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!

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!

 

Daniel: Giving Up Your Life For Others

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

-The Greatest Commandment!

One of the key lessons the Prophet Daniel shows us is how to give up our life for others. When asked which commandment was the greatest, Jesus responded, “The greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and, with all your might.” Then He said, “And, the 2nd is like unto it—Love your neighbor in the same way you love yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39). In other words, the 2nd is only surpassed, in importance, by the 1st. Or, understood, in context, the 2nd comes out of obedience to the 1st. Jesus was saying that when we truly grow in love for God, we can’t help but grow in love for our fellow man!

-Help Others Reconcile With God!

We can give up our life for others because our God has given up His life for us! That’s how we help others become reconciled with God—we LOVE them! We deny self! We even die to self! Daniel lived that kind of life! Even when facing the prospect of death, he persistently shared the truth & incarnated that truth in the way he lived. I’m fairly confident that Daniel never would have scripted his life the way God did—to be torn away from your family & your homeland; and, exiled to a foreign land to serve the very King that ruined your happy home life! But, his yieldedness to a Sovereign God made for quite an exciting life & gave him ample opportunities to offer praise to God!

-Why Are We So Whiny?

We American Christians, unfortunately, have a reputation for being kind of whiny about things! God help us see trouble & pain as opportunities for God to do miraculous things so He can receive the praise He so richly deserves! When God stepped in & miraculously delivered Daniel from the lions den, King Darius rejoiced and said: “I issue a decree that in all my royal dominion, people must tremble in fear before the God of Daniel: For He is the living God, & He endures forever;  His kingdom will never be destroyed, & His dominion has no end.  He rescues & delivers; He performs signs & wonders in the heavens & on the earth, for He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.” (Daniel 6:26-28) Daniel could be used, by God, because he willingly gave up his life for others.  He served people!

-What A Legacy!

How would you like to be the one who led an Adolph Hitler or a Saddam Hussein to become a follower of Jesus? Sound impossible? That’s probably the equivalent of Daniel influencing Nebuchadnezzar & Darius to the faith! These were bad guys! History records that the kings of Babylon & the Medo-Persian empires were some of the most ruthless ever to walk the earth! But, it seems pretty clear, from Scripture, they’ll both be gathered around the throne of God—with the rest of us—worshipping & praising God for all eternity! Because Daniel saw God’s “big picture” & submitted to God’s plan for his life, he became a disciple maker of Kings! What a legacy Daniel has left us! In one of the most spiritually hostile environments in the history of the world, Daniel survived & thrived in his faith! Will you, like Daniel, trust God with all of your life?

 

Daniel: Trust God With Your Life!

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

-When Crime Is Not A Sin!

Let me start this post by making another interesting point about God’s prophet, Daniel—He purposely committed a “crime” against a human government so he would not be guilty of committing a “sin” against God!  The scene unfolds in chapter 6, of Daniel’s book, as the enemies of Daniel deceive King Darius into signing “…an edict that for 30 days, anyone who petitions any god or man except you, the king, will be thrown into the lions’ den” (v.7).  An agreement that, if followed , would force Daniel to commit the sin of idolatry against his God.  Something he would not do! So, when he was observed praying to his God the trap was set & he was arrested for treason against his King & sentenced to death, a pit full of hungry lions to be his executioners! So, he purposely & knowingly committed a “crime” against a human government to avoid committing a “sin” against his God!

-Familiar Territory!

This was familiar territory for Daniel! Much earlier, in his life, he had observed how his 3 friends—Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah—had made a similar decision when faced with their choice to obey God or man (see chapter 2). Instead of lions, they faced the prospect of death in a fiery furnace! But, Daniel noted that God delivered them! God always delivers—whether by a miracle; or, by death—but, He always delivers! When King Darius, who was NOT Daniel’s enemy, realized that he had been duped, he worked hard to deliver Daniel from certain death; but, he could not (v.14). The most powerful man, in the world, couldn’t deliver him from “…the law of the Medes & the Persians, that changes not…”

-The Weakness Of Man!

What a picture of the weakness of man! Even the most powerful, of men, was unable to reverse the inevitable! Don’t trust in man! Don’t trust in yourself! Trust God! Oh, how we need to learn that, don’t we? When Daniel submitted to God’s Sovereign plans, God was able to use his life circumstances to build another person’s faith! Daniel focused on God’s “big picture.” Without God’s help, we will always focus on our circumstances!

-Take Off Those Glasses!

We tend to see all our pain & suffering through the lens of our own self-centered glasses! We need the Holy Spirit’s help to remove the glasses of self! To deny self! Daniel saw God use the trouble in his life as a testimony that led first, to King Nebuchadnezzar’s faith (ch.4); and, now brought King Darius to faith! “Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting. No diversions were brought to him, and he could not sleep. At the first light of dawn the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den. When he reached the den, he cried out in anguish to Daniel. “Daniel, servant of the living God,” the king said, “has your God whom you serve continually been able to rescue you from the lions?”  Even when facing the prospect of death, Daniel remained influential in the King’s life! He persistently incarnated God’s truth in the way he lived!

 

 

Daniel: A King’s Pride Is Broken!

-Here’s Nebuchadnezzar’s Story!

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

Should you find yourself reading the Book of Daniel someday, you’ll note a significant change as you start the 4th chapter—it’s no longer Daniel’s story! This is King Nebuchadnezzar’s personal testimony of how he came to have saving faith in Yahweh—it’s become Nebuchadnezzar’s story! His words are directed at “…those of every people, nation, and language, who live in all the earth”; and, reads like what someone would say if they stepped up to the mic in a worship service & shared a testimony of faith! “I am pleased to tell you about the miracles and wonders the Most High God has done for me” (v.2).

-Your God Becomes My God!

Up until now—throughout the first 3 chapters—the King always referred to “YOUR God…” Daniel; and, to “YOUR God…” Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego! In this chapter, the King describes a personal relationship with God—he shares what “…the Most High God had done for ME.” In v.4 the King said he was “…at ease & flourishing in my palace”—some translations render it “…content & prosperous.” Rarely do the “content & prosperous” seek after God! In fact, Jesus said, “It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into heaven”; and, then He follows with one of the most misused statements in all of Scripture: “But, with God all things are possible!” Be careful! Don’t carelessly quote that verse outside of it’s context! What Jesus is saying is that it’s humanly IMPOSSIBLE for the rich to enter into heaven; but, “…with God ALL THINGS are POSSIBLE!” Even the salvation of a rich, powerful & pride-filled King, like Nebuchadnezzar, is possible with God; but, ONLY after he’s been broken & humbled!

-Until He Acknowledged The Most High God!

And, the rest of the chapter is Nebuchadnezzar’s incredible story—how God drove him away from people to live, as a wild animal, with the wild animals! For 7 years he ate grass & acted as a wild animal; until, he acknowledged “…that the Most High God is ruler over the kingdom of men, and He gives it to anyone He wants” (v.25).  The King learned that pride is way more dangerous than it appears! Pride blinds us to our sin; and, we become self-absorbed in our own little world of self-importance!

-Failure Can Be A Gift!

The British playwright, George Bernard Shaw, said, “There are two tragedies in life. One is to lose your heart’s desire, and the other is to gain it…we tend to listen more when God speaks through sorrow, pain, loss, and personal failure. Success tends to make us complacent…” What he’s saying, in a sense, is that failure can be a gift from God! It was for Nebuchadnezzar! Getting himself knocked off his perch of pride became his salvation because it broke his sinful self-confidence! Thank God! He will cut us down to size in order to save us! Nebuchadnezzar had taken credit for his accomplishments when it was God who had blessed him with his abilities! Someone said: “Pride is like plagiarism because it attempts to take for ourselves Glory that belongs to God alone!” God will not share His glory with us! Repent of pride or face His judgment!

 

Daniel: Pride Comes Before The Fall

-Wearing Pride Like A Badge!

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

As a young boy, I remember being taught by well-intended parents & teachers that I needed to take pride in my accomplishments! I needed to take pride in my grades & my education! I needed to take pride in my work ethic & everything I did! Wear pride like a badge! I learned that pride was important to  my “self-worth” & that it was even “healthy”! So, I “bought in” and became a pretty good bragger; and, I was proud of myself for that!

-Pride Makes “Me” The Standard!

And, since “I” was the standard by which I measured everyone else, it was easy for me to look down on you if you didn’t compare favorably to my ACT score; or, if school didn’t come as easy for you; or, if you weren’t as good as I was at sports or drama or music! But, that all began to change for me, as I began to understand the claims of the Gospel. As a young believer & follower of Jesus, the Scriptures began to come to life for me; and, I was forced to reconsider my pride on the basis of God’s Word!

-Pride: #1 On God’s “Hate List”

How could I justify my personal pride when I read in the Bible: “These 6 things the Lord hates, Yes, 7 are an abomination to Him…”; and, #1 on God’s “hate” list? “…a PROUD look…” (Prov 6:16-19) The Lord HATES PRIDE, it says! It’s an ABOMINATION to Him! How could I continue living with all this pride? Could all my teachers have been wrong? Additional Scriptures like Proverbs 8:13 & Proverbs 16:5 & Mark 7:21-23 confirmed that “PRIDE” was a SIN to be avoided at all costs! It’s like spiritual suicide! Jesus listed it right up there with sexual immorality, murder, adultery & wickedness!

-Pride Can Damn Your Soul

The 4th chapter—in the book of Daniel—indicates that it was pride that nearly damned the soul of King Nebuchadnezzar! Pride had deceived him! It blinded him to his true condition before God! But, God would not leave Nebuchadnezzar where he was at! Yahweh was about to get in the King’s “grill.” Things were going to get very personal! The King was about to experience God’s response to His pride; and, it would ultimately lead to his eternal salvation!

-A Personal Encounter With God

In the first 3 chapters of Daniel, King Nebuchadnezzar had only seen God from afar!  Each chapter found Daniel and/or his 3 friends dealing with a personal “crisis of faith.” Each time they trust God’s Sovereign plan—in the face of adversity & possible death—and, each time God shows up and delivers them!  But, for the King, none of those events were “personal.” He had not personally encountered Daniel’s God up to this point! There’s an individual application here:  We cannot live vicariously through someone else’s faith! The King thought well about Daniel’s God because he had seen what Yahweh had done for Daniel! Yahweh had made a favorable impression on him; but, the King didn’t “know” Him personally…..YET! That was all about to change! King Nebuchadnezzar…let me introduce you to KING YAHWEH!