Thursday, July 28, 2016

Are We Peaceful or Peacemakers?

When I looked for the word "peacemaker" on Google Images all that I received were images of revolver handguns.  I'm afraid that might be the way that many people feel that peace is brought about--by completely annihilating another individual.  That is certainly not what Christ was thinking when He said in Matthew 5:9, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God." 

Many people consider themselves peaceful people.  After all, they get along with most everyone and they love almost all people.  They hate war and they don't even allow a naughty dog to frustrate them.  Most everyone loves peace.  At times in our lives peace is disrupted, and we may do all we can possibly do to restore that peace--especially in our families.  Striving to just tolerate a poor situation can wear you down after a while.  Relationships that are not peaceful cause us to not want to spend time in the presence of that person. 

It is important to note three things about peace:

  1. God has made peace possible through the work of Jesus Christ.  Romans 5:1 says, "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."  Christ has made it possible to live at peace with God because God has declared us righteous based on the work of Christ.  When God sees us, He sees us dressed in the righteousness of His Son. 
  2. Secondly, Paul says about Christ, "For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility," (Philippians 2:14).  Once again, only because Christ died in our place and has forgiven us, is it possible for us to enjoy sweet relationships with even our enemies.  
  3. Thirdly, Christ is not asking us in Matthew 5:9 just to be peaceful people.  He says, blessed are the "peacemakers."  There is a difference.  Christ expects his children to work to bring about peace around them.  This may mean in our homes, work place, or even our churches.  The blessed person works to bring about healthy relationship amongst people who are at odds with one another. 
Living as a peacemaker is a rewarding life to live.  Others will see us as "the sons of God" because it characterizes God Himself.  We begin to look and act like our own Heavenly Father.  Let's pray that God would give us unsettled hearts for relationships that are not healthy and to serve as a healing balm for His glory.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Are They Really Saved?

The term Christian is used very loosely today.  Some would even say that we are a Christian nation, but there is not much evidence any longer to convict us of that fact.  If we were to ask people that we encounter if they were a Christian many would say yes.  However, when nothing that they do looks "Christian" in nature then the evidence would suggest that they do not really understand who Christ is and thence they do not really know Him.  Christ says that, "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me" (John 10:27).  If Christ's own children don't listen to His voice or follow Him then what evidence is there that they belong to Him?  It could be better asked, "do they having a saving faith"?  Scripture tells us that, "even the demons believe and tremble" (James 2:19).  Many throughout history have acknowledged the person of Jesus Christ and some would even say that He is the Son of God, but they never counted on Christ alone for the salvation from their sins.

Scripture often uses two words that speak about coming to Jesus Christ.  They appear to be repeated often, consistently, and both are necessary.  We are to repent (Mt. 4:16-17) of our sins and to believe (Jn. 3:16) in Jesus Christ for His work on the cross for our sin.  I believe that Christians grow into a knowledge of their salvation (2 Pet. 3:18) and they are to "work out their salvation with fear and trembling," which means they ought to live out their faith before God.  It is possible to be sorry for our sins but not believe in Jesus Christ alone as the only way for forgiveness of sins.  Some may even strive to be a better person and never accept the free gift of salvation that Christ alone can give.  As well, some can say that they believe Christ died on the cross and they can even believe that He loves them and yet never repent of their sinful condition

It is my firm conviction from Scripture that both are necessary for salvation. They work in tandem with one another.   I'm careful crediting salvation to everyone who says "I'm a Christian" without seeing a sensitivity towards sin or the Fruit of the Spirit growing from their Christ-centered life.  Being made in the image of God allows even non-Christians to do good things and love others but it is not proof of their Christian faith.  While it is impossible to truly know another person's heart, repentance of sin and trust in Jesus Christ alone for the work that He accomplished on the cross of Calvary is the only means of salvation.  In fact, genuine Christians continue to live a life or repentance (Mt. 6:12; 1 Jn. 1:9) and trust in Christ (1 Cor. 13:13).   It is the Christian's lifestyle and not just a moment in time. 

Christ Himself assures us that on the day of reckoning, when He judges the world, many will claim that they knew Him but they really did not (Mt. 7:21-23).  There may have been a "head" connection but there was never a "heart" connection.  As result, they will be cast into hell for failure of coming to Him as their personal Savior.  We cannot preach a Gospel that fails to include repentance or a gospel that leaves out the work of Jesus Christ alone for our sin and salvation.  Both are needed and necessary.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

10 Character Traits of Healthy Growing Churches

One of my favorite authors, Thom Rainer, reports on the trends and traits of healthy growing churches.  He asks, “what might your church look like 10 years from now if we implement these 10 traits today?” Please take a few moments to read and consider.

“I am not a prophet.  Please don’t stone me if I get one of these ten traits wrong.  And while there is a good bit of subjectivity in this article, I think I am basing my projections on clear and evident trends.  So, what if we could look into the future ten years from now, and see the characteristics of the healthiest churches in America? Would you be willing to make changes now?  Take a look.”

1  They have the same pastor they did ten years ago. Pastors, the greenest grass may be the church you serve right now. Church members, quit nitpicking and complaining to pastors so much that they can’t wait to leave.
2  The pastor, staff, and church members have a decade of calling to the local community. They are not just called to the church; they are called to the community the church is intended to serve. They would have loved and served the community for ten years.
3  The church will be as diverse as the community. Look at your demographics now and the projected demographics ten years from now. How diverse is your church?
4  The church will have responded to its international mission field in its own backyard for ten years. The world is coming to America. What is your church doing to reach different people groups in your community? Try sponsoring an ESL (English as a Second Language) class. Watch the world come to you.
5  The church will have had a consistent and strategic outward focus for a decade. The leadership of the church consistently and persistently leads the congregation in outwardly focused ministries and evangelism.
6  All new members the past ten years will have attended a new members’ class. They will thus not only have information about the church; they will have heard expectations of how they are to serve, minister, and give in the church.
7  The church will have seen the cultural changes of the decade as opportunities rather than threats. Rather than ranting every time culture takes a shift away from Christianity, these churches will have used the changes as opportunities to share the gospel and minister.
8  At least 80 percent of the worship attendance will have moved to a small group over the decade. For ten years, leadership in the church will have been highly intentional about moving people to small groups. As a result, assimilation will be at an all-time high.
9  At least 50 percent of the attendance will have invited at least four people to church each year. Over ten years, a church of 200 in attendance will thus have invited 4,000 people or families to church.
10. Every year for ten years these churches will have become more joyous and fun. Church bullies, curmudgeons, control freaks, and critics will not like