In recent years we've discovered an alarming trend in churches all across the country. Congregations that once held biblical principles dear, proclaiming the Gospel with conviction and preaching from the Bible with boldness, have begun to drift from their first love.
So, how do we guard against this slide? And what does a healthy church look like? Inside For Living will discover answers to those questions and more as Chuck Swindoll continues his teaching series called The Church Awakening. Before starting a new message, it's our tradition to read the scripture together. The Word was the joy and rejoicing of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord of Hosts. Three times in the Bible we read of God's Word being eaten.
I'm reading a book by Eugene Peterson now titled Eat This Book. I've decided just to read it, a reminder that God's Word was given to us to be digested, to be assimilated, to be obeyed, to be lived out. Never did God plan to give us His Word to satisfy idle curiosity or to make us biblically intelligent. He gave us His Word to change our lives. When we realize that, we understand that every section of scripture is applicable.
It's for us, for now, and for days yet future. Certainly the 20th chapter of Acts is no exception. I want to read for you just a small section from the center part of the 20th chapter of Acts beginning at verse 28. Acts 20-28, Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which he purchased with his own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. And from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore, be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
May God be honored in the hearing and the instruction from his word and then as we live it out. This is Insight for Living. For resources designed to help you dig deeper into today's topic, go to insight.org. And now let's continue Chuck Swindoll's message titled The Church on a Long Drift. The reality of erosion is not new.
Neither is it temporary. It is here to stay. It is as old as time. It has impacted our universe around us, as well as organizations about us. Organizations erode, schools erode, families erode. Scholars use the word entropy. It's the steady degradation and disintegration of a system or a society or a nation. Put in popular terms, it is a proven fact that things go from pristine and pure to strong and good to weak and poor to bad and worse. Erosion, slow, subtle, silent, never with a lot of announcement and often without many people even knowing it's happening.
Historian Edward Gibbon spent the almost 20 years of his life writing his magnum opus toward the end of the 18th century. He left in his legacy the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. Two words in the title reveal erosion, decline, and fall. I read in the last several weeks that the average age of the world's greatest nations from the beginning of history has been about 200 years. Those nations always regressed through the following cycle. Think of a circle and start at the bottom. Those nations went from bondage to spiritual faith, from spiritual faith to great courage, from courage to liberty, from liberty to abundance, from abundance to complacency, from complacency to apathy, from apathy to dependence, and from dependence right back into bondage. Same old entropy cycle. What can happen in a universe, in a nation, in an organization can happen in a church.
In fact, it is happening. Cynthia and I have been friends for over 20 years with a wonderful man we have come to know and love well. He's a man a little beyond middle-aged who as a physician lives in another state, therefore goes to another church. But we stayed in touch with him through our Insight for Living ministry and as a result we've dialogued with him from time to time. He sent me a very moving letter recently, so apropos I ask for permission to read excerpts from it to you today.
I've deleted the names and the places for obvious reasons. He begins, Chuck, I just finished listening to your sermon last month on worship, a commitment, not a war. It hit me like a cup of cold water for a man lost wandering in the desert. I believe this is the most important message to the church I've listened to in the last 20 years. Absolutely everything you talked about has been happening in our church, gradually.
By the way, that's an erosion word. Gradually over these last 20 years. I joined our church 26 years ago in the most fruitful days of our former pastor's ministry. It was an exciting time of church growth, personal spiritual growth, fueled by his expository preaching.
But toward the end of the 1980s I began to notice a change. We began to take our cues from other large churches, like, and he names them. We sent delegations of our pastors to study their methods, and the emphasis changed here from preaching to believers to talking to seekers. The unapologetic preaching style of our pastor that convicted me of many failings in my spiritual life now gave way to a watered-down style tailored to the needs of seekers. I'm very grateful for the truth from God's word that he taught me, but near the end of his ministry I look forward to his replacement. I was eager to digest more substantial spiritual teaching. I anticipated the new pastor would have the same fire in his belly our pastor had when I first joined the church. And I believed the church would benefit from that change. It has been three years now since our new pastor replaced him. Although he is an accomplished public speaker and I'm sure has a heart for God, unfortunately he's taken us even further down the path.
Those are erosion words. Down the path of modern style of worship that you described in your message. Gone is expository preaching. Sermonettes, as you described, are all too common here.
Parenthesis, today's sermon lasted 12 minutes. There are plans now to renovate the whole worship center. We will even be covering over the pipes of the organ, quote, so it doesn't look so much like a church.
The music grows more and more superficial. The choir that was once over 500 strong has trouble finding 125 on most Sunday mornings. He says some nice things and then I close. With your permission I would like to send a copy of the sermon you preached on worship to our present pastor. I thought about that and gave him permission.
Perhaps you could also send about five copies of the CDs because there are others I know who need to hear this. God bless you for your courage and faithfulness in preaching the word. The reality of erosion is nothing new. It's upon us. I looked into the faces of 80 or more pastors and wives during the last conference I was at in a small room where we were sort of packed in there and able to get close with one another and I heard their stories, tragic stories. I came to realize that we are now experiencing ecclesiastical erosion and it's reached epidemic proportions. In light of this I decided to face it head on.
The last thing I want to leave in your mind is any foolish impression that I believe we're the only place that has it right. That would be pride beyond description. By the grace of God we're able to do what we do and keep doing it for his glory. This is not in any way meant to sound self-serving, but my great hope for those 80 men and women was that they might know the joy that's mine week after week after week after week. Of serious study and research in the scriptures. A congregation that loves strong preaching, biblical exhortation, and scriptural application. How you weren't satisfied with anything less nor should you ever be.
Some of the men looked at me with longing eyes. I think I could have expanded our staff by 40 men that day when we talked about what goes on at Stonebriar, but I added it hasn't come without a price. What you don't know is wherever the truth is declared a price is paid behind the scenes. What you don't know are the attacks, the enemy attacks, the adversarial attacks. The things that go on that would drastically detract from our calling and our work.
The work of our whole staff, a fine staff, committed women, men and women who love what we do. This church hasn't just happened. The grace of God has been at work and your presence has added its own benediction, but God's spirit is upon us and we all want to hold it very loosely, but not so loosely that we become irresponsible, complacent, apathetic. This past week it occurred to me that there was a classic case in point right from the New Testament where we can watch erosion taking place. If you turn in your Bible to Acts chapter 18, we'll see this example in the place called the Church at Ephesus. For the first 17 verses, Paul is in ancient Corinth and that's a story unto itself where he spends some two years or so pouring his life into the lives of those young believers in the fast, rapid-moving, wicked city of Corinth. God leads him to go across the Aegean Sea to the land we know today as Turkey, called in those days Asia. When he arrives, he comes, not surprisingly, to the busy metropolis of Ephesus. We read of the journey in verse 18 of Acts 18.
Paul, having remained many days longer, meaning in Corinth, took leave of the brethren and put out to sea for Syria. And with him, please note, were Priscilla and Aquila. He has lived with this couple for the years he has been in Corinth. He has poured himself into their lives.
We would call it mentoring. He has built a theology in their thinking. He has equipped them to carry on, either in his presence or absence. And so not surprisingly, verse 19, he leaves them in Ephesus as he moves on to Antioch. They came to Ephesus. He left them there. Now he himself entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews.
The original term means dialogue. So he goes into the synagogue and he dialogues with these people he's never known before in the city of Ephesus, in the synagogue where Jews assemble. They've not heard of Christ. They've not heard of the resurrection. They know nothing of the Holy Spirit. He dialogues with them for a period of time, albeit brief, and they want him to stay longer, verse 20, but he doesn't.
He doesn't consent. He leaves them and says, I will return again if God wills, and he sets sail from Ephesus. The next column will take you to chapter 19, verse 1.
Picking up a story, he has gone to Antioch, given his report, now returns into what we call Turkey or Asia, comes down from the north and comes back to that city that he briefly visited. Verse 1, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus. And he found some disciples. Drop down to verse 7.
There were in all about 12 men. So we find a small group of disciples that Aquila and Priscilla have no doubt built their lives into, spent time with them, and they're underway in the faith, and Paul decides to carry on in the place where he had left off, the synagogue in Ephesus. We read of it in verse 8. He entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months.
Three months. He's again dialoguing and persuading them about the kingdom of God. Once again, he's telling them of the Savior. They're talking about the cross, or at least he is. He's listening to their questions.
He's answering them, and there's a back and forth, give and take, just like one would do in any Jewish synagogue today. Very unusual, very unique, and resisted by the majority. We read of that in verse 9. Some were becoming hardened, don't miss that. Some were becoming hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the way.
In those days, Christians were called followers of the way, meaning the way of Jesus. And these people in that assembly, that synagogue, are hardened toward the message, disobedient toward the things Paul was teaching, and therefore they're speaking evil of the way before the people. So they're saying to people, this is not something we want to believe.
This is not something we're open to. We're not going to allow this to be said in our synagogue. Notice Paul's response. He withdrew from them, meaning he left the synagogue, and he took away the disciples. Those are the followers of the way.
Those are the believers. He moved over and reasoned daily in the school of Tyrannus. I smiled when I read that. The Greek word means tyrant. You wonder if his mother named him that, or if former students that had been studying at the school named him tyrant.
Makes you wonder what kind of landlord he was. But anyway, like our church, it gets a start in a school. And he has the freedom to teach daily. I take it for hours on end as he declares the great news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He begins to take them through the scrolls of the Old Testament. He finishes the message regarding the Holy Spirit and what God is doing. He preaches the whole counsel of God, and the result is phenomenal. Verse 10. This took place for two years so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.
It's an amazing thing. There was no need for a demographic study to be made in order to start a church. There was no need for there to be a promotion and advertisement and all neighborhood canvassing, letting everybody know the great preacher of the decade is available at such and such a school. None of that. There was no fleshly method for enlarging growth.
There was no manipulative technique to get people to keep coming and to give their money. You read none of that. You read none of that. The Bible simply says, as only it can say it in the most succinct terms, he came, he taught, he held forth, he was consistently reliable to deliver the goods, and as a result, the message spread. I said those things earlier with tongue in cheek. There's nothing wrong with some of that, you understand, but when that becomes the tail wagging the dog, the church is off course. That's not what ministry is about. People get the word that God's truth is being taught. As I've said for years, sheep come where there's good food. As a result, people came, they heard, and even some who couldn't come down to Ephesus all over the country of Turkey.
Check it out, that's a vast region. All over Asia, they began to hear it, and God was performing miracles and doing a remarkable, remarkable thing. Now, you might be tempted to think, how wonderful was that?
It must have been like a downhill slide. Wait, wait. Always know this, and I quote from William Barkley, where truth is taught, falsehood ever attacks. Behind the scenes, a price was being paid. In this case, to start with, there was spiritual warfare. It's mentioned in verses 13 to 19. Remember now, the church is going on. The church at Ephesus founded, well taught, but during the process of this period of time, the enemy attacks. And not only is he strong, in fact supernatural in power, not only is he insidious, he is invisible. And he works for demons. In this case, we have some self-appointed exorcists who come on the scene and they're going to do a work of deliverance, not from the Lord himself, but from the enemy. Verse 13, some of the Jewish exorcists who went from place to place, so they're itinerant exorcists, attempted to name over those who had the evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, I drew you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.
There were seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest who were doing this. The evil spirit, please observe this answer. The evil spirit answered and said to them, I recognize Jesus. Don't ever wonder if the demons know Jesus. Don't ever wonder if they don't know that he died for the sins of the world. Don't ever think that demons are ill-informed.
They are brilliant. The strategy is from the one who was the angel of God at one time, Lucifer, son of the morning. The strategy is empowered by him. They know Jesus. In fact, they say, he says, I know about Paul.
But who are you? And they go on to deal with this and this one overpowers him. Please observe verse 18, many also of those who had believed, kept coming, confessing, and disclosing their practices. God was at work. So the word of God continues to grow.
Repeating the quote Chuck cited moments ago, where truth is taught, falsehood ever attacks. And that's certainly a wake-up call as we strive to protect the bride of Christ. You're listening to Insight for Living and the Bible teaching of pastor and author Chuck Swindoll. He's titled today's message, The Church on a Long Drift. It's message number eight in a nine-part series titled The Church Awakening. To learn more about Chuck Swindoll and this ministry, visit us online at insightworld.org. It's not often that we're able to offer a book that dovetails with each series, but today is an exception.
Chuck wrote a full-length book that was inspired by our current study. It's also called The Church Awakening. As a follower of Jesus, this book will help you find the right church, strengthen your current church, and guard against the gimmicks that degrade the bride of Christ. Once you're finished reading this book, you'll want to share it with your pastor as well. To purchase a copy of The Church Awakening, go to insight.org slash offer or call us.
If you're listening in the United States, call 800-772-8888. At Insight for Living, we're pleased to receive notes, letters, and phone calls from friends who affirm the value of this daily program. You might be encouraged to hear this one. It said, I'm a pastor in southern Texas.
I'm 70 years old but going strong. Preachers need to have a preacher too, and Chuck is my preacher. Insight for Living brings me daily inspiration, accountability, and instruction in God's Word. Thank you and God bless you.
Isn't that great? When we inspire the pastor of a local church, we're impacting all the people who attend that church as well. And when you give a contribution to Insight for Living, you're making these moments possible. To give a donation now, call us. If you're listening in the United States, call 800-772-8888.
To give a donation online, visit insight.org slash donate. Cruise ships leave the harbor for Alaska all the time, but there's only one that's hosted by Insight for Living Ministries. You're invited to travel with Chuck Swindoll this summer. Every moment of your vacation is thoughtfully prepared and protected so that you can enjoy the perfect balance of rest, adventure, relaxation, sightseeing, and just plain fun, all in the company of those who share your respect for God's Word and God's creation.
Yeah, I'll put it this way. God had a very good day when he created Alaska. I was awestruck by the majestic mountains, the wildlife, the quaint little seaports. All my life, I've wanted to see a glacier.
When I stepped out on the deck of our ship and witnessed the massive wall of ice, wow, it was truly breathtaking. Escape with Insight for Living Ministries to the great frontier, July 1st through July 8th, 2023. Call 1-888-447-0444. That's 1-888-447-0444. Or learn more at Insight.org slash events.
The tour to Alaska is paid for and made possible by only those who choose to attend. I'm Bill Meyer, inviting you to listen when Chuck Swindoll describes what he calls The Church on a Long Drift, tomorrow on Insight for Living. The preceding message, The Church on a Long Drift, was copyrighted in 2008 and 2010, and the sound recording was copyrighted in 2010 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. All rights are reserved worldwide. Duplication of copyrighted material for commercial use is strictly prohibited.
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