I would like to believe that a distinctly, authentic Church is a Christ-centered, mission-driven, people-focused, community-transforming church. But what does that mean?
This opening illustration frames this discussion. A missionary in Africa was once asked if he liked what he was doing. His response was shocking. “Do I like this work?” he said. “No. My wife and I do not like dirt. We have reasonable, refined sensibilities. We do not like crawling into vile huts through goat refuse. But is a man to do nothing for Christ he does not like? God pity him, if not. Liking or disliking has nothing to do with it. We have orders to ‘Go,’ and we go. Love constrains us.” –Our Daily Bread.
I want to begin this by discussing the churches in the Book of Acts. The struggle I run into when talking about the Church based on what was happening in Acts is that we tend to see those churches through rose-colored glasses. These marks are not all characteristics of the Churches in Acts. We see the explosive growth, we see the unity, but we fail to look at the flaws. And to be honest, all churches have flaws. Here is what we know about those early century churches.
As we set out to lay the marks of an authentic church we use as our foundation the missional churches of Acts. However, this time we will pull back the veil and reveal more than just the positives we tend to highlight. We need to be prepared for all the issues the churches in Acts faced. As a matter of insight, “Whenever you attempt something great for God and His kingdom, Satan will do everything possible to derail those attempts.” There are seven marks that this article will examine in some detail. We begin with the most critical. Any church needs to have strong Biblical teaching.
“The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers.” Acts 2:42
At the heart of any authentically missional church is the gospel message of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. If we are preaching anything but Christ and Him crucified, then we are doing harm to those outside of God’s grace. The world needs strong biblical teaching from the church because the natural tendency of the human heart is to drift back into the mode of trying to please God by doing good and in doing so feeling the full weight of God’s wrath. You can hear that in Luther’s words just how deeply he felt the weight of God. How deeply he was tormented by his sins and how that sin weighs on the heart of the sinner.
“Though I lived as a religious leader without reproach, I felt, with the most disturbed conscience imaginable, that I was a sinner before God. I did not love. Indeed, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners.” Dr. Martin Luther
The quote points to just how deeply Luther felt convicted by God; how Luther was profoundly aware of his sinfulness and the impact of God’s judgment on him for his sins. At the heart of the Reformation, this was the tension with the Roman Catholic Church over the issue of solid biblical doctrine. The Catholic church taught Christians they had to earn the merits of Jesus’ forgiveness. Nothing was free. Christ’s death for them was only a starting point; there was much more the sinner needed to do to achieve salvation. That need to earn forgiveness lead to a deeper faith crisis. Now Christ’s death and resurrection are not enough. If that were the case, this uncertainty left many good faithful Christians feeling the weight of being inadequate. Very little has changed today. This issues of trying to appease an angry God runs through the lives and hearts of many religions. An authentic mission church points people back to the grace, but good works cannot and will not save us. When we approach the throne of God with only our good works as a sacrifice, we quickly realize just how inadequate that appears before a perfect God. To extend our pitiful gifts to the God who created the universe seems quite small.
Deep down the human heart knows that we are born in sin and have no legitimate way to earn the forgiveness of those sins. The frustration that humanity has when attempting to earn favor with God through works is the feeling of being mistreated. Unfair treatment angers a lot of people, especially people like Luther who desperately want to play by the rules.
The first mark of the Church is foundational, to point the saint and sinner back to the cross of Christ and the grace of God. Luther like many souls are feeling the full weight of God in their life, but the true Church leads the troubled soul to the knowledge that Jesus took that pressure to Calvary’s cross on their behalf. Now nothing in our past is too big even for Jesus to forgive, nor anything is too big that the blood of Jesus cannot cover. The Church proclaims to the world God’s relentless grace.
The second mark of the authentic missional church is the church founded on an empowering prayer life. Check in on Thursday’s as the four-part series continues.
Some passages of the Bible are difficult because of the hard work it takes to understand them. And then, there are passages that are difficult because it’s very evident what they mean.
As I begin this new series of blog posts the message will be difficult because of the subject. It’s one that, quite frankly, I would prefer not to teach because it hits my calling in life. The topic is one I believe the Holy Spirit would have us consider as a body of believers. I ask that we open ourselves up to what God will pour into our hearts. His instruction from this difficult passage may bring comfort sometimes, in others a reaffirmation of our calling, and for still others a not so gentle rebuke.
In the thirty-third chapter of the Old Testament book of Ezekiel. It’s there that we read these words, spoken by God to the prophet Ezekiel:
Again, the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Son of man, speak to the children of your people, and say to them: ‘When I bring the sword upon a land, and the people of the land take a man from their territory and make him their watchman, when he sees the sword coming upon the land, if he blows the trumpet and warns the people, then whoever hears the sound of the trumpet and does not take warning, if the sword comes and takes him away, his blood shall be on his own head. He heard the sound of the trumpet, but did not take warning; his blood shall be upon himself. But he who takes warning will save his life. But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, and the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.’
“So, you, son of man: I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore you shall hear a word from My mouth and warn them for Me. When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you shall surely die!’ and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. Nevertheless, if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul (Ezekiel 33:1-9).
God was speaking to Ezekiel about his role as a shepherd to His people. Ezekiel was a priest during the time when the Jewish people were removed by God from their homeland because of their sinfulness and idolatry and were taken captive into the land of the Babylonians. God had called him to a prophetic ministry in Babylon, and to the captive people of Judah during the dark time of their exile from their homeland. And God uses the figure of a “watchman” to describe Ezekiel’s role.
The Danger of Ignoring the Warning Signs
Henry Nelson, of Wilmington, Delaware, was a veteran of World War II. He had served as an instructor in the Army Chemical Warfare Department. Yet he ignored a warning by the superintendent of the Riverside Housing Development that the apartment he lived in was being fumigated with hydrogen-cyanide gas. He tore down the barricade at the door and went in after two blankets.
The neighbors saw him remove the sign and barricade and go in, and they called the Development office. But when employees arrived it was too late. Nelson lay sprawled on the living room floor with the two blankets in his arms. Despite both written and verbal warnings, and despite his training in the Army, he had gone to his death.— G. Franklin Allee
The watchman is a military image. It was the task of the watchman to position himself high on the city wall or on a tower, watch carefully, see if an enemy approached the land, and take up his trumpet and blow the warning to his people. His service to his people was a matter of life-and-death importance. If a watchman should fail to see the enemy approaching, or if he should for whatever reason, fail to blow the warning signal, some of his people would perish.
The Call to Be Trustworthy
“Then I will establish for myself a trustworthy priest who will act in accordance with my thoughts and desires. I will build a trustworthy household for him, and he will serve before my anointed one forever.” 1 Samuel 2:35
Due to the nature of the work of a shepherd, a key quality is trustworthiness. God sought that in Samuel, it is a quality Paul list for Timothy.
“The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,3, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.” 1 Timothy 3
The watchman had to be a trustworthy man. He had to be faithful and alert to his task. A man who understood the significance of his purpose, and who gave himself fully to it. It may have been an unpopular message he had to give at times. No one likes to have sin confronted but being faithful to our calling means speaking truth even when it is not politically correct. A watchman is committed to sound the alarm when it was needed no matter what the cost. God calls Ezekiel to a most sobering and serious task. Like, Ezekiel, it is a task that every future watchman will be held responsible to by God to the highest possible degree. Which is why no one should take on this calling lightly. God appoints pastors to be a spiritual “watchman” to his people. We are called to “blow” a warning that the people may not want to hear.
Next Week post: Are you faithfully fulfilling the task of a watchman?
Tan, P. L. (1996). Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times(p. 1361). Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc.
As we reflect on this Epiphany season, we give thanks for the message of Epiphany. The birth of Jesus has had a global impact. You have revealed the good news to us through the prophets and apostles that the Savior born in a manager was not just the King of the Jews by He was meant for all people.
And now you have given this mystery to the church. As Paul reminds us in Ephesians 3, “I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. 8To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, 10so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
The magi came bearing gifts to the Christ Child, Lord may we offer ourselves to our Lord.
Lead us, Lord, to be the Universal Church called to bring light to those living in darkness and share our gifts with the world. May the gospel message of your grace be proclaimed through us and our ministries. Lord, we marvel at the manifold wisdom of God as you make clear your will for us in Jesus Christ.
Guide and direct us as we seek to love as You have loved first. Teach us to forgive as we have been forgiven. And to live generous lives and like you have first given us in the most precious indescribable gift of Your one and only precious Son, Jesus Christ. All praise, glory, and honor be to the Lamb who sits enthroned on high. In Jesus name, Amen
32 The community of believers was one in heart and mind. None of them would say, “This is mine!” about any of their possessions, but held everything in common. 33 The apostles continued to bear powerful witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and an abundance of grace was at work among them all. Acts 4:32-33
At the beginning of every new year, we like to make resolutions for how this year will differ from the previous one. We promise ourselves this is the year we lose that extra person we gained from previously failed promises. Or this year we will be a better spouse, friend, co-worker. By Valentine’s Day-old habits prove hard to break and the old dog still hasn’t learned any new coping skills.
With the lessons I have learned from past new year failures I am taking a new approach in 2019. I will not make myself promises I can’t keep. I instead will focus on one word I pray will define my 2019. After thinking long and hard and placing this in prayer, that word is INFLUENCE. This new year I want to be a person of influence. A person who inspires others to reach their full God-given potential. To be a person who encourages others lifts others up in prayer, is there for them when times get tough and celebrate with others what God is doing in their lives.
This poem by an unknown writer describes this goal for 2019.
Leave countless marks for good or ill, ere sets the evening sun. My life shall touch a dozen lives before this day is done; This is the wish I always wish, the prayer I always pray: Lord, may my life help other lives it touches by the way. Source Unknown.
Ponder these questions for yourself. What word will define you in 2019? What difference will you make? How will your life impact others? Have an influential 2019.
As we approach a new year we may have anxiety. We do not know what the future holds, but we know who holds our future. With each passing year, we thank you because you make all things new, but one thing remains constant Your love never fails. Looking back on this past year thank you for all the ways you comforted us when things did not go as expected. The good along with the hard times remind us of our need to rely on You. We pray this year for peace. As the Jesus said “I’ve said these things to you so that you will have peace in me. In the world you have distress. But be encouraged! I have conquered the world.” John 16:33
As this 2018 passes into our memories and we welcome 2019 we pray for your Spirit to lead us each step of the way in this New Year. Lord will guide our decisions and guard our hearts to desire you primarily. We ask that you will open doors of compassion so we may bless those in need. Help us release our past wrongs we are holding on too so we can begin the new year with a new perspective on forgiveness and grace. May this be a year filled with opportunities to live out our calling as Your redeemed people.
In Jesus name, we pray. Amen.
It is the beginning of a new week and I want to take time at the start of the week to be grateful for all your promises keep. I know life can be hard. Life can be filled with disappointment and pain. The pain is almost to grueling to breathe. Sometimes my enemies stand over me and laugh. No matter what my situation God You know where I am. You Lord know my needs and aware of my shortcomings. Whatever I am going through I know can trust you. King David as he was being pursued by his enemies wrote in Psalm 54:
God! Save me by your name;
defend me by your might!
2 God! Hear my prayer;
listen to the words of my mouth!
The proud have come up against me;
violent people want me dead.
They pay no attention to God. Selah
4 But look here: God is my helper;
my Lord sustains my life.
5 He will bring disaster on my opponents.
By your faithfulness, God, destroy them!
6 I will sacrifice to you freely;
I will give thanks to your name, Lord,
because it’s so good,
7 and because God has delivered me
from every distress.
My eyes have seen my enemies’ defeat.
Lord help me let go of all things beyond my control and to be honest most things are beyond my control. Let me awake each day with a heart filled with gratitude, for the promise you kept in sending Jesus Christ as my Lord and My Savior. In His Name pray. Amen.
A friend from my days at the seminary and I were catching up on life. We talked about scheduling a “family reunion” of sorts to get back together with some of the others we struggled with on this journey through the gauntlet of studies, fieldwork, internship, placement day and finally graduation. We noticed something rather alarming: many of the classmates are no longer in the ministry and some are no longer walking with the Lord. How can the fire that burned so bright in their hearts back then have been snuffed out in just a few short years?
There are some reasons. Life is hard and many struggles, to keep on top of the storms. Some people crumble under the weight of the ministry of their congregations. No amount of faithful service could overcome; they’re discouraged with the church. Others collapsed because someone close to them died. The pain of that loss was devastating. Still, other people surrendered when their marriage crumbled. If this season of the Savior’s birth finds you drowning in the waves a furious storm, may this post give you encouragement. Take heart your storms won’t last forever.
In this post, we will learn how to handle the storms of life. In the first section of this two-part message, we will study the storms of life. The second post will give you the needed tools to navigate through the storms of life.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE STORMS OF LIFE
At a fundamental level, this makes sense. However, when the storm forms on the horizon logic goes out the window, it is one thing for the storms to happen to someone else but this shouldn’t be happening to me. We rationalize that we don’t deserve this. Jesus would remind us of a different reality. He said, “He [God] causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Matthew 5:45
We are all familiar with the wind and waves of the storm. In life, we have had to endure the storms of life. To be honest, I have tried to reject this concept in my personal life. Does this principle sound familiar? I organized my life a certain way: If I just get my income to a certain level, or if I get a handle on my relationships, and if I manage my schedule, once all those areas of my life are aligned I can prevent the storms. Come closer; it doesn’t work that way. The rain will still come. The storms will still happen. And they will happen to everyone.
In August of 2017, what happened to Houston is a prime example. People planned. The residents gathered provisions. Those Texans did all the hurricane preparedness steps, but no one could imagine the devastation that would occur. No one could predict the severity of the storm. The same is true in life. You can prepare for life’s inevitable storms, but you can’t predict when and how bad the storms will be.
Obviously, some of the storms we face are the result of our sinfulness and our own bad decisions, but many are not.
The first thing you have to remember about the storm is that storms happen to everyone. Now, if your bad behavior has caused the storm in your life, obviously you need to change your behavior. But if it’s not your fault, then you need to accept the fact that storms happen to everyone. The rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteous, and there’s nothing we can do about it.
The second thing we need to know about the storm is:
If you’re going through the storm of divorce right now, you need to remind yourself that it won’t hurt this much forever. If you’ve lost someone you love, you need to tell yourself that the depth of the emptiness of your loss won’t last forever. If you are battling with depression, that sorrow and the emptiness will not last forever. There may be damage to deal with, you may have to pick up the pieces and move on, you may have to rebuild your life, but the pain that is caused by the suddenness of the storm will not last forever.
There’s another thing you need to know about the storm.
2. Sometimes, in the midst of the storm, God seems to be silent
In Mark 4 there’s a story about a storm. Jesus and his disciples were on a boat crossing the Sea of Galilee, and suddenly a massive storm arose, the Bible called it “a furious squall” and began to rock the ship. The waves were crashing against the vessel to the point that it almost capsized, and the disciples were convinced that they were about to die. It was a ferocious storm, and they all panicked.
Where was Jesus in the midst of this? Mark tells us, “Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion.” Mark 4:38
I love the little detail that Mark adds. Jesus was asleep…on a cushion. In other words, while the disciples were staring death in the face, he was sleeping comfortably on a pillow!
Of course, we know how the story ends. Jesus calmed the storm, and they made it safely to the other side of the sea. But that doesn’t change the fact that in the midst of the storm, he seemed to be unaware of the crisis.
There will be times in your life when it seems like God isn’t paying attention to what is happening to you. There will be times when God is frustratingly silent. During these times, all you have to cling to is your faith.
When we read the story of the disciples panicking in the midst of the storm, we tend to think, “How foolish of them. Why would they be afraid? Jesus was right there with them didn’t they know he would take care of them?
“The same can be said about us: How foolish we are to be afraid during the storm. Jesus is right here with us. Don’t we know that he will take care of us?” After all, he said,
“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5
It may seem that God is unaware of the crisis in our lives, but we have his promise otherwise. We have his promise that he knows every detail of our lives, and he is with us every step of the way. The same God who gave His Son as a ransom to save you will never abandon you in your hour of deepest need.
Someone once penned these words,
Out of the Darkness
Out of the dark forbidding soil
The pure white lilies grow.
Out of the black and murky clouds,
Descends the stainless snow.
Out of the crawling earth-bound worm
A butterfly is born.
Out of the somber shrouded night,
Behold! A golden morn!
Out of the pain and stress of life,
The peace of God pours down.
Out of the nails — the spear — the cross,
Redemption — and a crown!
The most important thing you need to know about the storm is that a storm will force you to walk your talk. Trials will put the strength of your faith to the test. How do you survive the storms? How do you rest on the strength of your faith in the midst of the storm? Let’s take a look at Psalm 107. David gives you three simple things you need to do when the storms of life are raging. First of all.
“…in their peril their courage melted away. They reeled and staggered like drunken men; they were at their wits’ end.” Psalm 107: 26-27
Have you ever been there at your wits’ end? The storm is so overwhelmingly destructive that you have run out of ideas? Maybe you’re there right now. Maybe you’ve done everything that you know to do and your marriage is still crumbling. Maybe you’ve done everything that you know to do and your children continue to struggle. You have been to every specialist, tried all kinds of treatments, and your health is deteriorating. After exhausting all your business knowledge, attending all kinds of seminars, borrowed against your home mortgage, you’ve done everything humanly possible yet your business is still failing.
If you are at your wits end in the midst of the storm, you have two options available. You can give up. You can throw in the belief towel and decide that Christianity doesn’t work. When my life is falling apart this God seems to be asleep on a pillow. Let’s just forget the whole thing. That’s one option. To be honest I don’t think that is your best option.
The alternative is to do what the disciples did in Mark 4. “They seek out Jesus and wake him up, crying, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Mark 4:38
Not the most articulate “prayer” in scripture, but it was effective. In the midst of your storm, you should follow that example: Cry out to God, and keep crying out to him until the storm has passed. Listen to what David wrote, (v. 28-29). Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed.
When I hear people say, “I tried that. It didn’t work. I cried out to God for help, and nothing happened.” My question is always, “How long? How long did you cry out? For an hour? For a day? For a week?” God has His own pace, sometimes it takes longer. You need to pray as long as it takes to get an answer.
The results may not always be what we think we want, but we can be sure that the results will always work out for our good.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love God, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
In the midst of the storm, cry out to God, and keep crying out to him for as long as you have breath. He will hear you and he will bring you out of your distress.
2. Let God Guide You.
There is an amazing principle in the Christian life that I have seen many people forget. The principle is this: If you ask for God’s guidance, he will give it to you.
When we seek God’s guidance, He guides us. When we seek His direction, He directs. When we place our future in God’s hands, He takes care of our future. Listen to what David wrote,
(v. 30) They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven.
To their desired Haven. There’s a place where you want to be in your life, a place of peace, a place of security, a place of hope, and comfort, and rest. A place of joy, and love, and fulfillment. He can get you there, but you have to let him guide you. My problem has always been I don’t like that path God wants to take me on. I like shortcuts. However, the path that God leads me on has necessary potholes, trials, and lessons I need for the future leg of this journey. I just need to trust God to guide the way.
3. Remember to Remember God’s Faithfulness.
I began this post series by saying that I have known some people over the years who stopped walking with the Lord. Some of these are people in ministry, people who had experienced his work in their lives. And yet, for whatever reason, they chose to forget about God’s past faithfulness in their lives. When the storms of life came, they didn’t remember God’s provision in the past, they didn’t see any hope in the future, so they gave up in the present.
Here’s my challenge to you. When you’re going through the storm make an effort to remember all that God has done for you in the past.
David wrote Psalm 77 while he was going through a time of trial. Listen to his words…
“Has his [God’s] unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion? Then I thought, “To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High.” I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.” Psalm 77:8-12
David says, “When I’m going through a time of trial, I will remember all that God has done in the past, and it will help me get through this.” He says something similar in Psalm 107: 31,
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men. Let them exalt him in the assembly of the people and praise him in the council of the elders.
David is saying, “Once you get through the storm, talk about it. Sing songs of thanksgiving to God, tell everyone you know about good God has been to you.”
God will get you through this storm like he has gotten you and so many others through the previous storms of life. When it happens, make sure that you remember to remember to thank him for his faithfulness.
Other posts in this Christmas series:
Do you find yourself this Christmas wandering, feeling lost? This post talks about how God leads us through the wilderness.
Are you feeling alone and desperate in this season of joy? How do you get back on track?
Valuing quiet and solitude in academe.
...random musings from a random guy...
Book reviews and lessons
“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it!" -John. 14:12-14
Debra Pedrow: Christian Author and Blogger
Find Your Number
Because we are never alone
Annette Leeann Flores
Ideas of Light that Penetrate the Ideas of Darkness (To read this blog in context, readers should start at the earliest date of a series)
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