Matthew R. Perry

Archive for the ‘church’ Category

When the Spirit of God Begins To Move (Sinclair Ferguson)

In church, revival, Worship on May 14, 2009 at 12:10 pm

(I recently came across this in Ferguson’s work, In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel-Centered Life, and had to share this with you.)

Many years ago, I witnessed revival in its most microcosmic form in a sudden, unexpected, and remarkable work of God’s Spirit on a friend. The work was so dramatic, the effect so radical, that news of it spread quickly to different parts of the country. People were asking, “Just what exactly happened?”

Five things seemed to have happened, and they were still fresh in the memory two and a half decades later:

  1. A painful exposure of the particular sin of unbelief occurred. Listening to preaching was a staple of my friend’s spiritual diet, but what came with overpowering force was a sense that God’s Word had actually been despised inwardly. God’s own Word, preaching in the power of the Spirit, stripped away the mask of inner pride and outward reputation for spirituality. There was a fearful exposure of sin.
  2. A powerful desire arose to be free from all sin. A new affection came, as if unbidden, into the heart. Indeed, a desire seemed to be given actually to have sin increasingly revealed and exposed in order that it might be confessed, pardoned, and cleansed. Disturbing though it was, there was a sweetness of grace in the pain.
  3. The love of Christ now seemed marvelous beyond measure. A love for Him flowed from a heart that could not get enough of Christ, ransacking Scripture to discover more and more about Him.
  4. A new love for God’s Word was born—for reading it, for hearing it expounded and applied, and especially for knowing every expression of God’s will, so that it might be obeyed.
  5. A compassionate love for others now flowed. It came from this double sense of sin and need on the one hand and grace and forgiveness on the other. Christian witness ceased to be a burden and became the expression of Spirit-wrought and powerful new affections.

________

From Matt:

I do not know about you, reading over this and then writing it here makes my heart long for this work to happen among us. Does this describe you? This is not simply for the super-saints—this is what God has in store for true followers of Him. May we set our sails and be ready when God decides to move among us—and may we be joyfully obedient in the meantime.

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Membership: Does It Have Value for American Christians?

In church on May 12, 2009 at 4:34 pm

This summer, our leadership here at Boone’s Creek will evaluate the role of membership.  Some churches have decided against membership, some make their membership very stringent.  Some are, obviously, at all points  in-between! 

In the case of our church, we have a number who are what we call non-attending members.  They are non-attending for the following reasons:

  • They are attending elsewhere, but for sentimental reasons they keep their membership at our church;
  • They have moved away, but have not joined another church;
  • Some take issues about how a certain ministry
  • Personal illnesses or illnesses of family members, making it necessary to stay close-by;
  • Many we cannot contact either by mail, e-mail, nor telephone. 

While we as churches are very stringent on being accountable in other areas of our church (finances, music, starting/ending time, temperature of the room), but the covenant of membership is seen as something of little importance or even necessity (Hebrews 10:23-25; Acts 2:42-47; Acts 4:32-37).

The True Church

Our Declaration of Faith defines the true church as:

We believe that a church of the Lord Jesus Christ is a congregation of baptized believers; associated by a covenant in the faith and fellowship of the Gospel of Christ; taking the Holy Bible as the only rule of faith and practice; observing the ordinances of Christ; governed by His laws; and exercising the gifts, rights, and the privileges invested in them by His Word; that its only scriptural officers are bishop or pastor and deacons; that the true mission of the church is found in the Great Commission, Matt. 28:19-20; that the only head of the church is Christ; that the sole authority for faith and practice is the Scriptures; that such a church has the absolute right of self-government, free from the interference of any (17.  The True Church, Declaration of Faith, Boone’s Creek Baptist Church, Lexington, KY). 

This article is thick with understanding the nature of the church.  Nestled away in this is a very key phrase:  “…associated by a covenant in the faith and fellowship of the Gospel of Christ.”  When people join their church, there is some significant understandings that must be brought forth:

  1. The church of Christ consists of baptized believers.  You have to be a Christian to unite with a local body of believers in Christ. 
  2. Baptism demonstrates your willingness to identify with the body of Christ in obeying what He teaches through His Word and His people. 
  3. The Scriptures are the centerpiece of worship because the centerpiece of the Scriptures is Christ;
  4. We exercise the “gifts, rights, and privileges invested” by His Word;
  5. We observe the ordinances (baptism and Lord’s Supper) as a local church;
  6. The Great Commission is the true mission of the church;
  7. Christ is the head of the church;
  8. The church is self-governed under Christ’s headship.

How could we take membership in a local church lightly?   When we covenant to invest our time, gifts, talents, and presence among God’s people to strengthen them in the faith, this is a decidedly serious matter.  We link arms with our brothers and sisters in Christ to spread the glory of God from our neighbors to the nations.  We strengthen one another in Christ, and share the gospel of Christ. 

Over this summer, our emphasis here at Boone’s Creek Baptist Church is to get a greater grasp of the Kingdom of God and the role Christians play as citizens of that Kingdom!  Please check back!

The Purpose of Spiritual Gifts

In church, spiritual gifts on May 7, 2009 at 8:39 am

This is a study given on Wednesday, May 6, 2009 at Boone’s Creek Baptist Church, Lexington, KY.

____________ 

“A spiritual gift is any ability that is empowered by the Holy Spirit and used in any ministry of the church” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 1016).

Last week, we discussed the gift that God has given in leaders. Ephesians 4:11-12 says:

 

11And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.

Your leaders are not to receive authority because of who they are, but because on account of the who He is—he gave these leaders to the churches to lead them in Christ’s direction and to help them grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ (2 Peter 3:18) and to exercise their gifts.

What are these gifts that we are to exercise? They are simply called spiritual gifts: gifts God gives to individual members of his body.

(1) What is the purpose of these gifts?

Let’s continue on in Ephesians 4:13-16

13until 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, 14so 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. 15Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

What can we cull from these verses?

    • Unity in the faith and Knowledge of the Son of God
    • …which moves toward maturity and the fullness of Christ
    • …so we may no longer be children easily deceived but anchored in the Head, which is Christ.
    • …so every member may be held together as it should
    • …so we are built up in love.

(2) What are these gifts?

Different passages outline various gifts.  Grudem offers this list (Systematic Theology):

1 Corinthians 12:28

Apostle

Prophet

Teacher

Miracles

Kinds of healings

Helps

Administration

Tongues

 

1 Corinthians 12:8-10

Word of wisdom

Word of knowledge

Faith

Gifts of healing miracles

Prophecy

Distinguishing b/t spirits

Tongues

Interpretation of tongues

Ephesians 4:11

Apostles

Prophet

Evangelist

Pastor-teacher

Romans 12:6-8

Prophecy

Serving

Teaching

Encouraging

Contributing

Leadership

Mercy

1 Cor. 7:7

Marriage

Celibacy

We must know these things:

  • God gives these gifts to each and every member of His body. None are exempt…and none are without excuse in regards to exercising that gift. God makes these gifts clear to us in a number of ways:
            • Instilling a love for doing or serving in various ways;
            • Spiritual gifts tests (although we must realize that they are man-made and risk having biases);
            • Confirmation from other Spirit-led brothers and sisters in Christ.
  • We must also realize that these gifts are developed differently in various Christians (Romans 12:6; 1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6).
  • Not every Christian has every gift (1 Corinthians 12:28-31).
  • When you know what your gift is, use it!
  • Make sure those gifts are backed by love (since Paul, after listing those gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:28-30, said “I will show you a more excellent way,” after which he proceeded into the love chapter. 

Regardless, we must know that as Christians, we have gifts given by God himself that spread His glory from our neighbors to the nations—given to strengthen His people and share His gospel.

Question:

· What type of spiritual gift do you think you have?

· What is something that God has given you a love for?

· In what ways can you use that gift? In what ways will you use that gift?

· Do you ever envy another gift someone may have? Why?

If someone gives you a gift, and you fail to use it, you offend the one who gave that gift to you. However, many Christians fail to realize how we offend the holiness and direction of the Father who gives His sons and daughters gifts to exercise, yet never exercise them. And we must be content and thankful for whatever gift God has granted to us—without envying the gifts that others may have!

Yet, beware of taking this gift that God gives you and using it as a opportunity for pride. Remember, even with these gifts, Paul would show us a “more excellent way”—which leads us into 1 Corinthians 13, known as the “Love” chapter. You can have the gifts, but if there is no love to bolster those gifts, then those gifts are nothing. The gifts are not meant to point to the one who was given the gift—the gifts were meant to glorify and point to the giver.

Getting Ready for Sunday Morning Worship

In church on May 6, 2009 at 5:41 pm

bcbcRecently, I put up a Facebook status saying, in essence, how helpful it would be for us to start getting ready for Sunday worship on Saturday evening—and cut down on the TV, Facebook, or other things that distract us from being alert and ready the next morning.  I received a lot of interesting feedback. 

Yet, it would be good for us to consider some practical ways to prepare ourselves for our times of corporate worship:

  1. Turn off the television on Saturday evenings!  What is there on network television or cable that lifts up the mind to heavenly heights?  I struggle with this, especially during football season because ABC usually has a great game on with kickoff at 8:00 p.m. EST.  But I must.
  2. Turn off the computer.  So much information, so many helpful (and unhelpful) websites, so many sites that help us network (MySpace, Facebook, Twitter ), means so many ways to distract.  Psalm 119:15-16 is a helpful tonic. 
  3. Lay out your clothes and church materials the night before.  “What will I wear?  What will the kids wear?  How about this?  No, this doesn’t fit anymore?  Where are my/your/their shoes?  Oh no, my shirt isn’t ironed!”  As a father of four, there is no shortage of things that can deter you from making it to church on time.  Take time the night before to lay your clothes and your small children’s clothes out the night before.  You will be amazed at the amount of time this saves for Sunday morning (and how much of our attitude is helped by this).
  4. Take time to pray with your family about the service the next day.  Our children (and ourselves, too) need to realize the mammoth importance of corporate worship before God and with our brothers and sisters in Christ. 
  5. Get up at a good hour.  If you have to be at morning Bible study at, say, 9:45, and you are married or have children, getting up at 8:30 will not help.  Getting up at 8:00 is better.  It’s good to leave 30-45 minutes on average for each person in your house (women usually take longer than this, men usually take shorter, along with your children’s dress, the brushing of teeth, the meals, etc.).  We have six at our house—so we get up at 6:30-6:45 out of necessity.
  6. Have some Christian music or some Scripture on.  For me, Isaac Watts hymns, Sovereign Grace Music, or even Elvis Presley singing the hymns (yes, you read correctly) help focus the mind.   Having the daily Scripture from the ESV site read to me is priceless as well.
  7. Take time that morning to read through the morning’s sermon Scripture.  I post this in our monthly newsletter for this reason—so we may prepare our minds and hearts to receive that Word.  Thabiti Anyabwile, pastor of FBC-Grand Cayman, recommends that we spend time each day doing this (Acts 17:10-15—let’s be Bereans!). 
  8. Enter into your morning Bible study expectantly ready to receive the Word.  Same with morning worship.  Allow nothing to distract you from your time of worship (Psalm 100).  Even well-meaning fellowship before the service may distract from our focus and concentration as we ready ourselves to hear God’s revealed Word.

What are some other things that help you?

God Has Called Us To Be Expositional Listeners

In church on May 1, 2009 at 8:29 pm

You’ve heard of expositional preaching, which is taking the main point of a passage of Scripture and making it the main point of a sermon.

But did you know there is such a thing as “expositional listening”? Thabiti Anyabwile, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman in the first chapter of his book, What is a Healthy Member? says, “Just as the pastor’s preaching agenda should be determined by the meaning of Scripture, so too should the Christian’s listening agenda be driven by the meaning of Scripture” (19).

Have you ever thought about this being one of your roles in worship? Why is this so crucial for us to tune in to the Word? Anyabwile continues:

1. This benefits us by cultivating a hunger for God’s Word (Psalm 119:103-104).

2. This helps us focus on God’s will and to follow Him (John 10:27).

3. This protects the gospel and our lives from corruption (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

4. This encourages faithful pastors (Hebrews 13:17, 1 Timothy 5:17).

5. This benefits the gathered congregation as they strive toward unity.

How do we cultivate this habit?

1. Meditate on the sermon passage during your quiet time the week before.

2. Invest in a good set of commentaries.

3. Talk and pray with friends about the sermon after church.

4. Listen to and act on the sermon throughout the week.

5. Develop the habit of addressing any questions about the text itself.

6. Cultivate humility.

Romans 10:17 says that “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Won’t you develop this very helpful habit as you grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18)?

Brothers, What Shall We Do? (Acts 2:14-41)–Resurrection Sunday Sermon

In Acts 1:8, Christ, church on April 14, 2009 at 12:43 pm

(Listen to the mp3 version of the sermon, delivered April 12, 2009 at Boone’s Creek Baptist Church, Lexington, KY.)

While I was on vacation in Virginia, Cindy, Hannah and I had a chance to spend the day at Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington. If you are an American and have a chance to go through that place, I urge you to do so. It was interesting watching a video there on some of the practices and rituals that Washington started—and how many of those presidents continued. For instance,

  • Washington only served two terms, when the Constitution did not put limits on how many terms he served. The people were ready to crown him king (after all, that’s what they were used to), but Washington wisely stepped aside.
  • Washington insisted on being called “Mr. President,” rather than “His Excellency.”
  • He opened the White House for social engagements;
  • He established his cabinet to advise him on matters of policy—rather than simply running the country himself.

I could go on and on, but what’s been clear is how our country is indebted to its founder for so many items, they are almost incalculable. And most everyone who serves in the office of President sits squarely in his shadow. This glorious Easter morning, we shall be looking at the book of Acts—not looking at a fledgling country, but a fledgling church. Their founder, Jesus Christ, had just left ten days before. Forty-three days prior to that he was crucified in an effort by the authorities to silence his testimony and influence in their land.

During his three-and-a-half year ministry, He had turned Palestine upside down with his authoritative teaching and miracles. Unlike the religious authorities who only cared about themselves and their position, Jesus cared about His people—and for good reason. He made them! He calls His people “his sheep” that He lays down His life for. The dream looked over! Yet, on the first day of the week, Jesus arose. He died! And He arose! And for forty days, Jesus taught them “the kingdom of God” and gave them many proofs that he was still alive! He didn’t give them a bunch of money to start their ministries. He didn’t give them buildings nor land to move forward with. All He said was, “I will send you My Spirit, and you will be my witnesses.” Where? Everywhere! And God sent His Spirit, and God gave them the Word to preach—and they preached to the point where the crowd asked in Acts 2:37, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Why ask this question? Because they were “cut to the heart!” Why? Because to a heart prepared by the Spirit of God, Christ cuts right to the heart of who we are. And my prayer for you this morning is that you would be cut to the heart with what the Word reveals regarding Christ! And there is much to cut through to get to that heart!

1. We must listen up (Acts 2:14-21)

Notice in verse 37 that they were cut to the heart after they “heard this.” By saying this, we must realize that we are not by nature agreeable to even the most basic issues of God. From my youth, I remember how Roscoe P. Coltrane on the Dukes of Hazzard, who would get on his CB radio asking Enos if he had his “ears on.”

We by nature do not have those ears for God. So when Jesus said repeatedly in the gospels and in Revelation, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear,” we see that he chooses to make himself known through the Word preached. He puts it before us—will we listen? When the disciples, filled with the Spirit, begin speaking in languages that everyone at Pentecost could understand, “all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’

Some actually inquire regarding spiritual things, intrigued by the message. This is not saving faith, but could go either way: it could become a new hobby of interest, or lead to a deeper spiritual quest that leads to saving faith. But others mocking said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’” We may mock and make excuses for the power or the reason why they are cut to the heart. Rather than respond, some begin to mock, “They are drunk! They are hateful in calling men sinners in need of repentance! They are just babbling superstitions!” Or it could be that some take the Word and are enraged, like the Jewish Council was when they arrested Peter and John. They were so affected that they sought to silence them like they attempted to do with Jesus!

How will you respond? Will you sit with great interest, listening to another one of many perspectives on how to live, adding it to your stockpile of other philosophies and hobbies that interest? Are you secretly mocking, wondering why sensible people hold to such superstitions? Maybe the Word will enrage you and offend you. Each of these reactions shows the power of the Word to penetrate and convict. But will it cut—to the heart!!!

2. We see how Jesus was delivered up! (Acts 2:22-23)

Look at this portion of Peter’s sermon in verses 22-23: Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.

Again, Peter is calling his listeners to listen up! And who does he present? Jesus of Nazareth—a man grounded in history, born of a virgin, growing up in wisdom and stature before God and man! He was a man, but more than a man—he was a man who God gave who possessed many works and wonders and signs that God did through him. Keep in mind that Jesus crucifixion was only six weeks prior. His ministry turned Palestine upside down. Jesus’ 3 ½ year ministry was still fresh in their minds, which is why Peter said, “As you yourselves know!”

Historically, who delivered up Jesus? In verse 23, Peter says, “YOU crucified and killed [Jesus] by the hands of lawless men.” Who is he talking to? “Men of Israel!” So here, Jesus says it was God’s own covenant people, the Jews, and their religious leaders who crucified Christ! Yet look at the rest of the verse—someone else delivered Jesus up. He was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.”

Christ’s death did not catch God by surprise! This was not Plan B—this was His plan the entire time. For family devotions, Martin Luther once read the account of Abraham offering Isaac on the altar in Genesis 22. His wife, Katie, said, “I do not believe it. God would not have treated his son like that!” “But, Katie,” Luther replied, “He did.”

John Polhill helps us balance this:

In the paradox of divine sovereignty and human freedom, Jesus died as the result of deliberate human decision made in the exercise of their God-given freedom of choice. The Jewish crowd at Pentecost could not avoid their responsibility in Jesus’ death. Nonetheless, in the mystery of the divine will, God was working in these events of willful human rebellion to bring about his eternal purposes, bring out of the tragedy of the cross and the triumph of the resurrection.

What the disciples and all the faithful saw as a defeat—and what the disobedient saw as victory—God in His plan turned everything on its head. The Proverbist was right, “Many are the plans of man, but it’s the LORD’s purpose that prevails.” Peter wanted to show that evil had not triumphed, and God had not failed!

3. We must see how Jesus was raised up! (Acts 2:24-32)

Look at verse 24: “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” God delivered up unto death—God raised him up to life! Death had literally bound him in—literally, loosing him from the birth pangs of death. This is a perfect understanding—Jesus was rescued by the Father from the spiritual death of taking our sins which lead to death (Romans 6:23) but also from the physical death that he experienced on the cross!

But even with this, God raised Him up! Say that with me: “God raised Him up!” Look with me at Ephesians 2:4-7:

4But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:4-7).

Even David prophesied about this! The “men of Israel” loved David, the epitome of a King—the one through whom their Messiah would come! Yet David was dead; in verse 29 Peter says that we even know where his tomb is! David’s body had decayed away. It was in the grave! (So typical to think greatly of a servant of our Lord Jesus Christ, but to miss Christ in the process!)

Dr. Seamands tells of a Muslim who became a Christian in Africa. “Some of his friends asked him, ‘Why have you become a Christian?’ He answered, ‘Well, its like this. Suppose you were going down the road and suddenly the road forked in two directions, and you didn’t know which way to go, and there at the fork in the road were two men, one dead and one alive–which one would you ask which way to go?'”

Peter quoted from Psalm 16 that Jesus’ body was not abandoned to Hades, nor did the “holy one’s flesh see corruption.” Meaning, Jesus body didn’t decay away! Death could not hold the Author of Life! And they were witnesses of it (v. 32). So David was a long-ago witness—will they heed David’s words? These men standing before them—they were recent witnesses. Will they heed their words? Dear soul, there are many in this room who are witnesses on how God raised Christ up! And how we have been raised with him!

4. We must see that the Father fills up (2:33-36)!

In verse 33, Peter continues by saying,

Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, Until I make your enemies your footstool. Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.

Remember how this entire account began. The Spirit had come upon those 120 disciples in that upper room in Jerusalem. The result was their ability to speak in tongues so they would be understood by the numerous nationalities that had descended upon Jerusalem. This happened because, after Christ arose, the promised Spirit came, indwelt, and filled them up for the purpose of being witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. But this is not simply for a select few disciples.

Look at verses 38-39: 38And 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. 39For 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.” The promise of the Holy Spirit “is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” They saw the effects of this “promise” made in Joel coming true before them. They saw with great evidence that they were able to understand those who had no training in their language, and their message was cutting them to the heart.

This gift is a transformed heart on the inside (due to our repentance), which leads to outward obedience (in their baptism). The gift of the Spirit seals our hearts (Ephesians 1:13-14), and then guides us into all truth (John 16:13-14). God has not left His people alone in this world. Our hearts are changed from surrendering to our own desires to surrendering to the desires of the one who accomplished so much on our behalf!

5. We must continually wake up (Acts 2:40-41)

“Save yourselves from this crooked generation!” Save yourselves from this perverse corrupt time—but why? Peter kept reminding his listeners that it was Jesus whom you crucified.

They needed to wake up to their sin, wake up to their responsibility and culpability before God! They needed to be alert to their own issues. We need to wake up to the nature of this generation around us, which our flesh loves and the devil uses to weigh us down. For those of you who claim the name of Christ, this is a strict warning for you. You at one time made a decision, but there’s little to no devotion. You hold on to your position in Christ, but you find yourself having more passion for everything other than Christ. You walked an aisle at one time, but you’re not walking with him now. You are living in the world, and are of the world. For those of you who have not yet received Christ, this is a strict warning for you as well. This crooked generation mocks God—and by rejecting Him for your own rule over your own life, you do the same. “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap….”

The Danger of Unregenerate Pastors (C.H. Spurgeon)

In C.H. Spurgeon, church, evangelicalism, Evangelism, Salvation, Worship on March 25, 2009 at 11:52 am

Alas!  the unregenerate pastor becomes terribly mischievous too, for of all the causes which create infidelity, ungodly ministers must be ranked among the first.  I read the other day, that no phase of evil presented so marvellous a power for destruction, as the unconverted minister of a parish, with a 1200-pound (British currency, not weight) organ, a choir of ungodly singers, and aristocratic congregation.  It was the opinion of the writer, that there could be no greater instrument for damnation out of help than that.  People go to their place of worship and sit down comfortably, and think they must be Christians, when all the time all that their religion consists in, is listening to an orator, having their ears tickles with music, and perhaps their eyes amused with graceful action and fashionable manners; the whole being no better than what they hear and see at the opera—not so good, perhaps, in point of aesthetic beauty, and not an atom more spiritual.  Thousands are congratulating themselves, and even blessing God that they are devout worshippers, when at the same time they are living in an unregenerate Christless state, having the form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.  He who presides over a system which aims at nothing higher than formalism, is far more a servant of the devil than a minister of God.

(C.H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, Banner of Trust Trust, 2008, pp. 5-6)

Sunday’s Sermon: “Jesus Saves, Jesus Sends” (Luke 9:1-9)

In Christ, church, Evangelism, Leadership, Missions, Salvation, Worship on March 23, 2009 at 12:32 pm

(If you wish to listen to the mp3 of this sermon, click on the title of this sermon in the sidebar of this blog.  This sermon was preached on Sunday, March 22, 2009 at Boone’s Creek Baptist Church, Lexington, KY where I have served as pastor since September 2003.)

Every leader, no matter who he is or what he is engaged in, must multiply himself. If a leader does not pass along his vision, delegate that vision out, and then give away some of that responsibility, that influence will be small. That influence will only go as far as that person can. But leaders and organizations’ influence multiplies when others are involved in making the vision a reality.

When I became a minister of music and youth at a church in South Florida, I went from a small church with a very small choir and about a ten-voice children’s choir to a church that had five large choirs from preschool to senior adults. While they already had people in place for the preschool choir and children’s choir, I was directly in charge of the youth choir, adult choir, and senior adult choirs which had a combined 90 people involved. I was swamped.

Yet, my greatest challenge was the youth choir. We formed an instant bond, and I knew how to direct choirs—but the youth also were involved in large dramatic musicals. This wasn’t where you just gave them some lines and said, “OK, guys—do your best!” There were tryouts, auditions, and some serious practices. It was not my strength, and it showed at our first musical.

So I had to swallow my pride and get some help with this. Someone in our church was good at drama and had experience doing it, so I enlisted Sean and he took over all the drama. We would coordinate, I’d tell him my thoughts, and he’d either run with what I said or improve on what I said. But the burden was lifted, ministry was expanded, and the youth choir absolutely flourished.

Jesus understood this. As we have been going through Luke, we have seen that Jesus was very busy in doing ministry. He would do the preaching, he would do the healing, he would talk to the opposition—and he did this alone! Even the account of Jairus’ daughter and the woman with the issue of blood, people pressed in around him so much that he struggled to get from Point A to Point B. He was it! He even had to divert his attention from Jairus’ issue to tend to the woman. As far as the perspective of heaven was concerned, this was exactly how God planned it. But from heaven’s and earth’s perspective, Jesus needed to give away his ministry not only so he could spread his influence—he needed to train these young “interns” to carry on after He ascended to the Father.

It’s interesting that Jesus chose this path—involving flawed and frail human beings to expand his ministry and work through them and all who follow the Gospel.

1 And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. 3 And he said to them, "Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics. 4And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. 5And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them." 6 And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.

7 Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was happening, and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead, 8 by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the prophets of old had risen. 9Herod said, "John I beheaded, but who is this about whom I hear such things?" And he sought to see him.

As we look at this passage, we must remember this without fail: those whom Jesus saves, Jesus sends. He calls you, he empowers you, he directs you, and when it comes to the church he stays with you in his Spirit. Not only this, but the Spirit moving you along gives you the desire to point others to Christ. The connection is such in the New Testament that if you find yourself not wanting to be sent or resisting it, there is always a question as to whether you are saved. Spurgeon says:

Any Christian has a right to disseminate the gospel who has the ability to do so; and more, he not only has the right, but it is his duty so to do as long as he lives. The propagation of the gospel is left, not to a few, but to all disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.[1]

1. Jesus saves us and sends us, armed with the gospel (1-3).

Again, look at verses 1-3:

1 And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. 3 And he said to them, "Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics.”

Jesus chose these twelve out of many, and he poured his life and teaching into these twelve men. During this mission, they were only armed with the power of the Word of God to do both physical and spiritual healings. This is great in seeing how Christ uses people to expand and conduct his ministry. In John 6:69-71, we read:

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67So Jesus said to the Twelve, "Do you want to go away as well?" Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God." Jesus answered them, "Did I not choose you, the Twelve?”

Christ chose the Twelve to serve as an extension of himself in the world. This is a foreshadowing of how his church would serve. Remember from Ephesians 2:19-21:

19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.

Jesus saves us and sends us to be an extension of Him as well—the apostles were sent, yet we are His body that’s living and active in the world. What is the resource He gave them to use? “He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.” I read this, and two things came to mind. I recall in Acts 1 after Jesus rose from the dead, he spent his last days: “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” (Acts 1:3).

The other thing that came to mind was a conference I went to in Elizabethtown this past Tuesday called “Essential Church?: Reclaiming a Generation of Dropouts.” Dan Summerlin gave a breakout session talk about the necessity of a church understanding its mission. He recommended to us pastors gathering together your key leaders and spend three months on this. He said, “The first four weeks of this, do a study on the Kingdom of God to get that framework in mind. Then you’re ready for the particulars of your church.”

Notice over what Jesus gives them authority: demons and diseases. Why is this significant? Did not Jesus have power over the demons and to cure diseases in Luke 8? Jesus called them, saying that they now have His power and authority over these issues as well. He doesn’t just save them. He doesn’t just empower them. He sends them to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal.

We must realize that this was a short-term mission for a specific purpose. In this passage, they were to take nothing for their journey, when in another missions trip they were to take extra supplies. This was a time where they would get used to sharing the gospel in various communities, especially after the time Jesus was ascended—given great evidence of this in the Book of Acts.

We must also realize that Jesus is bringing together his apostles (and this word, from the Greek, means ones who are sent—in this case, ones who are sent by Christ for a specific purpose).

2. Jesus saves us and sends us to work the Gospel out in our communities (4-6).

Look with me at verses 4-6:

4And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. 5And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them." 6 And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.

Verse 6 is telling: “And they departed and went through the villages.” Jesus sent out the Twelve to “proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal.” Notice too the parallel understanding of proclaiming the Kingdom of God and “preaching the gospel.” So that’s the what—now we see the where: the villages. They went into the communities where people lived.

Christ empowers us to be witnesses from our neighborhoods to our nations. How? “The Holy Spirit will empower you, and you will be my witnesses…” (Acts 1:8). Do we understand that the power that God gave to Christ and that Christ gave to the disciples is ours as well? We need to realize a few things: one, the one who calls us; two, what he arms us with; and three, who he sends us to.

John Benton in his book, “Why Join a Small Church?” tells the story of when U.S. troops captured the Pacific Island of Okinawa towards the end of World War II. The island by and large contained great moral and social issues, except for one city—Shimbakuku. Upon their arrival there, they were greeted by two men, one carrying a Bible.

Everything in that village was neat and tidy, a far cry from the state of the other villages they had encountered. The reason? Thirty years prior a missionary had stopped in Shimbakuku on his way to Japan. He didn’t stay long and only two people (the old men) became Christians. He left them a Bible and begged them to shape their lives by it. They did so, and the whole community changed.

Do we not need to go into our villages? Has not God called us to go into our communities as part of the Great Commission? You see, in every case where God saves, He sends! And He arms us with the Spirit and His Word! We are to know our Savior, we are to know His Word, but we are also to know the people to whom we minister.

Have you ever talked to someone who feels called into international missions? In Southern Baptist life, if someone goes into missions through the International Missions Board, whether career or a two-year journeyman stint, end up spending some time a the Missionary Learning Center. There, they are trained to learn the language and culture of the people to whom they will serve and minister the Gospel. Why? Because some of our American traditions and customs may not only fit, but some may take offense. Plus, we need to be ready to adapt.

What is so interesting to me is, we do not question those methods of the IMB in training these missionaries to study their culture. Yet, we fail to see that this is what we need to be doing as well! 1 Chronicles 12:32 says, “Of the sons of Issachar who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do.”

You see, there is a difference between the church being like the world and the church understanding the world. Some Bible-believing churches want to completely cut themselves off from anything in the world

3. Jesus saves us and sends us, challenging outsiders to deal with Him and His Gospel (7-9).

7 Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was happening, and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead, 8 by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the prophets of old had risen. 9Herod said, "John I beheaded, but who is this about whom I hear such things?" And he sought to see him.

Consider the progression here. Jesus saves us in order to send us. He gives us His power and His love and His desire for His prized creation and re-creates them, making them new creatures in Christ who no longer desire their own wills and appeal to their own flesh are sold out to the Kingdom of God—such a disparity will make a great difference in the world.

Yet, Jesus’ ministry had gotten the attention of none other than Herod the Tetrarch (also known as Herod Antipas). Herod ruled Galilee from around 4 B.C. until 39 A.D. He was every bit as evil as his father. Luke alludes to the fact that he was “perplexed because it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead” (v. 7). He by the urging of Herodias beheaded John the Baptist who accused him of adultery by having his brother Philip’s wife. He was familiar with John’s powerful preaching on the Kingdom of God, and Jesus (as far as he knew) had the same powerful preaching as well. “John I beheaded, but who is this about whom I hear such things?”

Herod wanted to meet him. Yet later on Herod wanted to kill Jesus. But in Luke 13:32, Jesus told the messengers, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my course.’” (Luke 13:32). Later on in Luke 23, during Jesus’ trial, Herod finally meets Jesus in person and wants a miracle from him—something in which Jesus did not oblige him.

What do we see from this? For one, we see that on the surface, Christianity looks very good. The disciples were preaching, yes, but they were healing! Many saw these incredible miracles and wanted to be a part of what was going on. They liked what they saw on the outside concerning Jesus and Christianity in general.

Yet, as we see with Herod, when people hear of the very nature of Christianity and the message that not only saved us but the message that we as saved people are armed with, they want to silence us. They may like what we do, but the world will hate what Christians say because it will not just involve an enjoyment of physical miracles, but it involves a spiritual change. When the Scriptures say, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness,” they will resent the notion that a change, a spiritual transformation must take place.

A.W. Tozer calls for a certain type of preacher to step up:

Another kind of religious leader must arise among us. He must be of the old prophet type, a man who has seen visions of God and has heard a voice from the Throne. When he comes (and I pray God there will be not one but many), he will stand in flat contradiction to everything our smirking, smooth civilization holds dear. He will contradict, denounce and protest in the name of God and will earn the hatred and opposition of a large segment of Christendom. Such a man is likely to be lean, rugged, blunt- spoken and a little bit angry with the world. He will love Christ and the souls of men to the point of willingness to die for the glory of the One and the salvation of the other. But he will fear nothing that breathes with mortal breath.[2]

Yet, we may wish to silence Jesus, but there is a little seed that still intrigues us—as it did with Herod during Jesus’ trial. He wanted to see a miracle. Even with his skepticism, he still wanted to see if Jesus was all he said he was, but the only thing he could muster up was a desire to see an external magic trick. He still felt as if the world bowed to him, yet Jesus showed numerous times that He followed another King!

Our lives must be lived both in private and in public in such a way that the world and its leaders will have to contend with Christians—not politically, but spiritually. First Peter 3:15-16 says,

“In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”

Conclusion

One time, Billy Graham took time to speak to President John F. Kennedy about the gospel and the Second Coming of Christ. Kennedy disregarded what Graham had to say. Yet, sometime later when he and Graham were together, President Kennedy asked Billy if he could ride with him to his hotel room—clearly something was on his mind. Graham was suffering from a nasty cold and told the President he did not want to give this to him. So they settled for another time. Yet, just days later, JFK was shot in Dallas, and the conversation never took place.


[1]C.H. Spurgeon, Lectures To My Students (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2008), 19.

[2]A.W. Tozer, The Size of the Soul, 128-129.

Book Review: “Why Join a small Church?” by John Benton

In church, Evangelism, Missions, small groups on March 21, 2009 at 12:24 pm

smallchurch

I came across John Benton’s wonderful little book, Why Join a small Church? at a very important and crucial time in my ministry. Benton serves as pastor of Chertsey Street Baptist Church in Guildford, England, and has written such a helpful work in this area, that I cannot recommend it highly enough.

I serve as pastor of what some consider a small church (approx. 160-170 on a Sunday morning when the weather holds up). We have a number of folks who come through our church either just to visit, or are looking for another church that is, well, smaller than a number of larger churches that are in our area.

(An interesting trend here: many in our larger churches are looking for a smaller church to develop some close relationships, and others are in smaller churches looking to larger ones because of larger ministries and programs in which they may be involved. No wonder we see so many jumping churches all the time. Just a thought.)

Benton comes along and says

To join a big and thriving church is not always wrong, but it is frequently the easy option. To join a little needy congregation is not a decision to be taken lightly. It will probably require far more guts, love, resilience and spiritual exertion. But how the devil would love to herd Christians into a few big city centre churches, getting them to travel miles from their communities, and leaving vast tracts of our country with no viable witness for the gospel.

In Chapter One, Benton gives seven reasons to “throw your lot” into smaller churches (11-15):

    1. The big churches can spare you.
    2. The small churches need you.
    3. Small churches give opportunities to serve.
    4. Small churches enjoy closer fellowship.
    5. Smaller churches will stretch you more as a Christian.
    6. Small churches offer you a life’s work of real significance.
    7. Small churches offer you the chance to confound the world.

Benton closes the chapter by saying what many look for in a church.

  • What’s the music program like?
  • Is the church building impressive?
  • Can I find me a marriage partner? (Translate: are there young people there?)
  • Do the services employ the latest technology?
  • What’s the coffee like?
  • Will I be asked to do a lot? (16)

Rather, we should ask, “Is the love of Christ shown? Is the Bible taught faithfully? Is the church seeking to win others to Christ?” (16)

Chapter Two, entitled “Problems You May Face,” deals honestly with the plight of many smaller churches (bad facilities, nothing for children or youth, discouragement, lack of spiritual life, idiosyncracies, stale worship, etc.). Benton even questions the need for planting churches, for he feels that “it is far better, whatever the difficulties, if we can help to build up what is already in existence” (24).

Chapter Three, entitled “Why It Is a Tragedy if Small Churches Close,” he answers up front:

Everyone needs to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ and if possible to see it lived out in practical life. When a Bible church closes it usually leaves an area where people have been robbed of the possibility of hearing the gospel. But, in fact, everyone needs to become a Christian and local churches are the God-ordained means of holding out the world of life to the community.

Crafted around 1 Peter 1:3-12, Benton gives some helpful and necessary principles on why small churches are so needed. Chapter Four, entitled “How to Make a Small Church a Great Church,” was covered in a previous blog post, so I’ll move on to Chapter Five, entitled, “Encouragement for the Task.” Allow me to list off seven encouragements Benton believes (and I would agree) will help small churches to persevere and achieve great things for God.

  1. The potential of the church is far greater than we realize.
  2. The Lord is able to use small groups of Christians to transform whole communities.
  3. The Lord is able to use the most unlikely people to do remarkable things.
  4. The Lord Jesus will build His church.
  5. The Lord’s power is not dependent on great human resources.
  6. The power of God’s Spirit is available to all Christians
  7. The breakdown of secular society is a sign of how much each community needs small churches.

Conclusion

While each person must seek after God as to which church to join, we must make sure that our reasons are not simply due to external looks and resources, but rather they must match up to biblical mandates. We have become a consumeristic society, where we look at churches to see what they can offer us, rather than pouring our gifts into them.

Are you someone who prefers a larger church? Why? Do smaller churches not have the ministries or programs you desire? Do smaller churches make you feel conspicuous, whereas larger churches give you a place to blend in and hide? Would you be willing to be used by God to roll up your sleeves and help those small churches out so they may focus on a lost and dying world?

Frankly, are you elevating personal preferences to tests of faith? If so, you may well be walking in pride and selfishness, all the while deluding yourselves into thinking you are doing these things for spiritual reasons.

(John Benton, Why Join a small Church?, Rosshire, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2008, 61 pp., $7.99.)

To read another fine (and far better) review of this work, click here.

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When Smaller Churches Rise to Greater Heights

In Acts 1:8, Christ, church, Evangelism, Leadership, prayer, Worship on March 12, 2009 at 5:46 pm

I am pastor of a church that averages around 170 per Sunday morning: 30 in the children’s area (workers included) and 140 in the main worship service. Technically, we are above the national average of churches (which average approximately 75), but we are just below the “medium” range, which begins at 200.

By the world’s perspective, smaller churches face a daunting task. In an age of consumerism where people come to a church to see what that church can do for them and provide for them, we are tempted to work to make the “big sell.”

Over the years, we have lost some of our long-time members to bigger churches in our area that have more resources to provide more programs for children, youth, young adults, parents, grandparents, singles, divorced—every type of demographic available.

While these churches gain traction and momentum, many of our smaller churches work hard to maintain. Some may visit the church, take a look and examine the particular ministries on the table, then may feel they need to move on to churches with … well… more!

John Benton in his wonderful little book “Why Join a small Church?” recounts a story of a friend of his who was a zealous Christian and a pastor of a small church. Though the church had only a dozen or so elderly folks in attendance, he took the call. He preached the Word of God faithfully, with much boldness, and accompanied by much prayer. Here Benton describe this:

What a situation! For many years nothing much seemed to happen, except a few minor encouragements from time to time. Though the preaching was good, the church continued fairly small. But my friend stuck to the task, praying, preaching, and doing whatever he could, with the help of a faithful few, to make the little flock a group of Christians pleasing to Christ. And after something like fifteen years of his ministry there, suddenly the church took off. Christians moving into the area began to join, people began to get saved. Things they had only dreamed of before as a church began to come true. The church numbers something like 200 to 250 people on Sundays, the building has been renovated and they have been used by God to plant another church in a nearby town.

Numbers are not everything. I believe this church had already become a great church even before attendance began to increase.

Even with slight numbers, small churches can rise to greater heights. How?

  1. A commitment to prayer and ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4).
  2. A determination to establish God-centered, Christ-exalting relationships (Acts 2:42-47);
  3. A desire to inject the message of the Gospel, accompanied with genuine compassion and care for those you are trying to reach (Ephesians 4:15);
  4. A hunger and thirst for knowing what you believe, why you believe, and why it is worth telling (Ephesians 4:11-16);
  5. A dogged commitment to assembling together with the saints at the appointed time (Hebrews 10:23-25);
  6. A shedding of a consumeristic attitude, looking for a church that meets your particular needs, rather than rolling up your sleeves and helping that church be what God would have it to be!

I’m sure there are more. But notice what resources are needed to maintain these things: the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), the Bible, and you.

What about it?