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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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: 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: How To Pray For Revival!

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

-Israel’s Exile Had Ended!

The 9th chapter, of the Book of Daniel, opens with a significant prayer for Israel’s revival & restoration to the promised land! It’s significant because it means that Daniel had a copy of the Book of Jeremiah’s prophecy & he realized that the period of God’s divine judgment, against Israel, had ended! In v.2, it says that Daniel “…understood from the books according to the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet that the number of years for the desolation of Jerusalem would be 70.” It had been 70 years since the 1st chapter, of the Book of Daniel, began with Babylon’s siege of Jerusalem! Israel could begin to return to the land from which they had been exiled; and, they could begin to pray for Israel’s well-being again!

-Our Nation Needs Revival!

I’ve often felt that there are parallels between Israel’s demise; and, that of our own nation! So, we would do well to consider Daniel’s prayer for revival; and, apply it to our own nation! Psalm 9:17 says, “The wicked will go down to Hell & all the nations that forget God.” Our nation has clearly lost her way! We’re on God’s radar for judgment! If there is any hope to turn this thing around it has to begin with the Church! For the world to experience revival, it must begin with God’s people! Before continuing to read this post, I want to ask you to PLEASE do something FIRST! Open your bible and read the 9th chapter of Daniel’s book! PLEASE read it FIRST before going any further!

-Prayers God Won’t Answer!

Many of us have absorbed some wrong thinking about prayer! Read the prayers in Scripture; like, Daniel’s prayer here! Prayer is NOT a personal shopping list we bring to God with thoughts that He’s some kind of benevolent Genie who can’t resist our selfish requests! Prayer is not meant as some communication device—with the Almighty—to coerce Him to give us the things we wish for or desire! No, God intends to use our prayers to make us partners, with Him, to bring HIS WILL—not our own—into force! Did you notice how Daniel prayed? He came before God fasting in sackcloth & ashes! Prayer begins with humility! He humbled himself, it says, “to SEEK” God! The prayer for revival is “God-centered”, NOT  “self-centered.” In v.4, we see Daniel praying in awe of God! The prayer of revival is worshipful & reverent!

-Personal Confession Of Sin!

Notice, that Daniel’s prayer gets personal (v.5). But, not in the sense of asking anything for himself! Rather, he confesses his personal responsibility for sin; and, for the nation— “…we have sinned, done wrong, acted wickedly, rebelled, and turned away from Your commands and ordinances. We have not listened to Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name …”  He confesses two types of sin! He confesses sins of “transgression” (v.9); and, sins of “omission” (v.10).  “We knew Your Word & we still rebelled against it,” he said. Daniel shows us that the prayer of revival admits “brokenness”— “public shame belongs to us” (v.7); and, he repeats that in the next verse!  He was sensitive to sin! He named it; and, he owned it!

 

Daniel: Taking Ownership Of Our Wrongs!

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

-I Was Wrong!

It’s been said that the 3 most difficult words in the English language are: “I Was Wrong!” Husbands, how hard is it to say, “I Was Wrong” to your wife? But, let’s be fair, ladies, it’s just as difficult for you to say those 3 words too, isn’t it? It has to be the result of the fall, right? We’ll do almost anything to avoid saying, “I Was Wrong”—we’ll say, “Man! I messed up” or “I fumbled that one” or “I goofed” or “I blew it”. We’ll say, “My Bad” or “Oops! I made a boo-boo”! All of those are easier to say than, “I Was Wrong!” They minimize our wrong! I mean, how bad can a “boo-boo” be, right?

-Being Transparent With God!

This post is about taking ownership of our sins. It’s about being transparent with God , and, with each other about our sin. If there is any hope for revival across our nation—and, God only knows how badly we need it—we need to learn how to say those 3 words: “I Was Wrong!”  “I Was Wrong, God! Here is my sin! I confess it! I agree with you about it!” For the world to experience a revival, it has to begin with God’s people! The Apostle Peter wrote: “…the time has come for judgment to begin with God’s household…” It’s gotta start with those who claim to be Jesus’ followers! We can’t pray for national revival & ignore our own personal need for repentance! We dare not call out the sin of the lost & wink at our own failure to confess our sin!

-Blessings & Cursings!

As we turn to chapter 9 in Daniel’s prophetic book, it begins: “In the first year of Darius, the son of Ahasuerus, a Mede by birth, who was ruler over the kingdom of the Chaldeans: In the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the books according to the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet that the number of years for the desolation of Jerusalem would be 70.” Let’s stop there, for a moment, and include some really important background! You might recall that Daniel’s story, in chapter 1, begins with Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar laying siege against Jerusalem & taking Daniel & many of the Israelites into exile! Do you remember why? They were being punished! They failed to confess & repent of their sin! They failed to tell God, “I Was Wrong!” And, God fulfilled a promise He had made to Israel 850 years earlier in Deuteronomy 28—Blessings, to Israel, for obedience! Curses for disobedience!

-Don’t Test God’s Patience!

Just as God had dispossessed the Canaanites & other people groups from the land because of their evil ways, God dispossessed Israel from the land because they became evil! One more thing to consider: Israel’s sinful disobedience was a gradual thing! Sin always is! As the nation, of Israel, became more and more evil, God sent prophets to warn them! He would extend grace & mercy if they would just repent & turn from their sin! But, there is always an end to God’s patience & long-suffering; and, through the Prophet Jeremiah, God confirmed that His judgment was coming! It was inevitable, irreversible & non-negotiable! He even told Israel to quit praying for revival; and, to pray for their captors instead! By way of application, it’s time Christ’s Church in America wake up! It’s time we confess our sin of idolatry! We’ve strayed so far from Jesus’ Commission to His Church; and, we’ve given great occasion for the enemies of God to blaspheme! Wake up, Church! Let us repent & return to the work of the Lord in faithfulness!

 

 

What Good News Can Do For You!

-The Gospel Is An “Announcement”

The word “Gospel” literally means “good news.” In the original Greek language it’s often translated “Herald” or “Evangelist.” When a Greek king won a battle, he would send a “Gospel Herald” all over the kingdom to announce the “good news” of his victory! So, in it’s purest sense, the Gospel is an “announcement”—the Biblical writers used the word “Gospel” to announce that Jesus has won the battle for our salvation by His atoning death on the cross! The Gospel is the good news, about God’s forgiveness, by Christ’s substitutionary work in our place— “…He became sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” 2 Cor. 5:21.

-We’re Saved From Good Works

Once we’ve heard & accepted the good news—about Jesus’ payment for sin—we’re commissioned, by Him, to announce the good news everywhere & to make disciples of Christ from all nations! When we get Jesus’ Gospel right, it’s a message that saves us from our “good works”—“For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast” Eph 2:8,9.  From my earliest recollections of myself, as a young boy, I remember trying to impress God with my good deeds. But, Scripture clearly says here that salvation “…is NOT from YOURSELVES…”; it’s “…NOT from works…” We can never change enough to sway God! We can never justify ourselves before Him! We’re DEAD in our SIN! That’s why Jesus went to the cross—to pay the price we should have paid! It’s the “good news” of the Gospel that saves us from thinking that our good deeds can save us.

-We’re Saved From Guilt

When we get Jesus’ Gospel right, it’s a message that saves us from our “guilt”—“And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins” God says in Hebrews 8:12.  The Psalmist wrote, “…then I confessed my sins to you and didn’t hide my guilt. I said, ‘I will confess my sins to the Lord,’ and You forgave my guilt.” Psalm 32:1-5.  The same Gospel that saves us from our good works, saves us from our guilt—when guilt is our motivator, we can never do enough! That’s the unbearable burden of a “performance-driven faith”—when have you done enough? But the Gospel, of Christ, says we’re saved by GRACE!

-The Gospel Saves Us To Do Good Works

 

The Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Paul to write: “For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them” Eph. 2:10.  Did you see that? Paul says, “…we are HIS creation”; and, it’s in our conversion to Christ that we are “…created…FOR good works”; and, God prepares us for those good works! They don’t save us! They’re the RESULT of our salvation—the RESULT of God’s sanctifying work IN US! When we truly see the beauty & glory of God’s grace in our lives, we will want to do good works that reflect well on Jesus!