What was I created for? What is the purpose of the Church? The answer to both questions is the same; we are made to worship. Check out our video that begins a new series on the practical theology of worship.
I passionately believe in the possibility of renewal in the church, particularly the legacy church where the devotion to the Missio Dei has grown cold in favor of comfort and familiarity. I believe that the best way, but not the only, for revival to come to the church is through a return to first principles, a devotion to prayer and worship.
As a matter of regular meditation, I consider the list of things I believe:
- The eternal God of the Bible created, sustains, and has a purpose for the universe and my life within it
- Jesus gave His life to atone for the sins of the world (Mark 10:45) and by vesting belief in Him, people are saved (1 Corinthians 1:21)
- The Holy Spirit of Christ miraculously indwells redeemed people (1 Corinthians 6:19)
- The Colorado Rockies will win the World Series (someday, no scripture reference)
- Many churches need and can have revival
I passionately believe in the possibility of renewal in the church, particularly the legacy church where the devotion to the Missio Dei has grown cold in favor of comfort and familiarity. I believe that the best way, but not the only, for revival to come to the church is through a return to first principles, a devotion to prayer and worship. A renewed sense of the mission of disciple-making results from the first sparks of spiritual life that ignite, giving evidence to my belief. I believe these things are Scripture honoring and God glorifying.
There are doubtless many reasons that churches fall into decline, some beyond their control. As we talk about revival, it’s important to distinguish between spiritual and material poverty as a contributing factor. Geographic factors and demographic shifts can be the reasons that churches find themselves in material decline, making closure a choice that has to be made. We can identify numerous other external factors as reasons for the death of a church, and we need to be clear-eyed in assessing these realities. Conversely, spiritual decline has but a single source, the dimming of the passion of the members of a body for the gospel mission. Jesus spoke of this as forsaking “your first love” (Revelation 2:4).
While external factors may be beyond the control of a local church, the spiritual fire they exhibit is not. I believe that the Lord’s promise to be with His Church always (Matthew 28:20) assures us that any spiritual spark can be fanned into a roaring flame through His power. What does it require? I believe this inferno lies at the juncture of a return to heartfelt worship and the restoration of the Church as a house of prayer. Does this guarantee revival? Perhaps not, but it ensures that any ministry that emanates from a church is glorifying to God.
A summary of Spent Matches by Roy Moran
The Christian church has used a range of participatory metrics to evaluate her success in the modern era. Conversions, baptisms, the number of people present in worship: we fastidiously record these numbers throughout the year and then pore over them at year-end leadership summits. We define success as an increase in these totals; failure, plateau or decline. The analysis of these numbers governs the design and direction of the programmatic functions of the church. Leaders will tweak the edification programs to push for a more active evangelism, believing that transferring more information will make more effective evangelists. But how often are these same leaders referring to the commission given to the Church by her Lord to check the validity of their choices?
As Roy Moran states in his invaluable book Spent Matches, not often enough. The flaw in these metrics of success is that we no longer live in an era where information transfer to our neighbors and friends is effective in igniting their interest in God and His grace. To state this is a more colloquial fashion: the lives that surround the typical evangelical church are not the least bit interested in knowing what goes on inside. What people respond to is running into a radical life, one that is radically committed to Jesus and His teaching. Telling people what we believe puts their hypocrisy radar on full alert (as they have become conditioned to do in all areas of life). Living what we say we believe makes us stand out from the rest of the world clamoring for attention in the lives of our family, friends and neighbors.
It can be tempting to read the book as the outline for implementing a program, particularly because it includes ‘suggested’ outlines for meetings in the closing chapters. Mortify this temptation by slowly considering the imagery of the dire condition of the Church Moran paints at the beginning of the book. He suggests that our metrics should show the declining influence of modern Christian practice, likening the condition to a burning oil drilling platform surrounded by miles of churning sea. In the modern day we have two choices, jump or fry. To stay on our current platform is to die slowly on a long slope of decline. To jump is the join a movement back to the first principles of the Lord’s commission for His community of followers: make disciples who make disciples.
Moran is not the only author to put this idea into print. The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne leads to a similar conclusion, and has been influential in many churches by offering a ladder down from the burning platform. Moran is more forceful. We must jump and return with fresh eyes to the text of Matthew 28:18-20 and stop the bifurcation of the Gospel movement. Following a declaration of the expansive authority given to Him as the basis for the commission, Jesus commands His Church to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (ESV). The command to baptize these new disciples into the family and to teach “them to observe [obey] all that I have commanded you.” The Church has been obedient to this commission, but the methods have resulted in a bifurcated gospel practice where we separate life from faith. We have defined discipleship as an education process (information transfer) and then convinced ourselves that discipleship precedes evangelism (“sharing our faith”). The outcome of this process? Disciples never feel ready to evangelize others, so we double down on teaching them, hoping that someday their ship will launch. All the while, the platform burns.
The myth of preparation-perfection that plagues the information-transfer Church is refuted by reading the verses in the passage that are not a part of the memorized commission. The audience for the Lord’s command is His remaining eleven disciples, some of whom worshipped, but some of whom doubted! Perfection was not to be the enemy of progress, as Jesus commanded them to jump from the platform into the unknown. As Moran says,
“Jesus didn’t exhibit any sense of alarm indicating this was out of the ordinary or unusual. He was quite comfortable with a team that didn’t have it all together. In fact, He was comfortable commissioning people who not only lacked complete faith but were confirmed doubters.”
This is a catalyzing moment in the book, setting in relief the encouragement to jump and ignite a new movement within the Church, disciples who make disciples as they go along, each edifying and encouraging the other rather than relying on subject-matter experts that students feel they have to imitate before moving on the Mission. The Lord does not expect to create a class of mission-minded within the Church, specialists who carry on the Commission while others sit and watch. To be a Christian is to be a disciple, one involved in daily learning what it means to be a follower of Jesus and then putting that into practice. Moran’s take on John 15:8 (“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”) is accurate and puts our current process is stark relief:
“Jesus’ hope was that it would be normal for His followers to make disciples as they lived out a dangerous message that would divide families ad heal the brokenhearted, challenge the well-off and encourage the impoverished, transform the oppressors and bring freedom to the oppressed. To fail to make disciples would indicate followers weren’t connected to Jesus and the heart of His mission.”
Owning this concept is the spark of a movement that puts away information transfer and replaces it with community life. Jesus did not commission us to be taught principles about Himself, he said we were to be taught and then apply what he commanded. This obedience is the missing part in most programs in the modern Church; we are never challenged to show what we’ve done with what we’ve learned and so we never do. This is the source of the apathy we see in the pews. We have more information than we can possibly process at our fingertips, but scarce few opportunities to put it into practice and fewer still partners in the discipleship life holding us accountable. The discipleship patterns that Moran suggests through the book aim to fill this vacuum.
A fair number of churches today claim Acts chapter 2 as their model, seeing a return to the ancient church as a solution to moribund Christianity. The component missing in many is the discipleship pattern given by the Lord’s example and command: disciples, however imperfect, who make other disciples (who repeat the process) in community. This is what will capture the imagination of a world that has long ago become inured to the invitations of the Church. I invite you to read the book a few times and see if you are tempted to jump from the platform into the raging sea of the culture, trusting the Lord’s promise for our weakness, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
My 2021 reading list is composed of 78 books I read during the year. It’s the value I’ve always placed on reading and the compilation of my annual list that made a recent article stand out to me. In the November/December 2021 issue of Success magazine, it says that “American adults spend less than 10 minutes per day reading printed materials, compared to a whopping 7 hours and 50 minutes of screen time.” If correct, this statistic reflects the greatest loss we might suffer as people; to develop through the collected wisdom of the written word. The article continues, saying “The benefits of reading are far-reaching, with research showing bookworms experience less stress, reduced risk of depression, lowered blood pressure and improved sleep.” These benefits are probably true, but interacting with written ideas expands your own wisdom and knowledge, an invaluable exercise.
As I record each title in my journal, I add a rating of 1 to 5. Those rated 5 of 5 are the best, memorable pieces of writing that deserve to be widely read. Three books at the top of my list stand out because their rating exceeds the boundaries, rated as 10 of 5 stars. These 3 books would make a list of must-read volumes for Christians. Perhaps I’ll touch on each of these in separate posts to pique your interest. The books at the bottom of the list rated 2 stars are not worth your time, falling short of their promise (or, in the case of Dr. Flowers’ book, it’s potential). The other note you’ll notice on this list are those books marked 2x, indicating they were read twice or a second time with years of separation. As I look at these volumes, I’m tempted to add Henderson’s book Old Paths, New Power (read twice last year) to the 10 of 5 list. If revival interests you, this is a good place to start.
Make a list of your own for 2022. It might just motivate you to read more and build a growing library of wisdom and ideas.
|Keep in Step with the Spirit||Packer||10|
|How to Take Smart Notes||Ahrens||5|
|Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership||Barton||5|
|Praying with Paul||Carson||5|
|The Law of Innocence||Connelly||5|
|Come Down, Lord||Ellsworth||5|
|Praying for One Another||Getz||5|
|Stop Loving the World||Greenhill||5|
|Old Paths, New Power (2x)||Henderson||5|
|Ego is the Enemy||Holiday||5|
|Famine in the Land||Lawson||5|
|When You Pray||Lindell||5|
|The Trellis and the Vine||Marshall||5|
|21 Days of Breakthrough Prayer||Maxim||5|
|Calling on the Name of the Lord||Millar||5|
|A Voyage for Madmen||Nichols||5|
|How Do I know if I’m Really Saved?||Ortberg||5|
|Praying in Public||Quinn||5|
|How to Think Like a Roman Emporer||Robertson||5|
|The Case for Keto||Taubes||5|
|Whatever Happened to Worship?||Tozer||5|
|Do You Believe?||Tripp||5|
|In the Day of Thy Power||Wallis||5|
|How Can I Be Sure I’m a Christian (2x)||Whitney||5|
|How the Bible Describes Election||Bulow||5|
|Skip the Line||Altucher||4|
|The Message of Ruth||Atkinson||4|
|Chasing the Thrill||Barbarisi||4|
|Exegetical Commentary on Ruth||Block||4|
|Common Sense Investing||Bogle||4|
|The Soul of Prayer||Forsyth||4|
|A Craftsmans Legacy||Gorges||4|
|The Kind of Preaching God Blesses||Lawson||4|
|How to Worship a King||Neese||4|
|What Does it Mean to be Saved?||Stackhouse||4|
|Pray in the Spirit||Wallis||4|
|Introducing Practical Theology||Ward||4|
|Researching Practice for Missions and Ministry||Cameron||4|
|How to Pray in a Crisis||Henderson||3|
|Steering the Craft||LeGun||3|
|Made from Scratch||Taylor||3|
|A Creative Minority||Tyson||3|
|The Imperfect Disciple||Wilson||3|
|God’s Provision for All||Flowers||2|
|Quick Start Writing Guide||Nash||2|
There is no place nor social context in which the gospel of Jesus Christ is not true. From East to West, from the highest height to the deepest depth, there is no place where the Gospel is not good news. When the Lord commissioned His church to take that good news to the nations, He knew this to be true and permitted no artificial boundaries:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
This is good news for us at home among our local church family and our neighbors, and it’s also good news for us in our missional efforts in the neighborhood andd abroad. The good news of the mercy and love of God as seen in the sacrifice and resurrection of His Son remains consistent for every human being. None is excluded, no one is separated from the promise, no sin is too great, no reprobation too deep that cannot be forgiven in the atonement of Christ.
“For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile — the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:12–13
Truth demands action on our part. Our commission is not just to maintain the base camp, to keep the campfire stoked. We have trusted in the gospel and know the blessing of forgiveness and our restored relationship with God. Considering this, we must be carriers of the gospel so that others can experience the same relief and the same blessing. What was true of the gospel in the first century is true today, perhaps even more so, given the multitude of communication channels and the ability to put ourselves within the borders of all nations.
All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth. Colossians 1:6
Plant a seed, trust in the power of the spirit to water and nurture it and pray for the gospel to grow.
To Be Sipped and Not Gulped…
What if the cultural bottom is just the first step up in revival for Christ’s Church? The answer forms the premise of Mark Sayers’ new book ‘Reappearing Church’. Using biblical and historical precedent, Sayers proposes that the small devoted ‘remnant’ (cf. Isaiah) not given over to the suffocating culture can be the spark of a renewal movement. I will always remember his memorable culturally current description of the next step: revival is renewal gone viral.
Sayers is one of the Church’s cultural prophets who brings a bridge of a sociological viewpoint to God’s people. The culture is a challenge to be sure, but when it is understood we find that God has already given His people assurance that it can be overcome by his presence. The Revival that is needed will not come through legislation or cultural surrender as so many are wont to do. It will come through a small remnant who trust in the transformative process of the presence of God.
Sayers is a rare gift to the church. His writing is not of the 12-step genre. Rather, he is a deep thinker who invites the reader to join him in a meditative examination of the air we breathe. The only how-to included in the volume is the introduction which suggests that we gather a small cell of like-minded revivalists around us to pray through the material. Beyond that, the chapters give small bites to savor on the way to personal transformation. ‘Reappearing Church’ is not a fast read. You will want to slow down and think and pray deeply about each of individual subjects. Read it as your invitation to join the Remnant.
Varying degrees of hopelessness are an accepted part of life in our world. Better stated, hopelessness has marked life since the moment that rebellion against God entered the mortal plane. Hope requires a foundation, and when it is vested in the ever shifting, rapidly changing, only marginally trustworthy structures of the human world, that foundation can crumble in an instant. Claiming hope while secretly wondering when the ground beneath our feet will give way is no hope at all.
True hope is found in the one thing that never changes; true hope is found in the promises and assurances of God. Through the prophet Malachi, God gives hope to the descendants of Jacob saying “I the Lord do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.” (Mal 3:6) God gave similar assurance in the midst of the words of doom that the prophet Isaiah was charged with proclaiming, God gives this hopeful reminder about the proper placement of hope, “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.” (Isa 40:8)
The Savior Jesus Christ, Son of Man and second member of the Trinity, never changes. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Heb 13:8) Faith in Christ results in an unchanging hope. This is a hope that may be buffeted by the challenges and trials of life but whose roots driven deep in the rock allow it to bend like a reed and not be broken. This is a hope that may be challenged by the many worldviews that swirl about but are ultimately found wanting. Hope rooted in Jesus is hope that will carry you through the worst storm, shine light in your darkest hour and can be counted on when all else inevitably fails.
The gospel of the life, sacrificial death and the glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ fuels the hope of all those who put their faith in this good news of God’s love through His Son. God’s eternal promises from the seconds after the hope-stealing rebellion in the garden come to fruition in the Savior and remain, unchanging, into eternity. The deeper the good news settles in our soul, the greater our hope. The more the good news defines our lives, the greater our hope.
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. An I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Eph 3:16-19)
We Are the Body
For many Christians, the Church that Pastor Tozer describes in this new collection is almost a foreign entity given the diluted experience that they have each week. Tozer had a deep love for God and His Church, and it pours forth on the pages of this newly published collection. Many of the words have been previously published but Moody Publishers has assembled new topical collections of these and other unpublished works on themes important to the modern church. The ‘Church’ collection is inspiring reading as Tozer speaks of the importance of Christ’s Bride, not criticizing for long, but rather, reminding the reader of the world-changing purpose of the assembled Christians.
For those familiar with Tozer’s writing, each chapter is the expected gem. His holiness and earnest devotion to God’s Church is not sanctimonious, it draws the reader deeper and deeper in an invitation to the same devotion. The Church is not a social organization, a club to which we can give passing notice. It is the living, breathing organization through which God works to affect the spiritual transformation of His world. Tozer can be both gentle and firm as the moment dictates and, in both instances, the reader is encouraged to commit themselves and be likewise.
If you are new to Tozer, consult the classics alongside this volume: The Pursuit of God and are good primers. If Tozer has long been on your reading list [as he has mine] you will savor his words and be encouraged in your faith and your ministry, as you probably expect
The apostle Paul describes the tools of spiritual warfare in the new covenant world, naming it the Armor of God in the final chapter of Ephesians. In verse 15 we encounter a phrase unique in the Bible when he speaks of feet fitted with readiness, the readiness coming from “the gospel of peace”, a phrase found only here in the Greek New Testament. Paul gives this command as the foundation of our spiritual armor, steadying our life as each of the component parts works together.
This imagery echoes back to the messenger of peace prophesied in Isaiah 52: How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation”. Though barefoot, this messenger carried the ‘good news’ of peace to those in exile that restoration would be on the way, that their long bondage would be ending. He shouts a message from the mountaintops that peace had been made with the King, enmity had ended. For the reader [hearer] of Paul’s epistle, this imagery could not be missed and was, in fact, amplified by the Apostle’s magisterial writing in Romans.
“For if, when we were god’s enemies, we were reconciled to him though the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved though his life!” Romans 5:10
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8:1
Those set free by Christ know this peace. The Gospel brought this peace and emboldens the peacemakers. The good news sent from the King to the exiles brought hope and in Jesus, the message came to life. As believers have embraced the message, they have surrendered their sovereignty to the true Sovereign. The announcement of the treaty that followed the Lord’s sacrifice gave definition to peace. Knowing, truly knowing, the peace that comes of the gospel propels the freed soul to share this good news with others. We want those around us to know the same freedom, to enjoy the same peace.
The blessing that comes of the gospel of peace is likewise twofold. We are blessed in salvation and in knowing the peace with God that the forgiveness of sins provides. Blessings are also inherent in the calling to proclaim the good news of peace. To be entrusted with such a precious task and message is to feel the love of God, to know the trust of the King.
“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news…” Isaiah 52:7
High King of Heaven Ed. John MacArthur
One of the most difficult tasks in theological writing is to bridge the technical with the practical. Pastors are challenged to do this each week, studying and understanding God’s Word in its language and context and then putting that technical knowledge to use by the hearer of the sermon. Greek forms and cross-references are interesting but the task at hand is help the Christian hear God speak through the Bible. This challenge applies to an even greater degree when it comes to theological literature. Numerous are the excellent technical tomes in the pastor’s library as are the numbers of practical books on the shelf. Few offer a bridge between the two worlds, but “High King of Heaven” succeeds in being one of the small number that offer this link.
Edited by John MacArthur, High King of Heaven is a compendium of articles touching on the person, work and the Bible’s witness to Jesus Christ who “after he had provided purification for sins, eh sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” (Heb 1:3) The 23 authors of the individual chapters might cause you hesitate to engage the book, thinking that the potential unevenness might not be worth the effort but let me allay your fears. MacArthur has done a wonderful job as editor (no doubt aided by Phil Johnson) and the book reads smoothly from page to page. Though each author has a unique style, the book as a whole speaks of the magnificence of Jesus Christ with a single voice.
Who should read this book? Though labeled as a contribution to the Systematic Theology library, the chapters are accessible by any Christian familiar with the Bible. There are technical points that are explained well enough that almost anyone can understand them and there are practical points that can be filed for later use if they don’t fit the reader’s immediate context today. “High King of Heaven” is a book that invites you to engage it deeply, marking it up, planning for a second full read. This is not a volume that will be read and then shelved with so many others. This is going to become a standard reference volume, even for those theologians outside of the MacArthur-Calvinist circle.