The transforming power within us

by J.I. Packer

God’s eternal Son became Jesus the Christ by incarnation; to put away our sins he tasted death by crucifixion; he resumed bodily life for all eternity by resurrection; and he reentered heaven’s glory by ascension. This is the Christ-event. It is truly historical, for it happened in Palestine 2,000 years ago.

Equally true, however, it is trans-historical, in the sense of not being bounded by space and time as other events are: it can touch and involve in itself any person at any time anywhere. Faith in Jesus occasions that involving touch, so that in terms of rock-bottom reality every believer has actually died and risen, and now lives and reigns, with Jesus and through Jesus. This is the new creation aspect of our link with Jesus.

The way to express it is that in the Jesus to whom we go in faith the power of the whole Christ-event resides, and that in saving us he not only sets us right with God, but also, so to speak, plugs us in to his own dying, rising, and reigning. Thus we live in joyful fellowship with him, knowing ourselves justified by faith through his death, and finding therewith freedom from sin’s tyranny and foretastes of heaven on earth through the transforming power within us that his dying and rising exerts. This is an over-short statement of an overwhelming truth.”

~  Growing in Christ, 120

God created the church to reflect his image

by pastor Glenn Wagner

I agree with those who doubt that the Great Commission is our starting point. In fact, I think when you make the Great Commission the starting point, you actually violate the heart of God. As John Piper has observed, “missions exists because worship doesn’t.” Missions is not the priority; worship is. One day missions will be no more, but worship is forever.

God created the church to reflect his image, to be a community that both invites and embraces everyone near it. Authentic community, real family, is enormously attractive, even contagious. There’s just something about it that people can’t resist! p. 242

~ Escape from Church, Inc.

Nothing is sweet or easy about community

by Henry Nouwen

Nothing is sweet or easy about community. Community is a fellowship of people who do not hide their joys and sorrows but make them visible to each other in a gesture of hope. (source unknown)

The word community has many connotations, some positive, some negative. Community can make us think of a safe togetherness, shared meals, common goals, and joyful celebrations. It also can call forth images of sectarian exclusivity, in-group language, self-satisfied isolation, and romantic naiveté. However, community is first of all a quality of the heart. It grows from the spiritual knowledge that we are alive not for ourselves but for one another. Community is the fruit of our capacity to make the interests of others more important than our own (see Philippians 2:4).

The question, therefore, is not “How can we make community?” but “How can we develop and nurture giving hearts?”

~ Bread for the Journey

God’s people are intended to be a worshiping and witnessing community

by John Stott

God’s people are intended to be a worshiping and witnessing community. And both these duties belong to the whole church as the church. The clergy cannot monopolize them; nor can the lay of the escape them. Neither clergy nor laid he can delegate them to the other; there is no possibility of worship or witness on proxy. Page 30.

It is true that some of the laity acquiesce too readily in our clericalism. That is to say, they plead that they have no time, or that they are untrained or prefer to leave things to the expert, or that they bear a heavy responsibilities of the world and would prefer to be passive and fossil and occupy a back seat in the church. And with such pleas, they hand over to the clergy obligations and privileges, which are theirs by divine right as Christian people. In the words of Sir John Lawrence, “what does the layman really want? He wants a building which looks like a church; a clergyman dressed in the way he approved; services of the kind he’s been used to coat, and to be left alone.” Page 36.

How the clergy are to perform this equipping work is suggested in the combination “pastors and teachers.” Christian ministers are pastors, shepherds of Christ’s flock. This is the only essential distinctness. Of course, they are themselves also Christ’s sheep. But they are also called to be shepherds. The church is a universal priesthood, and also a universal diaconate, for all God’s people are called to be the diaconia. But the church is not a universal pastorate. All God’s people are priests; all are ministers or service; but “the gave some …. pastors and teachers.” Page 50.

Each worshiping community should be a witnessing community as well, and should be witnessing in the very neighborhood in which it gathers for worship. There is something very anomalous about a congregation which claims to be worshiping God, yet ignores the local residents, who do not worship him also. So one of the major aspects of the true “churches service” will be the church’s witness in its own district. Such service is not church standard, since it’s concerned is the secular world outside, but it will be church based. The church is not to sphere in which it is performed, but the base of operations from which it is carried out. Page 56.

The church lies at the very center of the eternal purpose of God. It is not a divine afterthought. It is not an accident of history. On the contrary, the church is God’s new community. For his purpose, conceived in a past eternity, being worked out in history, and to be perfected in a future eternity, is not just to save isolated individuals and so perpetuate our loneliness, but rather to build his church, that is, to call out of the world a people for his own glory. p. 58

~ The Living Church

Worship goes on all the time

by D.A. Carson

Under the terms of the new covenant, worship goes on all the time, including when the people of God gather together.

But mutual edification does not go on all the time; it is what takes place when Christians gather together. Edification is the best summary of what occurs in corporate singing, confession, public prayer, the ministry of the Word, and so forth.

~  Worship by the Book

The joyful Christian

by Thomas Brooks

That Christian who has free grace, who has free justification, who has the mediatorial righteousness of Christ, who has the satisfaction of Christ, who has the covenant of grace most constantly in his sight, and most frequently warm upon his heart — that Christian, of all Christians in the world, is most free from a world of fears, and doubts, and scruples which do sadden, sink, perplex, and press down a world of other Christians, who daily eye more what Christ is a-doing in them, and what they are a-doing for Christ, than they do eye either his active or passive obedience.

Christ has done great things for his people, and he has suffered great things for his people, and he has purchased great things for his people, and he has prepared great things for his people; yet many of his own dear people are so taken up with their own hearts, and with their own duties and graces, that Christ is little eyed by them or minded by them!

This is the great reason why so many Christians, who will certainly go to heaven — do walk in darkness, and lie down in sorrow.

~ A Cabinet of Choice Jewels

Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

by Burk Parsons

We have heard people say, “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Both believers and unbelievers alike cling to this proverbial life principle that gives us a sense of comfort and hope in the midst of our daily anxieties, miseries, and afflictions. This is a universally understood truth that Scripture itself teaches (Rom. 5:3-5; Jam. 1:2-4, 12; 1 Pet. 4:12-19). Trials do indeed make us stronger and more steadfast in our faith. Trials mature us. They help us to grow up. However, this is only one part of the biblical equation.

When we as a human race fell into sin, our affections changed, and we who once had the ability not to sin became a people who could not help but sin and even found pleasure in sin, albeit fleeting pleasure. Sin ravaged our hearts and minds, and, like Tolkien’s Gollum, we began to wallow in the mire of sin-dependent idolatry all the while maintaining our autonomy from God and our supreme, though perceived control over any and all our precious little idols, each of which possessed an uncanny resemblance to ourselves.

Before the fall we were dependent creatures depending on God alone, and after the fall we remain dependent creatures in our sustained existence. However, after the Fall, the object of our affections became manifold, and, in turn, the object of our dependence changed from depending on God alone–worshiping and serving the Creator alone–to worshiping and serving the creature and his comforts.

Without hesitation we happily turned to worship the supreme creature and all the idols we could conjure up as self-proclaimed, autonomous, self-made creators. We became dependent on our own self-made objects of affection, and our dependence was divided between the creature and the Creator.

When trials and temptations come (and if we’re not spiritually calloused or overly cynical, we’ll notice their hourly arrival) we are faced with the decision as to whether we will depend on self or depend on God–whether we’ll depend on our own means of sustenance and satisfaction that leads to daily death independent of God or whether we’ll depend on God’s means of sustenance and ever-present satisfaction that leads to daily life abundant that is dependent on God.

We understand that all of life’s trials and temptations are a direct result of the Fall–our fall from Creator-dependent true worship to self-dependent false worship. And even when we consider the first sins of Satan’s rebellion in the heavens and Adam’s rebellion in the Garden, we can see how they strove to be independent from God when tempted by the titillating notion of such independence.

Our daily temptations, daily anxieties, daily miseries, and daily afflictions are part and parcel of life’s daily trials. These fiery trials sometimes come blazing and sometimes come like a sudden spark out of nowhere, coming both from without and from within–darts from the world and the devil, which we’ve come to expect, and darts from our own hearts that we still surprisingly shoot at ourselves. Both the enemy within us and the enemies outside us exist as a natural result of the Fall, and in their natural course of existence they fight daily to gain our affection, allegiance, and dependence. Like Gollum’s precious little idol that seemed to want to be found, our self-swindling hearts seem to want us to find our immediate and ultimate fulfillment in anything that lures our dependence away from God. Meanwhile, our Enemy is content simply to draw our affections to anything but the one true God, and thus to make us less dependent on God and increasingly dependent on ourselves and on our hearts’ precious idols, which will come alive and do our bidding.

While we do indeed become stronger and more mature as a result of life’s daily trials, ultimately, as the adopted children of God our Father, the trials he sovereignly sends our way are not intended to make us stronger but to make us weaker–less dependent on our own strength and more dependent on God and the power of his strength in which we can delightfully and eternally boast as does our brother Paul:

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then,I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor. 12:8–10).

Whatever doesn’t kill us, by God’s grace, makes us weaker in our self-dependence and more dependent on the strength of God. And this is all through the One who endured the trial of the Cross so that we might regain life dependent. By His grace we remain utterly dependent as we live justified from faith to faith at the foot of the Cross taking up our own crosses daily and dependently. As it is written, the righteous shall live by faith in God, not faith in self.

Do we in our own strength confide? Our striving would indeed be losing.

Remember where our strength to go on comes from

I can do everything through him who gives me strength

~ Phil. 4:13

Growing a healthy church

by Dan Spader

A healthy group image is directly connected to our effectiveness in helping people grow as disciples of Christ. It is a major part in the nurturing environment. Therefore, leaders in the Church of Jesus Christ have the responsibility to create and nourish a healthy group image among those to whom we minister. We need to recognize that our group image will either contribute to or hinder the impact of our ministry. Page 87.

Developing the ability to verbalize vision — that purpose or driving passion God as given to you for your ministry — can be a powerful tool. A clearly communicated vision connects purpose with conviction, provide substance to enthusiasm, and fuels godly dreaming — all of which contribute to a healthy group image.

One final thought about building a healthy group image: celebrate the good times! This is one of the simplest and most easily workable ideas. Whenever something good happens in your congregation, review and publicly with the whole body.

Most of us have selected memory. We remember in detail, both things which went right, wrong, and we forget the details about the things that went well. Reviewing the good times can help counteract this tendency. Remembering is so important in Scripture of the theology of remembrance could easily be constructed. Over and over again God tells his people to remember what he has done and how far they have come. Elaborate memorials were constructed. Many of the feasts are designed specifically to assist the remembering process.

Biblically speaking, God’s desire is to provoke help the remembrance of the good times in general, and his works in specific. Page 95.

If you’re like many ministries, you experience weekly or monthly pressure to write an interesting newsletter. You know how important good communication is, but the regular grind of cranking out these pieces gets old. Celebrating God’s work in the body may be your answer did in place of billing page after page with announcements, reviewed the good times. Publicly replay the ways God worked. Communicate answers to prayer, conversions, the Christ come progress on church goals, spiritual milestones (personal or corporate), and even financial blessings. Page 96.

~ Growing a Healthy Church

Being Christian is a personal matter, not a private one

by Thabiti M. Anyabwile, Pastor First Baptist Church, Grand Cayman Islands:

Being Christian is a personal matter, not a private one. When you are born again, you are born into a family. And that family is not only the great extended family of Christians throughout the world, but also the particular nuclear family of a local congregation. Page 11

Inviting our non-Christian friends to church services is an excellent way to expand on the personal conversations you have head with him about the gospel.

It’s also an opportunity for them to see the gospel “fleshed out” in the lives of an actual congregation of believers. In the church, non-Christians should see that kind of unity and love that testifies to the truth and power of the gospel in God’s love (John 13.34-35; 17.20- 21). Our friends will see the gospel with their eyes as they witnessed Christians observing baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Both in the way we live together at the church and in the ordinances of the church, we display the gospel in ways that complement the preached word of the gospel.

Have you ever considered how many practices and commands given to the New Testament church lose all their meaning if membership is not practiced, visibly identifiable, and important? Page 65.

The mark of Christian discipleship is love — love of the kind that Jesus exercised toward his followers, love visible enough that man will recognize it as belonging to those people who follow Jesus.

Not surprisingly, then, a healthy Christian is one who is committed to expressing this kind of love toward other Christians. And the best place for Christians to love this way is in the assembly of God’s people called the local church. Is it no wonder then that the author of Hebrews instructs us to “consider how to stir out one another to love and good works,” and then right away says, “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10.24 – 25)?

Faithful church attendance is associated tightly with during each other to love and good deeds. The local church is the place where love is most visibly and compellingly displayed among God’s people. It’s where the “body of Christ” is most plainly represented to the world. Page 67.

A healthy church member has a pervasive concern for his or her own personal growth and the growth of other members of her or his church. As Mark Deaver correctly notes, “Working to promote Christian discipleship in growth is working to bring glory not to ourselves but to God. This is how God will make itself known in the world.” Since a concern for God’s glory should be uppermost in our lives as believers, our concern for growth should be pervasive. Page 88.

The public assembly is meant for the edification, the building up, the growth of the Christian. Neglecting to participate in the corporate life of the church or failing to actively serve in and be served is a surefire way to limit our growth. Ephesians 411-16 offers a strong argument that participation in the body of Christ is the main way in which Christ strengthens and matures us. When we serve others in the church, bear with one another, love one another, correct one another, and encourage one another, we participate in the kind “spiritual maturity co-op.” where our stores and supplies are multiplied. The end result is growth and discipleship. Page 91.

The Christian life is a family life, and our prayers are to focus on the entire family, esteeming others more highly than ourselves. One way to do this is to pray regularly through your local church’s membership directory, if they publish one. Pray through one page, or one letter of the alphabet per day. Page 112.

~ What is a Healthy Church Member?