Worshipping with the Preached Word

preached-word

It’s amazing to see how worship in our church flows out of the preached Word.

At Harvest London, the leadership and the people really love the Bible. There is a real hunger, a desire to hear the Bible preached. It’s amazing to, week after week, see roughly 600 people truly engage with the text of Scripture as Pastor Norm preaches with power and conviction. There is a tangible love for the Word as he preaches that is infectious. It’s exciting to see how it affects people.

After this Sunday’s service, I was serving at our book table (a natural fit if there ever was). While there, I had some great opportunities to encourage people in their reading, and I even got to give two college-aged young ladies their first Bible, ever. It might be a small thing, but it’s a great privilege to be a part of that.

And to see how Emily has been affected has been just as exciting. There is a boldness that I see growing in her that I absolutely love, where she’s “informally” ministering to people in our congregation and outside of it, striking up potential friendships with new women, talking with them, praying with them… She’s even taking advantage of an opportunity to share the gospel—with someone she met only briefly downtown on Sunday afternoon.

Perhaps these seem like small things, but I see a deep love for Christ in our church—and a passion for others to know Him and follow Him.

And it’s all flowing out of the preached Word.

It is powerful.

It is effective.

It’s exciting.

It’s worship.

I love it.

A Decisive Act: The 95 Theses

95-theses

On October 31st, 1517, Martin Luther, an Augustinian priest, nailed his 95 Theses in opposition to the Roman Catholic practice of selling indulgences to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany. This was the decisive act of a man convinced by Scripture that it is God alone who forgives our sins—that all the Christian life is one of repentance. This action proved, ultimately,  to be the catalyst for the Protestant Reformation.

I am incredibly thankful for Martin Luther—an ill-deserving sinner saved by the grace of God led by the Holy Spirit to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), in light of the truth of Scripture and in spite of enormous opposition.

492 years later, this flawed servant of God’s powerful legacy continues. May we rejoice in the knowledge that “Salvation belongs to the Lord” (Psalm 3:8).


Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences Commonly Known as The 95 Theses

by Dr. Martin Luther

O-dropcaput of love and concern for the truth, and with the object of eliciting it, the following heads will be the subject of a public discussion at Wittenberg under the presidency of the reverend father, Martin Luther, Augustinian, Master of Arts and Sacred Theology, and duly appointed Lecturer on these subjects in that place. He requests that whoever cannot be present personally to debate the matter orally will do so in absence in writing. [Read more...]

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Primacy of Preaching

dmlj-preaching

“People say that the preachers stand in their pulpits and preach their sermons, but that there before them are individuals with their individual problems and sufferings. So the argument runs, you ought to preach less and spend more time doing personal work and counseling and interviewing.

My reply to this argument is to suggest, once more, that the answer is to put preaching into the primary position. Why? For this reason that true preaching does deal with personal problems, so much so that true preaching saves a great deal of time for the pastor. I am speaking out of forty years of experience. What do I mean? Let me explain.

The Puritans are justly famous for their pastoral preaching. They would take up what they called ‘cases of conscience’ and deal with them in their sermons; and as they dealt with these problems they were solving the personal individual problems of those who were listening to them. That has constantly been my experience. The preaching of the Gospel from the pulpit, applied by the Holy Spirit to the individuals who are listening, has been the means of dealing with personal problems of which I as the preacher knew nothing until people came to me at the end of the service saying, ‘I want to thank you for that sermon because if you had known I was there and the exact nature of my problem, you could not have answered my various questions more perfectly. I have often thought of bringing them to you but you have now answered them without doing so.’

The preaching had already dealt with the personal problems. Do not misunderstand me, I am not saying that the preacher should never do any personal work; far from it. But I do contend that preaching must always come first, and that it must not be replaced by anything else.”

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching & Preachers, p.37

HT: Joel Taylor

Pray without Ceasing

define-church

The bulk of last week was devoted to creating a definition of the Church. After looking at church discipline within the community of disciples, leadership and preaching, and serving & the sacraments, we’ve gotten to this definition:

A Church is a community of disciples led by biblically qualified men who preach and teach God’s Word, who are equipped to do ministry, using their spiritual gifts for the benefit of others; who regularly practice the sacraments of communion and baptism; who practice church discipline as guided by the teaching of Scripture, under the authority of Jesus Christ.

While this is an adequate definition, there’s one thing missing—Prayer.

And the Church is to pray unceasingly.

First Thessalonians 5:17 tells us that we are to, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

It is the will of God that we rejoice always, in all circumstances. To give thanks in all circumstances. And so we pray in all circumstances; we “pray without ceasing,” as Paul wrote.

So what does that look like? [Read more...]

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Puritan and the Anglican

dmlj-puritan

The Puritan emphasises the spirituality of worship; the Anglican emphasises the formal aspect of worship, and is more interested in the mechanics of worship. The Puritan is interested in fellowship, the Anglican is more individualistic. The gathered church is at the heart of the Puritan idea – the fellowship; the Anglican is more individualistic. Puritans believed also in the ferreting out of sin and a rigid church discipline; the Anglican tends to be content with an outward conformity.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Puritans:  Their Origins and Successors, p. 257 (as quoted  in H. Rondel Rumburg, William Bridge: The Puritan of the Congregational Way, p. 26)

Serving and Celebrating Jesus

define-church

Over the last couple days, I’ve been working on a definition of the church. After looking at church discipline and leadership within a community of believers, we’ve come to the following definition:

A Church is a community of disciples led by biblically qualified men who preach and teach God’s Word, who practice church discipline as guided by the teaching of Scripture, under the authority of Jesus Christ.

Now there are still a couple of significant gaps in this definition, that we’ll address today:

Serving (exercising gifts), The Sacraments (Baptism and Communion).

Reading 1 Peter, I came across this passage:

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen (1 Pet 4:7-11).

Peter says in this passage that each true believer has received a gift from God—a spiritual gift. This gift (or gifts) are given for the purpose of serving one another, and by extension our communities, so that God would be glorified. None of us is given whatever gift we have to boast in that gift and hoard it for ourselves.

We are to do what we do to the glory of God, by His power and authority. Whether it’s music, writing, speaking, hospitality, greeting, intercessory prayer, encouragement… Whatever you’re passionate about, whatever you’re great at, in whatever way God’s gifted you, that is to be used to benefit others. [Read more...]

God likes Leaders and Preaching

define-church

Yesterday I started working on a definition of the church. After working through a popular passage that’s gained a popular understanding as being about fellowship, we came to the following partial definition:

A church is a community of disciples who practice church discipline, guided by the teaching of Scripture, under the authority of Jesus Christ.

Because it’s incomplete, let’s take a look at another couple aspects that will flesh out this definition:

Leadership and Preaching.

Leadership is not popular—and yet a lot of people kind of want to be one. A great many of us (including yours truly) have authority issues… unless we’re the folks in authority. There are also other folks who simply refuse to submit to any authority whatsoever; who want a “flat” church where ever opinion is equally valid and valuable and no one can really hold you accountable for any sin.

But did you know God really likes leaders? He likes authority in His Church, shepherding His people into holiness.

And He gave them to us as a gift.

Check out Ephesians 4:11-14: [Read more...]

Where two or three are gathered…

define-church

How would you define a church?

There are a lot of ways that people try to define the church, but one of the most common today has been in reference to Matthew 18:20:

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

This verse has kind of taken on an interesting meaning over the years. As I alluded to a moment ago, these days it’s most common application is as a definition for fellowship with other believers—which for some is the all encompassing definition of the church. Were this the case, it could be safely argued that two Christians going out for a beer & chicken wings and having a conversation about their personal reading is “church.”

However, this is not the case.

While it’s true that where two or three are gathered, Christ is with them… it’s not a definition of “church.”

It is, however, an aspect of church discipline.

A crucial element of being a church, however you define it, is the practice of church discipline; meaning that we do not excuse ongoing, unrepentant sin in the lives of fellow believers. [Read more...]

They Like Jesus… But Not His Church

jesus-church

Picking up on some themes from my last post, I’ve been thinking about the idea of “lone wolf” Christians; folks who live the “it’s just me and Jesus” mantra.

The folks who like Jesus—but they don’t like His Church.

In thinking about it, I see the appeal to some degree.

I’m not someone who particularly enjoys spending a great deal of time in groups of people. I get drained easily. I get frustrated with other people when they don’t get it, whatever “it” happens to be.

But I look at it and what really tempts me most about it is…

It appeals to my sense of pride.

Something I’ve been continuing to learn about me is that I’m an extremely prideful person. I generally prefer to think that I’m the smartest kid on the block, and am tempted to think that I don’t need to listen to the counsel of others.

And every time I start getting into those patterns, I get a swift kick in the behind.

That is why I believe Jesus calls all of His people to be a part of His Church. From my own experience, when I’m disconnected from others, I begin acting as though the world revolves around me and I become my own functional savior.

And it’s ridiculous when I do this, because I’m a laughable “god.”

Being part of the local expression of His church, flaws and all, reminds me that it’s not just about me and my “needs” (which usually are just preferences). That there are men who are much wiser and more mature in the faith than I, to whom I would do well to listen. Indeed, Hebrews 13:7 says, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” That there are also people who can benefit from the few experiences I’ve had as a believer, as I humble myself to actually serve them and not see them as a source of frustration.

But if I were to go it alone, I’d miss out on a crucial part of the Christian life.

And that, to me, is tragic.


Questions to consider:

If you are one who prefers to go it alone—if you like Jesus, but not His Church—how has this impacted your spiritual life? In lone-wolfing it, in what ways have you grown more like Christ?

What prevents you from joyfully being a part of a local church?

A Preview of Heaven

hebrews

The last couple of weeks have been a bit hectic in the Armstrong house. A very enjoyable trip to Grand Bend with my in-laws over the Labor Day weekend, followed by a visit to my Dad the following Sunday for our annual family birthday (my Dad, sister, niece and I have birthdays within a couple weeks of each other—it can make celebrating a bit overwhelming).

Because of all the traveling, there was one thing we were unable to do: Go to our local church and worship together with the people there. As much fun and valuable as our time with our relatives was, we were missing a very important part of our lives.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:24-25

This time reminded us just how much we love going to church (the institution) to be part of the church (the body of Christ). I know that there’s a lot of folks out there who might lose their minds even reading that statement, but we have to remember: The church is both Christ’s body and Christ’s institution.

He will build the institution who is His body and His bride.

So we, the body of believers, come together to worship God the Father through God the Son by the power of God the Holy Spirit, through the reading of Scripture, the preaching of the Bible (by a biblically-qualified male elder), the singing of songs…

There’s something incredibly powerful in it, if you’re a Christian. Something beautiful, even.

And it’s something completely different from any other interaction and activity in our lives. It’s not something that happens when I’m at the office of my Christian workplace talking about Jesus with my coworkers. It’s not something that happens when I’m having lunch or coffee with one of the guys I mentor.

It’s something that only happens when the larger congregation comes together, to worship God together.

It’s a preview of heaven.

And why would anyone who is a Christian want to neglect that?

Why would any of us willingly desire to disconnect ourselves from the very thing that is meant to stir us to love and good works? To encourage each other as we wait patiently for Christ’s return—when the preview ends and the new heaven and the new earth begin and we join the wedding supper of the Lamb?

I look forward to that day.

In the meantime, I will enjoy the preview.

The Love of God: Audio from St. Paul's United

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more about “The Love of God on Vimeo“, posted with vodpod

 

On August 15, 2009, it was my great privilege to preach at St. Paul’s United Church in Aylmer, Ontario. I am very grateful to my friend and co-worker Peter for the opportunity to share God’s Word with a great group of people.

You can also download an MP3 at the link below to listen to at your leisure.

The Love of God MP3 Audio

I hope you find the audio both profitable and enjoyable.

Update: For those who prefer or require a transcript, the text version follows: [Read more...]

Up the (Willow) Creek: Chip and Dan Heath

Willow-Creek

heath_brosIn the final post summarizing my take-aways from the Willow Creek Leadership Summit, I want to take a quick look at Chip & Dan Heath’s session: Switch.

The Heaths, authors of Made to Stick and the upcoming Switch (available in early 2010!), address the question, “Why is change sometimes so hard, and other times so easy?”

Any sort of successful change, say the Heaths, “requires convincing the organization that change is the right thing.” Once we’ve done that, we move on to the next issue: Identifying what is working. The Heaths suggest that we first “look for the bright spots—the things that show that success is possible. Find what works and duplicate those things… Bright spots are proof that people are capable of solving their problems.” [Read more...]

Up the (Willow) Creek: Kiva, Coffee, and Bono

Willow-Creek

jessicaflannery_2_smallJessica Jackley, Kiva

The micro-lending phenomenon that is Kiva.org intrigues me a great deal, because I’ve honestly never been sure how exactly it works and if it’s really making a difference in the lives of people. So it was a pleasant surprise to find that it’s cofounder, Jessica Jackley, was part of the Willow Creek Leadership Summit. If you don’t know, Kiva‘s mission is connecting people through lending to aleviate poverty. By providing microfinancing to entrepreneurs in developing nations, those entrepreneurs have the funding they need to make their business a success.

It’s a very interesting concept, because it’s very different from what we typically see. It’s not about aleviating poverty for people, it’s equipping people to do it themselves. I am very much a believer in development vs. aid (in the sense that we just throw cash at a problem and hope it goes away), and it’s refreshing to see that, so far in Kiva‘s case, it’s working really well. To date, more than 48 million dollars have been loaned through Kiva by ordinary people, and so far, 98.6% of this has been paid back in full. The secret, Jackley believes, is trust. “When you’re trust-based, you can get a lot more done. We believe if people are treated like we trust them, they most likely will [follow through.]” What Kivaand Jackley have seen so far is that entrepreneurs really are following through. Parents, now with a thriving small business, can buy clothes and pay their childrens’ school fees. It’s lead to improved health and better living conditions. It’s very exciting stuff.

Jackley is definitely a young lady who believes in the innate goodness of people—and that people actually want to give sacrificially (“It’s where a lot of our joy comes from,” says Jackley). I really have no comment on that point, sufficed to say that she has a very charitable attitude, and that it’s wonderful that Kiva‘s experiencing such phenomenal success.

What I see in something like Kiva is a great potential for those of us here in the developed world to love our neighbor in an exceedingly practical way, and one that we might not have otherwise.

andrew-rugasiraAndrew Rugasira, Good African Coffee

Andrew Rugasira’s session was Thinking Forward: Aid vs. Trade. The Founder and CEO of Good African Coffee, Rugasira, a graduate of the University of London (where he received an honors degree in Law & Economics from the School of Oriental and African studies), is incredibly passionate about seeing Africa taking a strong position in the world economy. He wants to change the perspective the world holds about Africa. And that means ending changing our mindset from aid to trade. Because, as Rugasira believes, handouts don’t develop people and nations.

“There is no country in the world that was developed by handouts—so why is Africa different? Africans are looking for the same opportunities as an American, English [or] Indian entrepreneur. [We're] not looking for a handout.”

The statistics are startling. Between 1970 and 2000, Africa received $400 billion in aid. And during that time, the GDP dropped and conditions worsened. Rather than making the situation better, it actually made it worse. 

“[Aid] creates a culture of dependency. It undermines the  integrity and dignity of recipient countries,” says Rugasira.

“Integrity is being truthful about what you need to do to get out of a situation.” Aid (in the sense that Rugasira is speaking of) completely undermines this. “People have lost faith in themselves. [They believe] that they can’t do anything. That help only comes from outside… [And we want] the opportunity to bring quality products to the market and help Africans help themselves.”

Rugasira’s message is refreshing. I often struggle with the question of how much good are we really doing by doling out billions of dollars a year in foreign aid. When some countries have as much as 40 percent of their budget coming from aid, you know there’s something wrong with the system. I think aid in the sense of emergency, life saving assistance is incredibly important and necessary, which is why I’m grateful for organizations like the Red Cross, World Vision and several others. But I think it’s necessary that we look to assisting the poor around the world develop the skills required to not only aleviate poverty, but transform their society. That’s why it’s good that organizations like Good African Coffee and even Compassion exist.

bonoBono

We all know who Bono is, love him or hate him. And depending on the church, you won’t be the least bit surprised to hear at least one or two U2 songs in the worship set.

Honestly, for Bono’s part of the Summit, I’m not sure even how necessary it was. It didn’t really add anything except a bit of Bono. There was one great line thrown out in his interview with Bill Hybels, though, so perhaps that’s the reason he was there. In speaking about the Church’s sudden ramp up to assist the poor, particularly with HIV/AIDS treatment, Bono said, “As a person who’s really giving off about the Church, you have completely ruined it for me, because the Church has done incredible things, and… I’m taken aback. I think we referred to it [the Church] as the sleeping giant, but I didn’t know the giant could run that fast. And there’s no doubt in my mind that had the church not woken up on the issue of AIDS, we would not have two million Africans on retro-viral drugs. That simply would not have happened.”

That was a nice, albeit backhanded, encouragement, I suppose. It was enjoyable to see Bill Hybels get a few digs in at Bono for not being involved in a local church.

And that is my big take-away from Bono’s session at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit.