Thoughts which drive me to Jesus, and the cross, for there is my hope!
I am worn out waiting for your rescue, but I have put my hope in your word. My eyes are straining to see your promises come true. When will you comfort me? Psalm 119:81-82 NLT
So never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord. And don’t be ashamed of me, either, even though I’m in prison for him. With the strength God gives you, be ready to suffer with me for the sake of the Good News. 9 For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, 2 Tim 1:8-9 NLT
To carry on these activities [evangelism, missions] scripturally the church should be walking in fullness of power, separated, purified and ready at any moment to give up everything, even life itself, for the greater glory of Christ.
“My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your Word.” Here the first part contains contrition, while the second clearly describes how we are revived amid contrition, namely, by the Word of God that offers grace.  This Word sustains and gives life to the heart. 1 Samuel 2[:6*]: “The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.”
For 39 years I’ve heard about the need for Church Growth. It was a major part of my undergraduate curriculum–my major would have been, a Bachelor or Arts in Bible, Church Growth and Preaching. I’ve been blessed to work with some mega-church pastors over the years, mentored by two, and read a lot of the books, including Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours?, which predates all the stuff from Fuller, Willow Creek and Saddleback. And even recent works lauded by people, like Canoing the Mountains
There are surely techniques we can apply from these books. But I think the issues is that focusing on Church Growth has us confused, and to be honest, most of the theory is misapplied–simply because they forget to apply it within context! We are hyper-fixated on church growth, or so suspicious of church growth that we analyze the components to death, looking for a reason to dismiss it.
Because our focus is off, the Psalmist’s words ring so true. We are tired, our eyes, hearts and souls are strained, because we trust in God’s promises, but we aren’t seeing them come true in our era. (It doesn’t help that we reduce era to a brief moment!) We know God hasn’t abandoned its church, but because we are fixated on growth, we don’t see what God is doing. Because we don’t see what God’s doing, we burn out, and only half-heartedly commit to the next theory, the next outreach program, the next book which promises that God will provide the increase, if we do our part.
Growing a church is indeed a blessing, but it skews the work (and the glory received from it) making us believe it is our work, our creativity, our passion and strategic-purpose driven life that causes this to happen. And because of that, the church growth movement, and its counterbalance, the confessional/traditional/fundamentalist movements, are doomed to fail.
We need to pray for and seek Revival, not church growth. We need to hear the word and receive the sacraments, realizing what God is giving us in those moments of intimate interaction with a Divine God. We need to see the Holy Spirit killing off the sinner and bringing the saints to life—for that is revival. That is when Tozer’s goal is realized and the church, focused on Christ as a bride focuses on her groom, lives in the moment of salvation. This is true revival, when people are rejoicing beause God has been revealed to be loving, merciful and present in their lives.
As the Church experiences Revival, it doesn’t have the time to be concerned with Church Growth. It is busy helping people live in the moment, so wanting to share the blessing of Christ that they give up their lives. I have seen such people – they are amazing! They simply know Christ’s love, and they will do anything to make it know. The church grows, but that is never its desire. It is focused on Christ, and helping people to know Him, to learn to abandon their wants, desires and even needs. And their they learn, that without what they once considered precious – they are free to live.
This is what we need to pray for- that people come alive in Christ, that they are spiritually defibrillated, and realize they can live in Christ. Then listen, and see those ready to receive God’s word, and His sacraments, as He quickens their hearts and souls…
May we understand that the Lord is with you! And may that revelation result in many coming to know the same thing!
A. W. Tozer, Tozer for the Christian Leader (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015).
“Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Artticle XII Repentance”, Robert Kolb, Timothy J. Wengert, and Charles P. Arand, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000), 195.
Then you must throw this man out and hand him over to Satan so that his sinful nature will be destroyed* and he himself* will be saved on the day the Lord* returns.
6 Your boasting about this is terrible. Don’t you realize that this sin is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough? 7 Get rid of the old “yeast” by removing this wicked person from among you. Then you will be like a fresh batch of dough made without yeast, which is what you really are. Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed for us.* 8 So let us celebrate the festival, not with the old bread* of wickedness and evil, but with the new bread* of sincerity and truth. 1 Cor 5:5-8 NLT
11 For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. 12 He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. Psalm 103:11-12 NLT
I would like to see a church become so godly, so Spirit-filled that it would have a spiritual influence on all of the churches in the entire area. Paul told some of his people, “ye were ensamples to all that believe” and “in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad” (1 Thessalonians 1:7–8).
“This ought especially to be taught, that confession’s not made to man but to Christ. Likewise it isn’t man who absolves but Christ. But few understand this. Today I replied to the Bohemians,134 who insist that God alone remits sins and are offended by my little book on the keys. Wherefore one should teach that men make confession to Christ, and Christ absolves through the mouth of the minister, for the minister’s mouth is the mouth of Christ and the minister’s ear is the ear of Christ. It’s to the Word and the command that one should pay attention, not to the person. Christ sits there, Christ listens, Christ answers, not a man.”
The fundamental theological principle of the spiritual journey is the Divine Indwelling. The Trinity is present within us as the source of our being on every level.
Too many “experts” have given up on the church.
Some find the answer for Chirstianity in starting new groups of believers, some suggest having present small churches die, so that their legacy is not one of faith handed down, but property and financial treasures. Doing such is meaningless at best. For the new ministries planted because there are money start off on, they soon to will age, and not having the example of fortitude that leads us to survive during the lean times.
The key to a nation finding itself in revival is not the redistribution of funds. The key to revival is the spread of revival from a city to the country. The key to a city is found in a church experiencing revival.
And a church experiences revival when its people know God has forgiven them, and dwells in their midst.
When a person knows the purest joy as God lifts their sins away, and they no longer have anything to fear, nothing to feel guilt or shame over, no resentment hidden deep within scars caused by others.
There, revival is found. and the church grows without thinking about it, for the presence of the Lord is undeniable. No one needs to say “share” this.. or “invite a neighbor,” The joy they know, forgiven and free, the presence of God that comforts, empowers and compels them to live in the truth that is thiers, is tangible.
That is why private and public confession is so important. People need to hear they are forgiven.
We have to know this – both in general, and in specific to the sins which have haunted us for years, and decades.
Knowing we are forgiven, knowing the presence of God in our lives also develops the eternal perspective we need, developing in us a desire to see God come.
When this happens, the church explodes… then the community, then the nation….
Sp of you are dealing with resentment, with guilt or shame, go talk to your pastor or priest… and find out God has forgiven you!
A. W. Tozer, Tozer for the Christian Leader (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015).
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 54: Table Talk, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 54 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 394.
Thomas Keating, The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living: Excerpts from the Works of Father Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O., Sacred Scripture, and Other Spiritual Writings, ed. S. Stephanie Iachetta (New York; London; New Delhi; Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2009), 182.
Some thoughts to help you see Jesus in your lives!
Listen to what I’m telling you: Open your eyes and look at the fields, because they are ready for harvest. 36 The reaper is already receiving pay and gathering fruit for eternal life,d so that the sower and reaper can rejoice together. 37 For in this case the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps. 38 I sent you to reap what you didn’t labor for; others have labored, and you have benefited from their labor John 4:35-38 CSB
Simon Peter told them, ‘I am going out fishing’; and they said, ‘We too will go with you.’ So they went out and embarked on the boat; and all that night they caught nothing. But when morning came, there was Jesus standing on the shore.”26 He passes by, close to his Apostles, close to those souls who have given themselves to him, and they don’t realize he is there. How often Christ is not only near us, but in us; yet we still live in such a human way! Christ is so close to us, and yet we can’t spare him an affectionate glance, a loving word, a good deed done by his children.
The angel told Mary Magdalene that Jesus would meet the disciples in Galilee – so we know Jesus knew they would go there, to return to their old ways, their old work. That without help they would go back to what they knew.
Even after knowing Jesus was risen from the grace – they still did this! They didn’t connect the Resurrection to the Mission of God, to draw all people tto Him.
But in their pain, in their anxiety, dealing with the change, they forgot this.
I think the church has done the same thing in the last 2 years. We have been struggling with COVID, many of us are helping people deal with grief, or struggling families, trying to hold up each other – all these things are good and right, and beneficial.
But we’ve forgotten who we’ve been sent to help, who we are called to serve, who we’ve been called to guide, as the Spirit calls them, into the realization that God truly loves them.
Even though they knew Jesus was there, that He had preceded Him there (Mark 16:7) they didn’t look for Him. And they didn’t look for the men they would catch. And so Jesus comes by – and reminds them the harvest is ready (Peter – feed my sheep!) He reminds them of His presence. amd the work they would share.
Perhaps they needed that moment set aside… perhaps not. It happened though, and Jesus refocused them on the ministry they had together. MWe aren’t any different. This time of COVID has been our time in the boat together. Now its time to throw our nets in on the other side, and see the catch God has for us to bring in – a great harvest of souls.
Let’s go fishing my friends… but not for fish – the Spirit says it time to gather all God would call!
Escrivá, Josemaría. Friends of God . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
51 When the days were coming to a close for Him to be taken up, He determined to journey to Jerusalem. 52 He sent messengers ahead of Him, and on the way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make preparations for Him. 53 But they did not welcome Him, because He determined to journey to Jerusalem.54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?”
55 But He turned and rebuked them, 56 and they went to another village. Luke 9:51-56
2 Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. 3 Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. 4 For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. 5 There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all. Ephesians 4:2-6 (NLT)
15. The Church recognizes that in many ways she is linked with those who, being baptized, are honored with the name of Christian, though they do not profess the faith in its entirety or do not preserve unity of communion with the successor of Peter.14* For there are many who honor Sacred Scripture, taking it as a norm of belief and a pattern of life, and who show a sincere zeal. They lovingly believe in God the Father Almighty and in Christ, the Son of God and Saviour.15* They are consecrated by baptism, in which they are united with Christ. They also recognize and accept other sacraments within their own Churches or ecclesiastical communities
But as the words of this decree show, the apostles did not want to impose an ordinance on the churches. For they say that no one should mind if his brethren do not correctly compute the time in celebrating Easter. The text of the decree is preserved in Epiphanius: “Do not calculate, but whenever your brethren of the circumcision do, celebrate it at the same time with them; even if they have made a mistake, do not let this bother you.”…. 44 The apostles wisely admonished the reader neither to destroy evangelical liberty nor to impose a necessity upon consciences, since they tell him not to be bothered even if there has been a mistake in the calculations.
I have had to walk a few people through the same question in the last few weeks and to be honest, I have struggled with it as well.
If they are in error, do we separate ourselves from them (i.e. kick them out)? Or who are we “in fellowship” with, and how much should that concern us. For that matter, is fellowship something that is able to be constrained within a man-made,, man-defined organization?
And into that equation today is thrown a few more things to consider. Two scripture passages, a quote from Vatican Council II’s Lumen Gentium, and a quote from the Lutheran Confessions.
All point to something we need to remember, fellowship is defined by God, as being united, first and foremost with God. There is only one church, one body of Christ. Paul is explicit in the quote from Ephesians, as he is in First Corinthians. We are united to Christ, that is what defines us as the ecclesia, those called, those drawn into Jesus, and united to Him at the cross.
That’s why the Roman Catholic Council notes that there are many ways we are linked, including in our baptism, that we are honored by being called Christian. Even though we don’t agree with all they profess, and we don’t recognize the Pope as the successor of Peter. That’s why the Lutheran Confessions clearly point out a time when the church chose unity over what had been declared doctrine, and praise and encourage loving our brothers enough to celebrate God’s grace, even if they are mistaken about the day and date.
Can we be comfortable with error? Is there a point where the links are no more, where what binds us together is severed? I suppose that if what bound someone to Jesus were severed, then the link between would be cut as well. But the work of the church, even then, is to reconcile the one severed from Christ because of sin back to Christ. There is still a link there, just as there was with the prodigal, though the prodigal didn’t know it.
And the Lutheran Confessions make it clear, there are some errors that seem extreme at the time, (i.e. food offered to idols, the dating and celebration of Easter, even the use of the spiritual gifts i 1 Cor. 14) that should not divide us, but that we can overlook those minor errors for the sake of the church, His church.
This means in the caring process, we may not commune together for a season, but it doesn’t stop us from praying for them and with them, it doesn’t stop us from talking, it doesn’t stop us from having the goal of being united in Christ Jesus. Of making every effort to be united in the Spirit. These times, where discipline is broken, where unity is hindered, the goal is still that unity, unity found in the grace and forgiveness and restoration that is the reason Jesus came in the first place.
So next time you look to win the argument, consider whether winning gives you the idea that you are the better or the more orthodox or Biblical believer…and consider whether your actions are conciliatory, or divisive…..
And then, do what builds up the body of Jesus….
Catholic Church. “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: Lumen Gentium.” Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011. Print.
Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
1 Imitate me, then, just as I imitate Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:1 (TEV)
22 I gave them the same glory you gave me, so that they may be one, just as you and I are one: 23 I in them and you in me, so that they may be completely one, in order that the world may know that you sent me and that you love them as you love me.
John 17:22-23 (TEV)
74 We all have to be ipse Christus—Christ himself. This is what Saint Paul commands in the name of God: Induimini Dominum Iesum Christum—put on the Lord Jesus Christ. Each one of us—you!—has to see how he puts on that clothing of which the Apostle speaks. Each one personally, has to sustain an uninterrupted dialogue with the Lord. (1)
It seems like every expert has a reason for the church dwindling in the last 50 years. Some blame the declining birthrate among Caucasians. Others say it is the necessary cost for remaining faithful to God, another group says it is because only new church plants grow, and that we invest too much in places where God put his name already. ( I have to wonder, do they really believe God gave up on churches older than a generation? )
I am no expert, I have never spent money studying the issues, I haven’t left the parish to become a consultant, or a church bureaucrat. I am not a mega church pastor, or a blogger with 10,000 subscribers. I shepherd people, broken as I am, into the presence of Christ, and am in awe when He fulfills his promise, the promises I share in sermons, in classes, over a beer. So take my words for what they are.
I think the issue is simple,
We’ve forgotten to share with people that not only are they saved, but that they become the children of God, the co-heirs of Christ Jesus, To use fancy theological terms, which while God hasn’t infused righteousness (He counts us righteous ) He has infused us with holiness.
We’ve been given the gift of the Holy Spirit, to dwell within us, to teach us, to transform us into the image of Jesus. Not that we become superheroes, but servants, slaves, those who humbly walk with God. (see Phil. 2:1-10)
What is missing in the church, whether liberal or conservative, confessional or missional, no matter what the label we place on ourselves or others is this.
We’ve forgotten the concept of Christlikeness.
Or, rather than considering it the promise of the Covenant, the blessing of the Gospel, we turn it into some kind of foreign works righteousness, and dismiss it as the Law we cannot hope to fulfill.
It is the promise, the gospel, this blessing and privilege of repentance, (see Acts 11) that is granted to all who believe: Hear Paul’s words,
29 No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by God’s Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people.
Romans 2:29 (NLT)
It is the change of heart, produced by God, a change Ezekiel 36 attached to God’s sprinkling of water, that Titus 3 confirms happening as the Father pours our His Spirit on us.
Finally, it is the blessing of the prayer mentioned in John 17 above, as Christ gives us all that the Father gave Him, the unity, the glory, the ability to love. The ability to serve, even to die for those who are in need. Even our enemies. Even those we would have looked down on. To wash their feet, to let those betraying us close enough to embrace us, to work with whoever is considered unclean, that they would know the love of God.
This is our life; it is why we aren’t whisked into the throne room immediate after our baptism. This is being the church of Christ the family of God.
It is time to heed the gospel found in Hebrews 12,
1 As for us, we have this large crowd of witnesses around us. So then, let us rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way, and of the sin which holds on to us so tightly, and let us run with determination the race that lies before us. 2 Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end. He did not give up because of the cross! On the contrary, because of the joy that was waiting for him, he thought nothing of the disgrace of dying on the cross, and he is now seated at the right side of God’s throne. 3 Think of what he went through; how he put up with so much hatred from sinners! So do not let yourselves become discouraged and give up.
Hebrews 12:1-3 (TEV)
1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 484-487). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.