Monthly Archives: February 2012

Why Bother with Church Membership?

Since I’m a pastor, you’d expect me to pound the pulpit on the subject of church membership, but the reasons that lead me to the soap box on this issue are the same reasons that all Christians should embrace commitment to their local congregations.  I ran across this blog post by Kevin DeYoung from a few years ago that highlights six of those reasons.  Click the link for the entire post.

Why Membership Matters

“For many Christians membership sounds stiff, something you have at your bank or the country club, but too formal for the church. Even if it’s agreed that Christianity is not a lone ranger religion, that we need community and fellowship with other Christians, we still bristle at the thought of officially joining a church. Why all the hoops? Why box the Holy Spirit into member/non-member categories? Why bother joining a local church when I’m already a member of the universal Church?

I’ve found that some people just won’t be convinced of church membership no matter what you say or how many times “member” actually shows up in the New Testament. But many people have not given serious thought to church membership. They are open to hearing the justification for something they’ve not thought much about.”

 

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No Doctrine is an Island

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”  These famous words were written by the 17th century British poet, John Donne, about the communal nature of mankind.  These words ring true.  Try as he may, a man cannot isolate himself from others.  We are all part of the human race and therefore, we affect and are affected by those with whom we share a common ancestor in Adam.

I think the same can be said of the doctrines of the Christian faith – No doctrine is an island.  The doctrines of Christianity necessarily affect and are affected by each other.  Think to yourself, what would the gospel become if we kept God’s mercy, but chucked his justice?  Since we can define mercy as not getting what you deserve (justice), then mercy would not exist without justice.  Also, what if we emphasized the doctrine of sanctification (growing in holiness) but de-emphasized the doctrine of the Holy Spirit?  What would that do to our Christian life?  We would become self-dependent, pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps Christians, trying to obey the commandments of Scripture and grow in Christ-likeness in our strength… and failing miserably.

Another example of “doctrine-detachment” that we have been known to pursue is found in our perspective of heaven.  We enjoy thinking about what heaven will be like.  Our hearts anticipate the absence of pain, sadness, conflict, and death.  We long for the day when we will see loved ones who died in Christ and enjoy a glorious reunion.  Thoughts of perfect rest and joy for all eternity resonate within our souls.  But often these things come first in our desires and God himself is an afterthought.

But this was not the case for the Apostle Paul who, speaking of leaving this world for heaven, said, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Philippians 1:23).  For Paul, heaven is where he would be with Christ and that is what made leaving this world far better than staying.  We must not… no… we cannot separate the doctrine of heaven from the doctrine of Christ.  The Apostle John tells us in Revelation 21 that in the new creation (heaven) God’s dwelling place will be with his people and there will be no need of a sun or moon because God’s glory and the lamp of the Lamb (Christ himself) will be the light that illumines it (vv. 3, 23).  Then Father and the Son in these verses are central to the reality of heaven.  In fact, we can say that God is what makes heaven heaven; there is no heaven without him.  The reason why there is no sadness, pain, or death is because God’s perfect presence in heaven makes it that way (Revelation 21:3-4).

Church, let us remember that the Bible is God’s story and the nature of stories is that they cannot be broken up into pieces and separated or else a story ceases to be a story altogether.

 

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Temptation: The Fight Begins Well Before the First Shot is Fired

I have often asked myself the question, “What do I do when I’m tempted to sin?”  It’s an important question considering the fact that we live as sinful people surrounded by other sinful people in a world where the devil is craftily seeking to lead us away from righteousness.  In the many moments each day when temptation is bearing down on us, we need to know what to do in order to remain faithful to our gracious King.  But this question should not be left alone, we should also ask, “What do I do when I’m not being tempted that will help me when I am being tempted?”

Our battle plan against temptation is far too often reactionary – “What do I do after the enemy strikes?”  Any war strategist will tell you this is a perfect way to lose a battle.  Any time a battle is fought in war there is a load of planning that comes before a bullet is ever shot.  Generals and captains decide where the prime attack positions are and develop a strategy for what the troops that consists of specific orders that will form a well-orchestrated battle design.

Our approach to fighting temptation is similar in that we should be planning for its attack before it strikes and making certain preparations so that we are better equipped for the battle.  Randy Alcorn, in his booklet, Sexual Temptation, insists that preparing for the battle means taking time to “cultivate your inner life”.  For him, he admits this must include more than a daily quiet time.  I agree with him.  While I understand many Christians struggle to meet with God in his Word and in prayer just once a day for 20 or 30 minutes, we are actually called to meditate on God’s Word “day and night” (Joshua 1:8) and “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).  This does not mean that you have to be thinking about Scripture and praying every minute of the day, but it does mean that you should be returning to God in these ways at different points throughout the day instead of just having a brief chat before you start your day and saying goodbye until the next morning.

A way to help with this is to surround yourself with people, places, and things that will remind you of God and your need for him so that you will be propelled back to the Word and prayer.  The apps you use, the music you listen to, the people you engage with on Facebook and Twitter, and where you choose to eat your lunch (i.e. – to get a good view of God’s creation) can all be used to help you cultivate a heart of love and devotion to God that will equip you for the fight against temptation when it occurs.  Fighting temptation begins well before the battle ever begins, so pray for God to give you the motivation and discipline to prepare for attack.   When this happens your reactions to temptation will only be quicker, more decisive, and more intentional.

 

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Is “Counseling” Just Another Word for “Discipleship”?

If you are a Christian, the reality is you are called to counsel other Christians.  Yes, that’s right, “counsel”.  No, you don’t have to have “Dr.” in front of your name or know anything about psychology in order to do this… you just need the Holy Spirit and God’s Word.  Paul, in his letter to the Romans, writes, “I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another” (15:14).  He didn’t write this verse to some elite group of super Christians who had received special, personal revelations from God and graduated from Paul’s honors program.  This letter was written to the entire church in Rome, so he is telling all of the Christians in that church that are able to give each other godly instruction for godly living… whether or not they had an office at the church.  So, this principle applies to every believer.

Don’t get lost in the semantics, the word “counsel” sounds so clinical and professional when it really is just another word for “discipleship”.  Jesus commanded all believers, “make disciples of all nations… teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20).  That last part of the Great Commission encompasses all of the Christian life.  We are to be helping each other obey all that Jesus commanded and Jesus gave commandments that focus on every aspect of our lives – our hearts (desires, will, emotions), our heads (knowledge, thoughts), our actions (outward obedience), and our relationships (both with believers and unbelievers).  You may be thinking, however, “Yeah, but I know some Christians who have some pretty jacked up problems, don’t they need professional help?”  To that I say, what problem do they have that do not fall into the realm of discipleship?  Yes, there are biological problems that we don’t have any control over that may require medication, but even those are in a Christian’s life for his/her good so that they will become more like Christ as they trust him with those problems and respond in obedience (Romans 8:28-29).  Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3:17 that Scripture is given so that Christians may be “equipped for every good work”.  Does every mean every, or not?  The Bible is sufficient to give us everything we need to live a life that is pleasing to the Lord.  If you have the Spirit and the Word of God, then you can give help to your brothers and sisters in Christ, even if their problems are deeper than you are comfortable with.

Yes, there will be occasions when you will need to point a person to someone who knows the Word better than you, but we shouldn’t be so quick to go there.  We can often give up our responsibility to disciple other Christians too easily.  Even if you aren’t sure what to say to a brother or sister who needs help, why not take it as an opportunity to do some study and find out what the Bible says on the issue, so you’re better equipped to render spiritual aid.  The perspective and practice of the body of Christ counseling the body of Christ is something we only stand to benefit from as the church seeks to build itself up in love (Ephesians 4:16).  While it may be a bit more intense, counseling is essentially discipleship, and that’s something every Christian can and should be practicing.

 

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How to Confess Sin Like King David

Isn’t it true that we can be less than forthright when confessing our sins to those we’ve sinned against?  We’ve been known to say things like, “I guess that wasn’t the best choice to make” or “I can see why you are angry because of what I said” or “I’m sorry that you are offended”.  What do these responses have in common?  They are examples of failing to own our sin, call it what it is, and flat-out say “I was wrong… period”.  Our confessions and apologies can often be weak and evasive, and although the persons we confess to may walk away pleased that we acknowledged our wrongdoing, the truth is we held back for the purpose of saving face and protecting our pride.

We don’t just do this with people, however, we do it with God too.  When we confess our sins to God, at times, we will speak of them in much lighter terms – calling anger “frustration” or fornication “fooling around’ – and then there are some sins we are conscious of that we will leave out all together.  As if God doesn’t know the extent of our atrocities against him, right?  This is not the example David leaves for us in Psalm 51.  As he confesses his sinfulness to the Lord (this Psalm was written in repentance of his adultery and murder), we read statements such as “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (v. 4).  When was the last time you called your sin “evil”?  He goes on to emphasize his sin by admitting, “I was brought forth in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me” (v. 5).  He confesses that he has been sinful from the very beginning of his existence in his mother’s womb.  Then in verse 14 he pleads with God, “Deliver me from bloodguiltiness”.  David had Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, killed.  He did not do the deed himself, but he ensured it would happen.  So he could have said, “God, it probably wasn’t right, but at least I didn’t actually plunge the sword into his heart myself”, but instead, he chose to call his sin what it was.

How could David be so open and frank about the depth and severity of his sin?  How was he able to expose the gross reality of his heart so willingly?  Because he knew in God he would find mercy.  In verse one he prays, “Have mercy on me… according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy.”  When there is mercy to be had, there is no reason to soft-petal our sin.  In fact, to limit our confessions is to miss out on more of the blessing that comes when God removes the burden of guilt and restores the joy of our relationship with him.  Church, because Jesus lived, died and rose again for us, every single one of our sins is forgiven, so we are free to bare our souls before God without holding anything back, being assured that he will draw us near to himself and give us the grace we need to change.

 

 

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200th-Post Book Giveaway!

Today marks the 200th post of From Pew to Practice.  Cue confetti and celebratory fist pump.  This blog is still in its infancy stage compared to some of the blogging giants out there who have been doing it since before most people knew what a blog was, so the fact that you’re reading this right now is humbling to me.  My prayer for this endeavor has been to give biblical, practical help to Christians in order for us to become doers of God’s word and not just hearers (James 1:22).

One of the ways I like to do this from time to time is by providing the readers of this blog with trusted resources that will propel them to this end.  So, today I will be giving away four copies of Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn.  As a pastor, one of the most important practices I teach to the people I disciple and counsel is that of preaching to themselves the life-giving truths of the gospel from day-to-day.  Therefore, I think this book should be a cherished treasure to the Church.

To enter the drawing simply share this post through Facebook, Twitter, or any of the other social networking sites.  If you aren’t on any of those sites, then just share it with someone through email.  After you’ve shared just leave me a comment with your email telling me you did so.  You can earn up to four entries if you share on multiple sites, so let me know where you shared.  I will take entries until 8 am tomorrow morning (2/22).

If you have not heard of the book, here’s an excerpt to whet your appetite.  Thank you kindly!

Preaching to yourself demands asking a lot of questions, both of God’s Word and especially of yourself.  You will have to ask and be honest about your motives, struggles, and needs.  You will need to clarify to yourself what God’s law means in principle, but also what it requires specifically of you.  You will need to ask how the gospel meets your needs and heals your brokenness.  To preach to yourself is to challenge yourself, push yourself, and point yourself to the truth.  It is not so much uncovering new truth as much as it is reminding yourself of the truth you tend to forget.

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Ministry that Doesn’t Require a Title: Loving Children

If you are a Christian, then you don’t just need to be going to your local church, you also need to be serving in your local church.  On a Sunday morning, this is going to look different for different people.  Some of us will serve in some formal, official capacity such as Sunday school teacher, greeter, usher, nursery worker, singer on the worship team, etc.  But there are not enough official positions for everybody to have one, so what about everybody else?  The Bible tells us that each part of the body of Christ should be working properly, so that we are built up together in love (Ephesians 4:16), so how can you serve if you don’t have a title?

There are many ways to serve informally at your weekly church gathering and I hope to write about more of them in the future, but for today allow me to simply concentrate on one: loving the children in your church.  Contrary to what you may think, you don’t have to work in the children’s ministry at your church to do this.  No doubt you pass up children walking with their parents to the worship service every week.  Take the time to look them in the eye, smile and say hello.  In fact, I suggest you kneel down and get on their level to shake their hand and engage them in a bit of playful conversation.  Ask them what they learned in Sunday school or how their family is planning on spending their Sunday afternoon.  Dedicate yourself to showing the children in your church (not just your own) that you, like God, care for them.  You can make a significant difference in helping to create an environment at your church where the children sense the sincere joy of following Christ and living in community with his people if you will simply pay them attention.

I understand that we live in a world where the threat of sexual predators is real, so we must be careful when we do this.  But unfortunately, so many people in the church have turned to a habit of almost avoiding children altogether for fear of suspicion or accusation.  This reaction takes the pendulum to the other extreme and prevents children from seeing firsthand the effects that God’s grace produces in a person when they trust in Jesus for salvation.  The children in our churches are hearing the gospel repeatedly; if we will choose to love them actively, then they will see the power of the gospel as well.

 

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An Easy Way to Remember the Doctrine of Justification

If you didn’t know already, Jerry Bridge’s has a new book out called The Transforming Power of the Gospel.  We are working through it in our men’s ministry right now and have found ourselves challenged and encouraged as Bridges teaches us how the gospel is both the foundation and motivation for holy living.  One of the things  I appreciate most about Bridges is that he walks in imitation of the Apostle Paul in being adamant that we have a balanced understanding of the gospel; that we don’t emphasize certain aspects of the gospel over others and end up in error (both in theology and life).  He also tends to do this in a way that is clear and straightforward so that any Christian can get a grasp on it.

In chapter 4 of the book he helps bring this kind of balance and clarity to the doctrine of justification.  He quotes an old play on the word justified I had never heard that says Christ’s death for me as a believer makes it so that God treats me “just as if I had never sinned”.  Justified = Just as if I had never sinned.  God has removed our transgressions from us “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12).  In Christ our penalty was paid, we are no longer in the red.  That means God’s justice is not for us because it was poured out on Jesus; we will not be punished.

But that’s not all there is to justification.  The other side of that play on justified says that Christ’s death for me as a believer makes it so that God treats me “just as if I had always obeyed”.  Justified = Just as if I had always obeyed.  Paul says that Jesus died in our place as the embodiment of our sin, so that “we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).  Jesus lived a life of perfection, and through his death that perfection is transferred to those who believe so that we’re not just out of the red, but our account is fully funded forever.  As our senior pastor often says, this means that God treated Jesus as if he’d lived my wicked, sinful life so he could treat me as if I’d lived his perfect, righteous life.

Justification is not one or the other, it is both, and our lives should be lived out of this balance so that we please God according to the reality of what he has done for us in Christ.

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How to Make the Most of Being Sick

It’s that time of year right now when it seems as though there is an inordinate amount of people I know who are sick – the flu, sinus infections, bronchitis, strep throat, the common cold, and what many people have termed “the junk”.  People are missing work, school and church because they can’t bring themselves to do much more than keep breathing while they shuffle back and forth from the medicine cabinet to the bed.  Being sick is miserable, not only do we feel like we’ve walked through a car wash, but there’s nothing we can do about all our responsibilities that are being piled on someone else while we’re down.  When we’re sick it’s hard to bring our minds to a place where we think about something else besides how bad we feel and how much there is to do that we can’t get to.  But sickness exists inside the sovereign plan of God and he has ordained it for his glory and our good.  So, how can we take advantage of being sick?  How can we use our sickness to be productive (at least spiritually-speaking).

1)      Recognize that you are not independent and in-control – Sickness makes us drop the reigns.  If we aren’t careful we can easily get to a place where we believe the lie of self-dependence and self-sufficiency ( i.e. – “I got this”).  Being sick is a reminder from God that we desperately need him and he is the one calling the shots.  When we’re sick, it doesn’t matter how much we may want to get up and check off our to-do list; we’re in that bed until God revives us.

2)      Reflect on the agony of the cross – For most of us, being sick is not a normal occurrence, so we should not allow ourselves to miss an opportunity to let the pain we are experiencing lead our thoughts to  the torture Christ went through for us.  Remind yourself that even with as bad as you feel, it is but a speck compared to what Christ experienced when he was “crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5).  Pray that God would use these thoughts to move your heart to worship Jesus through the suffering.

3)      Look forward to the day when sickness will only be a memory – In the new heaven and new earth God will dwell with us in perfection, which means that sin and the effects of sin will be no more (Revelation 21:3-4).  If we’re not proactive, then sickness leads to spiritual near-sightedness so that we only see the pain that is permeating our situation.  In your sickness, every time you blow your nose remember that there will be no Kleenex in heaven.  Every time you choke down a dose of Robitussin, remember that there won’t be such a thing in heaven.  And every time you wish the pain would just stop, remember that such a thought will never enter your mind in heaven because God will restore perfection to all creation through his only Son.

 
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Are Your “Thank You’s” to God as Passionate as Your “Help Me’s”?

“O Lord, please help me!”  “I can’t do this without you, God!”  “Take this pain away!”   “Have mercy on me!”  “Please make it stop!”  Does any of this sound familiar?  Have you uttered any of these desperate pleas to God in a time of great need?

When pain and suffering squeeze us, this is often what comes out.  No one likes suffering and because we know God is good and in control, we turn to him for relief.  We will even, at times, make deals with God out of an intense desire for escape: “God, if you will ________, I promise I will ________!”  Sometimes God answers our cries the way we ask him to and he delivers us from our trial, and other times he sees fit to keep us in the suffering to grow our faith and our character.

In those times when God delivers you, how does your response to him before deliverance compare to your response after it?  Psalm 34 is David’s response to an occasion when God chose to deliver him from certain death.  In 1 Samuel 21:10-15, as David is fleeing from Saul, he finds himself in the land of Gath before Achish its king.  The servants of Achish recognized David as the one of whom people had been singing, “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands”, so they bring him to the king.  Fearing death is imminent, David, instead of trusting God, quickly whips up a plan to get released.  He begins to act like a crazy person, so that the king will in no way believe that the man standing before him is actually the David he’s heard of.

Even though David chose to take matters into his own hands in this situation, God still delivers David, and so in Psalm 34, David responds, “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.  My soul makes its boast in the Lord” (vv. 1-2).  He goes on for 22 verses, calling God’s people to praise the Almighty along with him and tells them how they can taste God’s goodness as he has.

I fear that our response after we experience God’s deliverance from trial is many times not the same as David’s.  We persistently cry out to God in passionate despair for him to take the pain away, and when he does we throw up a quick “thank you” and it’s back to life as normal.  Church, our “thank you’s” should be just as passionate as our “help me’s”.  Although we act like it, relief from suffering is not the end goal in these situations.  As with everything else in life, the goal is the glory of our great God.  In order to think like this, we need to cultivate a heart that treasures God above comfort, and the only way to do this is to renew our minds with his word and pray for the Holy Spirit to chisel away sin’s deceitful influence.

 

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