Thursdays With Spurgeon—Be Careful

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

Be Careful

Having a form of godliness but denying its power…. (2 Timothy 3:5)

     Time was when to be a Christian was to be reviled, if not to be imprisoned and perhaps burned at the stake. Hypocrites were fewer in those days, for a profession cost too much. …  Today religion walks forth in her velvet slippers. And in certain classes and ranks, if men did not make some profession of religion, they would be looked upon with suspicion. Therefore men will take the name of Christian upon them and wear religion as a part of full dress. …

     I do not doubt that a form of godliness has come to many because it brings them ease of conscience and they are able, like the Pharisee, to thank God that they are not as other men are. … 

     Many who have the form of godliness are strangers to its power and so are in religion worldly, in prayer mechanical, in public one thing, and in private another. True godliness lies in spiritual power, and they who are without this are dead while they live. … 

     In the depths of winter, can you warm yourself before a painted fire? Could you dine off the picture of a feast when you are hungry? There must be vitality and substantiality—or else the form is utterly worthless and worse than worthless, for it may flatter you into deadly self-conceit. Moreover, there is no comfort in it. The form without the power has nothing in it to warm the heart, to raise the spirits, or to strengthen the mind against the day of sickness or the hour of death. … 

     If you tremble at God’s Word, you have one of the surest marks of God’s elect. Those who fear that they are mistaken are seldom mistaken. If you search yourselves and allow the Word of God to search you, it is well with you. … 

     If the Spirit of God leads you to weep in secret for sin and to pray in secret for divine grace, if He leads you to seek after holiness, if He leads you to trust alone in Jesus, then you know the power of godliness, and you have never denied it.

From The Form Of Godliness Without The Power

Spurgeon mentioned the Pharisee that said, “God, I thank You that I am not like other people. Especially like that tax collector over there.” Jesus said that the tax collector who humbly said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” is the one who went home justified by God (see Luke 18:9-14). 

That’s where the warning comes in. When we begin to compare ourselves to others, when we begin to say, “I’m better than him” or “At least I don’t mess up as bad as she does,” instead of judging ourselves by God’s standard, we are in real danger of having merely a form of godliness without any real power. 

Paul said, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall,” and challenged each of us to “test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else” (1 Corinthians 10:12; Galatians 6:4). 

I would challenge everyone that calls themself a Christian to be careful! Don’t fool yourself by saying, “I do all of the things a Christian is supposed to do, so I must be standing firm.” But ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you even your hidden sins, and then just as the tax collector who experienced God’s reassurance in his heart did, pray: “God, be merciful to me. Help me to correct what’s wrong. May my life be godly not just in outward performance, but in the power that can only come from a vibrant, growing relationship with You!” 

Let’s all strive to not only have the form of godliness, but to have the real energizing power of godliness on full display in our daily lives.

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Thursdays With Spurgeon—Do Your Own Growing

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

Do Your Own Growing

Having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. (2 Timothy 3:5) 

     But now, as these people had not got the power of godliness, how did they come to hold the form of it? This needs several answers. Some come by the form of godliness in a hereditary way. Their ancestors were always godly people, and they almost naturally take up with the profession of their fathers. … 

     Not generation but regeneration makes the Christian. You are not Christians because you can trace the line of fleshly descent throughout twenty generations of children of God. … Grace does not run in the blood. If you have no better foundation for your religion than your earthly parentage, you are in a wretched case. … 

     I have seen the form of godliness taken up on account of friendships. Many a time courtship and marriage have led to a formal religiousness but a lacking heart. … Godliness should never be put on in order that we may put a wedding ring upon the finger. This is a sad abuse of religious profession. …  

     I put these things to you that there may be a great searching of hearts among us all and that we may candidly consider how we have come by our form of godliness. … 

     Let me remind you of the questionable value of that which springs out of fallen human nature. Assuredly, it brings no one into the spiritual kingdom, for ‘that which is born of the flesh is flesh.’ Only ‘that which is born of the Spirit is spirit’ (John 3:6). ‘You must be born again’ (3:7). Beware of everything that springs up in the field without the sowing of the Husbandman, for it will turn out to be a weed.

From The Form Of Godliness Without The Power

There’s an old Irish proverb that says, “You’ve got to do your own growing, no matter how tall your grandfather is.” This is equally true for Christians! 

I’m a fourth-generation Pentecostal Christian, which means I was practically raised in a church building. But still I had to come to a point in my life where I had to decide: Do I believe that Jesus is my Savior just because my parents and grandparents believed this, or because I truly believed it for myself. All of us, regardless of our parentage, have to make this choice. 

Those who simply call themselves Christian without ever examining the root of their faith are those the apostle Paul described as having a form of godliness without the power, or what Spurgeon describes as a weed. But most sobering of all are those Christians-in-name-only to whom Jesus will say, “I never knew you.” 

Please, my friend, make the choice to follow Jesus as your Lord and Savior because you have personally put your faith in Him.

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Thursdays With Spurgeon—No Fear Of Inspection

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

No Fear Of Inspection

Having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. (2 Timothy 3:5) 

     Paul warns us of certain characters that will appear in the last times. It is a terrible list. The like have appeared in other days, but we are led by his warning to apprehend that they will appear in greater numbers in the last days than in any previous age. ‘People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God’ (2 Timothy 3:2-4). … 

     The raw material of a devil was an angel bereft of holiness. You cannot make a Judas except out of an apostle. The eminently good in outward form, when without inward life, decays into the foulest thing under heaven. You cannot wonder that these are called perilous times, in which such characters abound. … 

     Those who constantly associate in worship, unite in church fellowship, and work together for sacred purposes have a form of godliness, and a very useful and proper form it is. Alas, it is of no value without the power of the Holy Spirit. 

     Some go farther than public worship. They use a great deal of religious talk. They freely speak of the things of God in Christian company. They can defend the doctrines of Scripture, they can plead for its precepts, and they can narrate the experience of a believer. …

     That religion that comes from the lips outward but does not well up from the deep fountains of the heart is not that living water that will spring up to eternal life. Tongue godliness is an abomination if the heart is destitute of divine grace.  

     When we have done all the work our position requires of us, we may only have displayed the form of godliness. Unless we harken to our Lord and from His presence derive power, we will be as a sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal. Brethren, I speak to myself and to each one of you in solemn earnestness. If much speaking, generous giving, and constant occupation could win heaven, we might easily make sure of it. But more than these are needed. … 

     O my active and energetic brother, remember the word, ‘Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall’ (1 Corinthians 10:12). If any of you dislikes this searching sermon, your dislike proves how much you need it. He that is not willing to search himself should stand self-incriminated by that unwillingness to look at his affairs. If you are right, you will not object to being weighed in the balances. If you are indeed pure gold, you may still feel anxiety at the sight of the furnace, but you will not be driven to anger at the prospect of the fire. Your prayer will always be, ‘Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting’ (Psalm 139:23-24).

From The Form Of Godliness Without The Power

Those who are in right standing with God—in other words, those who are not merely godly in outward appearance only—should have no fear of their lives being inspected. Accountability among fellow Christians is a liberating thing because it keeps us in a place of safety. But even better is when we pray, “Search me, Lord” and then we quickly, and without offering any excuses, correct whatever the Holy Spirit reveals to our hearts. 

In these last days, let us be even more attentive to this!

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4 Ministries Of Healthy Churches

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible.

In the Foreword to my book Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter, Dick Brogden observes, “God plucked David from the sheepfold. God chose a sheep to be a shepherd. And though we all are stupid sheep, when God plucks us out of obscurity to serve others, we can have the humble confidence for as long as we are asked to lead that God has chosen us. That confidence both faithfully drives us to our knees and fearlessly propels us against our giants. It is good to be a sheep; it is good to be an under-shepherd. Just remember you are stupid, chosen by the Wise One, and as long as you serve as a shepherd, you and your flock will be safe.” 

How true it is that all of us are sheep. The role of the shepherd is to care for the sheep and create a healthy environment for them. The role of healthy sheep is to reproduce more sheep. In this, both shepherds and sheep are ministers—we all minister to those God has placed around us. 

God calls all Christians to be ministers. The Church is the sheepfold that equips us, but then we must go out to minister in a way that will bring lost sheep to a personal relationship with Jesus. 

Our foundational truth statement about church ministry says: A divinely called and scripturally ordained ministry has been provided by our Lord for the fourfold purpose of leading the Church in evangelism, worship, sanctification, and compassion. 

(1) Evangelism. When we looked at the foundational belief about the Church, we noted that it’s not either-or—evangelism or discipleship—but it’s both-and. Christians are being the Church when they are intentionally living in a way that makes Jesus known (Matthew 10:1, 7-8; 28:18-20). 

(2) Worship. We shouldn’t have the mindset of, “Let’s go to church to meet with God.” Instead, we need to live in a way where we are always abiding in God’s omnipresence. This worship-centric lifestyle empowers our evangelism, changes our hearts, and fuels our compassion (John 4:23-24; Romans 12:1; Acts 2:46-47). 

(3) Sanctification. Remember that we are all in-process of becoming saints (I like to remember this by calling it saint-ification). We need each other to do this, which is why God gives gifts to bring out Christ-like maturity in us (Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-16). 

(4) Compassion. Compassion is feeling turned into action. This opens the door for evangelism, creates more opportunities for worship, and matures Christians (Mark 6:34-37; Luke 10:33; Acts 2:45).  

Notice that each of these ministries are interdependent with all the other ministries. 

In a blog post nearly 10 years ago, I questioned: “How do we know if our church is successful?  The apostle Paul uses two words to help answer these questions: Quality and Faithfulness (1 Corinthians 3:13, 4:2). 

So here are two important questions we need to ask ourselves: (1) Am I doing quality work? (2) Am I faithfully doing my work? 

To help answer those questions, I like this thought from Leonard Sweet’s book I Am A Follower: “The most important metrics we must rely on, the crucial ‘deliverables’ we can present, must focus on the newly formed lives of the disciples we are making, the followers who are following Christ into a place of serving Him by serving others. The most important measure of our faithfulness to Christ must be the extent of transformation into the living image of Christ Himself. … The quantifiable fruit of our church is not found in the number of people we can gather on a weekly basis. What counts is what is happening in the lives of those who have gathered. 

These are questions we should all ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to us: 

  • What is happening in my life? 
  • Am I telling others about Jesus? 
  • Am I worshipping God so consistently that everyone can see it? 
  • Am I maturating as a saint and am I helping other saints mature? 
  • Is my faith seen in my compassionate actions? 

Our individual answers to those questions will determine the success of our individual churches, which will ultimately determine the effectiveness of the global Church of Jesus Christ. I hope you will take some time to consider these questions for yourself. 

If you’ve missed any of the other messages in our series exploring our foundational beliefs, you can access the full list by clicking here.

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When You’re Unfairly Attacked

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on Apple or Spotify.

Contend, Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me. (Psalm 35:1). 

This psalm is in a category called an imprecatory psalm, which is the theological way of saying, “Get ‘em, God!” 

Does it sound unusual to your ears to pray a prayer like that? After all, aren’t we as Christians commanded to forgive those who offend us? How do we square that teaching of Jesus with these brutally honest prayers that David offers up? 

Always remember that imprecatory psalms are spoken exclusively to God, not to our enemies. So when we pray these prayers, we are really turning the matter over to God. God does the contending and the vindicating—He knows best how to dispense the appropriate judgment. 

David also shares with us several introspective prayers throughout the Book of Psalms, where he asks the Holy Spirit to search him. This heart-searching is interwoven in this imprecatory prayer of Psalm 35, as it should be with our prayers too. 

Notice that David can only say these things with integrity because he had already allowed the Spirit to search his heart, and then he had asked forgiveness and he had repented from any sin (see Psalm 139:23-24; Matthew 5:22-24; 6:12, 14-15). David could point out with a clear conscience what his enemies were doing because David was innocent of these actions himself. Things like… 

  • their attack was without cause (v. 7) 
  • their accusations were purposefully designed to entrap him (v. 11) 
  • they were repaying David’s good work with evil deeds (v. 12) 
  • David had attempted to treat them well (vv. 13-14) 
  • they gleefully piled on more slander when David stumbled (v. 15) 
  • the enemy’s mocking was malicious (v. 16) 
  • they hated me without reason (v. 19) 
  • they invented false accusations against David (v. 20)

After his imprecatory prayer, David resolves to turn his eyes from the bad guys to God. He declares that worship of God will be his comfort (v. 28). What a great example for us still today! 

When you are falsely, unfairly attacked, take these three actions: 

  1. Introspection. Ask the Holy Spirit to search your heart, and then quickly take action where necessary: Ask forgiveness, and repent from sinful thoughts, words, and actions. 
  2. Pray. Remember to share your hurts with God alone. There is no need to unleash your anger on those who have attacked you. 
  3. Worship. As long as my focus is on my trespassers, my focus is off my God. I cannot be consumed by thoughts of “them” because then I rob myself of thoughts of Him! 

Please keep these God-honoring action steps in mind the next time you are unfairly attacked. 

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Things That Diminish Pastoral Ministry

Horatius Bonar pulls no punches when he talks to pastors! Words To Winners Of Souls is a compilation of sermons Bonar preached to fellow pastors. 

These are a list of things that Bonar said would diminish a pastor’s ministry: 

“Seldom in secret prayer with God, except to fit for public performance; and even that much neglected, or gone about very superficially. 

“Glad to find excuses for the neglect of duties. 

“Neglecting the reading of Scriptures in secret, for edifying ourselves as Christians; only reading them in so far as may fit us for our duty as ministers, and oft-times neglecting that. 

“Not given to reflect upon our own ways, nor allowing conviction to have a thorough work upon us. …

“Not guarding nor wrestling against seen and known evils, especially our predominants. … 

“Not praying for men of a contrary judgment, but using reservedness and distance from them; being more ready to speak of them than to them or to God for them. …  

“The matter we bring forth is not seriously recommended to God by prayer, to be quickened to His people. 

“Neglect of prayer after the Word is preached, that it may receive the first and latter rain; and that the Lord would put in the hearts of his people what we speak to them in his name. … 

“Choosing texts whereon we have something to say, rather than those suited to the conditions of souls and times, and frequent preaching of the same things, that we may not be put to the pains of new study. … 

“Not making all the counsel of God known to His people. … 

“Continual employment in the most solemn duties of our office, such as dealing with souls in private about their immortal welfare, or guiding the meditations and devotions of God’s assembled people, or handling the sacramental symbols—this, gone about often with so little prayer and mixed with so little faith, has tended grievously to divest us of that profound reverence and godly fear which ever ought to possess and pervade us.” —Horatius Bonar 

To my fellow pastors, may we especially heed Bonar’s fourth warning and ask the Holy Spirit to help us “reflect upon our own ways” and if necessary to allow Him to bring a “conviction to have a thorough work upon us.” 

Don’t Let Prejudices Rob You

Imagine you had a family member killed in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City or Washington, DC., and then after that horrific event God asked you to go to Osama bin Laden’s headquarters to talk to him about a personal relationship with Jesus. 

I bet you would have felt much like Jonah did when God said, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before Me” (Jonah 1:2). The Assyrians were some of the most brutal peoples of history, perpetrating almost unspeakably grotesque torture on everyone they attacked. 

And if you or I feel that way, it’s a good bet we would have responded like Jonah responded: “Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish” (v. 3). You probably know the rest of the story: Jonah spent three days in the gut of a huge fish before he finally agreed to obey God’s directive. 

It’s interesting to note that God was sending Assyria as His agent of punishment against Israel for all their vile idolatry, AND He was sending Jonah from Israel to Assyria to call them to repentance for their grotesque torture practices.

That tells me something we all need to remember: God cares for ALL people, and He will use whatever means necessary to get the good news of His mercy and love to them. 

Why is the story of Jonah in the Bible? Perhaps to teach us that although we think some person or people group is so beyond hope, God still loves them. It’s a reminder that God extends grace and mercy to everyone—even to those who are the least deserving of His grace and mercy. People like you and me (Romans 3:23, 5:8). 

In Hebrew literature, the main point of the story is found in the middle. In the case of this story, the middle is the prayer in chapter 2, especially verses 8-9 where Jonah contrasts the worthlessness of trying to cling to our prejudices versus trusting who God is and what He says. 

In light of that, I think this story should prompt us to ask three introspective questions: 

  1. What prejudices am I clinging to that are out of alignment with God’s Word? David’s prayer in Psalm 139 is one we should regularly pray. 
  2. Who have I thought is beyond God’s reach? God’s grace isn’t earned by anyone, but no one is beyond the reach of it! 
  3. Can I say as Jonah did, “But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will obey You, God. What I have vowed I will make good” (2:9)? It’s better not to make a vow to God than it is to make the vow and not follow through on it. 

Let’s all learn from the life of Jonah how much God loves ALL people. Don’t get so hung up on your prejudices that you miss out on the incredible things God has for you, as well as the incredible things God wants to do through you. 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in this series on Major Lessons From Minor Prophets, you can access the full list by clicking here. 

Think On This…

Here’s the seed thought for this episode of Think On This

My t-shirt from To Write Love On Her Arms that says, “You make today better.”

Think on this: Am I being intentional about making other people’s today better? Am I expressing my gratitude to those who are making my today better?

Trespassers

Psalm 59 is the prequel to David being betrayed by the Ziphites as well as the incident in the cave between himself and King Saul. 

This psalm is also called an imprecatory psalm, which is the theological way of saying, “Get ‘em, God!” Since King Saul has sent assassins to try to kill David, you can understand why David is praying this way. But I sort of wonder why he inserts a Selah pause after two rather angry-sounding sentences in verses 5 and 13. 

When we are reading—or even praying—an imprecatory prayer, here are some important things to keep in mind: 

  • This prayer is inspired by the Holy Spirit. All of the words in the prayer, including the Selah pauses, are directed by the Holy Spirit. Getting our angry thoughts out in God’s presence is the safest place to vent. 
  • This is a prayer for justice because an injustice has been done, not just a prayer because David is upset with someone. 
  • Since this prayer says, “Get ‘em, God,” it’s a prayer that turns matters over to God as the Ultimate Judge, taking the judgment out of my hands. 

Really this is a prayer that seeks to balance something vital: The desire to see evil punished while at the same time desiring to see all evildoers come to salvation. 

Think of it this way: When I sin, do I want to meet a God of justice or a God of mercy? Since we are to treat others the way that we would want to be treated, if I want to receive God’s mercy, I have to desire that for others too. Even those evildoers who have hurt me. 

David’s first Selah pause comes after saying that he is innocent of any offense or wrongdoing. When we pray an imprecatory prayer, we would do well to ask the Holy Spirit to search our hearts to reveal any trespasses we have committed (see Psalm 19:12-13; 139:23-24). 

David’s second Selah pause comes after he says, “Then it will be known to the ends of the earth that God rules over Jacob.” Is my “Get ‘em, God” prayer a desire for me to be seen as the overcomer or for God to be seen as glorious? 

As long as my focus is on my trespassers, my focus is off my God. 

I cannot be consumed by thoughts of “them” because then I rob myself of thoughts of Him! 

So when you get angry enough at someone who has trespassed against you that you want to pray a “Get ‘em, God” prayer, Selah pause and pray, “Holy Spirit… 

  • …show me my trespasses; 
  • …help me forgive my trespassers; and
  • …help me to focus on my God, and not on my trespassers or my forgiven trespasses.” 

If you have missed any of the other messages in our Selah series, you can find links to all of them listed here. 

Escaping The Devil’s Deception

“Not only does he choose when he will tempt, satan also chooses the best methods for displaying his temptations. One strategy is to hang out false colors. He comes up to the Christian disguised as a friend, so that the gates are open to him before his true identity is discovered. Paul says we should not be shocked to find false teachers masquerading as apostles of Christ, ‘…satan himself is transformed into an angel of light’ (2 Corinthians 11:13-14). Of all his plots, this is perhaps the most dangerous to the saints; when he appears in the mantle of a prophet and silver-plates his corroded tongue with fair-sounding language. In this manner he corrupts some in their judgment by interpreting gospel truth in such a way that God appears to condone questionable behavior. These Christians get caught up in the world’s morality under the guise of Christian liberty. … How we need to study the Scriptures, our hearts, and satan’s wiles, that we may not bid this enemy welcome and all the while think it is Christ who is our guest!” —William Gurnall, in The Christian In Complete Armor (emphasis mine) 

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