He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" - Romans 8:32

Friday, March 28, 2008 

Restoring Integrity to Membership: My Cousin's Church's Story

When I arrived at my church, I had a few surprises early in my tenure. Unfortunately, one thing did not surprise me – the membership roll and the active body were imbalanced. Such is the trend in too many churches today. In my own denomination, 16 million people are claimed as members, yet only 7 million attend church on any given Sunday. Somewhere along the way, we forgot that membership matters.

Our church is no different. In fact, we are one of the worst offenders. Our membership was inflated by a factor of 6 when compared with average attendance. We had 11 (yes, that’s eleven) categories of members, including the following: inactive possible, inactive likely, inactive unlikely, non-resident unknown, non-resident known. Don’t ask me what each of these categories mean. I honestly have no idea.

While God has provided growth to our church and the membership gap has closed some, the spread between “member” and “active churchgoer” remains large. Needless to say, we decided to do a little spring cleaning this year. We’re still working through the process, but I’ll share some tips that worked in my church in restoring integrity to membership.

1. Love the people: If you have an agenda to “purge the rolls,” then you’ve already missed the point. As a pastor, you must first love the people and gain their trust. If you have not built valuable and loving relationships with your church, your members are justified when they cry, “Who are you, pastor, to tell us who’s supposed to be a member!? You don’t even know us!”

2. Start a new members’ class: One of the best way to assimilate new members is to have a class that details the expectations, doctrines, and culture of the church. The first time I taught this class at our church, I intentionally asked the new folks how many people they thought were members of the church…

“Do you guys know how many members we have?” I asked.

One lady responded with a guess close to our average attendance.

She was obviously thinking way too healthy. “Nope,” I responded. “It’s about six times that number.”

I saw the look of disgust on her face, “THAT’S NOT RIGHT!” She exclaimed. “We’ve got to get them back. Do we have their addresses and contact numbers?”

“Of course we do. We’re Southern Baptists…and they’ve all got to get the monthly church newsletter.”

“Can we call them?” she asked.

“Sure.” A light bulb appeared above my head. “Would you like to contact all of them?”

Within two months this new member had written letters and called hundreds of inactive members. She returned the membership roll to me with detailed notes about each person and her conversation with them.

Amazingly, the process of cleaning up our rolls began with this woman in a new members’ class.

3. Follow-up is critical: The best outcome is for inactive members to return. So don’t start slashing and burning. Try and find out from people why they haven’t been attending. Perhaps your church has the ability to meet their needs. And sometimes all people need is a simple invitation to return.

4. Clean the rolls in stages: If the matriarch or patriarch of your church has six family members that haven’t attended since 1965, then you might want to avoid an attempt to scratch them from the membership. The cleaning of membership rolls does not have to be an all-or-nothing process (that’s how pastors lose their jobs). Consider cleaning the rolls in three stages:

Stage one: remove the people that nobody has a clue who they are, as well as those that moved out of the area.

Stage two: remove the people that have not been to church in years.

Stage three: remove those that are still close to other church members.

*Note: I wouldn’t attempt stage three unless you’ve been at a church for at least a decade.

5. Enlist key members in the church: Instead of personally marking through the rolls, I handed them to a few key members and asked them to verify independently those whom they do not know. Not only does this place distance between the pastor and the process of eliminating members, it gives pastors back-up and buy-in from the people the church trusts the most.

6. Challenge Sunday School/small groups/connect groups to help in the process: After one round of removing members, take the remaining inactive lists to Sunday Schools and small groups. Ask them to point out anyone they know. If they know someone, then make that class responsible for getting the person back into fellowship with the body of believers.

7. Take it slow: Without sounding redundant – TAKE IT SLOW! Pastoring a church is a marathon, not a sprint. Removing people from membership rolls is an ultra-marathon process.

8. Parallel an outwardly-focused missions strategy with the process of cleaning the rolls: If you are attempting to clean your rolls without also thinking outward as a church, your process will not go as well as it should. Only churches that are connecting with their communities and living incarnationally should attempt to clean their rolls. So if your church is not evangelistic, does not have a missions program, and does not do outreach, then do not even think about cleaning the rolls. Pour your pastoral energies into getting the church to obey the Great Commission first.

In about a month we’ll be finished with stage one. Our eleven categories of members will become two: inactive and active. And we’re expecting our rolls to decline by hundreds of members. Who ever thought that such a statement about a church would be healthy? Regardless, I’m proud of my church for being honest and having integrity.

- by Sam Rainer III, Pastor of FSBC Floyds Knobs, IN


About Japan - III

Family life is in a period of unprecedented crisis. Divorce and suicide rates are escalating at an alarming pace. About a third of married women confess to having at least one abortion. The prolonged recession has caused major fear in adult males. Approximately six hundred Japanese kill themselves each week. In the last decade, the suicide rate among men has increased nearly eighty percent. Most of these are among men in their forty’s and fifty’s. Japan has the highest suicide rate in the developed world. The number of homeless men increases as companies restructure and “retire” those who are not productive.

Japan is in what missiologists call the 10/40 Window. Although many countries in this area are not free to evangelize, we are totally free in Japan to share the gospel. Many Japanese have little concept of sin except as it relates to a man centered view of right and wrong. However, there are those who are seeking to have their hearts cleansed and their needs met. Evangelism is more effective when it is done through relationship networks.

- Outreachjapan

Thursday, March 27, 2008 

About Japan - II

Japan is an unreached people group. One of the least evangelized countries in the world even though missionaries entered the country several hundred years ago. Japanese, in general, are indifferent and skeptical toward organized religion. Japanese don’t think it odd to have more than one religion. Eighty four percent of Japanese claim to adhere to both Shinto and Buddhist beliefs. Some 36 percent believe there is life after death, and about the same number believe that death is the end.

Shinto is the native religion of Japan. The Emperor is thought to have descended from the sun and he is thought to be the high priest. Until the end of WWII he was worshipped as a god. Shinto is rooted in animism and its many millions of gods or spirits are known as kami. Buddhism was introduced to Japan in the sixth century and is influential because of its emphasis on ancestor worship. Modern day Japanese tend to think that Buddhism is a native Japanese religion and have forgotten where it originated. Less than one half of one percent of the Japanese are evangelical Christians, which means that less than 1 in every 200 people is a Christian.

Japan has been in recession since the bubble burst in the 90’s and is only now beginning to recover. There is dissatisfaction with the present and despair about the future. Although they seem to have few needs, they are often obsessed with pleasure, money and peer group opinion. Bullying at school, entrance exams, and peer pressure lead to fear among children and youth. Many children drop out of school because of stress and pressure.

- from Outreachjapan

Wednesday, March 26, 2008 

16 Lessons Learned from David & Bathsheba

1. Temptation can come when I least expect it. I must always be on my guard.
2. Sin often happens when I am not positively engaged in godly activities (when I'm not doing what I am supposed to be doing).
3. I usually have a chance to stop myself if I would only take it (1 Cor. 10:12).
4. Sin has a way of finding me out... it will be brought to the light.
5. Trying to cover up my sin only makes things worse.
6. One sin often leads to another.
7. Sin tends to harden my heart.
8. Even if no one else is aware, God is aware.
9. It is easier to be outraged at someone else's sin than my own.
10. To sin is to look for good outside of God's perfect provision.
11. Sin never satisfies.
12. Sin always has consequences.
13. Heartfelt repentance is the only appropriate response to sin.
14. While my sin has many manifestations it has only one root — a heart that craves something more than God.
15. Because of the cross, God does not treat me as my sins deserve.
16. While sin affects my life, it need not ruin my life.

- by Mickey Connolly as posted on the CBMW site by blogger Mike Seaver


God is Moving in Iran

Last week The Voice of the Martyrs received a report from one of our contacts working with the church in Iran. Much of what was shared is of a sensitive nature, as the government in Iran is concerned by the number of Muslims coming to Christ and is actively seeking to arrest those who are sharing the Good News.

Two stories from this report jumped out to me, and I wanted to share them with our blog readers. The first was of a person in authority with whom one Christian shared Christ. This person prayed to accept Christ as Savior, and the two planned to meet up again in two weeks for further discussion and discipleship for the new believer.

When the mature Christian returned in two weeks, the new believer had already read through the entire Bible. Not only that, this person had shared Christ with an additional 30 people, who also prayed and accepted Christ. With such on-fire believers, is it any wonder the church in Iran is growing?

Another report came from a Christian who’d gone to disciple another new believer. This believer had not yet received a Bible, but was asking for one. When the new believer opened up a notebook where they recorded spiritual thoughts, the mature believer couldn’t help but see the words on one of the pages: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

“What is that? Where did you get that?”

“Jesus came and told me to write it down,” the new believer reported. Upon further questioning, this new believer—who didn’t yet own a Bible—reported that Jesus had come in night-time visions each night for a month and had told him to write down the words.

As the mature believer thumbed through the notebook, he discovered that it contained the complete text—word for word—of the Gospel of John. Where this believer had no Bible, God miraculously provided that Gospel.

We praise God for His provision, and for Christians boldly witnessing for Christ in Iran and the amazing harvest they are seeing for their labors. Please pray for them, as they must take great risks to witness for Christ.

- from VOM's Blog


About Japan - I

Japan is about the size of the state of California. There are four main islands and then the string of Rukyu Islands that reach from the tip of Kyushu Island down almost to Taiwan. Japan is very near China and Korea, and today it is particularly concerned about North Korea and possible threats from that area. More than 127 million people live on the islands that are approximately 70% mountains. About 33 million people live in the greater Tokyo area, the world’s largest metropolis. Nagoya and Osaka/Kyoto/Kobe are two other major metropolitan areas. Japan is very densely populated, one of the highest population densities in the world with 536 people per square mile.

Japan is known for being the home of one of the most homogenous people groups in the world. Over 99 percent of the people are Japanese. More than half of the non Japanese population is Korean. In 2005, for the first time, Japan had a negative birth rate and it is rapidly becoming an aging society. Approximately 20 percent of the population is over sixty five years old. This is the only age group that is increasing in Japan.

- Outreachjapan.com

Thursday, March 20, 2008 

Statistics that may Surprise You

A Japanese member of a church in Atlanta passed these on to a missionary friend of mine. Unfortunately, I don't have the quoted source but it parallels closely with what I have read in Operation World.

1. Philippines 90% (Roman Catholics)
2. Korea 30% ~ 40%
3. Singapore 17%
4. Indonesia 16%
5. China (mainland) 10%?
6. Hong Kong 10%
7. Macao 7%
8. Taiwan 7%
9. India 6%
10. Japan less than 1%


The Self-Service Church

- by Dr. Chuck Lawless

Time magazine’s recent cover article, “10 Ideas That Are Changing the World,” showed that we live in a world where self-service technology is trumping the need for customer service. Listen to these words:

Consider the last time you rang up your own purchase at Wal-Mart, checked into a hotel at a kiosk or bought a ticket from a machine in the lobby of a movie theater. Companies love self-service for the money it saves, and with consumers finally playing along, the need to interact with human beings is quickly disappearing.[i]

It is that last phrase that most alarms me: “the need to interact with human beings is quickly disappearing.” Think about it — we can carry out our business at the store, the ATM, the gas station, the movie theater, the hotel, and the airport without direct contact with another human being. The Internet also makes it possible to shop for Christmas gifts, take a class, sell a car, and visit a library — again, without interaction with other people.

Now, I fear that this same trend is influencing the church.

I tread somewhat softly here because I am not one who is generally opposed to innovation in the church. I think screens and videos and PowerPoint presentations can be utilized well in the service of the church. I am comfortable with using instruments other than a piano and organ in a worship service, and I enjoy praise choruses. I strongly affirm Sunday school, but I also see the value of off-campus small groups. I am not opposed to most multi-site approaches, and I do not believe that increased size is automatically a hindrance to being a New Testament church.

What I fear, though, is that we have forgotten the importance of each other in the process of fighting for relevance in a changing world. We promote anonymity so that guests are not intimidated (and I do not entirely disagree with this thinking), but we too often allow anonymity to continue into church membership. What usually begins with a public commitment to a local congregation is seldom united with intentional discipleship and deliberate relationship building. Small groups are available, but attendance is optional. Many prayer concerns are more an unrecognized name on a prayer list than the name of a Christian brother or sister for whom we care. Accountability among the body of Christ is assumed to be judging at best, and invasive at worst. Fellowship is reduced to a perfunctory “Hi!” when the pastor encourages greetings during a set time in the worship service. The result may still be a gathering of people — but it is a gathering I can join without really interacting with other human beings.

Maybe I fear this trend because I recognize my own tendency to be a loner. I am, in the words of my favorite country music star Reba McEntire (who is, by the way, the most talented singer out there), “a survivor.” I learned early how to take care of myself, and it is easy for me to rely on my training and abilities to reach my goals. “I can do this on my own,” “I can take care of myself,” and “I don’t need anybody else” are common mottos for those of us who rely too heavily on self. Interaction with other people only slows the process, consumes our energy, and risks failure.

How grateful I am that God continues to show me differently! I did not realize it then, but I needed that uneducated deacon in my first church to show me how to really love God. The Sunday school director who gave me a love for teaching God’s Word changed my life. The young preacher who saw me as a role model challenged me to walk holy in all areas of my life. Accountability partners have pushed me in my spiritual disciplines. Even the angry church member who not so gently (in fact, not so “Christianly”) confronted me over a disagreement taught me something about communicating better.

Today, my pastors challenge me with the Word, and my students test my faith with their willingness to go anywhere for the sake of the gospel. I learn every day that God graciously intersects my life with people whose influence I need — believers who love me enough to correct me, check my arrogance, pray for me, teach me, and join me in the work of the Great Commission.

What is the application to biblical church growth? First, membership does matter. In joining a church, we commit to live out the numerous “one another” passages in the New Testament in the context of a local church body (e.g., 1 Cor. 12:25, Gal. 6:2, 1 Thess 5:11). Such obedience simply demands interaction with other human beings.

Second, participation in a small group cannot be optional. It is in the small group — regardless of the size of the church or the number of the church’s locations — that we build relationships, apply the Word, share concerns, and develop accountability. Through healthy evangelistic small groups, we also learn to see non-believers as sheep without a shepherd (Matt. 9:36), ever seeking to invite them into a relationship with Jesus and His followers. Small groups are the place where we interact intentionally with the Word and with people.

Take away this interaction with other human beings, and the local church is somehow no longer the church. Indeed, a “self-service” church is a contradiction in terms.

Saturday, March 15, 2008 

Hope for a Heart Like His...

January 1, 1811. Tuesday Morning

It is with the utmost sincerity, and with my whole heart, that I wish you, my love, a happy new year. May it be a year in which your walk will be close with God; your frame calm and serene; and the road that leads you to the Lamb marked with purer light. May it be a year in which you will have more largely the spirit of Christ, be raised above sublunary things, and be willing to be disposed of in this world just as God shall please. As every moment of the year will bring you nearer the end of your pilgrimage, may it bring you nearer to God, and find you more prepared to hail the messenger of death as a deliverer and a friend. And now, since I have begun to wish, I will go on. May this be the year in which you will change your name; in which you will take a final leave of your relatives and native land; in which you will cross the wide ocean, and dwell on the other side of the world, among a heathen people. What a great change will this year probably effect in our lives! How very different will be our situation and employment! If our lives are preserved and our attempt prospered, we shall next new year's day be in India, and perhaps wish each other a happy new year in the uncouth dialect of Hindostan or Burmah. We shall no more see our kind friends around us, or enjoy the conveniences of civilized life, or go to the house of God with those that keep holy day; but swarthy countenances will everywhere meet our eye, the jargon of an unknown tongue will assail our ears, and we shall witness the assembling of the heathen to celebrate the worship of idol gods. We shall be weary of the world, and wish for wings like a dove, that we may fly away and be at rest. We shall probably experience seasons when we shall be 'exceeding sorrowful, even unto death. We shall see many dreary, disconsolate hours, and feel a sinking of spirits, anguish of mind, of which now we can form little conception. O, we shall wish to lie down and die. And that time may soon come. One of us may be unable to sustain the heat of the climate and the change of habits; and the other may say, with literal truth, over the grave--

'By foreign hands thy dying eyes were closed;
By foreign hands thy decent limbs composed;
By foreign hands thy humble grave adorned;'

but whether we shall be honored and mourned by strangers, God only knows. At least, either of us will be certain of one mourner. In view of such scenes shall we not pray with earnestness 'O for an overcoming faith,' etc.?"

- Adoniram Judson to his fiance Ann Hasseltine

- pg. 34 from A Memoir of the Life and Labors of the Rev. Adoniram Judson, D.D. by Francis Wayland

Monday, March 10, 2008 

Prayer Request

A 37-year-old Japanese woman earns $2.00 per hour working as a receptionist in a Shinto shrine, taking phone calls from people who call about everything from business to personal problems. She presents the problems to the Shinto priest, and together they offer prayers to the Shinto gods as well as to the ancestors, in order to help these people solve their problems. She often does this at night, and her shift ends at 5 a.m. When things are slow, she surfs the Internet, and recently looked for someone with whom to practice English. She connected with a Christian who has served as a volunteer in Japan. He can speak Japanese, and has begun to witness to her. He sent her the Book of John electronically, and she has begun to read it. She is suffering from heartache, because she was financially ruined by a con-man in a bad business deal 10 years ago. She feels that no one would want to marry her now that she is 37, an age that some Japanese consider too old. Pray for A.E., the Christian man, as he continues the connection with F.O., the Japanese woman. Missionaries John and Nancy Norton hope to make a personal connection with her when they return to Fukuoka after stateside assignment. Intercede for God's Word to touch her so that she can open her heart to healing and salvation in Christ. Pray that she will be protected from the evil one as she begins her search for God

Thursday, March 06, 2008 

From a Missionary Friend

The Invitation:

J.I. Packer wrote, “It is a staggering thing, but it is true – the relationship in which sinful human beings know God is one in which God, so to speak, takes them onto his staff, to be henceforth his fellow workers (see 1 Cor 3:9) and personal friends” (J.I.P., Knowing God). That is a beautiful statement, but we have to ask ourselves, do we really understand it? Do we feel that weight of its meaning?

As a kid, I can remember thinking how amazing it would be to be friends with a TV star. I dreamed about becoming a part of the gang on Saved by the Bell or drinking coffee with Ross, Chandler, Joey, Monica, Rachel and Phoebe at The Central Perk. Yet, in all of those dreams, I was the one who had to introduce myself first, because of course I know who they are, but they wouldn’t know me. Nevertheless, I would eventually woo them with my natural Southern charm!….Right?

Well, my dreams never came to fruition, but when I was 16 I had a providential introduction that was far greater than meeting a TV star. It was then that I met Jesus. Sure, I had heard His name before, but it didn’t mean anything to me. I wasn’t looking for or pursuing him in any way. Yet, when I, like Lazarus, heard him beckoning me with words of life, I arose from the dead. And, our relationship didn’t end after a brief introduction. Instead, he promised to never leave me nor forsake me…to guide me into all truth…to give me a more abundant life, etc...and since then, it has been a grace-filled journey!

For example, last month I asked you all to pray about the possibility of starting a water filter project where I serve in the Pacific Rim. Well, 2 days after I made that request, I received an email from my boss saying that the government had approved our request to open a factory there. After I read his email, I just cried, because the Father was once again pouring out his grace in my life - confirming this journey I am on. He had been orchestrating all the things that had to come together in order for this project to be approved long before I asked you all to pray about it. Yet, he allowed us to be a part of His work in this world through prayer and what is more, He is allowing us to be a part of seeing that prayer become a reality. As Packer said, “it is a staggering thing, but true…[that we are] his fellow workers and personal friends.”

I know there are some of you are going through some hard times or maybe you feel like God is a million miles away. Well, I encourage you to listen to His words: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink” (John7:37). I am proof that His words are true and I invite you to join me in this journey. Don’t wait to follow him. “If we postpone our journey till the storm dies down, we may never get started again” (J.I.P, Knowing God). Today is the day of salvation for all who hear his voice! (2 Cor. 6:2). Peace be with you all!


Typical Trend

Pastor James McDonald at Family Reformation posts an all too true chart of what many of our daily Bible reading patterns begin to look like at this time of year now that the newness of the New Year is wearing thin.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008 

America Ain't the Church

I have been given much grief about my support of Ron Paul for president in 2008. Usually the arguments have gone something like this..."Ron Paul has crazy ideas." I say, "Really? Like what?" "I don't know, but my mom said he's crazy." But there have been some decipherable statements made like, "I don't like his isolationist ideas of not going & 'helping' other countries like we're doing in Iraq."

Well, to that Ron Paul would say, "The only proper way to go to war, the only legal way to go to war, the only constitutional way to go to war is to declare the war, by the congress, not by the president. The people should be behind it." Crazy dude...I know!

But I think Martin Luther King, Jr. said it best...

"Don't let anybody make you think that God chose America as His divine messianic force to be -- a sort of policeman of the whole world. God has a way of standing before the nations with judgment, and it seems that I can hear God saying to America: 'You are too arrogant! If you don't change your ways, I will rise up and break the backbone of your power"

The only messianic force ordained for the world is His Church. And we go forth, not in missiles & might, but in weakness that confounds the world - the powerful proclamation of the Gospel.


North American Needs

Focus Area: Eastmain, Quebec, Canada

• One of nine Cree communities that
make up the Cree Nation of Quebec.

• Population is approximately 600
people, mostly Cree.

• Located on James Bay at the mouth
of the Eastmain River.

• One Anglican church is present in the

• No evangelical churches are present in the town.

• Traditional native religion is still practiced throughout the community.

• Gambling and alcoholism plague the community.

• Locals are proud of the missionary influence of the 19th century,
yet there is little current interest concerning Christianity.

• It is estimated that there are twelve followers of Jesus in the

- from Church Planting Center of SBTS newsletter


I Bet You Think This Verse is About You

Scripture is so great.

I was studying the passage in Luke where Jesus is talking to the disciples about picking up their cross daily and following him (Luke 9:18-27.) But it is so easy to gloss over statements like this. It’s so easy for a passage like this to lose its meaning.

When I have read this passage in the past I’ve take Jesus statement, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” as just another way of saying “you have to deny your sin.” Now I do think Jesus is saying this, but I think he is saying far more than this.

My temptation when I read the Bible is to think of myself first. Wrong. I need to think of the original audience first.

What would the 12 disciples have thought when Jesus told them to pick up a cross and follow him? I think they probably would have freaked out. These 12 men lived mostly in Galilea outside of Jerusalem. I’m sure in their lifetime they had seen a crucifixion. They probably vividly knew that if you picked up a cross you didn’t come back. The cross was a one way road to death. And that is exactly the point Christ was making to the disciples. He was saying they must die.

Christ was going to pick up his cross to save people who deserved eternal punishment for their sins and he was asking his disciples to join him--not to literally die on that day, but to die to self and live for him. He was asking them to join him in all his humiliation and rejection.

It’s no wonder in that Matthew 16:22 (Matthew’s accounting of the same event) Peter rebuked Jesus. But Jesus was right, these men did not have the things of God in mind, but the things of men.

Doesn’t that give new meaning to those words? So remember to read your Bible with the original audience in mind before you think “What does this have to do with me?”

- from Eric @ New Attitude

Tuesday, March 04, 2008 

How Do You Listen in Church?

George Whitefield on “some cautions and directions, in order to help you hear sermons with profit and advantage.”

1. Come to hear them, not out of curiosity, but from a sincere desire to know and do your duty. To enter His house merely to have our ears entertained, and not our hearts reformed, must certainly be highly displeasing to the Most High God, as well as unprofitable to ourselves.

2. Give diligent heed to the things that are spoken from the Word of God. If an earthly king were to issue a royal proclamation, and the life or death of his subjects entirely depended on performing or not performing its conditions, how eager would they be to hear what those conditions were! And shall we not pay the same respect to the King of kings, and Lord of lords, and lend an attentive ear to His ministers, when they are declaring, in His name, how our pardon, peace, and happiness may be secured?

3. Do not entertain even the least prejudice against the minister. That was the reason Jesus Christ Himself could not do many mighty works, nor preach to any great effect among those of His own country; for they were offended at Him. Take heed therefore, and beware of entertaining any dislike against those whom the Holy Ghost has made overseers over you.

Consider that the clergy are men of like passions with yourselves. And though we should even hear a person teaching others to do what he has not learned himself, yet that is no reason for rejecting his doctrine. For ministers speak not in their own, but in Christ’s name. And we know who commanded the people to do whatever the scribes and Pharisees should say unto them, even though they did not do themselves what they said (see Matt. 23:1-3).

4. Be careful not to depend too much on a preacher, or think more highly of him than you ought to think. Preferring one teacher over another has often been of ill consequence to the church of God. It was a fault which the great Apostle of the Gentiles condemned in the Corinthians: ‘For whereas one said, I am of Paul; another, I am of Apollos: are you not carnal, says he? For who is Paul, and who is Apollos, but instruments in God’s hands by whom you believed?’ (1 Cor. 1:12; 2:3-5).

Are not all ministers sent forth to be ministering ambassadors to those who shall be heirs of salvation? And are they not all therefore greatly to be esteemed for their work’s sake?

5. Make particular application to your own hearts of everything that is delivered. When our Savior was discoursing at the last supper with His beloved disciples and foretold that one of them should betray Him, each of them immediately applied it to his own heart and said, ‘Lord, is it I?’ (Matt. 26:22).

Oh, that persons, in like manner, when preachers are dissuading from any sin or persuading to any duty, instead of crying, ‘This was intended for such and such a one!’ instead would turn their thoughts inwardly, and say, ‘Lord, is it I?’ How far more beneficial should we find discourses to be than now they generally are!

6. Pray to the Lord, before, during, and after every sermon, to endue the minister with power to speak, and to grant you a will and ability to put into practice what he shall show from the Book of God to be your duty.

No doubt it was this consideration that made St. Paul so earnestly entreat his beloved Ephesians to intercede with God for him: ‘Praying always, with all manner of prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and for me also, that I may open my mouth with boldness, to make known the mysteries of the gospel’ (Eph. 6:19-20). And if so great an apostle as St. Paul needed the prayers of his people, much more do those ministers who have only the ordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit.

If only all who hear me this day would seriously apply their hearts to practice what has now been told them! How ministers would see Satan, like lightning, fall from heaven, and people find the Word preached sharper than a two-edged sword and mighty, through God, to the pulling down of the devil’s strongholds!

- HT: James McDonald


Choosing Your Waiter (on Deacons)

I frequent restaurants fairly often. It's where a good deal of one-on-one discipleship happens, as I meet with men from the church and discuss together the Scripture, their lives, and good Christian books. Aside from the joy of sharing a meal together, one of the things that makes these visits fruitful is having a good waiter. If the waiter enjoys their task as a table server, if they're eager to serve, if they are available when there is need but otherwise not intrusive, then the experience is really quite enjoyable.

The downside, of course, is that restaurant patrons don't generally get the privilege of choosing their waiters. We arrive, are seated by a host/hostess, and then the waiter working that area shows up to provide service. In secular speak, "it's the luck of the draw."

In many ways, our experience in the local church is akin to eating a meal in a favorite restaurant. Just as is the case with restaurants, the local church has table servers as well. We call them "deacons." And as the experience in Acts 6 reveals, the joy, peace, unity and fruitfulness of the local church depends in part on having a cadre of faithful table servants who are there when needed, not intrusive, but eager to serve.

Lord willing, the next several posts will focus on finding deacons in the local church, faithful table servers who give themselves in caring for the needs of the body. With the move of many churches to eldership, the deaconal role has necessarily been redefined and sometimes been neglected. But deacons are an indispensable part of serving the body of Christ and of multiplying the church's ministry.

We see this quite clearly in Acts 6, where the apostles charge the church in Jerusalem with finding deacons among them.

The Opportunity: Acts 6:1 points out that "the number of disciples was increasing." It was a time of spiritual prosperity in the conversion of souls and enrollment in the school of Christ. The word of God was advancing and producing much fruit.

The Threat: However, inside the church complaint was lodged by Greek or Greek-speaking Jews against Hebraic or Hebrew-speaking Jews. The practical challenge was the distribution of foods to widows. There was inequity in the distribution. The related problem was disparity along cultural or ethnic lines. According to the Grecian Jews, the problem wasn't randomly affecting the widows, or affecting widows along income lines, or in accord with spiritual maturity. Greek and Hebraic Jews were treated differently. Cultural or ethnic prejudice threatened the unity of the church as well as the physical well-being of some widows.

The Solution: So, the apostles (a) made the necessary decision to prioritize the ministry of the word and prayer over the real and present physical needs. The squeaky wheel would be oiled, but not at the expense of the very life-giving word of God that had created the church and produced new disciples; and (b) recommended that the brothers choose seven men to "wait on tables," to deacon.

To modern sensibilities, "waiting on tables" is a low-level, sometimes demeaning position. It's what you do when you're working your way through college, or passing time until your career takes off. Many people think serving tables is beneath them, perhaps necessary sacrifice to make ends meet, but altogether undesirable as a way of life.

But how different it is in the Lord's church! The apostles under the inspiration of God's Spirit create an entirely new office in the church for the specific purpose of serving tables. And the loftiness of the office is seen (a) in the character that's required to fill it, (b) the ministry of word and prayer it facilitates, and (c) the unifying and strengthening effect it is designed to have on the church. The deaconate is every bit as essential to the spread of the word as the apostleship and eldership!

Are there widows in our churches that are not well-cared-for? Perhaps we need to consider our work with deacons? Are there inequities in the distribution of benevolence or resources in the church? Sounds like a job for deacons. Are there cultural tensions and threats to unity in the church? Do we wish to see a more diverse church integrated in Christian life? The position of deacon was established with an eye toward harmony across cultural and language lines. Are churches threatened by potential splits? Deacons were the early church's "shock absorbers," able to take complaints and concerns and resolve them in godliness and preserve the unity of the saints.

When Stephen, Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas were commissioned for the deaconate, "the word of God spread" and "the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith" (Acts 6:7). Who among us would not like to see the word spread, number of disciples rapidly increasing, and large numbers of people and priests becoming obedient to the faith? An effective deacon ministry facilitated this in the early church as it freed the deacons of the word to do their work. It's with this hope in mind, that I pray the Lord would guide us in our consideration of deacons and how to find them.

Monday, March 03, 2008 

The Fear of Life

- excellent article written by Dr. Chuck Lawless worthy of our own reflection

The twelve-year-old who first shared Christ with me more than thirty years ago presented the gospel this way: “It’s a good thing you lived through the night… because if you hadn’t, you’d be in hell right now.” His approach seriously lacked tact, but truth he did not lack. I was destined for hell apart from the gracious move of God in my life. Needless to say, you do not sleep well when you hear the gospel in that manner. Every night, I tossed and turned, so frightened about not waking up that I could not easily close my eyes. The fear of death was so strong that I began every morning thanking a God I did not know for allowing me to live another day. That pattern continued for more than eight months before I became a follower of Christ at age 13. Only then did I genuinely rest again, and never since then has death been a fear.

Now, though, I am again not sleeping well. I am tossing and turning like before, but my fear is not death. No, my fear this time is life. Dying does not scare me, but living does.

I fear, for example, that I am happily living my dream — teaching at a seminary, preaching every week, leading conferences, traveling — without really seeing my neighbors living for dreams that amount to nothing eternal. How easily the temporary trumps the eternal in the busyness of life!

I am afraid that my wife and I are so ingrained in our way of life that we would battle hard against God if He changed our plans. What would we do if God required of us what He demanded of Abraham — to leave it all behind and seek His city (Gen. 12:1-3)?

I am concerned that I am so busy living that I sometimes miss people who are hungry, hurting, homeless, and helpless. I am simply disconnected from that part of the world. Yet, the needs are still real, and Jesus’ expectation that we minister in that world remains (Matt. 25: 31-46).

I am also afraid that I sometimes work more for my glory than for God’s. I make no claim to be famous, but I would be lying to say that my ego is not stroked when I see my name on a book cover or a conference brochure. After all, isn’t this the American dream, even for Christian leaders?

Having no children, I fear that I will live my life “successfully,” but leave behind no next generation to carry on the work of the gospel. I know that little matters if the mark I leave is as fleeting as life itself, but the time needed to invest heavily in others seems so limited.

I read of 1.7 billion people who have little or no access to the gospel, and I worry that my North American lifestyle weakens my efforts to get the gospel to the ends of the earth. I am terrified that I can live too easily without grieving over thousands of unreached people groups around the world.

In fact, I fear that somewhere in the world is a non-believer seeking truth in the wrong place, a new believer longing for a mentor, or an entire congregation pleading with God to send them training — and I will be so busy doing other “good things” that I miss the opportunities. The door is open, and I will have missed it.

No, it is not death that scares me. What scares me is coming to the end of life, looking back, and seeing little but wood, hay, and stubble to be burned in the fire (1 Cor. 3:10-15). It’s living in such a way that I could not face my own mortality with the confidence of Paul: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim. 4:7).

A dying world demands that we be willing to put our lives on the line to get the gospel to them. We must follow Jesus with all of our being, always ready to do what He requires. That kind of radical obedience means changing the way we live at some level — and that’s often frightening. I doubt I’ll sleep much tonight as I think on these things.


Justin Taylor on Adoption

Justin Taylor speaks (24 mins) at Grace Community Church on adoption here.

HT: Matt Harmon

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