Category Archives: Church
Below is a letter sent to the congregation of First Central Bible Church providing an update on the progress of our building renovation project. We’re getting closer.
Each one of us has different roles and responsibilities. The pattern for these differences is rooted in the Trinity. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit modeled the concept of functional subordination for the church, marriage, and the family.
|Trinity||The Father, Son, and the Spirit are equal as persons.
John 6:27; 10:30; Acts 5:3-4
|The Father, Son, and the Spirit have different functions.
1 John 2:1-2
|The Father has leadership and the Son and the Spirit submit.
1 Cor 11:3;
|Church||All members are to be considered without distinction in the Body.
|All members have been given spiritual gifts to serve the Body.
1 Cor 12:4-11;
1 Pet 4:10-11
|Christ has the authority and leadership is delegated to elders and pastors.
1 Pet 5:1-4;
1 Tim 5:17
|Marriage||Husbands and wives are viewed as co‑heirs of the grace of God.
1 Pet 3:7;
|Husbands and wives have unique functions in the family.
Gen 1:26-31; 2:18-25
|The husband is given the role as the leader to which the wife is commanded to submit and respect.
1 Pet 3:1-7;
|Family||All members stand in the place of equal responsibility before God.
Ezek 18:1-32 (20, 30)
|Different members have different roles and responsibilities.
Col 3:18-21; 1 Thess 2:7, 11
|Parents have the authority in the home and the children are to obey.
(Dr. Mark Bailey of Dallas Theological Seminary introduced this chart at the 1996 Couples Conference hosted by Crossroads Bible Church at the Inn at Semi-ah-moo. I found it to be extremely helpful in understanding submission and have used it ever since.)
In his book, Word Centered Church: How Scripture Brings Life and Growth to God’s People, author Jonathan Leeman includes a chapter, “The Church Prays.” He opens the chapter with a rather convicting (and accurate) observation.
A church’s prayer list will tell you a lot about that church and its members. Many church prayer lists that I’ve seen look like this:
Don’t forget to pray for… The Mason twins’ laryngitis … The senior ladies’ Sunday school bake sale … The Thomases’ sale of their home … The youth group’s car wash … The Robinsons, our missionaries in Ecuador … Summer jobs for our high school students … Bill’s pneumonia … Bill’s aunt’s double-pneumonia … Unspoken requests
When I first arrived in Kentucky for seminary, I joined a small Baptist church that had a prayer list much like this one. The vast majority of items were health requests (I’ve underrepresented the percentage here). Few of the items were relevant to the church as a whole, except for one of two “ministry” requests, like a missionary known only to the one member of the missions’ committee. And the person who read the list in our church’s Wednesday night prayer services never failed to have us raise our hands for “unspoken requests.”
This last category amazed me. If you’re not going to share the request, so that the church can own it with you, what good is acknowledging an “unspoken request”?
In fact, I think this category reveals something about how many churches and Christians view prayer. Prayer is a mechanism for inducing the Almighty to do what you want, and it’s essentially a private exercise.
J. I. Packer is surely right when he says that “prayer is the measure of a man, spiritually, in a way that nothing else is.” Our prayers reveal what our hearts want. They reveal how we regard God, His glory, and His power. And they reveal the quality and measure of faith—do we pray often and carefully, or not much at all?
The same must be true of a church’s prayers. They reveal what a church truly values, and where it places its hope.
Ouch! As uncomfortable as it may be to admit it, I think he has touched on a truth. As individuals and as a corporate body, we need to reexamine what we pray for and how we pray.
After spending two weeks in Russia, I often struggle when I return to the States. After seeing the commitment of my brothers and sisters in Russia, I question the habits of my church going friends in America.
During my first week in Anapa, one pastor and his friends drove nine hours to attend the three day class on the book of Revelation. Another pastor and two people came five hours by car and ferry to attend the class. All who attended carved out three days from their schedules to be present.
During my second week in Elista, the group did the preclass assignment in order to attend. They also rearranged their schedules to attend the three day course. Because of fear of persecution, they changed locations overnight and adapted their schedules accordingly. Though cautious, they came and did not stay away.
When I come home, I deal with those who are far less committed. Those who attend church once or twice a month and consider themselves regular attenders. Those who attend but never get involved. Those who observe but never participate. Those who are present but who defer when asked to serve. Those who keep their membership at one church but attend a different church. Those who never commit to anything because they want to keep their options open.
For the former, church is a matter of commitment. For the latter, church seems to be a matter of convenience.
Maybe it’s the jet lag talking, but I don’t get it.
In 1968, the Swiss dominated the watch industry producing 65% of the watches in the world and 80% of the profits, however just ten years later they had only a 10% market share. What happened? Their own researchers invented the electronic (Quartz) watch and the Swiss executives rejected it. The Japanese on the other hand saw a new paradigm with this technology and took over the market that the Swiss dominated with the technology that the Swiss themselves invented. The Swiss were so sure that electronics were not the future of watch making that they didn’t even protect their own invention with a copyright.
What is true of industry is also true of churches. If we rest on past accomplishments, we can start to slide. If we are not careful, we will become increasingly irrelevant.
In Revelation 1:11, Jesus sent a message to each of seven local churches in Asia Minor. In the letter to the church in Sardis, Jesus rebukes the church for its compromise that is leading to spiritual death and reassures the faithful few with promises of heavenly citizenship. This letter points out the key principle, We need to take an honest look at our present circumstances. Rather than rest on past accomplishments, we need to obey Christ and live for him in the present.
The Church (1a) – Not much is known about the church. It was possibly founded as an outreach of Paul’s ministry at Ephesus (Acts 19:10).
The City (1a) – The city was located about 30 miles southeast of Thyatira and about 50 miles inland from Ephesus. It was located on an important trade route that ran east and west through the kingdom of Lydia. The city was one of the most ancient, founded about 1200 BC. It became the capital of the wealthy and powerful Lydian kingdom.
The citadel of the ancient city of Sardis occupied a long ridge on Mount Tmolus which rose about 1,500 feet above the area below. The city occupied a large portion of the valley below; and the acropolis, to which threatened citizens could repair in time of war, served primarily for the defense of the city. The approach to the acropolis was sheer at any point except across the saddle of Mount Tmolus, which was also steep and difficult. Hence, Sardis was considered to be almost impregnable for opposing armies.
The city was conquered by the Persians, then the Greeks under Alexander the Great, and finally by the Romans. On two separate occasions, the city was conquered because the sentries failed to keep watch and defend the city. It had fallen due to overconfidence and the failure to watch. “Capturing Sardis” became a saying for achieving the impossible.
Important industries included jewelry, dye, and textiles, which had made the city wealthy. It was the center of the dyeing industry. It was known for its manufacture of woolen garments. From a religious standpoint it was a center of pagan worship and site of a temple of Artemis. The temple dated from the fourth century B.C. They worshipped the mother goddess, Cybele. Her worship was of the most debasing character, and orgies like those of Dionysus were practice at the festivals held in her honor.
The Character of Christ (1b) – Jesus holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. The seven spirits represent the Holy Spirit. The seven stars are the pastors of the churches. Christ holds each one in his hands. Christ introduces himself as the one who works sovereignly in the churches through the Holy Spirit and godly leaders.
The Condition of the Church: Commendation – What sounds like a word of approval is actually a word of rebuke. There is no compliment, only criticism. Their “strength” is their “weakness.”
The Condition of the Church: Concern (1b) – The church had the appearance of being alive. They were regarded by their contemporaries as an effective church. The reality is that the church was dead. Their outward appearance was a façade hiding their lack of life. The church had grown comfortable and content living off its past reputation.
The Command (2-4) – Jesus exhorts the church using five commands.
Wake up – Wake up from their spiritual slumber. The first step toward revival in a dying church is honest awareness that something is wrong.
Strengthen what remains – The verb means to “support” or “stand something on its feet” and has the idea of establishing a thing by making it strong. This was vital because what little that remained was about to die.
Remember – Remember the time when they had been spiritually alive. It is not merely a matter a remembering past truths, however, it is also putting them back into practice. “Received” refers to the truths they have been taught. “Heard” refers to believing and acting on the teaching.
Keep it, Obey it – Be obedient to the heavenly vision. Spiritual vigilance is seen in perseverance and obedient living of these spiritual realities.
Repent – Change direction of your life. The church needs to change its downward spiral and get right with God.
The Consequences (3b) – Jesus promises sudden and immediate judgment. He will come suddenly and unexpectedly like a thief to destroy them. Just as the city of Sardis had succumbed to unexpected military attack, so the church of Sardis will be visited by Christ’s judgment—if it does not change.
The Commitment (4-5) – While the church is dead and dying, Christ recognized a godly remnant in the Sardis church who had not soiled their clothes with sin. He promised the true believers will be dressed in white, symbolic of the righteousness of God. Their names will remain in the book of life. Christ will acknowledge them as his own before his father and his angels.
It is possible for a dead church to change. As long as a few people remain faithful, God can breathe new life into the church.
The Challenge (6) – Take the message to heart. Hear and heed the message.
When Mickey Cohen, a famous Los Angeles gangster of the late 1940’s, made a public profession of faith in Christ, his new Christian friends were elated. But as time passed, they began to wonder why he did not leave his gangster lifestyle. When they confronted him concerning this question, however, he protested. “You never told me I had to give up my career. You never told me that I had to give up my friends. There are Christian movie stars, Christian athletes, Christian businessmen. So what’s the matter with being a Christian gangster? If I have to give up all that—if that’s Christianity—count me out.” Cohen gradually drifted away from Christian circles and ultimately died lonely and forgotten.
Principles (1) What matters most is not our religious reputation before human beings but our standing before God, which is related to how we live. (2) For a sick and dying church to regain its health calls for specific action prescribed by Jesus Christ, and made effective by the Holy Spirit.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on February 11, 2018. It is part of a series on The State of the Church. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.
Book Review: Pastors are People Too: What They Won’t Tell You but You Need to Know, by Jimmy Dodd and Larry Magnuson
Does your pastor feel as if he needs to hit a home run in every sermon he preaches? Does he feel like he has the freedom to fail? Does he know who has his back or is he always looking over his shoulder for fear of attack? Does your pastors’ wife feel the freedom to be herself or does she feel like she has to measure up to the standard set by a previous pastors’ wife? How well does your church take care of your pastor and his family?
All of these questions and more are addressed in the book, Pastors are People Too: What They Won’t Tell You but You Need to Know, by Jimmy Dodd and Larry Magnuson. The authors provide helpful insight into what pastors face and experience on a daily basis. They also provide practical ideas on how you and the church can better support and encourage your pastor.
Jimmy Dodd heads up an organization called PastorServe, a ministry that provides care, counseling, and friendship to pastors. Larry Magnuson leads SonScape Retreats, a ministry that provides weeklong experiences in spectacular settings designed to encourage and build up pastors and their spouses. Carol and I had the privilege of attending a SonScape Retreat seven years ago. It not only allowed us to rest and reset, but also gave us insight into some of the challenges we were currently facing and how to deal with them.
The book would be a helpful tool for anyone who wants to come alongside and be an asset to a pastor rather than an antagonist.
I purchased a copy of the book myself and found it to be helpful. It expresses many of the things I would say or ask for if I was bold enough to do so. Fortunately, the authors do it much better than I could. The opinions I share in this review are my own.