The Main Event

Church culture can be captivating. There are typically so many things happening that something is bound to get your attention. In fact, if you were to take a moment to consider the church you currently attend, you would most likely be able to pinpoint the particular thing that was most significant in leading you to unite with that spiritual family. Nevertheless, there is one task charged to every gospel-centered church that stands above the rest. “The fundamental reason your church exists is to make disciples of Jesus” (Geiger, et al., Transformational Discipleship, 10).

Two specific passages of Scripture come to mind on this subject: Matthew 28:18-20 and Colossians 1:25-29. The first passage is a pretty obvious choice if you have been exposed to spiritual things at all. “The Great Commission,” as it is often called, tells us very clearly we are to “make disciples of all nations.” The other passage, however, is a little less well-known in the discipleship conversation. We read some key words within the Colossians passage in verse 28. Paul writes, “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.”

The word “complete” can be understood to mean “mature.” In other words, Paul’s purpose in teaching was to see every believer growing in Christ to the point that they were mature. Why is this important? I’m glad you asked. The necessity of making disciples at Berlin Baptist Church or any other church cannot be overstated. Eric Geiger and company explain, “For a church to be deficient in discipleship is to be deficient in its fundamental reason for existence. If any organization is careless in its core reason for existence, it doesn’t matter if the organization excels at other things” (Transformational Discipleship, 11).

So what’s the bottom line? Again, I’m glad you asked. Here it is: There are many things churches CAN do in ministry, but there are plain few things that churches MUST do in ministry. Making disciples is near the top of the list of things the church MUST do. Please let that sink in. If we do nothing else, we MUST preach the gospel and make disciples. Otherwise, we will fail to fulfill our reason for existence. How do we know if we are succeeding? We need only to look at ourselves and each other. “The end result of discipleship is not merely the knowledge of all Jesus commanded but the obedience to all Jesus commanded” (Transformational Discipleship, 18).

Are we growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ? Are there observable differences in our lives based upon our profession of faith? Are we influencing the culture for the glory of God? Let us pray together that the answers to these questions will all be yes in Jesus’ name.

Mike. Out.

The Deeper Life

One of the things that brings me the greatest joy is to see followers of Christ growing in their spiritual walk. I love when believers get closer and closer to Jesus. This includes me, too! It is always so exciting when the Lord draws me into His Word and teaches me something I haven’t noticed before. Times like these continue to build up my faith in Christ and encourage me in my walk with Him.

Reading the Bible is an indispensable ingredient when it comes to spiritual growth and walking with Jesus. In addition, it can prove helpful to read other books written by godly men and women who share your desire to go deeper in their relationship with Christ. This is one of the main reasons I frequently include excerpts from books in my newsletter articles. My goal is always to think critically about what I read and do my best to insure the information I pass on to others is both biblically faithful as well as practically encouraging. I hope to inspire others perhaps to want to read further in one of the books from which I quote.

A.W. Tozer is an author I enjoy reading very much. He was a powerful preacher from the 20th Century and his writing has had a definite impact on my spiritual life. In his book, The Radical Cross, Tozer writes about this “deeper life” and why believers should seek it. He explains, “The fact that so many professed Christians should be concerned with a ‘deeper life’ is tacit evidence that their spiritual experience has not been satisfactory. Many have looked themselves over and have turned away disappointed. When they talked to other professed Christians, they discovered that others were no better off than themselves” (15).

Have you ever been there? Have you ever done an assessment of your spiritual life and not been satisfied? If you have, then you are not alone. All believers will inevitably pass through times of self-conscious doubt. The important thing to remember is we do not need to stay in that place. Tozer gives us some direction on seeking a deeper relationship with Christ. He writes, “To enter upon such a life, seekers must be ready to accept without question the New Testament as the one final authority on spiritual matters. They must be willing to make Christ the one supreme Lord and ruler in their lives. They must surrender their whole being to the destructive power of the cross, to die not only to their sins but to their righteousness as well as to everything in which they formerly prided themselves” (16).

Folks, this is a tall order. It is incredibly challenging. All I can tell you is that it is totally worth it. To find grace and forgiveness from the One who shed His own blood for our sins, the Lord Jesus Christ has every right to require of us anything He chooses. He also has the abundant love and mercy to bless us with anything He chooses. Jesus has never failed to keep a promise. He promises eternal life to those who believe in Him. Trust Him. Follow Him. Seek the deeper life. You will be so glad you did.

Mike. Out.

The Joy of Christ(mas)

As many of you may know from experience, God’s Word is a splendid place to begin when searching for answers to the question, “What is God like?” We can observe much concerning His characteristics and attributes by simply looking around at the world He has created. Psalm 19:1 tells us “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork.” The glory of God is all around us. We see it in a beautiful sunrise. We see it in the vast array of stars in the sky on a clear night. We hear it in the crash of the waves on a peaceful, sandy beach. God is good and He is glorious.

It is at this time of year, however, that we are reminded much more of God’s grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness. We can see these things as we think about the incarnation of the Son of God. We remember these things as we ponder the biblical truth of Jesus Christ taking human form in order to live a sinless life and die a sinner’s death on our behalf. The story of Christmas is woven throughout the whole fabric of the Scriptures. The Psalmist writes, “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His Word I hope…O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with Him is plentiful redemption” (Psalm 130:3–5, 7).

As we approach this Christmas season, my prayer for myself and for each one of you is that we might spend more time pondering the goodness and the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. I pray we will take time often to consider the true meaning of this wonderful celebration. I would encourage you to find a Bible-believing, Bible-teaching church in your area and attend their worship gatherings throughout this month of December so that you might take full advantage of every opportunity to draw closer to the Messiah. I would like to invite you personally to Berlin Baptist Church on December 22nd and December 29th at 11:00am and 6:00pm as we conclude our Advent series and look forward to God’s vision for His church during this next year and decade. You are always welcome at Berlin Baptist, but the important thing is for you to choose a biblical church and attend faithfully.

I pray you will be filled with great awe and wonder as you try “to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge” (Eph 3:18–19). Having known the love of God, I pray we all will turn to Him both at Christmas and always. A.W. Tozer, in his book, “The Knowledge of the Holy,” concludes, “How completely satisfying to turn from our limitations to a God who has none.” This time of year is certainly as good a time as any to turn to experience salvation and forgiveness by surrendering your life to Jesus.

From my family to yours, we wish you a Christ-filled, merry Christmas and a glorious new year!

The Pride of Disagreement

God is gracious in his dealings with his people. He is good in all his ways and he gives good gifts to his children. Marriage is one of the greatest of these gifts. There are so many good things about Christian marriage. The peace and joy found in a biblical union is perhaps unparalleled. I could use this entire post to list positive characteristics of this kind of relationship, but I would rather begin with this premise in order to talk about an area of the marriage relationship that is far too often overlooked. I am referring to good communication, specifically in the context of disagreement.

Now I should mention how vitally important communication is in all areas of a relationship, but it can become painfully obvious very rapidly whenever there is disagreement. Emotions have begun to rise and sensitivity is at an all time high. The potential for misunderstanding increases and tone of voice becomes even more important. There are so many things that could go wrong at this point. In fact, at this point, it is likely many things have already gone wrong. So why do I even bring up all this stuff? Well, I’m glad you asked. Let me share a personal experience.

Recently my wife and I had a little disagreement. Now, we have been married for twenty-three years and we have three wonderful children, so this was not the first time, but it was the most recent time. We were looking at a particular situation from two different perspectives and we definitely did not see eye to eye. So how did we handle our little difference of opinion? Well, I would love to tell you we both maintained our composure and we treated each other with kindness as we sorted through the areas of disagreement. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Without going into too much detail, I will just say we had both placed a higher priority on defending our positions than we had on resolving the dispute in godly way.

I share this personal experience for a couple reasons. First, it would be beyond the realm of insanity to think a Pastor and his wife are somehow immune from arguments, much less struggling to resolve arguments in the proper way. Second, it is important to understand the root cause of failing to practice biblical conflict resolution. The root cause, of course, is sin, but specifically it is the sin of pride which is to blame. Pride causes a person to value their own opinion more than they value another human being. Pride causes a person to value winning an argument more than they value the gospel. I can tell you based on personal experience, but more importantly, based on the authority of God’s Word, it is ALWAYS sinful to behave in a prideful manner. Nothing good ever comes from a prideful attitude.

I offer one final thought to this brief monologue. Pride was in play when the enemy tempted Adam and Eve to disobey God in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1-7). Pride was in play when the enemy tempted Jesus in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-13). Pride is in play when the enemy tempts you and me to act in a way contrary to that which brings glory and honor to the Savior King. Hear the words of the Apostle John, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world–the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life–is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17).

Pride is a dangerous thing and it always precedes a fall. Be on your guard.

Mike. Out.

Seasonal Worship

I love the summer. More specifically, my children love the summer. They seem to count down the days leading up to the final school day of the year. They look so forward to sleeping later and being free from homework. There are no tests or exams for which they must study. They are carefree and all is right with the world. Unfortunately, summer vacation is not eternal. Summer may have begun with a bang, but it will end with the loud cries and lamentations of students everywhere. There may be weeping and gnashing of teeth. They may count down the days, but it will not be a pleasant event, I assure you.

Speaking of summer vacation, there is an interesting parallel that occurs in the many churches. It seems many church members assume the average student’s mindset when the summer season approaches. Attendance for Bible Study and worship gatherings tend to take a moderate dip during the summer months. Financial gifts also seem to experience an interruption as the outside temperature begins to rise above 88 degrees. I have often wondered why this happens, as if there is something inherently special about the months of June, July, and August that would cause many professing followers of Christ to suddenly be missing in action. I realize I may hold a minority position, but I simply fail to understand what causes spiritual priorities to shift with the seasons.

Several years ago I was teaching a Bible study class which met every Sunday morning at 9:15. We had begun a survey of the Minor Prophets, the final twelve books in the Old Testament. We began with the book of Jonah because it is both short and familiar. I felt like this would give us a good entry point before getting into some of the heavier prophecies. One of the other Minor Prophets is named Amos. He was a contemporary of another well-known prophet by the name of Isaiah. Well, Amos had a message from God for those who would pay lip service to the Lord while failing to live lives that reflected their professed beliefs. God told His people, “I hate, I despise your feasts! I can’t stand the stench of your solemn assemblies. Even if you offer Me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; I will have no regard for your fellowship offerings of fattened cattle. Take away from Me the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice flow like water, and righteousness, like an unfailing stream” (Amos 5:21-24, HCSB).

God’s message then was much the same as it is now. God desires fully devoted followers who not only talk the talk, but also walk the walk. He wants our lives to demonstrate how much we love Him and desire to serve Him. He is not interested in “artificial” worship. He does not delight in “lip service.” God takes no pleasure in a people who can talk a good game, but who are unwilling to back it up with actions. Unfortunately, I’m afraid there are more and more church-goers who are drifting toward this latter category. I pray we will recover from the harmful habit of taking a vacation from worship. In the attitudes of our hearts as well as the confessions of our mouths, may we pray, sing, give, and study always to the glory of God…regardless of the season.

Mike.  Out.

A Burden for Gospel-Centered Conversations

A few thoughts on a Monday.

The life of a Christ-follower is meant to be distinct. Observing the life of a disciple of Jesus, by its very nature, should stir some measure of confusion in the mind of the observer. Confusion to some degree is inevitable when the observable behavior of another fails to agree with the culture in which they exist. Not only might there be a failure to agree, but there may seem to be an outright contradiction. In his book, The Mission of God, Christopher J.H. Wright explains, “Having been chosen, redeemed and called into covenant relationship, the people of God have a life to live–a distinctive, holy, ethical life that is to be lived before God and in the sight of the nations.”

Why does this task seem so difficult? It is my perception that many Christians struggle to live holy lives that are distinctly different from the culture in which they live. It has certainly been my experience that “the struggle is real.” The problem appears to exist not necessarily due to a lack of knowledge, but due to a lack of truth application. Perhaps the struggle is amplified by a deficiency in Scripture reading, Scripture meditation, prayer, and accountability. Nevertheless, attempting to live a holy, godly life in one’s own strength proves to be an insurmountable task. It would seem appropriate, then, to remember the words given to the Apostle Peter as recorded in 2 Peter 1:3, in which he explains, “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.”

This reminder proves particularly helpful because it points the reader back to the truth of God’s provision. He has granted to His followers everything needed for salvation as well as sanctification. Thankfully, the disciple of Christ need not attempt the Christian life in his own strength. This news is especially encouraging given the commission of God’s people to take the gospel message to the ends of the earth for the glory of Christ. It is this commission for which the Christ-follower must be burdened.

So whose task is it really? Does it belong to all of God’s people or only a select few of them? Consider the words of J.I. Packer:

“The commission to publish the gospel and make disciples was never confined to the apostles. Nor is it now confined to the Church’s ministers. It is a commission that rests upon the whole Church collectively, and therefore upon each Christian individually. All God’s people are sent to do as the Philippians did, and ‘shine as lights in the world; holding forth the word of life.’ Every Christian, therefore, has a God-given obligation to make known the gospel of Christ. And every Christian who declares the gospel message to any fellow-man does so as Christ’s ambassador and representative, according to the terms of his God-given commission. Such is the authority, and such the responsibility, of the Church and of the Christian in evangelism.” (Evangelism & The Sovereignty of God, 45-46.)

Perhaps herein lies the rub. I am commanded to share the gospel. However, every time I share the gospel I am presuming to speak on behalf of Christ as His ambassador. Therefore, I must live a holy life so as not to bring reproach upon the name and reputation of Christ. Yet, my salvation and forgiveness notwithstanding, I am a sinner by nature and I am incapable of perfection while in this earthly body. I must, at this point, call to mind 2 Peter 1:3. My Savior has granted to me “everything pertaining to life and godliness.” I am not alone. I must trust in the divine power of my Holy God.

So take heart, Christian. Read God’s Word. Pray for strength. Trust the Savior. Preach the Gospel.

God never fails.

Mike. Out.

The Gift of Being Led

Leadership is a fascinating subject. Leaders often find themselves in precarious positions due to the very nature of their task. They must aggressively point the way forward in such a way as to inspire others to action. They must also be sensitive, deliberate, and patient enough to allow their followers the opportunity to keep up. Leadership is a delicate balance.

An additional challenge exists, however, on the “follower” side of leadership. This challenge seems to be especially evident in the context of the local church. Let me explain. Members of local churches come from all different backgrounds. They come from all different socioeconomic settings. They serve in a wide variety of vocations. Despite this diversity, there is one similarity. People, in general, find it difficult to submit to spiritual leadership. People, in general, seem to view the church as the one place where everyone should have a voice and no one should be expected to yield their opinions or wishes to anyone else. Certainly this must be true to some degree, but can this sentiment be true unilaterally?

I have a theory on the subject. I believe many people are in positions in life where they do not lead. There are far more employees in the workforce than there are employers. There are certainly more students in the public school system than there are teachers and administrators. Therefore, there are exponentially more followers than there are leaders across our communities in a given 5-day work week. In light of this truth, I believe many people come to the gathering of the local church with the expectation they will finally be able to supervise others instead of being supervised by others. They will finally be able to give directions instead of take directions. Ultimately, they will finally be able to lead instead of being led. There is, however, a problem with this thought process: it gives no consideration to the calling of God.

God calls the spiritual leaders of His church. He not only calls them to serve; He calls them to prepare and to be equipped. In addition, God proclaims that spiritual leaders are a gift He gives to His church. Observe the language inspired by the Holy Spirit and written by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:11-13:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.

Leaders (Pastors) in the local church are given (called) by God in order “to equip the saints for the work of ministry.” It is difficult to equip someone else if you yourself have not first been equipped. This explains the call of God to ministry as also being a call to prepare, to be equipped for the task.

The challenge comes when those who have been called and equipped to lead actually attempt to lead those under their spiritual care. What if they do not want to be led? Most people of adult age have experienced both good and bad leadership. They have been encouraged and motivated by some while being disappointed and let down by others. I believe this truth contributes to the reluctance of some to submit to godly leadership. Everyone fails at some point. Every leader will let you down eventually. No one is perfect. But, please hear me when I say this: refusing to joyfully submit to the spiritual leadership of the one God has called to His church is certainly not the way to guard against the potential of being disappointed.

I have failed personally as a leader at times in the course of ministry. I have made decisions that proved to be less than ideal. I have faced challenges and difficulties in the context of the local church. I must accept full responsibility for the errors I have made throughout my pastoral ministry. However, there are also countless times when I have made the correct decisions. I have succeeded as a leader. I have faced challenges and handled them appropriately. So….what is the point of this personal reflection?

Here it is. You cannot afford to judge spiritual leaders by one moment or one instance when they let you down. Would you want someone to judge you by one moment or one instance in your life when you were not at your best? I didn’t think so. God calls pastors/teachers/elders to lead His churches. He also calls them to be equipped for their task. Believers (church members) are instructed to follow the leadership God provides for His churches. Hebrews 13:17 reminds us:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

The bottom line is this: pastors and teachers have an obligation and responsibility to seek God’s face, maintain a growing relationship with the Lord, and to lead according to God’s will for His church. In the same way, all believers have an obligation and responsibility to seek God’s face, maintain a growing relationship with the Lord, and to joyfully submit to the spiritual leadership given to the church as a gift. Practically speaking, if your pastor is doing nothing illegal, immoral, unethical, or unbiblical, then personality conflicts and other petty matters do not constitute grounds for you to undermine, ignore, or subvert God-given pastoral leadership. Do the body of Christ a favor and follow the leader.

Mike. Out.