Seven Things in the Church That Will Not Change

Church SteepleIn this post, Thom Rainer reminds us of what is most important when it comes to the local church body.

Rainer writes:

I love following church trends. I have been researching and consulting with churches for over thirty years. It’s just what I do.

Sometimes I am pretty good about projecting current trends toward a future reality. Of course, I’ve had my share of misses as well. Still, I thoroughly enjoy every facet about studying local churches.

This time, however, I can make a definitive statement. I can tell you seven things in the church that will not change. In the fast pace of change in local congregations, these seven constants are good reminders of what really matters.

1.The Bible is still the Word of God. It always has been and always will be. It is sharper than a two-edged sword. It is powerful because it is the Word of God.

2.The gospel still changes lives. The gospel is the power unto salvation. The gospel transforms lives. The gospel is the same regardless of other changes in our churches.

3.Small groups are still vital. In the New Testament, groups sometimes met together in homes or other places. Throughout Church history, the role of groups has been vital. It is the place where community is established and where deep truths are taught. It has been called Sunday school, small groups, home groups, and cell groups. But they are all forms of small groups creating community and fellowship and learning.

4.The mission field still needs workers. That includes the mission fields to the farthest ends of the earth. And it includes the community in our backyard.

5.Prayer is still powerful. God is still using praying churches. Never, ever take for granted the power of pervasive prayer.

6.Hurting people still need ministry. Pain and hurt may come in different names over the years, but the needs are still similar. A church that truly cares for people will always have a place in the community. A church that sees people through the eyes of Jesus will always be effective.

7.God is still in control. Sometimes the pace of change confuses and disorients us. Sometimes the amount of suffering in the world challenges us. Sometimes we feel like there is no hope. Remember, God is still in control. He always has been; He always will be. He is there for you and your church.

I admit that I often have fun looking at trends and cultural forces that are changing our society and affecting our churches. Such is the bubble in which I often find myself.

But for many, the pace of change is disconcerting if not frightening. It can seem those things that we cherish are changing too fast or even being taken away from us. We all need these reminders that so much of God’s work in His churches will never change. These are the things that really matter. These are the things that really make a difference in our churches and the world in which we minister.

What other reminders can you give us? What are some constants that will never change in our churches? What really does matter?

Source: Seven Things in the Church That Will Not Change

Don’t Confuse Knowledge and Success with Maturity

Paul Tripp’s post, “Don’t Confuse Knowledge and Success with Maturity,” is a great testimony of how easy it is to measure our success based  on things other than obedience to God.

Tripp writes:

I didn’t just give way to the temptation to let pastoral ministry become my identity. I fell into two other temptations as well.

I let biblical literacy and theological knowledge define my maturity. This is related to the identity temptation but requires its own attention. It is quite easy in ministry to give into a subtle but significant redefinition of what spiritual maturity is and does. This definition has its roots in how we think about what sin is and does. Many pastors carry a false definition of maturity that results from the academic enculturation of seminary.

Since seminary tends to academize the faith, making it a world of ideas to be mastered, students easily buy into the belief that biblical maturity is about precision of theological knowledge and biblical literacy. But spiritual maturity is not something you do with your mind (although that is an important element). Maturity is about how you live your life. It is possible to be theologically astute and immature. It is possible to be biblically literate and in need of significant spiritual growth.

I was an honors graduate of a seminary. I won academic awards. I assumed I was mature and felt misunderstood and misjudged by anyone who failed to share my assessment. In fact, I saw those moments of confrontation as persecution that anyone faces when he gives himself to gospel ministry. At root I misunderstood sin and grace. Sin is not first an intellectual problem. (But it does affect my intellect, as it does all parts of my functioning.) Sin is first a moral problem. It is about my rebellion against God and my quest to have, for myself, the glory due to him. Sin is not first about the breaking of an abstract set of rules. Sin is first and foremost about breaking relationship with God. Because I have broken this relationship, it is then easy and natural for me to rebel against God’s rules.

So it’s not just my mind that needs to renewed by sound biblical teaching, but my heart needs to be reclaimed by the powerful grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. The reclamation of my heart is both an event (justification) and a process (sanctification). Seminary, therefore, won’t solve my deepest problem—sin. It can contribute to the solution, but it may also blind me to my true condition by its tendency to redefine maturity. Biblical maturity is never just about what you know but always about how grace has employed what you have come to know to transform the way you live.

Think of Adam and Eve. They didn’t disobey God because they were intellectually ignorant of God’s commands. They knowingly stepped over God’s boundaries because they quested for God’s position. The spiritual war of Eden was fought on the turf of the heart’s desires. Consider David. He didn’t claim Bathsheba as his own and plot to get rid of her husband because he was ignorant of God’s prohibitions against adultery and murder. David acted because at some point he didn’t care what God wanted. He was going to have what his heart desired no matter what.

Or think what it means to be wise. There is a huge difference between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is an accurate understanding of truth. Wisdom is understanding and living in light of how that truth applies to the situations and relationships of your daily life. Knowledge is an exercise of your brain. Wisdom is the commitment of your heart that leads to life transformation.

Even though I didn’t know it, I walked into pastoral ministry with an unbiblical view of biblical maturity. In ways that now scare me, I thought I had arrived. So when my wife, Luella, would lovingly and faithfully confront me, it was not just that I was being defensive. By definition I thought she was wrong. And I became convinced she was the one with the problem. I used my biblical and theological knowledge to defend myself. I was a mess, and I had no idea.

Success Is Not Necessarily an Endorsement

I confused ministry success with God’s endorsement of my living. Pastoral ministry was exciting in many ways. The church was growing numerically, and people seemed to be growing spiritually. More and more people seemed to be committed to be part of a vibrant spiritual community, and we saw people win battles of the heart by God’s grace. We founded a Christian school that was growing and expanding its reputation and influence. We were beginning to identify and disciple leaders.

It wasn’t all rosy; there were painful and burdensome moments, but I started out my days with a deep sense of privilege that God had called me to do this ministry. I was leading a community of faith, and God was blessing our efforts. But I held these blessings in the wrong way. Without knowing that I was doing it, I took God’s faithfulness to me, to his people, to the work of his kingdom, to his plan of redemption, and to his church as an endorsement of me. My perspective said, “I’m one of the good guys, and God is behind me all the way.” In fact, I would say to Luella (this is embarrassing but important to admit), “If I’m such a bad guy, why is God blessing everything I put my hands to?”

God did not act because he endorsed my manner of living, but because of his zeal for his own glory and his faithfulness to his promises of grace for his people. God has the authority and power to use whatever instruments he chooses in whatever way he chooses. Ministry success is always more a statement about God than about the people he uses for his purpose. I had it all wrong. It took credit that I did not deserve for what I could not do. I made it about me, so I didn’t see myself as headed for disaster and in deep need for the rescue of God’s grace. I was a man in need of rescuing grace. Through Luella’s faithfulness and the surgical questions of my brother, Tedd, God did exactly that.

What about you? How do you view yourself? What do you regularly say to you about you? Are you different from those to whom you minister? Do you see yourself as a minister of grace in need of the same grace? Have you become comfortable with discontinuities between the gospel you preach and the way that you live? Are there disharmonies between your public ministry persona and the details of your private life? Do you encourage a level of community in your church that you do not give yourself to? Do you fall into believing that no one has a more accurate view of you than you? Do you use knowledge or experience to keep confrontation at bay?

You don’t have to be afraid of what is in your heart. You don’t have to fear being known. Because nothing in you could ever be exposed that hasn’t already been covered by the precious blood of your Savior King, Jesus.

Memorial Day: Remembering Their Sacrifice

Today in honor of those who have and continue to give of themselves to help ensure the freedom of others, I want to say Thanks! Thanks to all who have fought for freedom in our place. Thanks to all who have left home, family, jobs, and safety to put themselves in harm’s way that they might be the protectors and liberators of those suffering under the hand of wicked oppression. THANKS!

On June 6, 1984, “standing on the very spot on the northern coast of France where Allied soldiers had stormed ashore to liberate Europe from the yoke of Nazi tyranny, President Ronald Reagan spoke these words to an audience of D-Day veterans and world leaders.” In honor of all those who have sacrificed so much, I want to post a portion of President Reagan’s speech from that day.

We’re here to mark that day in history when the Allied armies joined in battle to reclaim this continent to liberty. For 4 long years, much of Europe had been under a terrible shadow. Free nations had fallen, Jews cried out in the camps, millions cried out for liberation. Europe was enslaved, and the world prayed for its rescue. Here in Normandy the rescue began. Here the Allies stood and fought against tyranny in a giant undertaking unparalleled in human history.

We stand on a lonely, windswept point on the northern shore of France. The air is soft, but 40 years ago at this moment, the air was dense with smoke and the cries of men, and the air was filled with the crack of rifle fire and the roar of cannon. At dawn, on the morning of the 6th of June, 1944, 225 Rangers jumped off the British landing craft and ran to the bottom of these cliffs. Their mission was one of the most difficult and daring of the invasion: to climb these sheer and desolate cliffs and take out the enemy guns. The Allies had been told that some of the mightiest of these guns were here and they would be trained on the beaches to stop the Allied advance.

The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers — the edge of the cliffs shooting down at them with machineguns and throwing grenades. And the American Rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up. When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After 2 days of fighting, only 90 could still bear arms.

Behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the Ranger daggers that were thrust into the top of these cliffs. And before me are the men who put them there.

These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.

Gentlemen, I look at you and I think of the words of Stephen Spender’s poem. You are men who in your “lives fought for life . . . and left the vivid air signed with your honor.”

Forty summers have passed since the battle that you fought here. You were young the day you took these cliffs; some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet, you risked everything here. Why? Why did you do it? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look at you, and somehow we know the answer. It was faith and belief; it was loyalty and love.

The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or on the next. It was the deep knowledge — and pray God we have not lost it — that there is a profound, moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt.

You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One’s country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you.

The Americans who fought here that morning knew word of the invasion was spreading through the darkness back home. They fought — or felt in their hearts, though they couldn’t know in fact, that in Georgia they were filling the churches at 4 a.m., in Kansas they were kneeling on their porches and praying, and in Philadelphia they were ringing the Liberty Bell.

Something else helped the men of D-day: their rockhard belief that Providence would have a great hand in the events that would unfold here; that God was an ally in this great cause. And so, the night before the invasion, when Colonel Wolverton asked his parachute troops to kneel with him in prayer he told them: Do not bow your heads, but look up so you can see God and ask His blessing in what we’re about to do. Also that night, General Matthew Ridgway on his cot, listening in the darkness for the promise God made to Joshua: “I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.”

These are the things that impelled them; these are the things that shaped the unity of the Allies.

We are bound today by what bound us 40 years ago, the same loyalties, traditions, and beliefs. We’re bound by reality. The strength of America’s allies is vital to the United States, and the American security guarantee is essential to the continued freedom of Europe’s democracies. We were with you then; we are with you now. Your hopes are our hopes, and your destiny is our destiny.

Here, in this place where the West held together, let us make a vow to our dead. Let us show them by our actions that we understand what they died for. Let our actions say to them the words for which Matthew Ridgway listened: “I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.”

Strengthened by their courage, heartened by their value [valor], and borne by their memory, let us continue to stand for the ideals for which they lived and died.

Thank you very much, and God bless you all.

Source: Historyplace.com

Honoring Our Cloud of Witnesses

I am thankful for the faithful Christians who have gone before me. Had it not been for their sacrifice I may never have heard the glorious message of Jesus Christ. Their lives are a witness to us today. Their witness made a difference in history, a difference delivered to us in the twenty-first century through the great sacrifice of their suffering. They did not consider their suffering “…worthy to be compared with the  glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8.18). Their suffering was and is to the glory and honor of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I pray that those who come behind us will find us just as faithful.

Hebrews 11.1-40 is a great reminder of their selfless sacrifice for their Soveriegn King.

11 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of  things not seen. 2 For by it the  men of old gained approval.

3 By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared  by the word of God, so that what is seen  was not made out of things which are visible. 4 By faith  Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he  obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his  gifts, and through faith, though  he is dead, he still speaks. 5 By faith  Enoch was taken up so that he would not  see death; and he was not found because God took him up; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God. 6 And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who  comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. 7 By faith  Noah, being  warned by God about  things not yet seen, in reverence  prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of  the righteousness which is according to faith.

8 By faith  Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to  receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he lived as an alien in  the land of promise, as in a foreign land,  dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob,  fellow heirs of the same promise; 10 for he was looking for  the city which has  foundations,  whose architect and builder is God. 11 By faith even  Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him  faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore there was born even of one man, and  him as good as dead at that, as many descendants as the stars of heaven in number, and innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore.

13 All these died in faith,  without receiving the promises, but  having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and  having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. 15 And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out,  they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a  heavenly one. Therefore  God is notashamed to be  called their God; for  He has prepared a city for them.

17 By faith  Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had  received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; 18 it was he to whom it was said, “ In Isaac your descendants shall be called.” 19 He considered that  God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a  type. 20 By faith  Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even regarding things to come. 21 By faith  Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and  worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff. 22 By faith  Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and gave orders concerning his bones.

23 By faith  Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the  king’s edict. 24 By faith Moses,  when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to  endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, 26 considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the  reward. 27 By faith he  left Egypt, not  fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as  seeing Him who is unseen. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood, so that  he who destroyed the firstborn would not touch them. 29 By faith they  passed through the Red Sea as though they were passing through dry land; and the Egyptians, when they attempted it, weredrowned.

30 By faith  the walls of Jericho fell down  after they had been encircled for seven days. 31 By faith  Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spiesin peace.

32 And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of  Gideon,  Barak,  Samson,  Jephthah, of  David and  Samuel and the prophets, 33 who by faith  conquered kingdoms,  performed acts of righteousness,  obtained promises,  shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire,  escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong,  became mighty in war,  put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; 36 and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also  chains and imprisonment. 37 They were  stoned, they were  sawn in two, they were tempted, they were  put to death with the sword; they went about  in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted,  ill-treated 38 (men of whom the world was not worthy),  wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holesin the ground.

39 And all these, having gained approval through their faith,  did not receive what was promised, 40 because God hadprovided  something better for us, so that  apart from us they would not be made perfect.

All Scripture quoted from the New American Standard Bible

The New Middle Road

(Matthew 7.13-14) “13 “ Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. 14 For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

Dearest

George Beatty of Cleveland, Ohio, had a wonderful jewelry store, remarkable for its window displays. Over the years, Mr. Beatty had bought a stock of small precious stones that he kept in pint cups. He had a cup of small rubies, a cup of topazes, and a cup of diamonds—all sparkling brilliance. Some of them were small stones and chips that were worth very little. Early in the morning, before the customers came, he made pictures by placing the stones on black velvet squares; a magnificent peacock with its tail spread out was on one. He put these portraits in stone in the window, and many people stopped to look.

A wealthy customer wrote Mr. Beatty that his dearest granddaughter was going to have a birthday; he wanted something distinctive of real beauty. Five times in the letter, the customer spoke of the granddaughter as “dearest.” The old man looked at me and said, “I prayed and asked the Lord to give me an idea. I noticed how many times ‘dearest’ appeared, so I underlined it. When I sent my customer the sketch and told him what I proposed to do, he was greatly pleased and thought my idea was wonderful.”

Mr. Beatty sent him a ring with baguettes so beautifully cut that the light scintillated from them. Across the top of the ring, the first stone was a diamond; the next, an emerald, then an amethyst, a ruby, a second emerald, a sapphire, and then a topaz. I looked at it and asked, “Buy why do you have two emeralds?” He smiled and said, “Because there are two e’s in ‘dearest.’ If you take the initials of those stones, it spells the word ‘dearest.'”

Before the Lord God Almighty created the sun, the moon and the stars, He chose us, and—as it were—He put us in a ring to be worn as a signet upon His hand. Spelled out in the heart of God, we are his dearest.

Source: “Timeless Illustrations for Preaching and Teaching” by Donald Grey Barnhouse.

Is it Biblical to Ask Jesus Into Your Heart?

Trevin Wax gets to the heart of this issue in his post “Is it Biblical to Ask Jesus Into Your Heart?

Trevin writes:

The Southern Baptist blogosphere has erupted in conversation on whether it’s proper to use phrases like “asking Jesus into your heart,” “accepting Christ,” or methods like the “sinner’s prayer” when sharing the gospel. Like many online conversations, this one has tended to generate more heat than light, and I get the feeling that good folks on both sides of this issue may be talking past one another.

This discussion over methods and terms has been bubbling under the surface for a good while now. A younger generation of pastors look out at the state of evangelicalism and are rightly concerned that many people with cultural Christianity in their background cling to assurance they are saved despite an overwhelming lack of evidence of genuine conversion. It’s no surprise that some pastors are blaming the methods and terms that became prevalent in the previous generation. That’s why we hear a pastor like David Platt consider a phrase like “asking Jesus into your heart” to be “dangerous” and “damning.”

The response to this critique has been to trot out the biblical and historical precedent for using such terminology. That’s not hard. The idea of “receiving Christ” is all over the New Testament. It is certainly a part of the good news that we are not only in Christ, but that Christ is in us. Pastor Steve Gaines’ rebuttal to David Platt, for example, focused on the biblical preponderance of such language and how it offers a full-orbed view of what takes place when a sinner places faith in Jesus Christ.

A Global Perspective

The first time I questioned the legitimacy of expressions like “ask Jesus into your heart” was when I was a student in Romania. Several Romanian pastors challenged the use of such terminology. They considered it to be another example of the American tendency to water down the nature of true repentance, and they recommended the use of such phrases only if fully explained. They saw these expressions as distinctively “American” and worried that they did not give sufficient weight to the idea of surrendering one’s life to King Jesus in repentance and faith.

Though some in the Southern Baptist Convention want to make this a debate between Calvinists and non-Calvinists, a broader perspective shows that this is part of an ongoing conversation between Christians in the U.S. and Christians in other parts of the world. The pastors I knew who had concerns with this language were not Calvinistic at all. Still, they were afraid of creating false converts and offering them false assurance. It ought to at least give us pause that many Christians in other parts of the world are uncomfortable with this terminology.

The Real Issue is False Assurance

At the end of the day, the conversation about “the sinner’s prayer” and “asking Jesus into your heart” is not really about the legitimacy of such methods or the biblical justification for using expressions like “having a personal relationship with Christ” or “receiving Jesus.” I believe that properly understood and explained, any of these methods and terms can be used, to good effect. And I bet David Platt would have no problem at all with the careful way that Steve Gaines explains what it means to “receive Jesus.”

The real issue comes down to finding our assurance in these methods and phrases. False assurance is when a pastor says, either explicitly or implicitly, “as long as you walked an aisle, prayed a prayer, or asked Jesus into your heart at some point in time, you’re safe.” It’s the kind of false assurance that doesn’t take into account a Christian’s fruitfulness (as Jesus commanded us to) and tries to convince tares they are wheat. The debate is not really about the usefulness of a sinner’s prayer, but the grounding of one’s assurance in a particular moment in time where one felt remorse for sin, regardless if true repentance was present or later evidenced.

Growing up in independent Baptist circles, I recall how much emphasis was placed on the moment of conversion. Revival speakers would come into town and scare us as teenagers, telling us, “If you don’t remember the when, the where, the how, and the who of when you got saved, you’re probably not. So come down and get it settled today!” Multiple baptisms were good for the evangelist’s PR and dozens of teens getting re-baptized made the church feel good (“Look what God is doing in our young people!”).

Despite the hype, I never got re-baptized. I couldn’t articulate all the reasons why this was wrong, but I knew something wasn’t right. It felt like the shenanigans of these revival speakers put way too much emphasis on a moment in time and not on a life of fruitful faith.

True Conversion

This conversation about our methods and terminology in evangelism is an important one. I just hope that people who share a lot of the same concerns will understand the common ground they have and not impute mistakes to one another.

To my young pastor friends, we are often more apt to express concern about the precision of evangelistic language than we are to celebrate the passion of evangelistic outreach. Let’s not impute the excesses of revivalism to everyone who uses terms that are familiar within that stream of evangelicalism.

To my older pastor friends, please don’t assume that those who critique shallow evangelism are necessarily criticizing you or your ministry. And don’t think that young guys are gun-shy when it comes to evangelism, afraid to call people to personal faith and repentance, or have a problem with a moment of conversion.

Again, the issue is one of false assurance. No pastor wants to stand before God and find he offered false assurance to someone who showed no signs of genuine repentance and faith. We all ought to tremble at the thought.

Meanwhile, is it biblical to ask Jesus into your heart? Absolutely. We ought to say more than this when we evangelize, and our main focus ought to be on the biblical terminology of repentance and faith, but surely it is proper to speak of receiving Jesus.

Let’s just make sure we explain our terms and phrases so that the nature of true repentance and saving faith is communicated clearly, boldly, and graciously. I hope that’s something all of us can agree on.