Are You Plugged In?

That question is directed mostly toward young Christians serving our country in the military. No, I’m not asking if you have an ‘electric’ personality! I’m asking you if you are plugged in to good, Bible believing fellowship, whether it’s a local on-base Chapel, local church, Bible study or fellowship group, or maybe just a good Bible study.

I’m asking because this last weekend I spent some time thinking about the years spent as a Christian serving on active duty in the Army’s Special Forces. How that scenario developed is another story for another time. Suffice it to say that when the Shepherd found the lost sheep and brought him back into the fold, the scenario was already in place, and I knew keeping my faith personal was not an option. But that’s not today’s story either.

This is about the question “Are you plugged in?” I ask you that because not being plugged in to Christian fellowship and Bible study can really stunt spiritual growth. We live in a fallen world surrounded by all sorts of influences detrimental to growing in our shared faith. We are also saddled with what some call a ‘sin hangover’, to use a somewhat crude analogy. It would be great if God just eradicated all of the sinful tendencies we have when we come to believe in Christ, but he doesn’t.

It goes without saying that if we are plugged into ‘power sources’ that can sustain us, we’ll not only be strong, we can be used of God in the furtherance of his Kingdom on earth. It’s the ‘plugging in’ part that I want to talk about. I don’t know about you, but I learned some things that were true when I was on active duty and are true now. They were true when I was single (living in the barracks or separated from my family because of travel), and true when our family was together. They are true now, for a couple of grandparents and empty nesters. Here are a few good principles, or rules to live by, or something in between.

  • Plug in! Connect to 1) on-base Chapel, local church, 2) Bible study or fellowship group, 3) one other believer, or 4) just a good individual Bible study. I would suggest all four, if possible.
  • Don’t wait to get invited to something, take the initiative, whether you are changing duty stations, on temporary duty or on a deployment. It says a lot about you and your desire to keep growing in faith.
  • When introducing yourself to a congregation or small group you visit, keep it simple and offer to serve. Don’t talk a lot about you have served in other places, or you might be considered a divine answer to prayer. Trust me. Be willing to serve, but take it slow.
  • Ask yourself, “Is this church or small group more about serving God, or getting stuff from God.
  • Listen more than you speak. You can learn volumes.
  • Keep a Bible handy and don’t leave home without it!

Just some tips from an old soldier. Experience is a great teacher. I assure you, NOT plugging in is always hazardous to your spiritual health. I also know that there are some of you that might be a bit apprehensive about getting connected when you find yourself in new or unfamiliar territory. CMF can help with that. We maintain a worldwide directory of CMF members, military friendly churches and other military ministries on or near military bases all over the world. There are also Bible study resources available online. Visit our Web page and look around!.

That question is directed mostly toward young Christians serving our country in the military. No, I’m not asking if you have an ‘electric’ personality! I’m asking you if you are plugged in to good, Bible believing fellowship, whether it’s a local on-base Chapel, local church, Bible study or fellowship group, or maybe just a good Bible study.

_______________

Online Source

From John Bunyan’s Conclusion to ‘Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners’

Of all tears, they are the best that are made by the blood of Christ; and of all joy, that is the sweetest that is mixed with mourning over Christ. Oh! it is a goodly thing to be on our knees, with Christ in our arms, before God. I hope I know something of these things.

I find to this day seven abominations in my heart:

(1) Inclinings to unbelief.

(2) Suddenly to forget the love and mercy that Christ manifesteth.

(3) A leaning to the works of the law.

(4) Wanderings and coldness in prayer.

(5) To forget to watch for that I pray for.

(6) Apt to murmur because I have no more, and yet ready to abuse what I have.

(7) I can do none of those things which God commands me, but my corruptions will thrust in themselves,
‘When I would do good, evil is present with me.’

These things I continually see and feel, and am afflicted and oppressed with; yet the wisdom of God doth order them for my good.

(1) They make me abhor myself.

(2) They keep me from trusting my heart.

(3) They convince me of the insufficiency of all inherent righteousness.

(4) They show me the necessity of fleeing to Jesus.

(5) They press me to pray unto God.

(6) They show me the need I have to watch and be sober.

(7) And provoke me to look to God, through Christ, to help me, and carry me through this world. Amen.

________________

Grace Abounding To the Chief of Sinners is John Bunyan’s spiritual autobiography. In it he tells of his conversion and struggle with faith. He wrote it while he was imprisoned for preaching without a license. His main issue was a kind of “spiritual obsessive compulsive disorder” as one reviewer puts it. Bunyan was constantly concerned about the state of his salvation and whether God deemed him worthy enough for eternal life. This story communicates the author’s anguish over his sin, his confession, and the life-changing impact of God’s saving grace. Bunyan’s spiritual struggles will remind readers that even the great minds of faith had issues with belief, and his personal testimony will encourage anyone who is doubting the status of their salvation.

A PDF copy of Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners can be downloaded from Christian Classics Ethereal Library..

“Feed My Sheep”‘

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep”.

John 21:15-17 (ESV)

We know with the story:

7 of Jesus’ Disciples had returned to their previous occupation of fishing (for real fish instead of men), had fished all night and caught nothing. A man (Jesus) on the shore and called out to them and told them to toss their net on the right side of the boat instead of the left, which had not resulted in a single minnow, much less any fish. They obeyed and had such a haul they couldn’t get all the fish into their boat.

Once ashore, the man who had called out to them already had a good breakfast going and invited them to join him. It was then that they recognized their Lord. After a hearty breakfast Jesus took the opportunity to Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Naturally Peter answered in the affirmative all three times, and even might have wondered why Jesus asked so many times! We are not told. We are given Jesus’ direction to Peter after each answer:

“Feed my lambs.”

“Tend my sheep.”

“Feed my sheep.”

You might say that Jesus told Peter to become a sheep herder! He told him to take care of sheep, young ones and older ones. Has that ever happened to you? Read a story many times and suddenly something literally jumps out at you?

First of all Jesus said “Feed MY sheep. Those needing care and nurture belong to Christ, not to Peter, not a particular group of believers, but to Jesus himself! Pastors, Sunday school teachers, Bible study leaders, you are to care for JESUS property! That knowledge should give you great pause, should it not?

Secondly, Jesus told Peter to “Feed my SHEEP, tending them and nurturing them to maturity. That should tell us in no uncertain terms the purpose of the church, Christ’s church, not yours. The mission of the church is the care and feeding of the sheep of God. Should ‘goats’ be invited and welcome in our churches? By all means! The main reason the church exists however, is for the ‘sheep of God’, not the’ goats of the world’.

I listened to one popular megachurch pastor tell his congregation one Sunday morning “This is the last Sunday this church is about YOU!” No kidding. While most of today’s so called ‘pastors’ won’t go quite that far, they ‘manage’ their churches with the same mindset, offering all sorts of ‘worldly’ enticements to make following Jesus a really cool/hip thing to do. But listen to what Jesus said to his disciples near the very end of his earthly ministry:

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” (John 15:18)

The ‘world’ in Jesus’ time hated him and the world in our time will hate us when we stand for the true gospel that Christ came to save men from their sin, not to fulfill their wildest dreams.

Then we have the Apostle Paul who, by his own admission, preached nothing but Christ crucified for the sins of men:

“For we (gospel messengers) are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” (2 Cor: 15-16)

In other words, the aroma of Christ is sweet to the ‘sheep of God’ but that same aroma of Christ smells like death and destruction to the ‘goats of the world’.

So why do we do what we do? We try to make Christ and his gospel smell sweet to the stony hearted unbeliever to get them through the doors and then tell them that Christ died for their self-fulfillment rather than for their sin. After all, we know that if we start talking about sin the ‘bait and switch’ will be on and oh so obvious to the goats you lured through the church doors. Unless God is doing a supernatural ‘heart work’, they’re walking and they ain’t coming back any time soon!

What’s the answer to this mess? Whether it’s a church setting or personal evangelism, it’s really quite simple.

1. Pray that God open hearts to hear the true gospel.

2. Preach the true gospel.

3. Leave the ‘saving’ to God.

More, More, More?

Our 1 & 1/5-year-old grandson Michael uses those words (with the question mark) a lot at mealtimes whenever he is eating something he likes, until he is full and then exclaims “Done now!”

“What’s that got to do with Christian faith?”, you ask. Thanks for asking! First of all, it reminds me of me in the late 70’s after God drew this prodigal home. I didn’t want just a little of what God had for me, I wanted all of what he had for me. Wanting more was a genuine cry of my heart and a good thing! On the other hand, Every time someone or something (read Christian TV, radio, books, & even family members) offered ‘more’ I was all over it. After all, the offers of ‘more’ were being made by professing Christians who were older and wiser than this young Army Sergeant with his young family.

Moreover, I just knew my motives in wanting ‘more’ were pure as the driven snow. How could they NOT be? So, like most young believers I was drawn off into teachings that I now question. Well, the 3M syndrome is alive and well 40 years down the road. Young, new to the faith believers are still drawn towards the ‘more’ that offers emotional excitement, ecstatic worship, ‘new’ special revelation, and even training in the ‘supernatural’.

Know that in no way am I saying that God does not want to bless us mightily, or that He no longer operates in certain ways in his church. I am not saying that God doesn’t provide ‘more’ to us as we engage in the renewing of our minds and the Holy Spirit brings the beautiful truths of scripture home to the deepest center of our new hearts.

I’m suggesting that we need to be cautious of offers and promises of ‘more’. Some of them are found nowhere in scripture, but in its twisting. Lives, both physical and spiritual, have been devastated by chasing after some of those promises. I would add that Satan is the master counterfeiter who loves to provide fake answers to fake promises.

One might also ask, “When is ‘more’ enough? Are we as smart as little Michael?

Personally, I’ve found that in reading and studying God’s word, fellowshipping with the saints, and sharing Christ with the lost around me keeps me busy enough. Nothing extraordinary, just the ordinary activities of a blood bought sinner.

Some might say that being just an ‘ordinary’ Christian a pretty high calling!

Be blessed in your high calling this Lord’s Day!

Hearing God and Sharing With Others

When I want to hear God speak, I open the Bible and read it. If I want to hear God speak audibly, I read it out loud. B. B. Warfield, eminent Princeton theologian of the 19th and 20th centuries, is known for saying “When the Bible speaks, God speaks!” I agree.

If God’s revelation of himself in the Bible is everything we need to live a godly life and equip us for every good work, I have the best possible standard by which to order my life; ALL of my life within it’s pages. If my God spoke the universe into existence, he is more than capable of ‘breathing out’ scripture (writings) into the minds and hearts of men and ensure his infallible and inerrant truths are transmitted to us. Compared to speaking the universe into existence, transmitting his inerrant word to us is probably on the order of ‘chump change’.

And if the Bible is completely sufficient for my life, I don’t need ‘private revelations’ whispered into my ear. What I do need is the ‘illumination’ of God’s word to my heart. Isn’t that the role of the indwelling Holy Spirit? If it is, then we DO receive ‘revelation’ from God as the Holy Spirit illumines (sheds light upon) God’s word and sends it straight into our hearts.

At the same time, I need to choose my words carefully when I share what God is teaching me. We hear a lot of people say to us “God spoke to me…”, or “I had a revelation…” followed by the details. While both statements might be ‘technically’ true when the Holy Spirit teaches us, using those phrases might might not be wise. Here are a few reasons.

For one thing, most, if not all of the big name televangelists use them often and frequently to mean they have a special private communication link to The Divine – a virtual private network (VPN) to God, so to speak. And we are to receive what they say as the direct word of God, no matter how outlandish or theologically vacuous are their pronouncements.

Both phrases are also often used by ordinary, everyday believers. And because they are used so much by spurious televangelists and various false teachers peddling their snake oil, I feel the need to ask the “what do you mean” question and am suddenly hit with some version of the “why are you questioning me” demon.

Also, why would I use words that cause “issues” when I can just talk about what I believe God is teaching me? Am I trying to communicate that I am somehow special or am a more mature spiritual Christian? Maybe or maybe not, but why take a chance on there being any confusion because of how I express myself. I might not have evil intentions, but Satan sure does and he loves to pounce.

Lastly for now, claiming to have a VPN to God leads to the tendency to be declarative and assert as gospel truth what we share with others. I know some who will hardly ever say “I think”, “I believe”, or “it’s my opinion”, if they begin the conversation with “God told me” or “I had a revelation”, or if they are just convinced in their minds of same.

Am not judging (please stay off of that horse) but I’m old, sometimes tired, have listened to, read, and watched much in the last 40 years. It is was it is. And please note the frequent use of the hypothetical “if” in the above.

I pray you all have a blessed Lord’s day!

It Has Pagan Roots!

Let’s talk about decorated trees and nativity scenes for a minute. Forget the Christmas ‘culture’ wars that we sometimes make too much of, what about the Christmas ‘pagan roots’ wars? OK, maybe calling the whole ‘Christmas is based on a pagan holiday’ thing doesn’t deserve ‘war’ status, but it does surface every year about this time.

Like many children I grew up with Christmas trees, nativity scenes and traditions of gift giving. For our family everything ‘Christmas’ focused first and foremost on the birth of Jesus Christ, the savior of the world. I knew absolutely nothing about ancient pagan idolatrous practices, festivals or holidays. It was about Jesus’ birth, love and exchanging gifts.

Are Christmas trees and nativity scenes examples of ‘Christianized’ pagan idolatrous activity? I really don’t know. Was Martin Luther thinking of old Egyptian and Roman traditions associated with false gods when he thought of adding decorations to evergreen trees already used by Christians as a symbol of Christmas? I don’t know that either.

Were the painters of nativity scenes thinking about pagan idol worshippers dancing around statues in the woods, or were they thinking about the description of Jesus’ birth given to us in the Bible and wanted to use their God given talents to put on canvas a remembrance of a special moment in history? I don’t know that either.

Well Dan, what DO you know?

I know that there was an issue a long time about food offered to idols and being a stumbling block to brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s in 1 Corinthians 8:

1Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. 2 If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. 3 But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.

4 Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5 For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

7 However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9 But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” (1 Cor 8:1-9, ESV)

There are ‘stronger’ and ‘weaker’ believers. Those who know that idols are really ‘nothing’ are not to get puffed up about it, and are not to cause a ‘weaker’ brother to stumble. In Romans 14, Paul said that it is better not to do anything to cause another brother to stumble. It seems that the real issue here is spiritual growth and health. That’s what I know.

If I want to get into a ‘pagan roots’ discussion that might actually matter, it might be about something like ‘glossolalia’, or the ‘speaking in tongues’ that is not the Biblical gift of speaking in unlearned real languages. There’s some really interesting history in that one!

But actually, rather than debate ‘pagan roots’, I think it might be more helpful to take a cue from Paul and stick to discussing Christ crucified for our sins.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

“What did God say to you today?”

I listened to a teaching this last Sunday morning, in which direct and personal extra-Biblical encounters with God were again spoken much of, while the God in the Bible was referred to as “the idea God” opposed to the ‘manifest presence’ and ‘relational presence’ of God that are more personal and direct encounters with God and therefore somehow more intimate than just the written Word. We heard about things like ‘divine gravity’ (Jesus being lifted up and drawing men) and ‘trans-generational anointing’ (Ezekial to John the Baptist) and how we can also experience/see both in our own lives as we ‘turn’ to see the ‘manifest presence’ and enter the ‘relational presence’ of God. Se have been told in previous sermons in the ‘Encountering God’ series that if we sit quietly with our pens journals in the morning and write what the voices we hear are saying we will eventually be able to identify ‘God’s voice’ and have wonderful encounters that will “increase our relationship with God”, something we all need to do.

After the teaching (to be continued next week) we were asked “What did God say to you today?” Here is my answer.

  • That while I dead in sin He made me Alive in Christ and I am seated with Christ in the Heavenly realm. Eph 2:1-6
  • That He has baptized me in the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit lives in me. Eph 4:5
  • That I am declared righteous in Christ . Rom 8:1-4
  • That all my sins have been forgiven because I have trusted in Christ as my substitute. Eph 1:7
  • That He gave me as a love gift to his Son and I shall never perish. John 10:28
  • That since I believe in Christ I will not be condemned for unbelief. John 3:18
  • That scripture is sufficient for every good work.2 Tim 3:16-17
  • That he works in me to desire and do what pleases him. Phil 2:1

That’s how God spoke to me from His Word this last Sunday morning. These passages tell me who I am in Christ, and how I interact with God on a regular basis. The question that arose in my heart was “With all God has given me already, why would I need to have these extra-Biblical encounters?” 

A few more passages came to mind after the morning teaching:

  • God has already spoken. Heb 1:1-3
  • Don’t go beyond what is written. 1 Cor 4:6
  • Don’t add to the words of scripture. Rev 22:18

Well, those are my thoughts. Sadly (to me, anyway) many are going after extra-Biblical encounters these days, treating them as if they are some form of ‘higher’ spirituality. Subjective experiences rather than objective truth rules the day.

But like I said, these are my thoughts, not yours. They have been on my mind for quite some time now, but have become more significant and closer to home of late. If you are reading this I only ask that you consider them for a moment or two.

And have a blessed day!

Youth Yoke: The Necessity of Hardship for Young Men

yoke1Hardship comes to us via every avenue of life, from beginning to end. Affliction is no more avoidable than air. And thankfully, Scripture has much to say about it. But one passage that has often redemptively grabbed me is from Lamentations 3.

“It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him; let him put his mouth in the dust—there may yet be hope.” (Lam 3:27-29). Now, the degree of hardship faced during the time of this verse exceeds what many of us will face. Even so, the verse illustrates a timeless principle on the topic of affliction: it is good for us young men (“young” could refer to under 40ish +/-) to experience a measure of hardship’s yoke.

But why? What is it about us young men such that affliction is particularly profitable? For the most part, it’s simply because we are young. We lack the full seasoning of sanctification. Our spiritual development is many stages from completion. The flesh has undergone less mortification. So, in God’s good sovereignty, affliction’s yoke in youth is a necessity which can move us along in the school of Christ. There’s nothing easy about it. But when our loving God grooms us with hardship, we young men can profit greatly. As a friend and mentor, Ray Mehringer, once said to me, “It’s the ‘ABC’s’ of Christianity: Adversity Builds Character.” And character building is the need of the hour for many of us young men.

Oak-sapling-Quercus-robur-001By God’s grace, some are well-trained in hardship’s academy. For others of us, we may need to simply enter the school or re-take a few classes. For those like me who have often flunked in the school of struggle, here are a few reminders on the necessity of hardship, especially for us younger guys:

  1. Hardship reminds us that God is God.

As young men, we do not naturally gravitate towards respecting that God reigns solo on the throne of the universe. We are natural-born sovereignty contenders.

Further, as young guys, we sometimes glory in beholding what we’re capable of. Things like physical strength, energy, vigor, and the like; we suppose that they are something of cosmic value. Because they helped us bench more, play a sport well, experience a measure of success, that they carry sovereignty. We can accomplish things and get stuff done by our own strength.

Affliction is good, then, because it reminds us that our young-manness exercises no sovereign sway. God is God. And in his love for us, he may hand us hardship so that we cease secret self-admiration and bow low before our sovereign God.

  1. Hardship grows us in the concept of Christ’s lordship.

“Lord.” Generally, the word refers to one who lawfully owns other people as property, someone of supremacy, or one who possessed a right to individually rule over others. A lord was someone to whose requests you did not dare say, “No.” “Lord” is a word that has long-passed out of cultural style because submission is out of style because self-worship is in style. Like a stubborn donkey, our decadence can hardly handle the concept. We are far too awesome and important; we matter too much for lordship. Plus, with the internet and social media, everyone and their words radically boosts their matter-meter. If we look hard enough, everyone can find a place in which we can function as a little-lord. But it’s spiritual smoke and mirrors.

Christ is the Lord. The word appears about 700 times in the New Testament; far more than any other title. And the term, “Lord,” captures in large part our relationship with our loving God. It means that he possesses extraordinary and unrivaled supremacy: he will do things his way at all times in all places with all people. The lordship of Christ is perhaps the most necessary thing to know about Jesus. And hardship serves that knowledge.

Suffering is not a spiritual boot-camp given to us young men so that we can narcissistically prove ourselves. It is a spiritual endowment given to us so that we can submissively humble ourselves. As we embrace it, God grooms us in the concept of lordship.

  1. Hardship reminds us that we are extraordinarily frail in every way.

One of the things we enjoy most about our youth is our not-so-strong strength. We love what we can do. We love what we can do to be known.

Such impulses evidence that, in our brief existence, we may not have had enough encounters with our frailty and God’s power. However, even a brief consideration of God’s creation is convincing. For example, among trillions of other things, Jesus made this thing out in space called a “black hole.” A black hole is so strong that light moving at 186,000 miles per second is not fast or tough enough to evade its grasp. How fast does something have to be moving to evade your grasp?

Yet, if you’ve been stubborn like me, even the daily demonstrations of our weakness and God’s strength in creation are not convincing enough. We need something more. As our perfect Father, God will see to it that we decreasingly operate in a delusional state of personal potency.

He may ordain some physical weakness, sickness, or disease. Now, the presence of illness does not automatically mean God is disciplining us for some form of pride. But in either case, such great difficulties serve redemptive purposes to convince us of our frailty, which drives us to him. Young men need to know that they are frail.

  1. Hardship reminds us that we should not expect Eden-like circumstances in this life.

normalAs I look back, I have many embarrassing moments in my ministry (and certainly more to come). Many of them bloomed from an unseasoned heart, ignorant that life outside of seminary is not edenic. Those first few years of things like ministry mistakes, people leaving the church, coming under slander and scorn; it was a shock to my infantile soul.

Other things like financial hardship, losing jobs, non-ideal housing and family circumstances, not getting to work your dream job, mistreatment at work and in the home; often young men suppose that these are bizarre things between Genesis 2 and Revelation 20. Yet they, and worse, are status quo.

So, one of the great ways we can position ourselves for a stable, fruitful life in Christ is to settle into the fact that life now is the photo-negative of heaven. Too often we unnecessarily compound our own discouragement because we make demands on this world that only heaven will meet.

So then, a measure of hardship reminds us of the ubiquitous thorns and thistles which we like to pretend are non-existent. By God’s grace, we can embrace things like little ministry fruit. That very well could be God’s best for us for where we are spiritually. It very well could be his mercy to withhold that which would lure our corrupt cravings for glory. If we experienced too much success, we could easily become glory thieves.

  1. Hardship reminds us that we are not great.

J.C. Ryle once wrote, “Pride never reigns anywhere so powerfully as in the heart of a young man.” We begin life with excessive-self-inflation syndrome. And in young men, many of us seem to have a bad case of it.

Even in Christian ministry, many of us quietly cling to the buzz of praise and recognition. It’s such a fun high. Some of us, for example, love social media because we can secretly bask in our pseudo-greatness, beholding the retweets, compliments, and flattery. We can make people believe that we are humble, yet still cyber crowd-surf behind the facade.

Young men, stop thinking you are great. You are not. Heaven laments at the loathsome spectacle when any young man meditates on his own mythical greatness.

But in heaven’s mercy, affliction eradicates self-inflation syndrome. Hardship serves to pull us down from the proverbial crowd surfing. Because he loves us, God may pull the praise out from underneath us so that we fall flat on the floor. At that point, we have begun to assume a posture of worship. It’s as Thomas Watson once said: “When God lays men upon their backs, then they look up to heaven.”

  1. Hardship reminds us that our usefulness depends entirely on God’s mercy.

A bit of success in youth is a potential hazard. Temptation can whisper that our might made it happen. We begin to believe the praise. And we look at God’s glory with covetous eyes.

young manIt’s then that affliction can shake us out of the spiritual stupor. John Newton put it this way when he once said to a young pastor, “Many distressing exercises you will probably meet with upon the best supposition to preserve in you a due sense of your own unworthiness and to convince you that your ability, your acceptance, and your usefulness depends upon a power beyond your own.”

God may raise gifted preachers or writers or athletes or engineers or doctors from dirt. In fact, he does it all the time. Clay pots are not indispensable. “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor 4:7).

  1. Hardship renders us more useful for God.

God has such great purposes for us. He loves us so much that he will settle for nothing less than conforming us daily to the image of the greatest Person in the universe: the Lord Jesus Christ.

But young men often suppose they are quite OK the way they are. So, we are slow to change. We are both blind and resistant to our woeful inadequacy before God to live a life for his glory. And many, if not most, of us possess little usefulness to God until we are older and have weathered many storms.

sanctificationHardship is often God’s chisel with which he bashes away anything on us that does not resemble Christ.

Other seasoned saints have observed this far before us:

Thomas Watson: “God’s smiting his people is like the musician’s striking upon the violin, which makes it put forth melodious sound. How much good comes to the saints by affliction! When they are pounded they send forth their sweetest smell.”

Augustine: “Affliction is God’s flail to thresh off our husks; not to consume, but to refine.”

  1. Hardship fosters perseverance in our lives.

As young men, there is one thing which is a scarcity in us all: perseverance. That is not to say that young men will not persevere. Rather, by virtue of our youth, we have not demonstrated much perseverance.

Especially for us younger guys, by God’s grace, a measure of struggle serves us well by eradicating pride and entitlement and infusing perseverance and humility.

  1. Hardship deepens our love for God’s word.

Since youth usually means less experience with hardship, Bible verses on suffering sometimes remain two-dimensional to many of us young men. We read them, hear them preached, and observe seasoned saints cling to them. But in our spiritual infancy, they are still a bit out of our reach. We’ve yet to put them into practice. And it’s not entirely our fault. We’re just young and inexperienced.

So, affliction charters us into biblical territory which we’ve seen and heard, but yet to thoroughly navigate.

Places like Psalm 119 become frequently visited territory:

“This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life” (Ps 119:50).

“Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word” (Ps 119:67).

“It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes” (Ps 119:71).

Oftentimes we erroneously say, “He makes the Bible come alive to us.” But the Bible is living (Heb 4:12). Hardship profits us because it makes us come alive to the Bible.

  1. Hardship deepens us in God’s great sustaining grace.

It’s embarrassing to admit, but I have personally been frightened at verses like, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12), and, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (Jas 1:2-3). But my fears of those verses reveal a deeper immaturity: I know little about God’s great sustaining grace for his children in trials. Really, it’s a sinful fear of God.

But as he holds our hand through various valleys, we learn an extraordinary lesson. Our weakness doesn’t change much. But, our understanding of his sustaining grace does. The fear of the unknown morphs to a trust in the Known. We learn that our suffering and weakness are not detrimental, but fundamental, to our intimacy with and usefulness for Christ.

We never have a “bring it on” attitude towards affliction. Rather, it is more of, “God, I would never choose this for myself, but as a young guy, I know that this is your good, fatherly care for me. And by your competent, intimate care alone, I will walk through this.”

We learn the priceless truth: “’My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor 12:9).

Many more benefits come from God’s good hand in hardship. We could talk about, for example, how suffering weans us off the world and its vanity, increases our compassion for others in affliction, sets our compass more towards heaven and an eternal perspective, makes us more malleable and calm in the face of other hardship, and reminds us of the far greater sufferings of Christ in propitiating the wrath of God in our place.

Hardship is so helpful for us young men because it convinces us of our radical ordinariness. From the soil of ordinariness blooms a pure worship of, and usefulness for, our extraordinary Savior, Jesus Christ. Therefore, let us bow under the glorious youth yoke that we might be more fully shaped into his image for the good pleasure of our Father.

by Eric Davis

Posted at The Cripplegate

Why Do These Pentecostals Keep Growing?

Many evangelical churches and denominations are in a state of plateau or decline. Why aren’t Pentecostals? |

Ed Stetzer

There are parts of the globe where the greatest church growth is happening through the Pentecostal movement. One of the most asked questions is, “In a world where the church seems to be declining in many areas, how they are bucking the trend?”

There is never one reason why a movement succeeds. But some factors rise to the surface. Pentecostals will say they are growing because the Spirit is moving in a powerful way. I get that, and actually would affirm that as part of the reason, but from a sociological perspective, other things are happening and worth exploring.

was recently asked (by Pentecostal leaders) what some sociological reasons might be. So, following that meeting, and in this brief post, I want to explore how the beliefs of Pentecostals actually promote and produce growth, compared to other, more “mainstream” groups.

Pentecostals Value Their Shared Experience

From a statistical perspective, Pentecostals tend to be less “nominal” than other believers. The reason is often obvious—the Baptism in the Holy Spirit.

In almost all Pentecostalism (as contrasted to other continualist streams) speaking in tongues follows the Holy Spirit’s baptism. After that experience, it’s hard to say, “Oh I don’t take this whole thing serious, I don’t even know if it’s real.”

When you believe you’re speaking in another language, that belief reshapes the way you think about faith!

Being a nominal Presbyterian, Methodist, or Baptist is easier; though there are some outward expectations like baptism (among credobaptists) that can mark a spiritual commitment. But Pentecostal believers and churches constantly emphasize spiritual practice and engagement.

That helps make a more robust faith.

So, more often than not, stagnation is not as compatible with a real Spirit-filled experience. The end result—it’s harder to be a nominal Pentecostal—the beliefs of the movement tend to weed out nominalism. Because of what is happening in church and the community of faith, people tend not to just hang around as casual observers.

Either you join in it, or you move on. Many join. Movements populated by nominals are usually in decline. Nominals don’t populate Pentecostalism, so it grows.

Pentecostals Want to Share Their Values

Not only does a valued distinctive encourage participation and growth in the local body, but it also provides an imperative for growth outside of the local body. When you appreciate what you have as much as Pentecostals do, you aren’t satisfied to experience it yourself. You think others should have the same opportunity to partake of the movement of the Spirit of God.

When I meet with Pentecostal leaders, they’re strategizing about where to plant a church. They break out the maps and determine where they need to focus their attention.

Never mind there are already six churches in a 10-block community. To them, there’s not a Spirit-filled church in that community until they plant one. So they are often avid planters, not just in their own area, but also around the world.

Worth Sharing The Spirit-Filled Experience

Pentecostals believe in their approach. Their Christian walk has benefited, and they think everyone should have access. While others are figuring out what to do now to achieve growth, Pentecostals are focusing on who they are and are achieving growth.

When you think your expression is worth sharing (be it Pentecostal, Calvinist, or Anabaptist) you are more likely to share it with others, start new churches, and more.

So, What Does It Mean for the Rest of Us?

One key to growth is for you actually to believe what you have is so important that propagation to other contexts in its current version is necessary. The Vineyard Church movement exploded in growth in the 1980s for this reason. They thought that people needed to experience what the Vineyard had to offer.

Baptists thought that way in the 50s. Methodists thought that way in the Second Great Awakening.

Pentecostal believe they have something worth propagating. And that’s worth learning from.

Odd Distinctives

Of course, to non-Pentecostals, all this seems odd. Sometimes for younger or dissatisfied Pentecostals, they want to de-emphasize the supernatural.

Well, I’d have some theological nuances I’d like to bring in, but from a sociological perspective my response is, “I wouldn’t downplay what is in the engine.” You don’t care for some of their expression? That’s fine. But Pentecostals are trying to reach the lost and grow the Kingdom.

Their distinctives apparently aren’t hindering their growth—their distinctives are propelling growth globally.

People Want a Faith With Flavor

One of the dangers today is “bland evangelicalism.” Many evangelical churches and denominations are in a state of plateau or decline. Some groups are trying to downplay their distinctives to be more acceptable. Who wants to duplicate that? Nobody.

Sometimes the difference between an expanding movement and one that is retracting is how they deal with their distinctives. Some are in protection mode. They feel like they have to preserve their specialness by locking it down and guarding it. Ironically, they end up smothering the mission by covering the light that would shine through their specially designed glass.

Others embrace and celebrate their unique values and expression. In doing so, they attract people who are seeking something more than bland.

For example, I recently reviewed the stats for the 25 largest faith groups in the United States. In the year I reviewed, the only two orthodox Christian groups growing on the list were the Assemblies of God and Church of God (Cleveland). So, what do all of the declining denominations have in common?

Most are mainline, a few are evangelical, but most simply are not as excited about what they believe—and don’t think it needs to be propagated as much—as the Pentecostals.

_________________________________________________________________________________

I commented a few times, but was finally blocked. I dared question the idea that church growth is not just numbers. I also suggested that ‘Pentecostal’ church growth has a lot to do with ‘experience(s)’ since I spent several years in what he would call an ‘Orthodox’ Pentecostal church. That sentiment was echoed by another commenter who suggested that true church growth is tied more to the 5 Solas than anything else. He was warned also concerning the ‘rules’. It was clear to me that Ed Stetzer was not interested in discussing the issues that the very subject of his article invited. If a mark of a ‘growing’ church is being excited about what they believe, one can find any number of non-pentecostal, evangelical churches that have thousands of members excited about Jesus having died for their ‘best lives now’. Having said all that, I found the article lacking any real theological depth and lacking in intellectual integrity.

Online Source

Ordinary Excellence

What follows is an article from The White Horse Inn that introduces a short audio series about ‘ordinary’ Christianity. A link and instructions to find to the audio broadcasts are provided at the end of the article.

Ordinary Excellence

Sep.07, 2013 by Michael Horton in Blog Series, Ordinary

Far from throwing a wet blanket on godly passion, the goal of this WHI series is to encourage an orientation and habits that foster deeper growth in grace, more effective outreach, and a more sustainable vision of loving service to others over a lifetime.

But is “ordinary” a cop-out for mediocrity?  Is it a call to low expectations, failure, and passivity?  On the contrary, it’s a call to sustainable discipleship over the long haul not only throughout an individual’s life but also over generations.  It’s not a call to do less, but instead is a call to invest in things that we often give up on when we don’t see an immediate return.

So, in order to get off on the right foot, I want to identify what we don’t meant by “ordinary.”  Too often, it’s seen as synonymous with nominal, mediocre, passive, disengaged—a cop-out for just not caring.  The very fact that “ordinary” now has these connotations underscores the shift in our cultural imagination.  It’s a shift that makes it difficult to nurture those values that actually sustain deep commitments, values that enrich our lives and the lives of those around us.

Many of us had parents who were wind beneath our wings.  They encouraged us to aim for the stars.  We can all recall a coach or teacher who believed in us when we weren’t so sure of ourselves.  People like that are worth their weight in gold.  We cannot live without drives, passions, and goals.  God wired us that way and pronounced it “good.”  Yet everything that the Bible identifies as sin, and that even our nature recognizes as such, is something essentially good gone wrong.  Or more precisely, something that God has made that we corrupt.  Augustine defined the essence of sin as being curved in on ourselves.  Instead of looking up to God in faith and out to our neighbors in love, we turn inward.  We use God’s good gifts as weapons in the service of our mutiny against him and each other.

A good example of this is the pursuit of excellence.  It is going over and beyond the call of duty, with God’s glory and our neighbor’s good as the goal.  But this virtue can easily become warped when it is centered on us.  Whether due to a lack of confidence or over-confidence, we focus on goals and our own measurable progress rather than on the end toward which we should aim.  When this happens, “standards of excellence”—at school, at work, in the church and in family life—become an idol.  We have a certain image of ourselves or of the persona that we would like to project and we guard it at all costs.

Obviously, excellence is not the problem; we are.  The question is whether by excellence we mean quality or quantity, hype or substance, perpetual novelty or maturity.  It has often been said that American Christianity is a thousand miles wide and an inch deep.  If we were to measure excellence by God’s standards, the list might seem a little foreign and strange: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22).  Not exactly the qualities that are mentioned in job postings for leaders these days.

I have to say—and it will not come as any surprise to anyone involved in ministry—that things don’t often seem different in the church.  Love, joy, and peace are often threatened less by doctrinal disputes than by selfish ambition.  Tribes gather around a charismatic figure and then the movement that they form exalts itself over other churches or movements that haven’t caught up with the spirit of the age.  The mutual submission of members in local churches through the oversight of pastors and elders is seen as a fetter on one’s unique and utterly personal relationship with God.  The New Testament vision of local churches (and their leaders) submitting themselves to others in broader assemblies of accountability for doctrine and life surrenders to the atmosphere of the marketplace and political campaigns.  Patience is threatened by restless devotion to the latest slogan, the emerging generation, or the newest church growth/personal growth/social transformation program.  Kindness and goodness have given way in large measure to a coarse and inhospitable rhetoric that would have been considered sinful by our forebears and socially inappropriate by their contemporaries.  Faithfulness is not likely to thrive in an environment of perpetual revolutions, self-expression, and makeovers.  And the mature qualities of gentleness and self-control are made subordinate, at least in practice, to the sort of reckless, visceral, and often ill-informed judgments that we once associated with adolescence.

Excellence is still a goal to which we strive.  That’s true of anyone who’s driven by a worthy prospect, cause, or calling.  But the goal will not only determine the means but also whatever we assume excellence to be in the first place.  Since our failures are liberally pardoned by a merciful Father in Christ, we can strive “to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”  It is life not of fear, but of “endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.  He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:10-14).

White Horse Inn audio can be accessed at The White Horse Inn.  In the upper right corner of the home page you will see a  “Listen to WHI” section. There are about 10 WHI sessions listed. I think this is a 4-part series. The first was called “The Courage of the Ordinary”, broadcast Sep 1, and the second “Ordinary Excellence”, broadcast Sep 8. If you enjoy the weekly broadcasts you can subscribe to the WHI podcast just scroll down the page and click “Subscribe To Our Podcast” .

ENJOY!