Church Community Encourages Growth!

-Celebrate The Differences!

During our nearly 35 years of marriage & ministry together, my wife and I have had several opportunities to minister to some married couples who were struggling with their relationship.  And, more often than not, they were fighting over the very things they originally found attractive about each other—their differences! Oh yes, indeed, opposites do attract! And, if you don’t celebrate the differences from the start of the marriage, you’ll begin to see them as irritants after while.

-Diversity Is God’s Blessing!

Those differences were obvious early on; and, they were seen as complimentary because each one filled in some deficiency in the other person. That’s also true in the faith community that makes up every local church.  Have you noticed how different each individual member is in your church? We all have different backgrounds & upbringings; and, that diversity adds strength to the faith community! But—like marriage—those differences can become problematic to our fellowship if we’re not careful. We can look at how different we are & conclude that we just can’t fellowship with those people! When we “go there” we make the same mistake as the troubled married couple!

-Differences Give Us Perspective!

The differences that my wife & I brought into the marriage gave us perspective; and, stretched us because they exposed our individual weaknesses & our need to make some changes in our lives. I believe we are each a better person because we’ve grown, in those areas, to actually be more like the other person. God uses His church to accomplish the same thing in our lives—our differences make us stronger! God often exposes our weaknesses & our sinful tendencies through the strengths of others.

-No Traction Without Friction!

In fact, our interaction, within the faith community, is one of the MOST significant ways that God grows us spiritually! It’s the friction that we encounter, in our church family, that gives the Holy Spirit the necessary traction to grow us! So, don’t ever look condescendingly at anyone! In Romans 15:1-6 the Apostle Paul points out the fact that there are individuals—within the church—who are strong spiritually; and, others who are weak! And, that can be said of every local church!

-Spiritual Infants Need Your Help!

In every faith community there are some who are spiritually weak in their faith. Perhaps they’re a spiritual “infant” because they’ve never been discipled. Their greatest need is for someone spiritually mature, in the faith, to come alongside them & show them how to grow.  There are others who are weak because they’ve been wounded or hurt—could be spiritual, emotional, or physical pain that they’re dealing with! Again, they just need someone to love them enough to come alongside them & take the time to listen; and, to help! God intends for the Church of Christ to do the work of Christ! That’s why He sent the Holy Spirit to indwell every believer so that we could reconcile people to God!

 

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What A Healthy Church Looks Like!

-It’s Supernatural, Holy Spirit Empowered!

God’s work is never accomplished in the strength of the flesh! The book of Acts describes the early church as a supernatural, Holy Spirit empowered organism. What we read, in the 2nd chapter, is the result of a healthy church living in obedience to Jesus. After His resurrection, He gathered the disciples; and, He commissioned them to go & do something—He commissioned them to make disciples of all nations! But, He told them 1st to go to an upper room, in Jerusalem, and, WAIT for God’s Holy Spirit to indwell them & empower them! And, that’s exactly what they did!

-The Normal Way The Spirit Works!

In the power, of the Holy Spirit, they began to make disciples! It says:  “Those who accepted the message were baptized, and that day about 3,000 people were added to them. And they devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers. Then fear came over everyone, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles. Now all the believers were together and held all things in common. They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as anyone had a need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with a joyful and humble attitude, praising God and having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved” (Acts 2:41-47).  The church grew spiritually & numerically! This is the normal way that the Spirit of God works.

-A Healthy Church Is Gospel-Centered!

When a church gets spiritually healthy, Jesus uses them to add disciples—a healthy church is loyal to God & to one another in their devotion to sound doctrine. The text says “…they devoted themselves…” to the teaching of the Apostles! That word “devoted” literally means to be “loyal” or “attached” to something—the church was LOYAL to the teaching of the Apostles; so, they were LOYAL to sound doctrine! That’s a mark of a healthy church—it’s “Word” centered! It’s “gospel-centered”!

-A Healthy Church Rejects Error!

That means it exposes “error”—all teachings contrary to the Apostle’s! Any church that fails to expose error; and, fails to align with the New Testament teachings of the Apostles is unhealthy! And, we do so out of a loyalty, and, attachment to God first; but, also to the rest of the members of our local church! As a faith community, we show loyalty to each other; and, Biblical love for each other when we insist that everything we teach & preach—in classes, in Small Groups, in the pulpit—is consistent with the Apostle’s teachings in the New Testament!

-It’s A Challenge To Stay Healthy!

Can you imagine the challenges, of this church, in Jerusalem? Adding 3,000 new believers in one day is both a Pastor’s “DREAM” & a Pastor’s “NIGHTMARE.” All the variety of backgrounds! Their ignorance of basic Bible doctrines! What a mammoth task to disciple them all in their new faith—but, they were “devoted” or “loyal” to each other & that made all the difference!

Devoted To Church Community!

-But, Satan Opposes It!

Unity is always God’s will for His Church! Satan, on the other hand, is always working to sow seeds of “DISUNITY” among those individuals that comprise a local church community! Because Satan has been so successful—at promoting disunity—many believers have determined to live a life of “isolation” while still attending church; and, others have elected to “quit” church altogether! Listen believer: “God never intended for you to live your Christian life in a vacuum!” I am so sorry that you’ve been “wounded”! I truly am! The Christian life was never intended to be lived alone; but, in the context of a “community.”

-Is It Like Joining A Commune?

Now, I’ve noticed that all it takes for some of us to “check out” is to hear that word “community.” Your eyes kind of roll to the back of your head! You cross your fingers & hope we’ll quickly change the subject! It’s like you’re afraid I’m going to tell you to sell everything you own, join a commune, and, raise organic fruits & vegetables! If that’s what you think, it’s because you misunderstand what community means in the Biblical context of a local church. It’s something that, once you grasp it’s meaning,  you’ll never let go of it because of it’s relational beauty!

-Biblical Community Is Beautiful!

In our hearts, we all want Biblical community—it makes no difference your personality type! Whether you’re an introvert, an extrovert, or, socially awkward, all of us long for meaningful human relationships! That’s how God “wired” us—in HIS “image”—in the “community” of the Triune Godhead! He is, Himself, a “community” of 3 persons—ONE God existing in the perfect, loving, community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Even those of us, who’ve been “wounded” by someone, still keep searching for deep, authentic, relationships. The word “community” is a compound word: “COM” meaning “with”; and, “UNITY” meaning… “unity.” So, it means to “be unified”; or, having “common union.” In the church it just means to share our common life “IN” Christ.  Now that’s a problem, in America, where the typical response is to look for a church where WE can “be fed”; where, our family can be ministered “unto.” That response is foreign in Scripture! It’s is an unbiblical, unhealthy, consumer-driven mindset that has hi-jacked Jesus Christ’s intended purpose for HIS CHURCH! It requires repentance!

-We’re Not Just Here For You!

The church—the followers of Jesus—is NOT made up of those who “minister”; and, those who are “ministered to”! Rather, ALL are to minister!  “And, let us (ALL of us!) consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24). “Bear one another’s burdens; and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). More than 60 times the phrase “each other” or “one another” is found in the N.T. commanding the church in the ways they’re to minister & care for one another! Every person can say, “We’re not just here for you; you’re here for us also!” That’s the responsibility of everyone in the faith community! The church that fails in that is crippled; and, guilty of “man-centered” narcissistic consumerism!

Your Good Works Offend God!

-Because Jesus Already Did It!

Being a disciple of Jesus does not begin with something we do; but, with something Jesus already did! When Jesus went to the cross, He redeemed our relationship with the Father.  A relationship broken by our sin against Him! By Jesus’ death on the cross, He paid the penalty, for our sin, that we should have paid so that the Father would be just to grant us forgiveness, grace, mercy & love.  By Jesus sacrificial act, He made a way for the Father to actually adopt us into His family when we accept the work of His Son & His payment on our behalf.

-Don’t Disrespect Jesus’ Sacrifice!

But, Jesus’ work, on our behalf, is only effective when we quit trying to work our own way into the Father’s favor! We must accept God’s offer of salvation through Christ alone by grace alone; and, cast aside any hope that our good deeds might impress the Father.  Can you see how offensive it is to God when we try to make ourselves presentable to Him? We trample on His Son’s sacrifice when we try to impress God with our “perceived” good deeds! We spit in His face & tell Him His Son’s work on the cross wasn’t good enough; that, we need to “add” our own. What God requires of us is nothing more than humility & brokenness, along with a confession that we’re not worthy & incapable of ever becoming worthy of the salvation He offers us!

-Are You Heaven’s Citizen?

What we need is a new start; a new beginning; a new birth! “You MUST be born again,” Jesus said. He was referencing a “SPIRITUAL” birth. Your “physical” birth makes you a citizen of this world; but, only your “spiritual” birth can make you a citizen of heaven! That becomes your new identity! You’re no longer a citizen of this world; rather, Scripture calls you a “temporary resident” here! Your citizenship is heaven! And, that’s where we have to begin when we start a conversation about “spiritual growth.”

-An Identity In Christ!

You have to be sure of your identity—in Christ—before you can ever hope to mature as a disciple of Christ. That, in fact, is what Paul said happens at the moment of faith. Here’s how the Amplified Bible expands on the meaning of Paul’s words:  “Therefore if anyone is in Christ [that is, grafted in, joined to Him by faith in Him as Savior], he is a new creature [reborn and renewed by the Holy Spirit]; the old things [the previous moral and spiritual condition] have passed away. Behold, all things have become new [because spiritual awakening brings a new life]” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

-You’re Not The Old You!

If you’re a believer—or, a disciple—of Jesus, you’re no longer that OLD you. You’ve become; and, are becoming the NEW you—the spiritually born again you! And, one day God will finish the work He began in you that day you were converted—that’s the coming day of “glorification”! Until that day, God will be at work, in you, sanctifying you. That’s a big word—SANCTIFICATION—but, break it down to it’s simplest form & it’s the process by which God makes you more like Jesus and less like you! He does that, in part, by revealing to us our sin, convincing us to forsake it, and, empowering us to actually overcome it!

 

More Like Jesus, Less Like Me!

-Measuring Spiritual Progress!

Have you ever tried asking someone, “How are you doing spiritually?” They always say, “Good, Good,” right? Probably not a very good question. It’s not likely to get the real answer you’re looking for! Next time, try this instead: “So, where are you at in your walk with the Lord? And, on what criteria do you base your answer? How are you measuring your walk with Christ?” When we enter into that kind of conversation with someone, we need those “qualifying” or “follow-up” questions too! On what basis can we say we’re doing “good” when someone asks us how we’re doing spiritually?

-Does It Matter What We Do?

Do we measure spiritual progress by the things we DO? Be careful! Don’t quickly dismiss the things we DO & SAY, that, “it’s only what’s in the heart that matters!” If our heart is right with God, it will impact the things we DO, right? Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will KEEP my commandments.” At the same time, we can DO all the RIGHT things for the WRONG reasons, can’t we? We can DO things to be SEEN of men; and, Jesus called that hypocrisy!

-What About “Spiritual Disciplines”?

I received a phone call, some time ago, from a young man who was saved years ago in my youth group in Colorado. He was on the pastoral staff of a church in Oregon; and, he called to ask if he could conduct an interview with me for a seminary class he was taking! The interview was based on how I lived my life according to the “spiritual disciplines.” If that’s a new term to you, suffice it to say that “spiritual disciplines” are practices found, in Scripture, that can promote spiritual growth. They are “habits” of devotion, like prayer, fasting, public & private worship, meditation & making disciples—all activities that we’re commanded to do, right? Jesus practiced them! But, I prefaced my answer, in the interview, with this caution: “We are NOT GODLY just because we practice certain spiritual disciplines!

-The Error Of The Pharisees!

That was the great error of the Pharisees! They believed they were godly BECAUSE they did certain things! You can’t separate what you’re DOING on the OUTSIDE by who you ARE on the INSIDE! WHAT you do matters! But, WHO you are matters even more! Here’s the point—spiritual growth happens as you become more like Jesus; and, less like you!

-Become Like Your Teacher!

It is our goal, as a local church, that our community of believers would become mature disciples of Christ in their personal spiritual development. That’s a core value! That we’d all grow in spiritual maturity! As disciples of Christ, that we’d all become more like Him! That’s what a disciple does! He becomes like his Teacher! And, it is our belief that individual spiritual development occurs BEST in the context of a local church! Faith grows best where it is challenged, not isolated! And, crucial to that is the realization that being a disciple of Christ does not begin with something we DO; but, with something that Christ already DID! He redeemed our broken relationship with the Father by His death on the cross! He took my sin! And, He paid the penalty that I should have paid so that I might receive forgiveness! That’s the Gospel!

Daniel & The Invisible God!

(NOTE: This Concludes Our Series Of Posts On Daniel’s Life)

-Never Give Up On Prayer!

As I bring this series of posts—on Daniel’s life—to an end, I conclude with an urgent plea not to give up because you don’t get an answer, to your prayers, according to your time line! Instead of quitting, follow Daniel’s example and devote more time to more prayer & fasting! Daniel shows us that because we pray in the spirit, we can’t see—with our physical eyes—the spiritual responses our prayers stir up!

-If We Could Only See!

If we could see into the spiritual realm, our prayer effort would reveal invisible forces of good & evil opposing one another. Unseen spiritual forces are behind every movement! Daniel couldn’t tell, just by observing the Persian Gov’t, that there was a war going on between an “angel of God” & a demonic “prince of Persia” (see Daniel chapter 10). But, if he could have pulled the curtain back, dividing our realm from the spiritual real, just a bit, he would have observed the battle going on in the spirit world. We can only assume, from this text of Scripture, that Satan has “territorial” demons in places of influence, among government leaders, in every nation. That’s why the Apostle Paul later wrote Timothy—in the New Testament—and, told him to pray for kings & all those in places of authority.

-Who Is The Real Enemy?

The REAL ENEMY is not the people we may oppose politically! Our battle, according to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians,  is not with flesh & blood. We need God’s help to see the truth about this! We need to pray for our leaders to be saved! Knowing that our warfare is spiritual in nature, it is our prayers, humility, knowledge of God & perseverance that serve as our best weapons against the spiritual forces of evil in this world; and, the unseen spiritual world behind the curtain that separates us. So, be inspired & encouraged! Daniel prayed! He humbled himself before God; and, he purposed to know God & to understand His ways! And, he persevered! For 21 days, the text says, he prayed & fasted & waited on God to fulfill His Sovereign purpose in His Sovereign time frame! Will you wait on God also?

-Focus On The Unseen!

A Biblical response—to the war going on in the spiritual realm & to life’s problems that result—is to focus NOT on the seen; but, on the unseen! What you see going on in this world will mess with you! It will frustrate you! It will, at times, cause you to question God! It’ll even depress you because it will APPEAR that we’re losing! So, focus on the UNSEEN, not the SEEN! Focus on the invisible God, who is Sovereign, who is Omnipotent; and, who is All-Knowing! He has an unbeatable plan; and, He will get it done! Don’t focus on the political climate of our country; or, the rest of the world! That’s the SEEN! Focus on the UNSEEN God! Pray to Him! He’s the only One who can bring revival & clean up the mess humanity has made of this world! Are you struggling in this area of your life? Make it a matter of prayer! Turn it over to God!

 

 

Daniel: War In The Spirit World!

(NOTE: This Continues A Series Of Posts On Daniel’s Life)

-All We Need To Know!

It’s easy for us to go off on a tangent & obsess over the supernatural aspects of a Biblical text like Daniel chapter 10. It’s true that we need to be aware of what happens in the realm of the supernatural; but, ONLY in as much as the Word of God reveals it to us! Everything else is in the realm of speculation! Scripture tells us all we need to know about the spirit world. There is no other authoritative source on demons and angels! That said, there’s really no debate that the “…prince of the kingdom of Persia…” in v.13 & the “…prince of Greece…” mentioned in v.20-21 are “fallen” angels. While Scripture refers to demons as “princes” in other passages, not every occurrence of the title “prince” points to a demon. Even here, in v.13, Michael, the archangel—is called a “chief prince.”

-Are Demons “Territorial”?

But, for several good reasons, it seems accurate to call “the prince of Persia” & the “prince of Greece” fallen angels or demons! For example, they oppose the angel of God sent to Daniel; and, Michael—God’s archangel—fought against them. Then, in v.20-21, the angel told Daniel that he was going to “…return to fight against the prince of Persia…”; and, when he was through with him he’d fight the “prince of Greece.” So, here’s my best shot at interpreting that—it seems like demons (at least some of them) are “territorial.” They seem to have spiritual responsibilities over countries, regions, and perhaps cities. And, somehow they seem to gain strength as they get a deeper foothold.

-Overcoming Demonic Strongholds!

We need to keep that in mind as we pray for revival. It’s possible that our area could have a strong demonic foothold—not unlike the kind of opposition that Daniel faced in Babylon. Let me draw another point, from Daniel’s story, because of that: Our prayers may require fasting & extra time & effort because of spiritual warfare in the spirit world! In case you forgot, look back at v.2 to see the amount of time that Daniel devoted to prayer & mourning & fasting! It says 3 FULL WEEKS! We need to pray MORE! We need to pray LONGER! And, perhaps we ought to be giving ourselves to FASTING if we hope to break through the demonic front-lines that war against us! Perhaps we need to let that thought soak in awhile! To meditate on Daniel’s spiritual stamina!

-Do You Have Spiritual Grit?

As I pause on that, I can’t help but think that our God deserves a higher level of devotion than we typically give Him. I’m ashamed to admit that I so rarely give Him my “1st Offerings.” It’s usually my leftovers that I give Him. What about you? Isn’t that also true of you? We usually give God our leftover time, our leftover effort, our leftover “piano”, and, a whole lot of leftover stuff we don’t even use anymore! Is it possible that we haven’t seen revival because we only pray for it if we have any leftover time? Daniel took a spiritual retreat for 21 days; and, just one note of interest—in v.13 it says God’s angel was delayed, by a demon, for 21 days. Daniel prayed ‘til there was a breakthrough! He didn’t quit!