It has been said that there are no inactive members in any church. They are either actively building it up or actively hindering it. I’m not sure where this came from, but there is a lot of truth in that statement. With that in mind, here are 10 ways to work against your church.
1. Show up only when it is convenient.
2. When you do attend, show up late and leave as soon as possible.
3. Find something to grumble about (music, preaching, people).
4. Whenever your pastor or teacher makes a mistake in his theology, make sure everyone realizes it, but be sure not to talk about it with him.
5. Never appear interested.
6. Refuse to accept any responsibility.
7. Do not spend time in prayer for your church and pastor.
8. Realize that you know more than the leaders in your church, but do not be willing to use that knowledge to teach others.
9. Be more concerned with position and privilege than the advancement of Christ’s kingdom.
10. Above all else, realize that Church is about you and what you get out of it.
May we all work diligently in our churches in whatever capacity we can.
It is that time of year again. Excited teams of Vacation Bible School volunteers are lining up to put on a meaningful week of ministry for kids. What many do not realize is that, like the five stages of grief, there are emotional stages to working VBS, and we do not want you to be caught off guard.
Below you find the emotional cycle upon which you are about to embark.
Here is what you need to know about each stage:
I can’t wait until VBS!
At this point, you are slightly delusional, but your excitement is honorable. You are about to embark on an important, and, for some kids in attendance, a life-changing ministry.
This week is going to be great!
Monday has finally arrived, and you have a picture in your mind of a week full of beautiful moments where you will be surrounded by children who were born without sinful natures.
What was I thinking?
It is here that you begin to realize that the image you had in your mind does not entirely line up with reality. From the kid who consistently confuses craft time with snack time, to one who thinks every Bible question should involve a discussion of his fidget spinner collection, things do not go as smoothly as planned.
Am I even human anymore?
By Thursday you are exhausted, and the spiritual vision becomes even more cloudy. You truly begin to wonder if this is making a difference in the life of these kids. After all, Perilous Pete, as you mentally refer to him, continues to be disruptive regardless of the fact that you continue to guide him lovingly.
Glad that is over!
This stage is often the shortest-lived. It is usually recognized right about the time the final assembly closes in prayer. You are spent and ready to go home and hide for a week. Then Pete, now known as Precious Pete, runs up to you, gives you a big hug and says “Thank you, I didn’t know Jesus loved me, but I do now.” At this point, you immediately jump back into the first stage of the cycle.
VBS is a ministry, and we should never expect it to be easy, but like all ministry, it will always be worth it.
Though there are some significant problems in the church growth movement, we should all be for church growth. In fact, it seems almost impossible for a church to be fulfilling the great commission without some kind of growth taking place. We are to go out and make disciples. When they come in, they too are to grow to the place where they go out and make more disciples.
Many times, though, it seems to come down to, “if we get this program going, more people will show up,” and sometimes this is true, but it really is amazing what we can accomplish in the power of the flesh. It is true that nothing happens outside the providence of God, and even kings have their authority because He establishes them, but this is not the same as God’s Spirit moving on the congregation in a sanctifying way.
The idea of common grace and saving grace applies not only to individuals but churches also. A church can grow in number and wealth if it has the right marketing plan, along with a number of other useful strategies, but this does not necessarily mean anything spiritual is happening there.
A church where the congregants live worldly lives for the entire week is not really growing, even if it is getting more numbers in on a regular basis. We cannot call it church growth when the majority of a local church is involved in much of the same worldly lifestyle as the rest of society. If we, as congregants, spend our week chasing after self-glory, personal peace, affluence, and we let the Word of God sit unread with no real prayer life, it doesn’t matter how big the church is.
In fact, this seems to be a problem in many small non-growing churches as well. The people come on Sunday and see low attendance and wonder why the pastor isn’t bringing in more people with his sermons. Yet there is no real desire for personal holiness in their lives. After spending the entire week with no real thoughts on Godliness, they attend church and expect something to happen, but when we spend a good portion of our time doing things God hates, and not doing the things He loves, we shouldn’t expect much to happen at our church. We are the church, not just the pastor.
It seems that real church growth will not occur when there is no desire for personal holiness in the lives of its people. On the contrary, when there is a hunger for righteousness, and progress is being made in personal holiness, church growth has already begun. We don’t need more programs that will bring more people in to be just like everybody else in the world. We need individuals in the church to grow in Godliness, and as this happens, we will not need programs to bring in the people. The church will grow because the people will be bringing them in, and more programs will be developed to accompany the need for the people who are coming in desiring to know Christ and be more like Him.
So maybe this was a bit of a complaint, but it wasn’t really against the church growth movement. It was against the idea that personal holiness can be neglected, while church growth is to be expected, and this can happen in churches with big marketing plans, and some without them.
As we grow to be more like Christ And by the world, we are less enticed, In our hearts, God’s Spirit’s moving, Then of our growth, He is approving.
If someone were to walk by, they would see a man at rest on the Lord’s day. He is sitting on the front porch soaking up the sun on a beautiful spring day. The birds are singing, and a pleasant breeze is blowing. His posture is relaxed, and in his lap sits his Bible. In his hands are a highlighter and a pen. The pages of the black leather-bound book are open to 2 Corinthians; pages he has evidently read before because some of the highlights are of a different color than the highlighter he is holding. He is pouring over the words, frequently stopping to highlight and reread relevant phrases as he comes to them, and then jotting a few notes in his journal.
To many, it is a picture of serenity and peace: a moment of rest. There is, however, something deeper going on below the surface. There is an internal struggle raging. First, there is bodily fatigue. The body that appears relaxed is doing everything he can to stay on task and stay focused on the word. There is a physical distress that keeps his body from finding the peace it desires.
Also inside, there is a sinful nature warring against the spirit he is attempting to nourish. It is calling him away to other activities. Activities of idleness, ones that turn his eyes from things above and diverts his attention to the pleasures of this world. He hears the sirens calling, and he is striving to resist them as he sits in what appears to be perfect peace.
Lastly, there are the doubts and fears, along with worries and pains he is looking to address. This time in the word is not a laid-back time of reflection. He is in a battle, searching for fuel for his faith. Worries at work, cares at home, financial burdens, and concerns for others weigh him down.
The outside world cannot see it, but this internal war is raging. Yet, there is something deeper still going on. Something even the man himself cannot see. At this very moment, the eyes of the Lord are looking to and fro throughout the earth to be strong on behalf of those who put their trust in him, and the Father has locked his eyes on his eyes on his child and will not turn away.
At the same time, the Son is interceding on the man’s behalf. Jesus is not praying that the man be taken out of the world, but that he be kept from the evil one. The Savior is praying that the man will be set apart from the world and that he will be sanctified in the truth: the very word of God he is holding in his hands.
As he sits and reads, engage in this battle of the ages, the Holy Spirit surrounds him and begins speaking to his heart. There is an invisible light emanating from the pages and entering through the windows of his soul. The Spirit draws his eyes to the following words.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” – 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
The Spirit uses this to illuminate two truths, showing him that the battle has a purpose. First, this fight makes him rely not on himself but on God, who raises the dead. Second, he learns that it is by being comforted by God in times of difficulty that we are taught to comfort others. Something he longs to do.
It is here that the Spirit reminds him that he has a treasure in this jar of clay, and like Gideon breaking the clay pots to show forth the light hidden within, it is not until our weakness is exposed that the treasure begins to shine forth. Though the man may be afflicted in every way, he is not crushed. He may be perplexed, but he is not drawn to despair. He may be struck down, but he will not be destroyed. The Lord has heard him in his distress and bowed the heavens and came down. He sent out his arrows and scattered the enemy, and is drawing the man out of many waters.
The man still feeling the effects of a distressed body, breathes a sigh of relief and finds himself sweetly resigned to the Lord’s will. His heart is moved to spend the evening in prayer, praising God and interceding on behalf of those he loves. There is an intimacy with his Savior that reminds him that the weight of his troubles cannot compare to the weight of glory that lies ahead. That night, he sets his a Bible by his bed and closes his eyes to pray, and once again the heavens begin to move. Our quiet times are rarely as they appear.
Attempting to minimize our sin is something we all have a tendency to do. We look at wrongs we have done and do everything we can to try and justify our actions, but this is not taking full ownership of our sins. Many times, as Christians, we admit that we need forgiveness, but we still don’t like to admit to the fact that our sins are utterly deplorable. We like to talk about our sin and forgiveness, but we do not like to concede that we are truly sinners. Deep down we think surely we are not like many other people who are real sinners. Thinking like this, however, makes us like the Pharisee, who scoffed at the tax collector–utterly in denial of the reality of our own sin.
Martin Luther once wrote a letter to Melanchthon entitled, “Let Your Sins Be Strong,” addressing several different topics, including the tendency to downplay our sins. Luther says, “God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world.”
We must stop trying to weaken the sin we have committed in order to maintain dignity. We must let them be strong, and look at them in all their wretchedness. We must see our sins as they mock God and refuse to obey Him in all His Holiness. Taking ownership of our sins is the only way we can bring what is ours to Him and say, I need you to bear my punishment for these. There is nothing anyone can do to atone for these sins. Jesus, you are the only one. His response to this request is, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow.” Because of the cross, there is no sin able to separate us from His love, for His sacrifice is sufficient.
Today let us consider the words of Martin Luther: “Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins? Pray hard for you are quite a sinner.” Let us not try to justify our sins, for self-justification warrants nothing but death, but against Christ’s justifying blood, no sin can prevail.
My sins are mine I know them well
They mock at God and damn to hell
But through His blood, I am set free,
He paid my debt at Calvary.
I once had a co-worker who loved just about everything Disney. He put a sticker on his car, and would proudly wear Disney hats and shirts. He was one of the managers at the store where I was working, and I remember one day when everything was going wrong he said to me “when this day is over I am going home, and I’m going to watch an old Disney movie.” When I pressed him a bit as to why he chose to watch an old Disney movie as opposed to anything else, he said, “Disney things just bring me back to when I was a kid.” Ultimately there was a sense of nostalgia from all the memories of growing up, and these things moved his affections in a way that made him feel a bit better after a hard day.
On another note, music has a way of doing the same type of things for us. I can remember in high school and college, and it even happens now occasionally, when I would be listening to secular radio, and that new song that I had been waiting to hear would come on. Immediately, I would turn up the volume, and I would be energized by what I was hearing. I would sing along with all the passion I could muster; sometimes to questionable lyrics.
There is nothing wrong with a bit of nostalgia and being energized or moved by some piece of music, provided the context is not sinful, but when you put these things together with a Christian worship service, or program, we must be careful to discern our affections. I bring this up because sometimes we can be misled to think that we have had a time of worship, or that we have heard a great sermon, on the sole basis that our affections had been moved.
We must pay close attention to what is stirring our hearts to discern whether or not it is worship or even spiritual. When the worship leader plays the first chords of our favorite praise song, are we being energized much like the natural man who hears a secular song that causes him to turn up the radio, or are we truly worshipping? When grandma’s favorite hymn starts to play and causes us to experience a time of peace and contentment while thinking back to when she used to sing it to us as a child, do we sometimes confuse that with worship?
Now I am not saying we should only sing dull songs or songs that don’t remind us of anything, or that it is impossible to be genuinely worshipping during these times. In fact, I think it can be good to remember our family worship from when we were growing up, and I also believe it is good that we still have people today writing new psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs for us to sing today that gets us excited. What I want to stress is that merely because we have these moments, does not mean we are worshipping or that we have been moved in adoration of God. Charles Spurgeon once said that if he wanted to, he could move congregations to tears by telling them sad stories of mothers with sick children or energize them by telling them stories of men and women who accomplished great things. He then went on to say, it would be a waste of time unless they were moved to cry over their sin and take joy in Christ and the cross. In other words, were their hearts and attention drawn to God.
Even the natural man’s affections can be moved in powerful ways, but those affections will never be worship unless we are moved by the truth of scripture as the Holy Spirit points us to Christ and what He has done for us. Whether we attend a modern or traditional worship service is not the biggest issue, but we must be sure to seek out worship and preaching that convicts us of sin and shows us the remedy in Christ, which is the foundation of all true worship.
I recently taught a class through Pilgrim’s Progress. Below are the discussion questions for each chapter. An introductory lecture along with audio for the discussion time for each chapter can be found here.
1. What is the book Christian has in his hand?
2. What is the burden that Christian is carrying, and have you ever felt this burden? If so, what did it feel like?
3. Christian reads the book and prays but still has the burden on his back. How is this possible?
4. Pliable has no burden on his back yet still follows Christian. Why would someone do this, and have you ever ran across people like this? What kind of “churches” appeals to people like this?
5. What do you think the “Slough of Despond” represents?
6. Where, and to whom, does Mr. Worldly Wiseman direct Christian, and what false view of salvation does this represent?
7. Read Heb. 10:38 – How does this verse fit with Christian trying to remove his burden with morality and the law.
8. Do you ever find yourself trying to find relief for the conviction of sin by attempting to be moral rather than laying it all on Christ? What do you do in those times?
9. Worldly Wiseman is a false teacher, and Evangelist gives Christian three reasons to abhor him. What are they, and do they still apply to false teachers today?
10. When Christian is grieved by his sin of listening to Worldly Wiseman, Evangelist tells him is sin is very great. How is this different than what you may hear in many churches today?
1. Christian runs to the wicket gate and knocks more than once or twice, what do the running and the knocking teach us?
2. Goodwill pulls Christian through the gate. Why does he do this, and what do these dangers represent?
3. Christian goes through the wicket gate and enters the narrow path. Some people view this as the moment of his salvation, but he still has his burden on his back (which he will lose later). What do you think about this?
4. Who do you think the interpreter represents?
5. How does Christian explain to Goodwill that he and Pliable are alike? What does this teach us about Christian’s attitude?
6. Who or what do you think the man in the picture, who is authorized as Christian’s guide, represent(s)?
7. How is the heart of man like the dusty room, and what happens when the room is attempted to be cleaned with the broom of the law? What does this teach us about the law?
8. What do Passion and Patience represent in the Christian life, and what do we learn from them? Can you think of any Bible passages that relate to this?
9. What happens to the fire burning near the wall, and what do we learn from it? Can you think of any Bible passages that relate to this?
10. The picture of the man in the iron cage is one of the most shocking scenes in Pilgrims Progress. What was your reaction when you read it and what do you think it means?
1. How does Christian lose his burden, and what does this represent? Have you heard of any testimonies that would illustrate this scene?
2. Last chapter we discussed whether entering the wicket gate in chapter 2 was his conversion. What do you think now that you have read of his burden being removed?
3. Three beings come to Christian, what do they represent and what do they do for him? Where do we see these things in Scripture?
4. How do Formalist and Hypocrisy get on the road of salvation? What lesson do they teach us? How do they defend their not entering at the wicket gate?
5. When Christian was climbing Hill Difficulty, he finds a place set by the Lord for refreshing weary travelers. What does this represent, and what does it mean that he fell asleep there?
6. What does it mean that Christian loses his scroll, and what does it teach us that it took a while before he realized it was gone?
7. What is the role of the chained lions, and what do their chains teach us?
8. What does Christian say his name was before it was Christian?
9. What is Christian’s reason for wanting to go to Mount Zion? How do these thoughts align with your reason for desiring heaven?
10. What does Christian say is his wife’s reason for not following Christian? Do you ever see the same tendency in your own life?
1. Christian has no armor to cover his back when he meets Apollyon, what does this teach us?
2. Who does Apollyon represent? What descriptions to do see in the book that leads you to that conclusion?
3. Apollyon says, that “many of the Lord’s servants have come to an ill end.” To what is he referring, and how does Christian respond?
4. How does Christian respond when Apollyon accuses him of many sins?
5. Christian loses his sword while battling Apollyon. What does this look like in the Christian life?
6. Christian receives leaves from the tree of life to heal his wounds, what picture is Bunyan painting here? How do the bread and wine fit?
7. Why do you think the way to the celestial city goes through the Valley of the Shadow of Death?
8. Bunyan refers to the quag that King David fell into, to what do you think he is referring?
9. The valley is so dark that “when [Christian] would lift his foot to go forward he knew not where, nor upon what he should set it next.” What Scripture does this bring to mind?
10. Bunyan describes the giants Pope and Pagan as no longer a real threat, what do you think he is alluding to, and do you think he is correct?
1. Why does Faithful say Pliable is now seven times worse than before? To what passage of Scripture does this allude?
2. Who is Adam the First, and what are the names of his children? What doctrine is Bunyan talking about here?
3. Why do you think Bunyan portrays Moses as beating faithful, and what saved faithful from death?
4. What friends are dishonored by going through the Valley of Humiliation? What was Faithful’s response?
5. What were some of Shame’s arguments against faithful, and where do you hear these today?
6. What does it mean that Talkative was more comely [attractive] at a distance than up close?
7. Talkative says many true things, what then is the problem with him? Do you ever have to guard your own heart against being like that?
8. What are some of the ways Faithful says the work of grace is discovered in the life of a person?
9. When Talkative is exposed as a hypocrite, what is his response to Faithful, and do you ever see this type of response happen to Christians today?
10. Christian commends Faithful for talking so plainly with Talkative and laments that it rarely happens. Do you think this is still true and why?
1. Evangelist tells Christian and Faithful, “You are not yet out of the gun-shot of the devil; you have not yet resisted to bloodshed,” What does this mean? Read Hebrews 12:4 as you consider this.
2. What are some of the other things Evangelist tells them?
3. As you read of Vanity Fair, what aspects of today’s world come to mind? Has any of these aspects made it into the church?
4. Why were the people of Vanity Fair stirred up when Christian and Faithful arrived? What do these things look like in the Christian life?
5. What does it mean that Christian and Faithful said, “they would buy the truth?”
6. What were Christian and Faithful charged with by Lord Hate-good?
7. Which three people came forward to testify against Christian and Faithful?
8. Pickthank said Faithful railed against several men, what were their names?
9. What was Faithful’s response to the charges of the three men?
10. Knowing that John Bunyan was in jail for the faith when he wrote this, as you read the names of the jury that convicted Faithful, do you think this was an expression of how he saw the men who convicted him?
11. How is Faithful the most blessed one in this situation, even more than Christian?
1. Who are some of the citizens of the town of Fair-Speech, and against what is Bunyan trying to warn us?
2. What does it mean when Christian says “you must also own religion in his rags, as well as in his silver slippers; and stand by him, too, when bound in irons, as well as when he walk in the streets with applause?”
3. What scripture did Mr. Hold-the-World twist to defend his right to cling to the things of this world?
4. How does Mr. Money-love defend using religion to get rich? What is wrong with his arguments?
5. Demas, who calls the people to the silver mine, is also a biblical character. What is his story in Scripture (See Philemon 1:23-24, and 2 Timothy 4:10?)
6. What is the River of the Water of Life where Christian and Hopeful walked? Where do we see it in Scripture?
7. Bunyan says the pilgrims had to go with Giant Despair because he was stronger than they. What does this teach us?
8. Why was Christian in double sorrow in the dungeon?
9. What were some of Hopeful’s arguments to Christian as to why they should not end their own lives?
10. What does the key represent that unlocked the door to Doubting Castle, and what does it look like in the Christian life?
1. What were some of the sights the shepherds showed the pilgrims in the Delectable Mountains?
2. Why does Ignorance think he will be accepted at the gate of the celestial city?
3. What is the story of Little-faith, and what do we learn from it?
4. Bunyan describes Faint-heart, Mis-trust, and Guilt as powerful. Who were some of the Biblical examples that Bunyan gives who where injured by them?
5. What warning does Christian gives us about desiring to meet our enemies, and what two things must we do if we do meet them?
6. Why did Christian and Hopeful not recognize Flatterer, and what does this teach us?
7. What were some of Atheist’s arguments to Christian and Hopeful?
8. The Enchanted Ground had air that makes pilgrims drowsy, what situations in life have this effect on us?
9. How do the pilgrims keep from falling asleep? What does this look like in the Christian life?
10. What aspects of Hopeful’s conversion do you find interesting and encouraging?
1. Where did Ignorance ground his hope when asked whether he was right with God or not? What are some examples where we hear similar things today?
2. What does Christian say to set Ignorance right about whether his thoughts are correct or not?
3. What is Ignorance’s understanding of justification? Where might we hear a view like this preached?
4. What are Christian’s four responses to Ignorance’s false view of justification?
5. What problem does Ignorance have with Christian’s response?
6. What is Christian’s response to Ignorance’s objection to justification?
7. How does Christian say that correct fear can be detected over a wrong fear?
8. How do some people try to stifle the conviction of sin?
9. What reasons does Hopeful give for Temporary’s backsliding?
10. What does Christian say are the ways people like Temporary backslide?
1. Why do you think the grapes of the vineyard caused Christian and Hopeful to talk in their sleep? What is Bunyan trying to tell us?
2. Why do you think that Bunyan decided to use a river to represent death? What Scriptures come to mind?
3. The golden beings tell them that the river is “deeper or shallower as you believe in the King of the place.” What does this mean in the Christian life?
4. What do you think it means that Christian “in great measure lost his senses” as he crossed the river?
5. Why were Christian and Hopeful able to climb the hill to the Celestial City so easily?
6. Christian asks what they would do in the holy place, what were some of the things he was told by the ministering spirits?
7. What did you find interesting or encouraging about the reception the pilgrims received and the description of the Celestial City?
8. What was the name of the ferryman the helped Ignorance cross the river so easily?
9. Now that we have finished Christian’s story, what were some of the aspects of the book that had the biggest impact upon you?
Here is a sermon I preached recently which looks at the typology of Joseph’s brothers who came to buy grain from him in Genesis 42. Like the brothers, even when it seems God is against us, we must remember that He will supply our need.
Regular Bible reading is crucial in the life of the believer. We do not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Though there are many ways Bible reading benefits the Christian, here are six ways it will enhance corporate worship.
1. It will Combat Dryness
A loss of appetite is a sign of illness, not health, and daily Bible reading can cause the dryness that you sometimes experience in church to dissipate. As you feed on the word throughout the week, you will grow stronger and hunger for more of it, which means you will go to church with a heart prepared to worship. This also has a positive effect on every other point listed below.
2. It will Enhance the Sermon
When your pastor reads the scripture, you will be familiar with the context of the passage and understand where it fits in the overarching story of redemption. Having a bigger picture of what is being proclaimed, keeps you from missing the main point of the passage, even if it is not explicitly stated.
3. It will Enhance the Worship Music
You will recognize many of the passages of scriptures alluded to in the music, which will enrich the truths they are communicating. You will also be mindful of the role and importance of music throughout Scripture. You may even find yourself singing a song of ascent on your way to church.
4. A Greater Ability to Minister to Others
Since God often brings recently read scripture to mind, you will be better able to contribute to discussions and the edification of others. In times of fellowship, you will be able to apply the scripture to people’s lives as they talk about their daily joys and struggles.
5. A Greater Sense of Community
Scripture has a way of breaking through the masks we try to wear. It will reveal the fight of faith that is taking place within you and produce contrition. Understanding your struggles with sin brings about compassion and gives you greater patience and understanding of others struggling with sin and living in a fallen world.
6. Greater Communion with Your Savior
Since the word prompts you to prayer and setting your mind on things above, you will have greater communion with your Savior as you spend time in the house of the Lord, and in the end, this is what it is all about.
This list is designed to let people know a few of the ways daily Bible reading will enhance the corporate worship in Bible teaching churches. If you attend a church that neglects the Bible, and pop psychology is the main course, attending those types of churches while engaged in daily Bible reading will frustrate you. This frustration happens because you will find that motivational “preaching” neglects the central themes that run throughout Scripture and replaces theology with therapy and redemption with a self-help regimen. Of course, even that frustration is a good thing.