Thursday, June 27, 2013

Thankful Thursday

Praising the Lord this week for:

~having my girl home after a visit with extended family. It's wonderful to have our little family around the dining table again and to hear her infectious laughter.

~time alone with my husband, who loves me fiercely.

~a God who loves me more.

~gathering with His saints to worship.

~the sovereignty of God.

~lunch with a bloggy friend.

~opportunities to minister to others through prayer.

~the body of Christ.

Blessings all mine with 10,000 beside!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Mark #3 of a Healthy Church: The Gospel

There is a common worldly kind of Christianity in this day,
which many have, and think they have enough - a cheap Christianity
which offends nobody, and requires no sacrifice - which costs nothing,
and is worth nothing.
~J.C. Ryle, Holiness

Mine was not a church-going family. I remember a brief stint during my early elementary years when we attended church. I went to Vacation Bible School with my grandmother and attended church with her whenever I visited. I especially enjoyed when the choir director performed a solo of "Blessed Assurance". I still remember his deep, quiet voice carefully building to a crescendo in the chorus. I knew that hymn well, but the words were meaningless to me. Even though I spent many Easters holding my grandmother's hand during the sunrise service, I didn't understand what we were celebrating. The story of the empty tomb was distant, a tale in a storybook. It meant nothing.

By the time I was a teenager, the god I imagined had disappointed me in ways too numerous to count. My shaky foundation crumbled. I wasn't sure if there was a god, but I knew if he existed, I wanted nothing to do with him. I lived in that state of open rebellion for years. In my early twenties, I met a man who asked me to go to church with him. On one of our first visits, I realized that I could believe in the God of the Bible. I told everyone I was saved.

I thought I was.

"...false teaching deceives people and ruins souls for eternity." (Joshua Harris, Humble Orthodoxy, p. 52). Because I am a lover of knowledge, it was easy to study the Bible and start to talk a good game. I soon mastered "Christianese" and began to look like the other church members. I was confident in my salvation, even though I never heard the Gospel preached in that church. Praise God, His Holy Spirit began to tug at my soul. The hunger He stirred led us to another church. The man, my new husband, recommitted his life to Christ. I was truly converted.

When we began searching for a new church home 18 years later, it was imperative that we find a church that carefully and rightly preaches the Gospel. In today's culture, there are many churches that preach a watered-down, ineffective gospel.  As Mark Dever explains in Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, the Gospel isn't simply

      ...that we're okay
      ...that God is love
      ...that Jesus wants to be our friend
      ...that we should live right.

The Gospel is so much more. 
To really hear the Gospel is to be shaken to your core. To really hear the Gospel is to change. Have you heard the Gospel - not a soothing word about your goodness, or about God's acceptance, or about Jesus' inoffensive willingness to befriend all and sundry, or even some convicting word about getting rid of some sin in your life - but have you heard the Bible's great message about God and us? Does it sound like the best news you've ever heard? Old sins forgiven! New life begun! A personal relationship with your God, your Creator, now and forever!

Thankfully, the Lord has brought us to a church that places high value on the Biblical Gospel, that teaches believers that we need the Gospel every day. If you aren't sure if you've ever heard the Gospel, please take a few minutes to watch this presentation.

This summer, I'm blogging through Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. Find out why here.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Thankful Thursday

Praising the Lord this week for:

~a quiet weekend of BBC entertainment

~picking my husband up from the airport. So much nicer than dropping off!

~safe travels

~a clothes line, since the dryer decided to quit working

~my Dad

~quiet mornings with the Word of God

Blessings all mine, with 10,000 beside!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Mark #2 of a Healthy Church: Biblical Theology

How you think about God impacts the way you live and what you want your church to be like.
-Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church (p. 72)

Last week I shared that my husband and I began our church search with a plan to visit churches known for expositional preaching.  We were also looking for something more. We wanted to find a church with a solid Biblical theology.

As Dever explains,
We should want pastors who will preach from the Word of God, but we should also listen carefully to what the pastor says and decide whether or not what he says is according to the Word of God. We need not just someone who claims to preach from the Word, but someone who substantially does that - whose sermons are in line with what the Word of God actually teaches. (p. 60).
Perhaps it seems unlikely, the idea that a pastor can preach from the Word without being in line with Scripture; however, in our postmodern society, this occurs far more often than we might think. Sermons are peppered with phrases such as  

                        I think
                       I believe
                      Imagine yourself in this story
                     Some of you really need to hear this!

to name a few. We have made the truth of the Word about us. But
...the truth is not about is. It's not self-determined. It's not an accessory. It is about God. And we believe it and we hold onto it, not because we want to make a statement about ourselves, but because we want true statements to be made about him. We want his glory.
-Joshua Harris, Humble Orthodoxy (p. 47, emphasis mine)

Do contemporary worship services promote God's glory? Many services are laden with self-centered songs that trivialize God or that are played in such a way as to draw attention to man. Corporate prayers are wish lists for favorable outcomes, rather than praise and a time of confession and repentance. We were looking for a church that doesn't give in to the temptations to make the worship service about us - about how God can serve us, rather than how we should serve Him.

We knew wanted a church that will nurture our understanding of God in every part of the worship service and Bible study. Dever says, "We must understand God by His revelation of Himself, not by our own hunches, not by our own wishes, not by the way we like to think of God." (p. 73)  Dever lists five characteristics that God reveals of Himself in the Bible: creating, holy, faithful, loving, and sovereign. Each of these characteristics much be taught in order to develop an accurate Biblical theology. Many churches today are heavy on the faithful and loving aspects of God's character, while choosing to ignore the equally important holiness and sovereignty of God. Sadly, creation is becoming one of those "gray" areas in pulpits all across the country as theistic evolution gains popularity. To disregard any of these five characteristics is perilous and contrary to Scripture.

Finding a church that has a firm grasp on the God of the Bible and lifts His Name alone was not a quick and easy task, but the rewards have already been great.

This summer, I'm blogging through Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. Find out why here.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Thankful Thursday

Praising the Lord this week for:

~Garden bounty.

~The Lord's correction. Painful, but so necessary.

~Grace and new mercies.

~Rejoicing with friends. They've been waiting for an occasion for far too long.

~High School graduations. We have a niece & a nephew who are moving on to the next phase of their lives.

~The end of the school year, even though it's a bittersweet reminder that time with my girl at home is fading fast.

~My husband's life. As we celebrated another year, I couldn't help but praise God for allowing our lives to merge into one. He is a tremendous blessing to me.

Blessings all mine, with 10,000 beside!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Mark #1 of a Healthy Church: Expositional Preaching

God's Word is the word we need to hear today. We live in a strange day, when even Christians who claim to be born again and churches that claim to be evangelical ignore God's Word.
-Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church (p. 54)

As my husband and I began looking for a new church home, our top priority was to find a church that stood firm on the Word of God. Programs and a friendly congregation were secondary; we knew that if the man in the pulpit accurately preached the Word of God, everything else would fall into place. We wanted to find a church that believes in expositional preaching.

Why expositional preaching rather than topical?

An expositional sermon is focused upon the Word, whereas - as you might have guessed - a topical sermon is centered upon the topic itself.  A topical sermon might be replete with Scripture, but there is an inherent danger of misunderstanding and misapplying Scripture if a verse or a passage is taken out of its context merely to support the preacher's sermon.  I have found that topical preaching encourages me to place myself in the passage, to make the Word of God about me and my problems. My friend Persis has written about why this practice is unwise and reckless.

Expositional preaching, on the other hand, doesn't pull Scripture out of context; it assumes that there is value in each word of the Bible. A preacher committed to preaching expositionally will grow along with his congregation because he doesn't skip over hard-to-tackle passages.  He studies the Scripture to find its point rather than to make his own. Our new pastor told us that when he was preaching through Ezra and Nehemiah several months ago (before we began visiting), several members asked if he was going to actually read through the lists of names each time they appeared. He told them that if something appears in Scripture, it's there for a reason; he was absolutely going to read through the lists to help his congregation understand the importance of its inclusion. How that warmed our hearts!

Expositional preaching is predicated upon the belief that the congregation should hear the Word of God in its entirety and is capable of understanding it.

...from the seventh century to the twelfth century there was a movement that said that ordinary people could not understand preaching, so the best way to communicate with them was by statues, stained-glass windows and pictures. But, as the Reformers discovered, it failed. '(I)t produced people who knew the gospel stories, but did not know the gospel; people who knew what had happened, but who did not know the meaning of it.'
-Christopher Ash, The Priority of Preaching (p. 29)

Topical preaching runs this risk.To quote Dever,
A preacher should have his mind increasingly shaped by Scripture. He shouldn't just use Scripture as an excuse for what he already knows he wants to say. When that happens, when someone regularly preaches in a way that is not expositional, the sermons tend to be only on the topics that interest the preacher. The result is that the preacher and the congregation only hear in Scripture what they already thought when they came to the text. There's nothing new being added to their understanding. They're not continuing to be challenged by the Bible. (p. 41)

Preachers and congregations with a steady diet of topical preaching may unwittingly limit themselves to certain stories that seem easy to understand, and never fully grasp the overarching themes of Scripture and the place each story has within those themes. Worst of all, they might never gain a true understanding of God or the gospel.

Expositional preaching is the first mark of a healthy church; the one that all others spring from. We knew that finding a church that preaches the whole counsel of God was vitally important. By the Lord's grace and goodness, that's exactly what we have found.

This summer, I'm blogging through Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. Find out why here.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Thankful Thursday

Praising the Lord this week for:

~Friday night in with my husband & our newest BBC addiction, Foyle's War

~Saturday evening at the ballpark

~worship at our new church, after a couple of weekends away

~the Lord's grace as we continue to grow

~wise friends who are willing to answer questions and share resources

~good conversations

~rain for our garden

~hot chamomile tea with honey

~a good night's sleep

~inspiration for a summer blogging project

Blessings all mine, with 10,000 beside!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Summer Blogging Project: Nine Marks of a Healthy Church

At the beginning of this year my family made a monumental change; in obedience to the Lord, we left our church of 18 years and began searching for a new church home. My husband and I prayed over a plan we thought prudent. We had an ongoing discussions about what we should be looking for in a church, but finding that church wasn't as easy as I'd hoped (my wise husband knew better). Just as we were growing weary and impatient, God providentially redirected our steps. We are thankful that we have found the place we believe will be our church home for as long as He allows us to remain.

During our search, I poured over Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. This book was an wonderful resource for us. In fact, I believe it would be a great benefit to any believer.

From the Introduction,
Biblically, we find that god's Word is replete with images of delayed blessing. God, for His own inscrutable purposes, tests and tries His Jobs and Josephs, His Jeremiahs, and even Jesus Himself. The trials of Job, the beating and selling of Joseph, the imprisonment and mocking of Jeremiah, the rejection and crucifixion of Jesus all remind us that God moves in mysterious ways. He calls us more fundamentally to a relationship of trust with Him than to a full understanding of Him and His ways. The parables of Jesus are full of stories of the kingdom of God beginning in surprisingly small ways but growing finally to a glorious prominence. Biblically, we must realize that the size of what our eyes see is rarely a good way to estimate the greatness of something in the eyes of God. (p. 27, emphasis mine)
This passage resonated with me when I first read it; I realized I needed to set aside my great expectations and be patient. These words are more meaningful now that we are at a church much smaller than the one we left and the others we visited.

I'll be blogging through Nine Marks of a Healthy Church this summer. I hope you'll join me here on Tuesdays as I share snippets from the book and our church search, and thoughts on the importance of each of the 9 marks.