The Great Commission

Over the last 10-15 years, I have grown in my appreciation for 9Marks ministries. Their dedication to the Lord, His Word and the advancement of the Gospel through healthy churches has consistently encouraged and challenged my faith. The post below is from Mark Dever. It discusses how local churches can fulfill the great commission – together. I hope it challenges your thinking as it did mine. Pastor Chris
 
 
 

“The Great Commission does not call for churches to act like the department of motor vehicles. Nor does it call for them to act like information booths. Now I have one more for you: the Great Commission does not call churches to act like professional sports teams.

The staff of my church likes to make fun of me for not knowing much about sports, which might be fair. But I do know the goal of every sports team is to win the championship. A team will try to hire the best players, build the best training facilities, and optimize its coaching staff all to win its league’s top trophy. Sure, a team is glad other teams exist. Without them there would be no league. But its main goal is to beat those other teams.

shutterstock_127409168Now, I doubt very many, if any, churches explicitly think to themselves, “We have to beat those other churches!” But let me ask a couple of diagnostic questions to test for an our-team-is-best mentality:
  • Do you happily give away your best players to other churches?
  • Do you rejoice if, after praying for revival, revival comes to the church down the street? (Thanks to Andy Johnson for this great question!)
  • Do you pray regularly for the church down the street as well as the other churches in your city?
  • Do you give any portion of your budget to revitalizing old or raising up new churches in your city, around the nation, or abroad?
Too often, a grotesque competitiveness between churches marks evangelical churches. But a Great Commission church does not compete with other gospel-preaching churches because it knows every gospel-preaching church is playing for the same team.

GREAT COMMISSION CHURCH = CHURCH PLANTING CHURCH

Here’s the broader point: a Great Commission church is an evangelizing and discipling church, but it is also a church-planting and church-revitalizing church. It wants to see the kingdom of God grow through its own ministry, but it also wants to see the kingdom expand beyond its own walls through other churches.

So a Great Commission church is interested in facilitating lots of evangelistic activity going out from itself in order to draw outsiders back to itself. But it is also interested in seeing its efforts culminate in planting or supporting other local churches. It is not satisfied with its own health, it wants to see lots of other healthy, Bible-believing, gospel-preaching congregations.

Such a church encourages other evangelical churches and plants, even if they are several blocks away. And it prays for them by name. It is willing to send out good folks who will help those other churches. It also works to plant or build up other churches on the other side of the world.

A Great Commission church works and prays to raise up men qualified to be elders, and then selflessly sends them out.

It works to align its budget with these Great Commission priorities. Some money is kept for ministry in its own location, but some money is assigned to helping other works, both near and far.

It works to reclaim dying congregations wherever it can.

It works in all sorts of public and private ways to cultivate this team mentality with other gospel-centered churches among its own members. The members and leaders are as happy about a new gospel-preaching church as they are about a new restaurant opening in a land of starvation.

So what does a Great Commission church do? I want to offer four strategic steps.

CULTIVATE A CULTURE OF DISCIPLING

First, a Great Commission church will cultivate a culture of discipling among its own members. It helps every member own the responsibility for helping other believers grow in the faith. Pastors equip the saints for the work of ministry, says Paul (Eph. 4:11-12), which means the work of the ministry belongs to all the saints. The whole body, speaking the truth in love, grows as it builds itself up, each part doing its work (Eph. 4:15-16; see also 1 Cor. 12,14).

Discipleship is my following Jesus. Discipling is me helping someone else follow Jesus (e.g. 2 Tim. 2:2). And in a Great Commission church, older men in the faith disciple younger men, and younger women seek out the older women. For instance, if you are a single woman, you might offer a stay-home mother in your church help with the laundry in exchange for the opportunity to ask lots of questions! If you are a lay-elder teaching an adult Sunday School class, you are sure to recruit a junior teacher. And your goal, in a sense, is to train and hand over the teaching job to him. Then you can go and start another class and bring on another junior teacher.

A Great Commission church possesses the geographic sensitivity implied by Jesus’ command to “Go.” For those who stay, therefore, “going” may well mean moving closer to the church or groups of its members. That way it is easy to minister to others throughout the week. Where do you live? Are you helping to cultivate a culture of discipling in your church in where you chose to rent an apartment or purchase a home?

A Great Commission church should be uncomfortable, even provocative, for a nominal Christian. If you show up as such a guest in such a church on Sunday only as part of your casual religious duty, you may not like it very much. You would be welcomed, but its members would not be what you are about. They are about giving their whole lives to follow Jesus, and they commit to help one another follow Jesus. Such a commitment and such activity is part of the very culture: intentional questions, meaningful conversations, prayer, and continual reminders of the gospel.

Take a look at Robert Coleman’s Master Plan of Evangelism, Colin Marshall and Tony Payne’s The Trellis and the Vine, or my own Discipling for more on this topic.

CULTIVATE A CULTURE OF EVANGELISM

Second, a Great Commission church will cultivate a culture of evangelism. On the one hand, members know that the gospel will be preached in every weekly gathering. So they are excited to invite their non-Christian friends. The gospel radiates through the singing, the praying, and every sermon.

Are you confident that any non-Christian you bring to your church will hear the gospel? If not, what can you do about it?

On the other hand, a Great Commission church works to train its members in evangelism, because it knows they will collectively see more non-Christians throughout the week than will ever be able to fit in the church building. So “success” in evangelism is not simply bringing your non-Christian friends to church so that they hear the gospel. Success is sharing the gospel with your non-Christian neighbors and friends.

So the church works to equip its members in evangelism so that they know how to share the gospel with others. My own church does this through adult Sunday Schools devoted to evangelism. I try to model how to engage with non-Christians in my preaching, particularly in the way I explicitly address non-Christians. We try to equip our members by offering them evangelistic tools like “Two Ways to Live” or resources like “Christianity Explained” or “Christianity Explored.” We hand out lots of Greg Gilbert’s Who Is Jesus? to members for them to give to their non-Christian friends. We also share about evangelistic opportunities through our Sunday evening meeting. Hearing and praying for other members’ evangelistic opportunities encourages people’s own attempts to spread the good news.

What does the Great Commission mean to you? It means Jesus has called you to be a disciple-maker. He calls you to both evangelize unbelievers and disciple the believers. You should be doing this personally—at home, at work, in your neighborhood, among your friends. You should be doing this in and through your church.

Therefore use your fellow church members to help you. Invite an elder to lunch, and ask him for counsel. Share and pray with your small group. Go out and evangelize with your friends.

For more on this topic, look at any book by Mack Stiles, especially Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus, or my book The Gospel and Personal Evangelism.

WORK TO REACH THE UNREACHED THROUGH MISSIONS

A Great Commission church, third, works to reach the unreached through missions. What’s the difference between missions and evangelism and church planting at home? Really, missions is just what we call evangelism and church planting when it travels across ethnic, cultural, and typically national boundaries.

Jesus commands us to “go and make disciples of all nations.” I have not said much on this topic because so many other books cover this idea so well. But it’s hard to know how a church might read this command and not commit itself to taking the gospel to nations that have never heard the gospel before.

No congregation can aim everywhere around the planet. Therefore I think churches are wise to concentrate their own mission efforts on a few places. My own church, for instance, concentrates on several countries in the so-called 10/40 window, which is that region of the Eastern hemisphere between 10 and 40 degrees north of the equator. It’s the area of the world where there are the fewest percentage of Christians.

If you are a member of our church, and you express an interest in pursuing missions, we will be able to put more of our resources behind you if you go to one of the locations we already invest in. We are simply unable to sponsor a hundred people going a hundred different places. By that token, we prefer supporting few missionaries with more money rather than lots of missionaries with only a little money. That enables the missionaries we do support to spend less time raising money and more time doing the work of church planting. Plus, it helps us to have a relationship with them and offer accountability.

Our church works with missionaries directly, and we work through missions organizations like the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board. We also work with amazing groups like Access Partners, who helps to place business people in strategic spots around the world in their business vocations, so that they can assist the long-term missionaries on the ground.

What role should you have as an individual Christian helping your church to reach the unreached? Certainly you should pray for your church’s missionaries. Get to know them when they are on furlough. Perhaps look into short-term mission trips that will allow you to support the long-term workers. Read missionary biographies. And maybe think about going. We will come back to that question a couple chapters from now.

There is one last thing you and your church can do for reaching the unreached: look for internationals in your own city. My own church works hard at reaching international students, but what international groups live in your city? If you reach them with the gospel right there in your hometown, there’s a pretty good chance that the gospel will spread back to where they came from.

Take a look at John Piper’s Let the Nations Be Glad for more on this topic.

WORK TO STRENGTHEN OTHER CHURCHES

Churches commonly have a missions budget line. I think it’s worth adding a “Fostering Healthy Churches” budget line as well. Working to strengthen other churches is a fourth practice of Great Commission churches.

My own church uses this line for supporting a number of things, such as our pastoral internship program. We pay twelve guys a year to do an internship with us, most of whom end up pastoring or otherwise serving other churches.

We also use the line to support the ministry of 9Marks, a ministry devoted as a ministry to building healthy churches.

We intentionally structure our staff so that guys get trained and are sent out. Pastoral assistants serve us for 2 to 3 years and are then expected to go. Assistant pastors serve us for 3 to 5 years and then go. Only myself and the associate pastors (together with any non-staff pastors or elders) are expected to remain in our church long-term. The rest we equip to go.

Our church sponsors weekend conferences, where pastors from around the world join us for our regularly scheduled meetings as well as several special lecturers and times of Q&A. I also participate in weekly phone calls with several other networks of pastors from around the world for the same purposes. Each one of these conversations gives me the opportunity to pray and work for healthy churches all around the world.

Much of the work we do of strengthening other churches through church planting and church revitalizing we do in our own area, which is the topic of the next chapter. (That whole chapter, in other words, is an extension of this section.) But we do some planting and revitalizing around the world, too. For instance, we sent one brother, John, to a church in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, when that church was looking for a pastor almost a decade ago. God has used John in mighty ways to revitalize that international church. One of his key elders, who helped to bring John there, was Mack, an old friend of mine. Once John and Mack got the church to a healthy place, Mack and another brother, Dave, left the church to plant another church 30 minutes away. We also sent a former pastoral assistant and a former intern to help Mack and Dave in that new work. Simultaneously, we sent another former pastoral intern to plant yet another church in another city of UAE.

Now we have three healthy churches up and running in this Muslim country. None of this was a part of some grand plan of ours. In fact, neither the one revitalizing opportunity nor the two planning opportunities were initiated by us. We were just there to pray, help, and send financial and human support where we could. By the way, a number of our members have relocated their jobs to the UAE to help the work of these churches. Our church gains in no particular way other than the sheer joy of seeing God’s kingdom expand in this foreign land.

A lot of these examples have focused on what I as the pastor have done. But assuming you are an ordinary church member, what can you do to help strengthen other churches, whether in your area or around the world? Obviously, you can pray for other works personally. You can pray for other works with your family at dinner. You can support other works financially.

Certainly you should be careful about criticizing other churches. Yes, there are places where your church’s practices or secondary doctrines might differ from those of other churches. And yes we have deliberate reasons for those areas of disagreement. I am not telling you to throw those disagreements out the window. But keep in mind that those secondary matters over which your church might disagree with other churches are as never as important as the gospel we all share. So guard against a critical spirit, and look for ways to rejoice in shared gospel partnerships.”



Speaking the Gospel

There is no greater imperative in the New Testament than sharing the Gospel with people. Often, however, that imperative gets lost in a blizzard of worthwhile activities or excuses that attempt to assuage our conscience. Recently, I read a brief post about Gospel fluency from Jeff Vanderstelt. I hope the portion copied below will encourage your faith as much as it did mine. Pastor Chris
 
 
 
“To become fluent in a new language, you must immerse yourself in it until you actually start to think about life through it. Becoming fluent in the gospel happens the same way—after believing it, we have to intentionally rehearse it (to ourselves and to others) and immerse ourselves in its truths. Only then will we start to see how everything in our lives, from the mundane to the magnificent, is transformed by the hope of the gospel….
 
I’m convinced more now than ever that people need to be equipped to speak the gospel into the everyday stuff of life. We live in a day and age where people are asking questions, but often we don’t have the answers. Instead of giving transforming information—a transforming hope—we often give people moralism or legalism. We tell them to try harder or to change their behavior, but what people need is not behavior modification—they need heart transformation.

We as a church need to grow in what it looks like to speak the truths of the gospel into the everyday stuff of life. To speak the truth of Jesus’s life, death, resurrection, present work on our behalf before God the Father, and future return to make all things new. 

And it’s not just the church— need it. I need to learn how to speak the truths of the gospel into the everyday stuff of life because I struggle with unbelief. I struggle with putting my confidence in my behavior instead of in Jesus and his work on my behalf. I often believe that it’s my work that saves people instead of the work of God that saves people. I need the gospel, we need the gospel, and the world needs the gospel. 

But we need to know how to speak the gospel fluently to the everyday stuff of life—the stuff that people struggle with, the unbelief they feel and experience, and the real issues our society is walking through. You and I need to grow in being gospel-fluent people.” 



The Lord’s Table

Once a month BBC celebrates the Lord’s Table. This special gathering of our church family helps us to remember that Jesus is at the center of our lives both individually and corporately. I am thankful for that reminder. The article below, written by Watchman Nee, was an encouragement to my faith and I hope it will encourage your faith as well. Pastor Chris
 
 
 
 

“The Supper Instituted by the Lord 

Let us first see how the Lord instituted the supper. This is one supper which all the children of God in the church must attend. It was set up by the Lord Jesus on the night before His death. Since He was crucified the next day, this was His last night on earth and also His last supper with His disciples. Although He still ate after His resurrection, this nevertheless was His last supper, for a resurrected man can either eat or not, as he chooses. 

How did this last supper come about? The Jews keep a festival called the Passover which commemorates their deliverance by God from slavery in Egypt. God commanded them to prepare a lamb for each house and in the evening of the fourteenth day of the first month they were to kill the lamb and put its blood on the two side-posts and on the lintel. They should eat the flesh on that night with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. After they came out of Egypt, they were ordered to keep the feast each year as a remembrance. So, to the Jews the paschal lamb is something retrospective. Because of God’s great deliverance, they recall that great event every year. 

It so happened that the night before the death of the Lord Jesus coincided with the eating of the paschal lamb. There was nothing special in His taking the paschal lamb with the disciples, for it was simply keeping the feast of the Passover. But immediately afterwards, the Lord established His own supper, thus implying that He desires us to partake of His supper even as the Jews eat the paschal lamb. 

As we compare these two, we see that the Israelites keep the Passover because they were delivered out of Egypt, and that God’s children today partake of the Lord’s table because they too have been delivered. The Israelites had a lamb; we too have the Lamb whom God appointed. We have today been saved from the world, delivered from the power of Satan, and become wholly God’s. We keep this feast as the Jews kept the Passover. 

  1. SUPPER IS A FAMILY MEAL

What does supper signify? Why do we call it the Lord’s supper? It is a worldwide custom that supper is especially considered a family meal. At lunch, the members of the family often cannot assemble together. In the land of Judea at noontime, some of the family would be shepherding, some fishing, and some tilling. Most of them would eat their lunch outside, for it would be impossible to go home. So lunch is not a family meal. Neither is breakfast a family meal for at that time people are thinking of the day’s work instead of the rest afterward. Other than those who are sick, people usually take their breakfast hastily. Supper, however, is the most special of the three daily meals, for at that meal the whole family, young and old, gathers together to eat. 

  1. SUPPER EXCLUDES THE THOUGHT OF WORK

Having finished a day’s work, people no longer think of the work before them; rather, they are occupied with the thought of rest. Supper is the time when the whole family gathers together and eats at leisure after the day’s work is done. In instituting His own supper, our Lord desired His people throughout the earth to see that this is, indeed, a family meal in God’s house. It does not include any idea of work. It just sets forth the thought of rest. During breakfast and lunch, one’s mind is always occupied with work; but by supper, everything has been done. One is prepared to retire after eating. God’s children should gather and partake of the Lord’s supper with a similar inward sentiment. 

Dual Meaning of the Lord’s Supper 

  1. REMEMBER THE LORD

The basic thought of the Lord’s supper is to remember the Lord. The Lord Himself says, “This do in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:24b). He knows how very forgetful we are. Do not think that because we have received such an abundance of grace and experienced such a wonderful redemption that we will never be able to forget. Let me warn you that men such as we, are most forgetful. For this reason, the Lord especially desires us both to remember Him and to remember what He has done for us. 

The Lord wants us to remember Him not only because we are so forgetful, but also because He needs our memory. In other words, He does not want us to forget Him. The Lord is so great and so transcendent that He could let us forget Him and not be bothered by it. Yet He says, “This do in remembrance of me,” thus revealing how condescending He is in desiring our remembrance. 

That the Lord wants us to remember Him fully is an expression of His love. It is the demand of love, not of greatness. So far as His greatness is concerned, He can afford to be forgotten by us. But His love insists that we remember Him. If we do not remember Him, we will suffer great loss. If we do not remember Him often and keep the redemption of the Lord always before us, we will easily be conformed to the world and become contentious toward the children of God. Thus we not only need to remember Him, but are profited by so doing. It is a means by which we may receive the grace of the Lord. 

In connection with the Lord’s desire for us to remember Him, there is another point worth noticing: as the Lord formerly humbled Himself in order to be our Savior, so today He humbles Himself in asking for our remembrance. As once He condescended to save us, so today He condescends to ask for our hearts. He wishes us to remember Him as long as we live on earth. He wants us to live before Him and remember Him week after week. Thus we derive much spiritual benefit. 

 DISASSOCIATES YOU FROM THE WORLD 

One cardinal value in remembering the Lord lies in the fact that the world will not be able to exert its influence continuously upon you. If every few days you remember how the Lord died for you and received you, let me tell you, the world will have no place in you. Since my Lord suffered death here in the world, what have I to say? If they had not killed my Lord, there might still be some ground for them to talk with me. But now that they have already killed my Lord and His death is exhibited before me, I have nothing more to say and no way to communicate with the world. I cannot have any fellowship with it. This is one of the prime benefits of the breaking of bread. 

 DISPELS DIVISION

Remembering the Lord has another spiritual value: it makes strife and contention and division impossible among God’s children. When you are reminded of how you have been saved by grace and you find another person with you who is likewise reminded, you are both one before the Lord. When you contemplate how the Lord Jesus forgave the myriads of your sins and you see another brother coming to the supper who has also been bought and redeemed by the precious blood, how can you bring in anything to separate you from him? How can you divide God’s children? For the past nearly two thousand years, many controversies among God’s children have been settled at the Lord’s supper. Many unforgiven things, even things unforgivable, and many lifelong hatreds have disappeared at the Lord’s table, for it is impossible not to forgive when, in remembering the Lord, you are reminded of how you have been saved and forgiven. Can you be forgiven your debt of ten thousand talents ($10,000,000) by the Lord and yet grab another servant by the throat demanding payment for a hundred shillings ($18) (see Matt. 18:4-35)? 

 ENLARGES YOUR HEART

Another advantage in remembering the Lord is that each one who remembers Him will quite naturally have his heart enlarged to embrace all children of God. It is but natural to see that all who are redeemed by the Lord’s blood are the beloved of the Lord; therefore they are also the delight of my heart. If we are all in the Lord, can there be jealousy, reviling and unforgivingness? How can you continue in strife with the brother or sister who sits next to you at the Lord’s supper? What right do you have to demand anything of your brother when you recall how many of your sins have been forgiven? If you insist on strife, jealousy, and an unforgiving spirit, you will not be able to remember the Lord. 

Every time we gather to remember the Lord, we are bidden to review His love once more. We should re-examine the corruption of the world and the judgment upon it. We should renew the conviction that all the redeemed are beloved of the Lord. Every time we remember the Lord, we review His love, how He loved us and gave Himself for us. In love, He descended to hades for us. The world has already been judged, for it crucified our Lord. But all of God’s children are our delight, because they have all been bought by the Lord’s blood. How can we hate them? How can we harbor any thought of hate? 

All that we have mentioned above is included in the meaning of remembering the Lord. The first and foremost significance of the Lord’s supper is, “This do in remembrance of me.” Let us further point out that it is absolutely impossible for us to remember one whom we do not know or of whom we have no experience. For us to remember a person or an event presumes that we have a personal knowledge of him or of it. So, when the Lord commands us to remember Him, He is merely reminding those of us who have already met Him at Calvary and have received grace from Him. We come to remember all that He has done for us. Like the Jews remembering the Passover, we consider in retrospect. Because we have come out of Egypt, therefore we come together to remember this fact. To remember is to look back.

  1. PROCLAIM THE LORD’S DEATH

The Lord’s supper has a second meaning. This is found in 1 Corinthians 11:26: “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink the cup, ye proclaim the Lord’s death till he come.” We need to proclaim or exhibit the Lord’s death that all may see. 

What causes people to be idle or unfruitful? It is that they have forgotten the cleansing of their former sins (see 2 Pet. 1:8-9). For this reason the Lord calls us to remember Him, saying, “So long as you live on earth, you must love Me and constantly remember Me. Remember that the cup is My shed blood and the bread My broken body.” This refers to our experience, and this must come first. Afterward we have the teaching that the cup and the bread exhibit the death of the Lord.

Why do the cup and the bread represent the Lord’s death? Because the blood is in the flesh. So when blood and flesh are separated, it means death. Today the blood and the flesh are separated, for the blood is in the cup while the flesh is in the bread. When one looks at the wine in the cup, he sees the blood. Likewise, when he looks at the bread, he sees the flesh. Thus he does not need to be told that His Lord has died for him. As he notices that the blood is no longer in the flesh, he realizes that death has come. Must the Lord tell you that He has died for you? No, He only needs to say, “Drink the cup and eat the bread,” for these proclaim His death. Blood here and flesh there—this speaks of death. 

What do the eating of the bread and the drinking of the cup signify? The Old Testament informs us clearly that the bread was made of grain. The same word was used when the Lord told the Israelites that after they entered into Canaan they would eat the old grain of the land. In looking at the bread, you see that the grain has been crushed. In looking at the cup, you see that the grape has been pressed. In this crushed grain and this pressed grape, you see death. Hence the Lord says, eat the bread and drink the cup. 

Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it is but one grain. Likewise, unless a grain of wheat is crushed, it remains a grain and cannot be made into bread. Unless a cluster of grapes is pressed, there will be no wine. The Lord, speaking through Paul, says that as you eat the bread and drink the cup, you are proclaiming His death. If the grain wanted to preserve itself whole, there would not be any bread; if the grape insisted on keeping itself intact, there would not be any wine. It is only as you eat the crushed grain and the pressed grape that you proclaim the Lord’s death. 

From a human standpoint, God has left nothing on the earth other than the cross. The work of the cross is finished but the sign of the cross remains. Indeed, many today have forgotten the cross, but not the believers. To them, the cross is something forever remembered. Every Lord’s day we see in the Lord’s supper the cross of the Son of God exhibited in the church. This suggests that though we may forget everything else, we must remember the fact of our Lord’s death for us. 

Suppose you bring your parents, children, or relatives who do not know the Lord to the gathering for the breaking of bread. Seeing such a meeting for the first time, they invariably will ask, “What is the meaning of the breaking of bread and the drinking of the cup?” You answer, “The cup represents the blood and the bread the flesh. Since the blood and the flesh are separated, this is death.” To those unbelievers who come to the meeting, you point out that in so doing you exhibit the Lord’s death. 

We not only must go out to preach the gospel, gather people in to hear the glad tidings, and have the word preached by those who are gifted, but we also must let the Lord’s table proclaim the good news. It is a great thing if we can convince people that what is placed before them is not a ritual but an exhibition of the Lord’s death.

We must proclaim this death until the Lord comes again. I like this thought for it associates the supper with the Lord’s return. I wonder if you appreciate the supper. Supper is the last meal of the day. Daily I take my supper; the Lord’s supper I take weekly. The night is dark and the day has yet to dawn. For these two thousand years, the church has never eaten breakfast. She has been and still is only taking supper, the last meal. Till He comes, the night remains dark. But soon the day shall dawn, and no one will need to eat supper again. Who eats supper in the early morning? Soon we shall see the Lord face to face. Remembrance will be lost in sight. We will see Him whom we love. 

May we see from the beginning that in remembering the Lord we are remembering the Lord’s death. This will naturally turn our eyes toward the kingdom, toward the day when we will go to be with the Lord. The cross always leads us to His return; it invariably ends in glory. No one can remember the Lord’s death without lifting up his head, without saying, “Lord, I want to see Your face.” When the day comes that we do see His face, all things (including this remembrance) shall pass away. So, in remembering the Lord, we exhibit His death till He come. Today we have nothing to do but to wait for His return. “



Church Leadership

The New Testament, especially the Pastoral Letters, identifies two positions in the Church. One is Elder, who is also referred to as Overseer or Pastor. The other position in the Church is Deacon. Below is an article from Daniel Wallace that provides a biblical perspective on the position of Deacon. I hope the article will further equip you in the knowledge of the Truth so that you might continue to faithfully follow the Truth. Pastor Chris
 
 
 

“I. Inductive Biblical Study

The pattern of church leadership that the New Testament follows finds its seeds in the earliest period. In Acts 6:1-6 we read of the frustration of some members of the early church for not having their needs attended to. Because the church had grown so large, the twelve apostles were not able to handle all the physical needs of the body and proclaim the word. They knew that if they neglected the ministry of the word the church would suffer: “It is not right for us to give up preaching the word of God to serve tables” (v 2). They asked the congregation to choose seven men—men of good reputation and sound character—to perform this task of serving tables. The verb “serve” in v 2 is διακονέω (diakoneo). The cognate noun is διάκονος(diakonos), from which we get “deacon” (cf. 1 Tim 3:8). This word διάκονος does not always have such a technical nuance in the NT. It simply means “servant” in many passages (e.g., Matt 20:26; 22:13John 2:5Rom 13:4), “minister” in others (e.g., 2 Cor 3:6Eph 3:7Col 1:25).

The question then arises: How should we relate Acts 6 to the doctrine of ecclesiology and to a proper understanding of church leadership? Three options present themselves: Acts 6 gives an essential pattern of church leadership, a valid option of church leadership, or an incidental description that is perhaps irrelevant for church leadership. Further, a combination of these three may be in place (e.g., the number seven seems to be incidental, while the character qualifications of these servants seems to be essential).

Exegetes are divided on this issue, but many see some sort of non-binding pattern in Acts 6. Two things are key in determining this: Luke’s literary purpose in Acts and parallels with later NT writings. Luke describes many things that are almost certainly not valid in the ongoing ministry of the church (e.g., the initial communism of the church, Spirit-baptism aftersalvation). Thus one must be careful to distinguish those things that seem to have abiding significance from those that do not. One way to get a clue is to look at Paul’s letters. After all, Luke was one of Paul’s traveling companions. When we see parallels in Paul’s letters to what takes place in Acts, there may be a connection. Thus, the fact that deacons in 1 Tim 3:8-13 are to be godly men apparently in charge of the physical and financial well-being of the church1is a strong indicator that the pattern set forth in Acts 6 is no accident. As George Knight points out, “The linguistic connections with those who are in 1 Tim. 3:8-13 described with the noun διάκονοι and the verb διακονεῖν (used in a technical sense) is striking and is in accord with the division of labor in conceptual terms in Acts 6.”2

We will develop this point later, for three key issues are still at stake: Is it significant that the church only added deacons once it reached a certain size? Is it significant that the congregation voted on who should serve the tables? Is it significant that only men were chosen in Acts 6?3

The second passage of note is Phil 1:1. Paul addresses the saints at Philippi “together with the bishops and deacons.” Thus, a twofold division of leadership is clearly seen. (Incidentally, bishops were the same thing as elders.4) The church at Philippi was probably not very large, though it was well-established. Paul established the church on his second missionary journey. The Jewish element in the city was small enough that no synagogue was found. But Paul found some women who were responsive to the gospel. The church began. By the time he wrote the letter to the Philippians, the church was already ten years old.

The third significant passage is 1 Tim 3:8-13. The third chapter of 1 Timothy addresses two categories of leaders in the church, bishops (elders) and deacons. We have already noted the connection between this text and Acts 6. Suffice it to say here that deacons were assumed to be part of the leadership of the church at Ephesus.

Knight concludes: “These three passages show, then, a twofold division of labor in early, middle and later time periods in the NT church, in key cities in three various geographical areas (Palestine, Greece, and Asia Minor), and in both Jewish and Greco-Roman settings.”5

The problem is that few other places seem to speak about deacons. The following is an exhaustive list of all potential passages.

Rom 16:1

“Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae” (NRSV). It is of course possible that Phoebe was a servant in the church, a minister of sorts. Whether the term is meant to be taken technically is difficult to tell.

Eph 6:21

“Tychicus . . . is a dear brother and faithful deacon in the Lord.” Again, it is probable that διάκονος simply means “servant” or “minister.”

Col 1:7

“Epaphras . . . is a faithful deacon of Christ on your behalf.” The same problem occurs. This most likely refers to Epaphras as a minister, not a deacon.

Col 4:7

“Tychicus . . . is a beloved brother, a faithful deacon, and a fellow-slave in the Lord.” See discussion at Eph 6:21.

Of these four passages that speak of three individuals (Phoebe, Epaphras, Tychicus), the best candidate for the meaning “deacon” is Rom 16:1, for this is the only text in which the term is related specifically to a church. However, the fact that both Acts 6 and 1 Tim 3 speak of the deacons as adult males suggests that the office was limited to the men.6 It is best to discuss this issue in the larger context of the role of women in the church.

The lack of mention of deacons in NT passages where elders or bishops are mentioned should also be noted. Acts 14:23, for example, records Paul and Barnabas appointing elders in newly-established churches, but not deacons. Other passages discuss the leadership of the church, though arguably the elders are the only ones explicitly mentioned because the issues involved are those that elders rather than deacons would decide on (e.g., Acts 11:30; 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23; 16:4; 20:17; 21:18Jas 5:141 Pet 5:1, 5). It is interesting that 1 Tim 5:17, 19 fits this pattern. In the same book the qualifications for elders (bishops) and deacons are mentioned, but two chapters later only elders are discussed. If chapter three were missing from our Bibles, what kinds of conclusions would we make from their lack of mention in chapter five?

The most instructive text along these lines is Titus 1:5. Paul instructs Titus to appoint elders in every town. The qualifications list in Titus 1:6-9 parallels 1 Tim 3:1-7. But there is no corresponding list for deacons. Why? The church on Crete was relatively young, while Ephesus had a long history and had been, in fact, Paul’s base of operations for nearly three years. It seems likely that for new churches only elders were needed. As a church grew, deacons would be added to the leadership so that the elders could devote themselves more to prayer and teaching. This follows the pattern of Acts 6.

Finally, it should be noted that other terms for church leaders are sometimes used in the NT. In 1 Thess 5:12 we read of “those who labor among you and have charge over you in the Lord.” No other description is given of these leaders. Paul had spent apparently only a few weeks in Thessalonica (cf. Acts 17:1-10), yet appointed leaders before departing. Most likely only elders are in view here. Hebrews 13:7 says, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you.” Again, elders seem to be in view here.7

II. Conclusions from the Biblical Study

A. First, it is evident that the early church did not always have deacons. Acts 6:1-6 and Titus 1:5show this, as do apparently Acts 14:23 and 1 Thess 5:12.

B. It is also evident that deacons were added when the need was felt. That need was in relation to the duties of the elders. When they got detoured from a ministry of prayer and the word, the diaconate was created.

C. There seems to have been a variety of means by which deacons were put in place. In Acts 6, they were elected by the congregation. (Yet even here, the apostles first suggested and permitted such a congregational vote.) But in 1 Tim 3, it is likely that Timothy himself appointed them. This is due to the fact that (1) the parallel in Titus 1:5 involves the appointing of elders by Titus, (2) nowhere do we read of elders being elected (cf., e.g., Acts 14:23), and (3) there is no differentiation between deacons and elders in 1 Tim 3 in terms of how they get into office. In the least, Acts 6 is not a sufficient basis to argue that deacons must always be elected by the congregation.

III. Practical Suggestions for Today’s Church

The results of this study can be applied to today’s church in terms of flexibility and purpose. There should be flexibility in whether to have deacons or not; there should also be flexibility in the means of selection. What guides the former is the task of the elders: if they get distracted from devoting themselves to prayer and the word, they need deacons. What guides the latter is the preference of each individual church.

As a postscript, the addition of deacons to a church really shows how vital is the ministry of prayer and the word among the elders (not just the pastor). Too many elder boards deal with petty issues that shackle them, hindering them from their primary duty. Indeed, too many elders, though godly, are really not “able to teach” (1 Tim 3:2Titus 1:9; cf. Heb 13:7).” 



A Gospel Witness Paradigm

Since the birth of the Church, followers of Jesus have wanted to share the Gospel with those who do not know Him. Often that desire to share the faith is met with open hostility that leads to physical persecution. In the last 100 years, Christian, living in American have often been spared from physically being persecuted for the Gospel. The same could not be said of believers living in many parts of the world. I am grateful to organizations, such as the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, who provide the American church with information about the persecuted church throughout the world. Below is a list five facts about Christian persecution. Following those five facts, there are two links to websites that can provide you with additional resources, so that you might know how to pray for believers, who face physical suffering and persecution for the Gospel. Pastor Chris
 
 
 
1. Christians are the most persecuted religious group worldwide. An average of 180 Christians around the world
are killed each month for their faith.
 
2. According to the U.S. Department of State, in more than 60 countries Christians face persecution from their governments or surrounding neighbors because of their faith in Christ.
 
3. One of the worst countries in the world for the persecution of Christians is North Korea. With the exception of four official state-controlled churches in Pyongyang, Christians in North Korea face the risk of detention in the prison camps, severe torture and, in some cases, execution for practicing their religious beliefs. North Koreans suspected of having contact with South Korean or other foreign missionaries in China, and those caught in possession of a Bible, have been known to be executed.  The conditions in this country have remained the worst in the world for Christians for the past 12 years.
 
4. In 41 of the 50 worst nations for persecution, Christians are being persecuted by Islamic extremists.
 
5. Christians face persecution even in countries with a large Christian population. For instance, in Columbia Christian political rebels specifically target leaders because many people have left the rebel groups after coming to Christ. The church is frequently attacked because these groups view Christians as a threat.
 
These two websites that are valuable resources for learning and praying for the persecuted church around the world. The first is Open Doors https://www.opendoorsusa.org . The second is Voice of the Martyrs http://www.persecution.com .


The Character of Integrity

Of the many Christian virtues believers should possess, none is as important as integrity. Integrity is a whole or complete devotion to the Lord. Solomon in his proverbs communicated said that “Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he whom makes his ways crooked will be found out.” Below is an article from Richard J. Krejcir on the topic of the character of integrity. May it inform, challenge and ultimately commit you to a life of integrity. Pastor Chris
 
 
 
The Character of Integrity
 
“The character of integrity exhibits the obedience and practice of the moral code of ethics, morals, values, and precepts from God’s Word. In practice, integrity will produce honor, truth, and reliability. It will allow one to keep his or her word and do the best even when no one else is aware. This is essential for deeper relationships, and of course for developing other people’s confidence in you and Christianity (Psalm 15; 78:72; Prov. 2:1-11; Micah 6:8; Luke 3:13-14; 6:31; 11:42; Rom. 13:5; 14:5, 14, 22; Eph. 6:6; Phil. 4:8; Col. 3:22-23; 1 Tim. 1:5; 3:9; Titus 1:7-8; James 1:9-11; 1 Pet. 2:12; 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:5-11)! 

Hypocrisy, Dishonesty, Duplicity, and Corruption are the opposites of God’s call! When we carry out these evil traits or do not keep our word, we are misrepresenting Christ’s good name and are defiling Him with our feeble words and/or excuses. Hypocrisy gives people a false impression of God and His Church! Insincerity gives people a false impression of who we are called to be; it nullifies integrity and character! 

Integrity is considered the quintessence and application of Character. It is the demonstration of who we are in Christ and that our faith is real and backed up with our attitude and word. The absence of integrity is an indication that we as Christians are perhaps fakes and frauds at worst, and ineffective and useless at best. It is essential that we pursue integrity and His transforming work to make His Name real and shown (Rom. 12). 

Jesus calls us to integrity, which means we are to be true to our word as a testimony to our faith in Him. We are not to be worldly with our words or the veracity of our virtue and character. Everything we do as a child of God must be in integrity, truthfulness, and honesty, as we are representing Him who is living in us! Consistent integrity is essential for the person who claims Christ as Lord of his or her life! So, the question is, are you a person of integrity? When we say we follow Christ and His Word, do our actions show that we do? If not, we are being a Pharisee (they are not fair, you see), which is being a hypocrite. This is reprehensible before our Lord and others around us because we are misrepresenting Christ and His character! Thus, it is imperative that when we say we are followers of Christ, our character and behavior reflect Him and His call to the best of our abilities. If we are in leadership, this is even more imperative. We demonstrate integrity when we do what we say and act out what we believe; if not, we are a fraud, and woe to us for being one! 
 
The Bible calls us to a higher level of excellence than that of others around us-one of truth, love, honesty, and functionality. This is integrity in action; it is the implementation of His Ways in the practice of our daily Christian lives. We are adhering to His rules, morals, and principles (Zech. 8:16-17). This means we, as people of the faith, will place character, without excuse, ahead of our ambition. Most of all, we will have the focus to glorify God and not ourselves. In so doing, we will be doing the right thing all the time with no guilt or fear and nothing to hide. So, we do what we say we will do from the practice of God’s Truth and Character that He has for us. We must be willing to do this regardless of our comfort, convenience, challenge, or controversy-without excuses. (In addition, to do what is contrary to His Word and say we must do it because we said we would for integrity’s sake is also evil). His ways give us meaning, and leading a righteous life gives us satisfaction. 

We become a Christian by the work of the Spirit. But, our maturity in Christ and how we practice our faith is determined by the choices we make from the conviction and confidence of our beliefs. We choose to take the faith He gives and make it more real and effective. We choose to make the right choices or not, so we have no excuse when our life is messed up by neglect or poor choices. Yes, we have forgiveness and grace, but we are still left with a life that could have been so much more. So, we have to make the determination and be willing to align our lives to His Word and precepts so our behaviors represent who we are in Christ. After that, we need to be more conscious of the decisions we make, both large and small, without the compromise of solid ethics. 

We must also be on guard with people who will do all they can to try to convince us to give up our integrity and character. There will be appealing arguments, passionate pleas, peer pressure, rationizations, and ridicule on a personal level for why we do not need integrity (Job 2:3, 2:9, Prov. 29:10; 1 Cor. 15:33). Do not fret or despair when others come against you (and they will), when you stand up for truth, or when you keep your word; because of your integrity, you will be doing the right thing and you will be rewarded (1 Kings 9:4-5, Nehemiah 7:2, Psalm 41:11-12). 
So, let us, without regret, lead lives that are worthy. Our call is to do as we teach, to do as we say, and to act as we teach others to act. 

Integrity is of the utmost importance for the Christian (Exodus 8:28-32; 1 Thess. 2: 10-12)! Why? Because God is righteous and just, and wants us to be our best in this area, too. The reason the Pharisees are equated with hypocrisy is that they were worshipping not the God of the Jews and the Law, but a made-up god that suited their own thoughts, schemas, and pride. They also covered truth and integrity with their hidden agendas and deceit (Psalm 103:1-14; Matt. 23; 1 Tim. 3:2-7; 1 Pet. 5:10)! 

The fuel that will enable us to maintain our integrity is our understanding of “fullness.” This is knowing who we are in Christ, and what He did for us on the Cross-that we are complete in Him! Then, we can be better able to comprehend that the Word of God is our authority. All you do, as a Christian, is a response to what He has first done in you. Couple that with the application of His Word, and it will instigate the right mark and practice of our behaviors. This is our integrity

Is the Character of Integrity working in you? 

Here is how you can find out. Take a careful look at this character and Fruit of Integrity from God’s most precious Word by examining the passages below. Now ask yourself: 

1. How do I exhibit Integrity in my daily life? 

2. How can I better develop a willingness to possess more Integrity? 

3. What blocks Integrity from working and being exhibited in me? 

4. How can I make Integrity function better, stronger, and faster, even in times of uncertainty and stress? 

Further Questions

1. How would you define or explain integrity to someone who does not understand it? 

2. What part does integrity play in your relationships with fellow church members, friends, coworkers, and family? What would or could block you from acting with integrity?

3. How does dishonesty counteract integrity? What is the cost to the Kingdom of God when we Christians do not keep our word?

4. What happens to your relationship with God, with others, and with the opportunities God gives you when you refuse to have integrity

5. When have you exercised integrity the most? How do you practice integrity? In what situation did you fail to have integrity when you should have?

7. What issue is in your life that would improve with more integrity? Why would a Christian refuse to be consistent with his/her integrity?

8. Think through the steps you need to take to put integrity into action in a specific instance. For example, what can you do to be more consistent and proactive with integrity? What can you do to be a person who is focused on integrity? What can your church do to instill and teach that integrity is essential for the person who claims Christ as Lord of his or her life?”


The Glory of the Gospel

A joy in the Christian life is to share the Gospel with others. Unfortunately, we sometimes place so much focus on our methods to share the Gospel that we actually lose the joy of simply sharing it. Paul says that we have the treasure of Jesus Christ in the frailty of our human bodies, so that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves. Sharing the Gospel with another is not so much about our technique as it is about our love for the Lord and our love for others. The article below I hope will help you find more joy as you share the life-changing message of the Gospel. Pastor Chris
 
 
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How should we define Evangelism?

“I don’t think Christian people set out to write books on evangelism based on unbiblical principles. But it happens. It happens because there are wrong ideas about the critical components of evangelism. Usually, these wrong ideas are based on marketing principles or on human understandings about how to argue someone into the kingdom. It has more to do with results and effect, which is the realm of the Holy Spirit, rather than faithfulness in proclaiming the truth, which is our job description.  If we don’t have biblical evangelism nailed down, we tend spend much time doing things we call evangelism, but may not be evangelism at all.

For example, a housewife meeting with a friend over coffee may be evangelizing, while a brilliant Christian apologist speaking to thousands in a church sanctuary may not be. Few see it this way, but that’s because we have false understandings of what evangelism is. Defending the faith is a fine thing to do, but it is easy to give apologetics for Christianity without explaining the gospel—and we cannot evangelize without the gospel.

We need to know what we’re talking about when we say “evangelism,” “conversion,” or even “gospel.” Those words raise different definitions in people’s minds and often come with question marks. If Christians don’t understand these basic concepts, we will quickly spin out of biblical orbit.   So, we define evangelism in a biblical way to help align our evangelistic practice with the Scriptures. Here’s a definition that has served me well for many years:

Evangelism is teaching the gospel with the aim to persuade.

Sort of dinky, huh? I bet most people would expect much more from such an important theological word. But this definition, small as it is, offers a far better balance in which to weigh our evangelistic practice than looking at how many people have responded to an appeal.

Here is how the Amplified Bible might have expanded my definition:

Evangelism is teaching (heralding, proclaiming, preaching) the gospel (the message from God that leads us to salvation) with the aim (hope, desire, goal) to persuade (convince, convert).

Notice the definition doesn’t require an immediate outward response. Walking an aisle, raising a hand, or even praying a prayer may tell us that evangelism has happened, but such actions are not what evangelism is. Notice, too, that if any of the four components (Teaching, Gospel, Aim, or Persuade) are missing, we are probably doing something other than evangelism.  Let’s look at two of these: teaching and aim.  We’ll spend time on gospel and persuade in the next post.

Teaching

Many of us think of preaching when we think of evangelism, as we should. I, for one, want any sermon I give to contain the gospel. Certainly Paul did his share of evangelistic preaching. But often when Paul describes his ministry, he says it is a teaching ministry (1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Tim. 1:11). J. I. Packer, in his survey of Paul’s evangelistic practice, says that Paul’s method of evangelism was primarily a teaching method.1

This is good news for those of us who don’t get to preach every Sunday. Not all of us can be preachers, but we can all teach the gospel as opportunity comes. I often wonder whether more people come to faith over lunch when someone asks, “What did you think about the sermon today?” than during the sermon itself. Great things happen when we can teach the gospel.

Aim

An “aim to persuade” also reminds us that people need more than a data transfer. Some who think of evangelism as only teaching do a good job of explaining, expanding, and answering questions, as we all should. All Christians should apply themselves to think through reasons for the hope we have in Christ, reasons that sweep aside the objections and questions. But as we set out the facts of the gospel, remembering evangelism’s aim helps us to be compassionate, understanding, and loving (1 Pet. 3:15).

Having an aim helps us keep perspective on what we’re doing. It steers us toward an end. Our aim helps us remember that much is at stake: to see people moved from darkness to light, from bondage to freedom. Aiming for something bigger helps us know which fights to pick and which to avoid.” J. Mack Stiles



STARTING OVER

As we enter a new year, often we reflect back up the previous year to consider our ways whether good or bad. Then we will look ahead at the new year with all the potential it offers us to set new goals or aspirations. Donald Whitney in the post below offers some questions we can use to help us in this endeavor as we stand at the door of a new year. May the Lord use this in your life to develop your life in Him. Pastor Chris
 
 
 
girl-praying-with-bible-religious-stock-photo
 
 

Consider the Direction of Your Life

“Once, when the people of God had become careless in their relationship with him, the Lord rebuked them through the prophet Haggai. “Consider your ways!” (Haggai 1:5) he declared, urging them to reflect on some of the things happening to them, and to evaluate their slipshod spirituality in light of what God had told them. 

Even those most faithful to God occasionally need to pause and think about the direction of their lives. It’s so easy to bump along from one busy week to another without ever stopping to ponder where we’re going and where we should be going. 

The beginning of a new year is an ideal time to stop, look up, and get our bearings. To that end, here are some questions to ask prayerfully in the presence of God.

  1. What’s one thing you could do this year to increase your enjoyment of God? 
  2. What’s the most humanly impossible thing you will ask God to do this year? 
  3. What’s the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your family life this year? 
  4. In which spiritual discipline do you most want to make progress this year, and what will you do about it? 
  5. What is the single biggest time-waster in your life, and what will you do about it this year? 
  6. What is the most helpful new way you could strengthen your church? 
  7. For whose salvation will you pray most fervently this year? 
  8. What’s the most important way you will, by God’s grace, try to make this year different from last year? 
  9. What one thing could you do to improve your prayer life this year? 
  10. What single thing that you plan to do this year will matter most in ten years? In eternity?

In addition to these ten questions, here are twenty-one more to help you “Consider your ways.” Think on the entire list at one sitting, or answer one question each day for a month.

  1. What’s the most important decision you need to make this year? 
  2. What area of your life most needs simplifying, and what’s one way you could simplify in that area? 
  3. What’s the most important need you feel burdened to meet this year? 
  4. What habit would you most like to establish this year? 
  5. Who is the person you most want to encourage this year? 
  6. What is your most important financial goal this year, and what is the most important step you can take toward achieving it? 
  7. What’s the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your work life this year? 
  8. What’s one new way you could be a blessing to your pastor (or to another who ministers to you) this year? 
  9. What’s one thing you could do this year to enrich the spiritual legacy you will leave to your children and grandchildren? 
  10. What book, in addition to the Bible, do you most want to read this year? 
  11. What one thing do you most regret about last year, and what will you do about it this year? 
  12. What single blessing from God do you want to seek most earnestly this year? 
  13. In what area of your life do you most need growth, and what will you do about it this year? 
  14. What’s the most important trip you want to take this year? 
  15. What skill do you most want to learn or improve this year? 
  16. To what need or ministry will you try to give an unprecedented amount this year? 
  17. What’s the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your commute this year? 
  18. What one biblical doctrine do you most want to understand better this year, and what will you do about it? 
  19. If those who know you best gave you one piece of advice, what would they say? Would they be right? What will you do about it? 
  20. What’s the most important new item you want to buy this year? 
  21. In what area of your life do you most need change, and what will you do about it this year?

The value of many of these questions is not in their profundity, but in the simple fact that they bring an issue or commitment into focus. For example, just by articulating which person you most want to encourage this year is more 

likely to help you remember to encourage that person than if you hadn’t considered the question.

If you’ve found these questions helpful, you might want to put them someplace—in a day planner, PDA, calendar, bulletin board, etc.—where you can review them more frequently than once a year.

So let’s evaluate our lives, make plans and goals, and live this new year with biblical diligence, remembering that, “The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage” (Proverbs 21:5). But in all things let’s also remember our dependence on our King who said, “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).”



What Child is This?

       There are many Christmas hymns that we enjoy to sing during the season we celebrate Christ’s birth. I appreciate the creative way songwriters let us look at biblical Truth. What Child is This? is one of those hymns that moves us to quietly contemplate the mystery of godliness, which is the incarnation of Christ. Below is a post from Slice of Infinity that opens the gift of Jesus as we celebrate His birth. May the Lord use it to strengthen your faith in Him. Pastor Chris
 
 
 
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The spirit of Christmas often lends itself to the cry of loneliness. During this season more than any other, thoughts long hidden cease to remain veiled. Yearning for a place to rest our heads from lurking notions of restlessness or isolation, intuitively, many of us sense that we are not quite at home. Christians often speak of this truth expectantly. 
We are waiting, waiting for all of creation to be made new, even as we catch glimpses now: “Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.” But on honest nights, we might confess that the waiting is wearying, the silence at times daunting. We are homesick, like children lost in a crowd, not quite at home nor capable of getting there. For many, the songs and sounds of Christmas lure us further toward this restless longing.
 
Since I was small, the Victorian carol What Child Is This? has roused cries and questions. The haunting, minor tune itself seems to place ancient pleas on our lips: How long O Lord will you look on? How long shall I cry for help? Will you not come near? Could you not tear open the heavens and come down? The words of the hymn seem to rise from a confused onlooker at the first Christmas. What child is this, here in this crowded stable, surrounded by animals and expectation? If this is this the Messiah, why is he here in the cold, without a bed? If this is a king, where is the display of royalty? If this is God, why come like this?

For centuries, humanity has inquired similarly as to the identity of this child and the man he became. Who is this child and does it matter? Was he a myth? A moral teacher? A delusional man? A miraculous infant? Who is this child in Mary’s arms? Coupled with the longings of Christmastime, the possibility of an answer to that question threatens to turn us aflame. Could it be that the heavens have truly come down that we might meet face to face? Is this homeless child the Word that answers our restless longing for home?

What Child is this who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,

While shepherds watch are keeping?

This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,

The Babe, the Son of Mary.

The hymn tells a story unlike any other, even as it hints at a familiar theme: in the darkest places, we look and long for hope to rise and be accounted for. We look for answers to questions we can’t entirely find the words to voice. In this, the writer’s own life exudes a similar tale. An insurance salesman in Glasgow, Scotland, William Chatterton Dix was quite successful in business until he was stricken suddenly with a serious illness at the age of 29. From his bed where he laid in depression for some time, he asked the stirring questions of this hymn over and over, suddenly realizing for the first time that God had answered, quite severely.

Why lies He, in a mean estate
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here

The silent Word is pleading.

Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,

The Babe, the Son of Mary.
 
Wouldn’t it indeed be strange to have the feeling of homesickness, unless it was intended for us to know another home? The cries of Christmas are a part of a vast chorus. Even in loneliness, our longings for home are not without great company. The people of Israel had looked to this day for centuries. Their collective cry was not unlike our own: “Oh that the mountains would tremble before you! […] O LORD; do not remember our sins forever. Look upon us, we pray.” Our cries today are not so different from those a person in Bethlehem could have been uttering before the first Christmas. 

How long O Lord? Where are you? 

And then God came, choosing to be born in a sense of homelessness, choosing to lay his head in a foreign land. God came near, choosing to be born vulnerable, alone, in need of the careful arms that held him. God came beside us, choosing to be exploited, choosing to be betrayed.

What child is this?

 It would have been a sight to be among the first to behold the infant Jesus crying. Cradled in the arms of his young mother, his cries indeed joined the cries of the world. And for the first time in history, humanity would have heard God weep. This, this, is Christ the King!


The Gift of Adoption

 
There is a multitude of blessings that come to us as believers in Jesus. One of those blessings is being adopted into God’s family. Below is an article from Iain Campbell that addresses the subject of how believers in Jesus become sons and daughters of God. As you read it, I hope you will be encouraged in your faith, knowing that you are a child in God’s family. Pastor Chris
 
 
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ADOPTION INTO GOD’S FAMILY
 
“Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is a marvelous statement of gospel doctrine and practice. He writes to remind the believers in Ephesus of the glorious realities of their salvation and the great responsibilities that fall on them to walk “worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Eph. 4:1). For Paul, there can be no reflection on these themes except in the context of praise and adoration of the God from whom all the blessings of salvation flow. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” he says at the outset of his letter, “who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing” (Eph. 1:3). Here Paul uses the word bless in the form of an adjective, a verb, and a noun. God is blessed. He has blessed us. He has given us every blessing. In Christ, God has done for us what we could never have done for ourselves, and He deserves all the glory for it.
 
Among the blessings God bestows on us in Christ is the blessing of adoption. We have been brought into God’s family and made God’s children. From God we have received “the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father’” (Rom. 8:15). As far as our status is concerned, we are no longer “strangers and aliens” to the people of God but “members of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19). The Christians in Ephesus may have no natural affinity to the descendants of Abraham, but God in His grace has addressed the issue of their spiritual alienation from His covenant by making them His sons and daughters.
 
In the opening section of Ephesians, our attention is drawn to four issues in connection with our adoption. The first is that we were predestined to our new status. “He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (Eph. 1:5). God’s adoption of us was initiated by God Himself, and the decision to make us His children was made before either we or the world existed. There is a determination — a purpose — on the part of God to enlarge His family by bringing rebels and sinners like us into it. It is one thing for human parents to decide to adopt someone who will fit into the family and enhance it; God, however, purposes to adopt those who are the very opposite of Himself. The second aspect of adoption is that it is “to the praise of his glorious grace” (Eph. 1:6). Our adoption into God’s family is not so much something that confers a benefit on us; in the first instance, it is something that enhances the reputation of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has opted to become our God and Father too. All the praise is His. Our adoption arises out of His
choice, and focuses on His glory and praise. We did not deserve it and could not achieve it. But God, by His mercy and favor, conveys this blessing on us that He will be praised throughout endless ages of eternity.
 
A third focus of Paul’s doctrine of adoption is that it is in Christ. Some eighty times Paul uses the couplet “in Christ” or “in him” in the course of his letters. There is no spiritual blessing outside of Christ. But once we are in Him, there is no spiritual blessing that is not ours. Notice the concentration of emphasis on this in Ephesians 1:3–6: we are blessed “in Christ” (v. 3); chosen “in him” (v. 4); predestined “through Jesus Christ” (v. 5); blessed in the Beloved (v. 6). The whole complex of our adoption finds its center and its meaning in Jesus Christ.
 
Moreover, if we want to know that we have been adopted into the family of God, then we must look to Jesus Christ. God has no focal point or ground upon which to secure our status as His adopted children except what He has done in His only begotten Son. He sent the one Son He had from all eternity into the world with the purpose of enlarging His family, so that He would bring many sons with Him into glory (Heb. 2:10). To be adopted is to be able to stand where Jesus always stood, looking at God and calling Him “Abba.” Jesus, who always addressed God as “My Father,” teaches His people to say, “Our Father.” What a glorious, magnificent, awe inspiring, and humbling doctrine. We who were enemies of God are made the sons of God, only because the Son of God was set apart to be regarded as the enemy; He was made a curse for us, so that the blessing of Abraham would come on the Gentiles (Gal. 3:14) — the blessing in which God says, “You are Mine.”
 
Finally, we are adopted so that we will, in fact, bear the family likeness. We are chosen to be holy and blameless (Eph.1:4). These are the characteristics of the children of God. They are set apart to be “blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation” (Phil. 2:15). There can be no adoption without a conferring of the family likeness and the implanting of a new impulse toward holiness and godliness.

It used to thrill me when my children were younger to hear one of our boys say, “I want to be like my dad.” I know of nothing that better evidences our adoption into God’s family than to wish, more than anything else in the world, that we could be more like our Father. That’s why He adopted us, after all.”