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I am unsure if this is a “thing” or not in the church in the United States. It seems pretty harmless at first glance. What is this “thing”? The word “mistakes.” It is the word that caused me to snap to attention when I heard it being inserted into a message about the salvation of Jesus. Everybody makes mistakes, the speaker said, and that’s where the narrative took us. Yes. Everyone makes mistakes. Obvious truth. One to which we can all agree. However, there is great danger here. I just hope we don’t fall for this like we did with the word of faith movement, prosperity gospel, seeker-sensitive movement, and worldly leadership principles.

Pardon me for the rant. I strayed a bit from the topic at hand.

As stated, everyone makes mistakes. We all know this and are comfortable with it as truth. The problem here, however, is omitting the word “sin” and replacing it with the word “mistake.” A mistake is when you smack your thumb with a hammer. A mistake is when one submits a paper with a typographical error. A mistake is when one claims the Pittsburg Pirates won the 1927 World Series.

But there is no comparing sins and mistakes. A sin is when one has sex outside of marriage or with another person’s spouse. A sin is when a child disrespects his or her parents. A sin is when one commits murder or theft. A sin is when one kills or helps to kill a helpless infant. Sin of any kind brings death, death to a life of thriving while on earth and death eternally. The Lord has provided a glorious remedy. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).1 Our sinful condition is the primary reason Jesus came to earth and the Creator of the universe shed His own blood to cleanse us of our sin. “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15).

To maintain that mistakes equal sinfulness is an affront to our loving Jesus. It degrades Him and His sacrifice.  

Please permit me to say that the sins I listed earlier are rampant in our nation. This may explain our reluctance to call them out during a church service. Who wants to offend anyone? That’s no way to bring people to Jesus, is it?

Well, Jesus is offensive.

“So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,’ and ‘A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense’” (1 Peter 2:7–8).

Sin is a reality. People feel guilty about it or should. We should, without angrily condemning people with unforgiving language, allow the Holy Spirit to convict people of sin when we share the good news about eternal life in Jesus. Concerning the Holy Spirit, Jesus said,

“And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged” (John 16:8–11).

Let us, the Church of the living God, speak the truth and watch as the Holy Spirit does His convicting work. Unless, of course, we just want to fill the seats of our churches and thus seek the glory of men because we want a large church. If that’s the case, we must face this truth:

“How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44).

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (2016). Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy Edge images.

One of the things I think we’ve done wrong as the Church is that we think the human quality of our leaders and developing large organizations is how we “grow” the Church.

However, Jesus told us that He would build the Church.

We’ve tried to build it.

It’s fascinating to me that the God of the universe, in the flesh and blood body of Jesus, after He had done the most monumental thing in human history, left it all to—eleven guys. No organization. Just eleven men that He had taught and then empowered with the Holy Spirit. Eleven individuals who really hadn’t “gotten it” yet. Somehow, this amazingly intelligent God—remember, He created this amazing world and everything in it—thought this was sufficient.

“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18–20).

Consider Paul. How did the church grow through His ministry? It wasn’t through his or anyone else’s human abilities.

“What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth (1 Corinthians 3:5–7).

This is how God purposes to grow the Church.

Here’s one example, from the book of Acts. After Paul returned to Jerusalem after his missionary journeys, he met with the elders there. He told them “one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry” The response of these elders? “And when they heard it, they glorified God.” Acts 21:17-20a). How would we respond today? Yes, we would also glorify God. And then we would ask Paul how he did it and try to replicate it, using our organizational skills. The apostles didn’t do this.

The account of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch is another example. Philip shares the gospel with the eunuch. Then, miraculously, Philip is taken away by the power of God. The eunuch heads back to Ethiopia. By himself. The church started there. I can’t imagine that God could have made a more emphatic point. Philip was not allowed to go with this man. That makes some of us a bit itchy.

We’ve done the best we knew how with “doing church.” But in my opinion God has attached the wires to the ignition device and is slowly pushing the plunger. He’s going to blow this whole thing up.

           

Every Christmastime, the high school I attended in Indiana would present a holiday concert in which the student choir would sing the Hallelujah Chorus from George Frideric Handel’s Messiah, which includes these glorious, biblical words: “And He shall reign forever and ever.” The Scripture Mr. Handel was referring to is this: “Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever’” (Revelation 11:15). 1 This is not just a New Testament idea, however. Here is the last line of the Song of Moses after the Lord God Almighty had delivered His people from bondage in Egypt: “The LORD will reign forever and ever” (Exodus 15:18).

The Lord God Almighty has always reigned, since before the foundations of the world. He has never ceased reigning and never will. We just don’t realize it.

The other day, this very thought about Jesus reigning forever and ever buzzed through my mind—or soul or spirit or all three—wherever and however thoughts about God buzz through. After this it occurred to me that I will be part of that. I will be with Him and the saints as He reigns forever and ever. Let’s pause here for a moment, because the meaning of “forever and ever” can easily lose the weight of its significance to us. The issue Christians face is that we really don’t have much of an idea what is included in that “forever and ever.” We already are incapable of thinking how long a million years is, much less eternity, where time doesn’t even exist. So, we just say “amen” and move on. Nothing wrong with that amen whatsoever.

However, the idea of eternity keeps nagging at us. It seems to be a universal experience that as people age, they begin to realize the transitory nature of life on earth. The Scriptural understanding about our frail impermanence becomes more real. Its brevity stands in wondrous contrast to a life that doesn’t end in the heavenly kingdom with Jesus and the saints.

What will that life be like? It’s easy, using our fallen human minds, to think, “It will be boring. Who wants to worship God all the time?” We should be careful to avoid thinking this way. Consider this passage:

“And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!’ And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever” (Revelation 4:8–10a).

Perhaps we might arrogantly think that the living creatures and the twenty-four elders are slaves who either have no choice or simply automatons like those Halloween houses where scary characters continually pop out of the walls to frighten people. No, it is the glorious presence of the Lord God Almighty that causes them to behave this way. We should ask ourselves what we would do if we were in His presence. Check out the Scripture to discover how those who did encounter Him responded.

However, we are not told that the saints will do nothing but worship Jesus “all the time.” Of the saints, Revelation 22:4–5 says, “They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”

“They will reign forever and ever.” Hmm. That sounds familiar. Jesus shall reign forever and ever. We will reign with Him forever and ever.

But reign over what?

Well, for one thing, we will be doing this: “Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world?” (1 Corinthians 6:2a). “Do you not know that we are to judge angels?” (1 Corinthians 6:3a).

What will that look like? We are not told. However, we should keep in mind that the inheritance of the heavenly kingdom is the third land promise the Lord made. The first was to Adam, the second to Abraham, and the third to the saints, to inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5) and a kingdom (Matthew 25:34). We should keep in mind that the Lord brought victory over adversaries in bringing His people into the land of promise. The inhabitants were judged and destroyed by the Lord. So, what will inheriting this third land promise look like?

I have no idea. But it will be just. And glorious.

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy Bing images.

How many times have I heard the statement that it’s not possible for church hoppers and malcontents to find the perfect church because as soon as they walk through the doors, that church will no longer be perfect. It is misleading to throw shade on believers who are looking for a compatible gathering of the saints while ignoring the obligation of churches to adhere to biblical truth. Unfortunately, I’m not clever enough to invent a humorous statement that throws the light back on the churches where it belongs. However, we do have an abundance of truth in the New Testament to indicate the truth of what churches should be about.

So, let’s ask some questions.

Where are the churches that don’t have leadership structures that mirror those of the world?

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25–28).1

Where are the churches that don’t promote their teachers and ministries, following Jesus’ example?

“And many followed him, and he healed them all and ordered them not to make him known. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: ‘Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope’” (Matthew 12:15–21).

Where are the churches that don’t promote their pastors, following Paul’s example?

 “For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not being merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:4–7).

Where are the churches that do not despise prophecy?

“Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:19–21).

Where are the churches that teach that Christians should earnestly desire to prophesy and do not forbid speaking in tongues?

“So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But all things should be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:39–40).

Where are the churches that have this happening in their gatherings?

“But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up” (1 Corinthians 14:24–26).

Where are the churches in which all of these gifts in the passage below are in operation, not just teachers, helpers, and administrators?

“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues” (1 Corinthians 12:27–28).

Do I want to find a perfect church? Nonsense. No, just a biblical one.

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy Bing images.

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{Quick health update. Sutures were removed today. I can tie my shoes pretty normally. My ability to walk has improved. I am slowly healing. I am grateful to Him for His mercy.}

This is the go-to scripture Christians quote in times of national calamity: “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:13–14).1

Amen. This what we Christians should do when judgment from God has come upon us. However, although we cite this scripture, we don’t do what it says. We don’t repent. We don’t turn from out wicked ways. Instead, we declare, rebuke, come against, and bind. Here’s what the prime mover of the word of faith heresy for the last few decades “prayed” recently:

“My Father, the Almighty God. The El Shaddai God. The God who is Almighty. He’s more than enough. He is the miracle-working God. Today we speak to this atmosphere. From the State of Washington to the State of Maine, from southern California to Brownsville, Texas, to the tip of Florida, and wherever else in the world its needed. Wind. Almighty. Strong. South wind. Heat. Burn this thing in the name of Jesus. Satan, you bow your knee. COVID-19.” (He spits.)

Evangelicals/Charismatics/Pentecostals worldwide “pray” like this whenever sicknesses or catastrophes arise. We should note that commanding things to happen without seeing any results is trouble-free. No one knows what happens when one commands Satan to bow the knee. It sounds powerful, but this man lays claim to an authority he does not possess. Unfortunately, this “prayer” is a picture to the world of what Christianity is. Apparently, it’s a religion where, at one moment, we call people to repentance but we ourselves do not repent. We just shout swelling words of power.

But let’s take a look at how Daniel, the prophet, responded when he understood that God’s judgment of His people was ending. This is only a portion of Daniel’s beautiful, humble prayer. I encourage the reader to read it in its entirety:

“Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the LORD my God and made confession, saying, ‘O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame, as at this day, to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you. To us, O LORD, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you. To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him and have not obeyed the voice of the LORD our God by walking in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets’” (Daniel 9:3–10).

I exhort Christians from every tribe and nation, rather than shout words of rebuke and binding, to instead repent and humbly ask our Creator and Savior to be merciful and forgive us.

Yes, us. Not “them.”

Perhaps you’ve noticed that biblical prophets consistently hearkened back to the time when the Lord delivered Israel from Egypt and conquered their adversaries in the land. These triumphant events transpired centuries before the time of those who were writing. However, the prophets also freely and honestly admitted the sins of God’s people. We Christians should do the same. Jesus brought overwhelming victory. We should recount it in our prayers and praise. However, The Church has committed enormously heinous crimes since its beginning. She is committing them now. Is it just the non-Christian world to which God is now bringing His judgment of a plague?

“For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17).

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles..

Gif courtesy Bing images.

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The pastor is smiling at us from the cover of the full-color magazine. He’s a prominent man with a successful ministry, and I do not doubt that he is a sincere man of God. Making that judgment, outside of the knowledge of obvious sin, is not my job nor is it the job of any Christian. “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Romans 14:4). Nevertheless, I am compelled to question the article in which he is interviewed about his ministry. The title of this piece is “Growing the Urban Church.” Growing the church. May we pause to think about the veracity of the claim that we know how to grow a church? We have, unfortunately, become accustomed to this manner of speaking. There may be an evangelical pastor in the United States who has not attended a conference or read a book about church growth methods, but I doubt it. This is how we talk. This is how we think. I entered “How to grow a church” in the search field on Amazon and discovered there were a thousand books written on the topic. A search on Bing gave me over eighteen million hits.

Church growth is surely on almost every pastor’s mind.

However, we must face this truth. Men devising means by which to grow a church is not biblical.

After I saw the article title on the magazine cover, a scripture immediately came to mind. Paul had written to the church at Corinth. Disputes were rife in that fellowship about which influential leader one should attach oneself to. Peter? Apollos? Paul? Jesus? However, Paul wanted the Corinthians to know that he and Apollos were merely servants who were just doing what servants do. “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:5–7). 1

He and Apollos are nothing, Paul wrote. Nothing. Not super apostles, not outstanding speakers, not church-growers. No, Paul said. He planted. Apollos watered. But neither of them made the church grow, any more than they could have made a plant grow. God alone can do that.

Do we believe this biblical reality?

The answer should be obvious: No, we do not.

That’s a problem. Evangelicals think that lack of church growth is the problem in the United States, and it’s hard to refute that reality as the U.S. culture continues to disintegrate into sinful rebellion. However, which is more important? Believing biblical truth or declining church attendance? Do we even know how to make a church grow? Are you sure? Have you ever read in the Book of Acts how the Lord made the Church grow? Not by human means, I can assure you. No, we don’t know how the Lord makes churches grow. We just think we do. In fact, we know more about how God makes plants grow than we do churches. However, regardless of how much we know about plant growth, we humans still can’t make a plant grow. How would a person do that? Step one. Plant seed. Step Two. Add water. Step Three: Um, make seed sprout.

Game over, as the saying goes.

So, here we are, unsurprisingly, looking at the front page of a full-color mag about church-growing and thus becoming “effective leaders,” and having “successful ministries.” Step One: Plant seed. Step Two: Add water. Step three. Um, do something else that we think makes sense.

While we are trying to find some light on this topic, another scripture comes to mind, in which Jesus made it very clear who will build the Church. “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:17–18).

Pardon me, but who will build the Church? You? The successful pastor on the magazine cover?

No. Jesus will build it. God will give the growth according to His will. These are two very clear truths about church growth which pastors and leaders don’t or can’t manage to embrace. Why can’t we understand this? These aren’t two obscure passages hiding out in an ambiguous statement spoken by one of Job’s counsellors. No, they’re right there in plain sight, in plain language.

Why don’t we abide by them?

I encourage the reader to cogitate on that one.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy Bing images.

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(Please note: I won’t be posting an article here until November 18.)

A persistent falsehood has run through the evangelical church for several years. It is that a believer must find his or her vision, a vision for life. This has, of course, inevitably, resulted in people in small groups (Gotta have ‘em, you know.) sitting around talking and “visioneering.” This is just alternative language for finding one’s purpose or dream via human reasoning. If you haven’t caught on by now, you should know that such activities are the same that businesses and corporations do to increase production or sales. In Christian leadership conferences, pastors are told they must “cast their vision” to the church. After all, “If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time,” as the late motivational speaker Zig Ziglar famously said. All this has nothing whatsoever to do with the Bible. Well, it has nothing to do with the Bible unless one throws in this one verse from Proverbs—which we must do, of course, since we must be “preaching from the Scripture”—which is supposed to justify this useless visioneering activity: “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law” (Proverbs 29:18).1

Prophetic vision. We all know where prophetic vision comes from, right? It comes from the Lord, by His sovereign will. We don’t receive prophetic vision by sitting around in small groups talking about our “visions,” so we can hit our growth targets in the church and goals in our Christian lives. No, this verse from Proverbs tells us that without a prophetic vision from God, people start sliding into lawlessness. A great example of this casting off restraint is what Israel did in the Book of Judges. Feel free to read those too-often dreadful accounts yourself, but within those pages we discover the terrible things that Israel did because they disobeyed God’s law. By the end of the book, the entire tribe of Benjamin is almost entirely wiped out—murdered by their own Israelite brothers. Then, realizing their senseless anger and folly, the remaining tribes attempted to solve the problem they had caused by kidnapping women from other tribes. Israel, at the time of these acts, had no God-inspired judge to lead them to obey the Lord. Thus, they cast off restraint. Those who lived in this lawless time obeyed the law and turned from sin were blessed because they kept the law, as Proverbs 29:18 says.

Which brings me back to the evangelical church in the United States, where prophetic and visionary voices have been silenced in favor of topical, how-to messages. The topic is set, verses are found to support the topic—as is the case to promote finding one’s vision—and the saints of God hear vapid, non-prophetic, non-visionary, non-challenging teachings. And thus, the people begin to cast off restraint. How, you may ask, have evangelical Christians begun to cast off restraint? Today, the evangelical church is under cultural pressure to cave to LGBTQ, gender, and racial agendas. For example, the recent leadership meeting of a well-known para-church campus ministry was basically a celebration of critical-race-theory wokeness. Am I hopeful the evangelical church will be strong enough to stand against this cultural onslaught? Not without biblical, prophetic voices. As I have written many times on this site, Christians must remember that Israel was compromised by the culture in which they lived. It was too strong for them. They caved and were thus defeated, becoming slaves to other nations and their gods. But God’s instruction for His people was uncompromising and remains so. Thus, Christians, in the absence of prophetic vision, must remain obedient to the law. What law? Love God and neighbor. How will keeping the law to love God be a blessing for those who adhere to it? I will leave it to the reader to cogitate upon that, but here is an enormous hint: If you love God, you will love what He loves and does not love. And if you love people, you will love them enough to steer them away from sinful lawlessness because sin brings death. Eternal death.

Please pray for the Church in the Unites States. Pray that the Lord will raise up biblically right and true prophetic voices.

 

1The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy Bing images

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For years, I have been puzzled and saddened over scriptures in the New Testament that are ignored in contemporary church practice. Let’s begin with Paul’s teaching about how all Christians are members of one body. It is a lengthy passage, but these two verses sum up how the evangelical church deals with this chapter today:

“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7).1

“For the body does not consist of one member but of many” (1 Corinthians 12:14).

It is these passages in Corinthians that pastors draw from when they preach their annual messages that their church is one body, everybody has a gift, and we all need each other to participate in the life of the church. However, they willingly ignore the rest of the chapter. It is clear that Paul is instructing the Corinthians about spiritual gifts in the body, but the gifts Paul lists are not at all on the radar of pastors who teach the we-all-have-a-gift-participate-in-church-life message. Why? Because most of the gifts listed in First Corinthians are either designated to the dustbin of church history or just plain ignored.

Here is the list of gifts that Paul says in this twelfth chapter that “to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good”:

The utterance of wisdom

The utterance of knowledge

Faith

Healing

The working of miracles

Prophecy

The ability to distinguish between spirits

Various kinds of tongues

Interpretation of tongues

So, let’s have a moment of candor. How many of these gifts are manifestations “of the Spirit for the common good” in your church? If you cannot find more than a few, you should ask yourself why. Let me know what you discover. Here is my answer: The only one who is using “the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” is the speaker/leader/pastor on the platform and a handful of Sunday School teachers, if we dump faith and the utterances of wisdom and knowledge into the speaker basket, which is a bit dubious, to be frank.

One person, or perhaps a handful. The majority sit silent in the meeting. Is that “to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit” or “the body does not consist of one member but of many”?

It stuns me that leaders/pastors have the courage to even use First Corinthians as their pitch to get their folks involved in the ministry of the church. They are the worst offenders of this teaching!

Later in the chapter, Paul, by the Holy Spirit, brings out another list of ministries.

“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues” (1 Corinthians 12:27–28).

Here is the list:

Apostle

Prophet

Teachers

Miracles

Gifts of healing

Helping

Administrating

Various kinds of tongues

This list may be a little more to the liking of pastors and leaders. Teachers—they—are in the list, as well as “helping” and “administrating.” Churches badly need helpers and administrators to keep the wheels rolling.

So, what about the rest of the list? It is problematic. Concerning the first one mentioned, apostle, very few want to take that title upon themselves, and rightly so. In my opinion, I look suspiciously upon those who do, primarily for this verse: “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works” (2 Corinthians 12:12).

And the rest? Sure, pray for healing, they will say. Prophets? Well, that’s the same as a teacher, they may maintain, but they do not explain how the two are different. Why would Paul give two titles for the same ministry?

And tongues? Please.

So, what shall we do in light of the vast ignorance of this twelfth chapter of First Corinthians? It saddens me greatly that this is our current state. It saddens me that we ignore the obvious truth of God’s Word here. It saddens me because the gifts are given by God Himself for the common good, and almost no one is using them. It saddens me that the folks in the pews are thus reduced to listeners rather than participants and are therefore spiritually weak.

What shall we do? What we shall do is pray. “Father, please cause the Church to be obedient to Your word.”

 

1All Scripture references are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy giphy.com

 

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If you’ve been a Christian for a while, you have probably heard this statement: “If you find the perfect church don’t join it because then it won’t be perfect.” In other words, “It is futile to search for a perfect church. It doesn’t exist. But if you actually could find one, it would no longer be perfect because you’re a sinner, and it would therefore be imperfect when you joined. Get a clue, Christian. You’re a sinner like all the rest of us.” This has a humorous ring of truth to for those whom we perceive are perpetually unhappy with churches. A more amusing story, however, is this one: The crew on a ship in the South Pacific saw a man alone on a deserted island, waving his arms to flag them down. Some sailors boarded a small rescue boat and sped over to the man. They found him in ragged clothes and underfed. Three little huts stood behind him. They asked him what the hut on the left was for.

“That’s where I live.”

They asked him what the middle hut was for.

“That’s my church.”

They asked him what the third hut was for.

“That’s the church I left.”

Mea culpa: I once thoughtlessly agreed with this meme of unhappy church hoppers. Ah, but I was so much younger—and unthinking then.

Well, since we are older and wiser—hopefully—let’s think about this unhappy-church-hopper meme for a moment. Will just any church that you join be satisfactory? Is it as simple as, “All churches are imperfect because they are full of sinners saved by grace just like you and me.”? Does it matter which church I join?

Of course, it does.

Should I just join any church full of sinners like me?

Of course not. Those who repeat this meme wouldn’t, either.

Do Catholics join Lutheran and Reformed churches? Why wouldn’t they? Isn’t the church full of sinners just like they are?

Do Evangelical, Reformed, or Pentecostal believers join Catholic churches? Why wouldn’t they? Aren’t those churches full of sinners just like they are?

Do Evangelicals join churches that sing old hymns, catechize members, and have responsive readings from Scripture, and creeds and confessions from church history? Why wouldn’t they? Aren’t those churches full of sinners just like they are?

Would many Christians join a church that used only the King James bible and claimed it was the only true interpretation? Why not?

Would many Baptists or Lutherans or Reformed folks join Pentecostal or Charismatic churches? Why not? No church is perfect and neither are they.

Would many Pentecostals or Charismatics join Baptist, Lutheran, or Reformed churches? Why not? Aren’t those churches full of sinners just like they are?

Would Baptists join a church that doesn’t immerse believers at baptism?

And on and on we go.

So, we see that the prevailing always-unhappy-church-shopper meme is shallow and disingenuous. The very people who promote it attend churches for their own specific reasons. Certainly, it is biblical that we are sinners saved by faith and grace who are to gather together: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24–25).1 But let’s think about this for a moment. What does that gathering look like? A Reformed church? An Evangelical church? A Catholic church? A Pentecostal church? What biblical evidence do we have? Not much at all, except in the case of Corinth. Except for that church, we have no idea how these churches “did services.”

Believers should feel free to find a church that glorifies God and His Son Jesus Christ and preaches the truth of His Word alone. That may be difficult. Don’t compromise yourself because of a misleading meme.

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles

Gif courtesy giphy.com

 

 

 

 

200w

It is the beginning of a new year; a time for a look back as well as forward. A time for assessing one’s life and a dedication to make it better.

And, apparently, a time for casting a vision.

If that last sentence surprises you a little, it’s because that is not how you and I speak of ourselves. If you want to cut back on sugar and carbs and exercise more to lose weight, do you cast a vision to do so?

No. This is how corporations speak of themselves.

And churches, apparently.

If you attend a church, it is possible that this is the time of year when your leadership “casts a vision” or lays out your church’s “vision” for the year ahead. Perhaps we should ask this question: What does Scripture say about “vision casting”? There is no such practice by believers in the New Testament, unless we view the host of commands in Scripture as Jesus and the apostles “casting vision.” So, am I to cast a vision to love God and others more? Worthy “vision,” to be sure. However, what, exactly, are the visionary steps I should take to love God and others more? It seems to be there are only four steps I need to cast such a vision: Try to love God and neighbor more. Ask God for help to do so. Repent when I fail. Get up and try again.

But then I could not write a book about vision casting.

It would be a rather short book.

However, it seems some of our churches think the air they breathe is different than ours. Their sheep, they think, need to have a vision cast at, to, or before them so they can, um, be obedient? Believe Scripture? But here’s what’s really going on here. The subterranean meme behind this is: A leader is not a successful leader if he doesn’t cast a vision for his church.

Dr. Richard J. Krejcir wrote over a decade ago:

One of the top 10 healthy and influential churches in the world, that sends more missionaries (over 200, not including short term and part timers) than most denominations, has this simple Vision: “We are followers of Jesus Christ, ministers together, empowered by the Holy Spirit and guided by God’s Word.” And their value statement is, “We are committed to honoring God through worship and personal lifestyle, caring for one another, equipping one another for ministry and communicating God’s love to the world.” This church (Lake Avenue Church, Pasadena, Ca) has over 6,000 members and 35 pastors following this simple decree! 1

Now we have come to the crux of the matter. It is about your church becoming successful.

So, we should ask a question in the middle of our success-driven culture which exerts so much influence over us: Was Jesus successful?

“Yes, of course!” every believer will proclaim.

At what did He succeed? How did He achieve that success?

What was His “vision”? He tells us.

“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour” (John 12:27). 2

What “hour” was this? What purpose was this? What was His vision?

To die, to be punished for our sin.

And to be resurrected, conquering death, sin, hell, and the grave.

Jesus commands us to follow Him in a caravan of death:

“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’” (Matthew 16:24).

“And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38).

Those who heard Jesus say these things had no allusions about their meaning. They saw crosses with bodies hanging on them all the time.

Will such a “vision” make your church “successful”? Jesus’ vision for your church is not that it becomes “successful.”

It is that believers in your church are willing to literally die, if necessary, to follow their Savior.

Take that vision and cast it. See what happens.

 

1http://www.churchleadership.org/apps/articles/default.asp?articleid=41940

2All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy giphy.com.

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