Friday, July 17, 2009

Being Holy

I Peter 1:14-16
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy."

Holiness is indispensable for all who are truly Christian. Even the term Christian, which means little Christ, evokes the notion of holy behavior in following after the behavior of Christ. In his first epistle Peter goes on to say that we are a holy priesthood and a holy nation offering up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God, and proclaiming His excellencies. We can not do these apart from being holy...in all our behavior.

As pastors:

1. Do we rise up each day prepared to do battle against indwelling sin putting to death the deeds of the body (Romans 8:13), and putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness (James 1:20)? Have we grown comfortable or desensitized to our own sins and therefore indulge the desires of the flesh and the mind? Is personal holiness, practical holiness, growth in sanctification important to us, and is our own Christ likeness important to us? Are we presenting a clean vessel to the Lord for Him to work through (II Timothy 2:21)? Are we identifying, acknowledging, confessing to the Lord, and repenting of our sins? Have we determined to do battle with besetting sins, putting them to death, so we may have spiritual victory in our lives? The issue is not the temptations, nor the struggle with sin, but are we having victory over sin. Can we say we are an example to our flock in this area of our Christian life?

2. Do we exhort our people to holy living themselves? Do we stress its importance, for now and for eternity? Do we remind them of their calling as a holy people of God, those who bear His name and represent Him before men and angels? Do we lay before them the truth that a little leaven leavens the whole lump, and that their sin affects the body of Christ? Do we explain to them that the consequence of not being conformed to this world, but being transformed by the renewing of their mind is holiness, Godliness, Christ likeness? Have we taught them to pray,"Lead me not into temptation (lead me away from temptation), and deliver me from evil (do not let evil have its way with me)," because their spirit is willing, but their flesh is weak? Have we stressed to them that a true Christian can not have an habitually sinful lifestyle (I John 2:9-10)? Have we told them that the Word of God, the Spirit of God, and prayer to God are the keys in their battle against sin? Have you reminded them that true Christians have been freed from slavery to sin to be slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:17-18)?

Sin is the greatest weapon of the enemy, Satan, it is what he tempts us to do. Sin itself is our enemy as it seeks to master us (Genesis 4:7, Romans 6:14). Sin interferes and interrupts the work of God. Through my sin and your sin we wound other Christians. Sin quenches and grieves the Spirit, it puts us at odds with God and brings His displeasure and discipline. Sin hinders us and makes us less useful and less effective in kingdom work, even to the point of our being put on the shelf (disqualified/I Corinthians 9:27). Sin destroys trust and relationships, and brings about death (James 1:15).

Brothers and sisters, let us take holiness seriously. Let us strive together to be found as Christ was found, holy, blameless, and above reproach. Let us attack sin and be ever vigilant against it. Let us be holy as He Himself is holy, and live in the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

Father, forgive us our sins, cleanse us from all unrighteousness and defilement, make us conscious and sensitive to the sins we tend to ignore, help us to repent and draw close to you. Thank you that we can come boldly to Your throne, the throne of grace, beside which stands our great High Priest and Advocate, Your Son the Lord Jesus Christ, and receive forgiveness, mercy, grace to help in our times of need, and power for holy living. Thank you for the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit, and keep us filled with Him so that we will not give in to the desires of our flesh and mind. Bless your Holy Name this day and forever more. Amen

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Milestone II

Last month we passed our second anniversary as a church. In reflecting on this last year and then over the last two years I am filled with a sense of awe, thankfulness, and appreciation. The Lord has continued to bless us and confirm to us that this indeed has been His calling to us. My wife, Angie, teaches the children during the church time and so she wants to listen to my sermons later in the week, and likes for me to listen with her. I can tell you from listening to myself, that it is obviously the Holy Spirit at work, because it sure isn't my preaching; and despite my preaching people are faithful and we have continued to grow. But in thinking about it, that is the way it should be because, ultimately, it is the Lord who promised to build His church; and from I Corinthians we know that the Spirit gives the gift, the Lord gives the ministry, and God causes the effects. All of us are just vessels of clay that the Lord has graciously let participate in the accomplishment of His great eternal purpose.

We have continued to add families to the church, not in a great amount, but steadily as we have been adding a new family about every three months. In April we moved out of our house and are meeting in the Young Life building. The Young Life staff were very supportive and gracious in letting us use their building and we are only paying them $300 per month for the use of their facility. It is a perfect fit for us, at this point in time, and allows us some room for growth.

Spiritually, people are growing in their faith and in their knowledge of God and of His Son. Many have shared with me what the Lord is doing in their life; and one lady, who doesn't like to talk in front of people, shared with the entire church what the Lord has been doing in her life over the last year and half she has been coming to our church. Along with this we are having our first baptismal service next month. What a joy to be a part of this, and it has been one of the confirmations that we are doing what the Lord has called us to do.

One of the highlights of the last year was taking two of our men to the Shepherd's conference, along with my friend Ron from Dallas. This was their first real exposure to ministry of that quality and spiritual power, and it made quite an impact on them. Both are looking forward to returning next spring. This was the third year for me to attend, and each year a question I have had concerning ministry has been answered as a result of the conference.

I finished Colossians last fall, then preached through Jonah (personally convicting), then followed Jonah up with a topical series on love, then started preaching through the Gospel of John (what a delight). After finishing the prologue of John (first 18 verses), I am taking a break from John and preaching a series on the church which covers the function of the church in its outward expression toward God (I Peter 2:4-12), in its inward expression towards the members (Ephesians 4:7-16), God's gifts of enablement (I Corinthians 12, Romans 12, Ephesians 4, I Peter 4), church leadership (I Timothy 3, Titus 1), and the ordinances of the church (their role in the life of the church). Once I finish the church series it's back to John.

There are unique challenges to being a bi-vocational pastor and church planter, but the Lord's grace is always sufficient. With that being said, we are looking forward to this next year and seeing all that the Lord has in store for us at Grace Covenant Church.

Thought for the Day

Truth is only rightly believed
to the extent that it is embodied in life.
Iain Murray
Tabletalk
July 2009

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Way to Heaven

Matthew 7:13-14
Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide
 and the way is broad that leads to destruction,
 and there are many who enter through it.
 For the gate is small and the way is narrow
 that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

GPS units are great gadgets to have. You can be anywhere at anytime and they can tell you the best way to get to your destination, guide you at every turn, and tell you how long it will take you to get there. Why, some can even guide you around construction or traffic jams. They are great for the directionally challenged, to look up addresses, or to guide you in unfamiliar surroundings. Most people trust them implicitly, and they are a great tool to get you to your destination.

For all men, for all time, there is an ultimate destination. In fact, I believe that all men want to arrive at the same place, and that place is heaven; and we all start from the same place, lost in the darkness of our sin.

In the middle of that darkness, in that state of lostness, God has given a GPS to direct us to heaven, and that is the Bible. It shows us the way, it explains to us the journey, it tells us the smoothest path to take, it tells us how others before us have made the trip, it tells us what is required to get to our destination, and best of all, it tells us what God has done in Christ to not just make our final destination possible, but certain. It tells us that Jesus has gone before us as our forerunner to prepare a place for us, and is coming back for us so that we can be with Him where He is. Jesus, Himself, tells us that he is the way so that we will follow Him; and tells us that He is the gate so that we will enter through Him. So even though the path is narrow, it is not hard to find nor is it unmarked, as God has shown all men where it is by raising Christ from the dead.

God has given man a clear map to his final destination replete with warnings not to take the wrong path. So how come the Scriptures tell us that many will follow the wrong path and that many will enter the wrong gate? It is man's sinful pride and arrogance that keeps him lost and on the wrong path. You see, even though all men want to go to heaven, whatever their version of that is, they all want to get there by their own way, through their own means, in accordance with their own desires. This is the broad path that leads to destruction. Christ is the Light, but men won't come to him because of their sin. The Word is a lamp unto their feet and light unto their path, but because of their sin they either won't read it or they scoff at it.

Man wants heaven on his terms not God's. Proverbs 14:12 tells us, "There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death." Man's way is broad because it encompasses anything and everything that makes man feel good about himself. Man's way is the Villa del Muerte, the road of death and destruction of the soul.

God in His grace and mercy has not only provided the way for us to go to heaven, but has communicated to us through His Son the way of life so that we would find life, life everlasting. Jesus has said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me."

If you are not following Christ, come to Him today. Turn from your own path, the path of folly, and follow Him. He will not lead you astray, but will guide you safely away from destruction and on to the narrow path that leads to life. Remember, both paths have the same sign posted, "This Way to Heaven" but only one will take you there. Choose the path of life today, forsake your way and follow His.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

A False Notion of Spiritual Leadership

You know how things seem to come in bunches, or as some say in threes. That has happened to me, except the bunches have occured over the last year or so. Even though there were different people involved each time, there was a common theme, a common thought process, a common notion that led to a common result; and, I'm afraid, the common result will have long term spiritual consequences for each of the families involved.

Let me recap a few of the conversations.

First, a man called me who was looking for a church for his family. He asked many questions about what we believe, what kind of preaching philosophy I had, and how we went about doing church. He then went on to explain to me that his priorities in looking for a church were a reformed soteriology, sound doctrinal teaching, and verse by verse expositional preaching. You would think that we would be right up his alley...at least up his alley enough for him to bring his family for a visit. Nope, we did not make it to first base with him. Why? We did not have a youth department for his 15 year old, so she could make some friends at church. So, was his real priorty reformed soteriology, sound doctrine, and verse by verse expostion? You tell me.

Next, a friend who goes to another church calls me and tells me that he has a young lawyer friend, fairly new to Midland, who is frustrated with his church because of the lack of in-depth teaching and had recently left another local church due to false teaching. My friend had told this young man about our church and my view of ministry and preaching, and told me that he was very anxious to meet me; so, we met over golf and finally got down to the nitty gritty conversation right as we finished. What he said about his priorities in looking for a church matched us and his concern for doctrinal purity seemed admirable; but then he showed his true colors. He went on to tell me that he was leaving his daughter in a local private school that is run by the church he left because of the false teaching. He admitted that she was probably getting some of the error in the chapel time, but did not want to take her out of the school because she had made some friends there. I told him that it would be good for his daughter and his other children to understand that right doctrine is important, and that sometimes we have to make sacrifices in following the Lord; and that this would be a good example for them, and a good teaching opportunity for him with them about the supassing value of the Lord in our life, that He is worthy of our sacrifices. By the look on his face you would have thought I asked him to sacrifice his children on the altar of Baal. He changed the conversation and ended it quickly.

Since then I have run into several men whom I have not seen in these last few years. All of them, without fail, told me that the reason they had joined the church they are currently attending is because that is where their children had friends, and the friends were the reason the children wanted to go to that particular church.

Now before you start howling and throwing rocks, let me say that I believe youth ministry is important, very important. We don't have a youth group because we only have one youth, who helps my wife with the elementary children, and this is not uncommon in start-up churches. However, think through this with me, and lets look at what is really going on here. If you asked every one of the men I talked with, they would tell you that they are the spiritual leader in their home. But are they, really? When you make the decision, to go to a certain church because that's where your children's friends are, or because that's where they can make friends, or because if you don't go there your children will be upset, have you really made the decision. No, your children have made the decision for you, and you have acquiesced. In doing this you have abdicated your postion as spiritual leader of the home, and your children have become the de facto spiritual leaders. What is disturbing is that this mindset is not the exception, it is the rule, and has been the prevailing mindset over the last 20-30 years.

One of the alarming statistics that has come out recently concerning the church is that over 70% of children raised in church don't set foot in the door of the church after they leave home. You might be tempted to say that this proves the importance of having your children attend church where they enjoy it, and where their friends are so that they will continue to come. The problem with that line of thought is that this statistic has come after the 20-30 years when one of the prevailing reasons why people attend certain churches is the reason I mentioned above. So, obviously, letting your children go to church where they want to so that they won't have a bad taste in their mouths about church has not worked.

In choosing a church based on friendships or fun, what have you communicated to your children about the real importance of church...worship of God, learning the Scriptures, learning sound doctrine, becoming more Christlike, ministering to others in the body, and service to God? You haven't.

Men, we are called to be the spiritual leaders in our homes, for our families. Spiritual leadership is not choosing a church because your children want to go there because it's fun or because their friends go there; in fact, in exercising your leadership, your children might be disappointed, even upset, because you aren't going where they want to go, but are going where they need to go. It is much like feeding your children. Do you let them eat just what they want to eat, or do you require them to eat what is good for them until they develop a taste for it (even though they throw a fit or pout), and that becomes what they desire and what they will continue to eat after they leave your home. The same principle applies to spiritual things.

Making or keeping your children happy is not spiritual leadership, and the same thing can be said regarding your wife as well. What the men above said about their priorities was not true, their priority was not sound teaching, reformed soterilogy, etc., but it was making and keeping their children happy. Whether it was altruistically the happiness of their children, or selfishly so that they would not have to endure their children's displeasure (or their wife's), I don't know; but in either case it is the wrong motive.

It is not the youth ministry, nor fun, nor their relationship with the church, or their relationship with their friends that will keep your children faithful, it is their relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Exercise your spiritual leadership in choosing a church that is sound in the faith, teaches the Scriptures to all ages, presents the gospel, and is concerned about your children's spiritual growth and faith in Christ. Make sure that these are emphasized in their program, not fun and friends.

Hey, it's lonely at the top, and a little rough at times, too. But that is why we are men, that is the position and role God has assigned to us. Don't let your children down, for now and for eternity, but act like men, be strong, be spiritually courageous, and your children will one day rise up and call you blessed.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

A False Notion of Children's Ministry

This is the first part of a two part post. Really, it is the preamble to the post to follow, and they both deal with false notions. Satan is a deceiver and the father of lies and I believe he has foisted a lie into the minds of parents concerning church for their children.

Have you ever sat and listened to parents as they pick up their children from church? What do you think is the first question most parents ask? Is it. "What did you learn about the Bible today?" Is it, "What did you learn about God or about Christ today?" Are they checking to be sure their children are learning correct doctrine, or about the great men and women of faith in the Bible, or having the gospel presented to them? No, the question most often asked is....."Did you have fun?", followed by... Did you enjoy it?". For so many, their main concern is not the quality of the biblical content and teaching their children are getting, but the amount of enjoyment or entertainment they are getting. Instead of hearing from the parents about the ability of the teachers to communicate spiritual truth, the joy of the Lord, and the love of the Lord, or their care and concern for the spiritual formation and welfare of their children; you hear comments regarding how playful the teachers are or how they get down on the children's level (whatever that means).

Don't get me wrong, I don't think church should be a dour and sour place where your children are screaming not to go back, like they do when you take them to the doctor's office; but the church has bought into and is selling and the parents have bought into and are buying, the false notion that church is all about fun, games, and excitement for their children. And, honestly, many parents expect it to be the same for themselves, as well. So many churches market themselves through the children's programs knowing that if they make and keep the children happy they will keep the parents coming.

For your children the church should be a training ground, laying the foundation of spiritual truth that will give your children the wisdom that leads to salvation. It should supplement and support what you are giving them at home in preparation for a life on their own. There should be the joy and love of the Lord present. It should be enjoyable, but there still must be the goal of the bigger picture of spiritual preparation and spiritual formation. As a parent, your criteria for judging the value and quality of a church for your children, should be based upon what I have just mentioned, not upon the emotional whims of your children or which church is the most Disney-like in its facilities and programs. In fact, this concern about your children having fun communicates to them the church is all about having fun; and this is the false notion that is built into their minds so that the minute it isn't all fun and games, they lose interest.

Step back and analyze what your church is really doing to your children in and through their children's ministry. Look past the all the hoopla, facilities, and hype. Can you discern the eternal values that are intentionally being built into your children, or is the emphasis on the temporal, shallow fun of the world. What do you want them to have? Are things of eternal value what they are really receiving, or have you and your church been deceived by the schemes of Satan to be enamored with fun and entertainment so that you trade the truth for a lie.