Thursday, September 27, 2012

Sometimes helping still hurts

Many of you will remember our adult Sunday School class from two years ago based on the excellent book When Helping Hurts.  Inviting the 'needy' around us to join us in true community and through the community become equipped for a healthier, sustainable lifestyle, as well as learning to lend a contribution of their own to the vibrancy of the community was a refreshing and revolutionary concept for us.  It has significantly affected how we approach our relationship with our Christian friends in Sudan and the needy around us in Minot.  The Chalmers Center which sponsored the book has released a short video reminding us of the basic concept.  You can watch it here.  I'd encourage your small groups to watch it together and discuss how it has shaped your thinking and what strides we still need to take to make truly helping others in the name of Christ more of a living reality.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Encouragement through our union with Christ

"It was several years after I became a Christian that I began to understand the significance of our union with Christ and consciously experience the reality of that union in my daily life.  I knew Christ as my Savior, and I also knew how to practice the basic essentials of the Christian life.  I had a regular quiet time, led a Bible study, memorized Scripture, shared the gospel with others and sought to live an obedient Christian life.  I even memorized many verses of Scripture containing the phrase 'in Christ,' yet I did not realize the significance of that marvelous expression.  My concept of praying for the power to live the Christian life was somewhat akin to a college student writing home for more money.  I might get it and I might not.  I felt destitute, like a spiritual pauper.

Then one day I grasped the significance of what Paul meant when he said that we are 'in Christ.'  The Holy Spirit helped me realize that I was a branch intimately and vitally joined to the vine - not just tacked to the vine but actually a part of it.  I understood that just as the life of that vine flows naturally into the branch, so the life of Jesus Christ flows supernaturally into me.

I later realized that every expression of the Christian life in and through me since the day of my conversion was the result of my union with Christ and, consequently, of His life at work in me.  Every desire to read the Bible and to do God's will, every manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit, be it ever so small, was the living result of my being 'in Christ.'

Our union with Christ is an objective fact that is true whether we realize it or not.  It is also true that, to a degree, we experience the fruit of that union apart from any conscious effort on our part.  For example, at conversion we begin to experience a degree of spiritual enlightenment and understanding of the Scriptures, a degree of change in our desires and affections and some inclination of our wills to live lives pleasing to God.  It is true that just as the life of the vine flows naturally into the branch, so the life of Jesus Christ flows naturally into you and me, causing these changes in our lives."

- Jerry Bridges, True Community, pp. 24-25

Thursday, September 20, 2012

True Community

This week I'm preaching on true Christian community.  One of my frustrations is that (as usual) I have far more to say about this important topic than I have time.  The topic really deserves a book.  Providentially, Jerry Bridges just released a new book called (can you believe it?) True Community.  We already have one copy for our church library and more are on their way for sale on our book table.  But don't wait.  I'd encourage you to click over to Amazon and pick up your own copy soon.  Here is a list of the book's chapters:

  1. Sharing a common life
  2. Union with God
  3. Communion with God
  4. Fellowship and Community
  5. Spiritual fellowship
  6. Partnership in the gospel
  7. Spiritual gifts within the community
  8. Sharing your possessions
  9. Supporting your local ministry
  10. The fellowship of suffering
  11. The fellowship of serving
  12. Social fellowship
I can't wait to read it.  Join me!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

One mark of true Christianity

Two weeks ago in church we explored the two chief marks of true Christianity: faith in Christ alone and a life which is increasingly transformed by Christ's grace.  Part of that transformation which signals true new birth in Christ is biblical repentance.  When many Christians think of repentance, they often either think of the moment of initial repentance when they first heard the gospel, felt sorrow for their sin and turned in faith to Christ, or they think of the sorrow they feel when they commit 'big' sins, like adultery or murder.  Regular, daily, hourly repentance is often very rare in our lives.  Yet, when John the Baptist declared in Matthew 3:8, "Bear fruit in keeping with repentance," he wasn't just talking about large-scale repentance.  The fact that he followed his statement up by speaking of repentance in the midst of very mundane, daily activities like not being greedy in the face of others in need and being content with what God gives us and treating others with kindness (Luke 3:10-14), the Bible shows us that repentance in Jesus' Kingdom is to be a lifestyle which defines us.

The book Gospel Transformation challenges us with the following exercise:

"The following list may help us recognize that repentance needs to be a lifestyle.  Work through it slowly, taking a few moments to meditate on and pray through each item.  Spend more time on those items of particular relevance to you:

  • Lack of prayer
  • Making excuses
  • Desiring to be first/Have my way
  • An unthankful/discontented heart
  • Not denying myself
  • Not listening to others
  • Being harsh with my spouse and children
  • Rarely encouraging others
  • Fearing the opinions of others
  • Not sharing the gospel with joy
  • Wasting time
  • Finding refuge in work
  • Speaking evil of those who oppose me
  • Directing attention toward myself
  • Thinking unkind thoughts of others; assuming the worst of others, not the best
  • Using my success to build a reputation
  • Complaining under the slightest hardships
  • Covering my sin with feeble apologies or trying to make up for it
  • Considering myself more highly than I ought
  • Lusting for what God has not given me
  • Not challenging evil in my world; indifference
  • Excessive use of money for personal pleasure and comfort
  • Passing judgment on others
  • Thinking that someone else needs the gospel more than I do
  • Bragging about myself rather than about Christ
  • Anger with those at odds with my agenda
  • Treating my children and neighbors as if they are bigger sinners than me
The conclusion of the matter should be clear: repentance should be a lifestyle because for us sinning is a lifestyle."  

Praise God for His great grace to us in Christ!