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!

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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: 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!

 

 

Daniel: Debunking The American Dream!

-Even If He Doesn’t, We Won’t Bow!

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

I love the response of Daniel’s 3 friends—Hananiah, Mishael & Azariah—when King Nebuchadnezzar demanded that they bow down & worship his gold statue; or, face death in the fiery furnace: “If the God we serve exists, then HE CAN rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and HE CAN rescue us from the power of you, the King. But EVEN IF HE DOES NOT rescue us, we want you as King to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up” (Daniel 3:17-18).  They trusted God  to deliver them either by miracle or by death! They trusted God even if it was part of His Sovereign will NOT to deliver them by a miracle! Their trust in God was not just tied to delivery from the furnace—“EVEN IF He does NOT,” they said, “We won’t bow to your false gods.”

-Will You Trust God With Whatever?

By application, we have to be careful that our trust in God is not limited to delivery by miracle! Sadly, the “gospel” being preached in the majority of our American churches is all about “ME”—it’s “MAN-centered”, not “GOD-centered”—“If God doesn’t deliver me from the ‘furnace’ of my bad circumstances, than He’s not to be trusted!” That’s where false teaching begins—with MAN’S WAY! God’s Gospel always begins with GOD! And, it contrasts the holiness of God with unholy mankind! God is always righteous & we’re not! We’re born, into this world, under His judgment and wrath—broken, depraved, in need of mercy & grace that is only available to us through Jesus’ atonement, for our sin, on the cross!

-The False Gospel Of The American Dream!

The so-called “American Dream” is a perversion of God’s true Gospel! It promotes an entitlement mentality of a bigger & better “YOU”—your “right” to own a home; your “right” to a high-paying job; your “right” to affordable health care; your “right” to be delivered from the “furnace”! The false gospel of the “American Dream” says Jesus came to make us bigger & better—that’s NOT the Gospel of Jesus Christ! He didn’t come to make you a better YOU! He came to put you on a CROSS & die to SELF!

-God Is The Treasure We Seek!

To His disciples, Jesus said: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25). We don’t just need a little “makeover.” We need to DIE! Our “SELF” needs to be crucified & born again in Christ! That’s the true Gospel! This story wasn’t about the delivery of Daniel’s friends from the furnace! This story is about GOD & His eternal purposes—and, Daniel’s 3 friends were submitted to that whether it meant delivery by miracle or by death! That’s their testimony—having relationship with God was of far greater value to them than life itself! By their willingness to entrust their lives to God’s plan & purpose—rather than their own—they made God the treasure to desire more than anything else!

 

 

Daniel & The God Of The Impossible

-An Impossible Circumstance In Babylon

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

I’ll never forget where I was on Friday, February 22, 1980 when the United States Olympic Hockey team shocked the world by beating the powerful Soviet Union team 4-3 on their way to an Olympic Gold Medal! It’s the hockey match that will forever be remembered as the “Miracle On Ice” because no one gave the U.S. team a chance of beating the Soviets. Daniel also faced an “impossible” circumstance in Babylon; and, after God delivered the miracle finish, Daniel was quick to deflect all the glory away from himself & redirect the praise to God.

-Anxiety & Panic Will Suffocate You!

This story—in Daniel, chapter 2—will encourage you as you face all the “impossible” circumstances in your own life! Daniel fleshes out how a believer can handle the stressful things in life & all the things we worry about! We all find ourselves, from time to time, in a situation we perceive to be “impossible.” The anxiety & the sense of panic can be suffocating. When chapter 2 opens—in Daniel’s book—we find Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar dealing with a case of insomnia over some dreams he had experienced (vs. 1-3). So, he brings together 4 distinct groups of people to help him make sense of the dreams. These would be like his “wise men” & counselors—the “diviner-priests” were scholars who claimed the ability to forecast the future; the “mediums” alleged the ability to communicate with the dead; the “sorcerers” practiced incantations or the casting of spells; and, the “Chaldeans” were students of astrology who studied the stars & other heavenly bodies to determine the future.

-An Impossible Demand!

The narrative continues (in v.4-9) when the King gives them an “impossible” assignment. He demands that they give him not only the meaning of his dream; but, that they also tell him what he actually dreamed! Now, we have the luxury of reading Daniel’s entire story in one setting; but, there are actually months & years involved! God is at work in the King’s heart. He’s using the King’s relationship with Daniel to challenge the King’s “world view”; and, his faith in Babylon’s idolatrous religion! We’re starting to see some cracks in the King’s belief system! There’s a parallel application for us—don’t assume you know what’s going on in someone’s heart!

-Caution: God At Work!

Don’t write off a person simply because of the words they say; or, the way they’re currently living their life! Daniel’s story confirms that God is at work; even, when it seems “impossible” that someone—like King Nebuchadnezzar—could ever come to faith! In vs. 10-13, the “wisemen” & counselors are unable to tell the King what he dreamed! This is Sovereign God, behind the scenes, planting seeds of doubt in the King’s mind. God intends to draw a clear distinction between the false gods of Babylon; and, the true God of Daniel! When King Nebuchadnezzar responds with a “…tell me what I dreamed & the interpretation; or, I’ll have you all killed…” the stage was set for Nebuchadnezzar’s introduction to the God of Creation!

 

God Is Great! God Is Good!

-God Is Also Very Personal!

I still remember our prayer, before meals, growing up—“God is great! God is good! Let us thank Him for our food! Amen!” Nothing wrong with those words! They acknowledge God! But, they’re repetitious words that just aren’t very “personal.” And, God is personal! The Psalmist wrote these words:  “One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard:  that you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving. Surely you will reward each person according to what he has done” Psalm 62:11-12.

-God Reveals Himself Through Scripture!

God uses the Scriptures to reveal Himself to us; and, Jesus—God’s “Word” incarnate—revealed, to us, what God looked like in the flesh. He loves us! He’s actively involved in our justification, our sanctification; and, ultimately, our glorification! We are “His workmanship”—He continues to image us into the likeness of His Son. So, what is the biggest hindrance to His work in us? We are! We get in the way of our own spiritual growth.

-Get Out Of The Way & Let God!

But, God is great; and, God is good! He is strong enough to change us when we quit being controlling! The Psalmist said He is “strong”—in fact, He is “omnipotent”; or, ALL POWERFUL! You can’t manipulate Him! So, why do you try? Why would you want to? He is a benevolent God! All of His intentions, toward us, are kind & good! He is also strong enough to change us when we quit fearing man! One major reason, for our sinful behavior, is our craving for man’s approval! We fear the rejection of some person; but, “The fear of man lays a snare. Whoever trusts in the LORD, however, is safe” Prov 29:25.  When you live for the approval & acceptance of others you succumb to a form of “idolatry.” You’ve placed created beings on the throne of your life instead of your Creator! God is great; and, God is good! And, He loves us enough to change us when we quit looking for love in all the wrong places! It’s the goodness of God, Scripture says, that leads us to repentance. He calls us to find, in Him, the only thing that truly satisfies! Whatever the stuff of this world offers you, God offers you more! He isn’t just better than that stuff; He’s the BEST!

-Quit Trying To Prove Yourself!

That’s the heart of the Gospel message—because God is love, He will change us when we quit trying to prove we can do it ourselves! Salvation is not about what we do for God; rather, it’s about what God has already done for us! Like the Father, in the story of the Prodigal Son, God always welcomes us! He will rescue us from ourselves when we confess we’ve messed it all up! If you’ve had the tendency, like I have, to think God’s going to rub your nose in your sin for a little while before He forgives you, you’re mistaken! That’s not God! The Psalmist said: “…you, O LORD, are LOVING…” He comes running when we confess to Him! He embraces us & changes us when we stop trying to prove, to Him, our worthiness!

 

Quit Trying So Hard!

-Is Change Even Possible?

Have your “New Year Resolutions” already hit the skids! Perhaps you’re at a place in your life where you think it’s impossible to change! What you’ve confirmed is the weakness of your flesh. The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Church of Colosse, points out that human “regulations”—like “New Year Resolutions”—are powerless to change our fallen flesh:  “If you died with the Messiah to the elemental forces of this world, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations:  ‘Don’t handle, don’t taste, don’t touch?’ All these regulations…are commands and doctrines of men.  Although these have a reputation of wisdom by promoting ascetic practices, humility, and severe treatment of the body, they are not of any value in curbing self-indulgence” Colossians 2:20-23.  That’s a sample of the world’s system for “behavior modification.” In our flesh, we wanna prove we can discipline ourselves to a “better behavior.” That gives us bragging rights to judge all the other wicked sinners by—but; that’s “legalism.”

-Legalism Is Simply Self-Effort

Legalism is our attempt to reach holiness through our own self-effort; or, “regulations” as Paul calls them here! Let me be clear—Paul is NOT referring to God’s law! You’re not a legalist for keeping His law! Sexual promiscuity, lying, stealing & murder are ALWAYS sin! It’s all the other stuff they ADD to God’s law that makes them a legalist!  I used to be a legalist—I wouldn’t play cards; or, go to the movie theatre! I wouldn’t think of going to church unless I was wearing a suit! I would never consider being part of a church where there were drums & guitars; or, anything other than a King James version of the Bible used in the pulpit! You may find that bizarre; but, be careful! Legalism is rather chameleon in nature—your “list” might be different; but, you’re “extra biblical” rules to perform by & force on others is just as legalistic!

-To Be “In Christ”

If you’re “in Christ” you’ve “…died to the elemental forces of this world,” Paul says, “Why do you live as if you still belonged to the world?” Jesus Christ is the great liberator! He set us FREE from “performance-driven faith”! If you’re “in Christ” remove the masks! Stop pretending you’re a super saint! Quit trying so hard to make yourself acceptable to the Father! He’s already accepted you “in Christ.”

-Declared Righteous!

If your faith is in Christ’s work on the cross, you’ve been “declared righteous.” That is your forever standing before God! There is NOTHING you can do that will ever make you more acceptable to God; and, there is NOTHING you’ve done that makes you less acceptable to Him! Jesus bore ALL YOUR SIN—past, present & future; and, His righteousness was placed in your account when you trusted His work by faith! Then, God’s Holy Spirit moved in; and, told your spirit that He’s ready to go to work in you! But, it will be HIS WORK! He doesn’t need you to get in the way & put on that “HOLIER than thou mask” by keeping a bunch of man-made, human-inspired rules! It’s in your “weakness” that He is strong! God rejects all human effort!