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Posts Tagged ‘Discipleship’

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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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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Spring commencement exercises have come and gone. Speakers throughout the country encouraged the new grads to be extraordinary, to rise to the top, to follow their passions, to make a difference in the world.

The church often repeats that message, exhorting its youth not be settle for the ordinary, to rise above the common folk in the pews, to do extraordinary feats for Christ, to be radical. That sounds good, but is it biblical?

I have talked with college students who have been counseled by their para-church college ministry leader to put aside marriage for a few years and devote their time to some sort of college ministry. These students love the Lord and want to serve him. They do not want simply to join a church and settle into a comfortable life of ease. I love their enthusiasm and fervor.

Such a view, however, problematic. It equates following Christ, really following Christ with doing the spectacular. My counsel to young Christians is that God is glorified through the natural course of living. With the exception of a believer who God has called to a life of singleness and celibacy, we are to marry and have children and establish godly homes. The husband is to provide for his family, so getting a job which will do that is a good thing. I don’t find any scriptural injunction to delay that for a temporary ministry or mission. The closest one may get is Paul’s suggestion about the present distress in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 7, but that was a circumstance peculiar to whatever was going on in Corinth.

On more than one occasion I have talked with young men involved in a courting relationship who were counseled by their college ministers to delay marriage in order to undertake a particular college ministry for a few years. It sounds noble, and it sounds like the type of sacrifice to which the Bible calls believers. The trouble, though, is that “it sounds,” but it isn’t. In reality, it seems to contradict the Scriptures and would lead such young men into unnecessary temptation (see 1 Corinthians 7:1-2).

Well-intentioned Christians have a knack for making complicated what the Bible makes relatively clear. God has not called us to pursue the heroic. He has called us to the ordinary. The purpose of the ordinary, however, is not a matter of pursuing creature comfort. It is a matter of pursuing God and glorifying him through the means that God has established. God has instituted marriage (Genesis 2:21-25; Matthew 19:4-6). God commands us to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28). Couples unable to have children often adopt. The Scriptures enjoin us to provide for our families (1 Timothy 5:8). We are to glorify God in all that we do (1 Corinthians 10:31). We find discipleship and nurture in the local church (Hebrews 10:24-25).

I cannot help but wonder whether this call to do the extraordinary and radical is little more than an appeal to our individual egos. We don’t want to be “ordinary.” We want others to know how valuable we are to the cause of Christ. And that’s a problem. The focus becomes “us.”

There are individuals that God sovereignly places in situations in which they do what are perceived to be notable achievements. Most believers, however, are called to the “ordinary,” to marriage and family, to employment, to learning and ministering through their local church, and to being a godly influence upon their neighbors and their fellow employees. May we not see such a life as a “lesser” form of Christian living. The Bible doesn’t.

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You better watch out / You better not cry / Better not pout / I’m telling you why / Santa Claus is coming to town
He’s making a list / And checking it twice / Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice / Santa Claus is coming to town
He sees you when you’re sleeping / He knows when you’re awake / He knows if you’ve been bad or good / So be good for goodness sake!

Probably all of us, or at least most of us, recall some time during our childhood when an adult repeated at least a portion of the words from “Santa Clause Is Coming to Town” during the weeks preceding Christmas. We were being less-than-nice and received the warning that if we did not do better, Santa wouldn’t bring us any gifts. It probably had an effect on us for a few minutes or perhaps a couple of hours.

My thinking about this Christmas song has nothing to do with parenting (I could go there, but I’ll resist!), but it does have something to do with obedience. Many folks, of course, view God the way many children in our culture are taught to view Santa. If you want to be blessed with a good job and a nice house, etc., you had better be good because God is watching. If you are “naughty,” you will forfeit these good things.

That is really a sad way to live. One learns to equate being “good” or “bad” with earning or forfeiting God’s favor. It degenerates into a view of salvation based upon works. If you are “good,” God rewards you with heaven. If you’re bad, God punishes you with hell.

Recognizing that we are saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ, that our works do not earn God’s favor (Ephesians 2:8-9), we recognize that such an attitude towards obedience is an affront to a gracious and merciful God. And yet we are to obey God’s Word (Ephesians 2:10), though we do it because he has favored us, not in order to earn his favor.

One of the great lessons of the Christmas season is that of submission. When the angel Gabriel announced to the virgin Mary that she would miraculously conceive and give birth to the Messiah, she could have protested that her reputation would be ruined. She could have submitted to God in order to gain God’s favor or from fear of punishment.

Mary, though, had been told that she was God’s “favored one,” that “the Lord is with you,” that she had “found favor with God.” She had not earned God’s favor. God had granted it according to his good pleasure.

When told that she would miraculously conceive and bear a son, that his name would be Jesus, that “he will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High,” and that he would receive the throne of David and reign forever, she expressed confusion, seeking to understand how a virgin could bear a son. When the angel answered, she submitted to the will of God: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

For Mary, submitting to the will of God, regardless of the potential sacrifice and reproach, was the only thing that mattered. With heartfelt joy she praised God, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47).

The happy Christian is the one who is surrendered to the will of God. When he finds a command in the Bible, he does not hedge or attempt to rationalize away its meaning. Even in the face of the loss of business, friends, or prestige, he joyfully obeys the Word of God. He realizes that the precepts of God are always for his good and for God’s glory, and he obeys out of gratitude for God’s grace.

May this season of celebrating the coming of Christ be an especially joyous one as we seek to be submissive to his Word.

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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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The word “discipline” doesn’t create a great deal of joy when it is offered. Kynette and I have close friends in Kentucky who have a son named Jacob. A couple of years ago, Jacob was on a “I hate discipline” kick. “‘Discipline’ is a dirty word,” he would moan. His moaning would evoke my truthful teasing: “‘Discipline’ is a lovely word; it is a beautiful word. We need discipline.”

Fallen nature is generally not in love with the idea of discipline, especially self-discipline. We may not mind, indeed, we may even applaud, the disciplining of others. We can probably wax eloquent on the need for others to exercise self-discipline in areas of their lives. After all, we all know somebody who needs to back away from the table a little sooner, who needs to stay out of the mall or viewing the Home Shopping Network channel on TV, who needs to work more (or perhaps work less), or who needs to do more or less in some area in which they’re not measuring up to our standards.

Really, aren’t we really being quite spiritual in desiring others to be more self-disciplined?

Lord, help me live from day to day
In such a self-forgetful way
That even when I kneel to pray
My prayer shall be for others.

Yes, “discipline” is a beautiful word for others, but we’re really like our young friend Jacob when it comes to discipline in our own lives. We desire comfort, pleasure, and taking it easy. “‘Discipline’ is a dirty word,” we moan.

Political candidates appeal to this “discipline is a dirty word” mindset when they run for legislative office. Americans have become a self-satisfied and soft people who disdain the practice of self-discipline and responsibility. Did people take out a mortgage that they’re unable to pay? Not to worry—the government will take care of you. Did a woman have sexual intimacy outside of marriage and now finds herself having conceived a child? No problem—our nation has legislated unborn baby killing on demand (if my words sound too harsh to delicate ears, consider how harsh the saline solution is to the unborn child).

Unfortunately, professing Christians fare little better when it comes to the concept of discipline. We want a Christianity which really requires little of us that contradicts our inclinations. We’re all for reading our Bibles, praying, evangelism, corporate Bible study and worship—when we’re inclined to do it. We wonder why our progress in the faith is so slow and why our thinking is so worldly.

The problem is that our inclinations are controlled by our flesh, and we know that our flesh does not yearn for the things of God. Our inclination is to turn on the television or pick up a novel. Our inclination is to sleep in on Sunday morning, or at least sleep during the sermon.

The Bible, though, puts a heavy emphasis upon discipline, especially the discipline of ourselves. Paul understood this well and recognized the necessity of self-discipline in his own life: Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:25-27, ESV). Our Lord insisted that self-discipline is the necessary mindset for his disciples: “And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me’” (Luke 9:23, ESV).

Far from being a “dirty” word, discipline is a necessity. It is a necessity to be Christ’s disciple; it is a necessity if we are to grow in godliness.

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With his sights focused upon Christianity, noted 19th-century revolutionary Karl Marx famously railed that “religion is the opiate for the masses.” Psychologist Sigmund Freud contemptuously opined, “Religion is an attempt to get control over the sensory world, in which we are placed, by means of the wish-world which we have developed inside us as a result of biological and psychological necessities.” To Marx and Freud, Christianity is only wishful thinking. It merely serves to get people through life, helping them cope with their inability to overcome perplexities and problems too large for them to grasp.

Are Marx, Freud, and like-minded critics of Christianity right? I think they are, at least in the case of many professing Christians. Before you have an apoplectic reaction, please carefully consider the following. For too many, Christianity is simply wishful thinking, with its adherents living life as they choose while having their religion to support them in times of crisis or distress. In other words, their “Christianity” really has little to do with their daily living.

Consequently, they pay little attention to biblical commands which they find unpalatable. If they cannot get along with their spouse, they see divorce as the solution. After all, God wants them to be happy, doesn’t he? If the political candidate of their party favors abortion on demand, that’s not a problem. After all, he promises to take care of the poor and the middle class, and God wants them to be financially secure, doesn’t he? If a fellow church member is living in open sin, we must simply love that person and pray for him, mustn’t we? After all, if we confront him about his sin, he will leave the church and we will never reach him. Surely God doesn’t want that, does he? The Bible commands believers to worship together on the Lord’s Day, but it won’t hurt to miss on days when our son has a soccer game scheduled, will it? After all, we need to teach our son the importance of being committed to his team, don’t we?

Twentieth-century literary scholar C. S. Lewis observed,

Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.

Unfortunately, for too many professing Christians, their religion is only moderately important in their lives. While they may go to church on Sundays and proclaim their love for God, their faith plays little role in their work, their recreation, their home, and their politics. While claiming with their lips the infinite importance of Christianity, they proclaim with their lives that it is of no real importance.

What H. Richard Niebuhr wrote about Protestant liberalism could be applied to too much of twenty-first-century evangelicalism:

A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.

Theological liberalism reshapes the God of the Bible into an idol of its own imagination. If we justify our failure to obey biblical commands and principles, we do the same.

How important is the faith to you? Jesus cares nothing for our tepid discipleship:

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. . . .  So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:26-27, 33).

No one and no thing must come between the follower of Christ and his Lord. Christ is not merely added to one’s life; he becomes one’s life. While we will never be all we should be for God, let’s not join those whose Christianity is little more than a crutch to get them through the distresses of life.

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