The chief export of a local church ought to be love. Churches do many things but the main thing we are to express to God, to one another, and to the world is supernatural love—because God is love. “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8).
Boil all Christian activity down to one word and it’s, simply, love.
Since our God is love, we are to be people who are known for love. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”(John 13:34–35).
God so loved the world that he gave us Jesus (John 3:16). And we love because he loved us first (1 John 4:19). Love is the superstructure of the gospel. The cross of Christ is the supernova of God’s love for sinners. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
It’s Pretty Simple
When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment is—the greatest duty of God’s people, his reply: robust love for God and real love for others.
And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”(Mark 12:30–31)
Love God. Love neighbor.
It’s really not that complicated. Our pesky flesh just gets in the way.
We can try and contort Jesus’ words, like a good Pharisee, with questions, “Well, who is my neighbor? How should I love my neighbor?” Jesus made it pretty clear. Love your neighbor like you love yourself. We are to have counter-cultural love for the culture—nothing less than loving our neighbors like we love ourselves.
And we are to have gospel formed love for our brothers and sisters. “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:2). We are to do good to everyone, and especially those in Church (Gal. 6:10).
This is a difficult way to live. But not impossible. This kind of love is not beyond the Kingdom of Christ. This is the Great Commandment, not the great impossibility. To walk in the Greatest Commandment requires great power, great ability—given from the Holy Spirit. What’s the first fruit of the Spirit again?
What Are We Exporting?
Our first priority is loving God. Always. Our chief task is not to put on a slick Sunday service, or to assimilate people into community groups, to serve the poor, defend doctrine, write books, preach sermons—our first and greatest aim is love. (Then good works will follow.)
And if we aren’t careful, we can get caught up in the good things and forget the main, best thing.
The Church at Ephesus received a letter from Jesus, commending their sound doctrine, but rebuking their lack of love.
“But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” (Revelation 2:4–5 ESV)
Every church should take an assessment of their ministry manifest and ask, “What are we exporting?” What is our church churning out? More love or more or more pride? More gospel or more Oprahisms and Osteenifications?
Solid doctrine is a good thing. So important. But churches with stellar doctrinal statements die every day. Lampstand status requires love.
The Ephesians didn’t lose their love for Jesus and others because of sexual immorality, drugs, Netflix, or Jim Beam— it was the good things, overtime, that wore them down. Like the slo-mo drag of the Ocean, they lost their bearing. Caught in the motions of Christianity and they were no longer caught up with the risen Christ.
Stay The Course
Let’s not assume we aren’t there, or that we aren’t a weekend away from being there.
- Does our church really love Jesus, the person? Or are we bored with him?
- Does our church really love one another? Or are we a lame event?
- Does our church really love the lost? Or are we a city in a bunker, instead of a city on a hill?
This is too vital to not consider. Where are we today?
Let’s stay the course. Let’s do the two firsts that Jesus mentioned to the Ephesians.
The love we had a first. The works we did at first.
We never move on from there. There’s no advanced Christianity. This is it. Love for God, love for neighbor. Word and deed. Hear and do.
We remember Jesus; we get re-ignited by his volcanic love, and then we act accordingly. The Way. The Truth. The Life.
We love because he first loved us.
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Only one more song before I went up to preach. I felt prayed up. Ready. But then a sense of uneasiness came over me. As the first verse began to roll, I prayed, “Lord, help me. Move in your people. May you be glorified. I know the principalities and powers are against us in this place. They are looking for gospel seeds to steal. The enemy is prowling against me and your Bride this day. Help us, Lord. One little word from you is all we need.”
The forces of evil (Eph. 6:12) were more real to me in that moment than they had been all week. It was then I realized that there was a snake in lion’s clothing slithering through our church (1 Peter 5:8). We were going into battle.
THE COSMIC BATTLE
Singing as Exorcism
I looked to the words of “In Christ Alone” on the screen and joined the church in singing about a Roman cross and an empty grave. The gathered saints of a risen Galilean, the King of Kings, were singing, exalting, and enjoying the gospel of the Kingdom.
“Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied.
For every sin on him was laid;
Here in the death of Christ I live.
There in the ground his body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain:
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave he rose again!”
As we sang the beautiful truths of the gospel, we were doing more than reciting words. This was no mere singing. Pagans can sing. We were engaging in exaltational exorcism. We were pushing back the darkness around us, in our minds, in our hearts, and in the air.
Tearing Down Strongholds
Cosmic battles are waged in our little churches. It may appear quiet, neat, and orderly to our eyes, but there are powers over this present darkness, spiritual forces that are tempting, distracting, and condemning—even while we shake hands, hug, sip coffee, and take sermon notes. They want Mrs. Jones to be so wrecked by her sin that she wouldn’t dare look to Jesus and believe that she’s forgiven. Demons swirl around that teenager in the back row, hoping he won’t confess his porn addiction to his youth leader—and especially not his parents.
Something nuclear happens we sing the glories of Christ. We are wielding weapons-grade gospel power to tear down strongholds and cast out every word raised against the word of our Messiah, and we fall down before our Lord and follow him.
“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:4–5).
THE SATANIC POWERS HATE THE GOSPEL
Victory at Calvary
Satan isn’t terrified of our electric guitars, live drums, or hip services; no, when redeemed sinners exalt the Triune God and exult in Jesus of Nazareth, that’s the moment demons shriek and whimper back to the darkness from which they came (Luke 4:33-36). When we sing the truths of the gospel, we aren’t the only ones being reminded of the victory at Calvary—the satanic powers are freshly reminded that Jesus is Lord, not Lucifer. They follow a loser.
“And as he stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me,
For I am his and he is mine,
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.”
Jesus holds me; sin doesn’t. My flesh can’t boss me around anymore because Jesus isn’t laid up in a tomb—he stands in victory. It was on a bloody hill outside of Jerusalem that, “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Colossians 2:15). Jesus has not only conquered Satan, he has made a spectacle of him.
As the army of Christ assembles in high school cafeterias, warehouses, theater chair filled rooms, and under thatched roofs, these buildings are more like barracks. We gather to be filled by the Spirit of the King, refreshed by his Word, and we march back out into enemy occupied territory, singing in unison the battle hymn of the Kingdom: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
Songs laced with gospel truth, sung in faith, are anti-air missile defense systems against the flaming darts of the evil one (Ephesians 6:16). Read these last lines of “In Christ Alone.”
“No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of Hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from his hand;
Till he returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.”
We sing those words to God, Heaven rejoices, and Satan watches on in horror. No power of Hell can pluck us from Christ’s hand. “No power of Hell, Satan. Do you hear us? You and all your rotten might are no match for our Jesus.” This is why I advocate for loud singing (Zephaniah 3:14-15). War isn’t quiet. No soldier mumbles on the battlefield—and especially not at the victory party. Belt the glory of Christ. And know that our Champion sings loudly over us (Zephaniah 3:17).
Crucified with Christ
We focus our hearts and vocal chords on the lifeless body of Jesus and his life being returned to him three days later, to remember that Calvary happened to us too. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). The Dark Snake lost his grip on us when Jesus gave up his life and came back from the dead, because Jesus brought us with him (Ephesians 4:8). We too lost our lives and got them back. We died on that cross. We rose from the grave. We are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). We are more than conquerors (Romans 8:37)—and the fallen angels hate it and don’t want us to know it or enjoy it. But “here in the power of Christ I’ll stand!”
Church singing hacks away at the unrealities we’ve bought into during the week. A part of spiritual warfare is cutting the heads off of lies with the shovel of truth. The satanic forces work in tandem with our flesh and without noticing it, we start to believe that maybe we have sinned too big or too much this week, and then we hang our heads, and drag our knuckles on the Lord’s Day. We think, “Maybe this sin is, you know, just the way it’s going to be.”
But that’s all anti-gospel. That thinking didn’t come from the throne, but the ground. We tear down that stronghold and sing, “No guilt in life!” (Romans 8:1).
SING THE GOOD SONG, FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT
Some people endure the time of corporate singing, just so they can get to the sermon. Well, there are a lot of dumb things to do in church, and that’s one of the big ones. You may not like the style of music, but that doesn’t matter. If God wanted one style of music, or even the songs done in a certain way, we’d have sheet music instead of maps in the back of our Bibles. God commands us to sing, “Sing praises to the LORD, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name” (Psalm 30:4). And it might be that during those songs we are being made ready to hear their word of our Christ. The belt of truth is being tightened, we remember the righteousness of Christ as our breastplate, the gospel shoes are being laced up. As hands are raised in response, they are lifting up the shield of faith blocking the darts of the Serpent (Eph. 6:13-17). We are confident in the helmet of salvation, and we’ve heard the sword of the Spirit through our songs. And it is in those verses and hymns, these gospel songs, that the Spirit gives us the spiritual gift of street fighting.
Believe and sing. Sing and believe. You are in the middle of a war. Look at the words, take them in, believe them, and let them soar into the air. Lift up the shield of faith by lifting up your voice.
And sing loudly. Maybe God will use your voice, as you sing a spiritual song, to help a brother or sister look away from lies, cheap thrills, and temptations. Help lift their droopy hands and dwell on Christ (Colossians 3:16).
The Mighty Fortress
Pastors, worship leaders, lead us to the gospel waters. Help us hear, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Isaiah 55:1).
Select songs that are jam-packed with gospel glories. “His glories now we sing.” Is your church singing the glories or a bunch of goofiness? Are we singing about a solid rock of truth or soggy love? If we aren’t singing about the cross and the empty tomb, what are we singing about? God’s love? 1 John 3:16 much? Take us to Jerusalem, show us Golgotha and that empty grave, and then point us to the clouds that will be rolled back like a scroll.
Martin Luther knew this kingdom warfare theme. In his powerful hymn, A Mighty Fortress is our God, he sings:
“For still our ancient foe
doth seek to work us woe;
his craft and power are great,
and armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.”
He knew our enemy and his work against us. Luther’s conclusion?
“And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God hath willed
his truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure,
for lo, his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.”
One word from Christ, that’s all. One truth. The truth. Like Tolkien’s elvish waybread, one gospel crumb is enough to sustain the whole church, for a whole lifetime, for a whole eternity.
Sing the good song of the good news. Fight the good fight of the faith—we are in a war after all.
This post was first published at GCD and is published here with their permission.
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In 2001, I attended Urbana in Urbana-Champagne, Illinois. It was winter, and it was quite cold. During the conference we were challenged by the speakers about giving our lives to the cause of missions. My mom had given me some money which was for food. It was nearing the end of the conference and it came time to give an offering. As the speaker spoke about this, I was being prompted by the Holy Spirit to give all the money I had. It was a real struggle for me at this time. I knew that I would be okay if I gave up my money, but I didn’t know if it was the right choice. I continued to be convicted by the Holy Spirit and I ended up giving every cent I had in my wallet at that conference. To this day I don’t regret that decision.
My point here is it is in the little things where we are challenged to be faithful to the Lord. Whether we are walking down the street or are at a conference far from our homes, every single Christian is a missionary. As Charles Spurgeon once said, “every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter”.
Recently, I’ve been going on daily walks, typically for several miles. During my walks, I spend significant time in prayer. One of the main focuses of my prayer-time has been for those who are being persecuted around the world. The Bible teaches us to pray for our brothers and sisters who are experiencing persecution. We live in challenging times and to combat the trials and evils of this world, Christian men and women must be willing to step out of their comfort zones and boldly proclaim their faith in the sovereign grace of God.
When I went on my first mission trip to Mexico, I was forced to step outside my comfort zone and when I did so my eyes were open to the poverty all around me. I saw how people were suffering not only because of drug cartels, but also because of the poverty in which they were forced to live. Despite their circumstances, however, they were happy. Their happiness was infectious and convicting, and once again I was being convicted as my heart began to understand the reason why.
Perhaps today your eyes need to be opened. God has a global mission program, and that program includes you. The local church is the hope of the world. God’s plan and design is to use ordinary people in extraordinary ways for His purposes. Before He can do this, however, He often chooses to humble a man to use in this endeavor. Look at the Apostle Paul; consider Joseph who although he resisted Potiphar’s wife’s advance was thrown into jail; and consider Daniel who was taken out of his homeland and moved to Babylon where he rose to great heights of power because of the Lord’s sovereign plan for him. Most importantly consider Jesus who suffered injustice and yet never sinned. Jesus, however, is not only a good example to His people, He is their Lord, Savior, King, Priest, God, Intercessor, High Priest and Advocate. All of the great men and women who have given their lives for the sake of the gospel pale in comparison to Jesus. All over the Middle East and Asia men and women are giving their lives for the gospel. They have counted the cost and decided to follow Jesus all the way to death. This is what the Christian life is all about—not only a way of death, but to a certain kind of death—death to self which brings glory to God. As John Owen once said, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”
The reason we can participate in mission work is because the Lord has a global mission plan that includes us in the context of both the local and world-wide church. Whether or not you choose to go overseas (or to another country) is irrelevant. Right outside your door are people who are lost and need the hope that is in Jesus Christ. Inside of your local church are struggling brothers and sisters in Christ who need your prayers, encouragement, and care. Men, inside the walls of your house are your children, who need you to lead them. Men, wives need us to lead them towards Jesus on a daily basis.
The call to discipleship is not a call to a life of ease and comfort, my friends; no, it’s a call to radically follow Jesus not just to the cross, but to death. You see, Jesus died not only so our sins could be forgiven, but so that we could put to death our sin and grow in Him. This is what mature godly growth in Christ is about—it’s about refusing to make excuses for why you’ve become complacent or stagnant in Christ, and repent. It’s about participating in the Church body by becoming a member and being submissive to the biblical leadership of the local church. It’s about being a disciple, committed to obeying and living under the teaching of the Bible. Are you that kind of disciple? Have you counted the cost of following Jesus? Or are you still making excuses for why you aren’t growing? I encourage you today to stop making excuses, start following Jesus in all of life by finding a good Bible teaching church, and becoming a member. Don’t just sit in the pew; get involved in the lives of those around you, encouraging them to follow Jesus all the more, even as they do the same with you. Trust me, you’ll find as you do this that you’re growing, not only in knowledge of the Word, but also in discipleship with fellow brothers and sisters in Jesus. Practicing discipleship will also spur on your growth further, and fan the flames in your heart for God’s global purposes—to use His people and His church to expand His fame to the nations.
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Dozens of preaching books come out every year. Before and during seminary I read at least two dozen books on preaching. I’ve found that most preaching books tend towards focusing on how to explain and apply the text or deliver the sermon. Few books combine the best of scholarship out there without having to go to another book. This is why I liked Expositional Preaching: How We Speak God’s Word Today by David Helm. Over the years the 9 Marks series (Building Healthy Churches) has been a means the Lord has used in my own life to help me think through a variety of ministry related issues in addition to their helpful ministry website.
The book is divided into four sections. In the first section the author seeks to explain contextualization that is how to speak the Word of God in a way that people will understand. In chapter three the author focuses on how to exegete the text. Chapter three helps the reader understand the role of biblical and systematic theology and focusing on Jesus. In chapter four the author helps his readers understand how to speak to your audience, arrange your sermon study into a coherent sermon outline and apply your message.
The author states his purpose is to expound on how “expositional preaching is empowered preaching that rightfully submits the shape and emphasis of the sermon to the shape and emphasis of a biblical text. In that way it brings out of the text what the Holy Spirit puts there, and does not put into the text what the preacher thinks might be there” (13). To put it another way as Dr. John Piper has rightly said, “Preachers are to preach the point of the text as the point of the sermon.”
As I read this book I felt I was being instructed by a seasoned preacher on how to preach well and leave a legacy that preaches the Bible as the whole counsel of God’s Word. The tone of this book is warm as the author aims to help shepherd pastors and teachers of the Word of God towards being workman who rightly handle the Word of God. What sets this book apart is the accessibility of the material. There isn’t anything groundbreaking in this book and that is good because it doesn’t aim to do that but rather to help refocus the preacher on the the Word with a view to explain how it connects to the person and work of Jesus.
Expositional Preaching: How We Speak God’s Word Today is a very helpful book. While there may be parts where preachers depart with Helm, I think his book would be very helpful as a reminder to seasoned preachers and teachers, and a must read for preachers in training to learn how to become a faithful expositor of the Word of God. While the book offers a step-by-step- guide for preachers this book will equip every Christian to recognize good preaching when they hear it. This is why I recommend it not only pastors, pastors in training, Sunday school teachers but every Christian to read this book and learn what expository preaching is. This accessible and helpful volume is one of the most concise and useful books on preaching I’ve read to date. I highly recommend it and pray the Lord it powerful to continue to awaken a passion for expository preaching in the life of His people for His glory.
Title: Expositional Preaching How We Speak God’s Word Today
Author: David Helm
Publisher: Crossway (2014)
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Why do you go to church? Church is more than the Sunday gathering — but it’s not less than that. Just ‘going’ isn’t enough. Why we go matters. God doesn’t merely care about our actions. He also is concerned with WHY we do what we do.
So…why do you go to church on Sunday?
I want to be a better _____
Sadly, one of the most common reasons that people go to church is to be a better mom, dad, husband, friend and/or person in general. And for many — this is the MAIN reason.
What could possibly be wrong with that? They are going to church, what’s the big deal?
Frankly….it is idoloatry.
The primary reason we go to church is to worship God. Plain and simple.
We go to glorify God, to celebrate the cross and the empty tomb, to fellowship as a body of the Redeemed people of God around the greatness of our God.
You Will be a Better ______
And the truth is that you will be a better _____ (whatever you seek). But it won’t happen in the way that we think. We want quick tips and tricks. We want some quick advice that we can inject into our lives. It doesn’t work like that.
We change by beholding the glory of God (2 Cor. 3:18). The more that we see our sinfulness and humanity; and we see the all suprassing greatness of our God, we become enthralled by Him. We begin to enjoy God. And as we are centered on God, the other roles in our lives begin to function the way the should. Sins are shoved out and killed.
Our first role in life is not spouse or parent — but a worshiper.
When our primary goal is to become a better ____, we are a worshiper of self. This is man-centered goal.
When our primary goal is to behold God and enjoy Him, we are a true worshiper. This is a God centered goal. And by having this as our highest goal, our other roles and goals in life begin to make sense.
We go to church to worship God. Fellowship is worship of God. Singing is worship of God. Hearing the word is worship of God. It is all for the worship of God.
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Churches are dying every day. That isn’t news you’ll read in the latest issue of Time, national or local newspapers but the fact is many churches are dying every day. Many pastors are leaving the ministry every month and every year. What is the Church to do? Should we give up and close our doors? These are difficult questions and difficult issues to address. Thankfully Dr. Thom Rainer an experienced Pastor, researcher and popular author and blogger has written Autospy of a Deceased Church 12 Ways To Keep Yours Alive to help Christians think through these and other issues.
I’ve spent my entire life in the Pacific Northwest, specifically the majority of it in Washington State (26 years) and almost seven years now in Idaho. During this time, I’ve seen many churches close their doors for a variety of reasons but the biggest one has been because of failing to heed to biblical orthodoxy and proclaim the gospel. In his book Dr. Rainer looks at the slow erosion that occurs as churches grow older and move away from the gospel, the past as a hero, local churches refusing to reach out to the community, budget issues, churches that focus on preferences, failing to keep the pastor long term, a lack of prayer, no clear process and facility issues in part one of the book. In the final section of the book the author looks at hope for churches that are dying.
While the tone of the book is sober, it is also hope filled. The book not only diagnoses the problem of dying church but points to the solution in Jesus Christ. Reading about local churches dying was painful for me. Painful because I love the local church and God’s people and desire to see them growing and healthy. Yet, the reality is churches are dying around us or declining at a rapid rate for a variety of reasons as the author of this book notes. With that said the mission of God continues on unstopped as a generation of those unashamed of the gospel proclaim the glories of the gospel to the praise of Jesus and the spread of His fame to the nations. Whether you are a pastor, church planter, seminary student or a concerned lay person, I encourage you to read Autopsy of a Deceased Church 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive, because it is a book that will help you to not only understand why local church’s are dying but also why the local church is the hope of the world with Jesus as its Captain and Chief Shepherd. It is because of Jesus that the Church will never die out, and because of that—that His church continues on growing, expanding and even being pruned that it may bear fruit pleasing to Jesus for His glory.
Title: Autopsy of a Deceased Church 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive
Author: Thom Rainer
Publisher: B&H (2014)
I received this for free from B&H book review program for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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