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 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.

Whatever Happened to Holiness?

I have noticed lately that many churches and Christians seem to embrace a Christianity void of any genuine, transforming life change. I believe there are churches all over the state in which I live suffering from a lack of revival, a lack of evangelistic energy, and a lack of believers bothered by either one. People seem to be content to attend church services on Sunday morning, Sunday night, and possibly even Wednesday night. They are willing to serve on this committee or that ministry team. They even (grudgingly, it seems) put some money in the offering plate as it passes by. According to their own self-imposed standards, they are doing their part to sustain the kingdom work of God’s church. The problem is their lives seem to be no different from what they were before allegedly encountering the Creator of the universe.

What can be learned from people who will stand up and be counted when they are in the assembly of the righteous, but are content to fade into the crowd of carnality when going about their business in the community? I believe we can learn a great deal from this all too familiar phenomenon. The words of Christ are recorded in Matthew’s gospel account as He reminds us how to recognize false prophets. Jesus warns, “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:15-20, NASB). It seems logical that this litmus test could also be used for recognizing false Christians.

I am saddened that evidently many churches have decided to choose comfort over commitment, moderation over maturity, and satisfaction over surrender. Many seem to have traded in the concept of holiness for the much less controversial virtue of tolerance. I recall, however, English poet G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “Tolerance is the virtue of a man without conviction.” There is indeed a clear distinction between holiness and legalism. Legalism demands we become more like certain people. Holiness demands we become more like Jesus.

If the church is to return to a position of influence in the culture, then I believe we need men and women of God who are not afraid to plant their feet, square their shoulders, and declare, ‘Thus saith the Lord.’ I believe we need Pastors who will stand with boldness, taking up the mantle of the prophet of God, and call sin, sin, and righteousness, righteousness, leaving the consequences in the capable hands of Jesus.

A.W. Tozer, in his book We Travel an Appointed Way, writes, “It is time for Bible-believing Christians to begin to cultivate the sober graces and to live among men like sons of God and heirs of the ages. And this will take more than a bit of doing, for the whole world and a large part of the church is set to prevent it. But if God be for us, who can be against us?”

If God is for me, then who can be against me? That just may be all the motivation I need.

Mike. Out.

Gospel Intentionality

“Christians today increasingly find ourselves on the margins of our culture. In fact, we live in a post-Christian culture. The majority of people in the West have no intention of ever attending church. Most only utter the name of Christ as a swear word. Some prominent churches are growing, but much of this is transfer growth rather than true evangelistic growth. Yet many of our approaches to evangelism still assume a Christian mentality. We expect people to come when we ring the church bell or put on a good service. But the majority of the population is disconnected. Changing what we do in church will not reach them. We need to meet them in the context of everyday life” (emphasis mine; Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Everyday Church, p. 10).

The paragraph above is both discouraging and compelling at the same time. It is discouraging because it highlights a truth regarding the lack of influence the church seems to be having in the culture. It is compelling because it inspires the follower of Christ to be intentional with the gospel message. As a believer, I must take the gospel with me, both in word and deed, wherever I go. I must be prepared to meet people where they are “in the context of everyday life” if I am to have any hope of reaching them with the power of the gospel. What do you suppose it would look like if every believer within the body of Christ became intentional and took this idea seriously? I am talking about local churches everywhere becoming serious about the Great Commission by living and sharing the gospel of Christ. I have to say I get excited just thinking about the possibilities.

Mack Stiles wrote a powerful, little book about the importance of developing a culture of evangelism within the local church. “Evangelism: How the whole Church speaks of Jesus,” is a brief but potent volume that highlights the importance and necessity of individual Christians being intentional in their efforts to engage in conversations with those within their sphere of influence. In the foreword, David Platt explains, “It is a culture of evangelism that is not ultimately dependent on events, projects, programs, and ministry professionals. Instead, it is a culture of evangelism that is built on people filled with the power of God’s Spirit proclaiming the gospel of God’s grace in the context of their everyday lives and relationships” (Evangelism, p. 14-15).

Stiles points his readers to the relationship between personal evangelism and cultures of evangelism, describing the way in which it should be a “both/and” arrangement rather than an “either/or” arrangement. He clarifies, “I appreciate personal evangelism, and we need to be equipped for it. But since I believe in the church as the engine of evangelism, we need to develop cultures of evangelism in our local churches, too. We want whole churches that speak of Jesus…It just makes sense to share our faith alongside friends” (Evangelism, p. 42-43).

Matthew’s gospel describes the way in which Jesus was moving “throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction” (Matt 9:35). The very next verse, however, describes the compassion Jesus felt for the people which should supply every believer with motivation for evangelism. Scripture tells us Jesus saw the people as “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt 9:36). It is at this point Jesus emphasizes the dire need for laborers in the ripened harvest fields. We should “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matt 9:38). It is not so much a matter of believers doing different things as it is a matter of believers being intentional with the gospel as they continue in their current activities. As Chester and Timmis remind us, “Most gospel ministry involves ordinary people doing ordinary things with gospel intentionality” (Total Church, p. 63).

What will it take for the local church to develop an intentional culture of evangelism? I believe a good starting point is cultivating a deep love for Christ and His gospel. That is something every Christian can do. That is something every Christian MUST do for the glory of God and the glory of the gospel of Christ to the ends of the earth.

Lord, send revival and let it begin with me. For the glory of Christ, Amen.

Mike. Out.

God of This City

About twelve years ago Chris Tomlin recorded a song entitled, “God of This City.” The song has a very simple but profound message. The lyrics describe the God of the Bible as One who is incomparable and One who has a missionary heart. I remember exactly where I was when I first heard this song. The year was 2011. I was a passenger in a van riding through the Andes mountains of Peru. It was evening. Three Christian brothers (one who had traveled with me from the U.S., one driver, and one translator) accompanied me. We were moving from one village to another where we would meet with a new believer in order to begin a discipleship process.

As we carefully traversed the mountain road, the driver of the van was playing music from his phone through the sound system in the van. It was dark. The road was treacherous. I was in completely unfamiliar territory. Then it happened. This song began to play. I heard these words for the first time:

You’re the God of this city, You’re the King of these people,

You’re the Lord of this nation, You are

You’re the light in this darkness, You’re the hope to the hopeless

You’re the peace to the restless, You are

There is no one like our God, There is no one like our God

Greater things have yet to come and greater things are still to be done in this city

Greater things have yet to come and greater things are still to be done in this city

Needless to say, given my situation and surroundings at that moment, the words of this song made a tremendous impact on me. I began to weep. I was overcome with the truth of who God is and the reality of the darkness in the world. I was also reminded of the fact that, regardless of what I may see with my physical eyes, God had bigger plans for the people of these villages, these cities. He is God. He is King. He is Lord. God is who He is regardless and irrespective of whether or not we choose to acknowledge Him as such.

Fast forward five years. It was late in the evening on Friday, September 30, 2016. I was sitting in a hotel room in Raleigh, North Carolina. I was attending a conference about biblical discipleship sponsored by 9Marks and SEBTS (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary). I had bumped into a good friend earlier that day who was also attending the conference. He serves a church in Roanoke, Virginia. He loves the Lord, he loves the Gospel, and he loves the people in the community he serves. You may be wondering why I am telling you about my friend. I’m glad you asked.

One striking similarity ties these two stories together. Every time this brother of mine posts something on social media regarding his ministry in the city of Roanoke, he types this statement at the end: “Roanoke belongs to Jesus.” Again, what a simple but profound statement. I took the opportunity that afternoon to tell my brother what an impact his statement has made in my life and ministry. What I neglected to tell him was how his statement had taken me back to the mountains of Peru. It had also given me great encouragement for ministry in general. It still does today.

Here is what I know. It matters not the geographical location where you serve. It matters not the particular people group you serve. What matters primarily is the God you serve. When you understand it is the Creator of the universe, the God of the Bible, whom you serve, things change. When you understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ, things change. When you understand the mission of God, things change.

Wherever God sends you to proclaim His gospel message, take heart and remember this:

Your city belongs to Jesus.

Mike. Out.