Friday, February 25, 2011

"These Three Men...NOAH"

"Even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver only themselves by their righteousness" (Ezek. 14:14). These three men are given as examples of righteousness. In this article, let's consider the righteousness of Noah.

What's so amazing about Noah is that he was the only man living in his day who garnered the attention and praise of God. Everyone else was thoroughly wicked, but Noah "found grace in the eyes of the Lord" for he was "a just man, perfect in his generations" (vs. 8-9). Imagine would that would be be the only God-fearing man alive. This reminds me of how "righteous Lot was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked" years later (2 Pet. 2:7). Of course, Noah couldn't really help it. Both Noah and Lot show us that even when we're surrounded by rampant evil, we can be faithful to the Lord; it may be hard, but it can be done.

But Noah didn't just get by. Scripture indicates that he was a "preacher of righteousness" (2 Pet. 2:5). As a gospel preacher, I know how hard it can be to preach, even to saved people. I can't imagine how difficult it was for Noah, preaching to a hostile crowd regularly.

If that wasn't enough, Noah was singled out by God for the purpose of constructing the great ark (Gen. 6:13-21). A flood was coming to destroy all life and Noah had to think about that every day as he worked on the vessel that would only preserve his life and the lives of his immediate family.

Even after the ark rested on the mountains of Ararat (Gen. 8:4), Noah remained aboard the vessel. He only stepped off the ark when God gave him the go-ahead (Gen. 8:15-16). This is just another example of his unfailing trust in God.

How Noah did it, I don't know. But he did, and I am truly thankful for his wonderful example. Despite the obstacles we may face, I am certain that we can endure. If Noah could, so can we!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Some Thoughts From Revelation 20

The 20th chapter of Revelation is the source of much controversy confusion , especially when it comes to the denominational concept of the "millennial kingdom," or 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth. In this short article, I'd like to address this issue.

In the first seven verses of this chapter, we find the SOLE prooftext of the denominationalist's "millennial kingdom," which is the idea that Jesus will one day return to planet earth to set up His physical kingdom (based in Jerusalem) which will last for 1,000 years. Here in Revelation 20, John DOES mention the fact that saints would reign for 1,000 years, and He does say that Satan would be bound during this time. But nowhere does the inspired writer describe this "kingdom" as being earthly or based on earth. Nowhere is it stated that Jesus would reign in Jerusalem or that saints would experience something akin to "paradise" during this period of time. All it says is that the saints would reign with Christ and that Satan would be bound.

First of all, we have to understand that Revelation is a book of symbolism (Rev. 1:1). Those who interpret this book literally, comparing its contents to modern-day news stories are missing the point completely. The seal, trumpet and bowl judgments, the beast coming out of the sea, the sword coming out of Jesus' mouth, the frogs and mutant-locusts...every bit of this is symbolic.

Likewise, there is some symbolism in Revelation 20. Does "1,000 years" literally mean "1,000 years" or is the number symbolic? Is the binding of Satan literal? Is the devil really holed up in some pit, or is this binding symbolic? Sure, there are some literal truths in the book, but as a whole the book isn't literal.

Furthermore, these things were being written to 1st century Christians who were experiencing tribulation of their own (Rev. 1:1, 3-4, 9). To argue that the events of Revelation are yet future is to call John a liar. There may be some things towards the end of the book that have a futuristic application, and certainly the themes of Revelation can be applied and appreciated by Christians of ANY generation, but the primary audience died off thousands of years ago.

Here's the point: we have to keep Revelation 20 in context. Those who use this passage to promote a futuristic, millennial, messianic kingdom on earth are ignoring the nature, purpose, timing and audience of the book.

Furthermore, the Bible indicates that Jesus already set up His kingdom. In Mark 9:1, Jesus made the point that the kingdom would be established in THAT generation. Was Jesus a liar? Of course not. His kingdom was established in the first century, as seen in Acts 1-2. On the day of Pentecost, Peter made it very clear that Jesus had ascended to the Davidic throne, HIS throne, which was in heaven at God's right hand (Ac. 2:23-33). Paul told the Colossians that they were in the kingdom along with the rest of the saved (Col. 1:13-14). John himself, in the beginning chapter of Revelation, testified that he was in the kingdom (Rev. 1:9). Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 14:25-26 that Jesus is reigning NOW, and will reign until He returns. In other words, when Jesus comes back, He will END, not BEGIN His reign.

Somebody might say, "But Jesus isn't reigning now! Where is He?" This question cuts to the heart of the issue and reflects a level of ignorance that even existed among the Jews of the first century. Jesus' kingdom is not physical; it cannot be seen. Notice what Jesus said of His kingdom to Pilate in John 18:36: "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here." No commentary necessary.

Now that I've addressed the issue of the kingdom, let's take a look at the binding of Satan. Yes, Revelation 20 speaks of the binding of Satan in some pit. But is this indicitive of a complete removal of Satan from the world for a definite period of time? No! Jesus Himself in Matthew 12:29 that He came to BIND the "strong man" which is Satan. In other words, Jesus, by bringing salvation to men, overcame Satan and figuratively bound him. The devil is bound even today in that his power and influence have been greatly reduced. Yet he still walks about like a roaring lion seeking whom He may devour (1 Pet. 5:8). Satan still has power, and yet the scriptures indicate that he's been bound by the Lord. The binding, you see, is symbolic. The same is true, I believe, in Revelation 20.

I'm sure much more could be said about this. In fact, tomorrow I'd like to say some more about this wonderful chapter, Revelation 20. Let me know if you have any questions or disagreements. I'd love to discuss this with you.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Value of Memorizing BOOKS

I know it sounds crazy. In fact, I would have called the idea crazy if you had suggested it to me a year ago. But there is a lot of value in memorizing whole books of the Bible. That's right. I'm not talking about memorizing a single verse or passage (series of verses)...I'm talking about entire books of the Bible, especially New Testament books.

I was listening to a sermon the other day on "How to Study the Bible" and one of the points that was made is that we ought to read the Bible without the manmade insertions. Chapter breaks and versification (sp?), for example, are in, the original books weren't divided up into chapters and verses. But this is a hard thing to do because all of our Bibles have chapter and verse divisions. Some are even divided up into paragraphs with headings. There's nothing sinful about chapter breaks, don't get me wrong, but sometimes the way we view a book of the Bible is determined or affected based on the chapter and verse divisions. We view the chapter break as a break in the inspired writer's thought...a transition from one subject to another, and while this is sometimes true, it often isn't.

When we memorize a book of the Bible, we develop a wonderfully PURE view of the book as a whole. As we memorize verse after verse and chapter after chapter, the verse and chapter breaks vanish and we are more able to see the natural flow of the biblical text.

I recently finished memorizing the book of Colossians. It was a challenging and yet amazing experience. As I worked through each chapter I came to see the whole book in a whole new light. The verses made more sense and for the first time I could really see the progression of the book. I think I have learned more about Colossians by memorizing it than I ever could have studying it verse by verse, or by reading commentaries.

Now I'm working on Hebrews. A more challenging book to memorize, obviously, but one of my favorite books of the Bible. I'm excited about it.

Work on a few verses a day, or maybe just one verse (if it's a longer verse). Every morning (or evening, depending on when you have the time), review ALL that you have memorized. And never give up. It's hard. It takes time. But it's definitely possible, and so rewarding.

Like me, start out with a shorter book such as Philippians or Titus. Maybe James. This will help to boost your confidence. Before long, you'll be rattling off whole sections of scripture.

This isn't about bragging rights or showing off. It's about spiritual growth.

And this will lead to spiritual growth. I promise.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Church Growth (3)

Before you read this article, I ask that you read the two previous articles in this series. The first article answers the questions, "what constitutes true growth?" and "what is the focus of the local church?" In the second article, I dealt with the issue of "church-hopping" and how we should react to Christians who leave their church to join ours.

Yesterday, I introduced the term "church-hopper." Today, I'd like to introduce another term: preacheritis. The suffix "itis" refers to the inflammation of something. Arthritis is the inflammation of the joints, for example. Likewise, preacheritis is the inflammation of the preacher, and no, I'm not talking about the tendency among preachers to gain weight over the years...I'm talking about the all-too-common scenario among local churches were the role of the preacher is overemphasized and overinflated.

Yes, the Bible does speak of those men who are preachers (Rom. 10:14), ministers (1 Tim. 4:6), and evangelists (2 Tim. 4:5). All three of these terms may be applied to those who preach the gospel in some capacity. Furthermore, Paul, in 1 Corinthians 9:14 makes the point that preachers can be paid for their efforts, and in 1 Timothy 5:17, Paul again speaks of those who "labor in word and doctrine" (in this case, elders are under consideration).

So in no way am I arguing against the role and work of preachers, nor am I condemning the concept of having men within the local church who perhaps have a special focus and function. What I am saying is that we need to properly understand these roles. Too many Christians--and I'm talking about faithful Christian in faithful congregations--are guilty of preacheritis. They place too much honor and emphasis upon the preacher.

Let me get right to it...

Where in the New Testament is it stated that preachers are to handle all of the evangelism and preaching within the local church? Where does it say that the preacher is the only one that needs to be concerned about setting up Bible studies and spreading the gospel? Is there some verse somewhere that commands preachers to write articles, pass out flyers, go door-knocking...and then forbids "regular Christians" from engaging in the same activities? If so, I've missed it.

Each of us is commanded to share our faith (Philemon 1:6). We are all instructed to "give an answer" (1 Pet. 3:15). All Christians are to be "able to teach" and able to instruct and correct those who are in error (2 Tim. 2:24-25). None of us are exempt from these commands. It is absolutely wrong to think that only the preacher is required to evangelize and teach.

When a congregation is infected with preacheritis, many problems arise. First of all, they are wrong in their view of the preacher's role, no better than denominational folks who believe and practice the "one-man pastor system."

Second, congregations end up criticizing the preacher for not meeting some unspoken quota. Preachers cannot be effective when no one is helping them. Usually, a preacher is not native to the area in which he is preaching; most likely, he has moved to location to work with a church and is unfamiliar with the area, the culture, the people, etc. Here the members have so many contacts, and the preacher has none. And yet he is expected to have some kind of magical effect as he engages in the work solo. If only the members of the church would work side-by-side with the preacher, they could accomplish SO much more, and the church would grow.

Third, congregations guilty of preacheritis...well, they won't grow. An inactive congregation that places the whole workload on some hired preacher will, at best, grow very slowly, and in most cases, not grow at all!

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul makes it abundantly clear that every member of the body has something that they are to contribute. We all have different functions, different talents, different abilities, and we are required to be ACTIVE. If you are just warming the pew every Sunday--if all you do is show up--then you are...well, I believe you're in sin. After all, what does Jesus say about those who do not bear fruit in John 15:1-2? Something to think about.

It's fine for churches to hire full-time preachers. It's great when men are qualified and elders can be appointed. But don't think for a minute that having these workers present exempts you from teaching and evangelizing.

We need to be training the men in the congregation to teach (2 Tim. 2:2). We need to be encouraging one another and involving one another in the church's work. Even the women need to be active in doing what they can to facilitate growth, and there is plenty for the women to do, believe me.

As we conclude this series of articles, I want you to think about the congregation of which you are a member. How is your church doing? If there are problems, and there usually are, then please have the courage to correct these problems. Whether it is a misunderstanding of what successful evangelism is, or a lackadaisical view of "church-hoppers," or the issue or preacheritis, please do all that you can to bring about change.

Let me know if you have any questions. My email address is

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Church Growth (2)

Before you read this article, I ask that you read yesterday's article. As evidenced by the (2) in the title above, this is a series of articles on the issue of church growth.

When I mention the term "church-hopping" please understand that I'm not talking about the whole church getting outside and literally hopping in unison. It isn't a game or sport, although perhaps an inventive Christian could come up with something. Church-hopping is the idea of leaving one church for another church and then leaving that church for yet another church. Church-hoppers usually spend just a short time at a particular congregation before they find something there, or someone, that bothers them in some small way. Upon discovering that church's flaw (and every church has flaws, right?), they leave for another church, usually without even saying goodbye to the good brethren they worshipped with for so many weeks or months. This doesn't sound right...does it?

But sometimes I think churches are hypocrital in this area. In their desire for growth, too many churches simply accept these church-hoppers when they decide to join their church. Perhaps you've been there before...perhaps you've been guilty of this hypocrisy. Some Christians show up at church on Sunday. You recognize know that they've been members at another local church for quite a while; you've seen them at area gospel meetings and you know them to be faithful brethren. They attend with your church for a few weeks and you're overjoyed when they choose to place membership. "YAY, new members! The church is growing! We must be doing something right! Maybe more will come and be with us!"

Let me ask you this, though: how do you feel when fellow church-members leave your church and hop on over to another? If you're part of a bigger congregation numbering in the 100s, you may not even notice, but in small churches, we notice. And it doesn't feel good. In fact, we feel cheated and abandoned, sometimes even disappointed with those who left.

Maybe we need to reconsider how we view church-hopping and those who engage in it. Is it right or wrong to leave your church for another? If it's wrong, then how should we react when Christians leave another church and hop over to ours? Let's look at this.

The local church is described as being a body in places like 1 Corinthians 12. As members of the body, we all perform our own function and contribute something special to the church of which we are part. In a fully-functioning body, the members are much so that when "one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it" (1 Cor. 12:26). Paul says in Ephesians 4:16 that "the whole body...joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working, by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love."

Specifically, the Bible speaks of how we are to "bear one another's burdens" (Gal. 6:1-2) and how we help one another with spiritual/physical struggles (Jas. 5:13-16). We truly are "members of one another" (Eph. 4:25). As members of the same church, we come to know one another intimately. We develop a familial-type relationship...or at least we should. As we assemble each week, we "consider one another in order to stir up love and good works" (Heb. 10:24).

With these things in mind, how can we justify leaving one church for another merely because someone angered us, or we don't like the singing, or the sermons aren't as dynamic as I think they should be...or some other flimsy reason??? I'll tell you what it is. It's a mindset of selfishness and self-centeredness, as we've come to view the church as something that is ONLY there to serve ME and make ME feel good. Like immature children, we get our feelings hurt and instead of resolving our problems, we run away; instead of striving to improve the church, we lazily and inconsiderately leave in search of a new victim.

I'm sure you've heard lessons on Matthew 18:15-17, or at least you've read it. This is the passage where Jesus tells us how to handle problems that we may have with one abother. If someone sins against you, what do you do? Do you run away from the problem? Do you ignore it? Do you punish the rest of your local brethren by leaving the church for another? Of course not! The Bible gives us specific instructions as to how we're to handle personal disputes and offenses. We go to that brother privately in an effort to bring about reconciliation. If they're unwilling to work it out, we take one or two more with us for a second visit. Then, if the brother still refuses our efforts, we take it before the church. I wonder...which response is more common in churches today? The biblical response as outlined in Matthew 18, or the self-centered, immature response I alluded to earlier in the paragraph?

I can't tell you how many times I've seen it happen. Some Christian is offended by some other member of the church, or something doesn't go their way, or the worship isn't all that it should be, or something is said with which they disagree...and they leave. Dear reader, the local church is a BODY, a UNIT, a FAMILY. We can't just up and leave in search of greener grass.

Now, let me clarify something. I'm not saying that it's always wrong to leave one church for another. If you and your family are not receiving the encouragement that you so desperately need...and you know that you can get that encouragement at another local church, then perhaps you should make the transitation and switch membership. But here's the thing: did you first talk with the church's leadership and convey your concerns and your dissatisfaction? Did you give them an opportunity to improve? And despite the failures of your brethren, have you at least been contributing to the church and doing your best?

Or perhaps the preacher is teaching error on some issue...or at least he said something in one of his sermons with which you disagreed. I'm here to tell you that it's not right to just leave without saying a word to him about it. Yes, doctrinal error is a serious issue, and I don't want you to think that I'm being lackadaisical about it, but again, it's your obligation to at least make your concerns known to your brethren. As a preacher myself, I can say that this is one thing that especially bothers me. When you speak for 30-45 minutes every week publicly (some preachers give two sermons on Sunday), and when you are obligated to teach some class twice a week, you're bound to occasionally misspeak, or get something wrong. If someone left the church everytime I messed up in the pulpit, there'd soon be no one left. I tell the church all the time, "If I say something that you disagree with, COME TO ME, and let's talk about it."

You know, we're fighting in a spiritual WAR, and sometimes there are skirmishes that take place within the walls of the church building itself. Soldier, what are you going to do when error is taught from the pulpit? Are you going to desert your fellow soldiers and leave them to fight the battle themselves? That's a serious offense in our military...I think it's called desertion. Likewise, it's reprehensible when it happens in the church, and we need to view it as such.

So yes, there may be extreme cases where you are justified in leaving one church for another, but I think I'm quite safe in saying that the vast majority of "church-hoppers" are absolutely, positively SINNING when they engage in such weak, immature behavior.

The local church is not required to accept without question every person that attempts to place membership. This is clear in Acts 9:26. When Paul tried to join the church in Jerusalem, the brethren there were hesitant, and I personally think that they had the right to be hesitant. It took Barnabas' hearty recommendation to sway the prudent church. In similar fashion, when some Christian comes to join our church, we'd better sit down with them and ask a few questions...

Where did you attend before?

Why did you leave that church?

If you left that church over something so trivial, how long will it be before you abandon us?

And maybe, just maybe we need to refuse membership in such cases. Just a thought.

Listen, I'm all about church growth, but I want good, healthy growth. I'm not willing to lay aside my convictions regarding the scriptures simply because I want "greater numbers."

What do you think?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Church Growth (1)

If you're a member of a local church, I'm sure you, like me, want your church to grow. What Christian doesn't? To have more people attending services, placing membership, participating in worship, commenting in Bible classes, is a wonderful blessing.

I've been preaching for seven years now. During that time, I've worked with four congregations. Three of the four have had an average Sunday attendance of 30 or less; one of the four averaged 50-6o on Sundays. So needless to say, I have primarily worked with smaller congregations.

In small churches, there is always a great desire for growth, moreso than in bigger churches. Churches that number in the hundreds often reach a point where they are happy with their size and as a result, they evangelize less (this is not always true, of course). The expectation, and...well, the reality...often is that growth begets growth. Larger churches seem to attract more visitors, and even faithful Christians from other, smaller churches are often drawn to these larger churches (I'll come back to this). But again, I've never worked with a large church where this attitude of complacency exists; in my seven years as a Christian and preacher, there has always been a sense of urgency.

My point in all of this is simple: I've thought a lot about church growth, and I have some thoughts that I'd like to share with you in this article.

WARNING: I'm stepping onto my soapbox now. This is an important issue to me and something that I've been passionate about for years. So please interpret what I say in light of that. The emotion in this article reflects passion, not anger.

Okay, let's get started...

First of all, I want to ask a very simple question, one that many Christians, I expect, will answer incorrectly. Is it the church's job to ensure that growth of the church occurs? Many would answer "yes," but I truly believe that this is the wrong answer. It is NOT the church's job to ensure an annual increase in membership. My basis for saying this is 1 Corinthians 1:17. This verse is always viewed in light of the baptism controversy, which is understandable since so many denominational folks misuse this verse to argue against the necessity of baptism for salvation. As Christians, sometimes we view verses such as this defensively. In other words, we interpret it in view of the controversy and we explain, not what it means, but what it doesn't mean. But dear reader, this verse means something. Paul says, "For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect." What does this verse mean? I think it's very simple. It is not our primary function as Christians and as evangelists to convert people. It goes without saying that we want to convert people, but ultimately that should not be our focus. Instead, as Paul says, our focus should be on "preaching the gospel." You see, we can't make anyone become a Christian; that's between them and God. People choose to either accept or reject the gospel, and even though we are to "persuade" (2 Cor. 5:10-11), it is God who "adds the increase" (1 Cor. 3:6).

It bothers me when the "success" of a local church is measured by how many people are converted each year and/or how many new members are added. Certainly, if the gospel is being proclaimed and if the members are all actively striving to reach the lost, over time, growth ought to'd think. But not necessarily.

I've worked with some congregations that were located in very difficult areas as far as evangelism is concerned, but then now I am working in an area where there seems to be more potential and promise...more people are eager to study the Bible and as a result I've helped to lead a few to Christ. But was this not true in the New Testament times as well? Acts 17 is the perfect illustration of this. Paul's efforts in Thessalonica garnered very little response; in fact, the people there were quite antagonistic towards the gospel. But in Berea, the people were said to be "fair-minded" and "noble" in that they "received the word with all readiness, and searched the scriptures daily..." (vs. 11).

It's wonderful when a church is able to baptize a number of people, when Bible studies are being set up left and right and sinners are being converted to Christ and His truth. But again, we cannot base a church's success on increased numbers and expanding membership.

Ultimately, it is not our job to baptize people, our job is to preach the gospel. With this in mind, a church's success ought to be measured by the efforts that are being made and NOT by the measure of response to those efforts. Door-knocking excursions, newspaper ads and articles, radio and TV programs (when they can be afforded), pamphlets, tracts, flyers, personal invites, attempts to set up home studies, sermon CDs, etc...these are the kinds of things that churches ought to be doing. If people are baptized, FANTASTIC, but if people are not baptized, the church is still successful because it's doing it's job!

We also need to understand that baptizing someone means nothing if there is not proper teaching before and after. A person who is baptized without being properly taught is only getting wet. Likewise, a person who is baptized but then neglected and ignored after the fact, leaving the Lord as a result, reflects POOR evangelism in my opinion and reflects badly on that church's devotion to spiritual growth. This is especially bad in foreign churches. An American preacher spends two weeks in some overseas "mission field" and baptizes 50 people. They are praised for their efforts and churches line up to finance such endeavors. But I wonder what is being done after these people are converted? Are they being taught and trained? Or are they baptized and then abandoned when the American preacher returns to the States? In my humble opinion, we need to be going overseas to strengthen churches and train Christian men to evangelize themselves so that they can impact their respective communities. I'm sure much more could be said about this.

And the same is true in America all-too-often. People are converted and then there is the expection that they will learn enough in the Sunday sermons and Bible classes at church. Perhaps they will. But brethren, we need to be working with these new converts; they usually need special attention.

Alright, I'm going to wrap this up for today. There is so much more that I'd like to say about this subject, and so I'm going to make this a mini-series. Tomorrow I plan on addressing the problem of "church hopping" and whether or not we should embrace with joy those who leave another faithful church to join ours. And then I want to write about what I call "preacheritis," an all-too-common problem among faithful churches.

I'd love to hear your comments on this. Or email me at

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Is Israel God's Special Nation?

In light of the ongoing riots in Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood's theats against Israel, religious people are again thinking about the Jewish people. Many of these religious people feel that the physical nation of Israel is still God's chosen people just as they were in the Old Testament, but this is not the case.

Paul clearly states in Romans 10:1-2 as well as Romans 11:13-14 that the Jewish people are lost. This is true of anyone who does not accept Christ. After all, Jesus Himself said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me."

The Jews may worship God the Father, but they reject Jesus who is the Son of God. In rejecting Jesis, they reject the Father. "Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either..." (1 Jn. 2:23). In order for any Jew to be saved they must come to Christ and be baptized into Him (Gal. 3:27), accepting Him as the Son of God (Ac. 8:37).

Jesus died on the cross to make salvation possible for ALL men (Jn. 3:16). All those who turn to Christ are called "Christians" (Ac. 11:26). WE as Christians are called "a holy nation" (1 Pet. 2:9). In fact, the church IS spiritual Israel. We are children of Abraham (Gal. 3:9), and Paul refers to the church as "the Israel of God" (Gal. 6:16).

There is no longer a difference between Jews and Gentiles (Gal. 3:28). The focus now in the kingdom of Christ is on spiritual, NOT physical Israel. Let's bear these things in mind when the subject of Israel comes up in religious discussion.