Monday, June 25, 2012

Enjoy Life Now

"Enjoy life now, but don't do anything physically, morally, or spiritually that will keep you from enjoying life when you are old." - Life Application Study Bible Devotion


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Sunday, June 24, 2012

A Brief Theology of Church Planting

Many Church Planting Movements (CPM's) are able to rapidly reproduce disciples by quickly establishing the gospel through households. The growth in some has been so rapid that they find themselves criticized by those in established or traditional churches for being overly focused on pragmatism. In other words, the idea of "If it works, it must be of God" takes precedence over what is true/biblical.

While that kind of attitude certainly exists, I believe that such a characterization is as unfair as thinking that those in established churches care more about theology than people without a faith in Christ. Both accusations are generalizations that should cause us to consider whether either have an element of truth in each person's particular context.

More needs to be written and explored with regard to the theology of CPM's. Bob Vajko, a church planting consultant, has written a great article that gives us a snapshot into the intersection of Scripture and church planting. It's called "Church Planting in the 21st Century."


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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Should Methodologies Change?

"Methodologies change, but theology shouldn't." Statements such as this have been repeated so often that we assume their truthfulness. But what if we're wrong? What if Scripture not only gives us timeless doctrine, but also timeless methods for accomplishing God's work?

It's obvious that some methodologies are new, especially those born out of technologies developed since the 1st century A.D. The printing press, the Internet, telephones, radios, and televisions are examples of obvious tools that the church can use to promote the gospel.

However, I am becoming increasingly convinced that the methodologies given to the 1st-century church by Jesus and exemplified by the apostles are keys to making disciples.

For example, in Luke 10 Jesus sent his disciples into villages to share the gospel with a man of peace--that is, a man receptive to the gospel. If he received the gospel, his entire household would be likely to follow. Later, in Acts 2 (and beyond) the disciples continued this methodology of taking the gospel to receptive households. Even a cursory study of the word "house" or "household" in the Book of Acts shows us how effectively the gospel spread as the disciples put into practice what they learned from their experiences in Luke 10. The rest of the New Testament makes it clear that churches typically met in people's homes.

It is my belief that not only should we follow the doctrine given to us by Jesus, but also the methods. The better a modern church is able to follow the methods of Jesus, the more effective that church will be at making disciples.

Why are methodologies like "the household method" important? Why don't they become outdated? Not because they are tied to a technology that may later become obsolete, but because they are embedded into something timeless: the image of God in man.

I'll have more to say about this in the days and weeks ahead.


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Monday, June 18, 2012

How To Forgive Yourself (and Others!)

When God forgives us, he separates our sin from us. This means God puts distance between us and our failures. How much distance? As King David famously said in Psalm 103:12, "As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us." East and west never meet, and neither does your sinful past ever meet you again...unless you hold on to it.

Even though God has wiped our record clean, we have the tendency to revisit our failures. If we keep it up, we eventually wallow in the dirt and filth of that which should be discarded, re-committing the very sin that hurt us in the first place.

A key to forgiving yourself and moving beyond your failures is distance. Chronological or geographical distance may be a part of the process, but the real distance is within your mind.

Scripture says that God "remembers our sin no more." This doesn't mean that he gets amnesia, but that he chooses not to bring it up again. It is as if your sin never happened. Your transgressions have been erased from his records.

When dealing with forgiving yourself, you need to make the same decision God does: choose not to bring it up again. Don't go there. Make the decision to bury it. It may mean throwing away a momento or destroying a symbol of your sin. When we put distance between our sin and ourselves, we are doing what God does. God has wiped our record clean, and if we are to follow him we must model his forgiveness.

This principle also applies when we are dealing with the sins of others. When we forgive another, we must also forget the sin; that is, choose not to bring it up. If we refuse to put distance between other people and their failures, forgiveness will remain a theoretical concept never practiced.


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Monday, June 04, 2012

America: The Most Difficult Place to Share the Gospel

Dr. Anthony Jordan, the Executive Director of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, recently preached a thought-provoking sermon at Riverview Baptist Church in Bixby, OK. He made the following comment (which I summarize): "International Mission Board President Tom Elliff says that the most difficult place to share the gospel is the United States." Jordan (and perhaps Elliff himself) attributed the dynamic to our hesitancy to share the gospel personally. "It's easier to write a check or even go to another country than go across the street," believers think.

I am convinced that there are some other factors that contribute to the difficulty of sharing the gospel in the United States. (I'm sure Jordan does as well, but a sermon typically does not allow a thorough examination of issues that are beyond the scope of church members to address effectually.) I believe one of those factors is a general lack of receptivity to the gospel.

However, some other major factors may have to do with differences between churches in the United States and the rest of the world. Here are a few ways in which churches hinder the gospel:

  • A ministry accomplished by "experts." Pastors are to "equip the saints (regular believers) for the work of ministry" (Eph. 4:12). Instead, many churches have a culture in which the pastor and staff are the spiritual errand-boys who do all the work. (Self-absorbed pastors do the church no favor when they create an "all about me" environment.) As a result, believers become observers.
  • An overemphasis on buildings. Rapidly reproducing discipleship movements occur in those places where the gospel doesn't have to wait on buildings to be built. The 1st-century church exploded in growth in part because it followed the "household" methodology Jesus gave the disciples in Luke 10. The result was a "house to house" multiplication of believers (cf. Acts 2:46-47; Acts 5:42).
  • A "come and see" attitude. Having well-run programs is certainly better than having poorly-run programs, but we need to be careful not to develop an attractional mindset. When we do, the message people in our communities hear is: "Come be a part of us. Help us increase our buildings, budgets, and salaries." People are not impressed with that. Instead, their hearts will be opened to the gospel when they encounter a church that produces an all-too-rare message: "We'll come be a part of you. How can we help you fulfill your God-given dreams? What can we do for you?"
  • An escape from the world. For many, "church" is not about training and sending believers, but providing an escape from the world. Sundays are a "retreat" (think about that term militarily) instead of an equipping of a spiritual army. If disciple-making occurs, it usually occurs by the hands of paid staff or a few super-Christians--and it almost always occurs within the building.
  • Wrong pastoral priorities. Too many American pastors are more concerned with job security than fidelity to the Bible and the mission Christ has given us. Pastors face a constant temptation to be content "coasting" in ministry. Once a pastor gives in, he no longer is a biblical shepherd, but becomes a chaplain, caretaker, or undertaker.

The good news is that these (and other) problems are capable of being addressed. If we will examine the Scriptures (like the Berean Jews in Acts 17:11) and make an honest assessment of our shortcomings, the necessary changes will become obvious. And when we begin to make these changes, I believe we will become less of a hindrance to the gospel.


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Friday, June 01, 2012

What If I'm Not Sure Whether My Friend Is Saved

Question: "How do I pray for someone if I'm not sure about his standing with God? He says he's a Christian, but I'm not sure."

Answer: Only God knows the heart. If you can't see the fruit of someone's faith in Christ, that person is likely far from God. Don't let your confusion about someone's salvation keep you from praying.

Instead of getting caught up in trying to read someone else's heart, focus your prayers on what you know: his fruit (or lack of fruit). Let's reframe the question: How would you pray for someone who is far from God?

An example: "Heavenly Father, you and only you know the heart of man. Your word says that the heart is deceitful, yet nothing escapes your understanding. I intercede on behalf of my friend. I believe that he is far from you. I pray that you will do whatever it takes to draw him to yourself. Let me be a faithful witness and a loving friend. I pray that he will see Christ in me. Glorify your name in all that you do. Amen."


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