Do we really believe in the sovereignty of God?

This morning I read this tweet:

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…and I started to wonder (again) why some reformed churches tend to have a low growth rate, little emphasis on evangelism and a poor outward focus. It just doesn’t make any sense.

As IJM‘s Gary Haugen reminds us, the sovereignty and faithfulness of God – themes which resonate deeply in reformed thought and reformed preaching – are the bedrock of mission, every work of justice and compassion, every act of witness.

God is sovereign – so he knows my needs and the needs of my city. He is all powerful, he will give me what I need to do what he calls me to do (see Matthew 7:7-12)

When Jesus returned to the Father, he reminded his disciples – as he gave them his great commission to disciples the nations – that all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to him. His presence and his resurrection power would embolden witness and empower everything we do to share the good news.

These wonderful realities must be at the forefront of all mission and ministry.

And I wonder, if mission, outreach, sharing the good news, and living the ‘new goods’ are not at the forefront of all we’re doing as churches and individuals, whether we actually believe in God’s sovereignty and faithfulness at all.

Yours are the hands

Christ has

No body now on earth but yours;

No hands but yours;

Yours are the eyes

Through which is to look out

Christ’s compassion to the world;

Yours are the feet

With which he is to go about

Doing good;

Yours are the hands

With which he is to bless now.

– St. Teresa of Avila

5 Steps To Creating A Culture of Evangelism In Your Church

By Brandon Hilgemann

It is a sad reality today that many churches are simply not reaching many people for Christ.

No, it’s not all about numbers. Yes, fellowship and discipleship are important. But if we are trying to follow the great commission, why are we not doing more to try to reach more people?

Put simply, I believe it is because we have not created a culture of evangelism in our churches. Somewhere along the way, many churches have lost their evangelistic fervour.
If we want to create a culture of evangelism in our churches, I believe there are at least 5 things that we must do.

1. Model Evangelism Yourself

You cannot expect your people to do something that you yourself are not doing. It is as simple as that.

You can only lead people as far as you have gone yourself. If you are not actively seeking evangelistic opportunities, your people won’t either.

This should be a given, but I know this is something I need to get better at myself.

It is easy to get so consumed in the busy work of being a pastor that we neglect our own obligation to reach out to people who are not part of our church.

2. Preach Evangelism

It surprises me how many churches desire to grow but never preach a sermon about how important it is for Christians to actually reach out to others.

Why don’t we hear more sermons on how important it is for Christians to invite friends, neighbours, family members, and co-workers to church?

If you want your church to be more evangelistic, tell them to be. Preach from the many passages of scripture where people introduce others to Jesus. Then, tell your people that life and death are literally in the balance for them to do the same!

If Heaven and Hell are real, we had better start acting like it. Why aren’t we doing more to rescue those headed for eternal separation from God?

3. Create Environments Where Non-Believers Are Welcomed And Expected

In your preaching, don’t just address Christians. Always assume that there are skeptics, non-believers, or people who don’t know what to believe in the room.
If you always talk in a way that assumes everyone is a Christian, then people who aren’t Christians will know this isn’t a place for them. However, if you regularly address those in the room who are not Christians or are on the fence, you accomplish two things:

1. You communicate that people who aren’t Christians (yet) are welcome at your church.

2. You create a place where people can feel comfortable inviting their non-christian neighbours because they know you will speak to them too.

When you preach about something that is confusing or “weird” in the Bible, address it. Don’t just assume that the average person accepts miracles in the Bible or other seemingly outrageous concepts such as animal sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins.

When you are doing things in church that the average Christian takes for granted (communion, baptism, etc.), explain it to those who may not be familiar with it.

Here is the bottom line: People will not invite other people to your church if they don’t think it is a safe place for them.

If they are worried that their coworker will come to church for the first time and hear a sermon that has no application to their lives whatsoever, they simply won’t invite them.

However, if they know that you address people in their coworker’s situation every single week, there will be one less fear in the way of them to make the invite.

4. Create Good Excuses For People to Invite Others to Church

This one seems obvious to me, but again, many churches don’t do this.

Create a good excuse for people to invite people. Maybe it’s as simple as having a block party with free food after the services. Maybe you have an attraction like bounce houses for young families with kids. Maybe you have a fun event like a car show or carnival. Maybe you just take advantage of natural times to come to church like Christmas and Easter.

Whatever you do, circle a day on your calendar and promote it. Tell your people that you want them to invite people that day.

It sounds really simple, but again, many churches don’t do it. They have events, but the events are for members and fellowship. Clearly tell people that you want them to invite people to these events. Give them simple tools like invite cards to hand out. You will be surprised how much this works to introduce new people to your church.

5. Celebrate Evangelism

When someone comes to your church and gives their life to Christ, celebrate it! When people get baptised, celebrate it! When someone in your church invites someone, celebrate it! When you hear about spiritual conversations that your people are having with friends or co-workers, celebrate it! When attendance is up, celebrate it!

Whatever gets celebrated in your church will get repeated. Celebrating evangelism shows everyone that this is what your church values. If the angels in Heaven celebrate whenever a lost person is found, it might be a good idea if we did too.

Make a big deal about it, because it is a big deal!

Will You Do This?

Building an evangelistically focused church starts with you. If you model evangelism, preach evangelism, create evangelistic environments, promote evangelistic opportunities, and celebrate evangelism… your church will naturally become an evangelistic church.

Some of you are already creating a culture of evangelism in your church. Great job. Don’t give up. Keep pushing the kingdom of God forward.

Some of you are part of a church that has long forgotten its evangelical roots. It is not too late to begin turning things around. God still wants to use your church to advance His kingdom.

This is not about the size of your church. It’s about the size of our mission to make disciples of all nations for Jesus Christ.

Let’s do this together. Let’s build a culture of evangelism in our churches so that more people may find the hope, peace, love, forgiveness, and purpose that we have all found in Christ.

This post was originally published at Lifeway’s Pastor’s Today blog

(Used with permission)

Growth, Health & ‘The Gospel’

Here at Gateway Community Church we’ve been listening to God’s call to make and grow disciples, to have a healthy church, to ensure our structures work best for these ends. We have a long way to go, but there are a few things we want to start doing. The next few posts will outline what some of them are.

Our first priority is this: we want have clarity and unity in ‘the Gospel’.

This is not always straightforward. R C Sproul has written about some of the distortions and over simplifications of ‘the Gospel’ here. For some, ‘the Gospel’ amounts to jargon: ‘we’re here for the Gospel’, ‘this is a Gospel church’, ‘what matters is the Gospel’, ‘nothing but the Gospel’, ‘I love Gospel music’ – all well and good, but what do you actually mean by ‘the Gospel’?

Amongst the people of the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia, ‘the Gospel’ is commonly a set of orthodox truths about Jesus, for example:

  • Jesus is the eternal Son, only begotten of the Father
  • he became a man, born to Mary
  • he lived a sinless life, suffered and was put to death on the Cross
  • his death bore the sin and punishment his people deserved
  • he rose from the dead, winning their rescue, restoring them to life, and reconciling them to the Father
  • he ascended to heaven, and now sits in the most powerful place in the universe
  • he will return to judge all humanity and to recreate the universe which now, rightly, belongs to him

These truths are crucial: If I fudge on one aspect, I don’t have the full picture of who Jesus is. This is why good theology matters: it helps me think clearly about who God is, what he has done in Jesus, and why it all matters. I believe the statements above are objective realities, absolute certainties. They remain true whether I believe them or not. In this sense, the Gospel simply is.

Even so, when at Gateway said ‘we want to have clarity in the Gospel’ we were, however, talking about more than agreeing to a raft of objective truths. This because it is possible to accept those truths but still not live under them. Think of it this way, I believe Capt. James Cook sailed Endeavour into Botany Bay in 1770. I can study the accounts of his voyage, read his diaries, and get some sense of the man. But when I roll out of bed in the morning, James Cook is not going to make a difference to how I live. Why? Because acceptance of historical truths is not necessarily life changing.

The Gospel is considerably more than a happy announcement of forgiveness to a lost sinner.

So, how is ‘the Gospel’ more than a statement of objective truth? How is the Gospel the transformational good news? In this sense: The Gospel is the person of Jesus and everything he has come to do. John Piper opens this reality beautifully in his 2005 ‘God is the Gospel‘. I would just change Piper’s title to make it read ‘Jesus is the Gospel’. I say this because ‘accepting the Gospel’ is more than agreeing with a set of truths: accepting the Gospel is accepting Jesus, bowing the knee to him, naming him as my Lord, my Leader, my Rescuer, the Redeemer and ultimate Restorer of my world and this universe.

We want to be clear about this: The Gospel is considerably more than a happy announcement of forgiveness to a lost sinner. It is that, for sure, but the Gospel announces Jesus’ restoration, his new creation, his Kingdom coming to expression in our here and now. It proclaims the inexhaustible hope that Jesus is reconciling all things to the Father. Can we find a more earth shattering, life changing, heart transforming statement of the Gospel than what we read in Colossians 1? …

“For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:19–20, NIV)

We want Gateway to understand this glorious Gospel. We want this reality to be the ground for our unity. We want this Jesus to be the focus of our ministry and mission. This Gospel, Jesus Himself, has staggering implications for how we live and behave, for how we engage our community and our world. Perhaps the most humbling reality of all is the wonder that through Jesus we now get to bring new his creation to expression (see 2 Cor 5:17-21).

As leaders we are convinced that the more unity we have in this very big picture, the more we will all pull in the same direction, and the more glory will be given to Christ our King.

Theology According to Penfolds Grange

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As we walked around the bottle shop at The Blue Cattle Dog, he asked, “if you knew Jesus was coming again wouldn’t you want to buy a bottle of Penfolds Grange just to see what it was like?”

I thought for a few seconds, and said ‘No mate, I probably would not. I think the wine in the new heavens and the new earth is going to be way better that anything that Penfolds – or anyone else – can offer.”

He looked puzzled. “Why would we have wine in heaven?”

“Well, why wouldn’t we?” I responded. “What makes you think there won’t be great wine in heaven? And food better than anything we can imagine?”

This seemed to confuse him even more. He said he knew we would still have bodies, but wondered whether they would be the kind that will have need for food or drink, or any other kind of sustenance.

 

Will we eat in heaven? Live in homes? … Will there be a structured society? Or will it be a case of some kind of bodied existence will little or no relation to the world around us?

 

And then I started wondering about this little exchange, and why I thought an eternal physical reality, with joys like eating and drinking was such an obvious thing to expect, and why he thought it was so abnormal…

What do you think? Will we eat in heaven? Live in homes? Walk in national parks? Or grow vegetables in the backyard? Will there be a structured society? Or will it be a case of some kind of bodied existence will little or no relation to the world around us?

These are not just academic questions, the answers to which we’ll only know when Christ returns. My belief is that the picture you have of where you have come from (Eden) and the picture you have of where you’re going (eternity) will determine the shape of your spirituality and your mission in the present.

So, the more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that my friend would probably have most of the Christians in Australia on his side, and that maybe I was a minority.

 

How you see where you have come from (Eden) and where you’re going (eternity) will determine the shape of your spirituality and your mission in the present.

 

After all, haven’t we always been told that the heaven is a spiritual place? And doesn’t that mean there will be nothing physical or material there? Isn’t it true that this earth will pass away, and be burned up and there’ll be nothing left of it?

This is the tension I want to wrestle with. In future posts I want to draw on some of the biblical themes relevant to these questions.

For now, why not let me know what your thoughts are?

Grace and peace,

Dave

Forgiveness: Let’s Start at the Beginning

Where does forgiveness start? This is an important question if we’re to get forgiveness right and do forgiveness well.

I think forgiveness starts with God and his nature. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. This very act says so much about the God we worship and the forgiveness he calls us into. It reminds us that God is a giver, One who at core seeks to bring life and beauty and joy into being. In the evening of each creation day God said “it is good.” On the sixth day, having created human beings, he said “it is very good”. At a very primary level, we understand that God gives himself, expends himself so that life can abound and people can thrive.

Cornelius Plantinga says “the first act in the world’s drama is God’s act of creation and sustaining ‘all things visible and invisible,’ out of a generous desire to enlarge the realm of being, to bestow life and goodness on others, and to assist others to flourish in the realm created for them.” [Engaging God’s World, p.44]

…forgiveness starts with God and his nature…

This tells us deep things about God: his core disposition is one of love, a desire to bless, to enrich, to cause to flourish, to bring life and beauty. There are a million other implications to pursue here about what the church should focus on, about how Christians should conduct themselves, and what defines the mission of the church.

What I want us to think about are the implications of this for forgiveness. This is very important, because it is easy for us to view forgiveness simply in a pragmatic sense: we want to forgive because it resolves a problem. We do it because it works. That is not bad, but it could be better.

When forgiveness is rooted in the character of God, and defined by his work in creation, we see something else. We wee that forgiveness is about bringing blessing into lives. When we go the full cycle of forgiveness, we don’t just resolve a problem, we bless each other.

That is a challenging thought. You may think of the trouble and grief that is part of your life, and seriously question whether you will ever be able to forgive. You may wonder whether you could ever see your way clear to bless the person or persons that have brought this pain upon you. Sometimes the terrors and evils perpetrated on us are so big and ugly that it seems impossible to contemplate any positive thought toward those who have done them. I agree – but for now, can we agree to leave that tension where it is, and come back to later?

The bottom line is that forgiveness is perhaps the most grace affirming, life enriching work you will ever do. It’s no wonder that if we’re going to do it well, we’ll need the sort of grace and strength and help that we can only get from Jesus.

Can you see forgiveness as ultimately a desire to see the other blessed? How does this challenge you or comfort you?

Will God really protect me?

One of the primary questions people ask about Christianity is whether it produces actual outcomes: whether it makes a real difference to their lives. We know that Jesus is God’s son, that he died and rose again, that he rules the universe, and that he is returning to complete his restoration of all things. But does this make a difference to how we live?

This morning I read in Ps 94 how God is the avenger of those who are victimised and oppressed. He judges the earth. He does not reject his people or forsake his inheritance. He rises up for his people against his enemies. God is our fortress and our refuge.

Can you see how our view of God influences how we engage with our world and how we live in it and how we live with others? If God is our fortress, I don’t need to bolster myself with my status, or my possessions, or my reputation. If God is my refuge, I don’t have to take refuge in my orthodoxy, or in my church.

My comfort is that God’s plan will come to fruition irrespective of my circumstances

Today, my day is in God’s trusting hands. I move into my day knowing that I am working in his plan, so I don’t have to cajole him into working in mine. My comfort is that God’s plan will come to fruition irrespective of my circumstances. This is true for his plan for me, as well as his plans for my world.

Here’s the question we all need to ask: Do I actually believe God will protect me today? In my work, my living, my witness, my relationships, at my rock and my hard place?

Or are these things just nice thoughts to start the day with, but they have no ultimate power to impact my reality?