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: What Revival Looks Like!

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

-It Starts With Humble Prayer!

I don’t know that there’s a more beautiful & spiritually moving prayer than Daniel’s prayer in the 9th chapter of the book named after him. There’s a humility & a brokenness that’s often missing from the hurried & self-centered prayers of our day! When revival occurs, in the hearts of believers, this is what it looks like! Prayers, uttered by a revived saint,  admits a brokenness & even shame over their sin, selfishness, and idolatry— “Lord, righteousness belongs to You, but this day public shame belongs to us: the men of Judah, the residents of Jerusalem, and all Israel—those who are near and those who are far, in all the countries where You have dispersed them because of the disloyalty they have shown toward You. Lord, public shame belongs to us, our kings, our leaders, and our fathers, because we have sinned against You.  Compassion and forgiveness belong to the Lord our God, though we have rebelled against Him and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by following His instructions that He set before us through His servants the prophets.  All Israel has broken Your law and turned away, refusing to obey You” (Daniel 9:7-11).  Wow! What brokenness & transparency!

-Admitting Public Shame!

“…PUBLIC SHAME belongs to us…” he confessed in v.7; and, in v.8 he says it again, “…PUBLIC SHAME belongs to us…” Daniel’s greatness, in the eyes of God, was not because he was without sin! None of us are! It was Daniel’s sensitivity to his sin! He admitted the depth of his sin! He owned it! For our world—and, our NATION—to experience revival, it has to begin with the broken humility of God’s people! With us! We, the Church, have to take ownership for our sins—for our IDOLATRY! For our failure to love all the world’s people groups & every kind of sinner!

-Looking In A Mirror!

Daniel didn’t just throw “…our kings, our leaders & our fathers…” under the bus (v.8).  He said, “…WE have sinned against You…WE have rebelled against you…” (v.9).  I fear the American church has been too preoccupied with pointing fingers at political leaders when WE are the real problem! We should be looking in the mirror, spiritually speaking! God will only use a broken church to bring the world to revival!

-Concern For God’s Reputation!

Daniel was concerned that Israel had hurt God’s reputation in the world! “LORD, bring revival to your people,” Daniel prays, “…for the LORD’S sake” (v.17); “…make us a city called by YOUR name” (v.18); “LORD, HEAR! LORD, FORGIVE! LORD, ACT…” (v.19). Did you notice that? “…for YOUR SAKE”, Daniel prayed, “We base our prayers on YOUR abundant compassion” (v.18). Do you pray like that? I’m afraid that, for most of my life,  my prayers sounded nothing like that! Is it possible that the reason so many of our prayers go “unanswered” is because we’re not offering “God-Centered” prayers? Can we begin to pray—as Christ’s Church—that God would act in HIS own BEST INTEREST? And, for HIS GLORY? Let’s do it!

 

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: Questioning Civil Disobedience!

-There Is A Law Above Our Laws!

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

I have a huge curiosity for all things Adolf Hitler & WWII Germany—perhaps, in part, because I’m of German descent; but, mostly, I think, because I find it incredulous how an entire nation could be duped by such an ungodly man! How could they ever go along with a plan to round up a certain people group & have them exterminated as Hitler did some 6 million Jews; not, to mention the thousands of non-Jewish German citizens that he killed because they wouldn’t go along with his plan? When WWII ended, in 1945, a series of military tribunals were held by the Allied forces, in Nuremberg, Germany, to prosecute the prominent leaders of Nazi Germany who carried out or participated in the Holocaust & other war crimes. Painted as patriots,  by their attorneys, their defense was that they were only carrying out the direct orders of their government; and, therefore could not be held responsible for their actions. But, one of the judges dismissed their argument with one simple question: “But, gentlemen,” he asked, “Is there not a law above our laws?

-We Ought To Obey God!

While Scripture gives us the general principle that, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities…” (Rom 13:1,2);  the higher, Biblical principle is this: “When ungodly men make ungodly laws, godly men disobey them!” The Apostle Peter taught the general principle to “…submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution…” (1 Pet 2:13-15); but, he also said, “…we must obey God rather than any human authority” (Acts 5:29).  It’s in that kind of quagmire that Daniel’s 3 friends found themselves in chapter 3 of Daniel’s story! King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, from chapter 2, becomes a “nightmare” for Hananiah, Mishael & Azariah as he builds a 90’ tall gold statue, of himself, and demands that everyone bow down and worship it—“…when you hear the music…you are to fall down & worship the gold statue…” (ch. 3:5) This was a problem! They had been raised in good Jewish homes & knew the commandments Yahweh had given to Moses in Exodus chapter 20: “I am the LORD your God; do not have any other gods besides me…”

-It Was Us Against The World!

They knew the law: “…do not make an idol for yourself,” it continued, “you must not bow down to them or worship them…” (Exodus 20). So, here they were between the proverbial “Rock & A Hard Place”—obey the King & face God’s judgment or obey God & face the King’s fiery furnace! Let me try & paint the picture for you as you follow the narrative in Daniel chapter 3. There are probably thousands upon thousands of people, representing all the nations that Babylon had subdued, waiting for the sound of the music! They hear it & all the thousands upon thousands bow down & worship the King’s gold image….. EXCEPT 3 MEN! They knew their insubordination wouldn’t go unnoticed; and, it didn’t! But, the fear of God outweighed their fear of man: “When ungodly men make ungodly laws, godly men disobey them!