Finishing Up Ruth

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Homework Reminder

I wanted to encourage everyone again to read ahead in the book of Ruth to the fourth and final chapter as we prepare to finish the book together this coming Sunday morning. In fact, you may want to go back and read through the entire book out loud (four short chapters) with your family this week and use it as a discussion starter. You will not want to miss this Sunday morning!!!

What Is God Doing?

Often, we do many things in church today simply for the sake of doing things because we want to be viewed by newcomers as being full of activity. But not all activity contributes to a healthy vision of making disciples. We can even fake God’s work if we’re not careful. Churches can be involved in ‘busyness’ that might actually keep them from being sensitive and obedient to God’s leading.

Unfortunately, many churches are so far gone in their own ideas of being “all-things-to-all-people” by way of various good-sounding programs they offer, that they cannot imagine ever changing the way things are done. Church members may feel pressured to keep certain programs propped up and alive by constantly feeding them with time, energy and resources. The result is ministry monsters are created that suck everyone dry but accomplish very little in the way of genuine growth in obedience and holiness. Taking the time to stop and re-assess the effectiveness of these draining programs is a dangerous venture and very few may be willing to speak up for fear of being thought disloyal to the program or its creators. Leaders want to keep their parishioners happy. And so, in order to keep the programs functioning, things never change.

Slowing down for a minute to regroup and ask, What is God doing? should be the first order of business in many of our churches today. However, if asked sincerely and regularly, this will require us to reorient our goals and plans to match up with God’s. That may mean dropping some dead-weight-programs like hot potatoes. But, scrapping things to start over might be exactly what God is calling many of our churches to do today. Unfortunately, when faced with the prospect of change, many of us would be content to just keep plodding forward. To this fear of change we might have to stand up at times and courageously say, WE MUST CHANGE OR DIE.

Redeemed AND Adopted

In preparation for this coming Sunday worship service, please take a moment to watch the following video – and then, rejoice at your own adoption!

Knowing Jesus AND Making Him Known

Last Sunday night at our members meeting we talked briefly about our Mission, Vision and Values as a church. We tied them all in to the Great Commission (Matt 28:19-20) and spoke about the importance of first BEING what we want to reproduce. Before we can make disciples we have to be the kind of disciples we want to make.  In order to ‘Make Jesus Known’ we first have to know Jesus. We reproduce what we are.

In 2 Timothy 2:2 the apostle Paul told young Timothy, ‘what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.’ In that one verse we see four generations of disciples represented: 1) Paul, 2) Timothy, 3) the ones Timothy taught and 4) the ones those men taught. Paul was always casting vision for the ongoing process of making more disciples. It was never supposed to stop because the command from Jesus was a permanent command. And this is still our commission today – to keep reproducing ourselves by pouring into the lives of other followers of Christ for their good, teaching them to obey all the things that Jesus commanded. 

But Paul also knew that he first had to obey the things that Jesus commanded himself before he could teach others to do the same. He also told young Timothy, ‘Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers’ (1 Timothy 4:16). Teaching wasn’t enough. He also had to live it out. In other words, he had to practice what he preached. As Christians, we don’t just dump out a load of Bible facts and information on those we disciple. Rather, we share our very lives with them. We let them in to see our lives lived in consistent obedience to God, even in the midst of trying circumstances. We let them see our holiness shining through. And when we fail, we let them watch us recover through regular and immediate repentance. All of this gives weight and credibility to the things we teach.

Paul’s goal was to BE first, and THEN to teach others. In 1 Corinthians 9:25-27 he said, ‘Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.’

BEING must come before MAKING. We reproduce what we are. And so we must be CAREFUL and INTENTIONAL in how we live our own lives.

So, what kind of disciples are we? Would we want others to model their lives after us in their devotion to Christ? Could others watch us for a week, or even a day, and say that our lives match what we preach? How much training do we put in every week? In other words, are we spending time in the disciplines of prayer and Bible reading? Do we attend corporate worship and Bible studies when we have opportunity? How do we spend our time, money and energies? 

Do we even have anyone else we’re intentionally pouring into for their good? Have we shared any scriptural truth with someone recently to help encourage them in their walk? Have we prayed for or with someone recently?

May God encourage our hearts this week in our efforts to both Know Jesus AND Make Him Known.

Fish Story

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Join us this coming Sunday morning, May 7th as we take a look at the reluctant, miserable missionary Jonah and what God has to say to us today through his inspired testimony.

“It is finished!”

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As we think about the price that was paid to free us from God’s certain judgment (literally the ransom price), we ought to overflow with unending thanksgiving. We ought to stand in wonder at the cross! The cross is the ultimate symbol of victory for the Christian. It is where the full glory of God – the heavy weight of all that he is in his perfect character – shone most clearly. In the agony of the cross we see the holiness, justice and love of God simultaneously on display. The Son obediently finished the work given to him by the father so he would be rewarded with a redeemed people to worship and enjoy him for eternity. Jesus is the sovereign king who willingly suffered physical and mental anguish unlike any other in order to ransom his own subjects from death row. What kind of a king does that?!!

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
to bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
to bear the dreadful curse for my soul?

When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down,
when I was sinking down, sinking down;
when I was sinking down beneath God’s righteous frown,
Christ laid aside his crown for my soul, for my soul,
Christ laid aside his crown for my soul.

Take a moment to enjoy this brief video to prepare for our upcoming Good Friday and Easter Sunday services.

 

Loving or Leaving Jesus

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After the past Sunday’s sermon, I got to thinking…everyone that was present in the service and heard me preach was so gracious for not correcting me every time I accidentally exchanged the names Lazarus and Judas. Hehe.  I realized after listening to the sermon again online that I did this multiple times. : )

Anyway, as we learned together Sunday in John 12:1-8, those who recognize Jesus for his intrinsic value and have been changed by his grace and love naturally desire to express their love for him in return. The Spirit living inside of believers compels them to glorify Jesus in all areas of their lives. In fact, he gives his children both the energy and the desire to do this (Phi. 2:13). This lifestyle of worship and gladly sacrificing energy, time, possessions and talents to serve him overflows from grateful and humble hearts.

In contrast, those who do not belong to God the Father through faith in his son are not genuinely inclined to worship him at all. Sure, they might try to appease him and impress others through good deeds and religious duties, but only when the heart is changed by Jesus can the motivations for worshipping him be pure. Mary’s extravagant worship of Jesus was pure and it flowed from a grateful heart just as the perfume was being poured out. She didn’t care about the personal cost to herself of this potentially embarrassing scene. She was willing to suffer dishonor and disgrace for her worship. She couldn’t help herself.

Judas, on the other hand, betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. That was about four months wages for the average person of that day. And he hypocritically complained about Mary’s waste of perfume that could have potentially brought in a whole year’s worth of wages. Apparently, to Judas, nard perfume was more valuable than Jesus himself. Sad. His ugly complaint revealed the true greedy motives of his unbelieving, unchanged heart. And he was exposed in the end.

Judas could not genuinely worship Jesus in truth because his association with Jesus, and his title as a ‘disciple’ were only a thin facade. And so, his complaint about the waste of the perfume makes perfect sense. To Judas, Jesus simply was not worth it. Eventually, Judas left, just like the many “disciples” John describes for us in Jn. 6:66. There are some who will eventually tire of playing the part – without the heart – and “go out from among us because they were not of us” (1 Jn. 2:19). But often, the tares continue to grow among the wheat within the church until the end when God’s angels finally separate the two.

Jesus told his disciples that the road to heaven was narrow (Matt. 7:13-14). He also said that on the day of judgement many will say to him, “Lord, Lord!” as if he really was their Lord. But his chilling response for people like Judas and countless others will be, “Depart from me. I never knew you” (Matt. 7:21-23).

Judas had heard every word Jesus taught in public. In addition, he was privy to the private explanations of certain hard-to-understand parables that their Lord gave to just the inner twelve. He was an eyewitness to his miracles and he even passed out the fish and loaves to the crowds that Jesus had created out of thin air. How could this be? How could he be so close, but yet so far? Judas was like the land described by the author of Hebrews that had received rain so many times but only produced thorns and thistles (an illusion to the curse of sin). See Hebrews 6:4-6. As we mentioned Sunday, the theological term for this is an apostate.

What about you? Is there a love for Jesus and a gratitude in your heart for what he has done? Do you seek to intentionally make your lifestyle one of daily worship, sacrifice and adoration? Is there a natural willingness to give yourself to him wholeheartedly? If so, keep fanning that flame. Keep meeting with others for worship, growth in the word and in prayer and keep serving him and his church with the gifts he has given you.

If this doesn’t describe your life at all, it may be time to seriously examine your own heart. Does it beat for you and your own selfish desires alone? Do you call him “Lord, Lord” but never really desire to do what he says?

If we are convicted by reading the contrasting responses to Jesus of Mary and Judas and forced to examine our own lives closely, this can be a very GOOD thing. Either we have a desire to serve and express our worship to Jesus or we don’t. In some cases, the desire was never present because the Spirit of God has never taken up residence in our hearts through genuine faith in Christ. Sometimes it’s because we are Judas.

At other times, it’s because as believers we have allowed sin to go unchecked and put a wet blanket on the fire of our love for Jesus.

Either way, the example of Mary stands as our example. We should all as genuine disciples want to live our lives like that – in love with the savior and unafraid to show it to all the watching world.

Getting Rid of the Leaven

I realized after the fact this past Sunday that I gave an incorrect reference for a scripture passage I quoted toward the end of my sermon. Also, since the audio recording cut off the last two minutes I wanted to reiterate some important points and clarify what I intended to communicate so that it is better understood.
 
For generations after the actual events of the exodus from Egypt (Ex. 12), the Jews were told by God to prepare for the commemoration of the Passover meal by carefully removing any and all traces of leaven from their houses. This was to aid them in remembering the haste with which they left Egypt. There was not even time for the bread they baked that night to rise and so they were told specifically to bake unleavened bread. Thus, the use of flat or unleavened bread during Seder dinners, even to this very day.
 
Fast forward from the historical exodus… We know that Jesus came to fulfill the true intent of the Mosaic law by keeping it perfectly and dying as a perfect substitute for sinners. He was the long-awaited final Passover lamb God’s people had been looking forward to for so long. Multiple times throughout his earthly ministry Jesus refers to the negative, self-righteous influence of the Pharisees as leaven. They were sinful and focused on their own good works as a badge of pride and they used their manmade works-based religion to guilt an entire nation into being “religious” just like them. Jesus’ point was that just a little bit of leaven can work through an entire batch of dough so that it rises. He wanted his disciples to be careful not to let the religious leaders of their day influence them by their false teachings. And so, leaven in Jesus’ teachings had a very negative connotation. It represented sin and corruption that needed to be guarded against.
 
Paul picked up on this later when he warned the Corinthian church in 1 Cor. 5:1-8 to get rid of the leaven that tainted them. They were to be pure. In the immediate context, Paul was talking about church discipline and removing an unrepentant sinning member from their midst. They were to protect their gospel witness by being morally clean. But the same general principle applies to us today in our own individual lives and our corporate church lives.
 
Think about this with me for a moment. As Paul mentions, our Passover lamb (Jesus) has already been sacrificed in our place as our SUBSTITUTE. Because his sacrificial death purchased us out of slavery to sin and made us clean, we are to continue celebrating our new identity in him by living in a way that honors him. We are to live pure lives, free from any sinful influences that could hinder our intimacy with him and do damage to our witness individually and as a local church body. And so, we are to get rid of the leaven. As we look at what Jesus suffered in our place and the blood that was shed to cover us and remove our guilt, we ought to take a serious self-examination to see whether we are allowing sin’s influence to taint us and those around us. Just as Jesus was without sin, we also are to seek to live our own lives free from sin’s contamination.
 
What leaven are we most susceptible to?
What has a tendency to trip us up and cause us to lose our witness?
Have we set boundaries in our lives to avoid certain sins and even temptations to sin?
What kind of cleansing might we need to do in order to be pure again? What needs to be swept out?
 
Take some time today to do a personal inventory using the above questions, asking Jesus to cleanse you and set your heart back on him, your spotless Passover lamb.

Are You Hungry?

Are you hungry for the Bible?

Do you desire to grow in grace and knowledge?

Do you intentionally look forward to getting together with other believers to hear what God has to say through his word?

Do you humble yourself before the preaching of God’s word, asking him to challenge and change you wherever necessary?

Does the idea of interacting with other believers in a small group study, listening to God speak to you through their insights and experiences excite you?

Do you long for accountability in your Christian life?

Are you hungry?

Did you know that it’s entirely possible to go to church, but not really participate fully as part of the church? All believers need the mutual encouragement and prayers of others who are on the same journey. To intentionally decide not to engage with one another in times of intimate sharpening and bearing of our souls before God’s word is both selfish and detrimental to our own spiritual growth, as well as the growth of other believers around us. Unfortunately, the excuses we put forward for not participating are myriad.

If we were to compare our spiritual growth to our physical growth I’m afraid many professed believers would see some sharp contrasts. We eat regularly to keep ourselves full and alive physically. But our own spiritual health doesn’t necessarily follow the same pattern. Many Christians don’t believe they need to eat much spiritual food to survive spiritually. But it’s about THRIVING, not just surviving. Physically speaking, we eat when we are hungry to give us energy. If we’re not hungry we’re either full or we’re sick. A lack of appetite can be a very clear indication of a problem. It may also indicate that we are filling ourselves with other things that we don’t need to be eating (junk food).

Covenanting together as members of a local church means that we intentionally choose spiritual accountability, whether we realize this or not. It means we choose to feed that hunger TOGETHER. We need each other to grow. The Christian life was meant to be lived in a community. There are no lone-wolf Christians. That’s why scripture commands us to not give up meeting together.

Are you hungry? If not, maybe it’s time to check your appetite.Drawing on the physical analogy above, the only reason we wouldn’t be hungry is because we’re either full or we’re sick.

The Three Simple Phases of Disciple-Making

Below is a more in-depth explanation of our church’s Values: Worshipping Together, Growing Together, Serving Together.

The Process of Making Disciples

 

In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus gave his disciples their marching orders. He told them to go and make disciples of all nations. They were to reproduce on a massive scale who they were as followers of Jesus. That alone is a sobering thought. This self-reproduction was to be done first through baptizing new believers and then subsequently by teaching them to observe (obey) whatever Jesus commanded. This has been called the Great Commission down through the years because Jesus promised he would be with them (in them) to help them carry out this co-mission. And he lives in those of us today who seek to faithfully and obediently continue making disciples.

 

When people hear the gospel through our witness God’s Spirit convicts them of the truth of the message and replaces their heart of stone with a heart of flesh to respond in repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. Salvation is all of God’s grace. It is his supernatural work whereby he calls his own to himself through the proclamation of the gospel message. And he gets all the credit. God makes the new creation. He makes the new disciple. He then partners with existing church members to work with them in the process of developing those newborn spiritual babies into fully-developed obedient, growing disciples. That’s what it means to “make” a disciple. It is our co-mission.

 

The church as a whole is responsible to make disciples of one another. And each member has an important part to play. Indeed, if members do not make the effort to participate in this process they end up stunting not only their own spiritual growth but also the growth of other disciples who depend on them.

 

The very first step the church takes in making disciples is to baptize new believers by immersion in water publicly as a sign of their decision to follow Christ. This is the New Testament model. Water baptism, as an outward sign of an inward faith, helps identify WHO is part of the local church. The entire congregation and its leaders have heard the testimony of the candidate and had a chance to verify his/her testimony as far as they can tell by watching their lives. The church then gladly gives him or her their seal of approval through baptism and the right hand of fellowship through covenant membership. Conferring baptism on them says, in effect, “We believe this is a genuine brother or sister in Christ who believes the same gospel we believe and was saved by the same savior.” They are on the same team and each of them now identifies with one another as a local church. High-accountability membership in a local church is a biblical concept. It serves to identify who is in (and consequently who is not in). And, practiced biblically, meaningful local church membership adorns the gospel with great beauty.

 

But once in the front door, so to speak, the real work begins. Disciples of Jesus Christ are, by definition, followers of Jesus Christ. A local church is a called-out, gathered-together assembly of Jesus’ followers who covenant together for the purpose of encouraging one another to follow Jesus every day by observing his commands and fulfilling their part in the Great Commission. Personal involvement in the local church is vital to growing individually and corporately in our obedience and holiness. This glorifies God and fulfills the Great Commission.

There are no shortcuts here. Making disciples is an on-going, never-ending, life-long, often messy process. It requires patience and careful instruction on the part of godly leaders and mutual submission and love on the part of each member. Each member of the local congregation must be willing to be held accountable to one another to help one another mature in the process. Making disciples requires members to be actively involved both in their attendance and in serving the body with their unique gifts. It also requires that members deal with sin in a healthy biblical way in order to honor God and keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. The context of a gathered local church is where we fulfill all the “one-another” commands of the New Testament. This happens in the corporate worship service on Sunday mornings, in smaller bible studies, in the mid-week prayer meeting, over meals and coffee, at the church office, across town at a restaurant, in each others’ homes, etc.

 

To be healthy and functioning as a local church requires a commitment to one another and it requires us to move forward as one body with a common goal and vision to honor and glorify Christ in all we say and do. Below is a very broad and simple vision for the process of making disciples. Allow this to guide you as you think about your own role in the disciple-making process.

 

Three Phases: Proclamation – Interaction – Action

 

Each local church member should be committed to be involved in some way in EACH of the following phases simultaneously. This is the natural progression of making disciples = WORSHIP, GROW, SERVE. Healthy growing disciples naturally make more healthy growing disciples. The pastor simply cannot do it all, nor is he called by God to do it all. The congregation is responsible for doing the work of the ministry, as they are equipped, empowered and led by their pastors/elders (Eph. 4:11-16). Failure to understand and be committed to a broad biblical vision for every-member-disciple-making and failure to be intentionally involved in each phase (Proclamation, Interaction, Action) will cause the process to stutter, or worse yet, stop altogether. All three of these phases in the process of disciple-making are discussed in more detail below.

 

Phase 1 – Proclamation (WORSHIPPING TOGETHER)

 

Proclamation is the first phase of the process where the majority of members will most gladly be involved. This is the Sunday morning corporate worship service where we gather as the entire congregation for 1) the Proclamation of God’s praises and 2) the Proclamation of God’s word. We worship God for who he is and what he has done in the gospel. We sing about the cross and the blood of Jesus that was shed to forgive us and give us new life and hope. We pray to God and give our tithes and offerings as a way of expressing our thanksgiving. We also humbly listen to God’s word being proclaimed, inviting him to challenge and transform us into the obedient, holy followers he would have us be.

 

Because the proclamation of God’s praises and God’s word are so vital to the health of a church, each member should seek to make this corporate worship time a high priority. Everything in this service time should done in purity of heart and with the highest quality to honor Christ. If someone is invited to a church worship service by one of its members or just comes to visit by themselves he or she should be able to recognize clearly what that church is all about. What the church proclaims should be very clear and understandable. And each member needs this time desperately each week because each member needs to be reminded of the gospel as not only the thing that saved them, but also the thing that keeps them and gives them hope. Gathering together as the church for this two-pronged proclamation should take priority in each member’s life.

 

— Moving to the next phase is the most critical part of the process of making disciples —

 

Phase 2 – Interaction (GROWING TOGETHER)

 

While the Sunday morning worship service is a great place to begin, there must be movement from this time into the second phase of interacting with one another in smaller groups. If disciples are to be taught to observe all the things that Jesus commanded there has to be some way to measure whether or not they are actually observing those commands. Without carefully observing what Jesus commanded members cannot grow to their full potential in obedience and holiness. And so, members intentionally seek opportunities when they can participate in the worship service as well as prayerfully interact with others and with God’s word.

 

Skipping this phase in the process is the biggest potential mistake made by church members, but, unfortunately, it happens most often. If this is not a personal priority for each member, they will miss out on the opportunity to grow deeper in their own holiness and obedience. They will also deprive others of the help they could be giving. In other words, a lack of commitment to the Interaction phase causes the whole church to suffer in multiple ways.

 

Each member, from the pastors/elders to the deacons, to the members in the pew, desperately needs the accountability this interaction provides. Church members need the intercessory prayer of others and need to be exposed to God’s word and get their questions answered in a way that encourages them to grow in grace and knowledge. We should want to pour into and encourage each other personally. We need to go deeper with one another. This happens intentionally in small group bible studies (both on Sunday mornings and at other times and places), in prayer meetings, over meals and coffee as well as in other practically unlimited ways as members intentionally gather. Some of these times will be scheduled and organized by the leadership of the church. Others might occur very organically as friendships develop one-on-one or in small gatherings outside of the normally scheduled times. Whatever form this interaction takes, it’s important that it happens!  The desire to interact with one another for the purpose of mutual accountability and growth should be natural and it should be a priority in the life of each and every member. Covenanting together as members of a local church means that we purposely choose this kind of accountability. And it is important that we each hunger for this interaction, as that hunger is a sign of spiritual vitality and health. If we don’t, something is wrong.

 

When all church members are actively involved in the corporate proclamation of their praises and hearing the proclamation of God’s word AND they are regularly interacting with other members in bible study, prayer and loving fellowship, they will be more likely to serve the body with their spiritual gifts. The third and final phase is where members actively contribute the unique gifts they each bring to the table, keeping the disciple-making process moving.

 

Phase 3 – Action (SERVING TOGETHER)

 

People who are being ministered to personally through regular prayerful interaction with other disciples and God’s word are more likely to use their God-given spiritual gifts to serve the body of Christ. Each member has specific spiritual gifts that are needed by the rest of the church body. Indeed, God has arranged us just the way he wanted. But these spiritual gifts do not belong to the individual member him or herself. They belong to the people sitting next to them in the pew. ALL members have an obligation to serve others in the unique ways God has gifted them to serve. Members will not be encouraged to serve to their full potential unless they are growing as they ought. Why serve if we’re not worshipping or growing?! Service without personal spiritual growth can quickly become drudgery. A member who is not growing to their potential will soon lack true joy and can easily become burned out in their service. In contrast, when members are growing deep as followers of Jesus Christ through Proclamation and Interaction, their Action will be filled with purpose and joy. This is how Jesus means for us to grow in the context of the local church.

 

Each member is responsible to be actively involved in ALL THREE OF THESE PHASES SIMULTANEOUSLY on a regular on-going basis. Members are also each responsible to ensure that the other members around them they are responsible for are also involved in all three phases. When someone becomes a member of a church it should be clearly communicated that they are choosing this kind of accountability. Membership should have meaning and significance. If not, we should not expect anyone to contribute anything. This requires that members care enough about each other to consciously and continuously spur one another on toward love and good deeds. A pastor cannot ensure the accountability and growth of every single member of the church by himself. And as more people decide to covenant together with the church by joining as members, they too must be encouraged towards and held accountable for their own movement through and simultaneous involvement in each phase.

 

In closing, here are a few simple questions to ask yourself.

 

  1. Is this process as it has been described above biblical and healthy?
  2. Is it simple enough to remember and repeat?
  3. Do you see the necessity of making sure all members move from phase 1 to phase 2 and then to phase 3 and then stay involved in all three phases simultaneously?
  4. Do you see how this simple process, if fleshed out, can grow all members deeper spiritually and minister to a variety of different needs?
  5. How would you gauge your own personal commitment to and involvement in each of these phases currently?  What might you need to change?