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Im4God Newsletter 02.28.05@

Welcome to the / February 28th, 2005 Newsletter!
You can email Webservant Peter J. Louie by replying to this message.

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Acts 2:37-42 - The Fellowship of the Believers

37When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
38Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off–for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
40With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
42They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

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Membership in the Church by Pastor Dodds (Covenant OPC, Grove City)

In today's world of multimedia, there is no substitute for the visible church.  In today's world of non-commitment, Christians are called to commitment.  Learn about the importance of church membership in this sermon.
Download Sermon Outline

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Choosing Your Church
The Ten Things That Matter Most
By Joshua Harris

The first time Curtis saw the congregation at our church he wasn’t too excited. “As a black man I had always enjoyed the comforts of segregated churches,” Curtis told me later. “When I walked in here, all these folks were singing and had their hands raised to God.” Curtis paused and a playful smile spread across his face. “Man, there were so many white hands in the air I thought it was snowing!”  In spite of his misgivings, Curtis stayed for the meeting. He even came back the next Sunday. He was drawn to the teaching and the depth of faith he saw in other singles at the church. He decided to stay and become a part of this fellowship.

Not that the choice was easy for him. “It had never crossed my mind to go to a church that was predominantly white,” he says. “When you’re black in this country, with all of the history of racism, apart from the saving knowledge of Jesus, your blackness is sometimes all you have left. It totally defines you. But God showed me that I was a Christian first and a black man second. The gospel had to define me. Being in a place that preached and lived the gospel had to be the priority.”

What Matters Most
If you’re ready to decide where to go to church—or not sure if the church you’re attending is where God wants you—you may be faced with difficult choices as well. A lot is at stake. Most of us have a lot of options. And most of us have a lot of preferences, too.
So how do we decide what matters most?

The wisdom you need to choose a church is a little like the wisdom a person needs to choose a spouse. For example, it’s not wrong for a woman to want to marry a man with blond hair who likes Italian food and hiking. But it would be foolish to place these preferences over the priority of him being truly converted and growing in godliness. In the same way, it’s not wrong to want a church with a lot of people your age or to prefer a certain style of worship music—but these are secondary concerns. Curtis’s example is helpful. He chose a church based on the criteria God’s Word gives—not just on his preferences, or what felt comfortable or familiar to him.

In the same way, we need two different lists when it comes to selecting a church—a “must-have” list and a “that-would-be-nice” list of qualities in a church. In this chapter, I want to help you with your “must-have” list.

Ten Important Questions
Use these ten questions to help you explore and understand a church you’re considering. They work whether you’ve been there for two weeks or ten years. This list isn’t exhaustive, and some of the questions will take time to process. But they can help you hone in on the issues that matter most.

1. Is this a church where God’s Word is faithfully taught?

“The kind of church you want to be a part of,” writes Donald Whitney, “is one where, when the Bible is read at the beginning of a sermon, you can be confident that what follows will be built upon it. God made our hearts, and only He knows what we need most. And He made our hearts for the Word of God. Nothing nourishes us like His message.”

A God-glorifying church is governed by God’s Word. Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3:16 that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”

Be careful here. At first glance, most churches will appear to teach God’s Word. You’ll see it printed in the bulletin, written on the walls, or sprinkled through the services. But these references to scripture don’t necessarily mean a church is submitted to God’s Word.

Some teachers start their messages with the Bible, but it’s only a jumping off point to share their own opinions. I should know—I used to be one of those teachers! I used to build entertaining messages around engaging illustrations, stories, or ideas I had. I always peppered my messages with Scripture. But Scripture wasn’t the meat of the message; it was only the seasoning.

Since then, God has mercifully helped me to grow in my understanding of faithful preaching. I’ve learned that the best thing I can do for my church is to build a message on the teaching of a particular passage of Scripture—to draw my points and emphasis from the points and emphasis of the passage. This approach, often called expositional preaching, can be expressed through many different personalities and presentation styles (and it doesn’t have to add up to long, difficult, or boring sermons!). The driving principle is that God’s Word has the authority. The preacher’s task is simply to unleash what it has to say to God’s people.

So your first priority is to look for a church whose teaching is driven by a confidence in the authority of Scripture.

2. Is this a church where sound doctrine matters?
Acts 2:42 says that the first believers “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.” Today we have the apostles’ teaching passed down in the Bible. Doctrine may sound like an intimidating word. But it simply means what the Bible teaches about any given subject. Therefore, a church in which doctrine matters is one that values biblical truth, knows what it believes, and is guided by these beliefs in the way it functions.

Sound doctrine is always under attack. Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 4:3 that “the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”

These days, doctrine is often derided by people who view it as divisive and unnecessary to living the Christian life. Some people pride themselves on not being concerned with the specifics of what they believe about salvation, sin, the work of the Spirit, and other doctrinal issues. A friend who attended a large conference for youth workers told me that the host started the event by walking on stage and declaring, “It’s not about doctrine! It’s about Jesus!”

I consider this a sad and misleading statement. We don’t have to choose between caring about doctrine and loving Jesus. The two pursuits are not opposed to each other. In fact, they are inseparable! We can only grow in our love for our Savior as we learn more of who He is and what He has accomplished for us. A concern for truth doesn’t take us away from a deeper relationship with Him. It leads us closer to Him, in greater worship, adoration, and obedience.

I agree that you can find churches that hold to their doctrinal positions arrogantly or unwisely. Or that use secondary doctrinal issues as a way to be exclusive or condescending toward others who disagree with them. I hope you’ll never fall into this kind of attitude. We can love truth deeply without being unkind or proud.

Look for a church that clearly knows and defines what it believes—a place where the statement of faith actually makes a difference. If this is the church home for you, you should be able to agree with this statement on its major doctrines.

If you’re looking for a book that can add insight to your Bible study on doctrine, I highly recommend Bible Doctrine by Wayne Grudem. This book covers all the major doctrines—of God, man, Christ, salvation—in a way that’s easy to understand. Shannon, who often uses it in her devotions, has found that Grudem’s teaching infuses her heart with love for her Father in heaven. A helpful teaching tool like this can also clarify your own doctrinal convictions as you look for a church home.

3. Is this a church in which the gospel is cherished and clearly proclaimed?

The gospel is the Good News of Jesus Christ’s perfect life, sacrificial death for sinners, and glorious resurrection and ascension. It’s the story line of all of God’s Word—a holy God has mercifully made a way for sinners to be forgiven and accepted through the cross of Christ.
I grew up in a Christian home, but for many years of my life the gospel wasn’t a central focus. In fact it was all rather fuzzy. I knew Jesus loved me. I knew He wanted a personal relationship with me. I knew He wanted me to be a good person.

It wasn’t until God brought me to a church that clearly proclaimed and cherished the gospel that I learned how the work of Christ for me functioned practically in my daily Christian life. I could only relate to God on the basis of His grace. My good works didn’t earn my standing before God; Jesus had earned my standing before Him. I wasn’t just a lovable guy in need of a personal relationship; I was a sinner who needed to be rescued from God’s just wrath by the death of Jesus. Focusing on this sweet truth made grace truly amazing. It helped me when I was struggling against sin. It helped me to readily forgive others.

About choosing a church, Charles Spurgeon once said: Do not go where it is all fine music and grand talk and beautiful architecture; those things will neither fill anybody’s stomach, nor feed his soul. Go where the gospel is preached, the gospel that really feeds your soul, and go often.

C. J. Mahaney, the pastor and friend who has coached and trained me in ministry, has taught me the primacy of the gospel in my personal life and in leading a local church. He has taught me that the gospel isn’t just for getting saved—it’s the defining reality we need to live in every day of our lives. That’s why I highly recommend his book The Cross Centered Life to help you understand what it means to cherish and live in the good of the gospel.

And for help in understanding how a focus on the Cross shapes a church’s approach to ministry, I recommend D. A. Carson’s outstanding book The Cross and Christian Ministry.

4. Is this a church committed to reaching non-Christians with the gospel?

Jesus commissioned every follower to go and make disciples (see Matthew 28:18–20). So make it a priority to look for a church that not only celebrates the gospel, but also reaches out to the unsaved in the community with this same Good News.

Without an emphasis on evangelism, a church becomes selfish and ingrown. But also be aware that some churches can become so preoccupied with being relevant to the surrounding culture that they lose all distinctiveness. But the clear message of the gospel should never be altered to make it more marketable. People separated from God by their sin are never served when a church places relevance above its mission of faithfully proclaiming the Gospel.

5. Is this a church whose leaders are characterized by humility and integrity?
On my twenty-first birthday, my dad wrote me a special letter in which he encouraged me to find men I wanted to be like. “Then sit at their feet and learn from them,” he wrote. It’s good advice. No pastor is perfect, but when it comes to evaluating a church’s leaders, you want to find men you can trust and whose example you can follow.

First Timothy 3 lists the qualifications for pastors: A leader in the church must be a man who is above reproach, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. Notice that the qualifications relate mostly to the quality of his life. It’s been said that pastoring is a character profession. No amount of skill, leadership ability, or communication skills can replace godly character. Look for a church where personal character is of higher importance than title, position, or outward success.

I’ve found that the most effective leaders view themselves first as servants. And leaders with integrity keep themselves accountable. They don’t view themselves as being immune to sin, but build safeguards around themselves financially, morally, and in every other category to keep themselves from compromise. They see themselves as servants of the Great Shepherd—and live in light of their accountability to Him.

6. Is this a church where people strive to live by God’s Word?
No church can claim to live out God’s Word perfectly. What’s important is to look for a church that is seeking not only to believe rightly, but also to live rightly. It’s possible for a church to be doctrinally sound but have a culture of total apathy when it comes to applying the truth of God’s Word in everyday life.

Our faith in God and our desire to honor Him with obedience and holiness will effect everything—from how we conduct ourselves at work to how we speak to our children at home. If it doesn’t, something is wrong.

That means that the church you’re looking for will seek to build a culture and community of both hearing and obeying God’s Word (see James 1:22). It will seek not only to win converts, but to make disciples by helping them to mature in godly living in every area of life.
7. Is this a church where I can find and cultivate godly relationships?

We all need relationships where we can receive encouragement, accountability, and care. And an essential part of living out God’s Word is being connected to other Christians.

Does the church you’re considering provide settings where you can enjoy biblical fellowship, mutual encouragement, and application of Scripture? This will look different at different churches—some have official small-group structures; others don’t, but achieve the same purpose through other means. What matters is that godly relationships happen. And of course, these kinds of relationships usually take time to develop.

Finally, think about whether you’ll be able to invest adequately in the relationship opportunities the church offers. No matter how great the church, if you live two hours away you’ll be very limited in your ability to be a meaningful part of the community. The local church you choose should indeed be local.

8. Is this a church where members are challenged to serve?
Pastors are not supposed to be paid professionals who do ministry in place of their members. Ephesians 4:11–12 tells us that pastors are to “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” That means you should look for a church that equips its members to serve and minister, and then challenges them to do so.

I want to caution you about how you apply this criterion. I’ve met people who evaluate opportunities to serve in a very self-centered way. For example, they’re motivated to serve, but only in their preferred way. If you don’t make this opportunity available, they leave in a huff. When you think about it, that attitude is funny: True service means giving cheerfully to meet someone else’s genuine need—and the most important need probably isn’t the server’s need to serve in a particular way!

My advice, then, is to make sure you’re not evaluating a church primarily its capacity as a stage to showcase your gifts. Look for a place that will challenge you to care deeply about the needs of others. Then be ready to do whatever it takes to meet those needs.
9. Is this a church that is willing to kick me out?

This priority might sound old fashioned to you. But there’s a hard, important truth here. When a person who claims to be a Christian lives in a way that blatantly contradicts all that it means to be a disciple of Christ, a faithful church’s responsibility is to begin the process of removing that person from membership and to treat him or her like an unbeliever in the hope that he or she will repent and ultimately be restored (see 1 Corinthians 5; 2 Corinthians 2). This is not harsh or abrupt. This practice is called church discipline and was instituted by Jesus (see Matthew 18).

Why should you be excited about the potential of being expelled from a church? I gain a wonderful sense of protection in knowing that if I committed a scandalous sin and showed no repentance, my church wouldn’t put up with it. They would plead with me to change. They would patiently confront me with God’s Word. And eventually, if I refused to change, they would lovingly kick me out.

Remember that the purpose behind church discipline is first to restore. Four hundred years ago Menno Simons wrote: “We do not want to expel any, but rather to receive; not to amputate, but rather to heal; not to discard, but rather to win back; not to grieve, but rather to comfort; not to condemn, but rather to save.”3 So church discipline is an expression of love. It’s a way to try to restore a sinning brother as well as a way to protect the witness of the church.

After all, the power of a church in a community starts with its example. As our generation knows too well, hypocrisy destroys a church’s witness and leaves its message discredited. A church committed to glorifying God and reaching the lost world will not only have membership, but will clearly define what that membership requires. It will want to be able to answer clearly anyone who asks who is truly part of the church and who is not. Discipline is also important when someone begins spreading false teaching. In these cases, discipline guards the church against the damaging effects of heresy.

So look for a church that will not only welcome you into membership, but will lovingly hold you to your commitments as a Christian—a church that will love you enough to put you out of fellowship for the good of your soul.

10. Is this a church I’m willing to join “as is” with enthusiasm and faith in God?
I’ve often advised men and women not to marry someone if their unspoken plan is to change them “into the person they ought to be.” Ask anyone who’s been married more than a year. It just doesn’t work.

In your church quest, ask yourself, “Can I joyfully and fully support this church’s leaders, their teachings, and the direction they have set?” Please don’t join a church because you think God has called you to overhaul it! Humbly recognize that you have your own sin to deal with and that you won’t succeed anywhere as a self-appointed leader.

Find a church you can be excited about. Of course, you’ll want your church to grow and improve (as you yourself hopefully will!). But if it’s the one for you, you should be ready to join it “as is”—that is, join it with faith that God is at work. Leave your gripes and complaints at the door. Those attitudes will only detract from your experience, limit your involvement, and weaken the church’s unity.

Your Attitude Counts

Let me encourage you not only to ask the right questions about the churches you visit, but to ask them with the right attitude. Approach every church you visit with humility. Pray for every church you visit. Ask God to help you see the good in each church. Even if it’s not the right church for you, remember how much God loves the work of a church even when it’s being carried out imperfectly.
And don’t get stuck in church-hopping, church-shopping mode. Do your best to find a good church as quickly as possible. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by too many points, boil them all down to three:

• You want a church that teaches God’s Word
• You want a church values God’s Word
• You want a church that lives God’s Word

These are the nonnegotiables.

You won’t find any church that perfectly meets all the qualifications we’ve discussed (you certainly won’t find “perfect” at my church!). But be encouraged. Churches that are committed to growing in the right ways do exist. They are out there. They’re not confined to one denomination or “worship style.” God is at work around the world. And these churches need committed and selfless men and women to join them in their mission for Christ.

Tough Situations
This chapter was difficult for me to write. I don’t want anyone—least of all a fellow pastor— to think I’m setting myself up as a judge of other churches. At the same time, the foundational elements that we have explored are scriptural and truly important. If they’re completely missing, a church isn’t merely imperfect; it’s disobedient and dishonoring to God.

The sad fact is that bad churches are out there. These are churches that have abandoned the authority of God’s Word or who selectively apply it. These are churches that have neglected the gospel or added to or distorted it.

It grieves me to say it, but there are some churches I would strongly encourage you to leave. I want to say that clearly because the last thing I want is for this book to be used to convince any person to stay in a bad church. We are called to be committed to the church. But sometimes that commitment involves leaving an unbiblical church.

What should you do if you’re in a bad church and need to leave? My encouragement is to make a priority of leaving humbly and as helpfully as possible. Refuse to participate in gossip about members or the leaders in the church. If you’re a member, communicate your concerns to the pastor and your points of disagreement. Look for ways to point out examples of grace and to encourage them. Ask to hear their perspective. Your goal should be to leave in a way that is gracious and honoring to God.

What if there aren’t any good churches near you? First, pray that God would strengthen and refine the churches in your area. And don’t let your situation excuse you from participation. Find the best church you can, and then throw yourself into learning and serving there. Again, don’t set yourself up as the “long-awaited bringer of change.” Serve humbly. Serve the leadership. Ask God to use you.

If you’re still in a setting where you don’t feel you’re growing, it may be time for you to move to another area to find the right local church. People pick up and move for a higher paying job without anyone questioning their decision. Why shouldn’t we consider moving to place ourselves and our families in a local church where we can reap invaluable, eternal spiritual benefits? I don’t encourage this lightly. It’s a decision that will take a lot of patience, prayer, counsel, and consideration. But I can speak from personal experience that moving for the right church is something you won’t regret. In fact many people I know who have moved for the right church only regret they didn’t do it sooner.

If it’s impossible to move, then trust that God can grow you and use you right where you are. Participate in the best church you can find; then if necessary supplement your spiritual diet with biblical preaching from other sources—online or on CD or tape. Read good theological books like the ones I’ve recommended throughout this chapter.

The Best Days of Your Lives

And don’t give up. A good church is worth waiting for, praying for, and searching out. God is faithful. He’ll provide the right church home for you in His perfect timing.

When God brings you the church family He has for you, cherish what you’ve been given…and don’t let go. Because you’ve finally found the place where you and your family are going to enjoy the best days of your lives.

That’s what the next chapter is about.

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This excerpt is from the book "Stop Dating the Church" by Josh Harris and is taken from

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Feeding Sheep or Amusing Goats? by Charles Spurgeon
The devil has seldom done a more clever thing than hinting to the Church that part of their mission is to provide entertainment for the people, with a view to winning them. From speaking out as the Puritans did, the Church has gradually toned down her testimony, then winked at and excused the frivolities of the day.

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