instead. Police tell us not to look at our phone when driving. In fact, even the new update on my iPhone figures out when I’m in the car and whenever I want to do something it forces me to the “I’m not driving” button. But do I listen? It’s helped, but no, not always. I’m used to looking down at my phone at red lights, so I sit in the car, hit the button and then lie to my phone, telling it I’m not driving – even though I totally am. That would probably get me a ticket if I got caught, so why do I do it? Because I think I’m smarter than everyone else, I’m the exception, and I don’t like being told what to do.

Politically, the Right tells the government to leave them alone, to let them make their own decisions, to get off their land, and to let them buy whatever they want. The Left rebels against authority just as much, seeking to throw off the fetters that are trying to be imposed by teachers, moralists, religion, and anything else. Both sides cry out, “Nobody can tell us what to do!”

We Need God’s Authority

But of course, this isn’t just about human authority, right? The first part of the gospel story is that we have all committed “cosmic treason”, rebelled against the authority of God, our Creator and Lord, and have set ourselves up as our own highest authority. That was the original problem, back in Eden. God said, “Don’t eat the fruit or you’ll die.” Satan, the first rebel said, “You won’t die. God lied. Take the fruit and you’ll be like Him.” In other words, don’t be under God’s authority, make yourself the highest authority and usurp God. And they did – and we’ve been doing the same thing ever since.

That’s why the scriptures say, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one…. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:10-12; 18)

Part of fearing God means doing what He says, and none of us does that all the time. One of the most amazing things about the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that God sent His Son into a world full of rebels. We don’t want to do things His way, we hate Him to His face, we argue with His teaching and His plan, we corrupt His Law and His Word, and in our rebellion we become blind, lame, and deaf to truth. We can’t change our hearts. We won’t choose Him as our Lord. And God’s response was to send Jesus to break the power of sin and make it possible for us to come back to Him. He takes a world of rebels and invites them to admit He is King.

One of the main things that Christians recognize, that non-believers don’t, is that we absolutely need God to be our highest authority. We’re no good on our own. When humans set things up without listening to God, we end up creating all sorts of horrible and dangerous chaos. Quintessentially, look at the atheist nations of the past century – the ones who have abandoned God completely and choose to live as though they are the highest authority, like China, Cuba, North Korea, the former Soviet Union, and even Nazi Germany, are or were the most terrible places to live.[1]

Christianity seeks to help the weak, sick, hopeless, helpless, downtrodden, poor, and outcast. We champion peace and humility. Godless countries, or ones that have turned from the God of the Bible, are not a good place to be weak or sick. It is not good to be a baby, or handicapped, or a woman, or sick, or elderly, or even simply different, in those places. It is in the nations that were set up with God as the final authority that those groups have been able to gain respect, protection, help, and equality.

When humans abandon God’s rule and authority and set up our own kingdoms, we utterly mess things up. Why? Because in this world there are only two teams: Jesus and Satan. And where God’s Son is abandoned there is only one team left, and it isn’t a good one.

God’s Authority

With that in mind, please turn with me to 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and let’s read it together. We’re going to study this passage for a couple of weeks because there’s a lot going on there, but this week I want to concentrate on one part of it: God’s Established Order.

This is going to get into a lot of heart issues, but the foundation of this must start here: Do you believe that Jesus is our Lord and is your Highest Authority or not? If you are a Christian today, then you must declare that Jesus is both your Saviour and your Lord. You can’t have one but not the other. He cannot be your Saviour but not your Lord. If you believe that you are your own highest authority then what we talk about over the next couple of weeks is going to anger you. If you have rebellion in your heart against God, and have been privately holding a grudge against Him for all the things He has told you to do, then this is going to bring that out. If you are used to getting your way and are merely a cultural Christian who takes what they want from Jesus, but rejects whatever they don’t like, then you are going to have a problem. If you have bought into the secular and worldly point of view that some of the Bible is good to read for some things but is mostly of date for others, or that you have permission to ignore parts that you don’t like, then Jesus is not your highest authority because you believe you stand higher than His word. Before we read, check your heart in this and ask yourself: Is Jesus my Saviour and my Lord, or not?

“Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.”

Ok, so I know there’s a lot going on in that passage, and a lot of contentious issues there. In fact, one of my commentaries said of verse 10, “‘There is scarcely a passage in the New Testament which has so much taxed the learning and ingenuity of commentators as this.’…’ In the difficulty of its several portions it stands alone in the New Testament…’”[2] So, yeah, this is going to be an interesting couple of weeks, but the place I want to start is a more simple one and one that all Christians agree on: do you submit to God’s authority?

If you attended the Bible Study Group on Sunday night then you’ll remember this theme came up in our study of Daniel – as well it should, since it’s perhaps the most important question the bible asks. Daniel is taken from Jerusalem, the city of God, to Babylon, the city of evil ruled by one of the most terrifying despots in history, and he is constantly put to the test. First he’s offered food that Jews weren’t allowed to eat. He responds, in essence, “Sorry, I can’t do that, God won’t allow it. Don’t worry, God will take care of us.” Then the king has a dream and says he’ll kill anyone who can’t tell him what it is. Then Daniel’s friends are commanded to worship a golden idol or they’ll be killed in a terrible way. They respond, “Sorry, I can’t do that, God won’t allow it. Don’t worry, God will take care of us.”

Then God says to the King in a dream, “If you don’t admit that God is the highest authority in your kingdom and not you, then you’ll be driven mad until you do.” After a year, the king won’t say it, and God follows through on the threat until seven years later when he finally looked up to heaven he says,

“I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:34-35)

It’s all about God as the final and greatest authority. It’s the first commandment! “I am the Lord your God… You shall have no other god’s before me.” (Exo 20:2-3). When Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment in the Law was, He spoke of complete submission to God, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:36-37) But isn’t that all about love, not obedience? Jesus says in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

Text and Context

So, putting aside all the contentious issues about the relationship between men and women and headship and headdresses and all the rest, the root of the text we are studying today is all about God’s ultimate authority and the established order He set up in this world. Before we get into the other stuff I want to make sure we understand this and get our hearts in the right place. Let’s look at the roots of this passage – not at the teaching but at the authority behind the teaching.

Remember the context of whom this is written to. The Corinthian church was having a really hard time with having God as their highest authority because they were surrounded by a lot of sinful temptation and bad teaching, and some of that was creeping into the church. Concerned people had gone to find Paul in Ephesus to tell him what was going on, and others had brought a list of questions about some important matters that were splitting the church. This section we just read is sandwiched between serious warnings about the Lord’s Supper and the worship of demons. This section comes in between those two. Now we know we should take worshipping demons pretty seriously, and we know that we should take the Lord’s Supper pretty seriously, but then, when it comes to a passage like this one – which is right in the middle – we like to say things like, “Oh, that doesn’t matter today. I don’t agree with that.” Which is crazy, when you look at the context.

Apostolic Authority

Now look at verse 2: “Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.” The first root we see is what we will call apostolic authority. Paul commends the church for taking the time to consider what Paul would have to say about all the things happening in their church – which ultimately is asking what Jesus would have to say.

The word “traditions” is stronger than we usually give it credit for. We usually don’t give tradition much authority, but think of this word more like “ordinances”, like when we speak of the Lord’s Supper or Baptism. They were directions given by the Apostles, the messengers of Jesus, to instruct the church as to how to do things. We’re not talking about ceremonies or decorations, but authoritative teachings. Notice he says, “as I delivered them to you.”  Meaning, he was the mailman who brought the message from Jesus and then delivered it. Paul’s authority didn’t come from himself, but from His position as the chosen man of God tasked to instruct the church.  The first root of the teaching is apostolic authority. Will you submit to the scriptures, as the writings of the Apostles, as they carry the authority of Jesus?

The Trinity

Verse 3 has the next root: “I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” The second root of this teaching is in the Trinity or the Godhead. The line of authority, what Christians usually call “God’s established order” or “God’s hierarchy”.

The “head” is an authoritatively positional term. That last part is really important because it shows where this authority, this statement, this teaching is rooted. It’s not rooted in culture or opinion. It’s rooted in the Godhead, the Trinity. Jesus, though He is exactly the same in dignity and worth, submits Himself to the Father.

Philippians 2:5-6 says, “…Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped (or “used for advantage”)…”

Jesus says in John 5:19, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing.”  In John 14:28 Jesus says, “…the Father is greater than I.”

There is a positional authority in the Trinity. God the Father, then the Son, then God the Holy Spirit. Each is God, each is perfect, each it each is worthy of worship, each is equal. The second root of this teaching is the divinely ordained positional authority structure.

Creation/Creator

The third root is the authority of God as Creator. Look at verse 8, “For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.”

Don’t get caught up on the head covering thing right now. What I want you to look at is what the teaching is rooted in: Creation. We’re not talking about Greek or Jewish culture here. What is being taught doesn’t come from human choice and philosophy, it comes from before there was culture, before mankind was even created. In Genesis 1 it says that all of mankind, men and women, are made in God’s image.

Whatever the Apostle is delivering here, whatever is being taught by the one who has been given the authority to teach as Christ would teach, is establishing what he is saying before the creation of culture, before sin, before mankind. That gives it special authority. That means it’s not something we came up with, it’s something God designed into the fabric of the universe, the fabric of what it means to be human. God created the universe and mankind in a very orderly, specific way. Humanity was to be the crown of his creation. Man was created from the dust, and woman was created, as verse 8 says, “from man”. We don’t read that as quaint poetry or silly, pre-science myths that we just skip over. The Order of Creation all means something very important, and continues to show up in passage after passage of the Bible. Therefore whatever the teaching is, we ought to take this root quite seriously and not dismiss it as merely old, bygone, optional, or cultural. Are you willing to submit yourself to that?

Biology

A fourth root we see is in verses 11:12, which roots the teaching in biology. “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman.” This root has its own root! The phrase “in the Lord” means, “by God’s directed order” or “as God has willed it”, both man and women are biologically dependant on each other. Despite what progressives would argue, it is written into the order of the universe that male and female are important distinctions. God ordered that the continuation of the species depends on males and females working together to make more babies. Whatever this teaching is, it’s rooted in God’s design for natural, human biology, not human constructs. Will you submit, “in the Lord” to how God has designed human biology to work?

Common Church Practice

The fifth root of authority that we see in this passage is found in verse 16 which says, “If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.” Here, Paul says, “If you want to fight about this, don’t. You’re not special. This is the rule literally everywhere.” He does this over and over, telling the Corinthians that the teachings they have received weren’t specially designed for them, but were the same teaching he gave everywhere else. Jerusalem, Ephesus, Athens, everywhere got the same talk. They’re not being singled out and are therefore not the exception to the rule!  That’s another argument we make against authority, right. “Well, I’m the exception. This isn’t fair! No one else has to do this!” To which the reply comes, “No, you’re not the exception. This is fair. Everyone else has to do this.” That’s parenting or policing 101.

So the fourth rule is the universality of this teaching in all churches everywhere. Whatever is being taught there wasn’t a special message to Corinth, but a universal message to all Christians. The question for you is, will you submit to that authority or will you see yourself as the exception who wants to be “contentious” and argue with what Jesus is saying through the Apostle Paul?

Conclusion

There’s a lot of heart work to be done here. We haven’t even gotten into the actual teaching, but this is critically important. If you are saved this morning, then you have admitted you are a sinner in need of a Saviour, and Jesus has saved you by trading His life for yours on the cross. But, have you also accepted Him as your Lord in all areas of your life? That’s just as critical a question.

This isn’t just about God being your boss, but about you trusting that God’s way is better, higher, more right than yours. It’s about letting go of your belief that your way is best and allowing God to lead you. As Proverbs 3:5-8 says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”… we usually stop there, but it continues… “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.”

Do you need healing in your flesh and refreshment in your bones? Then start with acknowledging God in all your ways and letting Him set out your path.

[1] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/publiccatholic/2013/03/atheist-governments-of-the-20th-century-the-death-toll-of-godless-goodness/

[2] Lange, J. P., Schaff, P., Kling, C. F., & Poor, D. W. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: 1 Corinthians (p. 225). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

100th Episode Celebration! (Carnivore Theology: Ep 100A)

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It’s our 100th episode so we’re having some fun and taking a trip down memory lane, but we’re also talking about the impact that fads like fidget spinners and WWJD bracelets have had on Christians. Should Christians participate with these things? Listen for details about how to win our 100th episode giveaway and how to get some awesome CT merch!

Podcast Audio:

How Can You Help Carnivore Theology?

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Common to Man: The Process of Sanctification

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Audio:

Text:

“For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:1-13)

Mortification of Sin

We’re jumping in and continuing on from last week, still on the topic of self-discipline and are continuing our discussion of what it means to take following Jesus seriously.

When we become a Christian and start following Jesus we are given an inward drive towards becoming more like Jesus – more holy, more righteous, more loving. “Be holy as I am holy”, God says to His people, and then gives us the help to do that.

We’ve talked before that we don’t do this in order to get saved but out of love and obedience for the One who saved us. We know we’ll never achieve perfection in this life, and that, because of our sinful nature we’re going to keep breaking God’s laws and doing wrong – but now that we are Christian we hate that sinful part of us, because it was sin that has messed up the world, our lives, and is what required Jesus to die on the cross. So we confess those sins every day in prayer, are thankful that God’s grace is so big and that the blood of Jesus covers all our sins past and future so we can be forgiven, and then we ask God for more help, more love, more patience, more kindness, more generosity, more self-control in the coming day to live better. Not just to be a holier than thou Christian prude, but because we’ve seen how sin hurts us, others, and our relationship with God.

That’s how Christians see sin. That’s why we work hard to get rid of the sins in our life – what believers used to call the “mortification of sin”. We work with God to try to mortify, or kill, or subdue, the fleshly, sinful desires inside us that cause so much trouble.

God uses some pretty serious, life and death language when speaking of how we should deal with our sin and practice self-control. Listen to Colossians 3:1-6 says, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these, the wrath of God is coming.”

Sanctification

So, because sin is so serious, a believer engages in a process called sanctification. To sanctify something means to set it apart for special use, to be made holy. Grandma’s special china collection is sanctified by the fact that it is cleaned and then kept carefully in a china cabinet. Your favourite hockey card is sanctified by you taking it from the collection, putting it into a special protective case, and then mounting it on the wall. You are sanctified by Jesus as you are taken from the enemy camp into his kingdom, from death to life, from slave to sin to freedom in Christ, and made one of His special people.

If you remember way back in 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 it told us, “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’”

We cannot be righteous without Jesus. We can’t redeem ourselves. And we cannot purify or sanctify ourselves without Jesus. The Gospel of Christ tells us the consequences of our sins – death, hell, pain, suffering, fear, addiction, brokenness. It tells us that Jesus has come to save us from all that by taking the penalty for sin upon Himself, wiping out its effects by taking God’s wrath against sin for us, dying on the cross, and then rising again to show that He has destroyed sin’s power – and then invites us to follow Him. This is what it means to be born again. When we are chosen by God and accept His invitation we are immediately sanctified. Jesus’ perfect sacrifice made it so that all our sins are perfectly dealt with and if we died today we would be with Jesus forever.

But at the same time, while we still live on earth we continue to deal with the echo effects of sin all around us. So, while we are perfectly clean in God’s eyes, perfectly accepted, perfectly redeemed, we also enter the process of sanctification in order to become more like Jesus every day. We use a lot of different phrases to describe this today. We talk about growing in God or becoming spiritually mature, but whatever we call it, part of that process is the mortification, or killing, of the sinful parts of ourselves that affect our daily walk in this world. We will never become perfect, but we continue to struggle against and work towards holiness. We “put to death therefore what is earthly in [us]…”

Going Through the Motions

Now, just like today, some of the people in the Corinthian church thought that since they professed faith in Jesus, went to church, and joined in the Lord’s Supper, they could then live however they wanted. Remember the context of eating meat offered to idols and causing those around them to stumble in their faith by going against their consciences. They figured that since they were Christians, they could do whatever they wanted! Paul wanted them to be absolutely clear that wasn’t true, it was a false belief, and so he used multiple examples

This still happens today. Young people who have gone to church their whole life are especially in danger of this way of thinking. They have gone to church for as long as they can remember, can quote verses from the Bible, serve in a couple places each week, go to Youth Group or Small Group, they can answer some Bible Trivia questions and take communion each month… so they figure they’re good. They’re covered.

The Bible says, be careful. There’s a big difference between saving faith and merely going through the motions of a believer. Of course, this isn’t just about youth. I’ve seen this at all ages. People who attend sometimes, do a little volunteer work, and say they believe… maybe they even had a tearful conversion at a summer camp or walked down an aisle at a crusade – but they’re not engaged in the daily battle against sin. And they’re not just disengaged, they don’t actually care.

This is most acute when the young person turns 18 and moves out or goes off to college or starts a job and is getting paid and is then given the freedom of an adult. Suddenly it becomes clear that their faith is extremely thin, they haven’t been working on their sanctification at all, and within a short time, they are in real trouble. They weren’t Christians, they were merely covered by the grace of their Christian parents.

It wasn’t they that decided not to look at pornography, it was the fact that it wasn’t available in the house. It wasn’t they that decided not to waste hours on the internet and video games, it was their parent’s rules and schedules. It wasn’t they that decided to watch their tongue, it was the peer pressure from their Christian friends. It wasn’t they that decided reading the Bible. going to church, being cautious about friendships, and the rest was important, it was enforced in by house rules.

And when they get that first taste of freedom from those rules, their true level of sanctification really shows. Soon they are addicted, indebted, depressed, lethargic, have turned their back on the church, and have just enough understanding of God to blame and resent Him for all their problems. Again, I don’t want to pick on just young people, I’ve seen this in seniors too, where the only thing that kept them from blowing up their life was external pressure, not internal sanctification.

This too is all over scripture. The wheat and the chaff, the good seeds and bad, parable of the sower, the sheep and the goats, wolves in sheep’s clothing, whitewashed tombs, play actors (Matt. 3:12; 13:1-30; 5:15; 25:31-46; 23:25-27) are all phrases where Jesus talks about people that look like Christians to everyone else but are not really saved. These people talk about God, come to church, and receive the blessings of being a Christian without ever turning away from sin and towards Jesus.

Think of it like a strong smell. Coffee shops have a distinct smell. So do hockey and curling rinks. So does a workout gym or the Body Shop store. You’ve probably had that experience when someone comes home from a night out and you can tell exactly where they’ve been just by the smell, right? They walk by and immediately you just what they’ve been doing because they carry the smell with them. My wife used to work at a place where she always came back smelling of bagels. She’d have to change her clothes and wash her hair before it would come out. I had the same problem when I worked at the pulp mill. I always came home smelling of black liquor, which is basically the waste product from turning trees into pulp. It smells a lot worse than bagels and there were times I would have to strip down right in the doorway and leave my clothes in the garage rather than bring them in the house.

In the same way, a non-believer who comes to church and hangs around Christians can pick up their smell – their lifestyle choices, their joy, kindness, high morals, honesty, etc. but not actually have faith in Jesus at all. They can even stay so long they start to believe they are Christians without actually giving their life to Jesus.

Israel and Us

Let’s turn back to our passage. As we saw last week Paul used himself as an example of spiritual maturity and self-denial, but now he goes the other way and uses Israel as an example of spiritual immaturity. “The perfect example of believing the false notion that one can be saved and then live a faithless, God-less life can be seen in what happened to the Jews’ ancestors in the wilderness…”[1]  He phrases this as a warning, “For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.”

“For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.”

These were people who were saved by God as Christians are. They had multiple, manifold, manifest spiritual blessings. Miracles galore. Their story is every Christian’s story. They were rescued at a great cost from an oppressor, delivered from death by the blood of the lamb, redeemed from slavery, and given a new life. They were guided by God’s presence, given direction in the wilderness and darkness of life. They had a law-giver and spiritual leader to follow, just as we do in Jesus. As they trusted in God their enemies fell before them and behind them. And all along, they were given daily provision to sustain their bodies and souls. Every day they saw a new act of God’s love for them. Paul then drives the point home reminding them that Jesus is God and was the one protecting and providing for the Israelites, just like He does for us!

A People Overthrown by God

But now look at verse 5, “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.” This should give us all great pause. God worked miracles, set them free from slavery, and provided for them along the way – but their hearts were not with Him. They were like the young person living with Christian parents, or the citizen living in a civil country. They had the blessings of being a child of God, surrounded by the smell, but their hearts were not with Him.

The word “most” is a pretty big understatement since out of the thousands that left Israel, only two were allowed into the Promised Land! The rest were left to wander and die in the wilderness. They were people of God, who saw God’s miracles, but died in faithlessness.

So, what happened? It is the same story from the beginning of Genesis all the way to the end. They didn’t have faith, they didn’t believe what God had said, they didn’t trust in God alone for their salvation. That’s what God desires. The path of Salvation is fairly simple. It means trusting that what God says is true and believing that His way is the only way.

It was like that for Adam and Eve, many stories of the Israelites in the Old Testament, the Pharisees and Judas in the New. God’s message was clear, they chose not to believe it, and were therefore condemned and “overthrown” by God.

Common Temptations

In verse 6 we read, “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.” Sometimes people wonder why we have the Old Testament when we have the New, or what value there is in the Old Testament. It’s ancient, full of difficult things to read, and the New Testament seems so much nicer.

This verse tells us one reason why. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is immutable, unchangeable. The God who wiped out Sodom and Gomorrah, killed everyone in the flood, and instituted blood sacrifices as the only way to appease His wrath against sin is the same God who came to earth as a baby, wept over Jerusalem, died on the cross, and taught us to love our neighbours. The Old Testament was Jesus’ Bible, the Apostle’s Bible, and the first church’s Bible, and was perfectly sufficient for teaching about faith, salvation and life. The Old Testament doesn’t tell a different story, but gives us the beginning of the story and we do ourselves a disservice when we don’t study it. Paul says that the stories we read of the Israelites and how God dealt with them are examples for us that we should learn from.

So what are we to learn? There are four main sins that are highlighted. Let’s read together, and notice how serious these warnings are. Starting in verse 7: “Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.’ We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

The temptations the ancient Israelites went through are the same as we go through today, and the sins they commit that separate them from God are the same too. The stories of the Bible are there to instruct us, warn us, encourage us, and teach us about ourselves and God. So I’m going to ask you to do a little digging in your soul to see if these are represented there.

The first mentioned is idolatry, which references the story of the Golden Calf when Moses went up to the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments and while he was there Aaron and the rest of the Israelites crafted an idol to worship in place of God. It wasn’t that they were simply tempted to put their faith somewhere else, it was that they actively chose to reject Yahweh, formed a false god of their own, and then “sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play”, meaning they copied in the cultural, pagan festivals they saw around them.

They did, essentially what I’ve been talking about with young people and cultural Christians. While Moses was away they threw all their beliefs out the window and then worshipped, feasted, drank and danced the way they always wanted to, showing what was really going on in their hearts.

We do the same today as we turn away from God and put our faith and trust in things of our own design – money, insurance, diet, human authorities, or when we dabble with pagan things like horoscopes or superstitions. We can make money, comfort, food, or sex our idol as we turn to it to save us from pain, guilt, shame, fear. Remember the context of the Corinthian church eating food offered to idols and realize that Paul was also speaking of Israel’s example of eating, drinking and partying like unbelievers, throwing off God’s standards and doing whatever they felt they wanted to do regardless of how it affected themselves or anyone else.

If you want to know what idols you have in your life, ask yourself: what you do and what do you reach for when you hit a crisis hits or when you want to celebrate?

The second temptation for the Israelites was sexual immorality. Pornography, lustful thoughts, wandering eyes, sexual fantasy, adultery, and the rest. For them, this was tied to their idol worship. They used the golden calf and worshipping false gods as an excuse to sin sexually. Once they had crafted a god of their own, or borrowed one from a neighbouring nation, they worshipped it as the unbelievers did – which included sexual sins. As we’ve already learned, this was a huge temptation in Corinth, but just as much in ancient Israel.

The further you wander from God, the more you believe what the world believes and act like the world acts, the easier it is to fall for the temptation toward sexual sin. We’ve already talked a lot about that so I won’t belabour the point, but notice God’s punishment here. You might think, “Well, that’s back in the olden days, God doesn’t do that now!”

Listen to the words of Jesus in Revelation 21:5-8, at the end of the Bible: “And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ And he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty, I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.’”

You may think Jesus is the warm and cuddly version of God that doesn’t care about sin, lets everyone do what they want, and lets everyone into heaven, but I assure you, He’s the same as He was with the Israelites. He may wait on the punishment, but I assure you that your faith is revealed in your actions and though you may not take your sin seriously, but Jesus sure does.

Does that mean a Christian who sins sexually can lose their salvation? No. As we said before, the difference is sanctification. The difference is that you hate that sin and want to be rid of it. Do you?

The third temptation was put Christ to the test. What does that mean? It means questioning God’s reliability. It’s when we declare God unreliable and then force or demand that He proves himself to us. The Israelites “put Christ to the test” as they told Moses that God and him don’t know what they are doing, that they would surely die of hunger and thirst, that life was better under slavery, that God was holding out on them, refusing to give them their favourite foods, and ultimately that God wasn’t strong enough to defeat their enemies. Over and over they said that God had left them and demanded more and more miracles. (Numb 21, Exo 17)

The Pharisees “put Christ to the test” too. Even though they had heard of and even witnessed multiple miracles, they continued to bring false charges against Jesus, tried to trick Jesus into making mistakes, and then demanding Jesus prove Himself with more miracles (Mark 8:11, Matthew 12:38-39). They even did it as He hung on the cross.

Satan “put Christ to the test” in the wilderness as he tempted Jesus to work miracles for wrong reasons – even tempting Jesus to force God Father to prove His love and prove Jesus’ was special by jumping off the top of the temple!

Have you done this? Atheists love this game. They love mocking Christians and telling God to dance for them, write in the sky, do a crazy sign, and then claiming God doesn’t exist when He refuses to play their game. Do you do this? Do you ever tell God that you’ll believe or obey if He’ll do something for you? Do you ever put yourself in a situation where God has to act just so you can see if He’s real? Do you ever question if God is good or His ways are right, and then deny Him when things don’t go your way? The Bible is clear that is a very serious sin.

Jesus responds, “An evil and adulterious generation seeks for a sign…” Jesus never rebukes or corrects people who are genuinely seeking Him out of need, but He also knows when people are coming with wrong motives.

And the fourth temptation was what is here called “grumbling”. Grumbling isn’t simply talking to God about tough things in your life that you don’t like. God wants us to bring our frustrations, concerns, worries and all the rest to Him. Grumbling is akin to complaining. It’s that low-level murmer in the heart where you keep telling yourself how horrible your life is, how it’s out of control, how the universe is out to get you, that God isn’t helping, nothing is right, there’s not enough money, time, energy, health, or anything else. Your friends aren’t really that good, your house isn’t right, your technology isn’t good enough, your spouse isn’t good enough, your life is too hard, too hot, too cold, too noisy, too quiet… murmur murmer grumble grumble complain complain.

This one is very difficult for me and one of my greatest temptations. I’m a child of discontent and have a very critical heart. I know this about myself and I have to be very careful about it. Why? Because grumbling is spiritually destructive and debilitating. It shows a lack of faith in God, a belief that He is unloving towards you. It’s a lack of contentedness and shows a misunderstanding of grace. It is the belief that you inherently deserve more than you have and God is unfairly holding out on you. It destroys your worship, your prayer life, your relationships, and your witness to others. A grumbling spirit leads to fighting with others, and envy, jealousy, covetousness. (James 4:1-3)  “I hate that person. Their life is better than my life, their job is better, the have more of what I want…. And I hate God too for not giving me what they have.”  There’s a big difference between complaining to God and complaining about God. Job complained to God but didn’t sin. Israel complained about God and did sin.

What about you? Are you a grumbler?

Conclusion

This section ends with, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

God is faithful. He is for you. He wants your sanctification and wants you to be more holy, because more holiness leads to more joy. He wants your spiritual success and knows what you need in order to grow. He knows your breaking points. Your temptations are not unique to you and he has given you scripture, fellow believers, and the Holy Spirit within you to help you understand them and get through it. And, when you are faced with the burden of temptation, God promises two things: a way out of the temptation, and the strength to endure it. The escape may not be immediate, but He promises that if you trust Him, lean on Him, ask Him, then you will have the strength to endure the temptation and mortify that sin within you – and then grow stronger in faith and in sanctification.

[1] Life Application Commentary: 1 Corinthians, Pg 135.

Resources for Every Stage of the Christian Life (Carnivore Theology: Ep. 93)

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We do a data dump of the best resources for every stage of the Christian life. Whether you are a new believer, have some years in the church, or are a longtime elder, you’ll find something to challenge you!

Podcast Audio:

The Resources:

Pilgrim Theology – Michael Horton

ESV Study Bible

NIV Life Application Study Bible

Reformation Study Bible

John MacArthur Study Bible

Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan

Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin (Abridged and in Modern English) by Tony Lane & Hilary Osborne

Podcast: The Briefing by Albert Mohler

Podcast: Mortification of Spin

Podcast: Renewing Your Mind by RC Sproul

Vodcast: Look at the Book by John Piper

40 Questions About Interpreting The Bible by Robert Plummer

Knowing God by JI Packer

Core Christianity by Michael Horton

Gospel and Kingdom by Graham Goldsworthy

What Is a Healthy Church Member? by Thabiti Anyabwile

The Peacemaker by Ken Sande

The Hour that Changes the World by Dick Eastman

Podcast: The Whitehorse Inn by Michael Horton

Website: Monergism.com

Preachers: Charles Spurgeon, Martin Luther, Martin Lloyd Jones, RC Sproul, John MacArthur, John Piper…

Biographies: Martin Luther, Thomas Aquinas, Confessions of St Augustine, William Tyndale, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, William Wilberforce, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, D. Martin Lloyd Jones.

Ligonier Ministries Resources: Tabletalk Magazine, “Connect”

The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World by Stephen Nichols

Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

How Can You Help Carnivore Theology?

1. Pray for us!

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Why Our Church Has a Membership Covenant

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Sermon Audio:

Sermon Text:

When we become Christians we enter into a new family called the Church of Jesus Christ. When we put our faith in Jesus, God takes us out from under the condemnation we find under His Law grants us forgiveness through Jesus, and then makes us a part of His Kingdom.

All believers, everywhere are part of the Kingdom of God, the Body of Christ, the Universal Church both living here and in heaven. If you are a Christian you are part of God’s family. The church expresses itself in two ways, the universal church and the local church – and Christians are meant to be a part of both, committing themselves to a local, Christian church. And as part of God’s family, one way you express your love for your Heavenly Father, is to be with His church. And I’m talking about more than just the commands we read. In scripture it says that one of the ways we know we are saved is because our heart changes towards other believers. It says, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.” (1 John 3:14)

Growing Christians want to be with fellow believers – backslidden and sinning Christians tend to run away from fellow believers. Those that are working on their sins tend to want to sit under good teaching and share their struggles with others. Those who are full of the unrepentant sins of unforgiveness, bitterness, pride, or greed tend to avoid other believers, avoid coming under the leadership of elders, or try to split up and start their own churches. A Christian full of hate, shame or ungodly fear will find excuses to avoid church and other believers. Growing, humble Christians do the hard, sacrificial work of seeking unity and mutual love.

I love the local church, especially this one. This is a really, really good church. There is much love, care, interest, honesty and joy here. It breaks my heart that more people aren’t part of a good, healthy church, because it is the number one way in the world that God chooses to do His will.

It’s fine to sit at home and listen to sermons or chat with people online, but miracles happen when people choose to get off the couch and spend time with their fellow believers on Sunday and during the week.

I haven’t always loved the church. I grew up in a church and didn’t know any other way, but when I was sent to my first year of post-secondary school at age 17, I didn’t bother going to church. And as a result, it wasn’t long before started suffering with loneliness, depression, anxiety, and fear. I sat alone the basement of my rented home, avoided people, didn’t make any friends, didn’t go to school, lost touch with God, and felt like garbage.

I’m convinced that if I would have gone to church, it would have been different. In fact, I know that’s true because since then I have attended church and, when facing trials and pain, I have been ministered to, held accountable, corrected, befriended, and pointed to Jesus.

This was because there were people in the church that were taking the words of Jesus seriously. Their hearts were full of love for Him and others and they were willing to step into my life and help me. They listened to the voice of God inside them and obeyed, and my life is better because of their obedience.

I want to start this morning, and this year, by reading our church membership covenant, which outlines a lot of ways that we have agreed to help each other here. This is the document that every person who is a voting member of this church has agreed to. If you’re not sure if you are a member, then you probably aren’t, because it requires baptism, meetings, and voting. It’s quite a commitment. Let me read it to you:

The Membership Covenant

Having been led, as we believe, by the Spirit of God, to receive the Lord Jesus Christ as our Saviour, and on the profession of our faith, having been baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, we do now, in the presence of God, most solemnly and joyfully enter into covenant with one another as one body in Christ.

We engage, therefore, by the aid of the Holy Spirit, to walk together in Christian love; to strive for the advancement of this Church in knowledge, piety and godly living; to promote its spirituality in sustaining its worship, ordinances, discipline and doctrine; to contribute cheerfully and regularly to the support of the ministry, the expenses of the Church, its work against sin and injustice in the world, the relief of the poor and the spread of the Gospel throughout all nations.

We agree to promote family worship and maintain private devotions; to educate our children in the teaching and practice of our faith; and to seek the salvation of our kindred and acquaintances. We strive to walk circumspectly in the world, to be just in our dealings, faithful in our engagements and exemplary in our deportment; to avoid all idle talk, backbiting and unrighteous anger; to practice temperance in all things; and to be zealous in all our efforts to advance the Kingdom of our Saviour.

We agree to strive to walk worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love, endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

We covenant to watch over one another in brotherly love, to remember each other in prayer, to aid each other in sickness and distress, to cultivate Christian sympathy in feeling and courtesy in speech, to be slow to take offence, always ready for reconciliation, and mindful of the commandments of our Saviour.

Arguments Against Church Covenant

This morning I want to take a look at why it’s important that we have a membership covenant because it’s not without some controversy. There are a lot of people out there that see a church membership covenant as unbiblical. They see it as a way of saying the presence of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God are not enough – that somehow we need a human document, a new “man-made law” to tell people how to behave. And they are right in being concerned.

A lot of abuse has occurred as a result of human documents that go beyond what scripture says. It is from these sorts of documents that we get things like abuse of power, public shunning, excommunication, and all manner of strange cultish practices that manipulate and exploit people.

In true cults you’ll see some horrible things they have to agree to like giving up your money, family and friends, and agreeing to all manner of abusive punishments. But churches aren’t immune to extreme things in their covenants. Even today in some Baptist churches you’ll read things like “no drinking, no smoking, no gambling, no dancing, no R rated movies”. You’ll see punishments for missing church, not tithing, or not following through on areas of service. And a lot of that not only smacks of legalism, but even cultism, and it is certainly unbiblical.

The letter to the Galatians is written to people who were confused about this kind of thing. Teachers had come through to the church and taught that Christians needed to follow the Law of Moses and Jewish traditions in order to be truly saved. (Gal 3:1-14)

This is something the Bible is completely against. Scripture is clear that we are saved by grace through faith, not by anything we can do. It says in 2:21, “…if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” (Galatians 2:19-21)

In other words, the very thought that keeping some sort of human law can make you saved, or keep you saved, or get you more saved, in effect, nullifies the work of Jesus on the cross. It’s like saying, “Jesus only died for some of my sins, I have to do the rest. I need to do extra works to make up for what Jesus didn’t do. I need to be extra good because Jesus wasn’t good enough.” What a terrible, ungodly way to live that is, and the scriptures are dead-set against it. Jesus had a lot to say to the Pharisees who cared more about their rules and traditions more than the word of God. He calls it “vain worship”. (Matthew 15:7-9)

And so, rightly, some Christians really shy away from anything that even smacks of that way of thinking.

1. A Set of Standards

That being said, there is certainly a place for covenants between people in this world. The legal world uses them all the time as ways to make sure people follow through on their promises. If you buy a house or car, you’ll sign a legal document. At the bottom of your receipt from many stores you’ll find their return policy. A lot of employers, sports organizations and social clubs make contracts with “moral clauses” which dictate what kind of behaviour is expected of the employee, player, or member even when they are not at work.

One example is in the NHL’s “standard player contract”, which is set by the Players Association and cannot be modified, there is a “morality clause” that states a player must “conduct himself on and off the rink according to the highest standards of honesty, morality, fair play and sportsmanship and refrain from conduct detrimental to the best interest of the Club, the League, or professional hockey generally.”

There have been more than a few players suspended and even terminated from their teams, not because of anything they’ve done during the game, but because of things they have said or done off the ice. Perhaps one of the most famous was when Sean Avery made a rude comment about his ex-girlfriends and was then suspended and kicked off his team.

But what about a church? Just because lots of people in the world do it, doesn’t necessarily make it appropriate for Christians. Well, one reason that these companies and organizations put dress and morality codes into their contracts is because they want to emphasize the importance of making sure the public image of the group is represented by its members.

If we use Christianese terms, a church would do it to promote Christlikeness and avoid hypocrisy. There is a great importance in making sure who we say we are, who we identify with, and how we live, are all in alignment. We need to practice what we preach.

  • James 1:26 says, “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight reign on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.”
  • 1 John 5:2-3a says, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.”
  • When Jesus was talking to those Pharisees He called them “hypocrites” saying, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me…” (Matthew 15:8)
  • When Jesus is teaching us how to tell a good teacher from a bad teacher, His answer is, “… you will recognize them by their fruits.”, meaning their deeds. (Matthew 7:16)
  • He says later that we can know what is in a person’s heart by their words, “…out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.” (Matthew 12:34-35)

The Bible is clear that how we live matters a great deal. If we profess to be a Christian, but our life doesn’t change, then that likely means that we don’t really have the faith we say we do. If we say we have repented from our sin and want to follow God, but continue to look the same, sound the same, do the same things, enjoy commit the same sins and refuse to submit our lives to God, then we shouldn’t take much comfort in our faith, because it’s not real.

A good church covenant gives reminders of some of the ways the Bible tells us that our lives are supposed to change in order to line up with our new faith. It is not a list of dos and don’ts that change with culture and are meant to micromanage people’s behaviour, but a general document meant to give an outline of what a godly life looks like. When we sign a church membership covenant, we are saying that we agree to seek to live by not a bunch of man-made, but the standards of what the Bible says.

You might think, why can’t we just say, “Why can’t we all just agree to do what the Bible says?” Well, we are. The covenant is a summary of some of those things. It’s not exhaustive, but is a general outline that makes it easier for everyone to look at and understand, but leaves room for individual differences.

A good church covenant should be general enough that every believer could sign it, regardless of their work, family, or cultural situation. Whether you are a farmer or an astronaut, have children or don’t, are a young, single man, or a widowed, senior citizen, the covenant should be something you can agree to. It tells everyone who reads it what kind of ethics we believe in. Just as our Statement of Faith tells people what we believe, our Membership Covenant tells them how we live.

2. Accountability

So, the first thing a good church covenant does is give a brief summary of the sorts of standards that God has set for His people. The second thing it does is allow us to obey the command to hold each other accountable.

A lot of people inside and outside the church can quote Matthew 7:1, even though they don’t know it comes from there. It says, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” Some can even go a bit further: “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” And they stop there thinking that it says that no one is allowed to call out anyone else on their issues. We use it as a defense against anyone getting into our business and an excuse not to have to deal with anyone else’s. But we need to keep reading!

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5)

Is Jesus telling us to ignore each other and never make a judgement as to the rightness or wrongness a person’s choices? No. It says, “Be careful how you judge! Don’t be a hypocrite. Examine yourself so that when you go to your brother or sister who is in error you will see clearly enough to help them.”

Let me lay down a few more scriptures about the importance of judging others and holding each other accountable, just so we can understand this better:

  • Galatians 6:1-2 says, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” How can we restore someone caught in sin unless we make the judgement that they are sinning? How can we rescue them if we don’t get involved? How can we each other’s burdens, if we don’t judge them to be burdonsome?
  • James 5:16, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” The Bible says we should share our sins with one another so we can pray for help and be healed. We can’t do that if we ignore one another six-and-a-half days a week.

Here’s some from the positive side:

  • 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up….”
  • Proverbs 27:17, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”
  • Hebrews 10:24-25, “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.”

Each of these are encouragements to get proactive. It’s not just about waiting for someone to mess up so we can fix them, but proactively encouraging, sharpening, and stirring each other up as we meet together regularly. “Hey, are you reading your bible? Are you praying? How’s your marriage? Are you resting? Are you working hard? Are you serving others? What are your needs? I’m learning this about myself, or God, or my family, and it has helped me; let me tell you about it.”

How about: “Hey man, you’re thinking some wrong things about God and we need to work on that.” Or “You haven’t been to church in a while, and you’re not giving or serving, and that’s not spiritual healthy – God’s Word says you need to come back.” Or “Hey, you are stealing – not doing your taxes honestly, taking cable from the neighbours, illegally copying music or movies, ripping people off – and God’s Word says you need to stop.”

The second thing a good membership covenant do is give us permission to each other accountable.

3. Church Discipline

These two things together, standards and accountability, give the church a way to engage in what we call “church discipline”.

God has given a governing structure to His church and calls some people to be leaders and elders who are meant to be examples, protectors, overseers and teachers to their fellow believers. Many churches call them “elders”, but they are also called “bishops” or “presbyters” or “pastors”. To become one means meeting a long list of biblical qualifications (1 Tim 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-9) and taking on the very difficult task of shepherding a group of people.

In Ephesians 4:11-14 it says that God,

“…gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 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, 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.”

In Acts 20:28-30 Paul tells the Ephesian elders,

“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.”

In 1 Peter 5:2-3 the elders are told to

“…shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’”

On that note of being “subject to the elders”, Hebrews 13:17 tells Christians to

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

You see, it’s a two-way street. The elders of the church are given the responsibility to live exemplary lives worthy of imitation and stick close to Jesus. With the grace God gives them they are to protect and guard the church from false teachers, false practices, and spiritual dangers, knowing that will be held to account for how they lead.

But, unlike the laws of Israel, a Christian elder has no physical influence – no police force, no military, no weapons – with which to do their job. The history of the church is replete with examples of elders who got this terribly wrong.

The only way for elders to do what God has asked of us is for those who are part of the church, who have committed themselves to worshipping, serving, giving, and caring for a local body of believers, to accept that discipline willingly. Becoming a member and agreeing to the membership covenant is a way of giving permission to the elders to do that.

 

It might sound harsh, but it is intended to be a wake-up call for someone whose heart is growing far from God, who is falling for dangerous temptations, is filling with bitterness, is creating a split in the congregation, or whose soul is in danger.

Signing the membership covenant allows the elders to follow the scriptures which tell us to get involved in these sorts of issues. Just so you know I’m not making this up, I want you to see it in scripture.

  • Matthew 18:17 Jesus says that if you have a problem with someone and it’s not getting any better, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.”
  • 1 Timothy 5:20 tells elders, “As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.”
  • Titus 3:10 tells elders, “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him…”

And there’s more.

Of course we can’t bar the doors, tie them to a chair, or lock them up. The whole point is that we trust in God’s power, not our own. Agreeing to a membership covenant not only allows each person in the church to hold each other to account, but gives permission to the elders to do church discipline if they must.

Conclusion

That’s enough for one day. Let me conclude with this: At our church, one tool we use to try to help each other follow God is our membership covenant. Is it perfect? No. Is it biblical, God honouring and helpful? Yes, I believe so. And I think it’s something we should be looking at more often so we can grow closer to God and each other, and more closely follow His word.

Pastor Al’s Testimony: God’s Useless Reject Tells His Story (Carnivore Theology: Ep. 76)

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Pastor Al shares how God took him from useless reject to passionate preacher.

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Divisions Among Us

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Paul, in the letter to the Corinthians which we are studying, after talking about the church’s lack of maturity, uses one of their greatest problems as an example of how bad things had gotten – that problem being “division”. The church is divided – in many ways – but the way that the Apostle addresses first is that they have divided themselves according to their favourite teacher.

Deep Division

Of course, these divisions weren’t solely based on their favourite teacher, but went much deeper. They had divided over all kinds of things – all of which are still present in the modern church. They disagreed about how to worship God, what laws they had to follow, and how they should live their lives. They had created division   on their different races and cultures, their social statuses, and even by their spiritual giftings.

The rich abused the poor, the Greeks wouldn’t talk to the Jews (and vice-versa), those who spoken in tongues looked down on those who didn’t, the teachers thought they were better than the servants. Some wanted to follow the whole Law of Moses while others wanted to incorporate worship styles from the culture around them. Some people wanted full sexual liberty, while others were trying to convince everyone that they had to remain unmarried virgins all their lives. Some people loved having big bar-b-cues with the leftover meat that had been used when the animals were sacrificed to the pagan gods, while others refused to eat anything other than vegetables. The church was incredibly divided – and so Paul addresses this first.

And of course, as with any group dedicated to raising themselves up and demonizing another, they had created a civil war among themselves and needed to pick some heroes to lead the charge. And so, without telling them, they had each picked their own favourite apostle, preacher or teacher to represent their group.

Some had picked Peter, the hot-headed, blue-collar, leader of the apostles, who struggled with getting along with non-Jews. Others had picked Paul, a highly educated, genius level Jewish scholar, who had seemingly turned away from his Jewish heritage and dedicated his life to sharing the gospel with the gentiles. Still others chose Apollos, the non-apostolic, but super talented, super popular, super knowledgeable preacher, who was widely known for his boldness in publically defending Christians and Christianity.

These men had no idea that the Corinthian church was using them as unwitting leaders of these various factions, and as excuses for their sin. “Paul said that we didn’t need to follow the Law of Moses, so that means that I can do whatever we want!” “Well, Peter still lives in Jerusalem and follows the whole Law, and he’s the leader of the Apostles, so obviously he’s right!” “Well, if Apollos were here, I know that he would be on my side!”

Division Today

The church is just as divided today as it was then. It’s really not any better. I’m not just talking about denominations – which get kind of a bad rap, actually – but true divisions based on race, culture, worship style, theological arguments, and more. There are black churches that won’t accept white people, white churches that won’t accept black. There are suburban churches that won’t help the poor and inner city churches that hate rich people. There are churches dominated by well educated professionals and those by working class folk. There are churches for the young, for the old, and for those in between. There are religious churches that have hundreds of rules and disciplines, and others dedicated to freedom and exploration. And even within the ones that look mixed, there are cliques and factions and groups.

Local Divisions

And yes, there are divisions here. There are people sitting in this church today who refuse to have other people from their church in their own home, and still hold bitter resentment against them. There are people sitting here today who literally hate others in this church. There are some who tiptoe around others for fear of setting them off, and others who gossip about and mock their brothers or sisters in Christ behind their back. There are some who use the feeblest excuses to avoid being with others in the church, who would choose a dozen other things to do rather than pray with, study with, play with, eat with, or help people in their church.

There are some who couldn’t care less what was happening in the lives of those who they have attended church with for years, and are secretly happy when something bad happens to them – even people within their own family. Some are jealous of the success that others have achieved, the house they have, the car they drive, the phone they use, the state of their marriage, their family achievements … while others look down on their fellow Christian because they disagree with the lifestyle they lead – not that the choices are sinful, they just don’t like it. Some, though they would never say it, are annoyed by the presence of children, while others are annoyed by the presence of old people. They want to be in a place built only for them, literally wishing that the people around them were gone so they could be more comfortable.

Many people here today don’t pray for the people that attend their church. Not a single word lifted up to God on behalf of the people they worship with every week. In fact, if you asked them to name the people sitting around them – let alone share something important about them – they couldn’t do it anyway. Many couldn’t care less whether the people that are sitting around them came to church or not and literally refuse to take me up on my encouragement to follow up with those who are missing. If half the church got hit by a bus this Wednesday, they might not even notice for weeks to come.

There are people here today who divide themselves from the church simply refuse to serve. They’ll come, sit, stand, sing, and then leave – but they won’t serve. Why? Because they see this church the same way they see Tim Hortons. Those around them aren’t real people – just workers that make the coffee, seat fillers in a faceless crowd, non-people that aren’t worth the time to get to know. They’ll smile politely while quietly judging them by their clothes, hair, or whatever – but until they need something, they won’t bother to even acknowledge their existence.

They don’t care if a deacon, teacher and other worker burns themselves out. If one of the deacons worked themselves into a sickness, or feels the only way out from under their church workload is to leave, they would either not notice – or worse, blame them for not being strong enough.

They don’t care if the parents around them need a break. They don’t care if the kids need a smile and a kind word because they had a rough week. They don’t care if the musicians showed up an hour and a half before they did. It doesn’t even cross their minds. Church is like Tim Hortons. They come, float past everyone, consume whatever they like, dismiss what they don’t, hope nobody bothers them, and then leave without ever making a mark in anyone’s life – or allowing anyone to make a mark in theirs. And then have the audacity to complain about the overburdened servants if things don’t go their way!

A Good Year

I love you guys enough to tell you straight, that our church has divisions.

We’ve grown a lot in the past year. God has blessed us with new families, new opportunities to serve, and new challenges that required us to support one another. We’re having one of our best financial years in a long while, and have been blowing our missions giving away! We’ve seen lives changed, people saved, dedicate and rededicate their lives to Jesus. We’ve had relationships grow, grown deeper in our theology, and witnessed true miracles happen among us. This has been an amazing year, and it’s been my privilege to be your pastor.

I’m not saying that we are a bad church. Far from! In fact, by all the forms of measurement I know, and based on my own reading and life-experience, this is an exceptionally good church! I have never felt more love in any other church than this one. And as I’ve talked to many of you, especially those who haven’t been coming for very long, I’ve heard that you’ve felt the same thing.

Now, I’ve attended churches with huge divisions and factions. I’ve pastored churches with such obvious cliques that people literally sat in clusters during the service, leaving large spaces between them and the ones they didn’t want to talk to. One church I pastored had people who refused to even speak English after service so they could separate themselves from the new people.

My home church, a few years after I left, went through a hugely messy and painful church split. Hearts were broken and people left the faith and never went to church again. I promise you that we are not there. I thank God that this church is more characterized by love and joy now than it was when I first got here. I can’t speak about times before, but I know some of you can, and you’ve told me about some of the hard things you were going through before my time. And please realize, I’m not taking any credit for this, at all! That is as far from my point here as possible. All glory to God for the growth we have seen here!

But I will tell you this. The potential for a split is here. We may not have factions and fighting right now, but we are not as united in spirit as we could and should be. Everything I’ve just said about the divisions among us is true. I didn’t exaggerate.

And I think many of you know this. I believe that the Holy Spirit has been moving in the hearts of the people here and many of you don’t feel as connected to God or your brothers and sisters as you know you should be. Your Bible reading has suffered, as has your prayer life. You’ve been convicted by the Holy Spirit that something is wrong. You’ve tried to pray more and read your Bible more, but there’s still something wrong. I’m saying that the issue isn’t just prayer and study – but that you need to engage with your church.

You’ve heard God prompt you to have more people over to your house, to be part of a small group, that there are people you need to forgive and grant forgiveness too, that you haven’t been obeying God’s command to love, encourage and support the believers around you.

I believe that some of you have felt that there has been a blockage in your spiritual life, a spiritual hurdle that you haven’t been able to jump, and I think that for some of you this is it – you’ve filled your life with too many things, some of them good, others pointless, but they have prevented you from being obedient to God by connecting to your church – and it has left a vacuum in your spiritual life

The Foundation

Open up to 1 Corinthians 3:9-15 and let’s read it together:

“For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:9-15)

Here we see Paul shifting his illustration. Last week we talked about how the church is God’s field, but here in verse 9 the illustration changes. “You are God’s field, God’s building.” And then Paul talks about the importance of making sure that the church is built on the right foundation and being made of the right stuff? Why? Because the day of fire is coming.

The “You” there is plural. He says, “You”, the whole church, are “God’s building”. Paul says that he knows that he came in and laid the foundation of their church of the pure preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He didn’t mess around. Remember in chapter 2 he said, “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

Anyone who has built anything – from a Lego project to a fence to a house – knows the importance of a good foundation, and Paul knows that the foundation he poured was built of the right stuff. He used good fill, no garbage or dirt inside it. He packed down the base well, making sure he preached the whole of the gospel, the story that comes from Genesis to the prophets. He poured consistently and took the time to cure it well, answering their questions, defending them from attackers, staying for a long time to make sure it was strong. He built the church upon the person and work of Jesus Christ and nothing else.

The foundation of their church was strong, as I believe our church’s is. It was planted by godly men preaching God’s word, filled with people who wanted to know Jesus better and proclaim His name. And today, my hope is that I continue to preach an unadulterated gospel – teaching the pure word of God and the message of Jesus Christ as it applies to our lives.

Building on the Foundation

But notice that the object of the teaching changes from plural to singular. “You” all are “God’s building” turns to “Now if anyone builds on the foundation… each one’s work will become manifest… the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.”

When it comes to building the church, the responsibility rests upon the individual. Paul laid the foundation, and then gave it to the individuals to build the church. Building the church isn’t even the pastor and elder’s main job. Listen to Ephesians 4:11-12,

“And he (that is God) gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…”

Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are a small group within the big church. Most people in the church aren’t given those roles because only a few people are required to teach and equip the church – and then everyone else is sent out to do the work God calls them to do.

This is how it works in a lot of arenas in life. A good country needs a few good politicians, a few good law makers and a few good law enforcers, but many, many good citizens. A sports team requires a bunch of players, but only a few coaches and referees. For a new skyscraper to be built downtown, it needs an architect, a few engineers, a few supervisors, but a whole bunch of workers to build it.

That’s how the church works too. The apostles and prophets give us the scriptures, the foundation of our relationship with God. The evangelists come and plant a church, and then the pastors and teachers work to equip and train everone in how they are to follow God every day.

This is why Paul changes from plural to singular. Every single person here is responsible for how they build themselves and this church. No one is exempt from the responsibility to do what God has called them to do. If you’re not doing what God has asked you, then you are sinning. And if you’re doing someone else’s job, then you are sinning.

Of course, I don’t mean that everyone has to volunteer to do something on Sunday. Some people will do things like that, but most won’t. Paul, later in 1 Corinthians, is going to break down a whole bunch of ways that people work together as the church. Paul says in chapter 12:4-11,

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.”

And that’s not even the whole of possibilities in scripture. In Romans 12 we read about the gifts of encouragement, generous giving, leadership, service, and teaching. In Ephesians 4 we read about the gifts of evangelism. Other places talk about the gift of hospitality. There are so many ways that God has given people to build up the church. It’s the pastors and elders job to work hard to make sure that everyone is equipped to do whatever God has called them to do, not just plug them into existing programs, and then it’s the individuals in the church that go out and do it together!

And that’s the thing. It all has to happen in community. There’s not a single gift God gives us that can be done without getting involved with someone else. If you are an encourager, you need someone to encourage. If you’re a leader you need people to lead. If you’re a helper you need someone to help. Teachers need students, discerners need problems, and administrators need people to organize. And while we are working in our gifts, doing all the “one anothers” in the Bible, God is pleased with us and we will grow spiritually.

But as long as we are divided, or fractured, or splintered, or neglecting one another, or ignoring one another, or jealous of one another, then we will remain spiritual infants – and worse, set ourselves up for Satan to split our church.

The Day of Fire

This passage warns everyone here, me included, to make sure we are evaluating what we are building our spiritual house out of. Our foundation is secure, those who are saved are secure – that’s verse 15 – but that doesn’t mean that what we’ve built here is guaranteed to survive.

My first church was divided. One generation refused to serve the other. It closed shortly after I left. My home church was amazing while I was growing up, and then imploded, almost on the verge of total collapse, shortly after I left. (Take that coincidence however you like.☺)

Neither of these churches ever thought they would suffer a huge split. No one does. No one gets married assuming they will divorce. No one plants or pastors a church expecting a church split. But it happened. Why? Because division crept in and when the day of fire came, their house didn’t stand.

The day of fire is coming. In context here that means the day Jesus comes back, but it also means days of trial and strife. They are coming for you, your home, your neighbourhood and your church. I know some of you have already been through a day of fire and your spiritual house was evaluated – and it showed you the parts that were made of gold, and the parts that were made of straw.

Are you ready? Are we ready? Are we united enough here, loving enough, supportive enough, gracious enough, to weather the days of fire to come? Are we practicing generosity, serving one another humbly and sacrificially? Are we bearing with one another in love, seeking harmony and forgiving everyone in the church? Can you honestly say you can greet everyone here with a handshake without there being any kind of animosity?

Or on the other side: Have you let others into your life? Are you working to make friends here that you trust? Have you opened your heart to those around you? Do you know what their biggest struggles are, and have you shared your own with some people here?

Check your heart. I’ll say it again: the day of fire is coming. Soon is coming a day when your faith and all that you’ve built in your life will be tested. A time is coming when your family will go through a trial. A time is coming when our little church will be tested to see “what sort of work each one has done.”

This is going to sound harsh, but when it comes, can the church lean on you because you have built your life out of Godly materials? Will the life you have contributed to this church family stand strong on the day of fire – when Christianity is illegal, when someone falls to public sin, when a madman bursts through the doors, when a family has a major tragedy – will your faith be strong enough to help those around you weather it, or will you (and everyone who counted on you) find out that your faith is built of nothing but straw.

I invite you to examine yourself.

5 Reminders for Students (Carnivore Theology – Ep. 73)

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Whether you’re going into High School, College, University or Post-Grad, Pastor Al gives some important reminders to students returning to school this semester.

1. Guard your reputation.
2. Remember why you’re there.
3. Find a good church.
4. Keep your devos going.
5. Try to find balance.

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5. Buy some cool stuff from our new Merch Store! (And check out our friend Kim’s amazing art while you’re there!)

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We Need Both God and The Church (Paul Comes to Corinth)

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2 - Paul Goes to Corinth

Quick Review

Last week we started a new series on Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians and I talked about the two principle players involved , that being Paul and the city of Corinth. The two things that I hope you walked away with last week was Paul’s passion for spreading the love of God found in the true Gospel of Jesus Christ and how badly Corinth needed to hear it.

Corinth was basically the internet come to life. A huge amount of people from every nation, background and belief system, gathered in a city dedicated to spreading opinions and information (and misinformation), making money in commerce and manufacturing, religious ideas shouted from every temple and street corner, and a non-stop stream of sexual filth. Like I said: the internet, come to life.

Paul Has a Hard Time in Athens

This week we’re going to continue giving the back story to 1st Corinthians by talking about what was happening when the church was first planted. This will help us gain some appreciation for the relationship that Paul had with the church, the city, and (hopefully) establish some context for some of the things that Paul will say in his letter.

It was during Paul’s second missionary journey that he came into the city of Corinth for the first time, and was so struck by the place that he decided to stay for a year and a half. We’re going to spend most of our time today in Acts 18 today, but before we go there, I want you to turn back a page and take a look at where Paul had just been coming from – which was the city of Athens.

Athens was like Corinth in some of the ways we talked about last week: pagan and pretty messed up. But, while Corinth’s fascination was all forms of sex, Athens’ preoccupation was talking. There was nothing more that the people of Athens enjoyed more than listening to philosophers, teachers, lawyers and religious experts from around the world. And this town was full of religious opinions of every sort. Read Acts 17:16:

“Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.”

The words “his spirit was provoked” are a strong word picture speaking of a sudden and violent emotion, a combination of anger and grief. It’s the Greek word from which we get our word “Paroxysm”. As he wandered through town he was deeply troubled by how lost these people were.

It’s not that they weren’t intelligent people. Athens was a university town, at one time the centre of the political, educational and philosophical universe. Four hundred years before it had been the home of Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, and Epicurus. Now, however, it was a much small city of only ten-thousand, stuck trying to relive their glory days by spending their time doing not much more than arguing and philosophizing about the mysteries of the universe. They would generate a lot of heat – but very little light.

They cared more about talking than finding the truth. They had statues dedicated to every god in almost every religion under the sun but didn’t know the One, True God. Paul’s tour of town let him see just how lost they were.

Paul spent some days talking in synagogues and in the marketplace, trying to share the story of Jesus but met with very poor results. He had no partners in town, no fellow believers, no ministry assistants, and nothing he said or did was helping anyone learn anything more about Jesus.

“Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, ‘What does this babbler wish to say?’ Others said, ‘He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities’—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.” (Acts 17:18)

Read that with as much dripping condescension as you can muster. Such arrogant pride and hard hearts. Paul was one of the most intelligent, wisest, most skilled teachers in history, but their hearts were so hard and their ears so closed that all they heard was babbling.

But apparently his “babbling” was interesting enough to some people that they invited him to come and speak at the Areopagus at Mars Hill, the seat of the highest court and one of the most important lecture hall and discussion places in the world. The most significant conversations about law, philosophy, and religion were brought to these thirty people on this esteemed counsel. It wasn’t that they much cared about what Paul was saying, they were just interested in hearing something new.

“Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.” (vs 21)

At least this was something. This was to be Paul’s moment in Athens. Surely this would lead to some hearts being changed and a church being formed. Paul preached a great apologetics sermon that day, one that has been studied by generations since. But it had almost no effect. Paul poured out his heart, soul, mind and strength before this crowd and almost nothing happened.

“Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, ‘We will hear you again about this.’ So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.” (vs 32-33)

A few people responded in faith, both men and women, but the rest scoffed him out of the building – and out of town. They believed no one sane would think that people come back from the dead and Paul stood there as this counsel of the highest intellectuals in the world laughed at him. A few wanted to hear him again – maybe out of genuine interest or maybe because they were bored.

Paul Comes to Corinth Exhausted

I tell you all this because I want you to realize how Paul was feeling when he came into Corinth the first time.

Prior to coming to Corinth Paul had faced a lot of discouragement. In Philipi his ministry had started strong, but then was nearly ruined by Jewish opposition and Paul ended up beaten with rods and thrown into jail. Then he went to Thessalonica where things went ok at first, but then more opposition arose who attacked the family that was hosting the church meetings. He left town and went to Berea but the troublemakers from Thessalonica followed him and caused even more trouble, and ran him out of town – alone.

Paul had entered Athens tired and discouraged, but after this huge disappointment, facing public rejection and embarrassment, he left Athens utterly exhausted. He was physically, emotionally and spiritually done and then he travelled alone for a long while until he reached Corinth.

In 1 Corinthians 2:3 it says that when Paul was teaching in Corinth he was “…in weakness and in fear and much trembling…” He was done. He had none of his former fire left. He wasn’t the bold man standing before crowds and proclaiming the name of Jesus – he was utterly spent. His message wasn’t complex and intellectual, but simple and spoken from weak legs and trembling lips. But remember where he was – the internet come to life – surrounded by pagan temples, a tonne of false teaching, and crazy amounts of sin. I wonder what it must have been like for Paul when he stumbled into town. If Athens threw him into paroxysms, what must Corinth have done?

Oh, and by the way, Paul was totally broke too. No friends, no support, no energy, no money.

Aquila and Priscilla

Now, let’s turn to acts 18 and see what God does:

“After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks.”

How cool is that? Let me explain. Paul comes into town and has absolutely no money – but he does have some skills. He’s knows how to sew animal leather together to make tents and canopies. Paul needs some money for food and somewhere to stay, so his first stop is the local trade guild. In other words, he went to the union office and asked for a job. These folks were good at taking care of their own and found Paul a job right away.

In God’s providence, Paul’s tent-making job not only gave him a way to make ends meet but also introduced him to some like-minded people who would become life-long friends Aquila and Priscilla.

Aquila and Priscilla had been through some rough times too. They had been living in Rome when Emperor Claudius had unilaterally kicked all the Jewish people out of Rome in 49AD. They met Paul in Corinth two years later.

What happened in Rome was that Emperor Claudius was sick of the constant disturbances surrounding someone named “Chrestus”. A lot of scholars believe that this was a mangled spelling of the Latin word for Christ and that Claudius had gotten sick of the constant fighting between the followers of Jesus and the Jewish synagogues. So much so that he literally banished all of them from his city!

It’s an easy leap to thinking that Priscilla and Aquila were Christians who had been kicked out of Rome two years before and had decided to go to the big city of Corinth to make some money as tentmakers. When they came to work the next day they were likely just as surprised as Paul was that they had found a fellow believer in Jesus Christ!

God Wants People Together

Let’s just pause there for a second. It’s important that we notice something important here in the life of Paul, because it tells us something about our own lives and how to get through the seasons that God sometimes puts us through.

I know you know that sometimes God puts us through some pretty difficult stuff. Paul went through all kinds of hard things during his missionary travels. This is not an exception to the rule, but is standard operating procedure for the life of a believer. All of God’s followers will go through some tough times – and that’s part of God’s plan.

Sometimes those difficult things will come from inside us as we battle with temptations, doubts, fears, depression, anxiety, or other mental and emotional issues. Sometimes difficult things will happen to us out of the blue, like a sudden death, tragedy, illness, or natural disaster. Sometimes we bring hard times on ourselves through our own actions; as a result of our own sinful behaviour or are simply a result of the choices we’ve made. And sometimes trouble comes from other people sinning against us through emotional, physical, or mental abuse, being treated unjustly, lied to, or forgotten.

All these things happened to Paul and other faithful followers of God. A lot of theologians believe Paul had a natural predisposition towards depression, and we know of many others in scripture who suffered the same way. He faced shipwrecks and famines that he had no power over, and often found himself facing struggles that he brought on himself through his own decisions. And of course, he faced persecution and abuse from many people – and was often forgotten or betrayed by his fellow ministry workers.

This is normal. Jesus Himself, the One whom we are to follow and pattern our lives after, went through some incredibly difficult times too – on all these levels. Temptation was His constant companion and we know He had times of deep sadness. He lived through tragedies and disasters. The decisions He made often brought Him more and more trouble and made Him more enemies. And we certainly know that He was abused by others and abandoned by those closest to Him.

Sometimes, this is what the life of a believer looks like – a life of suffering. Sometimes God puts us through seasons in our life where everything gets darker and harder and more painful. So what are we to do?

What did the faithful of God do? What did Jesus do? What did Paul do? He did two things. He kept talking to Jesus and He kept walking with other people. The reason that Paul was alone in Athens was because he got run out of town and left Silas and Timothy to take care of the brand new church he had just planted. He would have done it himself, but his presence was causing more harm than good, so he left.

His time alone clearly had a difficult effect on Him. His strength failed more quickly and his energy became low. He preached in Athens, but had no effect, and no one to share the experience with. When he came to Corinth he was totally wrecked – but what did God do?

God miraculously provided Paul with a couple of Christians to talk to – in the middle of Corinth! There were no Christian churches in Corinth, and the Apostle Paul had never been there! These three believers coming together was no coincidence. It was the Holy Spirit of God drawing His people together to care for one another.

Paul kept praying and talking to Jesus, but he wasn’t meant to be alone and God knew it, so He worked it out, two years before, that there would be a couple of Christians in Corinth waiting for Paul to show up during a very low period in his life.

We all need people. We all need the church. When the author of Hebrews writes to the believers who were going through great persecution he says:

“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.” (Heb 10:24-25)

Some people’s response to stress is to tell the world to go away. They drop their friendships, stop going to church, avoid deep conversations and refuse invitations to meet. But that is a trap of the devil. God knows we need one another, which is why He provided Aquila and Priscila for the exhausted, discouraged and lonely Apostle Paul – and provided Paul for the hurting and spiritual lonely Aquila and Priscila.

Once church father named Ignatius says,

“When ye frequently, and in numbers meet together, the powers of Satan are overthrown, and his mischief is neutralized by your likemindedness in the faith.”

Satan wants to get you alone, God wants you to meet together regularly with fellow believers! All Christians are a member of the body of Christ, and it is unhealthy for us to amputate ourselves from the body!

This theme continues as we read Acts 18. We are going to see opposition pop up, and then God provide more and more people to partner with Paul, Aquila and Priscilla, to keep their spirits up and the Gospel message flowing through Corinth.

More Opposition to the Gospel

“When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus.” (Acts 18:5)

Another translation says that when Silas and Timothy arrived, it gave Paul the chance to “devote himself exclusively to preaching”. We can already see Paul’s strength coming back.

He took some time to rest and work with his new friends, preaching some Saturdays at the local synagogue, but when Silas and Timothy came to town, Paul was finally ready to go again. His friends had helped him and now he had even more support. And his support system was even greater than just those around him since Silas and Timothy had likely brought Paul some money from the other churches so he could devote his full time to preaching. The wind was at Paul’s back now and He was ready to go and buckled down to convince the local synagogue that Jesus really was the Messiah – but it wasn’t going to go well.

“And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.’” (Acts 18:6)

As usual, the stubborn Jewish leaders wouldn’t listen and stirred up trouble against Paul. They started to abuse him verbally, and maybe even physically.

Can you imagine the flashbacks Paul must have had? “Oh no… this is Philipi and Thessalonica and Berea all over again!” His heart starts to beat hard, fear begins to grip him, and – based on what we are about to read – I think Paul was about to quit. He was done.

He had a few Christian friends around, but once again he was the focal point of trouble for them. People were getting hurt and his preaching was the reason. How much more could he take? But keep reading and see what God does: “And he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. His house was next door to the synagogue. Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized. And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.’ And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.”

“And he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. His house was next door to the synagogue. Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized. And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.’ And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.” (Acts 18:7-11)

When Paul was at his weakest, utterly dependent on God’s Spirit to do all the work, God broke forth in Corinth! Titius Justus gets saved and just happens to have a great big house, likely an entire compound, right next to the synagogue. Then, Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue that had just kicked Paul out, and a very influential man, sucks up his pride, gets saved and starts coming to church at Titius’ house. That’s a huge win! But not just Crispus, his entire household! The Christian church and Paul’s support system is really starting to grow now, but Paul isn’t seeing it.

Next, we read that the Corinthians start to hear about Paul’s message and start to flock to this new church in town and listen to Paul teach about Jesus. Paul is steal preaching from great weakness, keeping it simple, but after he says amen and looks up to see all the new people, Paul isn’t excited about this growth – he’s going home to Priscilla and Aquila’s house terrified. Anxiety wracks his mind. His health is failing. The encouragements of his friends aren’t helping. He’s ready to bug out. Along with all this growth is a lot of opposition from the Jewish synagogue next door, and Paul’s very worried. Soon that controversy would reach the ears of the proconsul Gallio, the leader of the whole province of Achaia.

Not Just People, But God

And here we learn our second lesson today. We don’t just need people – we need God. You likely know the feeling of being surrounded by people that love you, but feeling sad and alone anyway. Maybe you even know the feeling of having success in life and work, but feeling terrified that it will all come crashing down around your ears.

Paul knew that feeling, which is why God showed up like he did. Paul didn’t just need people in his life, he needed the voice of God. We all need both, don’t we? And yet, some of us fight against one or the other – or both!

We fight against our need for others and try to take on the world alone, and that sets us up for all kinds of difficulty, so God tells us to make sure that we are in a relationship with others. Alternatively, sometimes we even fight against our need for God. Our whole being cries out that that there is something bigger than us in this world and we need something greater than ourselves to make it through, but for some reason we refuse to get down on our knees and admit we need Him.

We refuse to ask God for help believing we must provide for ourselves. We refuse to read the Bible thinking that we have all the wisdom we need to make decisions. We refuse to submit to the Lordship of Jesus because we think we know better than Him. Our souls say we must yield, but we don’t. Why? Pride. Selfishness. Our love of sin.

But we are designed for both. We need to love both vertically and horizontally. We need to love God and be loved by Him. And we need to love others and be loved by them. That’s the power of being part of a good, Christian church family. We are a people who have committed to love vertically and horizontally: to love god and each other.

I believe that’s why God appeared to Paul in that vision. He wasn’t going to hear it any other way. It reminds me of another prophet that was overwhelmed with his job – a young man named Joshua. God said to him something very similar to what Paul heard:

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

God message to Paul, Joshua, and all of us is the same. You need not fear because you are not alone. I’m with you wherever you go.

Our Need

Everyone needs to hear this, though precious few will accept it. Perhaps today we need it more than ever.

  • Marriages and families are crumbling to adultery and divorce.
  • Fatherlessness is epidemic.
  • The proliferation of materialism and pornography has created a culture of shallow people who no longer have deep relationships.
  • Men are afraid of having deep, male friendships for fear of being labelled as weak or gay.
  • Men can’t have friendships with children for fear of being labeled as pedophiles.
  • Women are afraid of other women out of fear of being betrayed.
  • Young people no longer respect and seek wisdom from their elders, and older people have written off the next generation.
  • Men and women, both young and old, because of the gender wars of feminism and chauvinism, have almost lost the ability to talk to one another.
  • And most of us, even self-proclaimed Christians, have written off God and rarely speak to Him, listen to His Spirit speaking to our hearts, or read the book He wrote for us.

We have a deep need for God and each other and very few are willing to take the risk to build those relationships. But we need to.

God Secures Safe Passage for the Gospel

Let me close with the end of the story of the planting of the church in Corinth. Let’s read the last few verses together, starting in verse 12:

“But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal, saying, ‘This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.’ But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, ‘If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, O Jews, I would have reason to accept your complaint. But since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of these things.’ And he drove them from the tribunal. And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of this.” (Acts 18:12-17)

What happened? God was at work again. Gallio’s ruling that Paul’s planting of a Christian church wasn’t breaking Roman Law stood as the precedent for the next ten years. God, through all this trouble at this little church in Corinth, and all of Paul’s heartache, was securing a strong foundation for the Christian church to spread all over the Roman Empire. Christianity, from that point on, would be considered a sect of Judaism and protected under Roman Law. Had Gallio found Paul guilty, every governor in every province where the missionaries would go would be under arrest for being Christians. Instead, God used this controversy to secure safe passage for the global missionaries of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the next decade.

Conclusion

So there’s my closing points today. When Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) this is what he meant. You will have trouble and you need help from God and others to get through it! Even the troubles we face will be used for God’s glory and the building of His kingdom. And even in those troubles God will bring people together and bring more people to Him. That’s what God does and I encourage you from the bottom of my heart to relent to how God does things.

  • Accept that this world has trouble, but also accept that God doesn’t want you to face that trouble alone!
  • Embrace the community of believers around you.
  • Learn to learn to love and depend others.
  • Meet often in each other’s homes and take care of one another.

And as we do all of that, let us always stay in faithful contact with Jesus Christ, who is ultimately the One who saves us and brings us into relationship with God and others.

 

 

Should I Become a Church Member? (Carnivore Theology Ep. 68)

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Church Membership.JPG

Church membership is a controversial topic for a lot of people. Let’s talk about the historical, biblical, practical and emotional aspects of becoming a church member.

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Women and the Church (Carnivore Theology Ep. 66)

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Women in the Church Christel HumfreyIn this week’s SUPER SIZED episode we talk with blogger Christel Humfrey (Foretaste of Heaven) about common women’s issues in the church, relationships between men and women, and feminism.

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How to Confront a Sinning Friend (Carnivore Theology: Ep. 59)

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Confronting Sin

Our “live and let live”/”everyone has their own truth” culture isn’t very good at calling out or confronting sin, but scripture is clear that Christians are supposed to be holding one another accountable to God’s Word. So, what should a believer do when we see a friend caught in sin?

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The Role and Qualifications of Deacons

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Deacons

(I want to start by thanking 9Marks for some great articles that helped me put this together.)

Intro to Deacons

This week, however, I want to talk about something that I’ve never covered here before – the role of deacons in the church. This is both important and pertinent as the Nominating Committee is meeting to discuss who will be asked to stand for various positions around the church.

In our church, the deacons are asked to stand for the position by the Nominating Committee and, if they agree, are then voted on by the congregation. What I want to talk about today is where deacons came from in the Bible, and what their qualifications are.

Why is this important? Well, I think you can agree that the people who are elected to official positions in our church – or any church – are going to be people that have influence and help set the spiritual temperature of the church. Most of us have experienced or at least witnessed what happens when the wrong people gain influence in an organization. Whether it’s choosing a bus drive for your kids or the Prime Minister of the country, it’s important to be sure that the person is both called and qualified for the job.

God knows the importance of having the right people with the right heart, in the right places, and so He gives careful instruction to the church about the kind of people they should choose for the various positions within it. That includes pastors, teachers, servants, missionaries, deacons and more. God is very concerned that we choose the people that He has called for the job, and not place someone else in there. A lot of grief has happened in the church over the past couple thousand years because people weren’t listening to what God had to say about the character and qualifications of the people that are meant to lead and serve the church. We don’t want to replicate those problems, and we want to seek His blessing, so it’s important that we know what He wants.

The First Deacons

Let’s start by opening to Acts 6:1-6:

“Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.’ And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.”

 Here we see the beginning of what would later become the office of Deacon. At this point, however, the seven men chosen here were not elected to a position that already existed, but were chosen to start something new as the result of a problem.

The Christian church, despite harsh opposition from all manner of different opponents, was growing rapidly. Thousands of people, in and around Jerusalem, were hearing the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and turning their lives over to Him. This brought them into the fellowship of believers that was led by His Apostles.

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about what this group looked like in Acts 2 – fellowshipping in homes, caring for each other’s needs, and worshipping in the temple – but now, not much time later, the church had grown into a much larger organization.

As we know from Acts 2, one of the things that God did at the birth of the church was to give people the temporary, special ability to share the Gospel in many different kinds of languages. That meant that as the Christian church grew, there would be a lot of languages and cultures that would need to work together under the banner of Christ. Just in the church in Jerusalem, there were Jewish Christians, Greek Christians, Samaritan Christians, Gentile Christians, and many more cultures and languages represented. And while that all sounds well and good, just wait until you try to get anything done.

There were language barriers, cultural differences, and perhaps, the beginnings of theological differences over how the Old Testament Law applied to New Testament Christians. These people loved Jesus, and loved each other, but these were some serious problems that were creating friction in the church.

One area this friction bubbled up was a problem with the distribution of help to the widows and orphans. One of the priorities Jesus gave the church was to care for the helpless, but as they were trying to do it, some people were being forgotten. The question was: Were they forgotten on purpose? Was it racism? Was it poor administration? This was obviously a big deal, was becoming a serious problem in the church, so the Apostles gathered to talk about it.

The Apostles realized that they were overrun with responsibilities and it was distracting them from their most important priorities – prayer and preaching.

Of course, charitable works were important, but not as important as talking to Jesus and teaching people about Jesus from the scriptures. Their calling, by Jesus, was to go, teach, and baptize new believes – not organize food drives. So what should they do? Let it go? Forget about the widows? No, it was still important, so they brought the problem to the church.

Look at verse 2:

“And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.’”

This was a big meeting! There were practical issues that needed to be taken care of, and though it was the Apostles job to lead the church, it wasn’t their job to actually serve at the tables. So they brought the problem to the group: “Ok, folks, this is an issue. Charitable ministries are important, because Jesus says we are supposed to serve the helpless among us – especially widows and orphans. But here’s the thing; it would be wrong and disobedient of us to give up the ministries of prayer and preaching the word of God to organize all of this. So…”

Now look at verse 3-4:

“Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

This wasn’t the Apostles punting the problem. This was them doing their God-given job and providing a solution to the practical problems of the church.

Shock Absorbers and Servants

These men would have an important role. They weren’t just administrators and servants, but were meant to be the shock absorbers for the rough road the church was going over. These seven men, chosen by the whole church because of their good reputation, devotion to Jesus, and wise living, would be the ones who would oversee the practical, charitable ministries of the church – but to be clear, their main task wasn’t to “wait tables” or organize the food drives. Their real job was to preserve unity at a time when administrative confusion was causing divisions in the church. They were the shock absorbers that would take the hits, do the hard work, and help everyone have a smoother ride as they bumped over this rough patch.

That’s why it was important that the church chose the right people. They weren’t supposed to be a group of bean counters and list makers. They were to be people of godly character and good reputation, folks that the whole church knew and trusted would have their best interests at heart. Everyone new that when Stephen, Philip, and the rest were at work, everything would be done in a fair and loving way. Their main job wasn’t about getting food to the widows and orphans, but doing a job that would restore unity to a fractured church by doing good administration in a godly way.

Qualifications of Deacons

So, as the Apostles and missionaries spread the gospel of Jesus Christ to new places, they would start a church and appoint Elders to care for the spiritual well-being of the new believers (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5). Later, as these churches would grow, they would follow in the pattern of the Jerusalem church and choose from among themselves, deacons to organize care for the practical needs of the whole group.

The word Deacon, is not a special title, it’s literally the word “servant”. Greek people used the word to describe anyone who serves someone else, like a “waiter” in a restaurant. Deacons were chosen to be official servants of the church. They would handle the practical aspects that came with organizing help for a group of people. The Apostles, and later the Pastors, Teachers and Elders, were meant to devote their time to overseeing the spiritual health of the church, praying, and preaching the Word, while the Deacons were to ensure that the day-to-day needs of the believers were met. Deacons and Elders are partners in the leadership of the church.

And so, by the time we get around to AD 65, after 20-30 years of this pattern, Paul feels the need to write a list of qualifications for these groups, to his fellow church planters, Titus and Timothy.

Please turn to 1 Timothy 3:8-13 and let’s read the official qualifications for deacons as set forth by God through the Apostle Paul to Timothy. Remember, Timothy was Paul’s protégé and was left in Ephesus to take care of the church, deal with some false teachers, and fix some leadership issues.

Part of fixing those leadership issues was to make sure that everyone who had influence in the church was qualified to be there. Let’s read the list of qualifications for deacons:

“Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 3:8-13)

The first thing I want you to notice is that that this list has no skills in it! It doesn’t say “good at managing money”, “successful in business”, or even “well organized”. This list is exclusively made up of spiritual and personal characteristics. The qualifications for deacon are very clear, and have little to do with a person’s skillset. They have everything to do with the person.

Remember the problem in Acts 6. Thousands of people were depending on a group of seven men to organize the distribution of food to widows and orphans. This was, potentially, a matter of life and death! People could starve if they got this wrong. Too much to one person, not enough to another, a family forgotten, could prove disastrous – not only for the needy person, but also for the spiritual life of that family, and the reputation of the church. They would need to figure out how to collect the food and money, divide it properly, and distribute it fairly. They would need to come up with rules as to who gets help and how much.

One would think that the first qualification for these people to be strong administrators, good financiers, type-A personalities, and good business men – but it wasn’t. The qualifications for the first seven deacons weren’t based on their skills or work-history, but on their reputations and their faith in God. And it’s the same with the qualifications for deacons in 1st Timothy. In fact, the qualifications for deacon and for elder are quite similar. Let’s go through them:

First, a deacon must be “dignified”, meaning they are honourable, have a good reputation, and are worthy of respect. It would be a bad thing for the church if the people they put in charge of administration in the church were undignified, dishonourable, had a poor reputation, and weren’t respected, right?

The second qualification for deacon is that they are “not double tongued”. In other words, they don’t manipulate people with their words. They don’t say one thing to one person, and then something different to someone else. They don’t say one thing and mean another. They are not two-faced. A deacon in Christ’s church must be someone who is trustworthy, consistent and careful with their words

The third qualification is that they are “not addicted to much wine”. Now, this doesn’t mean they can’t have some wine now and again, but that they are not to be an addict – and doesn’t just mean alcohol, but anything: gambling, food, internet, sex, drugs, work, shopping, video games. An addiction would mean that they lack self-control and discipline. If a deacon is in charge of the money and resources for the church, then an addiction will spill over into their work. They will not only do a poor job, but put themselves in a place they would be tempted to steal.

The fourth qualification of a deacon is “not greedy for dishonest gain”. If the person loves money, then they are going to be terrible at giving it away for charitable works! If the idol of money rules the person’s heart, then they will bow to it before they bow to Jesus. They will use the churches resources for financial profit and believe that the church’s security comes from money, rather than use it to help others and trust that God will provide.

The fifth qualification is that they “hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience”. In other words, they are convinced that God’s plan of salvation through Jesus Christ is true. They are not required to be able to teach, like an elder is, but they are required to have a good grasp of the gospel. To state it differently, they can be less mature in their walk with God than an elder, but they must be rock-solid in their faith that Jesus Christ as the only Lord and Saviour.

The sixth qualification is that they are “tested” and “prove themselves blameless”. This doesn’t mean perfect. No one is perfect. This means that they have been examined and no one has anything against them. Their background, reputation, and theological positions are already known. Deacons are people who have been vetted by not only the congregation, but by the Elders and by the Spirit of God. This keeps new Christians from being appointed as deacons, and protects the church from choosing someone who is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Deacons are people who have been “tested” and “proven”.

Wives or Deaconesses?

The next qualification is a little controversial because it’s hard to translate. If you look at your bible, it probably has a note on verse 11 that says there are a few ways to translate it. It either says, “Their wives likewise…” or “Women, likewise….” So this could either be a list of qualification for the wives of male deacons, or a list of qualifications for female deacons.

I don’t want to spend a lot of time taking this apart, but I’ll let you know where I stand. I’m sort of torn down the middle. There are people much smarter than I who would go either way! The word used there isn’t the word “Deaconess”, it’s simply the word “women”. It’s linguistically awkward to shoe-horn female deacons in there. This most naturally translates to be talking about the wives of the male deacons. It’s saying that their wife’s faith and reputation should be taken into account, just as the families of the overseers should be taken into account, while testing their qualifications.

Now, it’s not that there are no female deacons in scripture. We know that there were female deacons in the church. The Deaconess Phoebe is mentioned in Romans 16:1. But why would Paul single out the wives in this list? Well, contextually, it’s likely because the women of this church were being singled out for attack by the enemy. Paul talks a lot in this letter about specific problems with the women in the Ephesian church that had come about as a result of listening to false teachers. I don’t have time to go into that here, but read at chapters 2 and 5 to see how women were singled out and deceived by heretical teachers.

My personal leanings are that the whole list of qualifications for deacons applies to both male and female deacons, and that this section is specifically talking about deacons wives. I think that it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to extrapolate out that the faith and reputations of the husbands of the female deacons should be taken into account too – but it doesn’t say that. Paul was writing to a predominately male group that had serious issues among the leadership, and because of cultural issues and predatory false teachers, the women were especially effected. Therefore he was reminding the church them that the deacon’s wives needed to be just as qualified as they were – or else there was going to be more trouble in the church.

Notice that the list for the wives is almost a repeat of the list of qualifications for deacon:

  • “Dignified” is repeated
  • “not slanderers” is close to “doubled tongued”
  • “sober minded” parallels “not given to much wine”
  • and “faithful in all things” goes along with holding “the mystery of the faith” and being “blameless”.

It’s a repeat of the previous list, seemingly as a reminder to Timothy and the church to keep the reputations and attitudes of the spouses in mind as they were choosing their deacons. If the deacon doesn’t have a godly spouse, then that could lead to some serious problems.

Continuing Qualifications

The qualifications of deacons conclude with “the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well”, which basically means that the deacon must be faithful to their marriage and family. If their home life is a mess, then how can they be expected to take on the added responsibility of being a deacon? Signing up for any position in a church paints a spiritual target on your back – and it’s going to affect your home life.

If the deacon is having inappropriate physical or emotional relationships with people other than their spouse (including pornography, of course), then they are a danger to the church and disqualified from the position. If they cannot be faithful to their spouse, then they are not being faithful to God. If that cannot manage their own children, how will they be able to manage a larger group of people with even more diverse needs? As it says in the qualification for elders, if they can’t keep their household together, then how can they expect to “care for God’s church” (vs 5)?

Rewards for Good Deacons

Paul concludes this section with two promises to the deacons.

The first promise is that those who “serve well”, or literally, “deacon well”, will have the benefit of gaining for themselves a “good standing”. What does that mean? It means being a deacon is a tough job, but their hard work won’t go unrewarded. Others will see them and they will gain the trust and respect of their peers, but more importantly, God will see their work and will reward them in heaven

And the second reward is that those that serve as deacons will gain “great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.” This means that as they serve, they will grow closer to Jesus. Serving the people of the church will require that they pray more, seek God more, know Jesus more, and read the Word more. Their work will be hard, confusing and kick up a lot of spiritual dust – and will therefore drive them to their knees. That will grow their faith and confidence in Jesus. As the deacons serve, they will be tested and tried, and that will lead to their maturing in their faith in Jesus Christ.

I can assure you, and so can many here, that this is true. Being a servant in the church is a tough job, and often thankless. It’s heartwarming at times, and heartbreaking at others. But one thing is certain – it will test your faith as silver in a furnace. The weaknesses in your personality, your faith, your knowledge, your areas of temptation, your marriage, your discipline, will all come out. Whatever idols are in your life, will be exposed. But it’s when that happens that God can refine you.

Conclusion

Let me close with this: The role of deacon is one that is often misunderstood, but when it’s boiled down, a deacon is a godly servant. The church needs deacons to provide practical, administrative and material help to the church so that the congregation’s needs are met and the elders can concentrate on preaching the Word of God and prayer. A deacon may not always teach with their words, but they certainly teach with their actions. And so, my hope today is that you would do two things.

First, thank the deacons of our church. They have worked hard and been in their respective roles for a very long time. They’ve done so much over the past four years (since I’ve been here) and even more before that. I could give you a list, but it would take a long time. So please find and thank the deacons of this church for all they’ve done.

Second let me encourage you to ask yourself if you qualify as a deacon. And if not, why? What do you need to do in order to get your heart and life right with God to where you could serve him as a deacon? Remember, deacons aren’t specially gifted. They are simply people who believe in God with all their heart, listen to Him, serve His church, and are careful to live by His Word. That’s what we should all be trying to do, because that’s what Jesus did.

Matthew 20:28 says, “…the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve [to deacon], and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Deacons give their time and lives in service to the church – to us – because they are following the pattern set by the ultimate servant, Jesus Christ, who served us on the cross.

What is a “Good Church”? (Part 3 – Inspired Worship)

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We’re currently in the middle of a mini-series-within-a-series called “What is a Good Church?” – which is inside the “Burning Questions Series”. Now you know what happens when I give myself a few bumper-weeks in my sermon planning – we get series-within-series. I hope that isn’t confusing, because my intention is neither to confuse you nor bore you, but to teach you what the Bible says and point you to Jesus – and it would be a great crime for me to make that either boring or confusing for you.

Two weeks ago I did an extended introduction to the topic of “What is a Good Church?” where we discussed “Christian consumerism”, and we followed that up last week by talking about two mistakes that Christian Consumers make. The first being “using human standards to judge whether God’s church is good or not” and the second mistake being “crafting God’s church into our image.”

In the midst of all that I’ve been talking about four was that God, according to the Bible, defines a “good church”. A “good church” according to God’s Word is one with Biblical Discipleship, Loving Fellowship, Inspired Worship and Spirit-Led Evangelism. You’ll recall that I added those adjectives last week in hopes of helping the conversation, knowing they aren’t perfectly chosen and are open to interpretation.

Last week we talked about the first two, Biblical Discipleship and Loving Fellowship, and so this week I want to discuss the next one, Inspired Worship.

For those who are new this morning, I apologize. You’re sort of jumping in in the middle of a multi-part sermon. I made the case over the last couple weeks, and now I’m just going to jump into the next part. If you did miss the last couple sermons, you can go to my website and read and listen to them to catch up.

Please open up to our key-text in Acts 2:42-47 and let’s read it one more time so we can have it fresh in our minds. Remember, this is the description of the first, Christian church that developed after Peter’s first sermon on the day of Pentecost. God convicted thousands of people of their sin, the repented, got saved, and came under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and His Apostles.

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

Awe Upon Every Soul

Let’s talk first about God’s Biblical qualification that a “good church” is a “Worshipping” church. You’ll notice in this first church that “awe came upon every soul”, that they “attended the temple together”, and that they “praised God”. These are the marks of a worshipping church.

Look at that phrase used in verse 43: their “souls” were full of “awe”. That word “awe” is an interesting one. It’s the word PHOBOS, from where we get the term “Phobia”. It mostly translated as the word fear, but it also means terror, and panic! It’s the term for respect and reverence.

It is the word used in Luke 5:26 to describe after people heard Jesus claim to be God, forgive a lame man’s sin, and then command him to stand up and walk. “And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, ‘We have seen extraordinary things today.’”  This describes more than surprise, more than interest, more than being impressed – it’s the feeling we get in the presence of something that truly shakes us to the core.

The other night I gave a talk to a group of kids about sharing their faith. As an illustration I used a bunch of things that people are afraid of – their phobias – spiders, heights, snakes, loud noises, needles, etc. We all know what happens when we bump up against one of our phobias. We tense up, we lose control of our bodies, our heart races, our fight-or-flight response is activated, adrenaline floods into our blood stream, we say and do things that we wouldn’t have done a moment ago. I once jumped out of a moving vehicle because a scary bug landed in the back seat. There have been multiple times when I have used my children as shields from bees. I’m not proud of it, but I was scared.

That’s the word we’re talking about here when we say that “awe came upon every soul.” This is where we talk about “Fearing the Lord”. Psalm 33:8, “Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!”

After Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died on the cross, taking the fullness of the wrath of the Father against Him, making the final payment for all who would believe in Him, it says,

“And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, ‘Truly this was the Son of God!’” (Matthew 27:51-54)

 This is the heart of worship that the church is to have. Certainly speak of God’s love, faithfulness, miracles, closeness, intimacy and the peace that is made between us and God through Jesus Christ. It is good that we give thanks to Him for all of these things – but the mark of a “good church” isn’t merely thanksgiving for all the gifts God has given us, but a sense of awe, fear, reverence, and deep respect for God, His Son, His Spirit and His Word.

For those who are saved, and have the Holy Spirit within is, the presence of God in our world, church, lives, and hearts, fills us we AWE and we are “inspired” – literally inspired by the Spirit of God and inspired by all of the Truth we know about Him (John 4:24) – to bring Him worship.

A Jealous God and a Consuming Fire

To emphasize this point about having awe in our hearts, I want to read a passage from Hebrews. Remember, the author is here writing to a group of people who wanted to turn away from following Jesus because it was causing them suffering and would soon force them to choose between life or death. They wanted to go back to the Jewish way, or the Roman way, and he reminds them that turning away from God is a terribly foolish thing to do.

He starts by speaking about the terrifying events of the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai – how Moses shuddered with fear, the thunder and clouds, and punishment of death that came to anyone who even set foot on the mountain, and says,

“See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ This phrase, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:25-29)

It’s almost like the author of Hebrews is saying, “This isn’t a game. You don’t get to pick and choose who you worship or how you worship. The worship that is due to God because of who He is and what He’s done, is not optional. You ought not to be thinking of going to lesser gods or empty religion. You ought to be grateful because you have been given a greater gift than the Romans or even the Jews at Sinai. Your response to this God should be worship, reverence and awe. Why? Not because God is love – he doesn’t go there – because “our God is a consuming fire!”

Some of you may have Joshua 24:15 at home written on something. It records the words of Joshua to Israel telling them to choose between the idols of the nations around them or the One, True God. It says,

“Choose this day whom you will serve… as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Part of me wishes that this wasn’t written on so many cute things, because they are not cute words. Joshua didn’t give this option lightly. We must continue to read the next verses. Turn to Joshua 24 where the bible records this conversation between Israel and Joshua. Look how many times Joshua warns them to take their pledge seriously:

“Then the people answered, ‘Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods, for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. And the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.’

But Joshua said to the people, ‘You are not able to serve the LORD, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.’ And the people said to Joshua, ‘No, but we will serve the LORD.’ Then Joshua said to the people, ‘You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD, to serve him.’ And they said, ‘We are witnesses.’ He said, ‘Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the LORD, the God of Israel.’ And the people said to Joshua, ‘The LORD our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey.’

So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and put in place statutes and rules for them at Shechem. And Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God. And he took a large stone and set it up there under the terebinth that was by the sanctuary of the LORD. And Joshua said to all the people, ‘Behold, this stone shall be a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the LORD that he spoke to us. Therefore it shall be a witness against you, lest you deal falsely with your God.’ So Joshua sent the people away, every man to his inheritance.” (Joshua 24:15-28)

In the Bible, God reminds His people that He is a “jealous God” who doesn’t share worship with ANYONE. In the 10 Commandments, the Moral Law of God that stands for all people for all time, God says,

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image…You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:4-6)

Yes, God is where we put our hope, and where we find our strength. He is full of love, compassion and mercy – but we must not forget another side of His character: He is to be feared because he has wrath against sin. He does not take idolatry lightly and jealously pursues His people as a husband pursues his wife. In Hebrews 10:26-27 he said that those who would forsake their faith, or would continue to sin after being told about Jesus, should live in “fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.”

Our church must remember this aspect of God – that He desires our full, uncompromised worship.

Fear and Repentance

Go back now to Acts 2:43 where “awe came upon every soul”.

Where did that awe come from? Back up a few verses to verse 36 and read the crescendo of Peter’s sermon,

“’Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.’ Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ 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.’ And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation.’” (Acts 2:36-41)

          Their awe and fear of God was a result of coming face to face with their sin. Jesus, the Son of God, died because of their sin. They were the cause of the death of the God’s only begotten Son. And Jesus, the one who died, was “both Lord and Christ”. He was their king and their saviour, and they killed him.

Their response was not to shed a single tear and walk up the aisle while “Just as I Am” played softly in the background. They were terrified. The Holy Spirit entered their hearts and they saw why Jesus died – it was their fault. They saw their sin and rebellion against God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, and they were utterly afraid of what God would do. “Brothers… what shall we do?” was an acknowledgement of this. “Oh no! We are in serious trouble. We are doomed! God is right to be angry with us. We deserve Hell. We scorned His Son! Whatever can be done to save us?!”

Then, after telling them the bad news, Peter tells them what they must do: He demands that they “Repent”. That word means change your mind, change your priorities, change your ways, change your heart, change your allegiance, and come to the Son. Perhaps Psalm 2:10-12 jumped into their minds:

“Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”

Repent! Change your allegiance. How do you show your change of allegiance? By being “being baptized in the name of Jesus Christ”. Make it public. Make it known to all. And do it soon.

It is by your repentance and confession that you are saved. Later, Paul would write in Romans 10:9-10, “…if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Not just in your heart, but with your mouth. Show it to all that you’ve repented from your sin and come under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Why? Once you have repented and confessed your sin, you will receive “the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” This is the amazing grace of God! He hates sin, but offers forgiveness. He brings wrath, but also mercy upon those who would repent. He is a consuming fire for all his adversaries, but He put His Son through Hell and then offered Him as payment for our sins.

Then it gets better. We don’t just get forgiveness, but also the gift of the Holy Spirit, the very presence of God in our hearts, reminding us of all He has said and leading us every step of this life! We have access to the very voice of God every day. We are adopted into God’s family. And as Romans 8:17 says,

“Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

Who He Is and What He’s Done

 

“If you will not worship God seven days a week, you do not worship Him one day a week. There is no such thing know in in heaven as Sunday worship unless it is accompanied by Monday worhsp and Tuesday worship and so on.” (AW Tozer)

Part of the reason for my emphasis this morning is that we sometimes don’t take God seriously enough, which is why we don’t worship Him enough.

As I said, God loves you and has given you every reason to worship Him. He is God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth, the One who formed you in your mother’s womb and gives you every breath you take. He is the most powerful force in existence, able to manifest universes with a word, sustaining all of existence by His power. He is worthy of our reverence and fear. As Jesus said, “…do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28) God’s very nature, what He is, should draw us into awe-inspired worship. We should worship God for who He is.

And we should worship Him for what He’s done. He is also the friend of sinners, the one who traded His Son’s life for yours so you could be with Him. He is Love incarnate. He is the source of joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentles, and faithfulness. It is only in a relationship with Him that we have an abundant life.

He is always worthy of worship because of who He is and what He’s done.

A Good Church Worships

And so we come back to our question about “a good church”. What is a Good Church? One which has Inspired Worship. Not inspiring worship! This isn’t about whether the music, the song or the people inspire us – it’s about whether or not the church is inspired to worship because they have a holy reverence and thanksgiving for who God is and what He’s done.

This is the question I ask of myself and of this church. Is my life, and the lives of the Christians in this church lived, every day, as an act of worship? Is there a palpable fear, respect and spirit of thankfulness when we meet together? Do we speak often of who God is and what He’s done, or do we think we have something better to talk about?

Another important question: Are there any idols in our church? Is there anything that stands above the Word of God as our guiding light? Is there anything we hold as more important than giving worship to God?

Another question: Is there anything in this church that is keeping people from worshipping God? Are there disagreements, unforgiveness, slander, or sin among us that prevents us from being able to worship God?

A “good church” worships God, and that starts with every believer in the church committing themselves to a lifestyle of worship. The words of Romans 12:1 must convict us today:

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship.”

Let’s go back to that Tozer quote: “If you will not worship God seven days a week, you do not worship Him one day a week”. Showing up and singing a few songs and trying to stay awake for a sermon is not worship. Worship is a lifestyle, every day. Remember, God is a jealous God. He doesn’t want to share you or your worship with anyone else. We must take worshipping God as seriously as we take the right reading of His Word because He takes His worship very seriously.

A good church knows this, and encourages everyone in the church to worship every day, because God is worthy. So let is speak, and sing, and read, and serve, and pray, and honour God in the way that people have, and should, be praising Him for all time, and into Eternity.

“Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom.” (Psalm 145:3)

“For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods.” (Psalm 96:4)

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” (Revelation 4:11)

Let us be a worshipping church.

 

What is “A Good Church”? Part 2 (Burning Questions Series)

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Burning Questions 6 - A Good Church 2

Last week I spoke what amounted to an extended introduction about answering the question, “What is ‘A Good Church’?” (We also did a Carnivore Theology episode on it!) We talked a lot about the huge variety of options and opinions that we have access to in our churches, and how that can give us a sort of consumer mentality when it comes to deciding what a “good church” is.

Our conclusion was to change the question from “What do I (or culture, or other people) think is a ‘good church’?” to “What does God think is a ‘good church’?” That little change, which seems obvious, makes all the difference. It takes the decision out of our hands, and removes our feelings from the equation, allowing us to evaluate our church (or any other church) from God’s perspective and by His standards.

I told you that I did some digging into scripture and came up with four universal characteristics – that is characteristics that can be used to evaluate any church, at any time in history, any place in the world – of a “good church”, by God’s standards. Those four things again are, Discipleship, Fellowship, Worship and Outreach.

I briefly explored these four areas from Acts 2:42-47, but what I want to do today is dig a little deeper into these four areas so that we can all, hopefully, understand what God expects from our church – or any church.

Why is This Important?

You might be wondering why this is important to talk about. That goes back to what I was talking about last week when it comes to “consumer Christianity”. People make two important mistakes when it comes to planting, choosing, serving or ministering in their church.

Mistake 1: Using Human Standards for God’s Church

Mistake number one is to define a “good church” by human standards. How the services make them feel, how many people attend, whether the ministries fit their lifestyle and interests, the quality of the musicians, or how interesting the preaching is. These are all human – not biblical – qualifications and cause people a lot of grief and trouble when they are made too high a priority.

Consider that if you evaluate a church by human standards, then it could be teaching you falsehood and heresy, and you’d still “like it”. It could be closed off to the world and not serving anyone, but because you feel “loved”, you would call it a “good church”. It could be accepting of any manner of sin and error, but since it is full and people like it, we might think that it has God’s blessing.

As an example of what I mean, look at Revelation 2:1-5. This is Jesus writing a letter to the leading church in the area. This was a big, important church. They had lots of people, great teachers, and a missionary seminary that sent out lots of people. Look what Jesus says to them:

“I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.”

By our human standards we would call that a good church. They work hard, “toil”, and endure persecution for Jesus name. They have good teachers who work church discipline and get rid of false apostles. They support one another in crisis and bear up under persecution. That sounds like a good church, right? Strong teaching, supportive people, and tireless missions. But look what Jesus says next:

“But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.”

Jesus was about to shut down this church because they had lots their love. They were so busy, busy, busy with ministries that they had abandoned the worship of God, their love for Jesus, and possible, their love for one another. This church was a machine, cranking out missionaries who knew their bibles and could defend the word of God… but they also acted like machines – without love, without humble repentance and thanksgiving to Jesus for their salvation. All head, no heart.

Using our four terms, we would say they were amazing at “Discipleship”, and “Outreach”, but they woefully lacked in the “Worship” and “Fellowship” department – and it was about to cost them their connection to God. Jesus would “remove their lampstand”, meaning they would lose their status as a “church of Jesus Christ” and would be treated just like unbelievers.

Do you see the danger of using human standards and feelings to evaluate a “good church?” We end up accepting huge errors and practicing disobedience – to the point where God is very unhappy – because we are using our standards instead of His.

Mistake 2: Crafting a Church in Our Image

Mistake number two is to try to craft the church into our own image. If we decide that we know what a “good church” looks like, outside of biblical standards, then we are likely to try to create a church in our image, rather than in the image of Jesus.

We get this a lot from church planters and believers who get frustrated that their denomination or church isn’t doing what they want – so they decide to go start a new one that does it “right”. So they go plant a church, or decide to start a “home church”, or something that fits their own personality – not because God called them to, but because they want the church to be more like them.

We’re not talking about the Reformers like Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Knox who were “protesting” against massive errors in church doctrine. Luther never even wanted to start a new church. He wanted to “Reform” the Catholic church to go back to what scripture says. And when they didn’t he was forced to start a new church. That’s not what we’re talking about. These people aren’t seeing biblical error, but are driven by their feelings and preferences.

They don’t like the music and preaching style, the community isn’t enough like them, the ministries don’t cater to their wants and needs, so they plant a church that fits their preferences. Instead of seeking to help their church become more like what God wants it to be, they try to make the church into what they want it to be – and when that doesn’t work, they plant their own church in their own image.

I hope you can see the danger in that, because I’ve seen that a lot too. Young guys who think they know better than all the old, dead guys, out planting churches in their own image. Believers wandering from church to church looking for one that has all the same idols they have, and when they can’t find it, giving up on church and choosing to quit the church so they can “worship at home” by themselves — something unheard of in the Bible.

It’s all just idols and pride mixed around with religious language and it leads to all manner of temptation and error.

Adding some Adjectives

We don’t want to fall into either of those errors, so let’s take a look at the four areas that God has given us to understand what a “good church” looks like to Him – and to help out, I’m going to add an adjective, or describing word, to each. What God desires from His church is “Biblical Discipleship”, “Loving Fellowship”, “Inspired Worship”, and “Spirit-Led Evangelism”.

Open up to Acts 2:42-47 and let’s talk about them individually.

Biblical Discipleship

We said last week that one of the key markers of the first church we read about in the New Testament is that (looking at verse 42) they “devoted themselves to the apostles teaching… the breaking of bread, and the prayers.” That is some very specific language to describe the very basics of what makes a church a church.

The historic definition of a church, held universally for almost 2000 years, is that a church has Four Marks: “one, holy, catholic and apostolic.” We see this in the creeds, dating back all the way to the Nicene Creed from the year 381. This is the standard definition, and we see it in Acts 2. The words “one” and “catholic” are tied together. That doesn’t mean “the Roman Catholic Church, but comes from a Greek word simply meaning “universal”, or including everyone. There is one, universal church of Jesus Christ, seen everywhere in the world and beyond for all time – those who are still on earth and those who have gone into heaven. Jesus didn’t commission many churches to be built, but only one.

The church is also “holy”, meaning that it contains those who are full of the Holy Spirit, set apart by Jesus for salvation, and called to be saints (1 Cor 1:2, Rom 1:7). The church isn’t like any other organization, but is like Jesus – different, set apart, unique, holy.

The church is one, holy, universal and the word I want to emphasize right now is “apostolic”, meaning it is built on the apostolic pattern. Think of verses like Ephesians 2:19-20 which says, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone…” or Matthew 16:18 where Jesus says to Peter after his declaration that Jesus is “the Christ the Son of the Living God”, “on this rock I will build my church”, meaning the apostolic declaration that Jesus is God and Saviour. Even in Revelation we read the description of the shining city, the New Jerusalem, comes down out of heaven from God, the dwelling place of all God’s people forever… “And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” (Revelation 21:14)

In 1 Corinthians 3, when Paul was writing to the Corinthian church about them not fighting about their favourite preacher and teacher – “I follow Paul”, “I follow Apollos”, “I follow Peter” – he says,

“What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:5-11)

There is only one foundation, Jesus Christ, and that foundation is built upon by the teaching of the Apostles. And that teaching is found in scripture. A church cannot be a church of Jesus Christ if it is not built upon Jesus Christ as the foundation, and the teachings of the Apostles as found in scripture.

This was the problem during the Reformation. The Catholic Church was saying they were the only church – just as many do today. But is the Catholic church, or the Jehovah Witnesses, the Mormons, or any other of these groups that claim to be Christians, actually a Christian church? No! Why? They do not qualify because they do not follow the teachings of the apostles in scripture. They’ve made things up and added or subtracted things from the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles about how to be saved and be the church. They disqualify themselves because they don’t follow the Bible.

So, at the very end of Matthew, after Jesus had risen from the dead, Jesus looks at His Apostles and gives them what we call The Great Commission. He says – and I want you to listen to all the Apostolic, Discipleship, Scriptural, Authoritative language here:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

That’s exactly what is happening in Acts 2. The Apostles have gone out and taught the scriptures and people have been convicted by the Holy Spirit and desire to be saved and baptized. Then God gets hold of their hearts and they start to become the Church. They are under the direct authority of the Apostles – who are still alive and have yet to write the New Testament yet – and the first thing it says they did was to “devote themselves to the apostles teaching… the breaking of bread, and the prayers.”

They obeyed the Apostles, they “broke bread” – which here means they obeyed Jesus’ command to participate in the Lord’s Supper, and said “the prayers”, which meant they practiced personal and corporate spiritual disciplines. In other words – they made biblical disciples.

That’s the first question we must ask ourselves when evaluating our church or any church: Is it making Biblical disciples? I don’t care how boring or entertaining the preaching is – is it biblical? I don’t care how many people come to Sunday School – or even if you are doing Sunday School – the question is, does this church teach people of all ages to fully obey the Jesus of the Bible? I don’t care how wonderful the music is – is it biblical music that draws people into prayer and devotion to the Jesus of the Bible?

I could talk about this all day, but we need to move on to the next one.

Loving Fellowship

In order to be a God-pleasing church, we don’t just need to follow the Bible, but we need to be in Loving Fellowship with one another. In the Acts 2 church we saw that they “had all things in common, attended the temple together, met in homes, and distributed to the needy among them.” This was a group that showed love and care for each other in practical ways. They lived out the 54 “one another’s” that we find in the New Testament (Rom 12:16; 1 Cor 1:10; Gal 5:13; Eph 4:2; Col 3:16, etc.) and obey Jesus’ command from John 13:34-35 where He says,

“As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Not only does the church have to read, teach, know and love the Bible – they actually have to live out what it says! Jesus says “go, make disciples and teach” them the bible, but also teach them to “love one another.”

This is the most attractive thing that we have to offer one another and the hurting world beyond our doors. It isn’t our doctrine, but our love. God didn’t just “so love the world that he sent” down the Bible, but “He sent His only begotton Son” as an ultimate act of love. (Jn 3:16)

I have a hockey jersey at home with my favourite team and my favourite player’s name on it. When I walk into a room with it, there is no doubt which team and player I will be cheering for (or did before he retired) because it’s literally written on my front and back. But without the jersey on, no one can tell, right?

This is where we get confused. We think that a “good church” has a certain look. It has a pointy roof, wooden pews, blue hymn books, a centre aisle, and an organ. Or it has a big sign out front, a nice webpage, a gymnasium, screens on the wall and a coffee bar. Some say that it’s not a church unless there is a cross on top and inside. But is that what makes a church a church?

The Anglican Church in England is going through this right now. They have over a thousand churches that are dying or empty and they don’t know what to do with them. The country likes the beauty and heritage of these buildings and wants to “save the churches”, so they’ve made a plan to sell them and have them host community things like pubs, yoga classes, concerts, etc. They figure that if they can repurpose these buildings, then they will have saved the Anglican churches.

But they’re not saving the “churches” – they’re repurposing a pointy-topped building. The church is the people. A church is made up of Christians – whether they have a building with a cross on top and stained glass windows, or are meeting secretly in a basement in China, the church is the people.

Jesus says they will know we are His people, Christians, the Church, by “our love for one another.” So that’s our second question: Is this church characterized by having a Loving Fellowship?

That’s what our Deacon of Fellowship is trying to do. She’s not a hostess, nor is she an event planner. She’s not trying merely to attract people to an experience or give them something to do on a Saturday night. Her job is to invite the people of the church to do something where they can show love to one another. Maybe that’s a fun event or maybe that’s visiting a sick person. Maybe that’s a potluck after church or maybe it’s gathering funds and gifts to support someone in the church who is hurting. The Deacon of Fellowship is the “love coordinator”!

And we the church are meant to respond to what the God is asking us to do. We are to consistently, sacrificially, humbly, love one another. We are to put ourselves last so others can be first. We are to give our time, talents, and treasure for one another, “attending the church together, meeting in each other’s homes, and distributed to the needy among us.”

So when you evaluate your church or any church, make that your second question: “Is this church a Loving Fellowship?” Do these people show the love of Jesus to one another, or do they all merely attend the same church? That’s completely different!

Do they live in harmony together, accept one another, greet one another when they see each other, agree with one another so there might be no divisions, serve one another, are patient with one another, are kind and compassionate to one another, do they forgive each other just as in Christ God forgave them? Do they submit to one another, teach and admonish one another, spur one another on towards love and good deeds, offer hospitality to one another, and cloth themselves with humility towards one another? (Romans 12:16, 15:17, 16:16; 1 Cor 1:10; Gal 5:13; Eph 4:2, 32, 5:21; Col 3:16; 1 Thess 5:11; Heb 10:24; James 4:11; 1 Peter 4:9, 5:5…)

Let’s Personalize It

I’ll stop there for today and we’ll come back to the other qualifications next week, but let me challenge you to personalize this. It’s much easier to evaluate others than it is to evaluate ourselves. So I’m going to ask you this week to take all those questions and personalize them. If you are a part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church – as it is represented locally, here – then ask yourself:

Am I obeying God’s word when it comes to why I attend church? Am I obeying Jesus in the Lord’s Supper and Baptism? Do I honour the reading and teaching of His Word? Am I doing what I can to develop myself spiritually? Do I desire biblical teaching and correction, or merely entertainment?

And, Do I love the people in my church in practical, sacrificial ways, or do I not care about them one way or another? Am I part of a church clique or do I greet everyone the same way? Is there anyone that is hurting that I need to serve? How am I living out the Biblical One Anothers with the people around me? Is there anyone I need to forgive? Anyone I’m not bearing with? Am I showing hospitality to the people in my church?

These are the questions that God is asking of us, and by which we as Christians and we as a church will be judged.

What is a “Good Church”? (Carnivore Theology: Ep 52)

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A Good Church

Every Christian wants to attend a “good church”, but we all seem to have different ideas of what a “good church” looks like. The guys take on this question and give a biblical perspective.

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What is “A Good Church”? (Burning Questions Series)

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Burning Questions 5 - A Good Church

A while back, before it was interrupted by Thanksgiving, Children’s and Friendship Sunday, we were going through a “Burning Questions” series that was based on questions submitted by people here in the congregation. We’ve already covered a bunch of questions and I want to get back into it and finish it off over the past weeks. We’ve talked things like: what kind of superhero suit God would wear, how to be in the world but not of it, and ways to deal with discouragement and depression.

We’re continuing today with another question that has been popping up, and one that I believe is an important one to cover, “If you were looking for a church to attend, what kind of things would you look for – and how does our church look to visitors who are seeking?” I appreciate that question, but I’m going to rejig it a bit to simply be: “What makes a good church?” because I think that answers both sides of that. If I were looking for a church, I’d want a “good church”, and I certainly want the church I’m currently serving to be a “good church” – so the question is: “What is a Good Church?”

A “Good Church”

That’s what people want, right? Christians search for a “good church” until they find one and then stay there until they move – or their “good church” becomes a “bad church”. Small churches believe that in order to become large churches they simply need to become a “good church”, and then people will flock through the doors. But what is a “good church”?

  • Outreach minded people define a “good church” as one that is sharing the gospel with people in practical and obvious ways.
  • Service minded people define a “good church” as one that has lots of ministries to help people.
  • Discipleship minded people say that being a “good church” is all about the sermons.
  • For musically minded people, a “good church”, is the one that has meaningful, excellent music.
  • Some people think that a “good church” is a big church, others think the only “good churches” are small ones.
  • For new believers, a “good church” is one that makes it easy to understand what is going on and helps them to grow step-by-step in their faith.
  • For a hurting person, a “good church” is one where they feel loved.
  • For a family oriented person, a “good church” is one that is full of children.
  • For a single, college student, a “good church” is one that has people their age and speaks meaningfully to their heads and hearts.
  • Traditionally minded people want liturgy, robes, incense and art.
  • Modern people want a sound system, a projector and stage lighting.
  • To an intellectual a “good church” has messages that challenges their minds and drives them to further study.
  • To a practically minded person, a “good church” has messages that challenges their lifestyle and drives them to action.
  • To someone who has been through divorce or abuse, a “good church” is one where nothing bad ever happens, no one gets offended, and people are nice all the time.
  • To a man looking for a strong mentor and a challenge, “a good church” is one with no nonsense, tough talk, some yelling, and a willingness to offend people.
  • Some people would define a “good church” by looking at its ministry list. A good church has counselling, small groups, children’s programs, multi-ethnic ministries, is politically active, has a dynamic preacher, plays the right kind of music, supports local and global missions, develops leaders and missionaries, etc. ect. For them, a “good church” has lots of diverse ministries – usually ones that fit their lifestyle and interests.

And the list goes on and on and on. Is it any wonder that churches and church leaders have such a hard time trying to design ministries and Sunday services that are meaningful, helpful, and attractive to such a diverse group of people? It’s a tall order. Actually, that’s an impossible order. We can’t please everyone all the time – especially a church our size. But, is our job to create a church that pleases as many people as possible? Is that how we are to define a “good church”; by how many people like it? No way.

A Bible From the Sky

So, lets go back to our question: “What is a good church?”. I want to look at Acts 2:42-47 today, but before we read it, I want you to do something: clear your mind of all your preconceptions about church. Pretend you’ve never been to a church service. You are like many Canadians today, and have never even set foot inside a church building, and have no idea what goes on in there.

And then, one day, an airplane flies over your head, hits some turbulence, and a bible falls out of the luggage compartment and lands right in front of you. The pages explode away from the cover as it hits the sidewalk and they are blowing all over the place. You reach out your hand and grab one of the pages and start to read it. You look down and find that you have the whole of Acts chapter 2.

You start to read Peter’s first recorded sermon, preached at Pentecost, and have been introduced to the person of Jesus Christ. He’s presented as the Crucified Lord, the Chosen Messiah, come to make possible the forgiveness of sins. You read that after the sermon was given, a multitude of people feel terrible convicted, repent of their sins, give their lives over to following this Jesus, are baptized in His name, and start to meet together regularly.

As you continue to read Acts 2, you read about the change that starts happening to these people. You figure out that these were the same people that crucified Jesus in the first place and were his enemies. They were once people destined to be destroyed, but are now “saved” because of Jesus. This good news changes their hearts so radically that they decided to meet together all the time to celebrate what Jesus has done for them. This is AMAZING and you start running around, gathering as many pages as you can, and start to sort them together until you have a good portion of the New Testament. You read it, believe it, and give your life to Jesus. You are now one of the people who are “saved”!

Later that week your boss comes and tells you that you are about to be transferred to another city. He’s sending you to Canada’s capital city, Ottawa, Ontario. You’re going to be working there for a while, and they’ve already set you up a home just outside the city in a nice, little place called Beckwith.

You pack all your things and move into your new home, and as you drive around your new neighbourhood, you see an adorable, little building with a white cross on top and a sign that says, “Beckwith Baptist Church.” Your heart starts to race as you pull your make-shift Bible out of your pocket and start to flip through the pages. It dawns on you that this is a building dedicated to housing a group of Christians – just like you read about.

Your excitement is almost palpable. You bang on the door, but no one is there. You race out to the sign to see that you have to wait until Sunday at 10am until service starts. You can’t wait! You finally get to see all that you have been reading about come to life. You get to meet a whole group of people that know Jesus, love Jesus, teach about Jesus, pray to Jesus, sing about Jesus, and who have the very Holy Spirit of God living in them. You get to meet a group unlike any you have ever met in the world – a group of people that call themselves brothers and sisters in Christ.

And as you stand out in the parking lot, you open up to your favourite passage. The first that landed at your feet, the very first chapter that you ever read in Acts 2. You read aloud Acts 2:42-47:

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

You can’t wait to meet these people! You can’t wait to come to this church. You can’t wait to be a part of this body of believers and be “added to their number”!

This text is one of the primary verses in scripture that drives me to do what I do and say what I say. I love these verses, not because it is a prescription of what we are supposed to be doing – but because it is a description of what happens when we get it right. This is a description of a “Good church” . This is what it looks like when we stop trying to please people, be clever with our ministries, and find some kind of secret code that causes more people to come through the door. This is what it looks like when a church allows God to take over and lets the Holy Spirit reign in their hearts.

These verses are not prescriptive – they’re not telling us what to do. They are descriptive – they are telling us what happens when God gets a hold of a group of people that love Him. People get this confused. They think if we can do the things described in these verses, then God will bless the church. No, it’s the opposite. If we allow God to work in our hearts, then this is what will happen to us.

Bill Hybels’ “Reveal”

When we get this backwards and believing that a “good church” is about the ministries it does instead of the God it worships, we fall into a “consumer” model of Christianity. We become people pleasers who try to design our church to primarily “meet people’s needs”, “make people happy”, “feed people”, “attract people”, etc. Whenever you hear the term, “feed”/”fed”, it’s consumer-minded. It means, “I’ve come to your church and you’re not giving me what I want.” It’s just like going to a restaurant and saying, “I don’t like what’s on the menu, so I’m not happy, and I’m going to find a new restaurant”. That’s consumer minded Christianity, and that kind of church and Christian doesn’t please God.

Let me give you an example. Willowcreek Church in Chicago, Illinois, headed by Pastor Bill Hybles, is one of the largest churches in North America, with over 23,000 people attending weekly. They were the uncontested champion of the “seeker-sensitive”, “consumer-driven” church movement. They’ve generated a huge amount of ministry ideas, content, songs, and are modeled all over the world.

In 2007, they released some internal survey results (in a book called “Reveal”) where they made an amazing confession that rocked the Christian world. Let me quote from an article that describes what they learned:

“Having spent thirty years creating and promoting a multi-million dollar organization driven by programs and measuring participation, and convincing other church leaders to do the same, you can see why Hybels called this research “the wake-up call” of his adult life.  Hybels confesses:

‘We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between service, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.’

In other words, spiritual growth doesn’t happen best by becoming dependent on elaborate church programs but through the age old spiritual practices of prayer, bible reading, and relationships. And, ironically, these basic disciplines do not require multi-million dollar facilities and hundreds of staff to manage.”

In other, other words,  the consumer model – where a “good church” is defined by how many programs we have, how great our music is, how winsome the pastor is, the attendance, the vision casting, the constitution, the ethnicities, the small groups, or anything else that is defined by human standards – doesn’t work! It doesn’t please God or fulfil our mission to “make disciples of Jesus Christ.”

Only One Opinion Matters

All of those things that I described are going to change. The programs of today’s church are far different from those a hundred or a thousand years ago. The preaching styles will change. The music has changed and will change again. The attendance of church will fluctuate from time to time and place to place. The constitution and bylaws do not define a church. Nor can the ethnicities within it. Culture will change. Technology will change. All of these things are going to change due to geography and time. None of these things cannot define what a “good church” is.

Therefore, a “good church”, cannot and must not be something that is decided by any individual or group of people. If the church is as important as we think it is – as important as God declares it is in scripture, then there must be a more universal list of attributes that describes a “good church” in standards that apply to all people, for all time, everywhere.

As a pastor, that question bothered me for a long time. I read a lot books and articles about how to grow a church and make a church “effective for the culture”, and they all sounded good – but they were almost contradictory in their advice and conclusions.

Some said the church needed to do more activities, others said we needed to gather together more. Some said the church needed more prayers services, others said it needed to be out in the community. Some said the church needed short sermons with video clips, others said the sermons needed to be deeply theological. Some said small groups were the answer, others said to give up the church building altogether and just meet in people’s houses, while others said the best thing to do is start a building program and open up more services. It was frustrating and confusing, and made it really hard to know what to do.

Four Universal Characteristics

Then I changed the question instead of asking myself “What do I think is a ‘good church’?” or “What do the experts think is a ‘good church’?” or “What does today’s culture think is a ‘good church’?, I asked, “What does God think is a ‘good church’?” That change, while it may seem obvious now, was somewhat revolutionary for me – and perhaps it is to you too. Instead of asking, “What is a good church for me, or my family, or my culture, or my country?” let’s ask, “What is a Good Church by God’s standards?”

And so, to find out what God’s standards are, I went to God’s word and came up with four universal characteristics that make up a good, godly, Christ honouring, effective church. And you’ll notice that they are all found in our passage in Acts 2. These four universal characteristics are:

  • A good church is a “disciple-making church”.
  • A good church is a “fellowshipping church”.
  • A good church is a “worshipping church”.
  • A good church is an “outreaching church”.

I’m going to take next week to go through these four in detail, but I want you to just notice quickly what I’m seeing. Remember, this isn’t just a recipe of ministries for a “good church”, but instead is what God says a good church looks like. They aren’t a list of ministries, but more a list of attitudes and priorities.

One of them isn’t more important than the other – all four must be present in the church for it to be a “good church” by God’s standards. A “good church” can’t focus on having good worship, but not good at outreach and fellowship. Likewise, a “good church” can’t be a disciplemaking church, but not care about worshipping God or fellowshipping together. All four must be held as the most important areas of our church life. Look again at Acts 2:42-47 and you’ll see them all there.

This Christian Church, maybe called the first in existence, was devoted to “the apostles teaching, the breaking of bread, and the prayers” – that’s areas of discipleship. That’s committing to biblical sermons, practicing the ordinances of the church, and the development of a private the spiritual life.

They were also devoted to “the fellowship, having all things in common, attending the temple together, breaking bread in homes, distributing to the needy among them” – that’s fellowship. They showed love and care for one another in practical ways.

See how “awe came upon every soul, they attended the temple, and praised God” – that’s worship. They saw, heard, felt and experienced the presence of Jesus Christ in their lives and gave awe-inspired worship to Him as a result.

And, they saw “many wonders and signs, distributed proceeds to all who had need, had favor with all the people, and the Lord added to their number.” That’s outreach. That’s evangelism. That’s caring for people outside the church, building the reputation of being godly community members, and seeing people turn to Jesus and be saved.

Conclusion

I want to talk about that more next week, but that’s what I want you to chew on this week. How have you been defining a “good church”? Has it been by how you feel about it? By how many people attend? By what ministries it has? By how “fed” you feel afterward? Let me encourage you to repent of those attitudes and ask yourself if you want a church patterned after your preferences, or God’s.

And for all of us here, when we think of Beckwith Baptist Church, and what we want it to be, are we seeking to craft it into our own image – with our type of music, our favourite style of preaching, ministries that cater to us – or are we seeking to be the kind of church that God favours. A church that practices discipleship, fellowship, worship and outreach – no matter what that looks like.

I would ask you to think about that for the next week, and then we’ll come back (Lord willing) and dig more deeply into these four areas.

Is Halloween Evil (and Should Christians Participate)? (Carnivore Theology: Ep. 49)

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Halloween

Halloween is coming up soon, so the CT guys perform a skit and take on the perennial question of whether a Christian should participate in Halloween or not. We didn’t realize how heated the discussion was going to get!

Podcast Audio:

Behind the Scenes Video:

How Can You Help Carnivore Theology?

1. Ask us a question in your voice on our SpeakPipe page!

2. Comment on our Facebook page, Twitter, and iTunes!

3. Share www.CarnivoreTheology.com with your friends. Sharing is caring!

4. Give financially: If you’d like to help us with our productiong costs, send us a financial gift through PayPal by clicking here. (We are not a registered charity, so you won’t get a tax receipt — but you will have the good feelings that come with helping out a friend!)

Response to Buzzfeed’s “I’m Christian, But I’m Not…” (Carnivore Theology: Ep. 44)

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Buzzfeed I'm Christian

What is a Christian Anyway?

Our Response to Buzzfeed’s viral video: “I’m Christian, But I’m Not” answers some important questions: “What is a Christian?” “How do we respond to popular culture’s idea of what a Christian is and isn’t?” “Can a person be a Christian but not follow the Bible?” and “How can we minister to people who call themselves Christians but have a radically different set of beliefs?”

Podcast Audio:



Behind the Scenes Video:

How Can You Help Carnivore Theology?

1. Ask us a question in your voice on our SpeakPipe page!

2. Comment on our Facebook page, Twitter, and iTunes!

3. Share www.CarnivoreTheology.com with your friends. Sharing is caring!

4. Give financially: If you’d like to help us with our productiong costs, send us a financial gift through PayPal by clicking here. (We are not a registered charity, so you won’t get a tax receipt — but you will have the good feelings that come with helping out a friend!)

Five Important Examples of Mutual Submission (Mark 10:32-45)

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GOM 37 - Five Examples of Mutual Submission

In the previous sermon we spent time going through Mark 10:32-45 and talking about God’s view of how the world works, and how it flies in the face of our individualistic mindset. We are told all the time that we need to “stand up for our rights”, “assert ourselves”, “show our independence”, “be our own highest authority”, and ultimately “set our own rules because we are our own god”.

Individualism is the rule of the day. Anyone can be whoever they want to be, everyone is special, and no one needs to bend for anyone else. Obviously this can’t work out in reality, but it doesn’t keep people from trying.

Bruce Jenner and Transgenderism

Perhaps the greatest, and most glaring recent example of an individual’s power to make their own decisions today is that more and more people are starting to believe that something as binary and static, formerly unchangeable and absolutely inarguable, has become… fluid… changeable… based on opinion.

What I’m talking about is gender. More and more people are starting to believe that the gender they were given at birth, doesn’t really determine what gender they really are. You can have male anatomy, and still feel like (and be called) a female – and vice verca. This was most recently made popular by the famous American, Olympic Gold medal winning athlete, making a very public transition from the man known as Bruce Jenner into the woman known as Caitlyn Jenner.

This is a growing issue in Canada too. Perhaps you remember the story that made news a while back about the 23 year old model that might have won Miss Universe Canada, but was disqualified because she used to be a man – even though she changed her body and legal status to be officially(?) female. And just a couple of years ago, a bill came across the House of Commons that made it formally illegal for a person to be discriminated against based on being transgendered. This isn’t just something that’s happening in the shadows, but is making national headlines now.

This opened up a can of worms for a lot of people who are worried that this basically eliminates things like men’s and women’s public washrooms, since anyone can decide what gender they are at any time. They can be born as a man, dress in slacks, but self-identify as a female, and therefore use the “women’s bathroom”. It’s all very confusing.

I don’t pretend to understand all of what’s going on there, nor do I fully grasp the psychological and legal intricacies of the transgender movement. I certainly agree that we shouldn’t target people who have gender dysphoria or gender confusion. These people are clearly hurting and in a great state of confusion, and they need our love, not our malice or unkindness.

Review

But this kind of thinking does give us a great example of the western people think about individualism: “I am my own god and I can determine everything that is right for me – even changing my own gender, if I choose to believe that God gave me the wrong one.” But it doesn’t have to be gender, it can be almost anything that we believe we are solely in control over, and that we have the only right to determine what is best for. Our money, time, relationships, religion, activities, hobbies, internet usage, sexual habits, career, vacation, charitable giving, tithe, eating habits – anything. The question isn’t whether we believe we individualists who believe we are our own gods, but what areas of our life we believe that we are gods of.

As I said last week, God’s answer to individualism, as we find it in scripture, is submission to the authorities that God has given us. And just as a review, the five arenas that God tells us to submit are First to God, then to Government and Church Leaders, Wives are to Submit to Husbands and Children to Parents, then there is the mutual submission we are to have for one another. That is the God-given structure that we are to be living by in this world, and when we do, we are not only obeying God, but are worshipping him – and, I believe, save ourselves a lot of grief.

Examples of Mutual Submission

I promised that, because we didn’t have time last week, I would spend some time this week talking about how mutual submission works practically, and I’m sure that will give us a lot to talk about. If you recall, I said that Mutual Submission is all over scripture. It’s basically the default-position for Christians: When in doubt, put yourself last – and it’s not just a matter of humility before others, but ultimately out of obedience and love for God and thanksgiving and reverence for Christ.

  • Ephesians 5:21 says we should be “…submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
  • 1 Peter 5:5 says, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’”
  • Philippians 2:3-4 says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

And remember, this all comes from what Jesus said in Mark 10:42-45,

“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

This thinking kills the individualistic, me-centred, selfish, “my way first” mentality. But how does it work out practically. Here’s a few examples of how mutual submission works – and these are equally for married couples as they are for church relationships, the only thing that changes is the intimacy level:

1. By Being Accountable to One Another

The first way that we mutually submit to one another is to readily practice being accountable to one another. In other words, allowing other people to speak into our lives, giving us encouragement and correction, when we need it. We make ourselves part of the Christian community by joining a church, growing in relationship to the other believers there, being honest with our troubles and struggles, and then being open to listening to what those people have to say to us.

Our first instinct, driven by fear, is to hide ourselves from others – pretend to be something we’re not. Our second instinct, driven by individualism, is to believe that we are better than others, and that they have nothing to say that can help us. Our third instinct is to think that we are worse than everyone else and that we have nothing to offer to others because we are such a mess ourselves. All three of these are wrong.

We need to take the risk to start relationships, or we run the greater risk of falling into error and having no one around to pull us out. We need to repent of our belief that we are better than others, because that’s pride and it separates us from God’s will. And we also need to understand that just because we are messed up doesn’t stop us from coming alongside other messed up people who need our help.

The Bible is extremely clear that it is the responsibility of every Christian to not only worship alongside other believers, but to be actively engaged in helping one another grow closer to Jesus.

  • James 5:16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”
  • Galatians 6:1-2 says, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
  • Jesus makes it abundantly clear in Luke 17:3 where He says, “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him…”

A note on this one: this also means we keep one another’s confidences. We don’t spread gossip and slander about people, especially when they have come to us and obeyed God in confessing their sins to us, asking for help.

2. Serving One Another

Another way we show mutual submission toward one another is serving each other. Simply taking the time to do something for someone else, putting their needs before our own, is a way of showing love for them – which is showing love for God. Jesus was the perfect and ultimate example of this, as He loved and served so many people in His earthly ministry – and ultimately by putting humanity’s needs before His own and dying for our sins.

But these gestures don’t have to be huge, and there’s no static way to do it. Yes, we’re all supposed to be hospitable to one another, but that doesn’t mean we all have to it the same way. Some will write cards, others make food, others visit, others teach, others contribute financialy, others clean… we work and love as a team, as a family.

Romans 12:6-10 says it this way,

“Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”

3. In Sharing

Along that same line of thinking, another way to show mutual submission is to share resources. Take something we have and give it to someone who needs it more. That could be our time, money, possessions, or homes. We put our self-interest second, and do without for a time, so that someone can have something they need.

We already talked about stewardship before, but consider that whenever we give something away to someone in need, we are in fact saying, “I am choosing to go without because I believe that person’s needs are more important than my own, their joy is more important than my own, their comfort is more important than my own, their family is just as important as my family, so I want them to have the same opportunity I have.” Sharing and giving are a way to submit ourselves to others.

  • Hebrews 13:16 tells Christians, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”
  • Jesus gave a promise and a warning that we must share when He said in Luke 6:38, “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
  • And in Matthew 10:42 Jesus makes sure we know that even our smallest gifts given to other believers are seen by God and credited to us, “And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”

4. In How We Dress

Last week we talked about Crop Top Day, so it sort of fits that we would talk about how we dress as a way to mutually submit to one another. One of the thing that bugged me about Crop Top Day was not only that it showed no regard for authority, but no regard for others. How their actions affected others didn’t seem to enter into their thinking.

What about the young men and young women struggling with lustful thoughts? What about the young women who struggle with body image issues? What about the teachers who just wanted to teach their classes, but were forced to contend with hundreds of defiant students, breaking the school rules all day long? What about the principal who now had to field dozens of phone calls about a private conversation he had with a student? What about the children who weren’t allowed to dress that way, but participated anyway? What about the parents of the other students?

Now, believe it or not, I can sympathize with these young women, and the issues that they brought up through Crop Top Day. They are sick of living in a world where every time they look at the clothes in their closet, they have to worry about what they will look like that day, who they will be judged by, how much skin they can/must show, whether they’ll be sexualized by all the animalistic, porn-fueled, drooling males out there… it must be exhausting trying to decide what to wear in the morning. Plus, when it gets warm in the classroom, it’s fairly natural to wear less fabric so one can feel cooler. I get it.

But we have to realize, even in the church (and this applies to both men and women), that what we wear does affect people, and God does have a say in what we wear. It is not a single-person decision, but one in which we submit to God first, and then submit ourselves to others, dressing so that we can love our neighbour in the best way possible – whether that’s the neighbour in the desk next to us, the house next to ours, the car parked next to ours, or the pew next to us.

So, we must ask ourselves – both men and women – a lot of questions: Is the look I’m projecting (and the smell I’m producing too – let’s not forget about cologne) obedient and honouring to God, and loving and respectful to others. Is it “modest”, does it show “self-control” and “humility” (1 Tim 2:9)? Am I wearing it for the glory of God? Is this an attempt to compete with others or to puff up my pride? Am I being sensitive to the weaknesses of others?

This isn’t about getting our own way, and having our own style. It’s about loving God and submitting to others, even when that means we don’t get to wear what we want to wear.

5. Overlooking One Another’s Foibles

Another way that we show humility and mutual submission to one another is to choose to overlook and work with one another’s foibles. “Foibles” is a great word. It’s not really used to describe a person’s sins, but their weak points. It’s used by swordsmen to describe the weakest part of the blade of the sword, from the mid-point to the tip. Swords are still dangerous, but like anything, they have a weak-point, and a good swordsman knows what it is and deals with it accordingly.

Similarly, when used to describe someone, it speaks of that person’s weak points, an eccentricity in their character, a limitation or a flaw that they have. We’re not really talking about sin, but perhaps an area of weakness that the person is tempted in most, or something built into their genetics or their personality that they have little or no control over, but it causes inconveniences or annoyances for others.

There’s a million of these, so I can’t list them all, but I promise you that your friends and your spouse can list yours fairly quickly. You may dislike how a person dresses, or their strange way of talking, their inability to show up on time – or their pathological need to always do everything perfectly. Some may drink wine with dinner, others have dietary restrictions. Some have a hard time hearing, while others seem to shout every word they say – or talk very quietly all the time. Some people stutter, others talk like they swallowed a thesaurus, some people love puns. Some are afraid of technology, others get distracted by too many things going on.

Some are more serious. There are people with physical handicaps, learning disabilities, addictions, psychoses, struggle with depression, irrational fears, emotional scars, and more.

For example, I know I’m weird and that you guys put up with a lot. I’m a biblical theologian who loves watching My Little Pony with my four kids. I struggle with occasional bouts of depression and have at least some level of social anxiety disorder. I can talk for days about some subjects, but can’t start a conversation to save my life. I’m in a position where I need to be social, but I find going to parties, meeting new people, and having to make small talk basically paralytic. I have weird eating habits that change constantly. I love reading classics and writing books, but also popcorn movies, loud music and pinball.

I know all my quirks and foibles cause no end of problem for people – but I’m not alone because I know everyone here has their own. And what’s amazing is that Jesus loves us anyway, and that He’s given us a church to be a part of that is supposed to love us too!

Actually, the scriptures are very clear that when it comes to our differences, we need to be willing to give each other a LOT of grace – in marriage and in the church. Let me return to Luke 17:3-4 and finish what Jesus said there.

  • He said, “Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

Why?

  • Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

Might I suggest that we might gain a new respect for a person, and learn something about submission, if we are willing to walk a mile in their shoes.

  • Jesus said, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)

What a great way to respond to someone’s foibles. Let’s ask ourselves, How would I want to be treated if I was in the same position as them, came from the same culture, struggling with the same issue, faced with the same upbringing, dealing with the same difficulties? How would I want people to treat me?

How to Learn to Submit

So let me close this way: Many of us struggle in the area of submitting to God, to God’s appointed authorities, and to one another – so how can we cultivate the humility we need in order to learn to submit.

First, we need to realize that we are sinners in need of a Saviour.

  • Jesus said, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12)
  • David said, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Ps 51:17)
  • “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Ps 34:18)
  • James said, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” (James 4:10).

As long as we think we can save ourselves, exalt ourselves, heal ourselves, then we will never be able to submit to anyone else. As long as we think we are greater and smarter than anyone else, then we will never ask for help. And we need Jesus.

Realizing we need Jesus means, second, realizing that we can’t do this on our own. We need to be close to Jesus and filled with the Holy Spirit in order to have the humility necessary to obey God. So we need to read about Jesus, talk to Jesus, and listen to Jesus every day. He is our example, our motivation, and our source of strength. As Ephesians 5:21 said, it is our reverence for Christ that is our ultimate motive for submitting to Him and one another. And as we submit in reverence to Jesus, God starts to form our characters to look more like Christ’s.

Third, we have to realize that God’s plan of authority and submission isn’t meant to frustrate us, or take things away, but to be a blessing and a protection to us, because He loves us. Children are protected by their parents, wives are protected by their husbands, citizens are protected by their governments, churches are protected by their elders, and they are all protected by God.

We must realize that when we resist God’s plan for how the world is supposed to work, we are not only resisting God’s purpose, but also God’s protection for our lives. None of us are greater than anyone else, but instead, we need to realize that God has created us to need one another – and that we each have a role to play so this world can operate properly. When we get outside of God’s authority structure – when we are not under godly authority – that’s when our lives go off the rails. And God has given us what we need in order to have the guidelines, the proper tracks to run on, because He loves us.

Helpful Source: https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-47-submitting-one-another-ephesians-521

5 Commitments to Prevent Divorce in Your Marriage and Promote Unity in Your Relationships (Mark 10:1-12)

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GOM 35 - 5 Commitments to Prevent Divorce

“And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again. And again, as was his custom, he taught them. And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’ He answered them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ They said, ‘Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.’ And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. And he said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.’” (Mark 10:1-13)

Jesus is very clear about his teaching about divorce. It happens as a result of sinful, selfish actions and hard hearts. Like too many people I’ve talked to, the Pharisee came to Jesus looking for all the loopholes in God’s law that would allow for divorce. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked that. I think I’ve been asked, “What does the Bible say about the reasons to get divorced?” more than “What does the Bible say about how to prevent divorce?” They come thinking, “Is this thing my spouse did a biblical grounds for divorce?” rather than “How can I find forgiveness, restoration, counselling and healing for this relationship now that my spouse has done this thing?” People are looking for the way out of their relationship– not the way to fix it.

And I don’t begrudge them the question. When “the D word” starts to come up in our minds, it comes from a place of great pain and hurt. No one goes into a marriage thinking they will one day get divorced. No one wants the anguish, shame and cost of divorce. But it’s happening more and more today.

We all know people, and perhaps we are this person, that can’t sleep at night because of disagreements both past and present. People with broken marriages – or who have come close – and who don’t know where to start to repair the relationship. We know people who have left churches, left home, left their jobs or schools, or even their home town, because they didn’t know how to resolve conflict. The hurt was so bad that they felt their only solution to end the pain was to leave. But that’d doesn’t solve the problem, does it? Many of us carry deep scars from unresolved hurts.

Now I don’t want to go into a diatribe against divorce or the pornified, messed up, hook-up culture around us. I also don’t want to talk about the ways that God allows for divorce, because when Jesus was asked the question He didn’t answer it with “Ok, here’s what the Law says: If your spouse cheats, or abandons you because of your faith, and a good case could be made that spousal abuse is a reason too… if they didn’t do that then you’re stuck.” No, He got to the heart of the issue… literally talking about the heart of the person asking the question. He essentially said, “The only reason that this was put into the Law at all was because you have irredeemably hard hearts. Listen, God gave you to each other so you would ‘hold fast’ [which is literally the Greek word for “glue”] and become “one flesh”, a singular person, and looking to tear apart that flesh is a terrible thing that is going to cause amazing amounts of damage. Marriage is meant to glue two people together so they do not come apart again, and looking for excuses to get divorced misses the point completely!”

Our Heart First

Today I want answer the question I get asked less: “What does it take to stay together when something bad happens in a relationship?”

The principles I’m going to share today are important for married couples, but they also apply to every other relationship we have. These aren’t “how to fix the other person” type principles or even “the steps to go through to reconcile a relationship”. What I want to talk about is how to fix our own heart first, before we even get to talking to the other person. Jesus was very concerned about the heart of the individual asking the question, so that’s where we’re going to park today.

Blowing the World’s Mind

I was listening to an Albert Mohler talk this week where he spoke about the normalization of sexual sin in the church. A secular writer in the New York Times had written that all homosexuals have to do is just wait a little while because very soon all the churches who are against homosexuality will eventually come around. His evidence is that this has happened already with divorce. Churches don’t even talk about it as a problem anymore.

When divorce was on the rise, the same thing happened as we see today with homosexuality. First, churches were shocked, then many mainline, liberal, churches and religions started to accept it. Then, as the culture began to see more and more divorces around them, more and more churches started to redefine their position on divorce. They started to reinterpret scriptures and emphasize Jesus’ “Judge not as ye be judged” removing any interpretations that were hard for divorced people to listen to. Then more and more elders, deacons, pastors, missionaries and Christian celebrities started to get divorced (just as more and more are coming out as gay).

Then, as it became normalized, churches started to talk about how important it was not to ostracize or disrespect or exclude divorced couples. Let me quote from the article by this secular writer:

“A generation ago, many Christian churches followed these biblical admonitions and would not sanction what they viewed as ‘adulterous’ second marriages. Today, in large part because of the power of changing social norms, it is no longer common for most Protestant churches to refuse to marry a woman to a man who had divorced his previous wife. And few churches would exclude or disrespect a couple because either spouse had married before.”

In other words, all the world has to do is wait for us to compromise, and we will. And we have. Divorce among Christians is normal, church splits are normal, grumpy business meetings are normal… every day the Christian church grows to be more and more like the world.

If we get this right in our church, it is going to blow people’s minds. For the world, seeing people get angry, separated, divorced, fighting, back bighting, seeking revenge, gossiping, slandering is normal. It’s how things usually go. But when they see believers respond to relationship problems with grace and forgiveness, treating enemies like friends, humbling ourselves and doing the hard work of reconciliation, it blows their minds. We show how different we really are.

None of us want to be in a church that acts like the world. We don’t want to be in a church with collapsing marriages, power struggles and worldly garbage. We’re supposed to be different – and anyone who comes to our doors should expect us to be different.

It is my hearts deepest desire that when people come into this place they will find people who are full of grace, who love Jesus and the church, who speak words of love, kindness, and encouragement. Whose eyes are filled with compassion and joy, and who are turning to Jesus and pointing others to him.

5 Commitments to Cultivate Unity

So let’s talk about the five commitments we must make in our own hearts so that we can cultivate unity in our marriages, relationships and church. (These points were taken from the book/website, “The Peacemaker” by Ken Sande)

We’ve all heard that “many hands make light work”, or “there is strength in numbers”, or “a cord of three strands is not easily broken” (Ecc. 4:12). They are all simple ways of saying that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole, and that we are stronger when we stay together. We can do more when we work together.

The same is true in marriage, friendship and in the church. The depth of our relationship increases the strength of our abilities. A committed, married couple is stronger than two friends doing the same thing. Two friends working together are stronger than two workmates. A church, united under Christ, is stronger than any group united by a simple cause.

The famous preacher Charles Spurgeon once said, “The devils are united as one man in their infamous rebellion, while we believers in Jesus are divided in our service of God, and scarcely ever work with unanimity.” Unfortunately for many Christians and churches, Spurgeon is right – including in our marriages. We aren’t working together very well.

So, how do we get to working well together as a church and with our spouses? Here are the five commitments we need to make.

Commitment 1: To love Jesus Christ above all things and sacrifice our mini-agendas for His sake.

First we need to commit ourselves to loving Jesus Christ above all things, and sacrifice our mini-agendas for his sake. What does that mean? It means that we need to realize that unity in marriage, friendship or in the church isn’t something that we do ourselves. The Bible reminds us of this over and over – that it’s God who unites us and keeps us together, through the power of Jesus and the Holy Spirt.

  • When the bible talks to husbands about how to love their wives it says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” (Eph 5:25)
  • When he talks to the wives he says, “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” (Col 3:18).
  • To the church he says we should be “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Eph 5:21).
  • In Ephesians 4:3 it says, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
  • 1 Corinthians 1:10 says, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”
  • In Philippians 2:2 it says, “…make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.”

In all our relationships we are encouraged to always be connected to Jesus first and then others. Our relationship with Him is the foundational relationship for all others. If we are not forgiven by Him, how can we know to forgive others? If He doesn’t show us how to love sacrificially, then how can we love others that require our sacrifice?

Christian unity originates in God: The Holy Trinity of Father Son and Spirit is always united, and invites us to be united to them. The unity we have as Christians is remarkably different from anything the world has to offer. Non-Christians rally around politics, causes, moral issues, environmental concerns, and can built their unity around a singular cause. But the Christian church is not built around a cause, it is built around a person – the Lord Jesus Christ, whose spirit inhabits all believers. And so as we commit ourselves to His name, His will, His promise, His model, His teaching, in His power, that we are able to put aside our mini-agendas.

What do I mean by mini-agendas: I mean setting aside our own desires and preferences because we see the relationship as more important. Yes, we want the dishes done, the food warm, the money situation fixed, our career to take off, the bedroom more exciting, our parenting better, the house cleaner, the toilet seat up or down, the toenail clippings and socks picked up, our in-laws dealt with, and finally get to choose the movie for once… but we set that aside for the sake of unity and because Jesus has told us to stay committed. We don’t let the bitterness take hold, and we ask God every day to help us with it.

Commitment 2: To obey the Word of God in all things.

Our second commitment that will help us maintain unity in our marriage and our church is to realize that God has given us commands and doctrines that we must be committed to. He never sacrifices the truth for the sake of a relationship, but He will always prioritizes a spirit of grace. Truth with Grace.

We commit our hearts to Jesus and our heads to the word of God. Ephesians 4:4-6 says, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

Some people think that in order to avoid relationship problems, we have to avoid controversy and hard topics. They think that in order to avoid breaking up, we have to coat our conversations with little, white lies, for the sake of the other person. That’s absolutely wrong.

The Bible says that we need to know where we stand, be honest with God and one another, and then work towards an agreement about our faith, practices, theology, decisions, and everything else we need to work together. Lying causes bitterness and resentment, the truth sets us free.

Now, it’s impossible to consider a relationship, even a marriage, where everyone agrees about everything all the time. That would be amazing, but that’s not the whole point. No, what God wants us to do is be in the life-long process of growing in our knowledge of God and one another. God built differences into us, and that’s ok. It is for our benefit and growth that we bump up against, and marry, people that are very different than us. And lying to ourselves and others about who we really are sidesteps that gift.

A couple needs to be solidly united on the most important things in life: Our faith and theology about Jesus, the authority of scripture, what church we will attend together, whether they want children, where and how you plan on living… but the rest can be up for discussion and compromise. “Are we going to have a TV in the bedroom?”, “Do you put the forks in the dishwasher pointy side down or up?” or “Who makes the bed?” are not critical issues. They can be worked out – or discussed for the entirety of the marriage.

But the couple, and the church, must do the hard work of discussing the critical things in the relationship in an open, honest and Godly way. So your commitment, before you ever step into the conversation with the other person, is that you will be directed by the Word of God, honest in all you say, and gracious about everything that is non-essential.

Commitment 3: To develop Christ-like humility and submission.

Now, the third commitment we have to make before we can have unity in our marriages and church is the commitment to develop Christ-like character: especially humility and submission.

Now, I know that doesn’t sound like much fun – because it isn’t. But I’m convinced that this is where so much of what we are trying to do falls apart. There are many believers who are theologically sound and love Jesus, but they refuse to humbly submit to someone else – whether it be their spouse or a brother or sister in the church. These folks want to be right and see that their mini-agendas get moved forward.

Their pride is what keeps the relationship from being united. They are right, and they will argue with, shout down, manipulate, nag and publically embarrass the other person as much as it takes until they cave. That’s the opposite of Christ-like humility and submission. Philippians 2:3-4 says to each of us – me, the elders, deacons, servants, teachers, musicians, sound guys, husbands, wives, children: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

If we want strong marriages and a strong church then we need to be willing to put our agenda aside as less important than the other’s. A relationship where your ideas are as good as, if not better than, mine. A relationship where you want to listen first and talk second. One where you desire to hear what the other person has to say – all they have to say – because you value them. A relationship where we set aside our own wants and desires because what we want might negatively affect someone else. Even if we really, really want it – and it’s totally within our grasp – we don’t get it or do it because the other person is more important. We show up when we don’t want to because we love the other person and want to support them. Where we spend as much time thinking about the other persons needs as we do thinking of our own.

Commitment 4: To respect and pursue God given diversity.

The fourth commitment we must make is to respect and pursue God given diversity. Just as Jesus accepted us, so we are to accept others. In our marriages this means we realize that we don’t need to turn our husbands or wives into someone else, but respect and love who God created them to be. In the church this means that we love and thank God for the fact that people are different. God doesn’t want us to be the same, but He does want us to work together for the same goal.

Throughout scripture, especially the New Testament, we are reminded that God made us different on purpose. Romans 12:4-8 says it this way:

“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”

This is certainly true in the church, but also in marriages. It’s a good thing that one is a free-spirit and the other a control-freak. It’s good that one is a spender and the other a saver, one likes action the other drama, one reads the other likes music, one emphasizes quality the other durability, one wants intimacy more often than the other, one a crier the other stoic, one an adventurer the other a homebody. Those are good things – and we need make the commitment before God that we will respect the differences in our spouse, thank God for them, and then allow God to help us become better people through them.

Diversity in marriage and in church can lead to amazing things. God purposefully puts different people together so He can better grow His kingdom. We need to experience diversity so we can see God work in new ways. It makes our lives, and our church, more interesting, more creative, and stronger.

The other side of this is that instead of envying people’s differences, we embrace our own uniqueness and thank God for it. Romans 15:7 says we need to “accept one another then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” Our mutual respect for each other brings praise to God! We don’t accept each other’s sins, but we do embrace our differences. God treats us like an orchestra – each instrument of unique individual value and beauty, but blending together under one Conductor, playing complimentary parts of one glorious composition.

Commitment 5: To NOT GIVE UP.

And finally, the fifth commitment that you have to make within yourself, before God, is that you won’t give up. That you will earnestly strive to prayerfully pursue peace, resolve your conflict, preserve the relationship, and stay stuck together like glue, no matter what. The key word is commitment.

Remember the words of the traditional marriage vows – words that people aren’t using anymore because they seem to hard-core:

“I, take you, to be my wedded wife/husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy law, and this is my solemn vow.”

Those are words of strong commitment before God, and they represent the commitment that Jesus made to you. They almost sound like Romans 8:38-39:

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Satan is always sowing seeds of doubt, conflict, offence and division among people. He wants our joy diminished, our worship of God to be lessened, and our witness for Christ destroyed. He wants to make our lives difficult so that we won’t be able to work together against his demonic kingdom.

The best way to deal with these seeds is to be committed to being humble and gentle with one another and pursue, pursue, pursue everything it takes for peace! Forgive the little irritations, overlook minor offences, bear with those who disappoint is, and lovingly correct and deal with the sins are too serious to overlook.

Conclusion

As we make these commitments in our own hearts before God we will be able to say:

“Yes, we have conflict in [our marriage and] in our church – who doesn’t? But Jesus has transformed the way we deal with conflict. We discuss our differences candidly and fervently, but we refuse to let them divide us. We will not walk away from our marriages or from our friends. And we will not leave our church just because we’ve been offended or things are not going exactly as we want. Our relationships are a testimony to the reconciling power of the gospel of Christ, and we will strive with every ounce of our strength to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (From Peacemakers.net)

Let’s work together in this to honour God with our marriages, our relationships and our church.

What R U Reading L8ly & Coffee in Church (Carnivore Theology: Ep. 34)

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What R U Reading

The 34th episode of “Carnivore Theology”.

Book Talk and Coffee in Church

Steve’s AWOL today so Chad and Al get to nerd-out on the books they’re reading lately, answer a SpeakPipe question, and promo Al’s book.

Podcast Audio:

Click here to download the episode MP3.

Here’s the link to the behind-the-scenes YouTube video.

Al’s Book List

CS Lewis – The Space Trilogy

George Orwell – 1984 & Animal Farm

Zondervan – Two Views on Women in Ministry

Chad’s Book List

coming soon

Please Consider Partnering with Us!

How can you help Carnivore Theology get better? Start by asking us a question in your voice on our SpeakPipe page!

Let us know what you think of our podcast by commenting on our Facebook page, connecting on Twitter, and rating us on iTunes! We’d also really appreciate if you’d pass them around to your friends. Sharing is caring!

Carnivore Theology is free for everyone, but it does have a cost to produce. If you’d like to help us with our hosting and equipment costs, you can send us a financial gift through PayPal by clicking here.  We are not a registered charity, so you won’t get a tax receipt — but you will have the good feelings that come with helping out a friend!

Why Are There So Many Christian Denominations? (Carnivore Theology: Ep. 32)

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Denominations

The 32nd episode of “Carnivore Theology”.

Denominations, Sects, Schisms, & Cults… Oh My!

Why are there so many Christian denominations? What’s the history of denominationalism? Which one is right? Can’t we all just get along? What about non-denominational churches?

Podcast Audio:

Click here to download the episode MP3.

Here’s the link to the behind-the-scenes YouTube video.

Please Consider Partnering with Us!

How can you help Carnivore Theology get better? Start by asking us a question in your voice on our SpeakPipe page!

Let us know what you think of our podcast by commenting on our Facebook page, connecting on Twitter, and rating us on iTunes! We’d also really appreciate if you’d pass them around to your friends. Sharing is caring!

Carnivore Theology is free for everyone, but it does have a cost to produce. If you’d like to help us with our hosting and equipment costs, you can send us a financial gift through PayPal by clicking here.  We are not a registered charity, so you won’t get a tax receipt — but you will have the good feelings that come with helping out a friend!

What Clothes Should a Pastor Wear? + C.T. T-Shirts! + Contest! (Carnivore Theology: Ep. 25)

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Christians and Fashion

The 25th episode of “Carnivore Theology”.

Christians, Pastors and Fashion

Our world is hugely influenced by appearances. Should pastors and church members adjust to this or fight against it? Does a better suit make someone a better pastor? What does the bible say about giving our bes to God or judging others by outward appearances? Should we accept teaching from someone who dresses funny?

Podcast Audio:

Click here to download the episode MP3.

Here’s the link to the behind-the-scenes YouTube video.

Carniovore Theology T-Shirt & Contest!

Listen to today’s podcast for contest details. T-Shirt Ad for Blog

As Always, We Want Your Feedback

Please give it a listen and then give let us know what you think in comments section below, by e-mailing me, commenting on our Facebook page, or on Twitter! It would be great if you’d rate us on iTunes too! We’d also really appreciate if you’d pass them around to your friends. Sharing is caring!

Inside the Mind of a Worship Leader (Feat. Russ Smith of Hokus Pick!) (Carnivore Theology: Episode 13)

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Inside the Mind of a Worship Leader

The 13th episode of “Carnivore Theology”. Click here to subscribe.

What’s it Like Inside the Mind of a Worship Leader?

The CT guys get inside the head, heart and ministry of our first special guest, Worship Leader Russ Smith from Hokus Pick!

(Russ was the lead vocalist/guitar for Hokus Pick, a Christian Rock band from 1988 to 1999 that toured in Canada and the US.)

Podcast Audio:

Click here to download the episode in MP3.

And here’s the link to the Behind the Scenes YouTube video.

As Always, We Want Your Feedback

Please give it a listen and then give let us know what you think in comments section below, by e-mailing me, commenting on our Facebook page, or on Twitter! It would be great if you’d rate us on iTunes too! We’d also really appreciate if you’d pass them around to your friends. Sharing is caring!

The Importance of Knowing Our Core Values

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Core-Values-Word-Cloud

Podcast Audio:

It’s important that we remind ourselves what God has been telling us in scripture, in prayer, and through the leadership of the church. Which is why, if you recall before Thanksgiving, we started a short series on our Mission and Core Values statements.

What is a Core Value?

When we asked the question, “What does God want us to do?” we answered it in two ways. First was our mission statement, and then alongside that statement we crafted a series of seven Core Values. Seven things we believe we should be doing as we seek to accomplish our God-given mission.

So what is a Core Value? Everyone has core values. It’s the things that we think are most important to us. Individually we have Core Values – some people call them “priorities” or “main concerns”. They are the principles that guide a person’s (or an organization’s) conduct. It’s the rules that guide how we make our decisions and relate to the people around us.

There are a lot of ways that people define their Core Values. For some people, the number one thing they want out of life is “security”, and so they spend their life making sure that they and those around them are safe and taken care of. For others, their main value is “duty” and so they put themselves at risk so they can follow orders and accomplish the greater good. Some people’s value “Excellence” most, and so they try to do everything in their life as best as they can – while others value “peacemaking” or “friendship” and are willing to let the excellence slide for the sake of relationship. Some value “creativity” and “novelty” or “spontaneity” while others value “tradition”,  “simplicity” or “stability”.

People have multiple Core Values, of course, and different people are going to choose differently – and they aren’t right or wrong. The person who values “spontaneity” is not better or worse than the one who puts a high value on “stability”. God builds us all differently, gives us unique gifts, perspectives and priorities, and then brings us together to work it out as family.

Why We Need Core Values

In our church family, as we prayed and read the scriptures together, we came up with seven Core Values that guide how we do ministry here at our church. Now, you may be asking yourself: Why am I going through this? Why did we spend so much time on this? Why is there an official document? Why am I making a big deal about this?

Let me give you two important reasons why we need to do this. And let me encourage you to think of your own personal Core Values as we go through this.

1. They Tell Us Who We Are

First, our Core Values remind us about who we are and what we’re all about. God knows everything about us. Hebrews 4:13 says, “…no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” That’s important to know, but its flip-side is also important – that we must also know ourselves.

We all know the warning of Jeremiah 17:9 which says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can know it?” And then it reminds us that only God truly knows us and will help us to know ourselves.

But the Bible is full of warnings to people who think falsely about themselves. People who think they are right in the eyes of God, but aren’t. People who think riches are the way to salvation. People who think God cares more about religion than mercy. In Proverbs 26:12, “Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” “Know Thyself.” is an ancient Greek maxim. In Hamlet, Shakespeare wrote “This above all: to thine own self be true.” The whole point is that we need to see ourselves honestly. We need to have an honest assessment of who we are and what we’re all about.

And once we know that, we can communicate it better to anyone who asks.

Online Dating

I’m sure you’d agree that it’s important to know who we are and be honest with ourselves, but it’s really hard sometimes. Consider the world of Online Dating – which, when you think about it isn’t that much different than constructing our church website. You want to put your best foot forward, make a good impression, and connect with people.

So how do you fill out your profile? I Googled “The most common lies in online dating profiles” and wasn’t too surprised by the results. People like about basically everything. One study I found that 80% of online daters lie about their height, weight or age. Which, when you think about it should be the easiest ones to tell the truth about. Go measure yourself and then put in the number – but nope. People want to get good results, so they fudge. 5’ 11’ becomes 6’. 137 lbs becomes 125 – which is their goal, so it’s kind of true, right?

The next big lies are their income and job title. Men tend to embellish their wage by about 20%. They know it’s important to women, so they — overestimate. They’ll probably get a raise soon, right?

People lie about their lifestyle –how far they’ve traveled, what car they drive, even what hobbies they have. They want to meet an outdoorsy type, so they say they love camping – and then they meet a guy who wants to take them camping – and they hate it.

And of course, the single most deceptive thing about online dating was the photographs! They take a picture in the dark, some use Photoshop to edit themselves to look a little better, others use photos from 5 years ago.

Our Church

Now we may look down on these people as liars – and they totally are – but we have to remember that we sometimes do the same thing when we look at our own church. When we put up the church website, print our pamphlets, and tell our friends about our church, it’s easy to do it with rose-coloured glasses. Sure, we can easily say, “we’re all about Jesus”, and “we’re really friendly”, but that doesn’t help the average person know what we do. Narrowing down the question: “What is Beckwith Baptist Church all about?” is a tough one. And when people ask, and when we advertise our church, we want to be clear and honest.

That’s why we put together the Core Values. It tells us and others who we are. It tells us and others our church’s priorities. And it tells people what our priorities are not.

Look at the list. Our Seven Core Values are Loving Relationships, Biblical Authority, Christ Focused, Spirit Empowered, Lifestyle Worship, Equipping for Action, Leadership Development. Those are our Core Values. They’re what we’re all about. That’s our priorities. They are what we do together as a church.

You don’t see things like “Financial Growth” in there. You don’t see “Traditionalism”, “Artistic Experiences”, “Being Politically Active” or “Multi-Site Ministries” in there. Those aren’t bad things, but they’re not our things.

This is an important exercise for any organization, including a church, but it’s also important for an individual or a family. What am I all about? What are our family’s highest priorities? As you’ve prayed, listened to God, and read His Word, what has He been telling you about how you are created and what you’re here for?

2. They Help Us Make Decisions

The second benefit to knowing our Core Values is that they help us make decisions. Once we know who we are and what we’re all about, we can decide what we are going to do – and not do. When confronted with an idea, a ministry option, or a potential partnership, we now have a list of seven things that we can look to that will help us decide what to do about it.

I probably get an e-mail-a-week with a new thing that our church can do. We’re part of the CBOQ denomination and they’re always sending us things we can do. I represent our church at a group called Love Carleton Place which does local events in CP. And Lanark Gospel Fellowship is starting at the end of this month. A short time ago we were invited to join another church to put a float in a Christmas parade. We support Lanark County Food Bank, Calvary Christian Academy, the Fellowship of Christian Farmers, MercyShip and the Gideons. There’s a dozen concerts that come into our e-mail box that we can advertise, and at least 100 different Christian organizations we could try to feature on any given Sunday.

We can participate in Mission Sunday, Ebola Sunday, Native American Ministers Sunday, Camp Sunday, Kid’s Sunday, Earth Sunday, Peace Sunday, Women’s Sunday, Remembrance Sunday and many, many others.

Do we do small groups or a Wednesday night Bible Study? Do we have children’s Sunday School before church, after church, or during the sermon? Do we have communion every week, once a month or occasionally? Do we use grape-juice, wine or both? Do we use regular, unleaven or gluten-free bread? Do we have one main preacher, or many different speakers? Do we sit in pews or in chairs? Do we have PowerPoint or hymnals?

There are a zillion options placed before us – ones that scripture doesn’t give us a clear answer to – and we somehow need to find a way to work together to figure out what God wants us to do, what’s right for us, those who attend here, and the people we are trying to serve in our community.

And so, we came up with these 7 Core Values, and gave each one a clarifying, key question that will guide us in our decision making.

Loving Relationships

The first one is Loving Relationships. The document we wrote says, “We believe that God prioritizes relationships and wants us to be a church where our love for Jesus grows and overflows into loving relationships with others. We want all aspects of our church to be focused on going deeper with God and the believers around us, and then have that love overflow to the non-Christians in our community.” And then the key question is “Are we building deep, life-long, spiritual and practical relationships with God and others?”

That’s a big one. When we’re presented with all of these options of possible ministries we can work with, we ask the question: “Will that help us build deep relationships with God and others?” We want to avoid shallow relationships because they are of little value. We know that people are starved for love, and so we want to be a church characterized by sharing the love of Jesus with one another.

Biblical Authority

Our second Core Value is Biblical Authority. “We believe the Bible is the final authority for our lives and the word by which our thoughts and actions will be judged by God, and therefore want to be a church where all of our activities are faithful to scripture. We want all aspects of our church to inspire and equip people to study and obey God’s word.” The key question is: “Are the ministries in our church biblically based and inspiring and equipping people to love the inspired word of God?”

See how those first two work together. We want to build loving relationships, but we want to do it in a biblical way. We’re not willing to compromise biblical integrity for the sake of relationships. We show God’s love God’s way.

Christ Focused

The third Core Value is that we are Christ Focused. “We believe that Jesus is God, He deserves our worship, and it is through no other name by which we are saved. It is only because of the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross that we can be reconciled to God, and therefore all that we do as Christians is meant to proclaim Him as Saviour, share His good news, make others disciples of Him, and bring glory to His Name.”

We don’t idolize the bible, each other, our church building, or anything else. It’s all about Jesus. We believe the whole of the Bible is about Jesus and so we preach it that way. If it’s not about Jesus, giving Jesus glory, and telling people about Jesus, then we don’t do it as a church.

The key question is a simple one: “Are we keeping our focus on Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour?” If the option doesn’t have Jesus in the middle of it, then we’re not doing it.

Spirit Empowered

The fourth Core Value is that we are Spirit Empowered. Hopefully you’re seeing that these aren’t priority levels – one isn’t more important than the other – but they work together. This one says, “We believe that the Holy Spirit will build His church by giving each Christian supernatural gifts to use to worship God and build up the Body of Christ. We want to be a church where seeking God’s power through prayer is of first importance, cultivating spiritual gifts encouraged, and living out of His inspiration is natural and exciting.”

You’ve heard me preach about all of these over and over and over because they are so important to what it means to be God’s church. Prayer isn’t something we do, it’s the foundation of what we do. We don’t do things and ask God to bless them – we seek God’s will and then go where He wants us to go. We believe this is God’s church, and we are God’s people, so we’re just trying to come into agreement with what He’s already doing. And if it’s not clear that it’s what God wants, then we don’t do it.

And that’s why the key question is: “Are we utterly dependent on the Holy Spirit for leadership, direction, provision, power and blessing?”

I love that word “utterly”. It means “completely and without qualification, absolutely”. Is what we are doing in this church totally, entirely, fully, thoroughly, altogether, one hundred percent, downright, outright, in all respects, unconditionally, dependant on the Holy Spirit? Or are we trying to work in our own power and wisdom? Just as we want everything we do to be done with love, under the authority of scripture, and in the name of Jesus, we want everything to be powered by the Holy Spirit.

Lifestyle Worship

The fifth Core Value leads naturally from the previous one – Lifestyle Worship. If we are a loving, biblical, Christ-centred, holy spirit empowered church, then we will be a worshipful church. It says, “We want to be a church where each individual is encouraged and equipped to live their whole life in worship and communion with God, and also come together with other believers to participate in authentic, inspirational, excellent, joyful and meaningful community worship experiences.”

This helps us remember that worship doesn’t just happen for the one hour we’re at church. That one hour is meant to be an overflow of the week. The key question here is “Are we helping people live their whole lives as an act of worship?” And that doesn’t mean: Are we teaching them to squish their negative feelings and walk around with a smile pasted on their face, but are we rejoicing always (Phil 4:4) – even in tough times. Are all our ministries focused on “continually offering up a sacrifice of praise to God” (Heb 13:5)?  If they’re not, why are we doing them?

Equipping for Action

The sixth Core Value is Equipping for Action. What this means is that “We believe that Jesus has given every disciple a mission and that the church’s responsibility is to equip them to accomplish that mission. We want to be a church where we train and practically equip people to be effective and self-motivated disciples who carry out the Great Commission.” You see, that’s different than “Spirit empowered”. Not only do we believe that the Holy Spirit empowers people, but that we have a responsibility to find what He’s doing, raise these people up, give them what they need, and help them accomplish what God wants them to do.

And so our question is this: “Are we developing Christian disciples who have the knowledge and tools they need to obey the call of Jesus on their life?” That’s a great question and it helps us assess all of our ministries. If God wants us to be disciple makers (Matt 28:19-20), then are we making disciples? Are we teaching people how to spiritually develop themselves and others? Are we a church that depends on a few key people to do everything, or is the work of discipleship spread across all ministries?

Believe it or not, there are many loving, biblical, Jesus centred churches that meet every week – have prayer and bible study and communion every week – but don’t make any disciples. The people aren’t growing in faith and obedience, no one new is being saved, and few people have any idea what their spiritual gifts are, let alone how to use them. We don’t want to be that kind of church, so we make it a priority to give opportunities to many people to get the knowledge and tools they need to obey what Jesus is asking them to do.

Leadership Development

The seventh and final Core Value of Beckwith Baptist Church is Leadership Development. Just as there are some churches that don’t make disciples, there are many churches who don’t develop leaders. The same people do the same job, year after year, sometimes decade after decade, staying in leadership and never sharing the joy and responsibility with anyone else. They’re happy to be in charge, and the church is happy to let them do all the work. But leaders aren’t developed. There are Pauls, but no Timothys or Titus’. There are Elijahs, but no Elishas. There are Deborah’s but no Baraks. Moses’ but no Joshuas.

In our church we say, “We believe that God has called us to emphasize the development of mature Christian leaders who will have the passion and skills to cultivate and develop new leaders. We want to be a church where expectations are high and each leader is expected not only to serve in their area of ministry, but to equip others to take their place.”

That’s a terrifying thing to some people, but we make it a high priority in this church – because it’s a high priority to God. Sure, God equips people, but He also tells us to equip others. He gives us gifts, but then He expects us to train others. He gives us His word, but He wants us to teach it to others. We Equip people for Action, but there are some people who God is going to call to be leaders in His church, and so we make sure – and each leader in the church is supposed to do this – the elders, the deacons, the treasurer, the Sunday school teachers, the small group leaders – are to ask themselves that key question: “Are we working to mentor, train and empower the next cadre of Christian leaders?”

“Cadre” is another great work. It means “a small group of people specially trained for a particular purpose.” Are we working to make sure that there is another generation of leaders at BBC? That’s important to us, because we believe God put this church here on purpose. We have decades of leaders and leadership development under our belt; generations passing along the ministries to the next generation.

All it takes is for one generation to refuse to train the next runner, to refuse to give up the torch, for the marathon to end. Do we believe so much in the future of this church that we are willing to train up the next generation?

Conclusion

So those are our Core Values. It’s important that we know them, talk about them, keep them in front of us, and remember them when we are making decisions.

And I hope that by going through them you will think through your own personal Core Values. What do you stand for? Why do you do what you do? How do you know you’re on the right track and making the right decisions? Who did God build you to be and are you fulfilling His plan for your life?

Knowing our Core Values is an important way that we answer those questions.

Best Books (Carnivore Theology: Episode 12)

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Best Books

The 12th episode of “Carnivore Theology”. Click here to subscribe.

What Books have Helped the CT Guys Most?

The CT guys talk about best books for marriage, devos, conflict, spiritual warfare, witnessing, Bible-study, and more.

Podcast Audio:

Click here to download the episode in MP3.

And here’s the link to the Behind the Scenes YouTube video.

As Always, We Want Your Feedback

Please give it a listen and then give let us know what you think in comments section below, by e-mailing me, commenting on our Facebook page, or on Twitter! It would be great if you’d rate us on iTunes too! We’d also really appreciate if you’d pass them around to your friends. Sharing is caring!

The Book-List

Marriage

Stuart Scott, The Exemplary Husband:  A Biblical Perspective

Martha Peace – The Excellent Wife:  A Biblical Perspective

Gary Chapman, The Five Love Languages

Bill Farrel and Pam Farrel: Men are like Waffles, Women are like Spaghetti

Personal Devotions

Charles Spurgeon:  Morning and Evening

Arthur Bennet: The Valley of Vision

Richard Foster: Celebration of Discipline

Rick Warren: Purpose Driven Life

Kyle Strobel: Formed for the Glory of God

Al Descheneau: Spiritual Journaling Using Scripture as Your Guide

Conflict Between Believers

Wayne A. Mack:  Homework Manual for Biblical Living

Ken Sande:  The Peacemaker

Ken Sande:  Resolving Everyday Conflict

 Understanding Church Leadership

Alexander Strauch:  Biblical Eldership (Here’s the Booklet)

J. Oswald Sanders:  Spiritual Maturity

Timothy Laniak:  Shepherds After my Own Heart

Mark Dever: 9 Marks of a Healthy Church

John F. MacArthur:  The Master’s Plan for the Church

Understanding our Enemy – Satan

C.S. Lewis:  Screwtape Letters

D. Lloyd Jones:  Christian Warfare

Daily Life of Jesus and His Disciples

Johnston M. Cheney: Jesus Christ, Greatest Life

Mark Driscoll:  Vintage Jesus

John MacArthur:  One Perfect Life

Walter Kaiser:  Archaeological Study Bible

Holman:  The Apologetics Study Bible

Alfred Edersheim:  Collection

Chad’s Favorite Book

Daniel H. Williams:  Retrieving the Tradition and Renewing Evangelicalism:  A Primer for Suspicious Protestants

Al’s Favorite Book

John Bunyan:  The Pilgrim’s Progress  (Part 2)

Steve’s Favorite Book

Saint Augustine:  The Confessions

What Makes Good Worship Music? (Carnivore Theology: Episode 10)

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What Makes Good Worship

Here is the 10th episode of our podcast series, “Carnivore Theology”. Click here to subscribe.

What Makes Good Worship Music?

Worship music is a often debated and dividing issue in too many churches. What does the Bible really say about hymns, choruses and worship music?

Here’s the Podcast Audio:

Click here to download the episode in MP3.

And here’s the link to the Behind the Scenes YouTube video.

As Always, We Want Your Feedback

Please give it a listen and then give let us know what you think in comments section below, by e-mailing me, commenting on our Facebook page, or on Twitter! It would be great if you’d rate us on iTunes too! We’d also really appreciate if you’d pass them around to your friends. Sharing is caring!

Pastoral Prayer: God is Better

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Pastoral Prayer Banner

How lovely is the place where you dwell, O Lord Almighty.

Wherever you are, we want to be.

Our souls, from the very depths of our beings, yearn for you.

We have no strength without you.

We want to be in your presence and among your people.

Our hearts cry out.

Our flesh cries out. Read the rest of this entry »

Serving Others: General Areas of Service – The Four Core Christian Disciplines

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We talked before about how every Christian is called to service, “Drinking the Cup” means accepting our divinely appointed destiny, acknowledging that we are “saved to serve” and that Christianity is NOT a commodity exchange. We serve sacrificially because of our connection to Jesus Christ the perfect model of a servant.

What I want to cover today is how that works out in the context of a church family. If you have given your heart to Jesus, He is your Lord and Saviour, and you have accepted His call to a lifetime of Christian Service, then you have to ask yourself, “What does He want me to do? Where am I to serve? How do I start? What are my gifts?”

The Four Core - Serving

Not Just Spiritual Gifts

I was going to discuss spiritual gifts until realized that Christian service isn’t just about spiritual gifts. I sort of wrote this sermon backwards because I started by discussing spiritual gifts and then realized that there are some areas of Christian service that are common to all believers. I started to write a paragraph about that but quickly figured out that it’s a bit more involved. So what we’re going to talk about are some general areas of service that every Christian is to do. If we jumped straight to Spiritual Gifts some might miss out on some areas of service thinking, “Since it’s not my area of gifting, I don’t have to/get to do that.”

These are commands given to all believers. The only way I can think to do this is in a list format, so I apologize for that. No, this isn’t every type of service in the Bible but some key ones we all need to know.

The Golden Rule

Every area of service is guided by the Golden Rule which Jesus gives us in Matthew 7:12:

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

What Jesus means  is that the entirety of the commands in the Bible, when it comes to how humans are to relate each other, can be summed up in that one phrase:

“…whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them…”

I don’t want to get murdered, so I won’t murder others.

I want to be respected, so I’ll respect others.

I want others to care for me, so I’ll care for others.

I want people to be generous to me, so I’ll be generous.

I don’t want people gossiping about me, so I won’t gossip about them.

I want to have a liveable wage where I can take care of my family, so I’ll pay those who work for me a liveable wage.

I want to be visited, so I’ll visit others.

I want to live in peace, so I will make peace with others.

The Least of These

We talked about one of the big scriptures last week in Matthew 25:31-46 where we are told to feed the hungry and thirsty, welcome strangers, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and the prisoner. These days we have taken those ministries out of the church, and out of our lives, and given that burden to people who we believe are specially gifted, or have a certain aptitude for the work. We create sub-ministries to take care of those things for us: like prison ministry or a parachurch organization who will take care of the poor. We will pay a minister or a chaplain to go visit the sick. We’ll leave clothing the poor to specialized places like Good Will or Salvation Army.

We shouldn’t be thinking that way. We shouldn’t be assuming that it’s not our job and that it’s only for certain people. Scripture says that all of those ministries are meant to be normative for every believer. I’m not saying that we all need to work on street-corners, or that everyone should spend Saturday’s at the prison. What I’m saying is:

If the heart of Jesus is for these people’s needs

and if we have the Holy Spirit living within us,

then our heart should bend towards those people too.

We have to ask ourselves in what way are we obeying these commands. How does our church do this? What ministries do we have to feed the hungry, welcome strangers, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and the prisoner? How are we, as a group of believers, obeying Jesus in this area? We need to get this right and find ways that we can do this in our community. If you have ideas, talk to me or an elder or deacon and let’s do this.

We also need to ask, “In what ways do we as individuals share the love of Jesus in a practical way with people who need help?” After we have spent time serving our own community through our church – because it is the local church which should get our primary support – how can we do more?

Yes, I believe God has gifted His church with certain people He has called to lead the pack in some of these areas. I thank God for those parachurch organizations, and prison ministries and Good will. God has raised up some amazing people with a soft heart towards certain needs to help us be able to do this more easily. So, how are we helping them accomplish their ministry? At the very least we could raise awareness by distributing their materials. We could support these ministries financially or through volunteering our extra time (after we have served at church). We could designate Sundays to various programs and let them inspire us to action, or partner with them for certain projects.

Read Matthew 25 again and ask yourself if this sounds optional. It really isn’t.

Helping The Weak

“We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak…”. (Romans 15:1)

“… we must help the weak…” (Acts 20:35)

We need to serve others (and this is referring to our Christian brothers and sisters, but we should have this attitude towards everybody) by having a generous attitude towards them and their weaknesses. Whether they are weak in body and need help doing something, weak emotionally and need our time and prayers, weak mentally and need our assistance in teaching or in special care, or weak spiritually and need to be mentored and cut some slack as their work out their faith, we are to be people who have a special heart for the weak brothers and sisters around us. This is a good way to obey 1 Thessalonians 5:11 which says:

“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up…”.

We are not about keeping people down… we are about building people up!

Financial Support and Hospitality

“Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” (Romans 12:13)

In short, a way we serve others is that if we see a believer in need, help them. That sometimes means financially, but it more often means practically. If a fellow Christian needs to build something, but doesn’t know how – build it for them. If they need a microwave or a couch, find them one. If you know how to use computers and set up stereo systems, and they don’t… help them!

This coin has two sides, however.

On one side, we need to be willing and able (and excited!)

to help people with the materials and abilities we have

— but we also need to share with others what our needs are.

That means that when you have a need, make it known to the church. Perhaps we could set up a bulletin board where people post their needs. Maybe that means we create a database of people to call for various problems – so you call the church, and we put you in touch with the right person. Maybe that means that we are just more mindful of asking folks, sharing our burdens and opening our hearts and needs a bit more.

What keeps people from doing this is pride. They don’t want to feel as though they are needy… or let on that they lacks something. We’re going to have to get over that. There’s no reason to “put on airs” with your brothers and sisters in Christ. We are all in need of something, which is why God gave us each other in the first place.

In this same verse we also read the word for “hospitality”, which literally means “love for strangers”. In this context it means that we should take special care in showing love for Christians we don’t know yet. The fact that they are believers means that they get special treatment in our eyes. So, be generous to the believers we know, and be loving towards the believers we don’t. Hebrews 13:2 gives us a good reason why, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

Restoring Wayward Christians

We talked about weak Christians already, but this is a little different. Galatians 6:1-2 says:

“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

Another way we can serve one another is by stepping outside our comfort zone and purposefully going towards brothers and sisters who are sliding down the slippery slope, backsliding, falling away, going wayward, who are caught in a sin. Instead of shunning and ostracising, we are to go out and try to help them! Instead of rolling our eyes, pinching our noses, and avoiding the person, we who are more spiritually mature than they are supposed to go and get them!

Romans 15:1 says it this way:

“We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.”

In other words we have an obligation to get out of our comfort zone, to move away from only doing things that we like, to move away from only being around the people ewe like – to not just worry about “pleasing ourselves” – and go and strengthen the weak.

So, if someone is addicted to something, ask if you can help them out of that addiction by getting them to a group, or being there for accountability.

If someone is struggling with their weight, don’t surround them with sugary treats.

If someone is struggling with pornography, tell them that you will be one of the people who they can call, tell them to download some accountability software and make you one of the people that get e-mailed their list of websites.

If someone is angrily walking away from the church, seek them out.

If someone is harbouring bitter feelings, tell them and figure out how to help them through it.

If someone is heretical in their beliefs, teach them what is right.

Imagine being part of a church where you knew that kind people were available when you are tempted, generous people are willing to give you their time to help you, and that if you fall, they will always be there to pick you up in Jesus name. How can you and I “bear with the failings of the weak” and “restore people” gently to the faith?

Greeting One Another

Here’s another general area of service that all Christians are responsible for. Four times in the New Testament we are commanded to:

“Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (1 Cor 16:20, 2 Cor 13:12, etc).

Today, we don’t do that, and it would be greatly misunderstood if you were to try. It’s the same with foot-washing or women covering their heads – it’s a cultural thing. However, even though the practice has changed, the symbolic meaning is still very important. Christians are supposed to greet one another in friendship.

When we see one another,

we are meeting a brother or sister in Jesus,

a fellow adopted son or daughter of God,

a prince or princess of the Kingdom…

so it’s a big deal.

We should at least acknowledge another with a welcoming handshake, a tip of the hat, a head nod – or something just to say, “Jesus loves you, I love you, and I acknowledge you as part of my family and person worthy of respect.”

Rejoice and Weep With One Another

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15)

“…[address] one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart…” (Ephesians 5:19)

We can serve people, both Christian and non, by simply being with them during their times of joy and grief. By allowing their feelings to affect our own. Another word for this is compassion, or empathy. This means that when we are singing, let us all sing together. When someone is happy, be happy for them, and be happy with them. When they are sad, comfort them and be empathetic to what they are feeling.

We can serve people simply by showing up to their important life events, or at least sending a card to acknowledge them. We can remind them of the scriptures that speak to you during those times – happy or sad.

This is all about making an effort to connect with other believers on a personal level.

No, not everyone has to be your best friend. No, you don’t have to spill your guts to every person in the church. This is simply realizing that God is going to put people in your life who you are supposed to care about, and being present at people’s times of celebration and mourning is an unbelievably powerful act of service to them. You don’t need the right words. You don’t need a present. You don’t need anything. Just try to feel what they are feeling with them.

Every Day Encouragement

Along this same vein we read Hebrews 3:13:

“But exhort [or ‘encourage’] one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

I’m want to latch onto the words “every day”. We can serve one another by making it a point to send encouragement to people in our church – often. The concern the author of Hebrews has here is that

if we are not encouraging one other

and acknowledging each other in friendship,

then we can be culpable in

making people’s hearts get hard toward God.

How? I’m sure you know this feeling.

You come to church and no one greets you. The same people ask you the same two questions every single week and it never goes deeper: “How are you doing? How’s work?” The same people forget your name every week and most haven’t bothered to even figure out where you live. You leave the building and no one notices. All week long you have your phone around you and you don’t get one phone call from another Christian, except for a couple people who want you to do something for them.

It’s not too long until your heart starts to get hard towards believers, towards the church, and towards God. Demons start whispering in your ear, “These people don’t love you, or even like you. They only want to take from you. You give and give, and they take and take. You should leave and find a place that loves you more. Heck, if this is how Christians are, then you don’t need to be one at all – what’s the point? If this is the kind of people Jesus makes, then you can do better.”

You’ve probably felt that. So have many others. It’s our responsibility to help people feel loved. Remember the Golden Rule!

How can we do this? It’s pretty straight forward – and one reason I appreciate social media is because it makes this really easy. If you’re still offline, then call and send encouragement notes. If you are online, e-mail, text, Facebook, tweet – whatever you can do to make small and growing connections to people in the church. It doesn’t begin and end on Facebook, but it’s a good place to start.

These tools will help you  figure out how to ask deeper questions and actively try to learn about people. If there is a home you’ve never been to, or people you’ve never had in your home (or one you haven’t been to in a while) — invite them over, or invite yourself over! Be patient and wait for a good time – don’t just show up unannounced because, again, that’s not as culturally acceptable anymore – but make the time and do it. Host BBQ’s at your home, have a small group that rotates people every 6-8 weeks. When you go out to a museum, for dinner, or somewhere, make a point of calling up some folks and see if they want to go too.

Spurring People

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works…” (Hebrews 10:24)

This is one of my favourite verses because of the words “stir up”, which has an even better translation in the NIV – “spur”. That is a great word picture when we consider the term comes from the thing that a cowboy straps on his boot so he can inflict pain on the horse so they will run faster. We are to do that to each other – it’s a service we provide other believers. The Greek word is PAROXYSM and it means to “stimulate strongly”, “irritate” or “incite”.

When was the last time you were irritated so much by the Christians around you that you just had to act in “love” and do “good deeds”? Imagine being surrounded by Christians who won’t get off your back about it. That’s the kind of picture that we should get into our head when it comes to how we should encourage each other to be loving and do the right thing. We should bug each other to the point of irritation that we hear so much about “love” and “good deeds” that we get to the point where we say

“Fine!

I’ll be loving and do good things!

Quit bugging me!”

Can you imagine being a church where we are “spurring” people to love?

The word is also used in a way where people are “spurred” or “incited” to riot. Imagine our church being the cause of a “love riot”? Imagine having such an effect on each other that we start a “love riot”. I don’t even know what that would look like! People marching down the street… and instead of fighting, smashing cars and breaking storefront windows… their hugging, picking up litter and cleaning the storefront windows? Instead of the police having to shoot tear gas to disperse the crowd, they’re firing streams of Mountain Dew and passing out cake… I don’t know.

But that’s the kind of life we should be “spurring” one another towards. Maybe it just looks like spurring one another towards hope when we’re down. Or inciting people to be more available to their wife and family. Maybe it looks like getting people so excited about Jesus that they want to spend more time with God in prayer and Bible study. Maybe it means other Christians irritating us to the point where we can’t help but pay off our credit cards and start spending wisely.

There are lots of ways that we could irritate each other. This is the good way. How can we spur each other on?

Serving Others Starts At Home

Here’s something important: This all starts at home. 1 Timothy 5:8 says:

“But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

All of these different ways of living out the gospel, giving grace to others out of the grace that Jesus showed us, starts at home. We do this first for our family, our husband, wife and kids, our extended family. We meet their needs, encourage them, spur them on, help them flee from sin, take care of their hearts, bodies and minds, rejoice and weep with them.

If we aren’t prioritizing the people in our home, the primary ministry we have been given, then we are not living out the gospel, not obeying God, and are “worse than an unbeliever” – because even pagans and atheists inherently know that they need to take care of their family first.

So I will never sacrifice my family on the alter of the church. They get first dibs at my time, energy, money, concentration and love. I’m a husband first, a dad second, and a pastor third. That’s how it has to work. Don’t short-change your family because you’re serving the church – that’s sin.

Then Comes the Church

But, next comes the church. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll have noticed that these verses all seem to lean towards taking care of people at church, and not as much towards the world. That’s because they do. Some, who are more evangelistic minded think “We have to get out into the world! Not just be self-focused!” I totally agree. And everything I’ve just said is about not being self-focused, and getting outside of ourselves. Many of these exhortations apply just as well to our unbelieving neighbours. After all, that’s what the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) is all about – stopping our lives and taking care of people who are radically different than us for no other reason than that they are fellow human beings who deserve our love and attention.

We can’t get away from the fact that

the Discipline of Serving Others is done

primarily at home

and secondarily at church.

Remember John 13:35:

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Galatians 6:10 says it this way:

“So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

So when you are considering how to serve and where to serve, it begins at home and moves outward to the people who attend the same church as us. We don’t serve to the exclusion of the people in the wider world, but we prioritize our brothers and sisters first. I think this is a portion of what Jesus meant when he said:

“But seek first the kingdom of God…” (Matthew 6:33)

The Measure You Use

One final encouragement/warning from Luke 6:38 when it comes to Christian Service:

“…give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

A Prayer for Confessing Hypocrisy

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After being challenged by the elders to study and pray about Pastoral Prayers I have decided to write and give a new prayer each week during the church service. I’ve thought a lot about posting them here and have decided to do so in hopes that people will experience a new way to pray and be encouraged through them. Feel free to use them privately or in your church’s worship time. This prayer is from July 7, 2013.

Pastoral Prayer Banner

Invocation

“[We] will praise you forever for what you have done;

in your name [we] will hope, for your name is good.

[We] will praise you in the presence of the saints.” (Ps 52:9)

It is our desire to praise you Lord, because you are so worthy of our praise.

We worship you and give you glory for what you have done:

the majesty of your creation,

the plan of salvation,

the furtherance of your kingdom,

the hope that is within us,

the rebirth of our souls,

and the revival we have seen in our lives.

And we worship you and give you glory for who You are:

If you had done nothing, your glory alone would be cause for us fall down before you.

Your very nature makes you worthy of our songs.

You are good,

mighty,

majestic

and holy.

Accept our praise today.

Confession

We confess that we have been hypocrites this week.

We have said one thing and done another.

We have proclaimed to be Christians and acted like pagans.

We have been like the teachers of the law and the Pharisees (Matthew 23) who were bad examples to others and did not practice what they preached.

We have done things for the glory of men,

wanting their acceptance and approval above yours.

We have been greedy

and self-indulgent,

willfully walking towards temptation

and jumping head-long into it.

We have strained out gnats and swallowed camels as we have messed up our priorities, neglecting the more important matters of our faith –

justice,

mercy,

faithfulness

– and focused on less important matters

like getting our tithes right to the penny,

reading our bibles for the right amount of minutes,

and saying just enough prayers to abate our conscience.

Forgive us for inverting our priorities and grieving your spirit within us.

Forgive us again this week Lord.

We repent of our sin again, and as you to increase our desire to obey you.

We trust in your word, in your Holy Scriptures, that teach us that “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

We fall on that mercy today,

on the shed blood of Christ,

on your abundant grace.

Not presuming upon it, but trusting in it.

Accept our confession and repentance.

Create in us a clean heart.

Renew a steadfast spirit within us.

Restore the joy of your salvation.

And grant us a willing spirit to sustain us. (Psalm 51)

Intercession

We pray for those in authority over us as you have commanded us to.

We pray for the Federal, Provincial and Civil government leaders in our country and around the world who have been given power,

by You,

to make decisions that affect so many people.

Grant them wisdom and humility.

We pray for the persecuted church around the world who are being mistreated

because of their unwavering faith in you.

Help them be a good example to all of us,

to remain strong in the faith,

and to trust in you for their deliverance

– either here, or in eternity.

We pray for the Christian community of Beckwith, Montague, Tay Valley, Mississippi Mills, Carleton Place, Lanark, Lanark Highlands, Drummond/North Elmsly, Smith’s Falls, Perth, Delta, Athens, Brockville, Arnprior, Renfrew, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada and the US.

Help them to be passionate in worship,

strong in fellowship,

disciplined in study,

effective in prayer,

full of miracles,

and to grow in number and in faith.

We pray this in the name of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen

Church Attendance: Getting the Most out of Sunday Service (Part 2) – The Four Core Christian Disciplines

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Sunday morning isn’t the sum of the Christian faith experience, but it can be a conduit, a beginning to it, if we take the time and effort to prepare ourselves and be ready for what God wants for us for each Sunday morning. I spent some time yesterday going through the first five ways we can prepare ourselves and get the most out of the Church service and today we’re going to jump right into the last five.  As I told you before, this sermon is an expansion of a top-ten list that John Piper posted on his blog a while back.

The Four Core - Church

6. Forbear One Another on Sunday Morning

His full title for this section was “Forebear one another Sunday morning without grumbling and criticism.”

We should already know that there are lots and lots of different kinds of Christians. God calls all kinds of people into His Kingdom. And because we are not the same, it stands to reason that we are not going to agree on everything all the time. We are going to have different opinions, styles and ideas – not about core issues, but about non-essential things that have to do with our personal preferences. Some people like having flowers up here, others don’t. Some people want to have more music, others less. Some think that church should have a certain dress code, others believe that church definitely shouldn’t have a dress code. None of this is core to the faith, and it creates many disagreements among brothers and sisters that make Satan laugh.

Do you want to know the best way to ruin your Sunday morning, or someone else’s? Start grumbling. Grumbling is demonic, did you know that? It’s a sin. Muttering under your breath, rolling your eyes, making others feel small, elevating your own opinion above others… all sin. Grumbling will ruin your Sunday morning because you won’t be able to see the good things going on, but only the bad. It’s like putting on the sunglasses and gas-mask I talked about during the anniversary service. Grumbling comes from a bitter, upset heart.

Listen to the words of Philippians 2:14-15:

“Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…”

Every Sunday there is a demonic little voice inside your head that says:

“You deserve more.

You’re important.

Don’t give them the benefit of the doubt.

Your opinion outweighs others.

Everything is miserable.

Nothing’s going right.

You mentioned this and it didn’t change.

You should go somewhere else.

You should let others know how upset you are about this, but don’t tell them because nothing will happen… just grump around.

Feed the bitter root.

Start an argument with someone about something trivial.

It’s your right to complain and since everyone is here at church, this is the best time.”

Grumbling is a temptation for families on the way to church, when they arrive at church, during service, and then after service as well. There are lots of opportunities to grumble, ever Sunday morning.

So how do we combat this? By making the choice to have a longer fuse on Sunday morning.

Colossians 3:13 says, “Bear with [Forbear] each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

What that means is that we give each other the same grace and forgiveness we have been given by God through Jesus Christ. We embody the gospel in our relationships to one another.

Does this mean that we just ignore everything and never have a conversation about what we like or dislike? Sometimes it does. Sometimes we just suck-it-up and drop it –

James 1:19 says that we are to “be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger”.

But other times, when we just can’t let it go, on Sunday morning we must “forbear”. To forbear means to refrain, abstain, hold back, and to be patient and self-controlled when you are annoyed or provoked. It means to hang on to it for a little bit and wait for the right time and place, and then privately talk to the right person about the issue to come to a peaceful resolution. Wait until Monday or Wednesday after you’ve had a chance to think and pray about it, and then if you still have a problem, call that person on the phone, or better, invite them over for coffee.

We don’t want to be like the people described in Psalm 106:25 where it says “They grumbled in their tents; they did not listen to the voice of the LORD.” Nobody wins when we grumble against each other and then refuse to gather together because of our own hard hearts.

7. Be Meek and Teachable When You Come

James 1:21 says, “In meekness receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.” This goes for all of us, including me. If we show up thinking we know it all, have a chip on our shoulder, and assume that we are God’s gift to the Church, then we are going to get absolutely nothing out of Sunday service.

Scriptures says “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” so if you are sitting in service thinking “I could run sound or powerpoint better than that. I could sing better, pray better, read better, teach better, play better, or make better coffee…” then scripture says God is opposing you this morning. I know I sometimes struggle with this whenever I go to another church. I have to be extra careful that I don’t harbour critical thoughts.

When it comes to the sermon, to come with meekness and humility doesn’t mean that you are blindly accepting every word I say as though I’m Moses or the Apostle Paul. Dr. Piper says this:

“Meekness and teachability are not gullibility. You have your Bible and you have your brain. Use them. But if we come with a chip on our shoulder and a suspicion of the preaching week after week, we will not hear the Word of God. Meekness is a humble openness to God’s truth with a longing to be changed by it.”

The simple point here is to come asking the question, “What does God want to say to me through the people who are leading the service this morning?” The service leader prepares an opening scripture… what did God say to you during that reading? Did you miss a blessing because you forgot to listen? The music was prayed over and specially chosen. Did you pay attention to the words and what the Spirit of God was doing during the singing? Were you paying attention to the offertory prayer? Maybe God had a message for you there. What does God want to tell you in this sermon, at this time? If you come with a “longing to be changed” and a “meek and humble openness to God’s truth”, He will do something special.

Let me also say this: I love teaching and if you want to challenge something I’ve said, something I’ve done, something you think you’ve heard, or whatever else about me or the service, let’s talk about it during the week. Contact me or let’s set up another time so we can chew the issue out together.

8. Purposefully Focus Your Mind on God

When you come into the sanctuary, sometimes there is a lot of noise, kids, music practicing and activity. I praise God for that activity, because I’ve been in churches where it’s more like a mausoleum and that’s depressing. No matter the conditions of the room, when you come in seek to “focus your mind’s attention and your hearts affection on God.”

What do you do when you first pull up into the church parking lot? That’s a great time to start obeying Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Take the steps from your car to the church to prepare yourself for service. When you enter the sanctuary, focus your mind on why you are here, Who you are here to meet, and then choose to give you attention to God.

Perhaps just a quick prayer to God, thanking Him for this place, these people, this time, and asking Him to begin tilling the soil of your heart so you are prepared to receive Him. Something simple like, “God, I’m glad I’m here, and I’m glad you’re here. I want to meet you today.”

Come expecting to meet God because He is here to meet with you! Socializing is really good, and I encourage everyone here to be super-friendly and loving and supportive… but taking that moment to focus on God will change your whole attitude. Maybe, as the old hymn says, “the things of earth will grow strangely dim” for just a little while.

9. Think About What is Sung, Prayed and Preached.

We’ve covered this a bit already, but the encouragement here is to keep your brain in gear. One of my struggles in life is not activating my mind – it’s focusing it. I have to make a conscious effort each week to read the words on the screen, sing them with meaning, and not go into auto-pilot even during the sermon. Do you ever go on auto-pilot during the service, and then wake up an hour later and can’t remember what happened? I’ve done that, and I can’t tell you how many blessings I’ve missed out on.

1 Corinthians 14:20 says, “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.”

Paul says to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:7, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything”.

Some of us were raised on Michael Bay films and Teletoon, and have been conditioned towards 30 second attention spans. I’m sure some of us could really use a commercial break or two during in the middle of the message. My encouragement is to do your best to stay with me, and stay with the music. I’ll try to prepare something worth hearing, if you’ll make the effort to listen.

It’s a good habit to try to memorize the songs so that you can sing them during the week without using the PowerPoint so you can close your eyes and concentrate on God. It’s a little depressing when the PowerPoint goes down and no one remembers a song they’ve sang 50 times. Open your ears, you minds and your hearts to listen to the words God is bringing to you.

10. Desire the Truth of God’s Word More than You Desire Riches or Food.

1 Peter 2:2 tells us: “Like newborn babies, desire the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.”

This is something that comes as you mature in Christ. I know you can’t simply will yourself to want the word of God more, but you can put yourself in a place where you learn that the Word of God is of more value to you than anything you could possibly buy, and where you realize that it provides greater sustenance than anything you could possibly eat.

Each week,

“as you sit quietly and pray and meditate on the text and the songs, remind yourself of what Psalm 19:9-11 says about the Words of God.” (Piper) They are “true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.”

They really are. The words contained within the Bible, the Spirit which empowers them, the God who wrote them, the Lord Jesus whom they are all about, are good, precious, filling, wonderful, and are worthy to build our lives on.

A Christian church service can give you a taste of heaven and a hint of what Christian maturity is all about. Sunday morning service, if you let it, can give you a thirst for God, a closer fellowship with the Holy Spirit and the people of God, and help you want a deeper and more meaningful relationship with Jesus.

Growing At Church: 8 Ways to Lean On Your Leaders

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It is my deep desire to help you pursue your faith, fall in love with Jesus and His church, serve and make your church the place where you expect great things to happen. What happens in the Christian Church is what is going to last for eternity. What we do together is what we will be talking about and celebrating with Jesus one day. Your church is worth pursuing and sacrificing for.

The Most Important Organization on Earth

I’ve been part of the Christian church for a long time. For literally as long as I can remember, with only a short period of rebellion during my first year in college to break the chain, I have been a part of a Christian family and have attended Christian services.

The Christian church is very important to me and the closer I have gotten to Jesus the more I care for His church. The longer I have worked for the church the more I’ve grown to believe that it is the most important organization on the planet. We are capable of so much more good than any other organization. There are Christian churches in every nation in the world full of believers who want to do good for others and share the message of salvation. Christians around the world are working hard to make the gospel real in people’s lives by sharing not just the message of salvation, but practical examples of grace too.

Christian Relief Organizations

I don’t usually make political commentary during my sermons. Politics are complicated and I don’t consider myself informed enough to be able to speak on the subject with any kind of authority, so I generally avoid any kind of political commentary. But something happened a little while back that bugged me, and seemed to bug a lot of evangelical Canadians. Thomas Mulcair, leader of the NDP, said that evangelical Christians go “<