The Local Church: A Spiritual Daycare Center or an Army Field Hospital?

Spurgeon_armyIt has been said (and I have repeated it often as a pastor of a local Church) that, “The local Church is not a country club; the local Church is a hospital.” And such is true as far as the illustration goes: Christians are not called to simply join a socially elite club and chill. They are called to join a spiritual family with very real needs and hurts and they are called to bear one another’s burdens together. However, people do not generally live forever in a hospital and they are expected to at some point (hopefully sooner than later) make a full recovery. While every situation is different, the goal of hospital care is recovery and release back into normal life activities.

Christians are called to grow and develop in their spiritual maturity and in their lived-out passion for discipleship and evangelism. Yet alarming numbers of Christians don’t even want the local church to be a hospital but rather a daycare center to meet their own personal needs and whims while letting them remain immature and therefore inactive. I’ve been there before in my own selfish heart and it’s not cute or praise-worthy. It’s disobedience–let’s just call it for what it really is–it is sin.

Charles Spurgeon was right when he lamented that, “Alas! Much has been done of late to promote the production of dwarfish Christians. Poor, sickly believers turn the church into a hospital rather than an army.” Every illustration breaks down at some point, but, his point is well taken. I still like the illustration of a hospital though, but with one unique clarification.

Perhaps we should think of the local Church as an army field hospital with a clear objective: the glory of God through the advancement His Gospel. This is not a place for coddling “spiritual weaklings” but for equipping spiritually mature and growing Christians for full engagement in the war-torn harvest field. The operating physician and rehab specialist is the Holy Spirit. The tool is the sharp scalpel of His Word (Hebrews 4:12). The Commander in Chief is Jesus Christ.  As Christians enter and regularly meet with their spiritual army field hospital (and family), they are equipped and re-equipped spiritually and physically to fully engage in spiritual battle for the glory of God in their words and actions. They are not equipped to simply spend their time hanging out or killing time in a civilian hospital visiting area or lounge area raiding the snack machine.

And this is where many of our churches in America have gotten it wrong–and why many Christians are making doctrinal discernment a rarity rather than a normal practice. The Apostle Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 still packs a punch. The desire for spiritual immaturity must be tackled with an “army-strong” focus vs. a “spiritual daycare” mentality: “But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh.” The Apostle Paul hit the problem right in the face in his Corinthian Epistles. When God’s Word and His Holy Spirit are misunderstood and diminished in a local Church, spiritual maturity, fitness and flat-out obedience are also misunderstood and diminished.

It’s time for myself and for other Christians (especially those in America) to think correctly about their calling to a live as God’s army, complete with local field hospitals, yet having no place or purpose for local daycare centers. There’s a reason Charles Spurgeon’s native country of England  is no longer a conduit of spiritual light. Local Churches in his day began functioning as daycare centers rather than remaining as engaged army field hospitals in a very real battle for the Gospel. And that is sadly why many local churches are closing their doors across America as well. But the trend towards anemic apathy can be reversed! It is reversed through Christians understanding, believing, and obeying God’s message of grace to His Church. It’s called being the Church of Jesus Christ!

A Prayer Before Entering the Pulpit


pulpit-viewI taped this Puritan prayer in my preaching Bible a couple years ago and it continued to remind me of the proper mindset needed as I enter the pulpit each Lord’s Day. And although I’m now pastoring and preaching at a different local church to a different family of Christians, I find that I need to be reminded of the truths contained in this prayer more now than ever.

For those of you who have the awesome calling to preach God’s Word, I hope this serves an encouragement and reminder to you of the high calling, joy and responsibility that is yours. Also, for those who may not be called to preach, this prayer might be a help to you as you pray for the men who preach the Word to you.

A Minister’s Preaching (from The Valley of Vision)

My Master God,

I am desired to preach today, but go weak and needy to my task;

Yet I long that people might be edified with divine truth,

that an honest testimony might be born for Thee;

Give me assistance in preaching and prayer, with heart uplifted for grace and unction.

Present to my view things pertinent to my subject,

with fullness of matter and clarity of thought,

proper expressions, fluency, fervency,

a feeling sense of the things I preach,

and grace to apply them to men’s consciences.

Keep me conscious all the while of my defects,

and let me not gloat in pride over my performance.

Help me to offer a testimony for Thyself,

and to leave sinners inexcusable in neglecting Thy mercy.

Give me freedom to open the sorrows of Thy people,

and to set before them comforting considerations.

Attend with power the truth preached,

and awaken the attention of my slothful audience.

May Thy people be refreshed, melted, convicted, comforted,

and help me use the strongest arguments drawn from Christ’s incarnations and sufferings,

that men might be made holy.

I myself need Thy support, comfort, strength, holiness,

that I might be a pure channel of Thy grace,

and be able to do something for Thee;

Give me then refreshment among Thy people,

and help me not to treat excellent matter in a defective way,

or bear a broken testimony to so worthy a Redeemer,

or be harsh in treating of Christ’s death, its design and end, from lack of warmth and fervency.

And keep me in tune with Thee as I do this work.

Mountains, Valleys, and Worship

Rocky Mountain TepeeI’ve always been slightly envious of those who get to live near or among the mountains. I’ve always enjoyed seeing, visiting, and traveling through the mountains, especially the Rocky Mountains out west. Reading Psalm 104 this morning gave me a fresh perspective on God’s continued grace, even in His creation of the mountains and valleys. The Psalmist writes that God created the mountains (and the resulting valleys) to help us see His faithfulness to His covenant to never destroy the world again with water. Also, the Psalmist says that both the mountains and the valleys are reminders to us of God’s goodness in protecting us and providing for us.
Many times the valleys kind of get lost in the majesty of the mountains–but God sees great importance in the valleys. The Psalmist declares that God uses the valleys to give life to His creation as they serve Him as channels of life-sustaining water. Perhaps this helps modify our perspective when we enter into what we perceive to be a “valley experience” in our spiritual walk. In Psalm 104, God doesn’t view valleys as negative things, even though we tend to see valleys (when compared to mountains) as negative or perhaps not nearly as “majestic.” To the Psalmist in Psalm 104, both the mountains and the valleys are intended to cause us to look to our Creator, to worship Him, to trust Him, to obey Him, and to ultimately glorify Him for His faithfulness to His promises. Perhaps going forward, when we enter into what we refer to as a “mountain-top experience” or a “valley experience,” we will see both opportunities as gracious gift from God to help us worship Him better than we ever have before.
Psalm 104:5-15
“He set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be moved. You covered it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains. At Your rebuke they fled; at the sound of Your thunder they took to flight. The mountains rose, the valleys sank down to the place that you appointed for them. You set a boundary that they may not pass, so that they might not again cover the earth.
You make springs gush forth in the valleys; they flow between the hills; they give drink to every beast of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst. Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell; they sing among the branches. From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work. You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart.”

Fear of the Unknown & Resting in Grace

I appreciate these words from Paul David Tripp’s daily devotional for today (New Morning Mercies):

new-morning-merciesYou don’t have to be anxious about the future. A God of grace has invaded your life, and he always completes what he starts.

It’s natural; we all do it. We all wonder about what is to come. Some of us think about the future and hope our dreams will come true. Some of us dread the future and pray that we will not have to face the things that we fear. For some of us, the future seems foggy and unknowable. For all of us, it’s hard to look into the future and be secure, because the future is simply out of our hands. With all of our consideration, meditation, and planning for what is to come, things never turn out the way we envisioned. There are always unexpected turns in the road. There are potholes and ditches we did not anticipate. There are mountains and valleys we just did not foresee. We find ourselves walking through moments of darkness when we thought we’d be living and walking in the light. It doesn’t take long for us to begin to acquiesce to the fact that we don’t ever quite know what is around the next corner.

But we don’t have to live plagued by the anxiety of the unknown. We don’t have to go to sleep wondering what the next day will bring or wake up working our way through all the “what-if’s” we can think of. We don’t have to seek some means to figure out what we will never be able to figure out. No, we can have rest when we are confused. We can experience peace in the face of the unknown. We can fell an inner well-being while living in the middle of mystery. Why? Because our peace of heart does not rest on how much we know, how much we have figured out, or how accurately we have been able to predict the future. No, our rest is in the person who holds our individual futures in his wise and gracious hands. We have peace because we know that he will complete the good things that he in his grace has initiated in our lives. He is faithful, so he never leaves the work of his hands. He is gracious, so he gives us what we need, not what we deserve. He is wise, so what he does is always best. He is sovereign, so he rules all the situations and locations where we live. He is powerful, so he can do what he pleases, when he pleases.

Paul says it well in Philippians 1:6: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Are you experiencing anxiety because you’ve forgotten who you are and what you’ve been given? Are you experiencing the fear that results from trying to know what you’ll never know? He knows, he cares, and he will complete the job he’s begun.

For further study and encouragement: Romans 8:18-39

Paul David Tripp, “February 6.” New Morning Mercies (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014.)

Let Worship Drown Out Fear

stormThe conclusion to the Book of Habakkuk focuses on the mindset that God’s people must have when feeling overwhelmed with the seeming success and exaltation of wickedness in our world and culture.

Habakkuk: “O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and You will not hear? Or cry to You ‘Violence!’ and You will not save? Why do You make me see iniquity, and why do You idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted” (Habakkuk 1:2-4).

The LORD: “If you think it is bad now in your country, you have no idea how much worse it is going to get for you once I send the terrorists of Babylon to bring merciless judgment on your people and on your land because of your consistent sinfulness against Me. You can not even imagine how bad it is going to get in the near future.” (Habakkuk 1:5-11 paraphrased).

Habakkuk: “But, LORD, how can You still be righteous while allowing the obedient in our country to go through times of judgement and oppression while letting the overtly wicked–even the terrorizing enemies of Babylon–to prosper and grow in strength? How can you do this to us, God?!” (Habakkuk 1:12-2:1 paraphrased)

The LORD: “The righteous must live (and will live) by faith. Just as sure as I will raise up Babylon to judge your country for your idolatry, I will surely annihilate the Babylonians one day for their idolatry and wickedness. I am still in absolute control–I haven’t moved any although your country has moved away from Me. Keep trusting Me, obeying Me and worshiping Me” (Habakkuk 2:2-20 paraphrased).

Habakkuk: “Our God has not changed any throughout history. He is still our Creator, He is the One Who sustains us, He is our Protector, our Warrior-Deliverer and the Righteous Judge” (Habakkuk 3:1-15 paraphrased).

“I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me. Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us. Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; He makes my feet like the deer’s; He makes me tread on my high places” (Habakkuk 3:16-19).

One of the overwhelming messages of Habakkuk’s interaction with Jehovah is for God’s people to learn to let worship drown out fear. This requires us to think correctly about God and to live correctly in this world. Correct theology (“right thinking”) produces correct worship (“right living”) that is seen through correctly trusting and obeying God, even when evil appears to be rejoicing and triumphing over righteousness.

Jesus Christ did not promise that the world would get better but He did say that our Light must shine brighter as the world grows darker (Matthew 5:16). He will give us the grace to let our worship of our eternally sovereign Lord drown out the very real yet temporary fears we face as His children who have been commissioned to share Light in a dark and dangerous world that is gladly not our final home.

God’s Truth Reigns

Redefining absolute truth may seem to legally afford a totally depraved human race the liberty to wantonly and openly abandon themselves to indulging in all of the base pleasures and dark fantasies that their sinful nature can imagine or entertain. However, nothing opens the gates of Hell wider and summons the impending wrath of the holy Creator more deliberately than attempting to redefine and declare “inadequate” the gracious, timeless and absolute truths given by their Maker.

imageOnly God’s undiluted truth can conquer the blatant suppression of truth within fallen humanity’s cultures. That is why the Gospel of Jesus Christ shines brighter when it appears to be surrounded by increasing darkness. This is why the Church is still present on this terminally ill  and condemned earth.

The Church is not called to please or coddle the fantasies of their culture. The Church is called to create and equip worshippers of God within a culture that is Hell-bent on self-worship and self-gratification. How does the Church hope to do this? By tenaciously adhering to God’s truth while speaking that same life-changing truth openly in love, all the while depending fully on the grace of God that transformed them from pagan idolaters into children of God. No matter how wide the gates of Hell are thrown open, they will never prevail or successfully defend against the true Church of God’s devastating destruction of Satan’s strongholds. Jesus Christ is continuing to build and advance His Church, whether the darkness approves of it or not. God’s truth reigns and because of that, God’s Church wins in the end.

“I will build My Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)

“I have given them your Word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world. I do not ask that You take them out of the world, but that You keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your Word is truth. As You have sent Me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate Myself, that they may also be sanctified in truth.” (John 17:14-19)

“For the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (Romans 1:18)

 

Regeneration

O God of the highest Heaven, occupy the throne of my heart, take full possession and reign supreme, lay low every rebel lust, let no vile passion resist Thy holy war; manifest Thy mighty power, and make me Thine for ever.

Thou art worthy to be praised with my every breath, loved with my every faculty of soul, served with my every act of life.

Thou has loved me, received me, purchased, washed, favoured, clothed, adorned me, when I was worthless, vile, soiled, polluted.

I was dead in iniquities, having no eyes to see Thee, no ears to hear Thee, no taste to relish Thy joys, no intelligence to know Thee;

But thy Spirit has quickened me, has brought me into a new world as a new creature, has given me spiritual perception, has opened to me Thy Word as light, guide, solace, joy.

Thy presence is to me a treasure of unending peace; no provocation can part me from Thy sympathy, for Thou has drawn me with cords of love, and dost forgive me daily, hourly.

O help me then to walk worthy of Thy love, of my hopes, and my vocation.

Keep me, for I cannot keep myself; protect me that no evil befall me; let me lay aside every sin admired of many; help me to walk by thy side, lean on Thy arm, hold converse with Thee, that henceforth I may be salt of the earth and a blessing to all.

(“Regeneration” from The Valley of Vision, pages 84-85)