August 31 – Unstoppable – Our “all consuming” ministry

Read Matthew 28:1-20

Although I have read this chapter countless times, I was struck by the exhaustive nature of the last three verses.  The mission of the unstoppable church . . .

  • Originates from the One who has all authority.  This is not a mere suggestion from a no-name person.  This command emanates from the Creator of the universe, who, with His infinite authority, called things into existence out of nothing.
  • Focuses on making disciples of all nations.  Although the epicenter of this movement was Jerusalem, it would soon spread to Judea, Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the world (Acts 1:8).  Ultimately, people “from every tribe and language and people and nation” will respond to the message (Rev. 5:9).
  • Necessitates teaching all that Christ commanded.  The words of Jesus were not only intended for the original listeners.  People like us who have yet to meet the Savior face to face carry an obligation to not only know, but to also obey all of His teaching.
  • Promises the “always presence” of Jesus.  He will never leave His servants.  The church is never alone in its accomplishment of the mission.

The unstoppable church has an unending mission.  Until the day of His return at the rapture, there will be people to whom we can go – from our neighborhoods to the nations.  Whether we are talking about the person who lives next door or someone in one of the most remote areas of the world, we must work faithfully in this unending task until He comes.  As we await His return, we must ask, “Who will go to the unreached and least reached?”  Ministries like Joshua Project are helping us to identify those kinds of groups.

But the unending nature of the unstoppable church’s mission is not only necessitated by unreached people but also by unborn generations.  With each day that passes prior to the return of Jesus, an estimated 370,000 babies are born worldwide.  You see, the coming generations guarantee that we will be about the mission of Christ until He returns.

We participate in that mission by praying, giving, and going.  More on those in the days ahead.

Steve Kern

August 30 – Unstoppable – More than a tradition!

Read Acts 2:37-47

The events you read about in the Bible took place in late May or early June around 30 a.d.  Meanwhile, I am writing these lines on Sunday, August 25, 2019. But today and that day nearly two millennia ago have something in common.  That “something” is baptism.

That’s right . . . churches like ours still practice this symbolic act of baptism.  We still invite boys and girls and grown men and women to enter into water where they are publicly immersed.  But this local church practice is not just some tradition that local churches have tenaciously maintained.   It is more than the vestiges of sentimental days gone by . . . vestiges that the unstoppable church holds to because we have “always done this.”  No, the roots of baptism’s value run much deeper than mere tradition.

Let’s look again at what Jesus said:

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  (Matt. 28:18-20)

Baptism is for Christ followers.  Those who were becoming disciples of Jesus were to be baptized.  It is no surprise, then, that we read in Acts 2:41 “Those who accepted his [Peter’s] message [the gospel about Christ] were baptized . . .”

Baptism is for Christ followers in every location.  Regardless of geography, Jesus followers from “all nations” were to be baptized.  It is just as important in Wooster, Ohio as it was in Jerusalem.

Baptism is for Christ followers throughout the church age.  The reassurance of Christ’s presence with us until the time of His physical return also points to the ongoing nature of His command.  Baptism is just as important in 2019 as it was in 30 a.d.

Baptism is a means of identification with the triune God.  As a person is baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit, he/she is publicly affirming his/her reliance on God for salvation and commitment to God’s purposes.  That public affirmation is just as valid here and now as then and there.

Is baptism an important next step for you?  Why not pick up an application at the church?

Steve Kern

August 29 – Unstoppable – Stained glass windows

Read 1 Corinthians 3:1-22

Stained glass windows have long been used as artwork in local churches.  Their purpose may be as simple and beautiful as allowing light into the church in a kaleidoscope of colors.  Or they often also serve as the purpose of illustrating biblical stories or truth.

In that regard, we can perhaps view 1 Corinthians 3 as stained glass windows for our church or any church today.  Paul uses three different word pictures that serve to illuminate those of us in the church still today, and these pictures also illustrate for us what the church is like.  Let’s pause briefly to take a closer look.

GrainA (grain) field.  In our human tendency to orient around human spiritual leaders, we can elevate them beyond what we should.  And this can also lead to factions within the church because people follow different leaders.  Paul was quick to point out that he and Apollos were mere farm hands.  He had planted and Apollos had watered.  It was God, however, who had caused the growth.  Are you quick to give God credit and praise for your spiritual development?

A building.  Just as a building has a foundation, the only foundation for the church is Jesus Christ.  Any other foundation will give way.  Meanwhile, volunteers and paid staff build on that foundation.  Not just any building material will do.  Those who serve in the church (and all of us are called to do that) must be very selective in how we go about it.  We must go about it in purity, godliness, and according to the Architect’s plan.  When it comes time for building inspection, will your contribution pass the test?

A temple.  In the Old Testament, the temple had served not only as a place of worship but also as a place where God’s presence was manifested.  Somehow, the omnipresent Creator of the universe dwelt in the Holy of Holies.  Today, God’s presence is not manifested in a specific church building or in a sacred place in a church building.  Instead, in the person of the Holy Spirit, He dwells in those that comprise the church.  Workers within the local church must serve with that reality in mind!

Steve Kern

August 28 – Unstoppable – Marriage and the Church

Read Ephesians 5:22-33

I talk briefly about this passage at weddings I officiate, but I am not sure that anyone really pays attention.  I can’t blame them.  The bride and groom are often so mesmerized by each other that the preacher is but a talking head.  And those gathered at the wedding are often so taken with the two or with the antics of a flower girl or a ring bearer his words go in one ear and out the other.

But now, just in case you are attentive, let me point out that the Spirit of God gives us several comparative pictures in order to better grasp the essence of Christ’s unstoppable church.  One of those is depicted here.  It is that of a head and a body.  The Spirit uses this picture to illustrate that Christ is the head and the church is His body.  Just as the human body responds to the impulses and desires expressed by the head, so the body of Christ, His church, is to respond submissively to the desires and leading of her Savior.  Just as the head cares naturally and wisely for the body, so Christ cares infinitely for His church.

But there is yet one more comparison used in this rich passage.  In this case, the church/Christ relationship is less illustrated by something else.  Instead, it serves as an illustration for something else.  It seems as if Paul is taking what He assumes is now widely understood . . . the submissive/loving relationship between the church and Christ . . . and is illustrating that which is less understood . . . the interactions between a wife and a husband.  He is saying, “Now that you know about the tender submission and sacrificial love that characterize the church and Christ, apply that to marriage!”

Are you married?  To what extent do tender submission and sacrificial love characterize your relationship with your spouse?  To what extent is your marriage a living, breathing depiction of this deeply intimate and spiritual relationship between Christ and His church?  Are there adjustments that must be made in your relationship?  Do you need to change your perspective of your relationship to Christ?

Steve Kern

August 27 – Unstoppable – Love

Read 1 John 4:7-21

You don’t have to ask the typical parent to love his/her child.  It seems to be natural and inherent to the relationship.  And it manifests itself as a powerful emotion that causes the mom or the dad to grieve in sorrow or to swell with pride depending on the situation.  But more than an emotion, it is often a conscious action that involves the sacrifice of time, energy, and resources for the welfare of the son or daughter.  Love is both a verb and a noun.  It is both a feeling and an action.  It is both an emotion and a decision.

Though it is inherent for parents, it is still imperfect.  While it may seem almost natural in some relationships, every relationship requires that the believer tap into supernatural resources to love the way we should.  Let’s make several observations about this love we are to demonstrate.

  1. Love is commanded (vv. 7, 21).  In every relationship, it is a verb as much as a noun.  It is something over which I have some control.  It is something I can actively do.
  2. Love is an indicator of a genuine salvation encounter with God (v. 8).  Believers have the capacity to love because of what they have experienced.  This is not to say that we always do it perfectly.  If that were the case, there would be no need for the command!
  3. Love is at the core of God’s attributes.  He is love (vv. 8, 16).
  4. Love was demonstrated by God in Christ (vv. 9, 10).  This is the supreme example.  God not only lovingly sent his Son into the world, but the Son also gave Himself willingly and sacrificially for us!
  5. Love is motivated by what we have experienced in Christ (v. 11).  Having been on the receiving end of boundless, unconditional love, we should pass it on to others.
  6. Love is a manifestation of the invisible God (v. 12).  Even though no one has seen God, His existence is made clear in the love that believers demonstrate.

Those of us who are part of Christ’s unstoppable church are to demonstrate that kind of love for each other!

Steve Kern

August 26 – Unstoppable – Grace group on mission

Read Matthew 10:1-42

“He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.”  (Mark 2:14, 15)

When that day finally came for the sending of the twelve in Matthew 10, it was likely no surprise.  Assuming that Jesus had shared with His disciples His purposes for selecting them, they would have been anticipating that day.  They would have realized that there was more to Jesus following than listening to great teaching and watching Him do amazing things.  Don’t get me wrong.  The development of that kind of intimacy with and marvel over Jesus is an important thing.  Churches do well to underscore that and place an exclamation mark after those aspects of discipleship . . . in principle and in practice.

But He had planned for more.  He had intended that these men who had drawn close to Him would also represent Him.  He had a clear picture of them proclaiming a message and demonstrating compassion to others.  You see, not only did He bring them in to Himself, He also sent them out to others.  And, on this day, He gave them final instruction and sent them.

Does your vision for your walk with Christ include both?  Is it both “be with Him” and “go out for Him?”  To do one to the exclusion of the other is imbalanced.  To concentrate your discipleship energy on increased knowledge about Jesus or deeper appreciation for biblical truth is critical.  But these are incomplete.

It is important to note that the twelve did both.  Both the “be with” and “go out for” were built into their DNA.  Both defined their purpose for existence.  It is in part after their “Christian small group” experience that we have chosen to model a significant portion of our ministry in Grace Group.  We want them to experience intimacy with Christ, love for one another, and ministry to the lost.

Are you part of a Grace Group?  If so, make sure that this all important dimension of discipleship does not get back burnered.  If not, sign up for one today!

Steve Kern

August 25 – Unstoppable – One another

Read Hebrews 10:1-25

Have you ever encountered a Jesus follower who had no affiliation with a local church?  I have.  Let me share in broad strokes my experience with such people.  In most instances, they are not particularly consistent in Bible reading.  Typically, they have limited passion about their own faith, let alone sharing it with others.  Their experience and practice is not exactly what God desires.

So what needs to change?  Do we need to just make sure that they are present in a church building once a week or so?  Is the goal that a person is regularly attending a public worship experience?

As commendable as those steps might be, they are not of necessity the full expression of God’s desire for His people.  His plan extends beyond a building and a worship service time.  His plan is much more relational.  He wants to transform us through personal interactions with others.  Here is the way it was expressed in verses 24 and 25:

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

As believers meet together, there is to be a strong “one another” dimension to those gatherings.  We are to “encourage one another.”  We are to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”  Did you experience that encouragement and challenge the last time you were in a public worship service?

I mean this as absolutely no criticism to the public worship services of our church or local churches in general.  My point is that there is a dimension to our Christian experience that is not possible in the gatherings of large groups of people.  That kind of “one another” encouragement and challenge will typically only take place as you participate in a small group.  It will typically only happen with people you are getting to know and trust.

Are you part of such a group?  Are you in a Grace Group?  If so, make sure that you take “one another” principles like these seriously.  If not, sign up for one today!

Steve Kern

August 24 – Unstoppable – Unstoppable church: incredible power

Read Ephesians 1:15-2:10

As we continue to learn about the unstoppable church that Christ is building, it is important that we stop occasionally to review the resume of qualifications and accomplishments of this great Architect.  In fact, Paul even prayed that the believers in Ephesus would have a growing appreciation for Him and what He has done.  Specifically, the apostle prayed that his readers would be enlightened in understanding three things:

  1. The hope of our calling
  2. The riches of His inheritance
  3. The greatness of His power

It is especially the last of these, His power, that Paul expands on.  Jesus followers, you see, are part of a powerful movement with a powerful leader.  This power was demonstrated in the resurrection.  Bringing a person from death to life after three days is a feat only possible for One possessing omnipotence.

But Christ was not only raised from death to life.  He also sat down . . . not as one exhausted and needing rest, but as One seated on a throne that depicts both authority and power.  This power and authority extends over all things.  Every angelic force is subject to Him and every demonic force cowers before Him.  Everything, in fact, is beneath Him.

And that power reaches to the church.  He is the head over the church.  In fact, the church is the body that responds to His impulses as the head.

His incomparable power not only extends over the church.  It is also at work within the church.  Every follower of Jesus has experienced it.  He has performed spiritual CPR on us, raising us from death to life.  And He has also elevated us to a seat next to Christ.  We sit in a position above all of the forces of darkness.  In Him, we are not subject to them.  We have experienced His power.

And there is one more facet of our elevation that is worth noting.  Into the ages to come, He shows through us the “incomparable riches of His grace.”  It is as if we are trophies on His shelf.  We are not there to draw attention to ourselves but to Him whose power won the trophy.

Steve Kern

August 23 – Unstoppable – Unstoppable church: unlimited forgiveness

Read Matthew 18:15-35

Christ’s unstoppable church is to be characterized by unlimited forgiveness.  Unfortunately, in the ebb and flow of real life, most of us would share Peter’s conviction and equation.

Same person + seven offenses + seven pardons = insane generosity.

But seven represents the limit.  In our fallen nature, all of us have our limit.  When we respond in the flesh, all of us have that point, where we begin to harbor a grudge.  Each of us, responding according to carnal reflex, draws a line in the sand at some point and says, “No more!”  And, typically, we don’t even make it to seven offenses.

The life equation that Peter introduces extends beyond most human practices . . . but it falls short of divine expectation.

The church, you see, is to be a place rich in grace.  It is to offer unlimited forgiveness.  That unlimited forgiveness extended to others is fueled by the reality that every Christ follower has been the recipient of unlimited grace poured out over us.  If you have come to Christ by faith, even the offenses of which you are most ashamed have been forgiven.  If you could list out the sum total of all of your sin in red marker on a black board, you would discover that the board has not only been erased; it has also been whitewashed.  Having received such unlimited forgiveness, we are invited to be conduits that freely pass that forgiveness to others.

And that forgiveness also points us to reconciliation.  I hope you noticed that process of reconciliation in this passage.  Each step along the way has reconciliation as its goal:

  1. Go to the person alone.
  2. Go to the person with others.
  3. Involve the broader church.
  4. Treat the person as an unbeliever.

Is there someone with whom you need to engage in this process?  Is there a line in the sand you have drawn that you need to go back and erase?  Do you need to set aside your human response of grudges and bitterness in favor of a divine response of forgiveness and grace?

Steve Kern

August 22 – Unstoppable – Two essential ministry ingredients

Read Matthew 23:1-39

They were perhaps the most highly regarded among most of their Jewish contemporaries.  Unfortunately, they were also the most heavily reprimanded by the One who truly counted.  They were the scribes and Pharisees.

What was it that made them highly regarded?  They held positions that empowered them to speak with authority.  From the outside looking in, they seemed to have their own lives together.  Their list of rules for living and traditions for religion made life . . . well . . . measurable.  Their attention to even the detailed minutiae made them seem holistic.  As a result, their fellow Jews tended to look up to them.

Jesus, however, saw them differently.  More than those who were living blatant lives of sin, these were the ones most often in the crosshairs of His criticism.  Why?  In part, it was their hypocrisy.  Six times, Jesus uses the term “hypocrite” in reference to them in this chapter.  They had expectations of others that somehow didn’t apply to themselves.  They had a better external showing than what was really happening on the inside.  Their walk, you see, was inconsistent with their talk.

But there was more.  The scribes and Pharisees also seemed to place an emphasis on the wrong things.  Rather than a strong emphasis on biblical content, they developed man-made traditions, which they placed on the same level as Scripture.  Rather than majoring on the majors, they often focused on the fine points.  The resultant legalistic expectations were a far cry from what the God of heaven desired for His children.

If I were to summarize the missing ingredients in the ministry of the scribes and Pharisees, I would say they needed a much heavier dose of grace and truth.  They were void of the kind of grace that reaches out to people who are far from God instead of writing them off.  They needed to focus more on the truth of God’s word rather than a convenient man-made list of do’s, don’ts, and exactly this much.

Be careful, there is a certain appeal to a Pharisaic life.  But one based on grace and truth is what your Heavenly Father had in mind!

Steve Kern