Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Is There Just Sevenfold Grace by Spirit?

A Protestant Reformer explains why there is not just 7-fold, while looking at a prophecy of Jesus' birth/coming from Isaiah chapter eleven:

The Prophet does not here enumerate all the gifts of the Holy Spirit, as some have thought. Out of this passage the Papists have foolishly and ignorantly drawn their sevenfold grace, and some of the ancients fell into a similar blunder. He enumerates only six kinds; but they have added a seventh out of their own head. But as one error commonly follows another, they have chosen to limit the gifts of the Spirit to the number seven, although in other parts of Scripture (John 14:172 Timothy 1:7) he receives numerous and lofty commendations drawn from the variety of the effects which he produces. Besides, it is very evident that it is through the kindness of Christ (Galatians 5:22, 23) that we are partakers of other blessings than those which are here enumerated, of meekness, chastity, sobriety, truth, and holiness; for these proceed from none else than from Christ. He does not mention, therefore, all the gifts which were bestowed on Christ, for that was unnecessary; but only shows briefly that Christ came not empty-handed, but well supplied with all gifts, that he might enrich us with them. (ccel)

So now you know.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Five Things for Good Church Signage

While it is often said that the website is the front door of a church today, there is also the real possibility your church's sign can draw in or repel guests.

While there is nothing that makes a church better off spiritually about a sign along the street or on a building, it can repel passerby's and make them resent a church.  Over several years this can bring about less first time guests and then create negative talk about your church in the community.

What do you need to look for putting together a great church sign?

1.  Make the logo small.  You might think your logo is really great, but most people do not care.  The real purpose of a sign is to convey to someone who doesn't know all about your logo what is really there.  It should say "so and so church."

2.  Do not try to put every detail on a sign.  The more words, the smaller they all must be, and then the less you can make the main point, which is to identify what church it is.  The classic example of this is a small sign below the name with tiny font of every Bible study and service hour.  This is hard to read, and has been replaced by website info today.

3.  Sharp looking and up to date.  Nothing screams "do not visit here" like an outdated sign.  Something that is stuck in the 1970's (one church I saw actually had a Koa camp looking sign) or 1960's (weird orange brick and rust anyone?) is hurting people visiting your church.  An outdated sign reflects a low priority on excellence (which is not biblical, see the woman who pours perfume on Jesus' feet and see the detail going into the several worship Temples of Israel).  It also reflects we don't care about anyone but ourselves to guests if it is outdated.  It's the wrong message:  we don't care if you visit, we're a country club church.  And that is the worst message.

4. Power.  It is very expensive to run electric today.  Close to a usable power source is the way to go.  Then you can put more money into the better sign.  The exception would be if the sign is so far from foot and car traffic that you just have to run more.  Or if the sign uses different power requiring a different line.  Either way, having a lit sign or moving LED sign is the way to go.  A sign that is just dark at night doesn't do you any favors.

5. Style.  Who are you trying to tell "you belong here!"  The fact is a sign says a lot about a church.  Is the congregation inside older, younger, in between?  An outdated sign implies it is a church of yester year.  If you want people who are looking for yester year, then keep that one.  But a new sign can be either traditional or contemporary, and this is important:  it looks like things are happening today.  You'll likely then also be able to use the style of font and sign to give a hint strong enough to get someone's curiosity to visit.  Sit down and think through what style you want to convey.  Vintage?  Classic?  Ultra-contemporary?

These are a great start and put you probably ahead of 90% of church signs which are not helping encourage curiosity, but are viewed negatively as eye sores in a community by those driving by.

Monday, August 15, 2016

How to Tell If an Area Is Receptive to the Gospel

Oftentimes as Christ followers we try to over-spiritualize if an area or a people or neighborhood or a family is receptive to the gospel of Jesus.  Thankfully, Jesus and his appointed representatives were especially clear on how we can know if we are investing wisely or wasting our time on a neighborhood or such.  The gospel is God's promise to us that if we believe in Jesus as our Savior and confess He is Lord, God will forgive us our sins.  A few things should caution against over-thinking the whole thing.

1.) Jesus' command to the disciples.  When Jesus sent out the disciples to preach the good news and to help people, he commanded them to stay in a place or home that was receptive.  If a place or home was not receptive, they were to wipe the dust off their feet as a sign of that problem and to be free of that place.  They then were to move on. (Matthew 10:14; Luke 9:5; Mark 6:10-11 stay vs go; Acts 13:51 wipe dust off)

2.) Jesus' example.  When Jesus went to a place, he stayed and lingered if there was work to be done decided by how receptive the people were.  If they were not, he moved on.  We often think of places like Galilee as sleepy backwaters then, in the 1st century AD.  This too is false.  There were hundreds of thousands of people living in the area at least, and there were also major Roman cities surrounding the area.  Lots of opportunity. (Matthew 8:28-34; Luke 4:24; Mark 6:3-6 especially reveals this)

3.) Paul stayed or left depending on need.  Paul went places where people had not heard the gospel before, so as to not build on someone else's work.  In our time, that is hard to find, where no one has preached before.  There are less and more evangelized places, obviously, and there are some groups without any witness.  Though, if you're called to international or regional missions, go for it.  But Paul went or tried to go to some places where the gospel had already gone to, such as Rome (hence said letter saying).  Bottom line he not only evangelized, Paul also did discipleship work.  He tended to work with those who were willing.  Places that threatened him, he often went instead to a receptive place.  If they were receptive, he stayed.

4.) Temporal judgment.  While eternal judgment of course would be a clear sign, the Great Judgment is still future.  So while it is generalizing, there are so many examples of it, that we should not ignore it:  God judges areas in the here and now for build up sin.  We cannot say when a natural disaster or some such thing is judgment.  But we cannot (on the flip side) say an occurrence is not a judgment from God's hand.  Consider a place like Haggai 2:1-19.  Clearly the Lord clarifies some of these events were His judgment to lead His own people back to repentance and faith ("consider").  God meant for this general revelation to convict them.  He then added special revelation, the Scripture, so they would change.  They heeded it.  However, some places do not.  So while one shouldn't go around declaring judgments mean something about God's view in every instance or most, we should know deeply as a Christ follower sometimes judgment comes to a place or people in sin.

5.) David with Saul and Jonathan even eventually.

6.) Lot with the Valley.  The community there rejected righteous living and tried to punish it with lewd expressions.  They mocked and scoffed at righteous correction via Lot.  Their time was up.

7.) Solomon in Proverbs 30:33 in the context we are to seek peace.

8.) Hebrews 12:1.  Not just sin but any "weight" that hinders.  Some weights can prevent your sharing the gospel and running the race as you should.  It's not wise to get too specific in our pondering this, but just note it.  It could be internal to us or external (area/environs).

9.) Providence.  Acts 16:6 the Holy Spirit prevented. // Genesis 31-32 Jacob's move to land of witness. // Then, Genesis 46:1-30.  Jacob moves for a time due to drought conditions that no doubt God's hand was in, which served as a witness.

So let's shift gears to applying this now:

Thinking through the above points, you can sense examples of this in real life where the gospel is not received in consideration by a person or by an area clearly (it's meant to be fairly clear).  Maybe you have some who consider the gospel, do not give up on them.  But there are others in your life who just shut you or others sharing Jesus or urging discipleship down.  Those persons or areas never seem to "get it" that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.  Worse yet, maybe they shut the door in your face.  How many have been there?  What clearer example of point #1 above can there be than these things?  Yet we make excuses for that kind of stuff people do.  This is not wise, to try to out play God's simple teaching on the subject.  The Lord Jesus and the disciples never excused that kind of shutting down or rejecting the gospel. instead they made better use of the time we have on earth.  In fact, this is the urging of Paul the Apostle, to Christ followers in Ephesians 5:16 that we make the best use of time because the days are (not might be) evil.  There are time wasters and people who inadvertently are bogging down sharing the gospel with others or helping others grow.  So just be aware of all of this and think how it applies in your personal ministry to others as a Christian.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Look to Jesus First

Dr. Paul D. Tripp, a Christian author counselor and teacher, shares a reminder we all need regularly:

"No human being is capable of carrying your hope; this side of heaven, we're all weak and flawed. No circumstance can carry your hope; every situation you're in is touched by the brokenness of the fall and isn't under your control. Amassing physical pleasures and possessions won't give you lasting hope; for all of their momentary enjoyment, they fill the senses but don't satisfy the heart."

As you ponder this, try to focus on placing your hope in Jesus, practically, in what you consider a blessing or success each day.  It is the calling of God on Israel when they are returning to the Promised Land after Exile to place their first priority of hope and comfort in the LORD, not themselves or their houses or properties, Haggai chapter one.  Where is your hope?

Friday, July 29, 2016

No Max Lucado, That Isn't Even Logical... reports that Christian pastor and author Max Lucado believes he had a dream where Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump reach a 'truce' of some kind and do some kind of joint press conference in agreement.
You can read about it here.

A couple things about this.  First off, we should hold Max Lucado to it.  If he wants to make predictions about the future in US politics, and it does not come to pass, then he needs to be called on it.  Scripture takes a view that people who make false predictions are false believers (1st John 4, etc, etc, etc) and false prophets.  They are to be considered not worth listening to, 1st John 4:5-9.

Secondly, putting aside who is your favorite candidate for president of the US, their positions are far apart.  So much so that in each case, that they share little common ground.  In some areas, maybe we don't know what is God's will, in others it is very clear.  They do not see eye to eye on key issues.  So either one or both would have to abandon their positions.  This seems highly unlikely.

Thirdly, what good would that do us, what kind of truce would really 'benefit' America as he claims?  If they somehow came to some kind of truce as Pastor Max Lucado thinks, would that truce be a pro-life or a pro-death truce?  Would it be a a laissez-faire truce or a government managed economy truce?  Would it be a pro TPP truce, or an anti-TPP truce?

In summary I find such claims to a revelation unlikely to begin with in our time.  However, supposing doctrinally someone out there reading Max' statement agreed that prophecies are continuing.  Why would his wonderful dream be wonderful?  In all likelihood it would not be, any truce would compromise something important, rather than help point people to truth.  But time will tell.

Dwight L Moody - The Overcoming Life

Dwight L. Moody in his book, The Overcoming Life, states:

"Notice that everything human in this world fails.  Every man, the moment he takes his eye off God, has failed.  Every man has been a failure at some period of his life.  Abraham failed. Moses failed.  Elijah failed....
I suppose it was because they were not on the watch.  Abraham was noted for his faith, and he failed right there--he denied his wife.  Moses was noted for his meekness and humility, and he failed right there--he got angry. ...  Elijah was noted for his power in prayer and for his courage, yet he became a coward.  He was the boldest man of his day and stood before Ahab and the royal court....  Peter was noted for his boldness, and a little maid scared him nearly out of his wits."

So it is with what John teaches in 1st John that we see whatever is of God is a victor.  We all must get our eyes back on Jesus.  We must say "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me."  And "we walk by faith."

And he adds we must be overcomers of the world.  Later on he asks, "Are you overcoming the world, or is the world overcoming you?"  We must press on.

Whatever you're going through, realize that God is greater.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Bible verses on prayer in Old Testament

As Christ followers we ultimately do not follow the Law of Moses as though we were national Israelites, however, we do still see principles clearly of God's will displayed throughout the Old Testament.  This is so even of the Torah portion of the Old Testament, the first five books.

In the heart of those books, you find much mention of prayer in Leviticus.  In fact, Leviticus is essentially a guide to prayer in the appointed place of worship in the nation of Israel, the Tabernacle Tent of Meeting and later the Temple.  For them, this was a place prescribed for worship, instead of building one's own altar, as people had done previously.  Prayers still could be done elsewhere, but the Tabernacle/Temple became the main and required place for Israelites to properly approach the Lord at certain festivals and high holy days of Israel.

So in Leviticus, perhaps we can echo godly believers then, Leviticus chapter sixteen was the high holy day in the Israelite calendar.  It was a prayer meeting, as the people fasted and prayed, and then the high priest did offerings and also essentially prayers (you can find some online of what they likely prayed) before the Lord.  The day was even a foreshadowing of our awesome Savior Jesus Christ, who is our substitutionary atonement for sin before God.

A website online that many use, states there are no Bible verses on prayer in Leviticus.  This could not be further from the truth.  The heart of the the use of the word forgiveness and also dealing with the reality of sin is in early and mid Leviticus chapters.  Leviticus is said to be the Romans equivalent of the Old Testament.  We find much on prayer.

Chapters 1-3, 4-5, and 16, and 20 have much to say about prescribed prayer and then things not to pray/do related to prayer.  In fact, properly understood, these chapters teach even Christians about God's holiness, He is totally set apart and worthy, and God's forgiveness, and God's needing to be reverenced in prayer.  It is hard to imagine an Old Testament let alone a New Testament theology apart from the holiness and honor given to God in such passages of prayer.

In fact, our book of Hebrews in the New Testament deals heavily with Leviticus' doctrine.  It is the necessary prequel to understand it's wonderful New Covenant theology.

In short, a solid study of prayer in Leviticus exists, and while maybe not the most exhaustive study you or I would ever do, will definitely help you to carry out effective prayer because Leviticus points to who God is and the necessity of Jesus Christ, the perfect spotless Lamb of God for our atonement.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Three Stumbling Blocks to Church Plant (or Possible Estab. Church) Growth

There are times when doctrine plays a role in attracting or repelling potential new church start goers.  Consider a few examples.  You might imagine whether a church is charismatic or not influences decisions.  In our area, a large glut of charismatic church starts has sucked up all of the potential charismatics.  The ones that have been around the longest have a lions share of that doctrinal view.  Perhaps this is less an issue in a very large city, though it is clearly an issue in a small or medium sized one.

Doctrine could be desirable or undesirable in still another way.  The Lord created men and women a certain way, with certain attributes innately, Genesis 1-2.  Men who are leaders out of a desire to honor the Lord are not making just a praxis decision, but are also modeling in some capacity God's call on men in the family.  A man likewise who makes a strong effort to provide for his future family is going to be more desirable to most ladies.  This is simply true in churches as well.  A church which rejects complementarianism, in favor of a neutered reality, rejects Christian doctrine of humanity.  So the sensing of weak follower men can doctrinally drive away men looking for real men as friends and ladies looking for a solid Christian man or a good witness for her sons or daughters growing up.

Then there are times when practice can bring in or drive out attenders and possible future members.  Practice in one sense is always doctrinal.  However, for this short article, we'll assume that practice is somewhat separate from doctrine in some sense.

Here are three things a new church start team should avoid in practice (not doctrine):

1.) Obscure names for the church and its ministries.

Just think about it.  The longer the name of a new church the harder it will be for people to remember it and find it online.  It's also harder to remember it in conversation in bringing up a place to go.  Just think about the difficulty people have in spelling or remembering even fairly normal first and last names.  Those are names we hear and see all the time.  Add in a church name that no one has ever seen and those who are curious will forget it, misspell it, and end up somewhere else.

2.) Obscure location for the church's worship.

As obvious as this seems, it is ignored for the sake of expediency in 'having a place.'  The desire to get up and going often overrules long term awareness in the community.  It's a big risk.  Finding a good location can be difficult and those who have tried will agree.  The hoops to jump through to make even a simple rental agreement and then later on several years purchase commercially happen are immense.  It's best however to stay where people go.

3.) Not moving around.

Some advice recommends you stay put in the same place.  The thinking goes that as you advertise a place, you do not want to lose that awareness.  People would be surprised to find that some of the fastest growing churches utilized a strategic movement strategy to reach more friends for Christ. While it is true, if you move, some may leave your core team.  It is also true you pick up more new friends and reach people who do not make nearby locations an issue.  If you think about the kind of person who complains about an extra five minutes drive, losing them is really no loss at all.  It's a benefit.  In fact, Saddleback Church grew using this strategy of moving nearby (read not far).
There is nothing inherently special about staying put or moving.  Neither is per se by itself anything.  Nor is it necessarily wise to move in every church's case.  Consider however, God's view of movement in Scripture, just as a way to think if it would benefit a church start-plant, or in rare cases an established church.  What was mobile in the Bible?  The ark of the covenant.  The tabernacle for worship.  The priestly 'yes' and 'no' answer tool in the Temple system under Moses' Law.  God, think about that, instructed them to build a MOBILE worship center.

Then in the NT we worship God in spirit and in truth where we are.  True, we are called to gather in worship, but we also must realize that God is on the move, working where we are.  The living God is present in our lives.  A church start can move, if it needs to do so.  In fact, it may be a move to where God will work next.  In moving, sage advice is to NOT move very far.  Stay in the same area, otherwise it may simply be too difficult for core members to still come as well.  Yet a move itself is not wrong.

I hope this blesses you, it's hard won advice, and one part of it is rare, have a great week!

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Habits of Grace by David Mathis

The Christian book, Habits of Grace, by David Mathis provides a great reminder and set of new challenges for a Christian seeking to sharpen their spiritual disciplines.

There is the reminder to preach to yourself the gospel, page 41.  This helps us find responses to life in our fallen world Mathis states.  We must pause and take in the truth of the gospel, great advice, even as long time Christ followers.

Beyond merely 'inductive Bible study' he recommends asking an old saint how they read the Bible.  This often includes less "formal instruction" and more learning the craft and art of what gets us deeply in God's word.  There is no quick fix program, even though popular programs abound.  A great word in itself there.

Meditation on God's Word.  Believers are to reflect deeply on the truth of Scripture.  This is how we apply it.  Merely speed reading or memorizing Scripture is not enough.  We read for depth, but ponder over a section or few verses to dig in.  Like watching a movie "frame" by "frame."

Quoting a well-known Christian on the disciplines, we find:  meditation is deep thinking on the truths and spiritual realities revealed in Scripture for the purposes of understanding, application, and prayer.
This also you can tell carries over from private personal devotions with God into things like small groups/Sunday schools, where more than a cursory reading is needed to really apply truth.

Read all of the Bible.  We must be students of more than just our favorite part of Scripture.  This is a good word to our Christian sub-cultures in the West.  Often certain groups or persons stick to just one area.  There's the same unchanging God in each section though, if handled properly.

This book continues to get better and better.  Highly recommended to any Christian young or old in the faith.  It can be gotten anywhere books are sold, but also is found at it's publisher's site, Crossway.  God bless!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Tornado Relief Efforts North Texas

In Christian Ethics, when something bad happens (especially such as a storm damage situation) there is an opportunity to do good as God's people.  Since this world is fallen, we have that opportunity.  If there had been no fall, and storms and people only did good, we would not be able to do greater good in return.

This opportunity is being seized on in the East Dallas area.  The tornado system that hit Garland and Rowlett in particular has created a large group of people caring for those hurt by the storm.  So often we hear about the need for American churches to do more good.  There actually is an amazing amount of work always going on through church ministries.  But this storm illustrates how greater good is able to be done to help those whose homes and livelihoods were affected.  The number of churches including ours serving in various ways is truly a blessing to see in action.

What a great testimony to the stepping up to do good, even when great troubles have come.

This is the heart of the gospel.

Knowing vs. Knowing

To illustrate the difference between knowing something is true and just believing it 'knowing', take this example:

Jesus tells us we will not know the day or hour of his return, Matthew 24:36.

Yet it seems fair to assume someone always thinks today or tomorrow or this week Jesus may return.

But just because they believe it, even when it does happen, does not mean they "knew" it would happen in another sense.

God bless!