Counseling One Another

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Counseling One Another

June 24, 2016
by Paul Tautges
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Flashback Friday: 7 Marks of Humility

Starting today, each Friday I plan to re-post an article from previous years which I think will be an encouragement and will equip you as you continue to follow our gracious Lord. Here’s one from February 2012.

God’s leadership principles are the complete opposite of man’s. Consider just one. If a man wants to go up then he goes up. If he wants to climb the corporate ladder then he climbs (often stepping on a good number of others in the process). If a man wants to sit in the most important chair at the banquet then he sits there. It’s as simple as that. But in God’s economy of glory the way up is not up; it is down. It is the one who sits in the most obscure chair in the room who may be asked to sit in the chief place (Lk 14:7-10). It is the one who becomes the servant of all who will one-day be the most important in the kingdom (Mk 10:43). It is not the one who practices role reversal that will be lifted up, but rather the one who submits to God’s orderly structures of authority (1 Pet 2:18-20). In God’s system the way up is down.

No greater illustration of this principle exists than Jesus—who lowered himself to the position of household servant when He washed the filthy, stinking feet of His imperfect and sinful followers (John 13). We briefly considered His servant leadership yesterday. Today, let’s go a little deeper. Let’s think about the humility that existed in the mind of Christ before He washed their feet (in fact, before He even came to earth), and the humility He displayed after He washed their feet—the ultimate display of His humility by His death.

To begin, take a few minutes to read Philippians 2:1-11. The verse references in parentheses below refer back to this passage. Meditate with me on seven marks of humility as modeled by Jesus. Prayerfully ask the Holy Spirit to convict your heart so as to reveal pride that needs to be confessed and others-exalting thoughts and actions that need to be applied.

  1. Humility begins in the mind. The reason the apostle exhorts believers to “be of the same mind” (v. 2) toward one another is because humility—the unifying glue in every Christian relationship—begins in the mind. Before Jesus humbled Himself to be conceived in the virgin’s womb, and born in a dirty feed trough, He consciously thought of Himself, and thus treated Himself, as lower than the ones He came to save.
  2. Humility is a conscious choice of the will. The effect of regarding “one another as more important” than oneself (v. 3) is caused by the will’s resolve to “do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit.” In obedience to the Father’s will (Jn 4:34), Jesus made the decision to resist any road—whether small or great—that intentionally moved Him toward self-glory.
  3. Humility is an attitude of the heart. A conscious choice of the will can sometimes be cold and hard (with us, not with Jesus). But such was not the case with Jesus’s self-lowering. When He chose to lift us and our need of redemption above His own personal right to be worshipped every moment of every day, and with every breath that human beings have ever breathed, the decision flowed from the heart attitude of love. Truly, as Jesus loved the twelve…with an everlasting love, “He loved them to the end” (Jn 13:1) so He has loved us. Hence the apostle’s call to have “this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus” (v. 5).
  4. Humility lowers oneself, while at the same time entrusts the possibility of any future exaltation to God. Humility is content with the absence of earthly recognition because of the infinite superiority of the heavenly. Jesus refused to treat His own right to personal glory as “a thing to be grasped [held tightly so as to never let go]” and, therefore, lowered Himself. He “emptied Himself” only in the sense that He took on something foreign to Him—the weakness of human flesh, which temporarily hid the fullness of His glory. He lowered Himself to “the form of a bond-servant” by being made in the likeness of men (v. 7). 
  5. Humility’s earthly end is death. True humility expects no glory in this short life. Rather it accepts death as its rightful end (at least death to self, but perhaps even physical death, as in the case of the Savior). Jesus humbled Himself “to the point of death” (v. 8). The Author of life subjected Himself to death—the just punishment reserved for sinners who defied the Creator’s first command (Gen 2:17).
  6. Humility accepts the likelihood of earthly shame. The death Jesus died was not a private, clinically-sterile death. It was in the public square, as filthy and vile as death could possibly be when dark sin is its cause. That’s why the apostle chose the phrase “even death on a cross” (v. 8). Crucifixion was the most humiliating form of torture known and practiced by the Romans. Jesus knew this ahead of time…before He chose to submit His will to the Father’s good pleasure to crush Him (Isa 53:10).
  7. Humility’s heavenly end is exaltation. “Therefore” says it all (v. 9). The eventual result of the voluntary humiliation of Jesus is His exaltation to the Father’s right hand and the receipt of “the name which is above every name.” One day this then humble Savior will be recognized as the all-glorious Lord, which was always His true station. Then, and only then, will every creature be required to lower himself before the Lamb’s throne and accurately behold His rightful exaltation by the Father (v. 10). When this occurs every tongue will be loosed to glorify Him by declaring “He Is Lord.”

In the meantime, our verbal declarations of His glorious Lordship will only be authentic to the degree that our lives are marked by His humility.

Recommended: From Pride to Humility by Stuart Scott

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June 23, 2016
by Paul Tautges
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God Could Have Decreed to Create Nothing

This morning, my heart craved some time with the Puritans. Therefore, one volume I pulled off my shelf is The Christian’s Reasonable Service. My post-it note bookmark was in the middle of the chapter on general observations concerning the decrees of God, so I finished the chapter. My heart’s faith was nourished by remembering that God is both sovereign and good and, therefore, always to be trusted. In the opening pages of the chapter, Brakel defines the decree of God this way: “We understand the decree of God to be the eternal, volitional, all-wise, sovereign, and immutable purpose of God concerning all and every matter, comprehending both the time and the manner in which these matters will occur.

He explains: “Prior to the creation of the world there was only eternity, and thus matter, bodies, forms of life, and whatever else one may imagine, did not exist. God, who inhabited eternity, purposed to create a world, populate it with creatures, and maintain and govern them, thereby determining and stipulating the place, activity, and the course of events transpiring during the existence of each creature. This decree is the original cause whereby and according to which all things exist and occur in time, existing and occurring without deviation from this decree.”

Later, he applies the doctrine of the decrees of God to our lives by reminding us of the potter and clay analogy given to us in the Scriptures. “God could have decreed to create nothing; or if it were His will to create and govern, He could have created in a different fashion and have established a different course of events for His creatures. If a potter has power over clay to create a vessel purely by the free exercise of His will, if the head of a household has the prerogative to furnish his home as he pleases by placing one object here and another there, would then the sovereign Lord of all things not have the prerogative to deal with His clay and with His creatures according to His good pleasure? Would anyone be able to prevent Him, who is omnipotent, from doing so, thus having to adjust Himself to the whims of His creation? Would anyone be able to say, ‘Why has Thou decreed it to be thus and not otherwise?’ Would any creature be able to compel Him to establish a particular decree? This obviously cannot be so! His decree is the expression of His sovereign good pleasure, and it is for this reason that everything, transpiring as it does, is good because He wills it to be so. How blessed it is for the creature to acknowledge this, approve of it, and surrender His will to the will of God.”

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June 21, 2016
by Paul Tautges
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Under-Rowers for Christ

According to the Scriptures, faithfulness is the #1 quality of a servant of God. In 1 Corinthians 4:1-2, the apostle said of himself and his co-workers: This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.

Opposition, criticism, and comparison were among the many problems the Apostle Paul addressed in his first letter to the church at Corinth. The words “This is how one should regard us” connect this passage with the previous chapter in which Paul exhorted the Corinthians to recognize preachers as servants of God. They were not to be placed in competition against one another, nor were they to be looked down upon for firmly standing on God’s revelation over and above worldly wisdom. Instead they were to view preachers as servants of Christ and stewards of God.

Ministers are servants of Christ.

Servants (hyperetes) means “under-rowers” and refers to the ones who rowed in the lower part of a ship. These were the ones who worked in the stinkiest part of the ship and were most unnoticed by others. The word was later used of domestic workers and referred to service of a lowly kind.

Ministers of the gospel are under-rowers for Christ, completely subject to His authority.  The word is used elsewhere in the New Testament in the following ways:

  • Matthew 5:25 Jesus used the word to refer to the officer in the courtroom responsible for throwing the judged person into prison.
  • Matthew 26:58 mentions the servants in the High Priest’s court.
  • Luke 1:2 used of servants of the word that handed down eyewitness reports of the ministry of Christ.
  • Luke 4:20 refers to the attendant in the synagogue who handed the OT Scriptures to Jesus.
  • John 7:32 the word is used of officers sent by the Pharisees to take Jesus captive.
  • Acts 13:5 Paul and Barnabas were sent out from the church at Antioch, they had John Mark as their
  • Acts 26:16 Paul says in his testimony that Christ called him to be a minister and a witness.

Gospel ministers are first of all servants of Christ sent to feed, lead, and protect His flock. They live and serve under His direction and authority. As servants, they are accountable to Him. A pastor is a servant in a church, but the church is not his master.

Ministers are stewards of God’s truth.

Steward is a compound word from oikos meaning “house” and nomos meaning “law,” thus “the law of the house.” It refers to the manager of a household. In Paul’s day, wealthy landowners entrusted one of the slaves to be in charge of the others. He was given the responsibility of running the estate and was accountable to the owner when he returned. For example:

  • Matthew 25:14 (in the Parable of the Talents) it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves, and entrusted his possessions to them.
  • Luke 16:1-2 (in the Parable of the Unrighteous Steward) There was a rich man who had a steward, and this steward was reported to him as squandering his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you?  Give an account of your stewardship…’

The concept of stewardship emphasizes responsibility, accountability, and delegated authority.  Pastors and elders are fellow slaves of Christ whom God has chosen to oversee His household. They possess a stewardship for which they are responsible and accountable. Biblical leaders are primarily stewards of the mysteries of God. “Mystery” in the New Testament refers to truth that was once hidden and is now revealed. The primary sphere of the preacher’s responsibility is that of being a steward of God’s revelation in Scripture.

We live in a day and age in which many pastors do not realize this because they have not been taught properly. There are too many seminaries that are simply training men to be administrators and public relations experts in order to bring into the church as many people as possible. Many are not being trained to think of themselves as stewards of truth, managers of the Word of God, responsible to teach and preach and guard it with their life so that God’s sheep are cared for faithfully. But Paul trained Timothy to think this way:

  • …remain on at Ephesus in order that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines. (1 Tim. 1:3)
  • In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following. (1 Tim. 4:6)
  • O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you… (1 Tim. 6:20)

There is one requirement for a steward of truth: that he be found faithful (pistos), trustworthy and dependable. As a servant, a pastor is to be faithful to God. As a steward, he is to be faithful to God’s Word and, by doing so, he will be faithful to the flock entrusted to his care. God doesn’t measure success by worldly standards. Success may be defined biblically by one word: faithfulness.

[These words are from the Introduction of the sermon about Timothy, A Servant of Proven Worth.]

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June 17, 2016
by Paul Tautges
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The Joy of Sacrificial Service

The Christian life—when properly understood—is a life of sacrifice.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.” (Matthew 16:24-28)

I am concerned we do not really embrace this mentality in today’s evangelical church culture. Many professing Christians have supposedly come to Christ, but remain dedicated to a life lived for themselves. Jesus fits neatly into a certain segment of their lives. He is carefully managed by many who claim to know Him. Jesus is often adored for the benefits He brings into their lives, but not worshiped and obeyed in a “to die for” kind of way.

And there is too often a lack of endurance among Christians today. Because so many come to Jesus in order to get their best life now, they are then deeply disappointed when God does not bow to their agenda, or measure up to their definition of success, which is basically the enjoyment of all the world has to offer without Jesus cramping their style. When life does not happen as they expected it to then many are like the seedling in Jesus’ parable that gets choked out by the worries of this world.

Lest we fall prey to the pride that leads us to think that only “other people” or “other churches” are self-serving, we need to look into the mirror and evaluate our own lives. Are we sacrificial people? What I mean is: Do we serve God until it hurts? Or do we only serve Him to the point that it fits neatly into our schedules? Are we fearful of “overdoing it,” or do our lives demonstrate sacrifice? Are we so consumed with being wise stewards that we have lost the risk-taking nature of faith? Have we tamed our God? Have we politely put Him on a leash? Have we domesticated Him and softened the call to radical discipleship?

I ask you: Are we people of sacrifice?

The example of the believers in Philippi was one of sacrificial service. So great was the sacrifice of their service to Christ that Paul refers to his own ministry as merely a drink offering poured out on top of their ministry (Philippians 2:17-18). The selfless example of the Philippian believers reveals three qualities of sacrificial Christians.

  1. Sacrificial Christians partner with gospel ministries (1:5, 19, 27).
  2. Sacrificial Christians persevere through suffering (1:27-30).
  3. Sacrificial Christians practice generous giving (4:10-19).

This is the passage that I preached on this past Lord’s Day. If you want to think more deeply about the sacrificial service of the Christian life then you can watch the sermon here.

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June 16, 2016
by Paul Tautges
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In the Hand of Jesus

Alec Motyer ministered to me this morning with these timely words from Isaiah By the Day: A New Devotional Translation. When it appears that the world we live in is out of control, remember the Lord has all things in his almighty hand.

“To say the world we live in ‘doesn’t add up’ is a pretty accurate description. Hardly a day passes but we ask why this or that has happened, why it has happened to him/her/them/me/us, why now, why so prolonged—and so on. This is what Ecclesiastes meant by saying ‘all is vanity’ (1:2; etc). Trying to explain the world and what happens in it is like trying to grab a handful of wind! Bible in hand, we know that this is because a higher wisdom than ours rules all, a more complete justice than we can bring to bear. An almighty power is having its way, and a total love, quite beyond our understanding, is directing everything, parceling out experiences, determining times and seasons. But as regards the sort of logical description of things that the unbelieving mind seeks, the world around us simply ‘does not add up’. From the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 to the United Nations mankind has been striving after a world that is safe, organized, neat, unified, fortified against threat. This is a correct aim, and we should constantly feel obliged to obey the apostolic command to pray for ‘kings and all in authority that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life’ (1 Tim. 2:2). At the same time, we know that sin is ever divisive, Satan is ever sowing weeds in the best soil and seed, and humankind’s best endeavors for peace can suddenly become literally explosive. Our security is not in human organization nor national strength nor personal insurance policies and sound banking, nor in our ability to ‘explain’, but only in the hand of Jesus, enfolded in the hand of the Father (John 10:28).”

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June 15, 2016
by Paul Tautges
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Fighting Fear with Fear

It’s been a few weeks since my review of Wayne & Joshua Mack’s book, Courage, was published at Books At a Glance, but it came to my mind this morning when I recommended the book to someone who is counseling a young lady battling severe bouts of fear and, therefore, needs to cultivate a deeper fear of God.

The Macks do a very good job of diagnosing the heart issues that feed our sinful fears. As a result of their biblical diagnosis of our hearts, they are then able to present godly solutions. These can be summarized by the following key concepts, which are developed in the first three chapters:

  1. The Holy Spirit and His fruit of love combat fear in the believer: The indwelling spirit empowers believers to fight fear, especially as we learn to love those whom we fear.
  2. Faith is the ultimate solution to fighting against our fears. “If you want to stand strong, to stop being so anxious, to be courageous, you have got to exercise faith. You’ve got to go back to the Scriptures, learn what is true about God, and apply it to your situation.”
  3. Fearing God more than man is a key to fighting sinful fear. The book’s contrast of human fear and holy fear is very helpful as they divide our fears into three categories: natural fear, sinful fear, and holy fear.

Read my full review of Courage: Fighting Fear with Fear.

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June 14, 2016
by Paul Tautges
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10 Qualities to Look for When Choosing a Church

“In nearly twenty years of working at a biblical  counseling center,” writes Jim Newheiser, “I have observed that the single greatest impediment to our counselees making progress is their lack of a proper relationship with a solid biblical church. Sometimes the fault is with the local church which fails to shepherd and, if necessary, discipline the sheep. Some local churches shirk their biblical responsibilities and look exclusively to outside counselors to care for their troubled members. Often, however, the problem lies with the counselees, who have never committed themselves to a solid biblical church. Consequently, when crises arise they don’t have access to the resources and help God provides for his people in the local assembly of believers.”

It has often been said that there is no perfect church. But there is also no perfect church member. As the old joke goes, if you find a perfect church you shouldn’t join it, because if you do it won’t be perfect anymore. Whenever sinners work together in close quarters, whether in churches or in families, conflict and disappointment will arise. Regardless of flaws, however, God designed us to need one another, and for the church to need us. But how do you find a good church? What are the qualities to look for? A brand new mini-book answers these questions, and more. I’m super-excited to let you know that the newest addition to the LifeLine mini-books just rolled off the press.

In HELP! I Need a Church, Jim Newheiser gives sound counsel to those in need of a solid biblical church. After spending a short chapter explaining how not to choose a church, Jim spends another chapter highlighting the most important positive traits. Based solely upon Scripture, here is a list of the ten most important questions to ask yourself and a few selected thoughts under each (the author fully develops each in the book).

Is this Church Centered on the Gospel of Jesus Christ? – You can tell what really matters to a church by what is emphasized from the pulpit, discussed by the people, and even displayed on the walls. Sometimes I will ask ordinary members, “Why do you go to this church?” Some churches are all about the music. Some like a church because it supports home-schooling or a Christian school, because of the great kids’ programs, or even because it has no programs for children and youth. Some attend a church because of a famous preacher, or because the right people, including celebrities, go there. Some like a church because of the political activism of its members. Some churches focus on their heritage in church history or a confession of faith. But Paul tells the Corinthians, “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2)

Does This Church Stand Firm on Sound Biblical Doctrine? – You can get an idea of what a church believes by reading its doctrinal statement or confession of faith, but you also need to listen carefully to what is actually preached and taught to see if it is standing firm on biblical doctrine (Titus 1:9; 2:1). Some churches have strayed from their biblical heritage. The most important doctrine on which a church must be clear is that of salvation (Galatians 1:8). As well as this, a church should also affirm that the Bible is inspired (God-breathed—2 Timothy 3:16) and inerrant—the sole authority for faith and practice. A church must also affirm the sufficiency of Scripture to equip us for every good work for life and godliness (2 Timothy 3:17; 2 Peter 1:3.

Is the Bible Faithfully Preached Week after Week? – A faithful preacher preaches only the Word of God, his sole authority. He also preaches all of the Word—the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27), including the difficult parts about God’s holy wrath against sin. A faithful preacher doesn’t merely encourage, but he also reproves and rebukes sin. All faithful preaching will be grounded in the gospel (what God has done for us). Paul said that he was eager to go to Rome to preach the gospel to believers (Romans 1:15). When you visit a church, ask yourself these questions: Is this preaching faithful to the Word of God? Is this a place where my family could be fed the Word of God week after week?

Is the Worship Biblical and God-Centered? – The most important Person we are to seek to please in our worship is God himself. He seeks worshipers who worship in spirit (sincerely and from the heart) and in truth (John 4:23–24). Not all worship is acceptable to God (Isaiah 1:14; Matthew 15:8–9). Under the Old Covenant, God precisely prescribed the way his people were to worship him. God’s worship is still holy under the New Covenant. Some in the early church who did not respect God’s holiness in worship became sick and others died (1 Corinthians 11:29–31; Acts 5:1–10). The New Testament also reveals how we are to worship God under the New Covenant.

Are the Leaders Biblically Qualified and Mutually Accountable? – Church leadership in our day often seeks to reflect the charisma, drive, and vision which our culture looks for in leaders in business or politics. “Successful” Christian leaders (meaning those with large churches and ministries) write books on leadership which seem based more upon management and marketing techniques than upon Scripture. In these models, the leader is regarded as the key to success. The New Testament, however, makes it clear that the Head and Chief Shepherd (Senior Pastor) of the church is Christ (1 Peter 5:4; Ephesians 1:22; 5:23) and that leaders are under-shepherds.

Do the Leaders/Pastors Shepherd the Sheep? – Both Paul and Peter exhort church leaders to shepherd God’s flock (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2). Church leaders are reminded that they will give an account to God for how they have tended the sheep he entrusted to their care (Hebrews 13:17). Some leaders are so driven to grow the church by attracting more people and resources that they don’t have time to actually get involved in helping the hurting sheep that are already part of the flock. Many pastors refuse to invest time in counseling individuals and families through conflicts and crises. Some don’t even believe that they are called to do so, but refer their members to outside “professional counselors” who may offer unbiblical advice. Are the leaders committed and equipped to minister God’s Word, not just publicly before a crowd, but also to individuals and families who need comfort and encouragement (Acts 20:20)?

Does This Church Practice Biblical Church Discipline? – Jesus is deeply concerned about the purity of his church, both in doctrine and in practice. He is also concerned about the influence that doctrinal error and immorality may have on others in the church. “A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough.” (1 Corinthians 5:6). In our day, local churches tend to go to one of two extremes when it comes to discipline. Most commonly fail to practice church discipline. Little or no effort is made to correct and, if necessary, remove members who are involved in immorality or other serious sin, or who promote false and divisive teaching. At the opposite extreme, a few churches, perhaps reacting against the laxness of the majority, are harsh in their discipline. They put people out for minor doctrinal differences or infractions. Ungodly leaders use discipline to protect themselves against those who threaten their power (3 John 9–10). Biblical church discipline is to be carried out in a gentle, loving, and orderly fashion with the purpose of restoring the wayward brother or sister (Galatians 6:1; 2 Corinthians 2:6–8; Matthew 18:12– 15) and upholding the honor of Christ.

Does this Church Equip Its Members to Serve God? – The church officers are not called to do all of the ministries, but rather they are called to equip each member to use his or her gifts to build up the church (1 Peter 4:10–11). Do the elders/ pastors at the church you are visiting encourage every member to serve? Are members free to use their gifts and even to start new ministries? Are the elders/pastors encouraging and training future leaders (2 Timothy 2:2)? Is this a church in which others will disciple you and you will have opportunity to disciple others? Is this a church where you will be able to flourish serving Christ and his people? Is this a church in which men and women are being encouraged and equipped to be godly husbands, wives, parents, employees, employers, and citizens (Ephesians 5:22–6:9; Romans 13:1–7)?

Does This Church Community Have a Culture of Grace, Love, and Peace? – God accepts us, not based upon outward appearance or even our works, but by his grace towards us in Christ. Are people accepted and welcomed into this church regardless of age, ethnicity, social background, spiritual weakness, or differences on secondary issues (such as educational choices for children, views on food and drink, the place of children and youth programs in the church, views of the end times/ rapture, etc.)? Because we are still sinners, you will never find a church in which there is no conflict. But is this church one in which members deal with their differences by showing grace toward one another (Proverbs 19:11; 1 Peter 4:8) and by pursuing peace (Romans 12:18; Hebrews 12:14)? Do people seek to resolve their conflicts in a direct, biblical, and gentle way (Matthew 18:15; Galatians 6:1), rather than participating in slander, gossip, and bullying?

Does This Church Have an Outward Focus—Missions, Evangelism, and Church Planting? – Some churches are such close families that it is hard for an outsider to break into them. Other churches are so concerned about precision in their doctrine and practice that they expend more energy keeping the wrong people out than in welcoming those from the outside. Jesus has given us the great commission to bring his gospel to the world so that disciples can be made to serve and worship him (Matthew 28:18–20; Acts 1:8). Sadly, many churches grow primarily by attracting sheep from other local flocks. Is this church seeking to grow through conversions? Are members of this church encouraged and equipped to practice personal evangelism?

There are many other amenities people look for in churches, but these are the most important qualities. If you are not a member of a solid biblical church then now is the time to seek the Lord for one. HELP! I Need a Church will give you the faithful guidance you need.

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June 3, 2016
by Paul Tautges
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Our Greatest Contribution to the Good of Our Nation

Evangelical Christians continue to be obsessed with political activism as the answer to the problems of our nation. “If we can only get the right people into the right positions who can then make the right laws we can turn our nation back to God,” many argue. As optimistic as this may be, it does not fit the biblical pattern of how God works in nations and, particularly, through His people by calling them to personal repentance. Throughout world history, God has judged nations for their disobedience to His commands. At the same time, however, He has had His faithful remnant of believers who place their personal faith and obedience to His Word as a higher priority than making noise in high places. This, they rightly believe, is the most powerful influence they may have for the sake of righteousness and the prosperity of the gospel.

Recently, I was reminded of this priority in my daily reading of Isaiah by the Day, which I purchased for myself at last month’s Basic Conference and am thoroughly enjoying. In this new devotional translation by Alec Motyer, I am growing to appreciate the book of Isaiah through learning to understand its message. The following words from Day 15 shine piercingly clear light into our foggy minds.

“National, political, social and governmental disasters and misdemeanors can all be traced to this one source: the Word of God has been sidelined. Isaiah saw it in his day and, with our eyes opened by him, we see it in ours. The beginning of the remedy lies in our individual hands: our greatest contribution to the good of our nation, to political stability and wholesomeness, to social standards and decency and to proper and just government, in our individual devotion and obedience to God’s Word. Recovery starts with me. Isn’t this what the Lord Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount? When he has set out the basic principles of kingdom-life (in the blessedness/happiness sayings, Matt. 5:2-10, which we put away in the deep-freeze by calling them ‘Beatitudes’) he immediately transposes the ‘they’ of general principle into the ‘you’ of personal discipleship (Matt. 5:11). This blessedness is for you when this is your life-style. But more: when this is your life-style you become the salt of purification and the darkness-dispelling light the world so desperately needs. Not by what we say but by what we are when his Word fashions our lives. The alternative way of life, when we set aside his Word, invites the Lord’s displeasure and leaves the world around without any bar to its inevitable corruption, or light to dispel its native darkness.”

Personal obedience to the Lord, along with prayer for our government leaders, and the spread of the gospel, comprise the key means by which we influence our nation for the good (1 Tim. 2:1-4). It is not that there are no other responsibilities we have as salt-and-light citizens, but we must continually remind ourselves that our citizenship is first and foremost in heaven, not earth.

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May 25, 2016
by Paul Tautges
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In Christ There is Satisfaction and Peace

At our weekly staff meeting at church, we sometimes read from Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions. This morning, we prayed together the following request for the Lord to make us more and more content with all we have in Christ, which is far greater than any of our earthly desires.

If I should suffer need, and go unclothed, and be in poverty, make my heart prize Thy love, know it, be constrained by it, though I be denied all blessings.

It is Thy mercy to afflict and try me with wants, for by these trials I see my sins, and desire severance from them.

Let me willingly accept misery, sorrows, temptations, and be delivered from it with gratitude to Thee, acknowledging this as the highest testimony of Thy love.

When Thy Son, Jesus, came into my soul instead of sin, He became more dear to me than sin had formerly been; His kindly rule replaced sin’s tyranny.

Teach me to believe that if ever I would have any sin subdued I must not only labour to overcome it, but must invite Christ to abide in the place of it, and he must become to me more than vile lust had been; that his sweetness, power, life may be there.

Thus I must seek a grace from Him contrary to sin, but must not claim it apart from Himself.

When I am afraid of evils to come, comfort me by showing me that in myself I am a dying, condemned wretch, but Christ I am reconciled and live; that in myself I find insufficiency and no rest, but in Christ there is satisfaction and peace; that in myself I am feeble and unable to do good, but in Christ I have ability to do all things.

Though now I have His graces in part, I shall shortly have them perfectly in that state where thou wilt show Thyself fully reconciled, and along sufficient, efficient, loving me completely, with sin abolished.

O Lord, hasten that day.

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May 20, 2016
by Paul Tautges
Comments Off on If God Is Sovereign, Isn’t Prayer Superfluous?

If God Is Sovereign, Isn’t Prayer Superfluous?

In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin gives us 6 reasons the providence of God does not render prayer unnecessary.

“But, someone will say, does God not know, even without being reminded, both in what respect we are troubled and what is expedient for us, so that it may seem in a sense superfluous that he should be stirred up by our prayers—as if he were drowsily blinking or even sleeping until he is aroused by our voice? But they who thus reason do not observe to what end the Lord instructed his people to pray, for he ordained it not so much for his own sake as for ours. Now he wills—as is right—that his due be rendered to him, in the recognition that everything men desire and account conducive to their own profit comes from him, and in the attestation of this by prayers. But the profit of this sacrifice also, by which he is worshiped, returns to us. Accordingly, the holy fathers, the more confidently they extolled God’s benefits among themselves and others, were the more keenly aroused to pray. It will be enough for us to note the single example of Elijah, who, sure of God’s purpose, after he has deliberately promised rain to King Ahab, still anxiously prays with his head between his knees, and sends his servant seven times to look [1 Kings 18:42], not because he would discredit his prophecy, but because he knew it was his duty, lest his faith be sleepy or sluggish, to lay his desires before God.

Therefore, even though, while we grow dull and stupid toward our miseries, he watches and keeps guard on our behalf, and sometimes even helps us unasked, still it is very important for us to call upon him:

  1. First, that our hearts may be fired with a zealous and burning desire ever to seek, love, and serve him, while we become accustomed in every need to flee to him as to a sacred anchor.
  2. Secondly, that there may enter our hearts no desire and no wish at all of which we should be ashamed to make him a witness, while we learn to set all our wishes before his eyes, and even to pour out our whole hearts.
  3. Thirdly, that we be prepared to receive his benefits with true gratitude of heart and thanksgiving, benefits that our prayer reminds us come from his hand [cf. Ps. 145:15–16].
  4. Fourthly, moreover, that, having obtained what we were seeking, and being convinced that he has answered our prayers, we should be led to meditate upon his kindness more ardently.
  5. And fifthly, that at the same time we embrace with greater delight those things which we acknowledge to have been obtained by prayers.
  6. Finally, that use and experience may, according to the measure of our feebleness, confirm his providence, while we understand not only that he promises never to fail us, and of his own will opens the way to call upon him at the very point of necessity, but also that he ever extends his hand to help his own, not wet-nursing them with words4 but defending them with present help.

On account of these things, our most merciful Father, although he never either sleeps or idles, still very often gives the impression of one sleeping or idling in order that he may thus train us, otherwise idle and lazy, to seek, ask, and entreat him to our great good.

Therefore they act with excessive foolishness who, to call men’s minds away from prayer, babble that God’s providence, standing guard over all things, is vainly importuned with our entreaties, inasmuch as the Lord has not, on the contrary, vainly attested that “he is near … to all who call upon his name in truth” [Ps. 145:18, cf. Comm. and Vg.]. Quite like this is what others prate: that it is superfluous for them to petition for things that the Lord is gladly ready to bestow, while those very things which flow to us from his voluntary liberality he would have us recognize as granted to our prayers. That memorable saying of the psalm attests this, and to it many similar passages correspond: “For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears toward their prayers” [1 Peter 3:12; Ps. 34:15; cf. 33:16, Vg.]. This sentence so commends the providence of God—intent of his own accord upon caring for the salvation of the godly—as yet not to omit the exercise of faith, by which men’s minds are cleansed of indolence. The eyes of God are therefore watchful to assist the blind in their necessity, but he is willing in turn to hear our groanings that he may the better prove his love toward us. And so both are true: “that the keeper of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps” [Ps. 121:4, cf. Comm.], and yet that he is inactive, as if forgetting us, when he sees us idle and mute.”[1]

[1] Calvin, J. (2011). Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2. (J. T. McNeill, Ed., F. L. Battles, Trans.) (Vol. 1, pp. 851–853). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.

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