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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Tweaking the Template

Trying for a little bit of a new look here at Hot Orthodoxy. I'll be tweaking the template with a few new colors and a few more features on the side-bar. Pardon our dust while we remodel. Nothing too different, I'm afraid. Maybe someday I'll venture out and get a unique template all of my own, but right now blogging is a hobby of mine that is at the bottom of the priority list for life and ministry (and that's where it belongs).

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Boy in a Box


You never know what you'll find in a box of Huggies! Posted by Picasa

Laying in the Leaves


Ahh, a job well-done. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Matt's Messages - The Joyfully-Led Church

“The Joyfully-Led Church”
September 25, 2005
Hebrews 13:17


We are together in a series on the doctrine of the local church. Over the Summer, we read the book Stop Dating the Church! This Fall, we are studying the doctrine of the church in Adult Sunday School. And two weeks ago, I gave a message entitled: “The Newborn Church” on the things which characterized the church at her birth in Acts chapter 2. Among those things, we found the “worship, instruction, fellowship, evangelism, and service” that make up the last line of our church’s purpose statement. Or (as we said two weeks ago): loving Jesus, learning of Jesus, linking to others in Jesus, luring other to Jesus, and living for Jesus. “The Newborn Church.”

Today’s message is entitled, “The Joyfully-Led Church.” And it is a message on church leadership and church followership.

Hebrews chapter 13, verse 17 is about the vital relationship between the leaders of the local church and the followers in the local church. And when this relationship is working right–working according to this passage–you have the “Joyfully-Led Church.” That’s how it is supposed to be. The Joyfully-Led Church.

In just a few minutes, we are going to have a extended period of concerted prayer for our next ministry staff person–probably a second pastor, an associate or assistant pastor–for our church. And to get us ready for praying for that man–for the position, for the job description, for the timing, for the calling of that man–your church leadership board has asked me to preach on the subject of church leadership and church followership. And my mind went almost immediately to Hebrews chapter 13, verse 17.

Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you. (NIV)
I have four major things I want to point out to you in this passage today:

Your job (as church followers), our job (as church leaders), our joy (as church leaders), and your joy (as church followers).

Your job, our job, our joy, your joy. Got it?

First, YOUR JOB: FOLLOW.

Hebrews 13:17 begins with a command for all of us who are believers in the local church. “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority.” King James Version: “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves...”

In other words: follow.

Believers in Jesus Christ are to follow the leaders of their local churches.

We’ve been learning through the book Stop Dating the Church that every believer should be a part of a local church. Passionate and committed. Passionate and committed to the local church. Every believer.

And one of the ways that we are to express our passion and commitment to the local church is through following the leadership of the church’s leaders. Hebrews 13 uses what sounds like strong words to our American ears: “obey and submit.”

Believers in Jesus Christ are to follow the leaders of their local churches. That’s your job: follow.

Now, there are some qualifications that need to be made here. This command assumes that the local church has qualified leaders: 1 Timothy 3 leaders and Titus 1 leaders. This command assumes that the leaders of a local church are godly and trustworthy and have biblical goals for the local church that they are leading. This assumes that the church leaders are attempting to lead the church followers to love and to obey and to submit and to ultimately follow the Chief Shepherd–the Lord Jesus–and not their own little kingdoms. Peter instructs church leaders “to not lord it over the flock.”

This command also assumes that the authority of church leadership is derived from and defined by the Scriptures. Derived from and defined by the scriptures (not personality, charisma, charm, or even leadership gifting). Church leadership authority is derived from the Scriptures and defined by the Scriptures. This assumes that the church leaders see their sphere of authority being the teaching and application of the Word of God, the directing of the affairs of the church, and the watch-care of the church followers’ souls. This is not a cultic, unquestioning Jim Jones kind of following.

This command also assumes the plurality of leaders. It says, “leaders” not “pastor.” This command assumes that there is no one single man that leads the church and is to be infallibly followed (I am not a Protestant Pope!). We are all (every man on your Church Leadership Board) fallen, finite, and fallible. And that’s one reason why we have a plurality of leaders on our Church Leadership Board. I, too, am a church follower. I am submissive and obedient to them even though I am one of them and a leader of them as well. We are a team. You are led by a team.

[I am indebted to CJ Mahaney and his excellent message on Hebrews 13:17 “Leadership in the Happiest Place on Earth” for a lot of the insights in this message–especially the qualifications in the paragraphs above.]

This command assumes that all of those things are reasonably in place.

But where they are...believers in Jesus Christ should be eager to follow.

Your Job: Follow.

John Piper writes, “Hebrews 13:17 means that a church should have a bent toward trusting its leaders; you should have a disposition to be supportive in your attitudes and actions toward their goals and directions; you should want to imitate their faith; and you should have a happy inclination to comply with their instructions.” [“Obey Your Joyful Leaders: Part 2" October 12, 1997]

Now, this could be a very difficult message to preach in some churches. Many pastors would never preach this passage for fear of offending their people and making them mad.

But this is not an especially difficult passage for me to preach this morning because you are a very good church at following!

I think that all of our leaders would agree that you are a good church at following your leaders.

I’ve heard a number of our older board members say that the last several years especially have been the most enjoyable years of church unity and followership that they’ve experienced in the last 15 to 30 years of leading this church.

You’ve followed us through some pretty amazing things in the last several years. Wild West Day. The JESUS Video Project. Numerous opportunities to give and support missionaries and relief efforts around the world (You are a very giving church!). Family Bible Weeks. Hiring Summer Ministry Staff and an Administrative Coordinator. Big projects like the Ark Park and the parking lot. Corporately, you’ve done a great job at following.

I’ll just speak for myself. You have followed me through the Bible these last 7 years. Next month is Pastor Appreciation Month. Let me tell you how to appreciate me as your pastor: keep reading, studying, and applying your Bibles! “I have no greater joy than [to know that my church family] is walking in the truth.” (3 John 4). You accepted a rookie pastor fresh out of seminary, at only age 25[!], and you let him take you through book after book of the Bible. We’ve been through Philippians twice, the Gospel of John, Colossians, Ephesians, 1 Peter, James, Genesis, and now, Exodus (and a lot of other places along the way). And you have followed me through those books. And you have applied them to your lives. I have no greater joy than when I know that you are doing that. You want to show appreciation to me? Stay in the Word and apply the Word! Like you have been doing. You are a good church for following church leadership.

In general. But don’t let your good reputation or your history keep you from examining yourself in light of this command.

How are you doing (not just as a whole but you personally) at following church leadership? Don’t rest on your laurels or on your neighbors’ good followership.

Are there things that your church leadership wants you to do that you are not willing to do? Are there areas where you are passively rebellious if not actively rebellious? Are there things that you know that you could do to support the leadership but you have not done for various reasons? Are there any attitudes that need repenting of if not actions?

How are you doing at following your leaders? What more can you do?

Your job is to follow.

Our job (#2) is TO WATCH OVER. V.17 again.

“Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. [For (Greek)] They keep watch over you as men who must give an account.”

Your Job Is to Follow.
Our Job Is to Watch Over You.

The Greek word agrupnew (agrupneo) means to watch over or be vigilant about. It comes from a word that means “to keep oneself awake, to stay alert.”

Our job as your church leaders (and especially mine as your pastor) is to stay alert to you. To watch over you. To care for you like a watching, wakeful shepherd.

Figuratively speaking, I’m supposed to lose sleep over you (and sometimes literally speaking).

It’s my job (our job, as church leaders) to watch over you.

Literally (and woodenly), this could be translated: “to watch over for your soul.”

It’s our job to watch over your souls. Your life. Your hearts. What is going on inside of you. To correct sin, to point out evidences of grace, to comfort you in trials, to protect you from winds of false doctrine and false teachers, and to point your soul in a Godward direction. To watch over you.

That’s a big job.

It’s another reason why we have a plurality of church leaders and why we have a paid staff person (myself) who is a professional people-shepherd. It’s a big job. So big, that your leadership board thinks it’s time to pray in another professional people-shepherd to come on board with us. Watching over you is a big job.

And it’s a very serious job.

Do you see how serious it is in verse 17?

“They keep watch over you as men who must give an account.”

That’s a pretty scarey statement when I get to thinking about it.

I will have to give an account for what I did with your souls.

There will be a day when I will have to answer for my leadership of this flock.

I am to keep watch over you as a man who must give an account.

And that’s true of all of our church leaders. We are accountable. To each other, yes, to the whole church family at our congregational meetings, yes, but most importantly to the Most Important One. We will give an account for your souls.

Your job is to follow our leadership.
Our job is to watch over you in view of that Day.

Pretty serious stuff.

Now, I won’t be held accountable for what you did with what I said to you. You will. But I will be held accountable for whether or not I did say it.

I will have to give an account for your souls. And I take that responsibility very seriously. And studying it this week, I realized that I need to take it even more seriously. It’s my job to watch over you–in love.

But it’s also my joy!

#3. OUR JOY: YOU! V.17 yet again.

“Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden...”

You are my work, therefore, you are my joy.

And as you respond in faith to my leadership and grow spiritually, my joy increases.

It’s another reason for you to follow. So that I am joyful!

Our job is to watch over your souls.
Your job is to follow our leadership in such a way that you grow as our joy.

And you do.
And you are.

At our quarterly church family meetings, I try to always end my pastoral report with this sentence (does anyone know what it is?): “It’s a joy to be your pastor.”

I believe that. [Not that I don’t have my moments, and you yours!] But you are a joy to pastor. And you, yourselves, are my joy.

The Apostle Paul said that about one of the churches he has planted. He said, “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy” (1 Thess 2:19-20).

That’s how I feel about Lanse Free Church.

Can I do a little Pastor Appreciation of you?

This Summer, I just completed my seventh year as your pastor.

Now, the average American Protestant pastor doesn’t stay at one church for more than five years. And many pastors get the seven year itch about this time.

I have a seven year itch of a different kind! I’m itching for seven more!

In fact, my wife and I have just this year set a goal of pastoring you for a least another twenty years. Now, God may have other plans. I don’t know. But the plans that I am laying out right now call for at least another 20 years. That’s 27 in total.

You are my joy.

And during that time, I want to grow in my ability to watch over your souls. And I want to help our church grow spiritually and numerically and reach out in our community for Christ. And I want to do it by discipling families (starting from the Dad’s down and working out through the rest of the family) to disciple families and live wise, joyful, and holy lives.

And I need you to follow me. I need you to do your part. To roll up your sleeves get to work. To not grumble or complain. To join the church. To get a ministry. To love, learn, link, lure, and live for Jesus. I need you to follow me.

We, as your church leaders, need you to follow us. V.17 says to do it so that our work would be joy (you would be a joy to us) and not a burden.

Literally that is “not a groaning.” A joy not a groaning. Next weekend, you are sending us on a District Pastors and Wives Retreat. And I am sure that when we get to connect with the other couples next week we will hear some groaning. Church followers who don’t follow cause groaning.

I am thankful that we will get to go and spread our joy in you. That’s the way it should be. A joy not a groaning.
Because that wouldn’t be for your joy!

YOUR JOY: JESUS. V.17 one last time.

“Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

What good would it be for you to have groaning leaders? If Keith, George, Charlie, Lloyd, Tom, Wally, Blair, and I go around groaning all the time, how will that help you to enjoy Jesus who is the whole goal of our church?

We exist to glorify God by bringing YOU into a love relationship with Jesus Christ...by church leaders who watch over you for your joy in Him...and by church followers who obey and submit to church leadership so that it is joy to be your leaders.

You are to allow yourself to be joyfully led.
We are joyfully lead you.

And together this beautiful dynamic, this poetic dance, will be the Joyfully-Led Church.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Whence Matt? - Joe H. Shultz

The first real entry in this series is a bittersweet one. One of my earliest mentors, Joe H. Shultz, died last Wednesday.

Joe was a gospel ventriloquist and illusionist who worked with young people when my Dad was a teen in Canton, Ohio. I met him when I was a teen, and he was still leading youth to Christ and discipling them--and going strong. Joe was irrepressibly funny (I learned lots of things about humor from him, including spoonerisms and other funny ways of talking), engaging to listen to, and full of Scripture. He was a definite influence on my life and ministry.

Joe took me to my first Fellowship of Christian Magicians Conference when I was only a teen. It was at FCM that I first began to feel the tug towards a proclamation ministry (initially using my juggling skills!).

Then, when I was at Moody, Joe led me through an evangelism internship in Wichita, Kansas. He lined up several opportunities for me to speak about Christ, counsel spiritual seekers, and watch him in action. It really gave me a feel for the life of an itinerant evangelist and the privileges and difficulties of gospel ministry. We also had a lot of one-on-one time during that two-week internship. Up until that time, I had not had many close mentoring relationships. Joe was a first. I still do many of the things Joe taught me and remember a lot of the wisdom that he shared with me those two weeks in Wichita.

One of my regrets in ministry has been (and now I'll have to live with it forever) is that I never had Joe out to preach in our church here in Pennsylvania. I'm sure that it would have been a rich, fun, and Christ-honoring experience.

But I'm happy for Joe that he is now in the presence of the Savior. There is no better place to be.

[This is a little of what Joe meant to me. But he meant a lot more to a lot of people. Joe H. Shultz's full obituary posted was in the
Canton Repository on Saturday.]


Part of an ongoing series about major influences on my life, thought, and ministry. "Whence" is an old English word that means, "From Where?"

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Unca Andy and the Kids



All of mine (and all of my brother's) in the hammock last week on vacation. Posted by Picasa

Wedding Party


That's my little girl, Robin, down in front. She did such a good job! Daddy is very proud. Posted by Picasa

Me and Da Boys...


...at my cousin's wedding last weekend. Posted by Picasa

Anna Grace


This is my littlest niece (my brother's daughter). What a sweetie! Posted by Picasa

Bring On the S'Mores!


A family in our chuch just built us a fire-ring to enjoy! Posted by Picasa

Monday, September 19, 2005

Vacation Reading

We took a vacation this week. We didn't go anywhere, just hung around home and didn't go to work. My brother, sister-in-law, and niece came to visit (hopefully going to put up some pictures of our vacation soon), we took day-trips, and we participated in my cousin's wedding. It was a good vacation.

I also finished two books that I have been reading. The first, Gilead, is a novel about an old pastor who had a suprising family in his old age. This pastor is writing a letter to his young son, whom he doesn't expect to see grow up. It is very lyrical and thoughtful and serious. The author certainly knows her historical theology (she is conversant with Calvin, Augustine, Feurbach, and Barth) and is an excellent storyteller. I can't really recommend it for its insights (my main criticism is that the main character seems overly in love with this world and not enough focused on the world to come and this shapes everything in the book), but I do recommend it for the storytelling. There is a lot here about family, shame, love, friendship, and life in general. And the writing is down-right poetical. Michael Travers recently published a review of Gilead in Reformation21.


The second book I finished I can wholeheartedly recommend for both style and content. When I Don't Desire God: How to Fight for Joy is a book on spiritual growth by John Piper. It is as much a personal glimpse into how Dr. Piper pursue's God as it is a theological argument about the "dangerous duty of delight." My wife has read it through once and started again. I really enjoyed the 2nd to last chapter "How to Wield the World in the Fight for Joy." Dr. Piper explains how we are to see and use everything in creation (including our own bodies) as a way of enjoying God. Highly recommended. And if you're hard up on cash, you can read it online.

I can't wait for my next vacation so I can get a little more caught up on my reading!

Charles Spurgeon on Hot Orthodoxy

"If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit."
- Galatians 5:25


"The two most important things in our holy religion are the life of faith and the walk of faith. He who shall rightly understand these is not far from being a master in experimental theology, for they are vital points to a Christian. You will never find true faith unattended by true godliness; on the other hand, you will never discover a truly holy life which has not for its root a living faith upon the righteousness of Christ. Woe unto those who seek after the one without the other! There are some who cultivate faith and forget holiness; these may be very high in orthodoxy, but they shall be very deep in condemnation, for they hold the truth in unrighteousness; and there are others who have strained after holiness of life, but have denied the faith, like the Pharisees of old, of whom the Master said, they were "whitewashed sepulchres." We must have faith, for this is the foundation; we must have holiness of life, for this is the superstructure. Of what service is the mere foundation of a building to a man in the day of tempest? Can he hide himself therein? He wants a house to cover him, as well as a foundation for that house. Even so we need the superstructure of spiritual life if we would have comfort in the day of doubt. But seek not a holy life without faith, for that would be to erect a house which can afford no permanent shelter, because it has no foundation on a rock. Let faith and life be put together, and, like the two abutments of an arch, they will make our piety enduring. Like light and heat streaming from the same sun, they are alike full of blessing. Like the two pillars of the temple, they are for glory and for beauty. They are two streams from the fountain of grace; two lamps lit with holy fire; two olive trees watered by heavenly care. O Lord, give us this day life within, and it will reveal itself without to thy glory."

[From Spurgeon's devotional classic, Morning and Evening, Morning Reading for September 18th. Hat tip to Dan Ledford]

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Matt's Messages - The Newborn Church

“The Newborn Church”
September 11, 2005
Acts 2:1-47


Today, I’m going to begin a short series of sermons on the doctrine of the local church. We’ve all been reading Stop Dating the Church by Josh Harris. And our Sunday School classes will continue on the theme of the church throughout the Fall. Over the next month or so, I’d like to go deeper in our understanding of what the local church is supposed to be and do.

This morning, I’d like to remind us of our purpose statement as a church. It’s now been six and half years since your Leadership Board went away for the day and reworked our church’s purpose statement to be what you see on the front of your bulletin. It’s been six years since I preached a series of sermons on that new purpose statement. It’s not really new any more! But it is still very biblical, very helpful, and very good.

It says, “Lanse Evangelical Free Church exists to glorify God (That’s the bottom line! The glory of God is the rock-bottom reason for our existence) by bringing people (we’re all about God, and we’re all about people: children, youth, adults, singles, couples, families, seniors, our community, the nations, people) into a love relationship with Jesus Christ (knowing the love of Christ and returning love to Christ–a love relationship with Jesus Christ) through (5 things) worship, instruction, fellowship, evangelism, and service.” That’s our statement of our purpose.

Now, this morning, I want to go down through those last 5 things and remind ourselves of their importance for our church and for each of our own lives. But before I do, let’s see these things at work in the birth of the local church–Acts chapter 2.

Acts 2 is the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy that the Holy Spirit would come on the disciples, and they would be his witnesses and spread His Word. It is often called the “Birth of the Church.”

I want us to study the last six verses in-depth, but I think we should read the whole thing to get a sense of the story.

Acts chapter 2, verse 1.

“When the day of Pentecost came [50 days after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection], they [the disciples] were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. [Holy Spirit?!] They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. [Fire like the burning bush?!] All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: ‘Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? [They’ve got the accent!] Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs–we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!’ Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, ‘What does this mean?’ [God is doing something here!] Some, however, made fun of them and said, ‘They have had too much wine.’”

Verse 14. “Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: ‘Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘'In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. [This is a down-payment on this prophecy!] Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.' ‘Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. David said about him: ‘'I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.' ‘Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, ‘'The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’' ‘Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.’”

Peter preached the Lord Jesus Christ! And then what happened? The church was born.

“When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off–for all whom the Lord our God will call.’ With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’”

“Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (NIV)

What a day that was! The birth of the church.

The Holy Spirit came, just as Jesus had foretold (though not like anyone might have expected!), the disciples were filled with Him and boldly preached to an international Jewish audience the gospel of Jesus Christ: His life, death, resurrection, and exaltation.

And the people responded! They were (v.37) “cut to the heart.” They felt it! They agonized over their sins. They saw themselves as guilty before a holy God and those who had killed His Messiah. And they called out for salvation.

And Peter told them to repent (to turn from their sins) and to be baptized (expressing their confidence in Christ’s death on their behalf, identifying with Him in baptism) for the forgiveness of their sins. And with that repentance and faith would come the Holy Spirit. To all whom the Lord would call–people near and people far. This generation and the generations to come.

And 3,000 people got saved!

The first church was immediately a mega-church. 3,000 people were (v.41) “added to their number that day.” What a day! The birth of the church.

Now, what did that newborn church in Jerusalem do? What practices did they immediately adopt?

Let’s re-read verses 42 through 47.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

Does that sound anything like our purpose statement? We sure hope so! This is one of the passages that we studied when came up with it back in March of 1999.

Lanse Free Church exists to glorify God (and there was a lot of glorifying God here!) by bringing people into a love relationship with Jesus Christ (The Lord Jesus and His gospel was preached on the day of Pentecost) through worship, instruction, fellowship, evangelism, and service.

I think that all five of those are right here.

Now, there is always a tension in studying the book of Acts between knowing what is prescriptive and what is merely descriptive. What is mandated (prescripted) for all of the churches now and what is being reported here as simply a description of what the Holy Spirit was doing then in the newborn church.

But I think that we can safely draw these five practices out of this passage because they are also prescribed elsewhere in scripture for the local church.

#1. Worship. Or LOVING JESUS.

Verse 46 has the believers meeting together in the temple courts. Verse 47 says that they were praising God.

The newborn church worshiped.

They met together, and they praised God together. They worshiped.

And our local church should do the same.

We call our Sunday morning meeting our Worship Celebration. And the whole thing is about worship.

That’s why we don’t just call the singing “worship.”

Look at the inside of the front of your bulletin. Notice how often we use the word worship:

“Welcome to Worship”

“Worship in Giving” (The offering is an act of worship, valuing Jesus as the supreme treasure of our lives.)

“Worship in Singing and Sharing” (The Bible says, “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Eph. 5:19-20))

“Worship in the Word.” What we are doing right now is worship. Or at least it should be.

Everything the church does should be considered worship.

And all of us are called to worship all the time.

Sunday is the weekly intensification of our 24/7 regular worship lifestyle.

Question. Are you a worshipper? Are you and I committed to daily personal worship and committed to corporate worship together?

Worship is not a spectator sport. It’s a participative thing.

Do you just come on Sundays but leave your heart behind? Are you here on Sundays? All of you?

Are you worshiping throughout the week? Chapter 6 in the book “Stop Dating the Church” (which Tom Hampton is going to lead a discussion of next Sunday) has a great guide to getting ready throughout the week for the Sunday Celebration. It’s called “How to Get More From the Best Day of the Week.”

The newborn church worshiped, and so should we.

Their worship included what we call the ordinances of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Baptism was the initial symbol of inclusion in the church. It said to the world that you had repented and put your faith in Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and want to be numbered with the church.

Have you been baptized as a believer in Jesus Christ? It’s a first step of obedience to the Risen Lord. Talk with me if you are ready to publically identify with Him as your Savior. There were 3,000 baptisms that day!

And the Lord’s Supper is referred to (I think) in verse 42 and 46 in the “breaking of bread.” Now, that could be just a fellowship meal, but there is a real emphasis on it here, and I expect that they included their remembrance of our Savior’s sacrifice in their regular communal meals.

We practice it monthly. The Bible says to do it regularly. And here, they are “devoted” to it. They are given to it. It was a regular part of their worship to remember what Jesus had done on the Cross.

It was Cross-Centered Worship. And ours needs to be, as well.

And the other thing their worship included (and permeated all of what they did) was prayer. V.42

“They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

Prayer permeated all of what they did.

And it should for us, as well.

How are you doing with your prayer life? Are you “in touch” with God? Do you have a regular appointment with Him? Do pray?

Do you meet with others to pray? This says, “they were devoted...to prayer.” I think that means together. We all need to be meeting with others and praying together.

If you don’t have a thing like that in your life right now, get one. Prayer Meeting would be a good place to start for many of you.

The Bible says, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” (Col. 4:2)

The newborn church worshiped, and so should we.

#2. The newborn church experienced instruction. Instruction or LEARNING OF JESUS. V.42 again.

“They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching...”

The word for devoted here (proskarterou/nte) means to attach yourself to something to get close to and not leave something. That’s how the newborn church felt about the apostle’s teaching.

And the apostle’s teaching is available to us now in this book: the Bible.


They were devoted instruction, to learning of Jesus.

This is why we stress the Bible around here. It’s because we want to be “devoted to the apostle’s teachings.”

That’s why our sermons, classes, Bible studies, Link Groups, and every other ministry has a Word-based component to it.

How are you doing at learning of Jesus? Are you committed to regular Bible reading and study yourself? Not just a little snatch here and there, but regular, systematic, prayerful study of the Holy Scriptures?

I hope that my sermon is not your only dose each week of spiritual food. Imagine eating food only once week! You’d shrivel up and have nothing to go on. We each need to have regular personal time in the Bible being shaped by its message.

Are you committed to learning of Jesus with others? These believers sat together at the disciple’s feet. They met together in homes. They worked at understanding Christian teaching together.

Are you connected to a learning group where you are going deeper in the apostle’s teaching with others?

Are you applying what you are learning? Jesus told the disciples to establish the church by teaching their disciples to obey everything that He had commanded. Not just to know what He had taught but to put it into practice. Are you doing that?

On Thursday night, Heather and I had a date. We left Robin in charge, and went to State College (just kidding, Ruth Murray graciously came over and watched the kids, but we did go to State College) and we went out to eat and to Barnes and Noble for a little book-shopping.

There is a section at Barnes & Noble which is like 50 or 100 books just about Pennsylvania: hiking Pennsylvania, shopping in Pennsylvania, sight-seeing in Pennsylvania, taking kids around Pennsylvania, etc, etc.

It struck me that someone could sit down with a Starbucks coffee at Barnes and Noble and read all of those books and become a veritable expert on Pennsylvania but never go to any of those places and put any of that information to work.

There are many people like that in Jesus’ church. To learn of Jesus means to learn to obey Jesus, to apply what we know of Jesus. Continually learning, gaining wisdom and biblical worldview and then putting it to work.

The newborn church experienced instruction.

#3. The newborn church experienced fellowship. Fellowship or LINKING WITH OTHERS IN JESUS. V.42 again.

“They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and to the fellowship...”

They devoted themselves to the fellowship. That is, they gave themselves to one another. They built relationships. They connected with one another and built a new community. V.44

“All the believers were together and had everythig in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.”

Those are all descriptions of biblical fellowship.

Fellowship is having the most important things in common.

This last Spring when I went to my class on Small Group Ministry, we were asked to come up with our own definition of biblical community in 50 words or less. Here was my stab at it:

Biblical community is a sanctifying foretaste of heaven, experienced in the smallest of groups and in large gatherings, when followers of Jesus Christ share together the most important things in life in such a way that the diverse but unified body of Christ is built up, cared for, and brought to maturity so that their oneness with each other somehow reflects and shares in the oneness of the Trinity.

And the contemporary word that I thought of to express that is: Linking.

It’s connectivity. It’s relationality. It’s linking with others in Jesus.

Jesus is what we have in common. We are all very different from one another. (Some of us are more different than others!) But the church has Jesus in common. He is our point of fellowship.

And we are to link with others in Him.

How are you doing at linking?

Are you committed to spiritual relationship that help one another grow? Are you accountable to others? Are you accountable to church leadership? Are you committed to others in the Body of Christ? Are you a member of a local church? Are you doing the “one-anothers” of Scripture with other believers?

Are you willing to get involved in a small group of believers? Our leaders are looking to launch a number of what we are going to now call “Link Groups” to connect believers to one another in vital spiritual community.

Are you connected? Or are you out there on the fringe?

I read a tragic story this week. In October of 1993, in the town of Worcester, Massachusetts, police found an old woman dead on her kitchen floor. This was no ordinary discovery–she had been dead four years!

Police speculated she died at age seventy-three of natural causes. That's when her bank transactions ended.

To some extent, it was a mistake. Four years earlier, neighbors had called authorities when they sensed something might be wrong. When the police contacted the woman's brother, he said she had gone into a nursing home. Police told the postal service to stop delivering mail. One neighbor paid her grandson to cut the grass because the place was looking run-down. Another neighbor had the utility company come and shut off the water when a pipe froze, broke, and sent water spilling out of the door.

To a great extent though, it was not a mistake. One friend from the past said, "She didn't want anyone bothering her at all. I guess she got her wish, but it's awfully sad." Her brother said the family hadn't been close since their mother died in 1979. The woman had lived in her house in this middle class neighborhood for forty years, but none of her neighbors knew her. "My heart bleeds for her, " said the woman who lives across the street. "But you can't blame a soul. If she saw you out there, she never said hello to you." What a tragedy!

This woman had isolated herself from any sense of community. And it took 4 years to discover her body. (Originally from a book of sermon illustrations, I can’t find the source today.)

Some Christians believe that they can live the Christian life in isolation. It's not possible. We need each.

The Apostle Paul knew people just like that. In 1 Cor. 12, he says, "If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body, it would not for that reason cease to be a part of the body....In fact God has arranged the parts of the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be."

Being a Christian means more than just believing...being a Christian means belonging.

Are you belonging?

The newborn church devoted themselves to fellowship.

#4. The newborn church devoted itself to evangelism. Evangelism or LURING OTHERS TO JESUS.

Peter did it on the day of Pentecost with His sermon. I’ll bet they were doing it in the temple courts. They were certainly having an effect on outsiders. V.47

“[They were] praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number daily those who were being saved.”

I love all the different ways the book of Acts refers to people coming to faith.

“The Lord was adding to their number daily those who were being saved.”

The newly born church was a healthy church. And like all healthy things, a healthy church inevitably grows.

Jesus said, “Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19)

Luring others to the Savior.

Are you doing that? Are you a lure? Do you love the lost? Are you praying for those who do not yet know the Lord? Do you know the Gospel? Are you ready to share it? The gospel is the main thing. And the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.

We’re to do evangelism as individuals, but also as a church.

Late in October this year, I am going to preach a series of evangelistically-minded sermons on Hell and Heaven. And we’re going to encourage everyone to bring a friend on their elbow for that series of messages.

We, as a church, need to be doing evangelism, bringing people into a love relationship with Jesus Christ.

We cannot be content to let people just be lost.

We need to be saying, with the apostle Peter, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation! ... Repent and be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” (Vv. 40, 38)

How many people in New Orleans thought that they had so much more time to live their lives? And now they face eternity.

Life is short. We need to reach out to people with the gospel and lure them by the truth of Christ to faith in Christ.

Oh for the day, when we could say, “The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved!”

The newborn church practiced evangelism.

And #5. The newborn church practiced service. Service or LIVING FOR JESUS.

They took care of one another. V.45

“Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to one another as he had need.”

Just like we have been giving towards Katrina victims, they served by giving their financial resources for ministry.

There’s not much here about this, but they also gave their time and energy and efforts. They used their spiritual gifts in ministry to one another. They found where they fit in the Body of Christ and got to work using their gifts for the good of whole.

They were committed to living for Jesus in loving others and meeting their needs. They weren’t content to just let others do it. They got personally involved.

How are you doing at serving?

Do you use your gifts in ministry to others? Do you have a ministry here at church where you serve? Are you ready to say, “Yes” when asked?

This church is full of servants. It’s one of the things that I love to talk about when I meet with the other pastors. We have a number of people who are active in serving with glad hearts. As your pastor, I am so thankful for you. We have 21 adults (for example) who are a part of our front-line ministry team to children and youth on Sunday nights. 21 adults.

But not everyone does serve. How are you doing at serving?

Are you involved?

I may be the “pastor” here, but we are all the “ministers.”

We are all called to ministry.

Did you notice that the newborn church didn’t have a building or any programs, per se?

We often think that a church requires buildings, programs, and paid staff to be a church. But that’s not so! I’m glad for our building, programs, and paid staff! But that’s not what defines us as a church.

What defines us is:

Loving Jesus in Worship
Learning Of Jesus in Instruction
Linking with Others in Jesus in Fellowship
Luring Others to Jesus in Evangelism
And Living for Jesus in Service.


That’s what characterized the newborn church in Acts 2, and should characterize us.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Matt's Messages - Struggling with Katrina


“Struggling with Katrina”
September 4, 2005


I was planning to begin a new series of messages this morning on the doctrine of the local church. I now hope to start that next week–some teaching on the local church.

But the destruction of Hurricane Katrina and the mayhem that followed captured my attention this week (it captured all of our attention this week, didn’t it? It captured the attention of our nation–and still is!). And I felt so strongly about it all week, I felt like I couldn’t NOT talk about it this morning.

A “category 4 hurricane,” hit the Gulf Coast this week with a deadly force bringing devastation in its wake. Millions of people without power, hundreds of thousands of people adversely affected, thousands and thousands without homes, food, water, or other basic necessities. Thousands dead. An entire city, New Orleans (the 35th largest city in America), still underwater because their levee broke. An estimated three months before the city can be drained of flood water. American refugees filling football stadiums. Relief workers working around the clock. Thousands of National Guard troops called up into active service–and now the Army. Oil spills, fires, and incalculable damage.

And then after the devastation, came the violence and the mayhem. Looters, vigilantes, snipers, gangs of roving men with guns stealing, destroying, and raping all in their path. For a time, anarchy. And a seeming delay in help arriving in time. A few days of pure hell for those trapped inside the city.

We all watched and read this story unfold in the news this week. CNN has perpetual coverage. It’s the worst natural disaster, in economic terms at least, that the United States has ever suffered. Much worse than September 11th in terms of the number of people affected (though the two are very different cases).

The pictures of suffering people and their stories were heartbreaking this week. Especially the elderly, the children, and the sick.

This disaster’s name was Katrina.

And Katrina brought for us certain feelings and temptations, didn’t it?

I struggled all week with processing what I was seeing and reading about in the news, didn’t you?

Today, I want to talk about those feelings and temptations that Katrina raises. I’m going to title my message, “Struggling with Katrina.” And I want to bring the Word of God to bear on what we have seen and struggled with this last week.

The biggest struggle I had this week was with the feeling and temptation of IMPOTENCE.

It was so overwhelming to read the news reports on CNN.com. And there didn’t seem to be anything I could do about it.

These people were suffering and even if I gave money right away, it wouldn’t relieve the immediate dangers. If I drove down there, I probably couldn’t have been any help to them. It took the federal government 4+ days to scramble up the help that New Orleans needed. What could I have done?

I felt so helpless, watching this unfold on the screen.

Did you feel that way, too?

And Thursday, which was the worst day down there was such a beautiful day up here! The sun was shining, blue sky, white puffy clouds, a cool breeze. It was a delightful day up here, but here I was sitting and watching on my computer screen, all of this evil and mayhem in New Orleans.

I felt so impotent to do anything.

Especially about the violence and rioting and urban warfare. Those punks seemed to be getting away with murder! I was so angry and felt so helpless.

Impotence.

What’s the answer when you feel impotent?

The answer is God’s omnipotence. The answer is God’s sovereignty and power.

The answer is confidence in God’s goodness and sovereignty.

That’s what we need.

I might not have been able to do anything about it. But I know Who does. And He has not let go of the reigns of the universe for even one second. He is not overwhelmed by all of this. He is, mysteriously, in total control.

And I need to believe that.

I need to pray for Him to do things that I cannot do. And I need to trust Him to control things that I cannot control.

I need to have confidence in God’s goodness and sovereignty.

That’s hard to do in times like Katrina!

And that’s why I need to go back to the Bible and remind myself of what is true.

This is true: God is sovereign.

He is called the Sovereign Lord over 250 times in the Bible.

Psalm 103:19 “The LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.”

Nothing escapes His powerful rule.

Not wind and waves. Not storms and streams. No even evil looters.

Nothing escapes His powerful rule. God is sovereign.

And God is good. Psalm 100, verse 5: “For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”

Psalm 34:8, “O taste and see that the LORD is good!”

Jesus said, “No one is good but God alone” (Luke 18:19). He is the standard of goodness. He is the ultimate in good.

He is good, and He is sovereign. And while that opens mysteries for us to ponder, it makes life bearable. It makes it possible for us to go on and do what we should trusting in God’s goodness and sovereignty and leaving things in His hands that are outside of our control.

I needed to tell myself this week that those hoodlums with guns would not escape the sovereign hand of God. They can be sure, as the Bible says, that their sin will find them out (Numbers 32:23).

I needed to tell myself that if gas prices rise over $5.00 a gallon, that God is good and sovereign over that. And He is (Romans 8:28), working all things to the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.

I needed to tell myself (preach to myself) that, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” to your Heavenly Father (Matthew 10:29-31).

And that’s true for me, and it’s true for all of God’s children wherever they are. Whatever they are going through. Even if it is horrendous suffering on the Gulf Coast.

Romans 8. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? [Or flooding? Or hurricanes?] As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (35-39)

I am impotent. But He is omnipotent. And even when it doesn’t seem like it, He is bending all of the universe to my good and His glory by His sovereign will.

Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Nothing. Not even Katrina.

Do you believe that?

The second struggle is the exact opposite of the first. It is INDIFFERENCE.

Because I couldn’t fix it, I was tempted to do nothing at all.

To walk on by, to ignore it all. To become indifferent to it all.

To whistle a little tune and put my fingers in my ears. And not care. And not act.

That’s just as bad as hopelessly worrying. Maybe worse.

You’ve probably already heard cruel jokes about New Orleans. As if it was all over. But it isn’t. For an unbelievable amount of people, the nightmare is just beginning.

Indifference.

But that is unacceptable. The answer for indifference is compassion for the last, the least, and the lost.

Our Lord calls us to care. To be His hands and feet in mercy and compassion for those who are hurting.

That phrase, “The last, the least, and the lost,” is a phrase from our President of the EFCA, Bill Hamel. In an email this week, President Hamel said, “While it is hard to imagine the scope of what has happened, it is the poor who will suffer most. Already struggling in life, there are tens of thousands who now have nothing and no safety net. Most do not have insurance to help them rebuild their lives.

Great hardship gives the church great opportunity to show the love of Jesus. One group that fled New Orleans are members of Urban Impact Ministries, an EFCA affiliate ministry that works among the poor and disadvantaged in that city. Seventy of them are being hosted by Village Bible EFC in Hot Springs Village, Arkansas. Other EFCA churches in the south are already taking in refugees who may need long term care given the evacuation and flooding of New Orleans.”

That’s right. That’s what we should be doing. And Christian people are. When we see great hardship and suffering, we should do what we can to help.

The Good Samaritan didn’t pass by like the Levite and the Priest. He stooped to help his neighbor.

The Bible is full of exhortations to care for those in need. Remember what we saw in the Book of the Covenant in Exodus 20-23? All of those commands to care for those who are poor and disadvantaged and hurting. It was built into the law.

And the Lord Jesus wants us to continue.

We need to have compassion for the last, the least, and the lost.

We need to pray for them. We need to give as we can. We need to consider what other ways we can lean into their needs and provide help.

It’s what the Lord Jesus did for us. 2 Corinthians 8:9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”

We must do the same. We cannot be indifferent. We need to get behind groups like Samaritan’s Purse, and EFCA Compassion Ministries and all the rest that are bringing compassion to the last, the least, and the lost.

The third struggle that Katrina brings is the struggle with ARROGANCE.

Arrogance is thinking too much of ourselves.

And it comes out in this case in two ways. Both are insidious and perfectly natural for fallen sinners like you and me.

The first is arrogance towards our fellow sinners.

When the violence started down South, you and I could be tempted to see ourselves as better than those people who looted and raped and stole and did those other heinous things.

Or we could be tempted to see ourselves as better than the general population of New Orleans–because we don’t hold a Marti Gras in West Branch. There are some people who claim to know infallibly that this was judgment on New Orleans for their particular sinful lifestyles.

Now, this disaster was a result of sin, and it is a foretaste of judgment. The whole creation was subjected to futility because of our sin. But there is not always a one-to-one correlation that we can discern between suffering and sin. The Book of Job makes that clear. The man born blind in John 10 makes that clear. “Who sinned, this man or his parents that he should be born blind?” Jesus answers, “Neither.” He suffered simply for God’s glory to be seen. Not because of a direct sin-to-suffering ratio.

And we would do well to not wag our fingers at other people’s sin without first looking at our own sinful hearts.

The seed of every sin committed in New Orleans this week is resident in my evil heart. That’s why I need a mighty, mighty Savior!

And while I denounce those sins, and I call for them to be held accountable, I need to be careful that I do not think I am incapable of them myself.

Have you struggled with this kind of arrogance this week?

A couple of times, I caught myself being amazed that this kind of behavior was going on in America. It seemed more like something that would happen in some third world country like Africa.

And then I realized, that I was being prejudiced. It was like those people in Africa were somehow worse than I am. They were savages. I am civilized.

But New Orleans has shown us what is in the heart of man. We are not all as bad as we could be, but there is a twistedness deep down inside. And when the restraints are taken off, when there is no police force, no security camera, no alarms, and pandemonium everywhere, the masks come off, and we Americans are shown to be who we really are–sinners, rebels against God’s holy law.

And if we are not as bad as someone else, it is because of God’s grace poured out into our lives. Because the seeds of all of those sins are resident in my old, wicked heart.

Turn in your Bibles to Luke chapter 13, verse 1.

People came to Jesus with bad news.

“Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.”

Pilate had made a public and gruesome spectacle of these Galileans–they probably were rebels. And Jesus knows that these people wanted to arrogantly look down their noses on these Galileans who had suffered. But Jesus says unexpectedly (v.2), “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them [a natural disaster like Katrina]–do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Their suffering was not in proportion to extraordinary sin. Their suffering was in proportion to ordinary sin.

The wonder in the world is not that people suffer. The wonder is that people don’t suffer more often because we are all ordinary sinners–and deserve a fate worse than death. That’s Jesus’ perspective.

What’s amazing is that we do not get hurricanes every single day. That’s what we deserve! But instead, we think of ourselves as pretty good people.

That’s not Jesus’ perspective. Jesus sees us as we are–sinners in need of His grace.

The answer to arrogance is repentance before God. We need to humble ourselves and repent.

The good news is that God is using things like Katrina to awaken repentance in us.
And He is still accepting repentant people. Look at v.6 of Luke 13.

“Then he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, 'For three years now I've been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?' 'Sir,' the man replied, 'leave it alone for one more year, and I'll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.'”

This story is about us and God. The fig tree is you and me. And God’s justice is looking for fruit on us, “the fruit of faith, the fruit of repentance.” And He has not found it in every case. So He plans to cut us down (that is to judge us!). But there is another part of God’s character–His mercy, His longsuffering, His patience–that stays His hand for another period of time with more gracious care and fertilizing words of promise rained down upon the fruitless fig-tree.

This parable is saying that God is patient–that there is time today for us to repent.

If you are listening to this sermon, if you are alive: breathing, thinking, weighing what I’m saying, then God is being patient with you and giving you a chance right now to repent. My words this morning are the vinedresser’s care and fertilizer for you. God is calling you now–while there is time–to repent.

2 Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise as some understand slowness [some are wondering why God does not kill the looters right away. 2 Peter 3:9 says...] God is patient with you [why doesn’t God strike you dead right now?], not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

For those of us who are un-repentant today, God is saying, “Don’t cut the tree down just yet. Wait a bit. I have every right to cut this tree down [and Katrina shows that], but I will give him or her more time for the fruit of repentance.”

The good news this morning is not only that God has sounded a warning that we should repent, but God is also giving us time to repent.

God is not just holy and righteous. God is merciful and patient.

And we need to humble ourselves and not be arrogant and repent.

To turn to and trust in Jesus Christ.

But maybe you are saying, “I think it’s God that needs to repent. I’m not so sure that He doesn’t have something to answer for here.”

And that’s the second kind of arrogance that we could struggle with this week: arrogance towards God.

Do you wonder if God is just to bring such massive suffering our way?

And God did do this. This was an act of God.

Whatever role our sin played in the curse...
Whatever role Satan played in desiring destruction...
God is ultimate. God rules His world. And He calls up storms and sends them away at His pleasure.

Remember, what we saw last week in Hebrews 1? What God’s Son has made and holds together by His will?

This, too, is an act of God.

Do you wonder if He has done rightly?

Daniel Schorr did. Daniel Schorr is an 89 year old news analyst for National Public Radio. I’ve really enjoyed some of his commentary over the last 10 years. He has a good sense for writing and understands people really well.

But he doesn’t understand God.

Instead, Mr. Schorr has tried to somewhat humorously call God to account on National Public Radio [Listen to him here.].

This week, my favorite author, Pastor John Piper wrote a strong letter to Daniel Schorr and reminded all of us of the arrogance of trying to tell God what to do.

I’m going to read all of it to you. It’s titled, “Was Katrina Intelligent Design?”

Dr. Piper writes, “On his 89th birthday (August 31) NPR Senior News Analyst,
Daniel Schorr, observed that President Bush had ‘staked out a non-position’ on
the debate between evolution and intelligent design. Bush had said that ‘both
sides ought to be properly taught in the schools of America.’ Then, with
manifest scorn, Schorr linked the devastation of Hurricane Katrina with the
concept of intelligent design: ‘[Bush] might well have reflected that, if this
was the result of intelligent design, then the designer has something to answer
for.’

No, Mr. Schorr, you have something to answer for, not God. God
answers to no man. Come, Daniel Schorr, take your place with Job and answer your
Maker: ‘The Lord answered Job [and Daniel Schorr] out of the whirlwind and said:
‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action
like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. . . . Who shut in
the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its
garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and
set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here
shall your proud waves be stayed’?’‘ (Job 38:1-3, 8-11).

Who are you, O
man, to answer back to God? Shall the pot say to the Potter, ‘This is an
unintelligent way to show your justice and your power? Come, Maker of heaven and
earth, sit at my feet—I have lived 89 years and have gotten much wisdom—and I
will teach you—the eternal God—how to govern the universe’?

No. Rather
let us put our hands on our mouths and weep both for the perishing and for
ourselves who will soon follow. Whatever judgment has fallen, it is we who
deserve it—all of us. And whatever mercy is mingled with judgment in New Orleans
neither we nor they deserve.

God sent Jesus Christ into the world to
save sinners. He did not suffer massive shame and pain because Americans are
pretty good people. The magnitude of Christ’s suffering is owing to how deeply
we deserve Katrina—all of us.

Our guilt in the face of Katrina is not
that we can’t see the intelligence in God’s design, but that we can’t see
arrogance in our own heart. God will always be guilty of high crimes for those
who think they’ve never committed any.

But God commits no crimes when he
brings famine, flood, and pestilence on the earth. ‘Does disaster come to a
city, unless the Lord has done it?’ (Amos 3:6). The answer of the prophet is no.
God’s own testimony is the same: ‘I form light and create darkness, I make
well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things’
(Isaiah 45:7). And if we ask, is there intelligent design in it all, the Bible
answers: ‘You meant evil . . . but God meant it [designed it] for good’ (Genesis
50:20).

This will always be ludicrous to those who put the life of man
above the glory of God. Until our hearts are broken, not just for the
life-destroying misery of human pain, but for the God-insulting rebellion of
human sin, we will not see intelligent design in the way God mingles mercy and
judgment in this world. But for those who bow before God’s sovereign grace and
say, ‘From him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory
forever,’ they are able to affirm, ‘Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and
knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his
ways!’ (Romans 11:36, 33). And wisdom is another name for intelligent design.

No, Daniel Schorr, God does not answer to us. We answer to him. And we
have only one answer: ‘Guilty as charged.’ Every mouth is stopped and the whole
world is accountable before God. There is only one hope to escape the flood of
God’s wrath. It is not the levee of human virtue but the high ground called
Calvary. All brokenhearted looters and news analysts and pastors are welcome
there.” [Permanent Link]

Those are strong words, but they are absolutely right.

The answer to our arrogance is to repent before God.

This hurricane was just a foretaste of the wrath to come.

Katrina was a wake-up call to a sleepy world.

Katrina is a reminder to us that though we are impotent, He is omnipotent and we can trust in His sovereign goodness to His people.

Katrina is a reminder to us to show compassion to the last, the least, and the lost and not be indifferent to their suffering.

And Katrina is a call to repentance. We do not judge God. And we are not better than our fellow sinners. We need a Savior and so do they.

Dr. Piper said, “There is only one hope to escape the flood of God’s wrath. It is not the levee of human virtue but the high ground called Calvary. All brokenhearted looters and news analysts and pastors [and good church-goers] are welcome there.”

And that’s what this table represents.

It is the Table of God’s grace to undeserving sinners like you and me.

It is the place that symbolizes grace–where we get what we need and not what we deserve–all because of Jesus and His Cross.
For further resources on where and how to be compassionate
with gospel-centered efforts, go to the EFCA
Website
or to the list at DesiringGod or Samaritan's Purse.
For more good biblical and theological based thoughts on
Katrina, read Sam Storms' article at the Reformation21 Blog: Katrina,
Common Grace and the End of the Age
.

Credo - Last Things

11. We believe in the personal and premillenial and imminent coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and that this 'Blessed Hope' has a vital bearing on the personal life and service of the believer.

Jesus Christ is returning soon! I believe that He is going to return personally, visibly, and bodily just as He promised (John 14:3, Acts 1:11, 1 Thessalonians 4:16, Hebrews 9:28). I believe that Christ is patiently delaying His return so that the full number of the elect will be saved (2 Peter 3:3-9). And I am certain that Jesus has told us that He will be returning soon so that we will be watching and waiting expectantly with holy lives (Matthew 24:36-51, 1 John 3:3).

I must, however, express hesitation to make too many definite statements about when Jesus Christ will return. Eschatology is, for me, the most complex and confusing area of doctrine. While at Moody Bible Institute, I was exposed to pre-tribulationalism (the Second Coming of Christ will be after a period of seven years of awful tribulation before which the church will have been taken from the Earth). While this remains an attractive position, I am no longer completely convinced. It seems to me that Jesus and the apostles only foresaw and predicted one return of Christ in power and glory in fire with His angels (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10, Matthew 24-25). This is called post-tribulationalism, and I am currently leaning towards it.

When Christ will return is a secret known only to God the Father (Matthew 24:36, Mark 13:32). His return is imminent which means “ready to take place.” Everything is set in place right now for the events of the end-times to unfold before our eyes. Whether that is “any second” or “any hour” or “in my life time,” I am not certain.

I believe that Christ will return and reign on Earth for a period of one thousand years prior to the eternal state (premillenialism). During this millienial kingdom, God will faithfully fulfill, through Christ’s righteous rule, all of His promises to Israel (Revelation 20:1-6, Romans 9-11).

12. We believe in the bodily resurrection of the dead; of the believer to everlasting blessedness and joy with the Lord, of the unbeliever to judgment and everlasting conscious punishment.

The key to understanding biblical prophecy of future events is that prophecy exists to encourage the believer for holy living and faithful service in the sure hope of eternity (1 Peter 1:4-5, 1:8-9, 1 Thessalonians 4:18, Matthew 25:14-30, Titus 2:3, 1 John 3:3). No event is more hopeful for believers than the resurrection of the body. In the last days, this resurrection will be the reunion of the bodies and souls of people that have been separated by death. The resurrection bodies of believers will be like Christ's (i.e. the very body He died in; changed but not replaced). 1 Corinthians 15 teaches that the resurrection body will be spiritual and signals Christ’s total conquest: “But when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54). To this the only reply is a joyful, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20).

After the impenitent and unbelieving die, however, they will experience conscious, eternal torment, commonly called “hell.” They will receive the just punishment for their sin for all of eternity (Mark 9:43, 48). This sobering truth should bring a Gospel urgency to all of our relationships with unbelievers during this brief span of life.

Part of an ongoing series about what I believe about basic biblical teachings. “Credo” is Latin for “I Believe.”

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Credo - The Church

8. We believe that the true Church is composed of all such persons who through saving faith in Jesus Christ have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit and are united together in the body of Christ of which He is the Head.

The Church universal is the entire group of people who have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit and baptized into Christ’s body of which He is the Head (1 Corinthians 12:13, Ephesians 1:22, Colossians 1:18, 2:19). The Church covers the globe, is expressed in local assemblies (local churches), and is entrusted with the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Church is commissioned by her Lord to make disciples (fully-devoted followers of Christ, saved and being sanctified) of all peoples (Matthew 28:19-20). This commission is not optional, and stretches to far-reaching lands and unreached people groups, as well as to our closest neighbors, friends, and family (Acts 1:8). The methods are different from place to place, but the message is the same for all.

9. We believe that only those who are thus members of the true Church shall be eligible for membership in the local church.

The local church is the visible expression of the body of Christ, universal. Each individual believer is a part of the body, and local churches are composed of individual members of the body who give credible testimony of faith in Christ and desire to band together to accomplish God’s common mission for them (1 Corinthians 12). The local church exists to glorify God by bringing people into a love relationship with Jesus Christ through worship, instruction, fellowship, evangelism, and service.

10. We believe that Jesus Christ is the Lord and Head of the Church, and that every local church has the right under Christ to decide and govern its own affairs.

Each local church is autonomous from the others unless they decide to join together in a denomination or association of churches unto which they voluntarily submit. Early on, it seems that the churches in a specific city so identified with one another that they were known as “The church at ...” (Ephesus for example). It seems that all of the churches were under an apostolic rule that transcended the local body (now the Scriptures hold that place). Elders, however, were appointed everywhere Paul and his team went and were entrusted with shepherding the flock (Acts 20, Titus 1:5). Therefore, I hesitate to announce any one polity as biblical. Instead, there seems to be a plurality of structures operating in New Testament times where the common thread running through them was eldership (governance, teaching, shepherding), diaconate (servants entrusted with a specific role), and accountability of believers to leaders (Philippians 1:1, 1 Timothy 3, Titus 3, Hebrews 13:17, etc). I am most comfortable in a congregational polity because of the ownership/stewardship that it gives each member (a nation of priests), while recognizing a body of leaders who guide, direct, give vision, and lead. I have seen congregationalism work and hope to operate in it for the span of my ministry. I don’t have problems with the polities of other churches so long as they are faithful to the Scriptures and Jesus Christ is seen to be their Head.

I am more than comfortable with a congregationalism that reserves for the assembled congregation the rights of hiring/firing the Senior Pastor, buying/selling real property, incurring capital debt, electing officers, forming/dissolving constitutions and by-laws, and approving operating budgets while assigning as many of the other tasks of decision-making and leadership to qualified elders and servants as seems biblical and advisable.

Part of an ongoing series about what I believe about basic biblical teachings. “Credo” is Latin for “I Believe.”