Category Archives: Christian Maturity

Barriers to Church Growth, #6 (Selfish Prayer)

A very revealing study was done, leading to a book detailing how 300 churches went from declining or dying, to growing. In Comeback Churches, written by Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson, there is a list of 30 different barriers to church growth. Having received permission from the publisher (B&H Publishing Group), I would like to discuss several of these.

People think of prayer as being for themselves (Matt. 6:5).

“And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.” – Matthew 6:5

Recently I preached from Romans 12:1-3 and verse 12. There is a great need for prayer that is not self-centered, but sacrificial and “other” focused.

The Hypocrite Prayer

It should always be considered a great honor to be called upon to lead a congregational prayer. When this happens, what is not needed is a long, drawn-out speech meant to make everyone else think the one praying is practicing for an oral theological exam. However, there are those who use this opportunity to do almost that.

How many times have you been in a church service when some “godly” gentleman was asked to give the closing prayer, the result being you fell asleep and hit your head on the pew in front of you? Many times the reason for a prayer like that is simply to make the one praying sound righteous. Is that not what the Pharisee did (Luke 18:11)? His intent was to be heard of men, not God.

On the other hand, if the intent is for God to hear, do we think He is going to be impressed with our seminary-level language? More often than not, when somebody goes on and on in a public prayer, God is no more impressed than the people in the audience…nobody is fooled. Fancy words can never hide a faulty character.

The Selfish Prayer

What I believe is more dangerous than the hypocritical prayer is the prayer that focuses only on one’s personal needs, not the needs of others. The reason these prayers are dangerous is that they cause us to be narrow-minded and self-centered. They are the opposite of sacrificial prayer.

Does anyone seriously think that Christians pray as much as they should? And when we do pray, how often do you think we pray for the needs of our neighbors, our friends, or even our enemies before we “name-and-claim” our own desires? My friends, this is a barrier to church growth. The lack of prayer is far more deadly to the church than the few who “stand in the corner of the streets” to be heard.

Sacrificial Prayer

In the first verse of Romans 12 the Apostle Paul begs us to “present [our] bodies” as living sacrifices. “Living sacrifices” don’t care about self, only the glory of the One to whom the sacrifice is made. And when we are transformed by “the renewing of [our] minds,” we have the mind of One who would lay down His own life for the sake of others.

When we look further down into this chapter it becomes obvious that we not to think of ourselves as better than others, but to minister to their needs as our own. With that in mind, when we come to verse 12, what kind of prayer should we be continuing in?

When we become more like Christ, our prayers become more like His. We don’t know every prayer Jesus prayed, but of the ones we have a record of, how many included requests for better jobs, a better car, a nicer home, better health, etc? More often than not, He prayed for the Church, for unity, for His Father to receive glory, for His Father’s will to be done.

How awesome it would be if we all spent more time on our knees in prayer? How powerful would it be if we sacrificed our time in prayer for self and focused on others within the body? What would happen if we would just spend time praying, not just for our own congregations, but for the Church, the body of Christ?

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Filed under book review, Christian Living, Christian Maturity

A Sermon On Legalism

You can go to other posts I’ve written and read why some people choose to be legalists. This, however, is a message I preached this past Sunday morning.

Maybe some of you will find it encouraging or helpful.

Click here to listen to “Romans 14: A Sermon On Legalism”

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Filed under legalism, Preaching, Christian Maturity, Church

Barriers to Church Growth #4 (Hold to God)

A very revealing study was done, leading to a book detailing how 300 churches went from declining or dying, to growing. In Comeback Churches, written by Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson, there is a list of 30 different barriers to church growth. Having received permission from the publisher (B&H Publishing Group), I would like to discuss a few of them.

“People are unwilling to take hold of God (Isaiah 64:7).”

“And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities.” – Isaiah 64:7 KJV

Every time we heard a gospel song that had words similar to “hold on to God,” or “hold to His hand,” my parents quickly reminded us that “we don’t hold God’s hand – He holds ours.” Understandably, what my parents were referring to was salvation. In that sense, we are held and He will never let go.

But that is not what this verse is talking about. Isaiah is saying that part of the problem his people were facing was the fact that none had the desire, nor even the desire to have a desire, to grab hold of God. If that is true today, then it may not only be a huge barrier to church growth, but to individual growth as well.

Take Hold of Thee

It is interesting and revealing when we look at this phrase and compare its usage to other places in Scripture. To begin with, the word chazaq (Strong’s H2388) essentially means “to tie fast, to bind bonds strongly” (Gesenius’s Lexicon). It is a verb that is translated into English as words such as strong, retain, urgent, and caught. Here are just a few examples.

“And the LORD said unto Moses, Put forth thine hand, and take it by the tail. And he put forth his hand, and caught[2388] it, and it became a rod in his hand:” – Exodus 4:4

“And the Egyptians were urgent[2388] upon the people, that they might send them out of the land in haste ; for they said , We be all dead men.” – Exodus 12:33

“Then said his wife unto him, Dost thou still retain[2388] thine integrity? curse God, and die .” – Job 2:9

Moses “caught.” Look at the first verse. Moses had been commanded by God to throw down his rod, after which it became a serpent. Then, against all logic, God told him to pick it up again, but this time by the tail (riiiiigghht!). I would have had to be seriously “stirred up” to pick up a deadly snake by the tail – it BITES! Yet, that’s what Moses did. He “caught it” by the tail.

The Egyptians were “urgent.” Next, after suffering under all the plagues, the Egyptians “were urgent” in there pushing the Israelites out of town. They had come to realize that their own lives were in jeopardy if the Jews stayed one day longer. It was imperative that they are pushed out as quickly as possible.

Job “still retained.” Now, look at poor Job. He had lost everything dear to him, including his health, and then came his wife telling him to curse God and die. She couldn’t believe that he could just sit there and hold on to his belief that God was worth serving. “After all this, are you still holding on to your integrity? What for? What’s the use? Quit putting yourself through this nonsense and just curse God and die!” Yet, he held on.

Making it Apply

When we view Isaiah 64:7 in the light of the verses above, what we have is astounding and convicting. Let’s see if we can work it all together:

1) Taking hold of God is something that we should take seriously, not flippantly. Don’t reach out for Him in a way that implies half-heartedness. Take hold like you mean it! Who do we think God is, a stick to be used by us in our own power to accomplish our own desires? NO! He is alive and dangerous. As Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia, He is NOT tame. He is not here to be played with.

2) Do we not understand that without the power and presence of God we will die?In Him we live, move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28). There should be an urgency in our desire for Him, no less than the kind the Egyptians had to expel the Jews from their land. Do we want to live? We must urgently “take hold.”

3) We must hold on to God even when it seems insane to others. We must consider our relationship with our Heavenly Father so precious that even when Hell seems to be winning, faith tells us otherwise. Like Job of old, we should hold on to God even when we lie broken and wasted amid the ashes of seeming defeat. Our Redeemer LIVES!

The Barrier that Must Fall

If we are to see growth in our churches, not to mention our own lives, we must seek after God with urgency, intensity, and passion. He must be sought after and adhered to like no other treasure on earth. Anything less betrays our divided, adulterous hearts. God will bless and grow a people who “take hold.” No church will grow who only takes hold of God when it is convenient, fun, or fashionable.

Time is filled with swift transition
Not of earth or moon can stand
Build your hope on things eternal
Hold to God’s unchanging hand
Hold to God’s unchanging hand

Trust in Him who will not leave you
Whatsoever years may bring
When my earthly friends forsaken
Still more closely to Him cling

Hold to God’s unchanging hand
Hold to God’s unchanging hand
Build your hope on things eternal
Hold to God’s unchanging hand
Hold to God’s unchanging hand

We must cleave to Him. It IS a matter of life or death.

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Filed under book review, Christian Maturity, God, Uncategorized, worship

Barriers to Church Growth #3

A very revealing study was done, leading to a book detailing how 300 churches went from declining or dying, to growing. In Comeback Churches, written by Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson, there is a list of 30 different barriers to church growth. Having received permission from the publisher (B&H Publishing Group), I would like to discuss a few of them.

“God withdraws Himself from the church because of sin. He hardens hearts and gives the people over to sin (Isa. 63: 15-19; Heb. 3:12-13).”

“Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” – Hebrews 3:12-13 KJV

Have you ever thought it possible for a church to be given over to sin? I am not talking about the “liberal” church down the street (every town has one, I suppose), but your church – my church. Is there no growth taking place? Maybe it is because of sin. Maybe it’s because of a hardened heart.

Do churches sin?

You know they do. Many times, however, the sin is not viewed as such. It is seen differently from something that smacks of unbelief. It is rarely seen as a departure from God. More often than not, the sin that churches commit is hidden or disguised with terms or labels meant to justify “an evil heart of unbelief.” Here are a few phrases you may have heard. If so, it might be time for a hard-heart check.

  • “We can’t do that.”
  • “We don’t have the funds for that.
  • “That area of town will never be receptive.”
  • “Maybe we should just pray about it, for now.”
  • “Why do we need to change? They need to change!”
  • “We’ve never done it that way before.”

Can churches have their hearts softened?

Absolutely! God is in the forgiving business, you know. All it would take is our churches turning away from the sins that so easily beset us, like legalism, traditionalism, racism, envy, and pride…not to mention the fear that God will not provide for us the ability and means to accomplish His work.

“Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the LORD.” – Lamentations 3:40

“Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” – Isaiah 55:6-7

It is time for us to repent.

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Barriers to Church Growth. #2

A very revealing study was done, leading to a book detailing how 300 churches went from declining or dying, to growing. In Comeback Churches, written by Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson, there is a list of 30 different barriers to church growth. Having received permission from the publisher (B&H Publishing Group), I would like to discuss some of these barriers.

“Pastors are more concerned about self-interests than about God and His people (Philippians 2:21).”

 “For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s.” – Philippians 2:21

How sad is it to think that you can’t trust a man of God? Very! But, obviously, there are many men out there who care more about their own interests than for the church.

In the second chapter of Philippians, Paul was faced with this problem. According to the Apostle, Timothy was the only one he could trust with the care of this church, because all the others sought their own, “not the thing’s of Jesus Christ.” Imagine, there were others capable of doing the work, but only Timothy proved selfless.

What an indictment! What a troubling accusation to cast upon men of God! Shouldn’t the very fact that we are called and equipped for the task of shepherding sheep qualify us for the work? Not if the work is only a tool for self-gratification or gain.

Humility Needed

What kind of pastor was Paul looking for when he finally decided on Timothy? All one has to do is examine the previous verses and see that he was looking for a man with a heart and mind like that of the Savior. “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who…made himself of no reputation, and took upon the form of a servant…humbled himself…unto death (2:5-8).”

Jesus was the highest example of a man who could have taken advantage of His position; yet, He was the one who washed others’ feet; wore the same clothes; never demanded special treatment; allowed Himself to be abused and mistreated; even went to a cross. How would modern pastors fare if asked to be more like Him?

The Man Paul Picked

Think about Timothy for a moment. When you do, what kind of mental picture comes to mind? Did he wear the nicest suit? Did he drive a new car? Did he publish a new book every week, or host 15 conferences listing his name on neon parchment?

Did Timothy get offended when not addressed by the correct title? Did Timothy have an “earned doctorate?” Would you have had to make an appointment to see him in his office? If you did, would you have felt intimidated by his presence and demeanor? I don’t get this picture when I think of Timothy, but I do about a lot of preachers.

Self-Examination

What kind of pastor am I? Am I a barrier to church growth? This is a question I have to ask myself, even though it may dig up some stuff of which I am ashamed.

You see, the church is more important than my ego. It is more important than what people think of me. The church was not put here for my benefit. I was sent to care for them. I was sent to feed and protect the sheep, not sell them off to make a profit. They don’t belong to me. They belong to Jesus Christ.

Do I look at every church as a stepping stone? Do I view people as objects, or worse, servants? Am I willing to sacrifice my pride, even my life, for the sake of those for whom Christ died? If not, then I don’t deserve this “good work” (1 Timothy 3:1). Unless I want to be like Christ, as modeled in the life of Paul and Timothy, then I desire the work for the wrong reasons, which would make me a “barrier to church growth.”

Dear friend in ministry, whatever your role, are you more concerned with self? Go back and read Philippians 2 and see how your intentions stack up. Like me, you may find some barriers that need to be torn down.

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Filed under book review, Christian Maturity, God, ministry, Preaching, self-worth, worship

Barriers to Church Growth. #1

A very revealing study was done, leading to a book detailing how 300 churches went from declining or dying, to growing. In Comeback Churches, written by Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson, there is a list of 30 different barriers to church growth. Having received permission from the publisher (B&H Publishing Group), I would like to discuss a few of this barriers.

“Churches aren’t concerned about God’s glory, believing the church is just for them (Isa. 42:8; 48:11).”

I [am] the LORD: that [is] my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images. – Isa. 42:8

For mine own sake, [even] for mine own sake, will I do [it]: for how should [my name] be polluted? and I will not give my glory unto another. – Isa. 48:11

When we read the above verses it should be very clear to us that God is not interested in sharing His glory. Yet, too many times we rob God of the glory that is due Him by seeking it for ourselves. We do this in many ways, including the reason many of us go to church.

Lest we forget, “it’s not about us.” However, if you polled the majority of church-goers, I believe you’d find that the reasons for attending congregational worship are more selfish than we’d like to admit. To many believers, church is about what one can get, as opposed to what one can give.

The Tale of the Hymns

Have you ever stopped to listen to the words of those old-time hymns many of us grew up with? You may have sung them all your life, but stop and think about the following: “This world is not MY home, I’m only passing through. / My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue…;” “I’ll Fly Away;” “I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop;” “All I Need.” What is the common denominator of these lyrics and titles? “Me, me, me.”

If the Church Hymnal (© 1951,1979) was used as a tool to determine what we think of church, stop and think about this: there are 80 hymns with a title that starts with the words, I, I’m, I’d, I’ll, I’ve, or My. In contrast, less than 10 contain the word glory. Those that do include “Glory Hallelujah In My Soul” and “I’ll Live in Glory.

I think it is pretty obvious that many of us come to church to get from God, not to give to God. He deserves our worship and our praise. He deserves all the glory because His is God, and not man (Hosea 11:9). We deserve nothing, yet His grace and mercy bestow upon us all the treasures we enjoy. Why do we come expecting anything?

Surely our churches would grow if God was glorified. Imagine a congregation of people who came together to lift up praise and adoration to Jesus for His glorious love. Imagine a group of folks who set aside all their own desires and petty differences in order to lift up holy hands unto the King of Glory. What did Jesus say? “If I be lifted up…I will draw all men unto me.”

So, what do you think? How could we do better in giving the glory to the One who truly deserves it?

Related Post: Un-“Christian” Ministry?

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Rainy Sundays, and What God Evidently Needs to Know

Rain Rain Go Away

Photo credit: Haley Baker

Well, according to the weatherman (or as Canadian PM Trudeau might say “Weatherperson”), it’s going to be a rainy Sunday. But doesn’t God realize rain on Sunday is a bad idea?

I mean, seriously, with the documented decline in church attendance, you’d think God would know better, right? Why does He choose to place such a heavy burden on the faithful? Why does he choose to put their health and lives at risk by covering the roads with slippery precipitation (rain)?

Maybe its a simple case of miscommunication. Maybe the One who covers the sky with clouds and prepares rain for the earth (Psalm 147:8) should be better informed.

Informative Prayer

So, in an effort to help my fellow brothers and sisters, I’m going to put together a bullet-pointed list of issues that must be addressed if God wants to get more people out of their houses and into His house on a rainy Sunday.

Let us intercede for each other as we take the following concerns before the throne of He who calms the stormy seas. Would you pray with me?

Dear Heavenly Father, Maker of Heaven and Earth, Mighty God,

  • It’s too hard for us to wake up in the morning when it’s raining; you make our beds too comfortable. Yes, we know we can get up and go to work when it’s storming, but we’ve got to do that – it’s expected of us. However, church is a choice, and you make it much too difficult.
  • You love a “cheerful giver,” but it’s too hard for us to wake up “cheerful” without sunshine. How can the church pay its bills if we’re not there to cheerfully give our $5 bills? You need us.
  • You say it’s a sin to be presumptuous (Psalm 19:13; 2 Peter 2:10), so why would you want us to presume your angels are going to keep us safe on these wet roads? If Jesus wouldn’t jump off the top of the temple, then is it wise for us to leap into traffic? Of course not!
  • And, Lord, we feel we must remind you of something: We are not Jesus. Not even close. So, please understand, walking on water and hydroplaning are not the same thing.

Amen.

Now, if you actually did pray the above prayer, you need more than church – you need Jesus.

The sea is his, and he made it: and his hands formed the dry land. O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the LORD our maker. – Psalm 95:5-6

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