Spirit Empowered Church Planting

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Rom 1:16 ESV

It would seem that some people who are all for church planting are unaware of Romans 1:16, so I have reproduced it here for the benefit of those who think that a church is best planted by human invention.

What do I mean by ‘human invention?’ How about slick marketing programs that blanket the city? Or freebies, raffles, and give-aways that are meant to be a spiritual bait-and-switch? There are surveys meant to find out what unbelieving pagans want in a church so that a church can be tailored for them, and there are those ‘church planters’ who blanket Christian radio, Christian bookstores and encourage their core team to invite their friends over to their cool, new church that is so much better than the one they’re in now. There are other so-called church planting and church growth gimmicks I could mention, but I think that you probably know of one or two places like this.

Then there is Holy Spirit power that converts a soul from being a prisoner of darkness into a light-reflecting child of the Kingdom. Those churches that seek to grow from preaching a gospel that leads to Spirit-regeneration of the souls of men are true church plants. And those who plant churches by the power of the gospel do so in the methodology that gives all glory to God and cannot be conjured up by Madison Avenue methods.

To all my brothers out there who are holding forth the truth in faithfulness, keep it up. For those growing weary of doing good, email me and I’ll join you in prayer so that you won’t be tempted to give in to powerless quick fixes that yield a crowd, but not gospel growth.

Thus Sayeth the Lord: Why We Preach the Bible (weekend repost)

When stripped down to our historical foundation, IFCA International is a Bible movement. Our churches and ministries exist to preach Christ crucified (1 Cor. 1:23), a prospect that has never been acceptable to the world and is rejected by the apostate church. Like the Apostle Paul, we do not shrink from declaring the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). We believe that God has spoken without error and that His Word has never failed. We believe that the Word of God rules over the Church and God’s people, and that this authority extends to all humanity whether it accepts it or not. We believe the Bible, and this should have a direct impact upon how we minister in the preaching of the Word.

Read the rest here: Thus Sayeth the Lord: Why We Preach the Bible

Jesus and His Sustaining Power Over Creation

Back when I was a child, one of the most popular things to play on in the playground was a merry-go-round that kids would climb on and spin around until you would get dizzy. To make extra exciting, we would sometimes throw sand on it to make it slippery, and then everyone would climb on and we would have one person run around spinning it as fast as they could. The centrifugal force mixed with the slippery sand-covered deck would cause any unfortunate soul with a weak grip to be flung off of that merry-go-round. Last one left holding on was the winner. What fun!

We played that game before we understood the ideas related to physics, or had ever heard of centrifugal force. We just knew that if you go fast enough in a circle (as in carnival rides) you get pulled away from the center. It’s fun to think about these things, but they also remind me of what Paul wrote to the Colossians about Jesus Christ, the sustainer of the universe.

“And He [Christ] is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (Col. 1:17)

He is Before All Things

This means that Jesus has priority and primacy. “He is before all things” means that Jesus existed before anything was made. He existed before the universe began (John 1:1-2; 1John 1:1). He existed before Abraham, father of the Jews (John 8:58; Ex. 3:14). This is shown in Col. 1:17 when it says that “He is before all things,” not he was before all things. This isn’t poor grammar, but points to the eternality of Jesus Christ. This can also be clearly seen in the references to Jesus in Revelation (e.g. Rev. 22:13).

And in Him All Things Hold Together

Jesus Christ is not only the Creator of all of creation, but he is the sustainer of it all as well. Hebrews 1:3 says “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.”

The mighty power of Jesus which created the world with a word so that the universe leapt into existence, also is the same word that continuously since the creation sustains the universe by the same power.

The power of Jesus Christ is staggering when looked at in this way. Compare the fact that on the cross, not only could he have called down a legion of angels to save him, but he could have withheld his sustaining power from the universe and it would have all ended.

Even science is at a loss to explain how the universe is held together. Scientists don’t understand how the nucleus of an atom holds together. In describing the phenomenon, they call it “The Strong Nuclear force.” Here is how scientists from the Astrophysics Group of the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab describe it:

“The Strong Nuclear Force (also referred to as the strong force) is one of the four basic forces in nature (the others being gravity, the electromagnetic force, and the weak nuclear force). As its name implies, it is the strongest of the four. However, it also has the shortest range, meaning that particles must be extremely close before its effects are felt. Its main job is to hold together the subatomic particles of the nucleus (protons, which carry a positive charge, and neutrons, which carry no charge. These particles are collectively called nucleons). As most people learn in their science education, like charges repel (+ +, or – -), and unlike charges attract (+ -).”


We as Christians know who made and sustains the Strong Nuclear Force, gravity, the electromagnetic force and the weak nuclear force—Jesus Christ.

Consider what 2Peter 3:5-7, 10 says:
“For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. …But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.”

Did you catch the emphasis on the effect of the Word of God in those verses?
By God’s word the world was formed.
By God’s word the world was flooded.
By God’s word the world will be destroyed.

All the Lord has to do is remove his sustaining hand from this universe and all of creation will cease!

George Gamow, one of the founders of the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe wrote, “The fact that we live in a world in which practically every object is a potential nuclear explosive, without being blown to bits, is due to the extreme difficulties that attend the starting of a nuclear reaction.”
Gamow, recognizes the power of the Strong Nuclear force that keeps all of us alive.

Think of what will happen when the Lord who made the force removes his hand! John MacArthur writes, “Jesus must be God. He made the universe, existed outside and before it and preserves it.”

Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of the Colossian believers for a minute. They were being pursued, on one hand, by those who denied the deity of Jesus Christ. Paul set out to demolish that idea and leave them no other alternative than to see that Jesus is God.

On the other hand, they were also being influence by Jewish influences that said that Jehovah God was the creator of the universe and that he is to be worshipped, not Jesus. Paul, likewise demolishes the idea that Jesus is anything other than God himself.

Yes, God made the universe and God sustains it, and yes God is to be worshipped. But God has been revealed in his Son Jesus Christ. To worship God while denying His Son is unacceptable.

Colossians widens our understanding of Jesus Christ. We begin to see a glimpse of Who it was when John saw the risen Lord in Rev. 1:10-18. May God give us greater insight into the glories of Christ, or Lord.

Church Planting Lessons from Thessalonica

The Church of Thessalonica was established during Paul’s second missionary journey. It is chronicled in Acts 15:36-18:22. In this post I want to walk through this journey and then apply a few lessons that can be applied to church planting.

Paul’s journey began in Antioch, were Paul and Barnabas had a sharp disagreement over John Mark, as to whether he should join them on their trip or not. Apparently John Mark had abandoned them on a previous trip and Paul did not think it was a good idea to depend upon him. Barnabas took John Mark and went to the island of Cyprus while Paul took Silas as his partner (Acts 15:36-41).

Meanwhile Paul and Silas headed to the region of Galatia to encourage the churches that Paul and Barnabas had established in the first missionary journey (Acts 15:36). The first stop mentioned was in Derbe and then on to Lystra. At Lystra Paul took Timothy with him on his journey (Acts 16:1-5).”

From Galatia Paul traveled with Silas and Timothy through the region called Phrygia, moving in a Northwest direction, avoiding Asia Minor (modern Turkey) because the Holy Spirit had forbidden that Paul should go there (Acts 16:6).

Paul then decided to go above Asia Minor into a Roman province called Bithynia, but Paul and his party were once again forbidden by the Spirit from going into this region (16:7). That meant that North and South were out of bounds to travel in. They could go back or they could press on toward Mysia along the northern border of Asia and Mysia until they reached Troas, which they did (Acts 16:8).

It was while in Troas that the Lord revealed to Paul his mission. He was given a vision of a Macedonian man who called out to him to come over and help him. Paul would have recognized this man as Macedonian from his traditional hat and clothing that had been a mark of the Macedonian people for centuries before and carries on even to today.

Although Macedon is not as well known to most of us today outside of the biblical references to it, it is important for us to know a little about its history.

The Macedonian kingdom was the “greatest empire ever known to human history.” [1] It was the empire of Alexander III also known as Alexander the Great.

Before he died at the age of 33, Alexander had succeeded in extending his kingdom from Egypt in the south to the Indus River in India to the east. His father, Philip II conquered the Greek city states and taught his son well many strategies that served him well as he sought to conquer the rest of the world. Alexander conquered Asia Minor, Phoenicia, Palestine, Egypt, Babylonia and India.

Alexander’s armies are pictured in Daniel 7:6 as a swift leopard with four wings. It says, “After this I looked, and behold, another, like a leopard, with four wings of a bird on its back. And the beast had four heads, and dominion was given to it.” The speed of the army was represented by the leopard’s speed amplified by four wings. The four heads refer to what happened after Alexander’s death. Since he died so young, possibly by poisoning, no plan of succession was in place.

After much turmoil, the kingdom was divided among his four generals into four kingdoms, with Antipater receiving the former Macedonian kingdom and Greece. At Antipater’s death, Cassander had the opportunity to take control and he solidified his position by marrying Alexander’s half-sister, the daughter of King Philip II. Her name? Thessaloniki.

In 316 BC Cassander founded a new city by consolidating 26 towns into the new city he called Thessalonica. This prestigious city would go through many more changes and wars by the time Paul would enter into it. When Paul came, it was a jewel to the Romans and had a population of about 200,000, which was quite large for a city in its day.

Let’s go back to Acts 16. Now we can see God’s purpose in not allowing Paul to go to Mysia or Asia or Bithynia! He wanted them to go to Macedon to bring the gospel message to the Gentiles!

Notice in verse 10 that it says “we” (cp. v.8 says “they”). What we find here is that in Troas Paul picked up another traveling companion—the author of Acts and the Gospel named for him—Luke! Paul went from Troas (in Mysia) across the island of Samothrace to the mainland of Macedonia and the city of Neapolis (16:11).

From Neapolis Paul and his friends went to the Roman colony of Philippi, named after Alexander the Great’s father King Philip II (16:12). In this city, Paul and his company met Lydia and led her to Christ. Later they were beaten with rods and thrown into jail after casting the demon out of a slave girl. (16:13-24) Welcome to Macedonia!

While in jail, God intervened and a jailer and his family were saved (16:25-40). From Lydia and the jailer’s family and any other’s saved on that trip to Philippi Paul established the first church in Europe. The letter we call Philippians was written to them.

Acts 17:1-9 tells us about the establishment of the Thessalonian church. Leaving Philippi, Paul passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, probably because they were so small (17:1) and moved to the city of Thessalonica, where a synagogue had been established by the Jewish population.”

In these 9 verses, I’d like to make three observations about the work that Paul did in planting this church and make some applications for our lives.

1. Paul “reasoned from the Scriptures with a Purpose (vv. 2-4).

Paul’s time in Thessalonica was short—he knew that. He was not on a vacation or sight seeing trip. He was literally on a mission. Because of that purpose, Paul’s time was focused, purposeful and methodical.

Verse 2 says he“reasoned”with the Jews. This word in Greek is dilegomai and it is where we get our word “dialogue.” Paul “dialogued” with them. He had deep, meaningful conversations with them about the Scriptures and their meaning. But it had a purpose and an aim. they didn’t argue about Jonah’s whale or who the Nephilim in Genesis 6 are. Paul made a bee-line to the cross and Jesus.”

Paul wanted to show them from the Old Testament that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah (v. 3). And Paul was seeking to change the hearts and minds of his listeners (v.4)! His mission had a purpose. Remember the way that Paul talked to King Agrippa? Acts 26:24-29. Paul preached for change!”

Studying the Bible and going to church is good. Listening to sermons and reading Christian books is good. But to what end do we do these things? Is it to seek holiness in our lives? It is to grow in Christ? Why do we share Christ? Is it to see people saved?”

2. Faithful gospel proclamation will also attract opposition from our enemy and those blinded by sin (vv. 5-9).

In a sense, these gospel preachers were turning the “world upside down” by preaching their message about King Jesus. We need to be honest. Most people like the status quo. We don’t like it when people rock the boat. And we love our sin. Listen to John 3:19-20. It says, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.”

Paul was trying to build a lighthouse in the darkness of Thessalonica. But the darkness wasn’t about to just roll over and let that happen. It fought back. So, we must wage war!” We too need to fight like Paul—reasoning, preaching the gospel, and persuading with the truth.

Second Corinthians 10:3-6 says,“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete. “

3. Finally, Jesus must be trusted to build his own church (Matt 16:18).

It is easy to give up and be discouraged by adversity and the roadblocks that we encounter. To see all the failures and not the victories. Afterall, Paul followed Jesus’ commands and went to Macedonia, just as he said. Yet in Philippi he was beaten then jailed. Next in Thessalonica a mob formed and attacked their friend Jason in his home. When Paul left Thessalonica, he was probably only there from 3-6 months, but they had to move on!”

But a church was planted in Thessalonica. And it grew and matured…even with the absence of Paul! God gave life to that seed of a church and although Paul left when it was a weak little seedling, God would cause it to grow.”We certainly can learn from this. We need to work hard, and work smart, but we must learn as well to trust Jesus with the results. After all, it is HIS church.

[1] Green, Gene L. The Letters to the Thessalonians. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans Pub.; Apollos, 2002; p. 9.

How God’s Sovereignty Affects Our Attitude in the Present Circumstances (part 3)

For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs. But I will declare it forever; I will sing praises to the God of Jacob. All the horns of the wicked I will cut off, but the horns of the righteous shall be lifted up.

(Psalm 75:8–10, ESV)

Trials, difficulties, and challenges have a way of making clear where we place our faith. For those that are believers in Jesus Christ, the times when we are most challenged in our faith offer us a time not only to test the faith we have, but also to grow in our faith and trust of Christ.

In the first two posts of this series (you can read them here: How God’s Sovereignty Affects Our Attitude in the Present Circumstances (part 1) and here: How God’s Sovereignty Affects Our Attitude in the Present Circumstances (part 2)) I laid out six ways in which the sovereignty of God affects our attitude toward our present circumstances from Psalm 75. Here are the final three reasons:

7. It Focuses Our Hearts On God’s Grace (v. 8)

For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs.” (Psalm 75:8, ESV)

The references of God’s wrath being like a cup of mixed wine is a familiar metaphor used throughout the Bible. In the Old Testament, wine was often mixed with spices and used for special occasions, usually for the purpose of intoxication.

In other places, this picture of the wrath of God as a cup of wine pictures the wicked as reeling, vomiting, crazed and prostrate. God is giving them what they so richly deserve. He is giving them a dose of their own medicine. Charles Spurgeon wrote, “The retribution is terrible, it is blood for blood, foaming vengeance for foaming malice. [If] the very color of divine wrath is terrible, what [must] the taste be?”

But how does this encourage us when we are in the midst of the trials? It once again shows that God is sovereign, in control over the wicked. And the encouragement that we receive is in relation to his sovereign grace that he has poured out upon us.

When you recognize the fact that all of mankind sins “and fall short of the glory of God” and that “the soul that sins must die,” you see that you and I are worthy of this cup of staggering—this cup of God’s hot, spiced wrath.

We are so worthy of his eternal punishment. But God poured out his wrath upon our Savior Jesus instead of us. We received mercy because of the abundant grace of God towards us. And it was given to us because of God’s sovereign choice. Undeserved and overflowing.

8. It Encourages Worship (v. 9)

But I will declare it forever; I will sing praises to the God of Jacob.” (Psalm 75:9, ESV)

Because of the surety of the justice of God, the psalmist expresses his delight in God through praise. The title “God of Jacob” used sin verse 9 is both an endearing name as well as a covenant name. Although our God is indeed the God of all the nations, the psalmist personalizes his worship by expressing praise that the God of the universe is also the personal God who loves, cares for, and protects his people.

Have you thought much about why you worship God? Most of us would probably say that we worship him because of what he has done for us—for his love of us, most clearly shown in personally saving us from our sins.

But here in verse 9, the psalmist gives us another perspective about praise. It includes praising God for who he is which drives what he has done, including bringing us salvation. In verse 9, the psalmist is praising the Lord for his vengeful wrath which he will pour out upon all unrepentant sinners. Now, to most of us, that seems like a weird thing to praise God about—maybe even inappropriate. “Praise God for crushing sinners and sending them to hell?” Is that right?

To clarify, we shouldn’t delight in the punishment of sinners with a ghoulish delight. But we should see that it is very appropriate to praise the Lord for his justice and hatred of evil, by which he will make right all wrongs, and punish the wicked for their rebellion against God.

Look at Rev. 19:1-3 when you have an opportunity. If you read it, you will see the rejoicing and praise of God’s people. Then in verses 6-18 you will read about two feasts of celebration—the marriage supper of the Lamb (in verses 6-10) and the Great Supper of God prepared for the birds of the air (in verses 17-19). 

So, we should think about God more deeply and meditate on him as we seek to worship him. Our Great God is worthy of worship for all of his attributes, not just the ones we benefit from and are tied to our comfort. His so-called “negative” attributes along with his positive attributes all make up the character of God—and everything about our Great God and Savior is worthy of praise.

9. It Drives Evangelism (vv. 9-10)

But I will declare it forever; I will sing praises to the God of Jacob. All the horns of the wicked I will cut off, but the horns of the righteous shall be lifted up.” (Psalm 75:9–10, ESV)

There is a question about what exactly the “it” in verse 9a means and how it ties in with verse 10. Some scholars have said that the “it” of verse 9a refers to what God said he would do to the evil. And I think that that is part of it, but not all that the “it” refers to.

There is a bit of a puzzle in verse 10 as well regarding who is speaking, but I believe the most logical and probable answer depends on the word “it” in verse 9. I believe the psalmist is stating that he will declare God’s words of impending judgment. It would read something like this, “But I will declare [the coming judgment of the Lord] forever; and I will sing praises to the God of Jacob.”

And then, verse 10 makes sense. It is a reiteration of what he has already said about bringing low the proud “horns” of the wicked.

Now if that is what it means, then here is what I think that means for us. I think the impending judgment of the Lord should have two responses that impact our evangelism:

First, it should drive us to share Christ because we believe in the reality of the coming judgment of God. How can we say we believe in hell and the torments of a Christless eternity and yet still remain unmoved to share Christ?

And finally, a warning of the coming judgment of God should be included in our gospel messages. Many versions of gospel presentations have been “cleaned up” and sanitized like some Disney movie. No blood or gore. Everything packaged up into a neat and clean “Jesus loves you” gospel. Even John 3:16 is inadequate in itself because “perish” is so vague. Unpack this when you proclaim the gospel. Let sinners feel the fires of hell. Don’t let them go unwarned!

When we remember the fact that our God is seated upon his throne, it changes everything in our outlook. And the reverse is true as well. When we forget or minimize the sovereign rule of God over this world, we also cast ourselves in a place where we were never meant to be, carrying burdens we were never meant to carry. For the unbelieving world, this is how it functions. But for the child of God, may we not only say that Jesus is Lord, but may we live daily in the beautiful light of this truth and embrace each day as a gift from our sovereign God.