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Archive for the ‘Discipleship’ Category

What kind of church do we want Cornerstone to be? Do we want to be a “Christian ghetto church” that withdraws from the community, concerned only about the people we have and those who happen to find us? Are there not ways that we intentionally can share Christ with others? Perhaps we can open our homes to unbelievers and lead conversations to aspects of the gospel, something the Lord would use to soften hearts and draw unbelievers unto himself.

Are there ways that we can inform others of some of our beliefs? There really are Christians looking for “a Cornerstone,” but they don’t really know that we exist. Oh, they may know there is a church called “Cornerstone,” but they don’t realize that we hold to Reformed doctrine. How can we better get that word out?

Unfortunately, many who are satisfied with today’s typical Baptist church culture assume that’s what we are. When they visit, they discover otherwise and don’t return. Others are looking for a Reformed fellowship and assume that we are basically the same as any other Baptist church, so they don’t even look into Cornerstone to learn what we’re about. How can we better inform the community? Don’t assume they know. Most do not.

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Thinking about prayer, Alistair Begg has shared some useful observations about prayer that we should find helpful:

“If our prayer is meager, it is because we regard it as supplemental and not fundamental.

“We can do more than pray after we have prayed but not until we have prayed.

“We do not pray for the work. Prayer is the work and preaching is gathering up the results.

“God does not delay to hear our prayers because he has no mind to give; but that by enlarging our desires, he may give us the more largely” (William Philip, Why We Pray, 16).

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Dr. Ray Ortlund, pastor of Immanual Church in Nashville, Tennessee, addresses a fundamental issue confronting American churches, and this is certainly true of many, many Baptist churches: ““The need of our times is the re-Christianization of our churches, according to the gospel alone, in both doctrine and culture, by Christ himself. Nothing less than the beauty of Christ will suffice today, though what a renewed church will look like may, at present, lie beyond our imaginations” (The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ, 18-19).

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Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse [1895-1960], longtime pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, commented on the sad case of Cain: “He started with human reason as opposed to divine revelation; he continued in human willfulness instead of divine will; he opposed human pride to divine humility; he sank to human hatred instead of rising to divine love; he presented human excuses instead of seeking divine grace; he went into wandering instead of seeking to return; he ended in human loneliness instead of in divine fellowship. To be alone without God is the worst thing that earth can hold, to go thus into eternity is, indeed, the second death” (Genesis, 38-39).

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Jesus says some things about discipleship that are shocking to twenty-first-century ears and rarely repeated in pulpits. For instance, Jesus said, “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law” (Luke 12:49–53). We must not think casually about following Jesus.

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I was not a little intrigued to read an article by Jonathan Elliott entitled “I’m gay, liberal, open-minded – and a convert to Christianity.”

Within Mr. Elliott’s circle of friends, claiming to be a Christian seriously raises eyebrows: “My conversion has made me the token ‘church guy’ in my friend group. I can’t tell you the number of awkward conversations I’ve had over the last several weeks about Charleston, the Duggars and the scariness of the uber-awful Quiverfull cult. Whenever something even vaguely religious enters the news cycle, my friends inevitably find ways to lean on me as the church expert, from the sudden disappearance of 7th Heaven in the wake of Stephen Collins’s sexual misconduct, to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and whether anyone would want pizza at a gay wedding anyway.”

Okay, so Mr. Elliott is not a conservative. I get it. Many think that we Bible-believing Christians deem that only those with conservative views and vote Republican can be Christians, and perhaps some conservative Christians do think that. A liberal can be a Christian. A person with a socialistic view of government and economics can be a Christian.

But is Mr. Elliott really a Christian? A Christian is one who has turned from his sin and turned to God through faith in Jesus Christ, looking to the work of Christ on the cross as satisfying divine justice due the repenter’s sin. The apostle Paul speaks of Jesus as the One “who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25). In 2 Corinthians 5:21 Paul writes, “For our sake he [God the Father] made him [God the Son] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus himself commanded, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).

By biblical standards, Mr. Elliott cannot be considered to have converted to Christianity. He may have converted to a church that does not believe the gospel, and his church doesn’t, but he is no true follower of Christ. Mr. Elliott writes, “I’m still the person I was before I became a Christian, and a baptism isn’t a brainwashing. This change in my life didn’t turn me into a raging nutball – at least, I’m no more of one than I ever was.” The Scriptures, though, declare, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

For Mr. Elliott, a diabetes diagnosis led to a good deal of introspection, and his therapy sessions for coping with his disease were “rooted in a belief in a higher power.” He spent two years checking out some twenty congregations of differing denominations and settled on one which displayed “the openness, diversity and the clear sense of tradition I sought. It was also strongly inclusive of the LGBTQ community, and welcomed both women and men as clergy members.” Mr. Elliott found a church that basically reflected his beliefs. Sin and righteousness and repentance and faith in Jesus had nothing to do with it.

And that is sad. I’m sad for Mr. Elliott because he has accepted with satisfaction and a bit of self-congratulation a false gospel instead of the true one. He has deluded himself into believing that he is at peace with God when nothing could be further from the truth. His “conversion” was to reinforce his beliefs with a dose of God mixed in. God is little more that a “higher power” in whom one believes.

And yet Mr. Elliott is not alone. Millions are like him. Conservative folks may respond with, “That’s right! Those progressives never really come to the truth.” Sorry to burst one’s bubble, but many conservatives never really come to the truth, either, at least not about Christ. They confuse conservative values with Christian discipleship. They are for the display of the Ten Commandments and against same-sex marriage. They are dismayed over the removal of God from the public square and yearn for an America long gone, but they have not recognized themselves as condemned sinners who have violated God’s righteousness and stand in dire need of a Savior and redemption. I fear that hundreds of thousands of conservative Baptists and Presbyterians and Methodists and others are no closer to the kingdom of God than Jonathan Elliott. They may hold traditional moral values and may even follow them scrupulously, but they have never truly repented of their sin and fled to Christ for forgiveness and his righteousness. There is no real love for the Lord in their hearts.

May God be pleased to grant both them and Mr. Elliott repentance and faith.

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Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney has been an inspiration to many with his vocal Christian testimony and laudable charity work. On more than once occasion, secularists have been appalled at the coach’s display of religion, while many Christians have found it refreshing, especially in this day.

Things took a turn, however, when the Palmetto Family Council (PFC) announced in May that Coach Sweeney was going to be honored for his Christian testimony and the work of his “All In Foundation.” The reaction from the radical left was immediate, predictable, and intense. Cassie Cope, writing for The State, reported that “Jeff Ayers of S.C. Equality, a gay rights advocacy group, said he is disappointed Swinney accepted an invitation to appear at a fundraiser for an organization that has been outspoken against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. ‘It’s sending the wrong message to the LGBT students, and faculty and supporters of Clemson.’”

Such a reaction from a homosexual advocacy group was not unexpected, but a similar one from a South Carolina legislator was. Todd Rutherford, South Carolina House Minority Leader from Richland, was apoplectic that Swinney would accept the PFC award: “I cannot fathom why Coach Swinney or anyone else would knowingly assist a group whose mission is to fight against equal rights and equal treatment of others. As a state employee, national figure and role model to kids all over the state, Coach Swinney should send a message that he has zero tolerance for discrimination and cancel his appearance.”

So there you have it. A group that promotes the family, opposes abortion, and stands for the historical, not to mention biblical, view that marriage is to unite a man and a woman is charged with “discrimination.” That a Democratic politician holds such a view is no longer surprising. Indeed, that is the national party’s obsession. That a Democratic leader in South Carolina would make such a public statement reveals a culture more depraved than we had imagined. Something about calling evil good and good evil comes to mind, Mr. Rutherford (see Isaiah 5:20).

All of that, however, is beside the point. Coach Swinney, a man who had been honored for his courageous stand for Christianity, quickly caved to the pressure, stating, “I had no idea that I was being invited into a political controversy.” I’m sorry, Coach, but everything in America that is seen as standing for traditional morality is deemed a political offense by the collective voices of depravity.

Coach Swinney, widely considered an honorable man, raised the white flag when the LGBT crowd objected. It was a time to take a courageous stand for biblical truth. The coach failed the test.

Coach Swinney’s giving in to the LGBT bullies has been roundly and rightly criticized. We need remember, however, that we all face such tests, and we shall face them more often as that which was only recently deemed depraved is now deemed normal by most and even divinely blessed by some. The charge of discrimination will grow louder against those who stand for biblical morality. Will we stand or surrender? I don’t bear any animosity towards Coach Swinney. I can only imagine the pressure that a man faces when he enjoys a base salary of some $3.3 million at an institution that would be very much on the side of leftist morality. I know what I hope I would do were I faced with his decision, but I’ll never know exactly because I’ll never have so much money on the line and be in his situation. Nevertheless, anyone who so caves to the LGBT pressure is wrong, whether it’s Coach Swinney or you or me.

Unfortunately, such decisions are not mere matters of opinion. When we fail to stand for what the Scriptures clearly teach, and the Scriptures are clear about homosexuality, we deny the God of those Scriptures. The words of Jesus are haunting, “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:32-34 [ESV]). We can’t have it both ways: affirming Jesus on the one hand and denying his Word on the other.

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I’ve subscribed to Tabletalk since 1994, if I remember correctly, and believe that no other daily devotional comes close to this monthly publication. Besides the daily devotionals, no fluff there, each issue includes several in-depth articles examining the theme of the month from different angles. My subscription will expire in a couple of months, so I’ll soon renew it for another three years to get the best rate and not to have to renew next year. Check it out here. You can try it for three months for free. Do your mind and soul a favor by subscribing.

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Often persons think that being a member of a local assembly of Christians makes them right with God individually. If that were true, the apostle Paul would not have admonished: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Corinthians 13:5, ESV). Just because we are associated with others who are following Christ does not necessarily mean that each one of us is following Christ individually.

The Bible clearly tells us to “repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). If anyone in an evangelical church is asked whether he has repented of his sins and believes the gospel, he is likely to answer in the affirmative. One cannot help but question the sincerity of a person’s repentance and belief if that person is known to sin without concern. Far too many professing Christians miss worship on Sunday because they had rather hunt or fish or even do work that is not required to be done. Church members make ungodly statements on Facebook, fail to return things borrowed, fail to acknowledge all their income when paying taxes. In these and many other ways, professing believers reveal the insincerity of their repentance.

Thomas Manton (1620-1677) gave us this warning: “If an unregenerate man should leave off sin under fear of death or hell, it would not be out of hatred to sin, but out of the fear of the punishment, as the bird is kept from the bait by the scarecrow.” Similarly, William Gurnall (1617-1679) wrote: “Take heed thou prayest not with a reservation, be sure thou renounces what thou wouldst have God remit. God will never remove the guilt as long as thou entertains the sin. . . . It is desperate folly to desire God to forgive what thou intends to commit. Thou hadst as good speak out, and ask leave to sin with impunity, for God knows the language of thy heart, and needs not thy tongue to be an interpreter. . . . Hypocrisy is too thin a veil to blind the eyes of the Almighty. Thou mayest put thy own eyes out, so as not to see Him; but thou canst never blind His eyes that He should not see thee.”

Someone may immediately protest: “You have no right to question the genuineness of my repentance and faith in Christ just because I attend worship irregularly or because I make some comments you disapprove.” The purpose here is not for any of us to examine anyone else. The purpose before us is to examine ourselves. Paul wrote: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith.” We need to ask ourselves: “Do I truly repent of my sins? Am I really trusting in Christ? If I am, what does my life say about my profession?”

Matthew Henry (1662-1714) provides counsel as applicable today as when he penned his thoughts: “By repentance we must lament and forsake our sins, and by faith we must receive the forgiveness of them. By repentance we must give glory to our Creator whom we have offended; by faith we must give glory to our Redeemer who came to save us from our sins. Both these must go together; we must not think either that reforming our lives will save us without trusting in the righteousness and grace of Christ, or that trusting in Christ will save us without the reformation of our hearts and lives. Christ hath joined these two together, and let no man think to put them asunder. They will mutually assist and befriend each other. Repentance will quicken faith, and faith will make repentance evangelical; and the sincerity of both together must be evidenced by a diligent conscientious obedience to all God’s commandments. Thus the preaching of the gospel began, and thus it continues; still the call is, Repent, and believe, and live a life of repentance and a life of faith.”

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More books claiming to contain the secret for helping churches grow and influence their communities are written annually than any pastor has time to scan, much less peruse. I sometimes wonder if we pastors and other church leaders too often look to the latest writing of a church-growth guru than we seek to understand what the Bible itself says about the church.

In the short epistle to Titus, the apostle Paul delineates how the church can successfully fulfill its divine role. He points not to programs and activities but to people and beliefs. He realizes that leaders must be faithful, doctrine must be pure, and living must be godly before methods and projects can be effective.
Paul writes to Titus that it is vital that churches have pastors who meet godly criteria (1:5-9). They must exhibit blamelessness in their family relationships by being morally pure men who lead their homes in a faithful manner. They must demonstrate blamelessness in their relationships toward others by not being self-willed, quick-tempered, given to alcoholic beverages, violent, or greedy for money. Instead, they must be hospitable, promoters of good causes and good people, sober-minded, just, holy, and self-controlled. They must illustrate blamelessness in doctrine by being devoted to God’s Word.

Believers must also recognize the characteristics of false leaders and expose them for what they are (1:10-16). Those who claim to come in the name of Christ and yet are insubordinate, subversive, greedy, disreputable, unsound, defiled, and hypocritical reveal that they are not true men of God.

Christians comprising the local church must behave properly as the people of God in their relationships with each other (2:1-10). Regardless of age, gender, or social status, they must lead godly lives, motivated to do so because of God’s grace, the Lord’s soon return, and his sacrificial death (2:11-15).

They are also to fulfill their role in society as good citizens (3:1-8). They must willingly submit to the laws of the state, unless those laws contradict the laws of God. Christians must treat their fellow citizens with courtesy, honesty, and respect, realizing that at one time they themselves were without Christ, living contrary to God’s will. When believers reflect upon the grace of God in their salvation, they are able to give evidence of that grace in their relationships with their fellow citizens.

The church must be careful, however, to present one voice to the listening world (3:9-11). Those within the church who are guilty of spreading false doctrine and divisive talk must be totally avoided. They are not to be debated; they are to be rejected.

Finally, godly leaders are to recognize some significant principles about their roles within the church (3:12-15). They must realize they are replaceable, must give needed support to faithful ministries, must provide proper leadership by their encouragement and example, and must demonstrate appropriate affection to other believers.

If we endeavor to fulfill God’s role for us as a church, we will follow the lessons learned from Paul’s letter to Titus. These instructions are not to be shunned because they were delivered to another culture during another era. They transcend the centuries of time, the boundaries of geography, the impressions of culture, and the superficiality of yet another method.

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A new year is upon us, and a new round of resolutions are being made. While the cynical belittle the making of resolutions as an exercise in futility, most folks still hold out hope that this year those resolutions are going to stick.

Jonathan Edwards serves as an example of healthy resolutions. Edwards, by the way, did not see the keeping of his resolutions as making him right with God. God had done that by grace through faith in Christ. Nor did Edwards believe that he could keep these resolutions out of sheer will power. He explained, “Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.”

Edwards resolutions are worthy of serving as a model for those of us who would seek to live unto the glory of God. While space prohibits sharing all of them (a list of at least seventy resolutions has been compiled), carefully examine the first ten. By the way, Edwards sought to remind himself of his resolutions by trying to read through the list once a week.

1. Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God’s glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriads of ages hence. Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many and how great soever.

2. Resolved, to be continually endeavoring to find out some new invention and contrivance to promote the aforementioned things.

3. Resolved, if ever I shall fall and grow dull, so as to neglect to keep any part of these Resolutions, to repent of all I can remember, when I come to myself again.

4. Resolved, never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God; nor be, nor suffer it, if I can avoid it.

5. Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.

6. Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.

7. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.

8. Resolved, to act, in all respects, both speaking and doing, as if nobody had been so vile as I, and as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings as others; and that I will let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion of my confessing my own sins and misery to God.

9. Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.

10. Resolved, when I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom, and of hell.

Edwards was consumed with the truth that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. As we enter the new year, we would do well to observe Edwards’ example.

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