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Archive for the ‘Church’ Category

Here’s how I chose to invite friends to study the Book of Revelation with me:

Humans are fascinated with the end of the world. We see this fascination everywhere. Alien invasions, Godzilla attacks, nuclear holocausts, and meteor strikes are only a small selection of our disaster movies that cinema enthusiasts relish. Even when real disasters strike, we have an uncanny knack for finding comfort in our apocalyptic entertainment and millennial charts. This appears odd at the outset. But is it, really?

Do we read books on the end of the world because we wish demise upon ourselves? Are we really that sick? Or, do we somehow believe that the end, whenever it comes, is not actually the end? The Bible speaks of the end times in great detail. But, the message seems awfully obscure to most of us. That complicates things. It seems too confusing to understand, at least for the most part. Yet we want to know. We want to know what will happen. We want to know, is the end really the end? Will we somehow triumph? Will death have the final say?

We naturally refuse to believe that kind of horrific idea, and say, death will surely not win.

This is because Christians are an incredibly hopeful people. It is built into our eschatology. We believe in all of God’s promises. We believe Jesus will return and reign at the end. We believe evil will be defeated and all wickedness will be destroyed, cast into the lake of fire.

And, we believe that the blessings Jesus brought with him at his first coming will be increased greatly when he returns. This is what theologians call the “already” and “not yet” theme of the kingdom of God in which we presently live. But that is simply the surface of what Scripture says about the future. We know it is difficult to understand what the Bible says about the end of the age and the age to come. We wonder, for example, will there be a millennium? If so, what will it be and when will it come? Will there be a “secret” rapture? If not, when will it be? There are certainly options for a framework of the key end times’ texts: premillennial, postmillennial, amillennial. But which, if any, are correct? What are their strengths? What are their weaknesses?

That is why books on the end times are written, at least the good ones. But we want to know what God’s book says about these things. If we can’t understand everything, what does God really want us to know right now, while we await the day of his return?

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It is with that introduction that I invited friends into my home to study this difficult book. I’m curious as to how you might invite friends over to study the Book of Revelation? As for the study itself, my goal will be to help my friends see Revelation in terms of its present usefulness to Christians, much in the same way it would have been encouraging, useful, and needed among the churches it was originally addressed to. So, we will leave behind the charts and focus of the text itself. We’ll use the help of study Bibles and commentaries to help us as much as they can. And when we get to incredibly debated topics along the way, I’ll explain the different options and say which one I hold or lean toward.

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If you haven’t heard, the Crystal Cathedral, long pastored by Robert H. Shuller and now pastored by his daughter, Sheila Schuller Coleman, recently filed for bankruptcy—apparently more than 550 creditors are owed $50 to $100 million. This is not surprising, given that while the church was supposedly in the process of cutting back, the continued to build and continued to put on multimillion dollar productions. The Crystal Cathedral with its 10,000 glass panes now stands as a testament to the churches own opulence and failed trust in health, wealth, and prosperity principles.

I don’t mean to be overly harsh on the Crystal Cathedral, but I do often wonder how many missionaries or how many children in need could be fed for the price of those 10,000 glass panels of which the impressive structure is made. Further, Schuller is well known for preaching a comfortable gospel and denying essential tenants of the Christian faith. That is why I was surprised to read that only 3 miles away from the Crystal Cathedral, Bobby Schuller, grandson of Robert H. Schuller, is preaching at a church called The Gathering.

I found this interesting because in the LA Times article, young Bobby Schuller was articulating a far different vision for his church than his grandfather. He said he wants his church to be about community and something “messy people with messy lives” can relate to. Volunteers arrive before each service each Sunday and take down the chairs and tables that that afternoon. More than 90% of the church funds go toward social justice issues such as homelessness and domestic violence. Young Schuller has set up his office in his garage and drives a Toyota Camry with over 200,000 miles on it.

Schuller says in short, their goal is “to make big Christians, not big churches.” In so much as that is true, I commend Bobby and his church, The Gathering, as the church’s calling is to make disciples not build big buildings. Of course the job o f the pastor is to lead his church in disciple making by preaching God’s Word (2 Timothy 4:1-2). I don’t know what young Schuller preaches—whether he preaches the Bible or not, I don’t know what he believes exactly, but I was encouraged to hear this story. Its encouraging to hear about churches giving more and concerned more about people than they are about numbers, big buildings and impressive productions.

So today, I prayed for Bobby Schuller, that he would preach the word, that he would continue to stand out from his father and his grandfather before him whose ministries, at least on the outside, did not always seem properly focused. I prayed that he would preach the word and I also prayed for my church. I prayed that we would be a church centered on the glory of God and focused on helping people trust wholeheartedly in a big God. I also prayed that God would help me be a more giving person and that God would make us a church known for giving to those in need.

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God’s words are described in Psalm 119:105 as a “lamp” and a “light” to the life we live. The whole chapter (the longest in the Bible) is a big praise for the words God has given to us to read and know.

I love that. But sometimes it is hard to stick to a plan and read God’s word. Some of you might wonder what to read and when to read it. One of the best ways for me to stick to it and read all of the Bible is to start with a Bible reading plan. So that is what this note is for.

There are many different Bible reading plans available online today. Some will even email the daily reading to your inbox! Some will allow you to choose which translation you would like to receive. So there are many options! God just wants you to read his Word and this can help! Here are some of my favorite Bible reading plans. Feel free to try one out on your own. The plans vary. I actually like donig one for a year and then switching to a different plan the next year. If you want to know what I’m planning to use this year, the 2011 Compositional Bible Reading Plan developed by Treasuring Christ Church in Raleigh gets my vote. So without further ado:

30 Day Plans

  1. 30 Days For New Christians
  2. 30 Stories You’ve Probably Never Heard

Survey Bible Reading Plans

  1. Biographical Bible Reading Plan (121 Days)
  2. Survey Bible Reading Plan (61 Days)

365 Day Plans

  1. Daily Bible Reading Plan
  2. ESV Daily Bible Reading Plan
  3. M’Cheyne One Year Bible Reading Plan
  4. Canonical Bible Reading Plan

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Here is a brief post on part of Ephesians 1:15-23. Odds-on you will remember that Paul opened the letter with a resounding praise of the Father for his total work of salvation, from before the foundation of the world to the time the promise is kept, to the praise of his glorious grace. It is important to note that all three members of the Trinity are included in Paul’s opening praise in Ephesians 1:1-14: (1) The Father is praised for administrating our salvation. (2) The Son is praised for accomplishing our salvation. And (3) The Holy Spirit is praised for applying and sealing us in our salvation.

Ephesians 1:15-23 includes Paul’s thanksgiving and prayer for the ones in Ephesus who listened to the gospel and have believed. He begins with the words “For this reason” and goes on to thank God for the local body, which was made possible by God’s work of salvation, which he began before the foundation of the world! I hope this makes you eager to study this great text! One verse that I have been thinking a lot about, and praying for our readers is: “That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him” (1:17). “Spirit of wisdom and of revelation” in this verse are significant words because we only know about these things when God reveals them to us. God does not make everything known to us. This is what the Preacher in Ecclesiastes means when he writes, “Consider the work of God; who can make straight what he has made crooked?” (Eccl. 7:13). It is a poetic way of saying, “Who can know about what God has made unknowable?”

There is a line in one of my favorite songs, where one of the vocalists sings, “You only know what I want you to.” If I get nothing else across in this post, I hope you are awestruck by this: were it not for God making known the mystery of his preplanned salvation to us, we could not know it. But God has made it known! “In all wisdom and insight,” Paul says, “He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in [Christ] with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth” (Eph. 1:8b-10).

I hope that gets you excited about the gospel!

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19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.  (Hebrews 10:19-25).

I have been thinking a lot about the local church lately—partly because I have been teaching on it and partly because I am fascinated by what the New Testament has to say about it.  In Nicaragua, I had the privilege of teaching pastors on Biblical church discipline—the practice of caring for the souls of the congregation—the NT’s emphasis on church discipline tells us that God has designed the local church to be a testimony of God’s grace to the world and its members to exercise genuine care and watchfulness over each other’s souls.

There is absolutely nothing like the local church.  The church universal is God’s global display of his life transforming grace.  The church local is one of the most profound experiences of that grace this side of eternity.

Hebrews 10 informs us of the value of the local church–it is the training ground for the age to come.  In the local church, God’s people are to “stir one another up to love and good works  . . . all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (vv24-25).

If the local church is the believer’s training ground in which to prepare for the Lord’s return, we ought to think very carefully about how we “do life” together in the church.  A huge part of doing life together as the church local is simply showing up.  The writer of Hebrews says one of the ways we stir one another up to love and good works is by “not neglecting to meet together.”  Apparently meeting together is one of the primary ways in which we prepare for the age to come.  If that is true—we ought to make every effort to get the most out of our corporate worship as a local church and give the most to those who gather with us.

Given the value of the local church and the command to stir one another up, I have been thinking about how we can make the most of our Sunday morning gatherings.  With that in mind, I came up with four suggestions as to how we might do that:

  1. Come to Church.  Seriously—I know this sounds silly but if you are not here regularly, its very difficult to encourage and build up the body as the NT commands us to (Heb. 10:24-25; 1 Thess. 5:11; 1 Cor. 12:13-30).
  2. Sing—sing and sing loudly!  No one is going to fault you for your lack of pitch—even if you can’t sing well, when others hear you sing, they will hear you singing God’s praises and rejoice and sing along with you.  I have found when I sing loudly, other people sing louder, perhaps out of desire to drown out my poor vocals, but nonetheless our singing should have a corporate feel to it as the Bible commands us both to sing to God and to each other (Eph. 5:19)!
  3. Talk to people—its difficult to “stir each other up” when we are mere spectators at church and are not utilizing this time to build relationships.  Some of my very best friends are members of our church, but sometimes I have to make a point not to spend all my time talking to them at church.  At church, I want to make a point to talk to people who I do not know as well.  Those who I am very close to will still be my friend if I don’t spend all my time at church talking to them and there are many wonderful, mutually encouraging relationships that can be built in our church if we will just step out of our comfort zone and talk to the people we don’t know as well.  Our church is small but just big enough for folks to fall in the cracks and miss out on mutually encouraging relationships.  Be intentional in your communication with people when we gather for corporate worship.  Instead of blaming others for their lack of interaction with you—why not seek them out.  You will only get out of church what you are willing to put into it.
  4. Make a point to let your fellowship extend beyond our corporate gatherings—as valuable as it is for us to meet together on Sunday morning, it is not enough.  We are to continually be encouraging one another and building one another up—that means our relationships ought to extend beyond what the settings that the local church provides.  Sign up for a community group and make a point to eat with people in our church to do fun things with them—make plans to go to a football game or to have lunch, go run, walk, or bicycle, play games together, it doesn’t matter what it is, but build relationships!  Invite a family you don’t know over for dinner—it may be awkward asking them because you don’t know them that well, but God will bless it because he promises to bless our obedience with His grace!

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If you didn’t know, I recently returned from a productive and encouraging short-term mission trip to Nicaragua.  There are many stories I could tell you about Nicaragua that would encourage you—stories that may even impress you—stories of how our team members got to share the gospel with hundreds of children in the local schools and stories of the many difficult questions that I was asked at the Pastor’s Conference or stories from our door-to-door evangelism and how the Lord was working to convict people of their sin.  However, perhaps the most memorable experience I had while in Nicaragua happened at a small Baptist Church in the rural area of Los Cedros—it was an invaluable lesson learned from Pastor Adonis.

When we went out into the communities of the churches we were serving at in Nicaragua, the pastors of the churches went with us and even brought members of their churches along so that they might learn to do evangelism and so that he might be used of the Lord to disciple them.  Pastor Adonis has a passion for evangelism and for discipleship.  He understands that the only hope the lost people in his community have is Christ and he understands that the members of his church must be the ones that tell their lost neighbors about Jesus.  There can be no evangelism without discipleship—if people are not trained to reap the harvest, they will not go out into it.  There can be no discipleship without evangelism first preceding it.  You cannot disciple the lost, you must share the gospel with them first, then the process of teaching them everything that Christ commanded can begin (Matt. 28:18-20).  Pastor Adonis was doing both—teaching the members of his church to do evangelism and doing evangelism himself, going out into the community and delivering the good news to the lost.

While I was greatly encouraged to see a pastor leading by example and seeking to disciple men in his church, this is not what stuck out to me most about Pastor Adonis.  What stuck out most was what Pastor Adonis said to the members of his church who were not doing evangelism.  Thursday night was the last night that we would spend at Los Cedros Baptist Church and Eric Hixon preached a revival there that night.  At the end of the service, Pastor Adonis opened up the altar for people to come and pray and he challenged those in his church who were not doing evangelism in the community to come to the altar and repent for their sin.  About 15-20 adult members of the church came forward and knelt at the altar in prayer.

If evangelism is a command, then it follows that neglect of evangelism is sin.  This really convicted me because far too often I fall to the temptation to think of evangelism as an optional practice.  I felt like I should be at the altar praying—I wasn’t invited though, Pastor Adonis only invited the members of his church as they were the ones who had covenanted together as a body to hold each other accountable to seek the Lord.  Perhaps Pastor Adonis’ encouragement to his people to repent for not evangelizing seems harsh and perhaps it was, but it was sweet moment for me.  It did not feel bitter, it felt redemptive and loving—I got the feeling that Pastor Adonis was calling his flock to repentance because he loved them.  I hope that is the case—I am praying that God would develop such relationships in my church—ones were we can lovingly call each other to account and ones in which we take the gospel and evangelism seriously.

Despite the fact that I got to spend three days teaching Pastor Adonis and several other Nicaraguan pastors, it goes without saying that I feel I gained much more from Pastor Adonis’ example and care for his flock.

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I had a groundbreaking conversation with a close friend a month ago, and he talked about how Joseph, in the final chapters of Genesis was a blessing to nearly every group he ran into. He was a blessing to the slave traders. He was a blessing to Potiphar. He was a blessing to the inmates in his jail. He was a blessing to Pharaoh. He was a blessing to the world—the pagan world—and a blessing to his brothers. God saved 70 people (Jacob’s family) by saving the pagan world (from the famine). It is a mind blowing thing to think about.

One interesting thing to apply to that is our natural desire to be blessed by others. We love to be blessed by others. But, if others are not really like us, we often do not want them to receive the same blessing as us. Joseph, I believe, went through all of those extraordinarily difficult circumstances so that God could show that in saving the 70, he would also save the world. I think the challenge for us is to root out our unwillingness to be a blessing to others—unless we already like and love them—and see that God wants us to live the way Joseph lived his life. Joseph understood that, because you see that in his reply to his brothers that whatever they meant for evil, God meant it for good, and for the saving of many people. It is easy to take the first part of that verse and skim over the second part. God did what he did through Joseph; although Joseph suffered along the way, he was a blessing to all of those people because God had plans for them.

I say that to say that one of the challenges of healthy church community is to see the important role every member, and every family, and every volunteer plays in what God is doing. You are important to the ministry at your local church, and Jesus really wants you to be a part of it. God has given you gifts—and they are not just limited to your talents—others may look up to you; others may listen to you; others may want to hang out with you. I also feed off of the energy of other believers who are excited about Jesus, and want to see what God can do in their lives, and in what we are doing. I even love to hang out with those who can get obnoxious about it. So, I desire to be a blessing to my fellow members at my church, and I hope and pray that you will be encouraged to be a blessing to your church and the ministries you are involved in too. I want to be a discipler in the lives of those God has placed in my path. I want to be a friend and a mentor who they can talk hard things with, who will listen to them, knowing that not all hard questions have an easy answer to dig out.

That is part of what it means to have church community. You want to be blessed; so ask God how you can also bless others.

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