2/28/16 ~Have We Lost Sight of the Primary Mission of the Church?

From the Preacher’s Pen…

The Great Commission is NOT just a suggestion or recommendation from God to His people. It IS the most important task that God has ever committed to His people! Everything that we do as Christians is geared toward pointing us to that momentous task of sharing/preaching/teaching the Good News of Jesus Christ and maturing His people. Everything!

When we obey Christ’s command to “love one another” (John 13:34) we are making certain that we are identified by the world as God’s children. The purpose of being identified correctly is that our light might shine in a meaningful way. And yet the goal of all this is in our job, our mission to take God’s message of salvation to others.

The fact is that this is God’s lesson and is preached wherever the Gospel is preached! That, too, is part of Jesus’ “Great Commission” (Matthew 28:18-20)!

Personally, I find great joy in the truthful teaching of God’s word by others. Lest we ever imagine that these truths are not known and taught by all who truly know God’s word, here’s a good reminder from another preacher:

Have We Lost Sight of the Primary Mission of the Church?

If someone asked you, “What is the primary mission of the church?” what would you say? Would you say it is to multiply and grow our numbers? Would you say it is to bring about moral reform in our nation? Would you say it is simply to worship God every Sunday? Do we know what the primary mission of the church is or have we completely lost sight of it?

The Primary Mission of the Church: I believe the church of Christ in the twenty-first century has the same mission it had in the first century, which is this: to proclaim the message of reconciliation. 

God created mankind in His own image and for His own glory, but we willfully rebelled against God and brought judgment upon ourselves. We became God’s enemies. He, of course, has every right to destroy His enemies at anytime. However, His desire is not to destroy, but to bring about reconciliation between Himself and rebellious mankind (1 Timothy 2:4). This is why He gave His only begotten Son, to wash away our sin and reconcile us to Himself (Romans 5:6-11).

Becoming a Christian means being reconciled to God. It is about being brought into relationship with the Creator of the Universe. It is about our status being changed from God’s enemy to God’s child.

This is how the apostle Paul described his God-appointed mission in 2 Corinthians 5:18-20: All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

The primary mission of the church is to carry on the apostles’ ministry of reconciliation. We must be about the business of imploring people “on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

Our Primary Mission is Not Worship on Sunday: If this then is our primary mission, then our primary mission is not worship on Sundays. We should not see worship as our primary mission, but our primary pleasure. Because we have been reconciled to God, we have the pleasure of worshiping Him. We have been allowed into His presence to sing His praises, to come before His throne in prayer, to love Him, and to be loved by Him.

This means those who see the church’s primary mission as creating an “exciting worship experience” each week AND those who see the church’s primary mission as checking “acts of worship” off a checklist each week, have both lost sight of the real mission. Worship is important. It is one of the greatest blessings of being reconciled to God. Therefore, it ought to be a constant reminder to us how truly important our mission is.

If we have tasted and seen that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8), if we really love Him and enjoy Him, we should want the world to know the same joy we have in Christ.

Our Primary Mission is Not Moral Reform of Our Legal System: The church needs to be preaching against immorality; not primarily to bring about reforms to our country’s legal system, but in order to convict the world of sin (see John 16:8). We must help prove to people that they – like us – need saving from a horrible fate. We do not preach against sin in order to bring about the sinner’s punishment, but to bring about his or her salvation through repentance and faith in Christ Jesus.

The church is not accomplishing its goal by simply changing laws, or by making the world believe Christians think we are less deserving of death. All of us “deserve to die” (Romans 1:32). This is the message we must consistently preach. It is only when we are convicted of sin that we can experience godly sorrow, repent of our sins, and throw ourselves upon the mercies of God.

If we truly helped bring about repentance and reconciliation, through the preaching of the gospel, we wouldn’t have to worry so much about changing the laws of the land.

Our Primary Mission is Not to Grow Our Numbers: We all love to see our congregations grow. We love to see more people in the pews. We love to see relationships blossom and grow. It’s easy to begin thinking this is the primary mission of the church, to create large communities of loving friendships. Though this is a wonderful result of people obeying the gospel, it is not the church’s primary mission.

But because many have accepted this as our primary mission, they have set about the work of creating a myriad of church social functions and ministries to appeal to the masses. They believe if we attract enough people to the church building, by offering the right amenities, we will have accomplished our mission. But nothing could be further from the truth.

The church is not a social club. Fellowship is a wonderful blessing of sharing a common salvation, but it is not the primary mission of the church. We could attract a million people to a religious social club, but if our primary message was not, “we implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God,” then we would not be accomplishing our mission.

Conclusion: All of these things (worship, moral reform, growing congregations, and so much more) would happen if we would just focus on our primary mission. We must help the world to see what an amazing opportunity God has set before them, reconciliation with Him through Jesus Christ. But before we can help them to see how wonderful it is, perhaps we need to see it ourselves.

— Wes McAdams online at RadicallyChristian.com

May we remember this week and always the true reason for our continued lives as Christians here on earth: Share the Good News of Jesus this week!

— Lester P. Bagley

 

2/21/16 ~ The Book of Acts

From the Preacher’s Pen….

In just a few weeks we finish our journey through the books of the Bible. Hopefully during our study you’ve developed a few favorites, books that you want to go back and study again in even more depth as soon as possible.

I have to admit that I have a number of favorites, 66 of them in fact! As the Psalmist observes, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). So it’s really easy to want more of God’s word that we might better follow and serve Him!

One of those favorites will be our new Sunday morning study and it is one of the most important books of God’s word for Christians intent on obeying their Lord’s command to “go!” Of all the great lessons in the Bible, only one book is dedicated to how the Good News was taught and spread to all the world.

If you are already a child of God, the other 65 books are practical lessons about living as part of the family. Only in Acts do we see the focus on introducing people to the Good News and the things that they do to become a part of that great family.

Sadly, many people today try to read what is written to family members about their lives as a substitute for how to be born again into God’s family. There is a vital difference that we need to know and understand.

So think with me for a few moments about…

The Book of Acts

Often you hear the book referred to as “The Acts of the Apostles.” However, once you read it you quickly agree that a better description would be, “Some of the Acts of Some of the Apostles” since it does not pretend to cover every detail of every Apostle.

Luke, the author, begins by saying that it is the continuation of the story of Jesus. In those words are found the real purpose and theme of how Jesus is applied to our lives and how we keep the Great Commission alive.

Consider for a moment how many times someone comes on the scene in Acts and becomes a part of the story of sharing the Gospel. The Apostles teach the people of Jerusalem (chapters 2–7) and those Christians spread out teaching others (chapter 8 and following). New Christians like Stephen (chapters 6 & 7) and Philip (chapter 8) teach others.

Saul, soon to be know better as Paul, is introduced in chapter 9 and he will, like his good friend and companion Barnabas, continue to teach others and help them move on to becoming evangelists themselves. See for example: John Mark, Silas, Luke, Timothy, Aquila and Priscilla, Apollos, and the whole congregations they establish along the way like Ephesus with it’s “school” and outreach to countless other places (Acts 19:10).

It is with the book of Acts that we see the consistent picture of both what is taught about salvation and how people actually obeyed those things.

When people read something like Revelation 3:20 and presume that it is telling the lost how to become Christians (by opening the door of their heart to Jesus) they are going to completely miss God’s way of salvation!

Since all of the New Testament past the book of Acts is written to those who are already Christians, the instructions to family members of God are not going to be applicable to those trying to become family members!

Before we too quickly condemn others for missing God’s way to enter His family, we must also realize that we can be just as wrong for dismissing our Great Commission to share with others and teach them God’s will. It is just as wrong to teach that salvation comes from “inviting Jesus into your heart” as it is to teach that our fulfilment of “go and teach” is accomplished in letting someone else do the job!

Let me repeat that so we don’t miss God’s lesson here: Inviting Jesus into your heart is salvation just like inviting Him to go to your neighbors is evangelism. Neither one is what God demands of us!

We are NOT welcoming Jesus into our lives by doing our own thing to be saved. We MUST obey His word! Jesus is coming again to punish both those who “do not know God” as well as “those who do not obey the gospel” (2 Thessalonians 1:8).

As we read and study the book of Acts we must see both how the lost are saved and how the godly obey by going on to teach others! That is our job, that is our Great Commission from the Savior, Himself!

Plan now to be a part of the study of the book of Acts. And may we be courageous enough to say to our Lord, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8)

— Lester P. Bagley

2/14/16 ~ 7 Ways to Worship Better This Sunday

From the Preacher’s Pen…

One of the great challenges for us all is being prepared to worship and truly gain from the time! The question of “how to” is often discussed and I, like most preachers, have both preached and written about it.

The challenge is always there every single time we come together and the reminder to think about what we do is always appropriate and necessary. So let’s consider the thought again as presented by the excellent brotherhood publication, Focus Press:

7 Ways to Worship Better This Sunday

“You get out what you put in.”

I’ve heard this phrase used in relation to worship for years, with the basic idea being that we should never go into worship with a consumer mindset. People who are merely looking for what they can get out of the experience rarely find fulfillment and honestly can’t properly praise God, since He should be the focus.

But that phrase isn’t the end of the discussion. It’s one thing to grasp what it means, it’s another to know how to apply it. How can we apply ourselves in order to have a time of worship that truly glorifies God in a way that engages us fully in both heart and mind? If you’ve ever struggled with this feeling, I suggest adding this seven step routine to your Sundays.

Pray first thing in the morning. As a non-morning person, I generally like to get as much sleep as I can before getting ready. On the other hand, I know parents (especially those with young children) have difficulty finding a spare second as they prepare themselves and their children to get out the door in time. But it makes such a difference each Sunday to make a few extra minutes to pray. Pray for what you’re about to do, pray for focus, pray for the fellowship and that the congregation will be united as one in their worship. There’s no better way to get our minds in the right place than to take a couple short minutes and ask God to bless our day of worship.

Read to prepare for the day’s studies. If you know what text the Bible class is going to cover, read that section. Or, maybe your preacher puts out a verse or a text that he’s going to cover in the sermon via Facebook or Twitter and you can read that section. Or, maybe you don’t know what you’re going to cover that day, but you have a Psalm you like to read to help you focus on God, or a section about Christ’s sacrifice to help you prepare for the Lord’s Supper.

Smile as you arrive and settle in. I don’t mean to suggest we all should force fake smiles. Sometimes we’ve just got too much on our hearts to smile, and that’s alright. But generally speaking, when we come together with our family to praise God, we should be happy. Those around you (your children, visitors, and your fellow Christians) need to see the joy you find in God, and they do so by looking at your face. Each Sunday is a time of rejoicing in God’s love, and there’s no greater reason to smile than that.

Encourage those around you. A general suggestion to encourage is okay, but I hope you’ll go even further and single out a few people for specific encouragement each Sunday. You very well may make their day, and it will strengthen your sense of fellowship as you go into worship. Worship is meant to be experienced together, and the more we’re thinking about others and how to build them up, the more connected we’ll feel.

Think about the hymns you sing. There are many beautiful words in our hymnals (many taken straight from the Scriptures), but it doesn’t do us any good to mindlessly recite them to a tune. It doesn’t matter if you’ve heard it thousands of times, there is real power in a song like “Amazing Grace,” for example, and God is praised when our hearts believe and express those words along with our lips.

Listen to the prayers, the communion talk, and the sermon. It’s so easy to let our minds wander to lunch, the football game, that thing going on at work, or whatever else is fighting for our attention, but there will always be time for those things later. However, it takes a dedicated effort to keep our minds engaged, probably more than ever when we consider the shortened attention spans of the digital age. Take notes on the sermon, if necessary. Picture yourself and the whole congregation kneeling before the throne of Isaiah 6 as you’re lead in prayer, if that’s what works for you. Do whatever it takes to fight for [sic.] your own distractions, because you only have so many minutes each week to experience these important parts of the church’s time of worship.

Review what you learned. I don’t have any official stats, but it seems like there’s a very good chance that many people don’t even remember what the sermon was about by Monday morning (much less what the main points were). It’s hard to blame them, as we do have all of those aforementioned distractions vying for our attention. But if we can take the encouragement we receive on Sunday with us into the week, we’ll remember and be strengthened by those things all the more. This year I’ve started giving a chapter and a memory verse in each sermon so our members can have something to read and something to work on memorizing throughout the week. That way some of the lessons of the sermon will stick with them and they’ll be able to take those things and internalize the Scripture even more. Preachers, if you don’t already, I hope you’ll consider doing something similar. Christians, if your preacher doesn’t do something like this, write down some of the main Scriptures of the sermon for yourself and spend some time with them. That way your day of worship will carry into the week and help you be even more prepared for next Sunday!

Worship should always be about giving God our hearts and our minds, and not just our time and our physical presence. The best way we can do that is to have a game plan for Sunday, knowing how we’re going to give our time to Him each week as we go to worship Him.

— Jack Wilkie, reprinted by permission from focuspressblog.com

focuspressblog.com/2016/01/28/7-ways-to-worship-better-this-sunday/

No one pleases and serves God accidentally. He challenges us repeatedly in Scripture to serve Him with ALL of our heart, soul, mind and strength. As God’s people shouldn’t we actually both think about and work at worshipping Him with the best that we have to give?

Let’s be those who obey Him in encouraging one another to make the effort this week and always!

— Lester P. Bagley

2/7/16 ~ Can Christians Lose Their Salvation? What Does the Bible Say?

Many Christians deal with very similar issues and questions as they share the Good News. Among the most difficult problems are those caused by false teaching. Whether it’s a denominational teaching, an ignorant Christian’s personal belief being taught or just plain compromise of God’s word with the world, the problem is a real one. Sadly, God’s people have had to deal with such things since the earliest efforts to reach out with the Gospel. (See the New Testament books of Romans through Jude for numerous examples!)

One question that frequently rears its head was recently dealt with by a fellow preacher. Neither the false teachings nor the truth of the matter are anything new. But it is always important that ask what God says on any matter. So let’s consider:

Can Christians Lose Their Salvation?

What Does the Bible Say?

Lately, many of the commenters on this blog have boldly asserted that a Christian cannot lose his salvation. In fact, many well-meaning religious folks have built an entire theology around the assumption that it is impossible for a Christian to fall away and lose his salvation. But what if that assumption is false?

Let’s examine what the Bible says about a Christian losing his or her salvation. There are several passages which are often used as proof-texts. But if these verses are examined, they quite definitely do not teach the impossibility of apostasy. Let’s consider a couple of these “once saved, always saved” proof-texts:

Romans 8:35–39 (ESV) Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This, of course, is a beautiful passage of Scripture and should bring much comfort to Christians. However, it simply does not say what many attempt to make it say. Paul is talking about outside forces separating the Christian from the love of Christ. He never once says anything similar to the idea that Christians cannot choose to walk away from Christ. In other words, Paul says, “No matter what anyone does to you, they cannot take away your salvation.” It is wrong, however, to suggest Paul said a Christian cannot forfeit his salvation if he so chooses.

John 10:27–29 (ESV) My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.

Again, it is a great abuse of Jesus’ words to make Him say Christians cannot lose their salvation. In context, Jesus had told the Pharisees multiple times that they had rejected Him because they did not know God or His word. Those who followed Him, however, did so because they recognized His deity. John 10 speaks to Christ’s deity, His power to save, and (like Romans 8) the inability of outside forces to snatch a disciple from Christ’s hand. But it certainly does not teach “once saved, always saved.”

Those are two of the passages many use to prove their premise. But, of course, those passages say nothing of the sort. Let’s look at a few passages of Scripture that most definitely refute the idea of “once saved, always saved.”

John 15:5–6 (ESV) I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.

Those who teach “once saved, always saved,” say that if someone lives a Christian life and then goes back into the world, that person was never really saved to begin with. However, Jesus clearly teaches in John 15, it is possible for someone to “not abide” in Him. The word “abide” means to stay, continue, or remain. If I said, “Bob didn’t remain in the room, like I told him to do.” You could know for certain that Bob was in the room at one time.

Hebrews 3:12–13 (ESV)Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

Again, it is pretty hard to deny that the Hebrew writer is addressing saved people. He begins this statement by saying, “Take care, brothers.” Obviously we are talking about Christians. He warns these Christians, it is possible for an “evil, unbelieving heart” to develop in them which would cause them to “fall away from the living God.”

Galatians 5:1–4 (ESV) For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.

Let us take notice that Paul warns them to “not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” These were people who had been freed from a yoke of slavery, by becoming Christians. Paul warns them not to leave Christ by trying to be justified by obedience to the Old Law. He says to these Christians, if they do so, Christ will be “of no advantage” to them. There were some in those churches who were already doing this and Paul said they had been, “severed from Christ” and they had, “fallen away from grace.” How could these passages be any more clear?

Hebrews 10:26-31 (ESV) For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Obviously, the Hebrew writer was addressing those who had received “the knowledge of the truth” (vs. 26) and had been “sanctified” by “the blood of the covenant” (vs. 29). He said, if Christians “go on sinning deliberately” they could expect “judgment,” “punishment,” and “vengeance.”

Please understand, this doesn’t mean a Christian must be perfect, or else he will lose his salvation. John wrote, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin…I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 1:7, 2:1). As long as a Christian is doing his best to live a life that is pleasing to God (2 Corinthians 5:9) – even though he will likely continue to fall short – the blood of Jesus will continue to wash him clean.

Please hear me, friend. Please study the Scriptures to see if these things are so (Acts 17:11). According to God’s word, a Christian is saved so long as he walks in the light; but if he chooses to go back into the world, he is trampling underfoot the Son of God and is throwing away the gift of salvation (see Romans 6:1-7).

— Wes McAdams online at RadicallyChristian.com

Yes, we’ve read these Scriptures before. Yes, we’ve heard this message from the pulpit and in Bible studies. What is vital is that we continue to hear it, learn it, obey it so that we will not give in to the pressure of Satan’s false teaching!

May we, this week and always, remember to listen to God’s word and believe and obey what He says!

— Lester P. Bagley