Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Church Awakening: An Urgent Call for Renewal

The Church Awakening: An Urgent Call for RenewalThe Church Awakening: An Urgent Call for Renewal by Charles R. Swindoll
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Charles Swindoll does an excellent job explaining what the church is and was it is not. Anyone interested in learning what a church should be will profit from reading this book. I trust you will enjoy the quotes from this great book:

When the Church is absolutely different from the world, she invariably attracts it. It is then that the world is made to listen to her message, though it may hate it at first.  ~D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Here is the great evangelical disaster – the failure of the evangelical world to stand for truth as truth. There is only one word for this – namely, accommodation: the evangelical church has accommodated to the world spirit of the age.   ~Francis Schaeffer

Instead of life being interpreted honestly, it is now interpreted emotionally. Instead of real being real, virtual reality has taken charge. And since the reality is now distorted and viewed as distasteful, the younger generation prefers virtual reality. Reality bores them. We have changed our thinking based on objective instruction from the truth of Holy Scripture to the subjective, secular thinking based squarely on a horizontal, humanistic perception, where self is always predominant.   ~Charles Swindoll

The world is waiting to hear an authentic voice, a voice from God – not an echo of what others are doing and saying, but an authentic voice.   ~A.W. Tozer

Webster defines eroded in simple terms: “To diminish or destroy by degrees …. To eat into or away by slow destruction of substance …. To cause to deteriorate or disappear.” Over the years, I have discovered three simple truths about erosion, all of which parallel Webster’s description. Rather than occurring rapidly, erosion is always slow. Instead of drawing attention to itself, erosion is always silent. And in place of being obvious, erosion is always subtle.   ~Charles Swindoll

We need places in our journey where we force ourselves to pause and evaluate whether or not a drift is taking place. Why? Because a church without milestones will drift. And like erosion, we will not see it occurring if we don’t look for it. ~ Charles Swindoll

They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer (Acts 2:42).

In this one verse we have the lowest common denominator of a church. This is a ground zero. It would help greatly if God’s people reminded themselves of this single verse of Scripture every day. When the first body of believers gathered together, they devoted themselves to four essentials. Did you notice them? Here are the four essentials: teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer. This verse is not only descriptive of what the early church did; it is also prescriptive of what all churches must do.  ~Charles Swindoll

Clear, Biblical thinking must override secular planning and a corporate mentality [in the church].  And the imperative? Think spiritually!  However well organized our churches become, we must give priority to Biblical, rather than secular, thinking. ~Charles Swindoll

Studied, accurate decisions must originate from God’s Word, not human opinions. A true, spiritual mind-set comes from meditation on the Scriptures. So the imperative would be: stay Biblical! The Word of God ought to be central to every worship service. Furthermore, every elders’ meeting and every staff meeting should have the Scriptures as the basis of the decisions that are made. God’s Word is to be the church’s guide; it shapes our current thinking and future planning by giving us principles we can understand, believe, and apply.  ~Charles Swindoll

The world is waiting to hear an authentic voice, a voice from God – not an echo of what others are doing and saying, but an authentic voice.   ~A. W. Tozer

Wise, essential changes must occur to counteract any sign of erosion. Please note I did not use the word easy. Change is not easy when erosion has occurred, but it is essential. The imperative? Be flexible!  ~Charles Swindoll

What the church needs today is not more or better machinery, not new organizations or more novel methods. She needs men whom the Holy Spirit can use – men of prayer, men mighty in prayer. The Holy Spirit does not flow through methods, but through men ….  He does not anoint plans, but men – men of prayer!  ~E. M. Bounds

The church was never meant to be a “professional organization.”  ~Charles Swindoll

We must not mind insulting men, if by respecting them we offend God.  ~John Chrysostom

In his book, “The Courage to Be Protestant,” David Wells asks several penetrating questions: What is the binding authority on the church? What determines how it thinks, what it wants, and how it is going to go about its business? Will it be Scripture alone, Scripture understood as God’s binding address, or will it be culture? Will it be what is current, edgy, and with-it? Or will it be God’s Word, which is always contemporary because its truth endures for all eternity?

Banish professionalism from our midst, Oh God, and in its place put passionate prayer, poverty of spirit, hunger for God, rigorous study of holy things, white-hot devotion to Jesus Christ, utter indifference to all material gain, and unremitting labor to rescue the perishing, perfect the saints, and glorify our sovereign Lord.   ~John Piper

The Lord will honor and bless any plan that upholds prayer and promotes His Word.  ~ Charles Swindoll

We are continually striving to create new methods, plans, and organizations to advance the church. We are ever working to provide and stimulate growth and efficiency for the gospel. This trend of the day has a tendency to lose sight of man. Or else he is lost in the workings of the plan or organization. God’s plan is to make much of the man, far more of him than of anything else. Men are God’s method. The church is looking for better methods; God is looking for better men …. What the church needs today is not more or better machinery, not new organizations or more novel methods. She needs men whom the Holy Spirit can use – men of prayer, men mighty in prayer. The Holy Spirit does not flow through methods, but through men. He does not come on machinery, but on men. He does not anoint plans, but men – men of prayer! ~E. M. Bounds

Excellent exposition of the Scriptures alone isn’t enough to cause people to continue attending and to stick together as a church. It takes more.
I have lived to realize that, while a strong pulpit is essential, a contagious church also requires a context of other distinctives. There must be more than preaching. More than one gift at work. More than the conviction of one person. A contagious church has a number of individuals living out clear, Biblical principles with the result that people pause in the midst of their busy lives. They realize this is a place worth their coming and participating.  ~Charles Swindoll

It’s essential that we not get distracted by all the we can do as a church … and stay focused on only what we must do as a church. Otherwise, we may be attracting a crowd for the wrong reasons.    ~Charles Swindoll

Large numbers don’t necessarily reveal God’s blessing. They could, in fact, reveal error. They could reflect an ear-tickling ministry that panders to people and tells the crowds what they want to hear, instead of what they need to hear. A growing number of churches and denominations today have found the four essentials (teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer – Acts 2:42) unnecessary – burdensome, you might say. Archaic traditions of a bygone era. So they have hired what I call “pulpit whores,” or put more mildly, “teachers in accordance to their own desires” – to affirm them in their selfish and carnal lifestyles. No wonder the crowds expand … it’s as if God has officially approved their sin!  ~Charles Swindoll

I’ve learned through the years that perception overshadows reality. I hate that, but it’s true. From political candidates to polyester carpet, how people perceive things is, to them, more convincing than a truckload of evidence. Unfortunately, most people draw their opinions from the shallow stream of perception instead of the deep reservoir of truth. I find that strange and disappointing.  ~Charles Swindoll

I am convinced that the church doesn’t need marketing devices, worldly strategies, live entertainment, or a corporate mentality to be contagious.  Not if the glory of God is the goal. Not if the growth of God’s people is in view. Rather, the church needs Biblical truth taught correctly and clearly … and lived out in authenticity.

One of the worst things we can do in our churches is to take our eyes off the essentials – to take our cues of how to “do church” from our postmodern world instead of determining our distinctives and priorities from Scriptures. It’s a great temptation to try that these days, because there are so many churches doing it. They look like they know what they’re doing. The crowds swell. The ratings soar. The money pours in. They speak in such a convincing way that we are tempted to think, Well, maybe they’re right and we’re beginning to miss it. Please. Don’t go there.  ~ Charles Swindoll

A marketing mentality and a consumer mind-set have no business in the church of Jesus Christ.  By that I mean Jesus is not a brand … human thinking does not guide God’s work … and the church is not a corporation. The church of Jesus Christ is a spiritual entity, guided by the Lord through the precepts of His Word.

If we sacrifice the essentials of teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer on the alter of strategy, creativity, entertainment, and “relevancy,” we have abandoned the main reasons the church exists. We should build on these essentials, not attempt to replace them.  ~Charles Swindoll

From the verb be strong, we glean the first distinctive for a contagious church: it is always necessary in grace (2 Timothy 2:1). That sounds simple, but it will be one of the most difficult principles to apply in a consumerist culture.  ~Charles Swindoll

Author Steve Brown says that some people think legalistic churches are as bad as grace-oriented churches. As he put it, they are no more alike than saying a taxidermist is like a veterinarian. Some would claim, “Well, either way you get your dog back!” True, but one of them collects dust and never moves. The other one is busy and barking and eating and jumping … he’s alive. He’s the real thing! The point? Let’s choose to be veterinarians. Let’s determine that our churches will be places of grace. A church of grace is alive, anticipating God’s work, willing to risk, free of judgmentalism … but make no mistake – they’re not free of holiness. There’s a vast difference. ~Charles Swindoll

The church needs to guard against compromising the Word of God so that it takes more palatable to newcomers. Christians suffer when we do that. I’ve said for years, “Sermonettes are for Christianettes.” If our churches give a little eight-minute sermon, we are not feeding the flock. Instead of teaching them, we’re tantalizing them. Instead of stretching and challenging them, we’re entertaining them. Our congregations need pastors who study hard, play hard, and prepare well-balanced meals, then open the Scriptures and teach people how to study the Word for themselves. That’s what gives them stability in hard times, discernment in the midst of deception, and the strength to stand alone.  ~Charles Swindoll

Did you notice in Titus 2:11-15, “the grace of God has appeared … instructing us to deny ungodliness”? I repeat it only to underscore: grace doesn’t mean anything goes. Rather, grace motivates our behavior. Grace frees us to obey. Being strong in grace goes hand in hand with being committed to living the truth. There is no contradiction in those two commitments. After all, “grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). Grace provides the context for God’s commands to be taught. Truth equips our minds and shapes up our lives. Truth therefore must be taught!  ~Charles Swindoll

Christian service means invading a battleground, not a playground; and you and I are the weapons God uses to attack and defeat the enemy. When God used Moses’s rod, He needed Moses’s hand to lift it. When God used David’s sling, He needed David’s hand to swing it. When God builds a ministry, He needs somebody’s surrendered body to get the job done.  ~Warren Wiersbe

Because of Jesus Christ, the church must endure every difficulty for the benefit of others. I find this principle in Paul’s writings to Timothy:  “For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:10).  ~Charles Swindoll

Most middle-class Americans tend to worship their work, to work at their play, and to play at their worship. As a result, their meanings and values are distorted. Their relationships disintegrate faster then they can keep in repair, and their lifestyles resemble a cast of characters in search of a plot.  ~Gordon Dahl

When we substitute the urgent for the important in the church of Jesus Christ, we emphasize work, activity, involvement, doing, producing, impressing, and accomplishing. But it leaves us feeling flat and empty. Exhaustion replaces satisfaction. Furthermore, it smacks of the secularized world in which we work. Who knows how many people have been turned away from Christianity, longing for the true, living God but encountering at their church a secularized substitute?  ~Charles Swindoll

The underlying objective of a church committed to the important things – rather than the urgent – is the cultivation of a body of worshipers whose sole focus is on the Lord our God.  ~ Charles Swindoll

Secularization theology has taught us to be “tolerant” of the world system – to be more accepting and understanding … and not bigoted. G. K. Chesterton says it well: “Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.” It’s always easier to claim tolerance and straddle the fence than to choose sides. Tolerance will get you elected. Tolerance keeps you popular with a voting congregation. Tolerance doesn’t make waves at the office or across the backyard fence. But tolerance makes no impact for the kingdom of God.  ~Charles Swindoll

Paul is describing (in 2 Tim. 3:4-5) the outward “form of religion” but were “denying the power of it.” They evidently attended the worship services of the church. They sang the hymns, they said the “amen” to the prayers and put their money in the offering-plate. They looked and sounded egregiously pious. But it was form without power, outward show without inward reality, religion without morals, faith without works. True religion combines form and power. It is not external form without power. … It fosters a worship which is essentially “spiritual,” arising from the heart, which expresses itself through public, corporate services, and which also issues in moral behavior. Otherwise, it is not only valueless; it is actually an abomination to the Lord. ~John R.W. Stott

Christians are in the minority, to be sure. God always prefers to do His work through a remnant who face insuperable odds. Babies conceived in aging wombs. Meals for thousands from a meager sack lunch. Every sin atoned for by one Man’s death. The world turned upside down by twelve ordinary men who were called apostles. God specializes in the impossible. In fact, He is greatly glorified in circumstances where human ingenuity, creativity, and ability fall short.  ~Charles Swindoll

Understand, there’s nothing wrong with creatively communicating to our neighborhoods about our churches. But when promotion receives more emphasis than the essentials – the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer (see Acts 2:42) – then the tail is wagging the dog. The church starts drifting off course. Erosion sets in. On the other hand, when we commit ourselves to the essentials, our churches will be contagious for the right reasons. And in Ephesus, that is exactly what was occurring: “all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks” (19:10). Word of mouth has always been God’s preferred method of getting the message out.  ~Charles Swindoll

Most of the Ephesian Christians were now [when the book of Revelation was written] second-generation believers, and though they had retained purity of doctrine and life and had maintained a high level of service, they were lacking in deep devotion to Christ. How the church today needs to heed this same warning [… that you have left your first love], that orthodoxy and service are not enough. Christ wants believers’ hearts as well as their hands and heads.   ~John F. Walvoord

C.S. Lewis once made the statement “The true Christian’s nostril is to be continually attentive to the inner cesspool.” If I may write it far less eloquently, “We need to smell our own stink.” Why? Because we are all depraved … all given to selfishness … all drawn to embrace what the world tempts us to crave.   ~Charles Swindoll

Trust me, churches that keep you always busy are predisposed to erosion. Join this program … enroll in this study … go on this trip … come to this concert … teach this class … serve here … meet there … be hardworking … stay productive … count those heads … keep busy! Sadly, many of those same churches fail to encourage personal reflection, growth, and analysis. Their focus? The bottom line. Busyness equates to success. Lewis Sperry Chafer summed it up this way: “Much of our spiritual activity is nothing more than a cheap anesthetic to deaden the pain of an empty life.”  ~Charles Swindoll

Is it really possible for a Christian to become overexposed to spiritual things? Yes, if having blessings from God in such abundance makes us hardened to them. It can happen when we become the benefactors of a great number of God’s blessings. Our business goes well. Our health is good. Our children are fine. Our marriage is strong. Our church is good. The music is great. Our pastor is solid. Our home is lovely. Our ministry is bearing fruit. Our cars are new. Our neighborhood is clean. Our schools are safe. We’ve made good decisions in life. Blessing after blessing after blessing …

“But!” Jesus interrupts. “I have this against you, that you have left your first love.”

How does this kind of personal erosion occur? Nobody ever picks up a phone, calls a friend, and says, “Hey, today I feel like ruining my life.” We don’t do that. But we do, on occasion, entertain thoughts like, I don’t want the lordship of Christ to touch this area of my life. This is mine! After all, look at what’s happened as a result. It’s not that bad. I can handle it.  And we allow a subtle but destructive drift – the dethroning of His authority and an enthroning of our own. It happens because we’ve gotten bored in the Christian hothouse.

A believer who wades through God’s favor and God’s blessing and God’s bounty day after day, week after week, year after year can begin to court the dangers of erosion. How? Things get to be predictable. They become routine. You grow cynical. And before you know it, you can be lusting while you’re singing a gospel song. You can be thanking God for His forgiveness of your sins while you harbor bitterness toward your brother or sister in Christ. What you’re doing is just another religious duty. A.W. Tozer writes,

Familiarity may breed contempt even at the very altar of God. How frightful a thing it is for the preacher when he becomes accustomed to his work, when his sense of wonder departs, when he gets used to the unusual, when he loses his solemn fear in the presence of the High and Holy One; when, to put it bluntly, he gets a little bored with God and heavenly things.  ~Charles Swindoll

In a strange twist, the preaching of the cross is now foolishness, not only to the world but also to the contemporary church.   ~Steven J. Lawson

Admittedly pastors can learn from growing churches and successful ministries. Yet God’s work must be done God’s way if it is to know God’s blessing. He provides the power and He alone receives the glory only as His divinely prescribed plan for ministry is followed. When man-created schemes are followed, often imitating the world’s schemes, the flesh provides the energy and man receives the glory. … In a strange twist, the preaching of the cross is now foolishness, not only to the world but also to the contemporary church (Steven J. Lawson).  ~Charles Swindoll

Hearing the Word of God isn’t about being entertained, or feeling good, or leaving impressed with a speaker’s ability, or merely listening to someone talk. It’s about life change. The following verse lands like a gavel on a judge’s bench: “So when it comes to pass—[a]as surely it will—then they will know that a prophet has been in their midst” (Ezekiel 33:33)   ~Charles Swindoll

For some, a major life crisis may cause them to attend church, but only as superficial hearers. Like Ezekiel’s audience, they may find the form of the message interesting and stimulating, but they never feel its power in their hearts as life-changing reality. Those of us who are preachers need to be careful that we do not foster such shallow attention. In our day, there is a focus on “seeker-sensitive” services that will present the gospel in a way that will be attractive to such people. The task of the church, however, is not to assemble seekers but to make disciples…. The seriousness of the message must never be obscured by the desire to make the medium more attractive. The preacher’s task is not to entertain or inform but to plead passionately with men and women to flee the wrath that is to come on account of sin. (Charles Swindoll quoting a man)

The church is scarred by wars, buffeted by storms and eroded by pollution, and God is at work restoring His own – repairing, cleaning, purifying.  ~Ruth Bell Graham

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