Friday, February 29, 2008

The Church Invisible

I heard Steve Brown of Key Life Ministry on the radio today talking about a man who didn't believe in local church membership. He believed every time the word "ekklesia" (church, gathering) is used in the Bible that it's referring to the invisible Church. The man felt that it was enough to trust Christ and be a part of the universal Church. He saw no need for a local church commitment. He would say things like, "I'm a member of the invisible church."

One day, the man came and asked if he could join the choir. His pastor said, "Sure. You can join the invisible choir."

Point well made, pastor!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The church: The body and the bride of Christ

If you think through two Biblical analogies describing the church, I think you can see the fallacy of believing that one can be committed to Christ without being committed to His church.

Remember that the church is called the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22, 23). Jesus is the head and the church is His body. Now, suppose a man wanted to romance his wife and he said something like, “Honey, I want you to know that I really love your eyes, your hair, your smile, your face. I love everything about your head. But I really want nothing to do with your body…” That man would be fortunate to still have his own head after a statement like that! Why? The head and the body go together! It’s impossible to love the one and not the other! In a similar way, I think it's really offensive to Jesus if you say you love Him without a corresponding love for His body, the church.

The church is also called the Bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:22-25; Revelation 19:7; 21:2). Jesus is the Bridegroom and the church is His Bride. Suppose someone invited a man over to his home for dinner. “Please come. We’d love to have you to our home on Friday evening.” The man says, “Thanks so much. My wife and I would love to come.” The host replies, “Oh. I’m sorry. Perhaps you misunderstood. I’m only inviting you over, not your wife. I really don’t care for your wife much at all. I don’t want anything to do with her.” You can imagine that the man would be highly offended and would not accept the dinner invitation. Why? The bride and the groom go together! It’s offensive to seek to relate to one without the other!

If we love Jesus, we must love the church. Jesus and the church go together. So every believer who is seeking to honor Christ must somehow also show honor to the church. Active, committed, servanthearted, loving membership in a local church seems to me to be a reasonable way to demonstrate an active, committed, servanthearted loving relationship with Jesus.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Church Membership

I've been thinking about church membership lately. Some of my friends don't think it's necessary. I graciously (I hope) beg to differ. So, these next few blogs will be about this topic.

Today, many people imagine that they can have an intimate relationship with Jesus without having a vital relationship to the church. Christians have been infected by the culture’s consumerism. It is therefore common for Christians to drift from congregation to congregation. There are many reasons for this. They bounce from church to church usually where their friends lead them or where the pastor happens to give the most moving message or where the music is just right for them or where the programs for their children meet what’s on their wish list. Many have no sense of roots or responsibility, and some never even join a local church.

Some believers are convinced that formal church membership is something churches promote only because of tradition and that it has no biblical basis whatever. After all, weren’t those early Christians free from all the modern entanglements that distract us? Surely they wouldn’t have had something so problematic as church membership at that early date! They didn’t even have the benefit of computerized mailing lists. Everything was so blissfully simple then!

Others in our day think to themselves, “I have a personal faith in God. I’m not a member of any church because a lot of hypocrites are there so I’m not going to join.” They live their lives blindly convinced all is well with their souls.

Still others feel like this: “As long as I’ve identified with Christ, what is the need for me to further identify with a local church? Isn’t it enough to simply call myself a Christian and attend services somewhere regularly? What’s the point of participating membership?”

Yes, there are problems with the whole idea of church membership, at least with the careless way it is so often practiced today. The typical church membership roll includes names of persons who may have left the congregation years ago and are presently attending another church or no church at all. Once a person has been baptized into a local church of a particular denomination, he generally remains a Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, etc., regardless of whether he ever attends church again.

Admittedly, the word “membership” is never used in the Bible. But the word “member” is often used. (See I Corinthians 12.) For believers, membership in a local church is implicitly assumed to be normative throughout the Scriptures.

Let’s get straight to the point. Those who say they have an intimate relationship to Jesus but do not want to have a vital relationship to a local church misunderstand the close connection between Christ and His church. Surely, it hurts Him to see so-called believers neglect, criticize, and wound His body and His bride. Every believer must love what He loved and gave His life for - the church!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Expository preaching
Sometimes, people say, “Why don’t you do more expository preaching?”

The question betrays, in my opinion, a misunderstanding about what expository preaching is.

C.H. Spurgeon was, in the 19th century, the greatest English-speaking expository preacher in his day. Yet, he rarely went verse-by-verse through a book. In fact, he used to be distressed many, many Saturday nights because he didn’t know what text he was going to speak from on Sunday morning.

I have sought, however imperfectly, to be an expository preacher for most all of my ministry.

Expository preaching is quite different from topical preaching.

Topical preaching chooses a topic – like prayer or fasting or grace, etc, – and then pulls in various texts from all around the Bible to build the message. The context is not as paramount a consideration as in expository preaching.

Expository preaching happens when a pastor takes a verse or paragraph of scripture and does a historical-grammatical exegesis of it. Then, the preacher discovers the main idea that God is seeking to communicate through the text. The context of the verse or verses is always in view. Then, all the supporting points for the main idea come straight from the verse or the paragraph being exposited. Other verses are pulled into the passage only as they support the points made in the text being exposited.

I have found that sometimes when people ask, “Why don’t you do more expository preaching?” what they really mean is, “Why don’t you do more verse-by-verse preaching through a book of the Bible?”

I like what expository preacher Bryan Chapell has to say about this issue. Chapell is president of Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, and the author of "Christ-Centered Preaching."

He writes, "It is hard to hold people's attention through a lengthy book, and I typically would not encourage a preacher to extend a preaching series through a book beyond a quarter of the year. I know people really disagree with that, but let me tell you my reasons. If somebody new comes to the church and we are in our thirty-second week of covering Genesis, he or she may think, I missed so much of this, I am never going to catch up with everybody else. Also, our culture is transient. If people are in a church three to five years on average, I may want them to have a broader scope of Scripture's instruction... We must look at our people - what they need, what their experiences are, what their Bible background is - and make prudential pastoral decisions. But I don't think we have to be a [Martyn] Lloyd-Jones, preaching fourteen years through the Book of Romans, to be great expositors. I think we can preach shorter series through books and still be true to our ethic of having God's people see how God's word unfolds."

I do appreciate verse-by-verse expository preaching that systematically works through sections of scripture.
Recently, many of the sermons at CVC have been systematic verse-by-verse or chapter-by-chapter sermons. Last fall, we worked our way through Matthew 6:5-18 verse-by-verse in a series on prayer called “Knees.” Later in the year, we went through II Chronicles 17-20 chapter-by-chapter in a series on an OT character, Jehoshaphat, called "Phat Faith." We exposited Psalm 23 verse-by-verse in a series called "23." And, currently, we are going through the book of Jonah chapter-by-chapter in a series called “Who me?”
So, those at CVC who are fans of verse-by-verse preaching could be satisfied. However, I have noticed that some people aren't satisfied unless the preaching fits their own tastes. That can make preaching even more of a challenge.

Bottom line? Pray for this preacher and his preaching. I regularly spend time in solitude and silence seeking to hear from God about what CVC needs to hear. Pray with me that I truly tune into the Holy Spirit's leading for selecting books, passages, texts for the expository preaching of God's word.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


We've been looking at the book of Jonah for the last two weeks at CVC. Jonah was given a mission from God. Go to Nineveh to tell them they had 40 days to repent. But Jonah ran from God.

And we learned that runners put others at risk. Jonah's running brought on a great storm at sea. And the sailors who were with him on the ship were in great danger. Read Jonah 1. The sailors prayed, “Let us not perish for this man’s life.” Jonah’s running jeopardized the safety of the sailors.

Our disobedience affects other people and makes life difficult for them. I was on the phone yesterday with a dad who has been running from God for a long time. He's put his family at great risk. And right now, his wife has had it. And he is missing watching his child grow up.

Proverbs 13:20b says it this way, "The companion of fools will suffer harm" (ESV).

If you’re in a relationship with a runner, you’re at risk. When you hook up with someone who is running from God, your heart may be pure, but you will be hurt. This is why you should never date people who are runners. This is why you should never marry people who are runners. This is why you should never go into business with people who are runners. If you’re in a relationship with a runner, you’re at risk.

Or look at this another way: If you’re a runner, the people you are with are at risk. Runners especially endanger the people who are closest to them. As a runner’s life unravels, people who are close get hurt. You don’t mean to hurt them. It just happens.

Dad, if you’re a runner, your wife and your kids will be injured by the debris from your life. Teenager, if you’re a runner, your mom and dad and brothers and sisters will pay a price. Spiritual leader, if you’re a runner, the people in your ministry will suffer. Runners hurt people, especially the people who are closest to them. You run, they lose. They lose jobs, houses, friends, reputation. All they did was be in a relationship with a runner.

Maybe your whole family or your business is in a storm right now because you are running from God.

There are some young dads who are at CVC who need to stop running. Maybe you're one of them. God is calling you to know Him and serve Him. God is saying, “Stop running. And don’t wait. Don’t wait until it's too late. Don't wait until you've been too busy making your mark in the world only to find out that success isn’t what you thought it would be. Don’t wait until after the divorce and some other man is tucking your little kids into bed at night. Don’t wait until you’re 45 or 50 and time with your kids running out.”

Runners put others at risk. So, stop running. Start walking with God. You'll be glad you did and so will the people around you.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The heart of the problem

"The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart" (I Timothy 1:5, NASB).

My former pastor, Adrian Rogers, used to say, "The heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart." "For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you" (Mark 7:21, NLT).

The heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart. I agree. It's true for ministry, too. The heart of the minister's problem is the problem of the minister's heart.

Let me explain.

I've been thinking through issues in I Timothy, one of the pastoral epistles. The apostle Paul is giving Timothy Spirit-inspired instruction about church leadership. In I Timothy 1:3-7 he says, "As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions."

Note that some people ("certain persons") are in the church, but have a wrong agenda. Sometimes, people in church are looking for a platform to confidently promote their wrong doctrines, myths, genealogies, speculations, and vain discussions. Paul tells Timothy to watch out for these people. Their aim is wrong. What they produce is not love, but anti-love.

In verse 5, Paul tells Timothy that "the aim of our charge" - "the goal of our instruction" - is love. In a not-so-subtle way, he's saying that the goal of these "certain persons" is not love.

This is challenging. Love defines what we want to be about at CVC. Love God. Love one another. Love the world. That's our aim. I pray for grace that we could hit this target better and better. We have a long way to go.

Note in verse 5 that this kind of love issues first from a pure heart. Yes, our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). But we have been redeemed. God takes out of us a heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh. Old things pass away and new things have come.

So, even though we will never be free from sin in this life, there is a sense in which we can lead from a purified heart. If we don't come to that conclusion, then I Timothy 1:5 doesn't make any sense. On the flip side, then, there is also a sense in which we could lead in the church from an impure heart.

As leaders, therefore, we constantly must be dealing with issues in our hearts. God is always evaluating our hearts. "The LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart" (I Samuel 16:7, ESV). Therefore, we must pray things like, "Lord, show me the impurity of my heart. See if there be any wicked way in me. And cleanse me on the basis of the precious blood of Jesus. Help me lead Your people more and more from a pure heart because I want love for You, for others, and for the world to be what my life and ministry are all about." If we ever come to the place where we think that our hearts are pristine and that we never need to pray "Search me, O God" then we are in trouble and, even, dangerous.

We all have wounded hearts. And on this side of heaven, none of us can fully understand the depravity that exists in our hearts. But some of us are more wounded than others. And some of us are more unwilling than others to look deep into the heart to explore our woundedness.

So, to use Paul's term from I Timothy 1, "certain persons" don't have as their aim love from a pure heart. Perhaps they don't even partially understand the woundedness in their own hearts and, therefore, they haven't dealt with some of the pain that's there. Perhaps it's simply too painful for them to look at their heart because of the severe damage that took place in the past. Perhaps they are seeking to minister from a heart that's deeply wounded. Perhaps there is a void in the heart, a hurt in the heart, a dark place in the heart that has unintentionally and unknowingly become the driving force in their quest to be successful in ministry.

If at the depth of my heart, I'm insecure and asking a question, "Am I loved?" then I will be seeking to validate my worth and value through my ministry. I may read my Bible and pray, but it's not truly to get to know God. Instead, I read my Bible and pray in order to somehow appease an angry God in an effort to manipulate Him to accomplish my agenda so I can validate my existence. I develop vision, goals, plans, strategies, and tactics to get things done. But at the end of the day, the people around me do not feel loved, but used. Why? They have become tools that I used to accomplish something in my attempt to validate my existence. In violation of I Timothy 1:5, the ultimate end of my ministry will not have been love. If my heart is not pure, then my ministry will be more and more about me and less and less about God.

But if at the depth of my heart I'm secure and making a confident assertion, "I am loved!" then I am free to build the kingdom of God without a personal agenda. I read my Bible and pray to get to know God. I feel His pleasure and I am set free to listen to His voice and seek His agenda for my life because I have an abiding sense that He has already validated my existence through Christ. I develop vision, goals, plans, strategies, and tactics to get things done. At the end of the day, the people around me do not feel used, but loved. Why? They have become partners that I serve so we can together accomplish something for the glory of God. In fulfillment of I Timothy 1:5, the ultimate end of my ministry will have been love. If my heart is pure, then my ministry will be less and less about me and more and more about God.

This is why it is vital to spend regular unhurried time with God day after day after day. It's in that time with God that we experience the brokenness, repentance, confession, cleansing, affirmation, encouragement, and blessing needed to keep the heart as pure as possible this side of heaven.

So, Christian leader, guard your heart! "Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life" (Proverbs 4:23, NASB). We must be vigilant about the heart of the problem in ministry... our own hearts. "Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers" (I Timothy 4:16, ESV).

Sunday, February 10, 2008


It's almost time for spring training. Baseball is on the way. I'm glad.

When I was a young man, I had an idol. Baseball. I wanted to be an all-star, a world series MVP, and maybe someday make it to the Hall of Fame. But I have to admit that it was all about me. Baseball was an end in itself. It was my idol.

God had a different idea. He had a calling, a mission for my life. He wanted me to be all about building His kingdom. Baseball was not supposed to be an end in itself, but a means to an end. God said, "Glorify Me by building My kingdom."

But I said, “Me first.” And I ran. I ran from God.

One day, when I was playing a baseball game in Nashville, I made it to first base somehow. And the pitcher tried to pick me off. I dove back into the bag. I was safe. But when I got up, my shoulder was hanging down several inches lower than normal. And I was hurt. I don’t know how many times I had gone back to the bag in that very same way. And nothing bad had ever happened. Baseball players dive into the bag that way all the time.

But this time, I found myself in a kind of physical storm. I didn't know if I would ever be able to throw a ball in from the outfield again. My once good arm was now a liability.

I saw that God was at work through that injury. He was pursuing me. God was saying, “Stop running. Get rid of your idol. Get on mission with Me. Make My agenda your agenda.”

I learned an important lesson: You can run but you can’t outrun God. He got my attention. And I stopped running from God and started walking with God.

I never could throw a ball as well as I threw before the injury, but God let me play baseball another 5 years after that. I saw the game differently, though. I saw it as a means, not an end. I used baseball as a platform to build the kingdom of God. Over those five seasons, several of my teammates came to faith in Jesus through my witnessing and through the Baseball Chapel program and Bible Studies I led.

I hate to think what might have happened to me if God hadn’t dislocated my shoulder – if I hadn’t stopped running – if I hadn’t given up my idol. Maybe I would have married some neurotic woman and wasted the last 30 years of my life.

But I stopped running and God orchestrated a chain of events and I ended up with a great wife, 3 amazing sons, and a ministry in NE OHio that has been fruitful beyond my wildest dreams.

I’m glad God sent that physical storm to me. My shoulder still hurts when I play catch in the yard with my boys. But that’s OK. It’s a reminder of God’s grace. When God engineered the circumstances that resulted in my bum shoulder, He wasn’t getting back at me. He was getting me back.

Monday, February 04, 2008


CVC holds to an unswerving pro-life position.

We believe that all life is sacred, even and especially life in the womb. But we hold to our position with compassion.

Statistics from the Cleveland Pregnancy Center tell us that about one-third of all those in attendance at CVC on any given Sunday, both men and women, may have had some kind of connection to an abortion in the past.

Perhaps that is you. Maybe you were misinformed about the issue. Maybe you regret your decision and now you are dealing with pain and shame.

We want you to know at CVC that we care about you. We value you. You matter to God… and to us.

If the pain of abortion is a part of your past, we want you to know that all of us at CVC have fallen short of God’s glory and, therefore, we all stand with you in need of God’s grace, forgiveness, and mercy. Abortion is not an unforgivable stain on the soul. The blood of Christ that was shed on the cross to cleanse us from the shame of things such as greed and gossip and selfishness also cleanses from the shame of abortion. As we have said at CVC many times, “The ground is level at the foot of the cross.”

If you need to process what’s going on in your heart about a past abortion, please call our Care office at CVC or call the Cleveland Pregnancy Center for support.

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