Category Archives: Church

The Cost of Mere, Dull Existence

I am reading Radical by David Platt again as a part of my morning reading and devotion time.  I finished the first chapter this morning.  In that chapter, he wrote a section about the cost of non-discipleship.  I think it could accurately be called the cost of mere, dull existence.

Honestly, I don’t know how one could live with the monotony of working toward goals of a bigger house, a nicer car and career promotion, only to reach those goals and make new goals that involve a bigger house, a nicer car and a career promotion. I can’t imagine the disappointment of stepping into eternity and looking about to see that none of those accomplishments came with me after I died.

Living for God with eternity in mind is so much more exciting.  For us it has meant living in different places in different parts of the world.  When I am in the USA, some react to our lifestyle by expressing regret that we have lost out on so much.  But we would have never have gained what we have by living merely for ourselves in the American rat race for bigger and better.  And what we have isn’t measured materially.  There is a certain happiness and adventure found simply in travel and being exposed to other cultures, but when God and His glory is the focus of doing it, the happiness becomes joy and the life of adventure becomes a life of meaning.

Not every follower of Jesus can or should do what we do.  Doing what we do is not a requirement for eternal significance. As long as the glory of God is the focus of your life, you can find joy and meaning in whatever place God has placed you.  And if you are a Christian and that joy and meaning is still missing, there are some things that you can do, and really, they aren’t very radical or at least shouldn’t be. One is be an active part a church that teaches the Bible as God’s Word and focuses on the needs of the world and not just the felt needs of the people nearby.  A church that is truly global in its concern to spread God’s glory will be local in that concern as well.  Second, truly get into God’s Word and learn how to read it and to study it to find God’s meaning behind it.  There are many resources out there to help you learn to do that.  Third, be a person of prayer, and disciplined prayer at that. If you pray only when the urge hits or ‘the Spirit leads’, you are likely not to have the urge and not to take time the hear the Spirit leading.  And finally, read books such as Radical by David Platt, Desiring God by John Piper and Heaven by Randy Alcorn to help you see further down the road and to encourage you to live with God’s glory and eternity in mind.

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Failures in Leadership

We often look to Moses as the model of leadership in the Old Testament.  In fact, he was a great leader.  He led a people who had grown up in a polytheistic system and led them to belief in the one, true God.   He took them through perils and dealt with complaints and uprisings.  There is no doubt that he was a great man and a great leader.

Yet, in the end, he did not see the goal fulfilled.  He did not personally lead his people into the Promised Land.  God would not allow him to do so.  The story of why is in the following passage of Scripture:

Now there was no water for the congregation. And they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. And the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the LORD! Why have you brought the assembly of the LORD into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink.” Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. And the glory of the LORD appeared to them, and the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” And Moses took the staff from before the LORD, as he commanded him.
Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.”

(Numbers 20:2-12 ESV)

God’s order was to speak to the rock.  Tell it to give water.  Moses was not in the mood to speak to rocks.  He was angry.  After all the people had seen, they still demanded more.  They accused him of being a failure as a leader, and he had enough of it.  So, instead of speaking to the rock, he spoke to the people.  He called them rebels and struck the rock with his staff instead of following God’s directions.  It cost him the opportunity to see the Promised Land.  Why was God so ‘mean’ about what was such a small, understandable thing?

One idea is that the people were starting to become more impressed with Moses’s  staff than they were with God.  After all, Moses had parted a sea with it.  Now, God wanted to correct the misconception.  He wanted the rock to give water at the power of His word without any evidence of Moses’s strength being behind it.  Moses made a mess of it.  He got mad and showed his anger.  God had wanted to show Himself holy but Moses did not trust Him to do it.  Instead of God’s word, Moses used his staff and his own strength.  Interestingly, God gave water anyway.  He displayed his compassion and love for the people Moses had called rebels.  However, from Moses he took the privilege of seeing his task through to the end.

When we are in positions of spiritual leadership, whether that be in a church, small group or as a parent, we must have as our goal to display God’s holiness.  When it becomes all about us and how we feel, we are not likely to do that.  We will use our own strength and we may impress those around us with our ‘staff’–our intelligence, our plan and our hard work.  Interestingly, God may give us success anyway though not for our sakes.  It will be because He cares and loves those around us who need His touch.  But we will have missed something, a great opportunity to see the holiness of God on display in our lives, our ministries and our families.  So, let’s take care to let God be God and not stand His way.

Moses made another mistake related to this one.  That will be for another post.

 

 

Being Mindful of the Holy

Suitcases lie scattered all over the house.  In this place or that, there are piles of things, clothes, books, papers and toys.  My wife is packing our bags for our move back overseas, and I am trying very hard not to feel guilt while watching her do it. I try to be helpful in other ways such as keeping up with other household chores.  Moving is kinetic chaos.

Actually, the world is kinetic chaos, or it seems to be.  Whenever we return to the US from overseas, I have this sense that I am running and everyone around me is running.  In our society, people live at the same pace as a hamster spinning a wheel in his cage, and it seems that people often equal the hamster in progress.  Our society is nervous, and we are running off its nervous energy.

Even in the things of God, many people live in the frenzy of kinetic chaos.  Church activities are additions to the chaos.  They are things on a check list to done, and afterwards, move on to the next church activity or sports practice or recital or club meeting.  We, the body of Christ, run in and out of his presence.  We make small talk with our fellow family of God members about the game and the stock market news or hunting and fishing or politics and elections.  We enter His presence and hardly give Him a thought.  Our presence with His body is just another part of the chaos of life and not a relief from it.

How completely sad and utterly pointless.  What is the point of gathering as a body to worship if we are not going to worship?  What’s the point of entering His presence if we aren’t even going to acknowledge it?

For the past ten days or so, I have been reading the book of Leviticus, the laws for the priests about serving in the Temple.  So many times, they are warned to treat the things of God as holy.  They were not to take anything lightly.  They served a holy God, who demanded that He was treated as such.  How often do we look up from our kinetic chaos to see the One who never changes.  Do we even acknowledge His  presence when we worship or is the focus on us?

So, let’s slow down, and worship God.  As we go to worship in the coming week, let’s recognize who He really is, and worship with hearts and minds fully engaged with God and not distracted by the kinetic chaos.  Rather, let’s give Him our chaos and see Him make sense of it.

Introverts in the Church

Recently, I read Introverts in the Church by Adam S. McHugh, who has a related blog.  As an introvert, I had wanted to read it for some time.  All in all, I am glad that I did.  I have had several “personality” tests and the one area that I consistently nearly max out in is introversion.  Being an introvert carries several challenges but also several advantages.  That seems to be the point of McHugh’s book, but it is a point that can be easily lost if we take a “woe is me, I’m another victim” approach.  Clearly, McHugh did not want to go there; however, at times, his book could fuel the fire for someone who did.  It is worth the read, but as with all things, one should read with discernment.   The reader should approach it with an openness to grow instead of seeking of validation.

I was able to relate to many things in the book.  Nothing intimidates me as much about visiting a church or small group as the fear that they might say, “I see we have a visitor. Stand up and tell us about yourself.”  They may as well say, “Stand up and try to hide that you’re trembling while we all stare at you.”  It isn’t because I am afraid to speak to a crowd.  I can stand up and teach and enjoy that experience.  However, when I enter a new group I want some time to observe and figure things out.  I want to process what is happening and think about it.  I definitely don’t want to open my heart to strangers and I probably don’t even want to speak at all.  However, I have learned that saying hello will not kill me, though I might feel like it will at the moment.

I found some points of the book helpful.  Some suggestions on spiritual disciplines and being in leadership were helpful.  However, I had trouble relating to some things that he said about corporate worship and church.  I am much more comfortable in a “traditional” evangelical church than he is.  And it was at the point of being involved in church that I thought he missed an opportunity to make a stronger point than he did.

If an introvert approaches church life totally turned inward with a “let me stay anonymous” attitude, he has missed God’s purpose for being a part of church.  In an extrovert approaches church life with an attitude of “be quiet while I talk and get my kicks from being here with you people,” he has missed the point as well.  Church is a place where we are to give ourselves for others for the sake others.  It is the place where we are not to think of ourselves more highly than we should and to put the good of others above our own. (Romans 12:3 and 1 Corinthians 10:24) The church is the body of Christ, and each part is dependent upon the other.  Most of our problems are not issues of introversion or extraversion but of self-centeredness or selflessness.  Introverts and extroverts can both struggle with self-centeredness.  As we walk with Christ, take up our crosses and crucify self, we are better able to serve others with both the gifts and the personality that God has given us.

Looking for Men Who Set the Church Ablaze

I read a tweet from someone at a college football game this weekend.  It described a man who had spilled beer on the people in front of him and was staggering down the aisle.  The tweet said, “He smelled of beer, sweat and lifelong bachelorhood.”

It is wrong to lump all single men in this generality, but the truth is that too many men, single and married, are failing to be men in the way the Bible describes.  They are the type of irresponsible men that this tweet was about.  Biblical manhood is not defined by our culture.  One part of our culture defines men as either a weak, ignorant side-kicks to smart women or beer-drinking brawlers.  Biblical manhood is very different.  A Biblical is Christ-like. He is strong, but humble.  He is gentle and meek, yet bold in standing against wrong.  He is a servant seeking to meet the needs of others rather than demanding that others serve him.

E.M. Bounds in the last chapter of his book, Power through Prayer, described men who could set the church ablaze.  Such men need six qualities according to Bounds.

  1. Capacity for faith
  2. The ability to pray
  3. The power of thorough consecration
  4. The ability of self littleness
  5. An absolute losing of one’s self in God’s glory
  6. An insatiable yearning and seeking after all the fullness of God

College Football as a Religious Experience

(Author’s note: The following is meant to be humorous.  As I write about the South’s great religions of Christianity and College Football, I realize that I run the risk of being misunderstood.  Please, chill out and enjoy.)

Ok, I must confess.  I am bored out of my mind with sports right now.  It is that lull time when Baseball division races haven’t heated up that much and college football season hasn’t started.  While I like baseball, I would say that like many southerners I have a nearly unhealthy attachment to college football.   In what little remains of the Bible Belt and in significant parts of its former territory, high school and college football are forms of religion.  What’s more, like the Israelites of old, people have a way of mixing their worship of idols with their worship of the one true God.  On Sunday morning, don’t be surprised if you go to church in Athens and see someone in a red and black suit with a Georgia Bulldog tie.  The gold and purple suits in Baton Rouge, however, are a bit shocking to the senses, yet not surprising considering the religious fervor.

So, it is not surprising that I ran across this on Amazon.com.  That’s right:  it’s a devotional book for the die-hard Georgia fan.  But don’t worry, if you are not a Georgia fan.  The same author has written similar devotions for Auburn, Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Clemson, NC State, Florida, Florida State, LSU, Duke, North Carolina, Texas A&M, Virginia, Virginia Tech and even, Georgia Tech.  Outside of the South (of which I hold the membership of Texas questionable), there is one written for Penn State.  The same author also has written a devotional book for NASCAR fans.

I must acknowledge that I have never read any of these devotions.  I haven’t even read part of one.  My devotional reading is limited to the Bible and maybe another book that I read after prayer in the mornings such as Practicing the Presence of God, The Mortification of Sin by John Owen, and E.M. Bounds’ Works on Prayer.  It appears that these sports devotional books consist of some pieces of trivia about athletics at the schools.  I am sure some of these lend themselves to thoughts of God and Christ, but I would suspect that some need a major Jesus juke to get to the spiritual end zone.

Being a somewhat occasionally sarcastic individual, I couldn’t help but think that such books for college football fans needed subtitles.  So, here is my list:

Devotions for Alabama Fans: Nick Saban Will Have No gods Before Him
Devotions for Auburn Fans: Confession Is Good for The Soul
Devotions for Tennessee Fans: Prayers that Overcome the Demon of Lane Kiffin
Devotion’s for Georgia Tech Fans: Life’s M-Train
Devotions for Georgia Fans: Overcoming Life’s Disappointments
Devotions for North Carolina Fans: Cheaters Never Win and We’re Proof
Devotions for Ohio State Fans: I Wouldn’t Stand Close to Jim Tressel if I Were You
Devotions for Florida Fans: The Glory Hath Departed—Life after Tebow

Maturity to Speak

Just as we must learn to listen to the criticism, advice and teaching of others, we must also learn how to speak into the lives of others.  How we speak is as much an indication of maturity as how we listen.  The Bible gives very specific direction to those who speak into others lives whether it is teaching the Word or confronting sin.

Someone who speaks into the life of another person must be wise.   Proverbs 24:6 says, “For by wise guidance you shall wage war, and in the abundance of counselors there is victory.” [1]  Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”   Speaking into another’s life requires the credibility of wisdom.  God-fearing reverence and knowledge of God through His Word should characterize our lives.

When we are confronting others over sin, we must be very careful.  As Jesus pointed out, before we try to get the speck out of someone else’s eye, we need to make sure there isn’t a beam sticking out of our eye.  This does not mean, as some may suggest that we should never go after the speck.  It only means that we should take time to check our lives first.

Another thing that we have to guard against is pride.  Speaking into the life of another presumes a right to speak and knowledge that another does not have or at the very least is not aware of.  Therefore, we must be humble, and above all, we must have the good of the other person as our motive for speaking. In Ephesians 4:29, Paul admonished us, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment so that it will give grace to those who hear.”

So, it is a good idea before we teach the Word of God, confront others about sin or seek to correct the doctrine of others that we take time to examine ourselves.  Are we walking in wisdom?  Are we covering sin in our own life?  Are we proud?  Do we have the edification of the other person as our goal?


[1] All references are from the New American Standard Bible.

Being Teachable as a Sign of Christian Maturity

In recent weeks, John MacArthur on his blog has given correction and advice to the Young, Restless and Reformed. (here, here, here and here)  The response is interesting.  Some have encouraged the YRRs to listen the advice, but many YRRs have responded negatively.  If you read through the comments on the Grace to You blog, you get a taste of the conversation.

My intention in writing is not to enter the discussion. After all, I no longer fit the young modifier, and I would really like to get more rest.  I do lean toward the Reformed side of things, but doubt that I would be considered a card-carrying member by those in the movement.  Rather than enter that discussion, I want to talk about a spiritual issue related to that.  How do we receive correction, advice and instruction?  How do we listen to those with whom we may disagree but who have something important to say to us?  In other words, how do we become teachable?

These are not issues confined to the YRRs.  We all struggle with these issues. While I would say, based on personal experience, that young adults struggle with this more, I have known some older ones that aren’t very receptive to the teaching, advice and correction of others either.  My own progress toward maturity has included going from defending myself against the slightest criticism to politely saying thank you while fuming inside to learning to take time to hear what the Lord is saying to me through the criticism or correction.  Often, I still slip into defensive mode.

At the heart of this defensiveness usually is not righteous indignation against injustice suffered.  Rather the heart of it is sin.  I get defensive because I feel insecure about what I am doing.  I don’t like my weaknesses being pointed out and I don’t want to feel shame.  I get defensive because I am full of pride.  I really don’t like being told I’m wrong, because I think I am right or mostly right.  I get defensive because I simply don’t like other people teaching me, advising me and correcting me.  They don’t have my credentials or my knowledge, and after all, they are always against me or just don’t understand me.  Besides, their theology and politics probably aren’t right, either.

In the center of every reaction above is me.  It is all about me.  I am protecting myself.  I am being self-defensive and selfish.  What is worse: I am dooming myself to failure and immaturity if I allow this to become the character of my life.  A key to success in any endeavor is to be teachable:  to learn to accept criticism and instruction, to apply it, and to grow.  An athlete who doesn’t listen to his coach will ride the bench.  A student who doesn’t learn from the professor will fail the class.  A business person who doesn’t take advice will go out of business.  A politician who doesn’t listen to the people will become a member of Congress, which is either the exception to the rule or its own worse punishment.  A Christian who fails to learn and to receive correction from others will stagnate in immaturity and not achieve the purpose for which God has called him or her heavenward in Christ Jesus.

So, how do we learn to be teachable?  How do I learn from others to grow in maturity as a follower of Christ?

Of first importance is to walk near to God (James 4:8).  By truly applying myself to be in prayer and in the Bible, and not just going through the motions of spiritual discipline, I am close enough to God to recognize when He is correcting me through others.  By knowing the Word of God, I know when what others say is in line with Scripture, and I know that I need to pay attention.  By being near to God, I recognize His voice.

I also must crucify myself daily (Luke 9:23 and Galatians 5:24)  Since self is the center of my rebellion and defensive, I must get self out of the way so that I can receive truth from others.  By crucifying the flesh, I mortify those sinful responses that I make to others.

I must learn to listen and be slow to speak (James 1:19-20).  The temptation is to respond and to defend one’s self.  The best response comes after understanding what the other person has said, and often that response turns out to be, “You’re right.” I must learn to receive anything that is true according to God’s Word and that helps me grow more holy and more able to glorify God.

Hopefully, this is helpful to many of you.  Perhaps, soon, I will write on how to become someone who can speak into the lives of others.

Something to think about this July 4th…

This afternoon, people will get home from work and the July 4th weekend will begin. As a nation, we will celebrate our independence and our liberties. In church on Sunday, there will be patriotic songs, prayers for our military and thanksgiving for freedom to worship.

Meanwhile, in other parts of the world, our brothers and sisters in Christ will have gathered in secret to worship where they have no freedom and liberty to do so. In the coming days, it is likely that a faithful believer will have been arrested, beaten, tortured and perhaps, killed. As we give thanks for our freedom to worship, others are giving their lives to worship. A few days ago, I read about the beheading of a believer in Afghanistan. The article is disturbing. If you want to read it, click here. John Piper recommended that we read about such things in this brief article. He wrote that we should read about it, “….Because we can’t get into the reality of most of the Bible without some real emotional connection with terror. Every book of the New Testament has terror in it, something like a beheading. The situation in the first century, when these books were written, was more like Afghanistan than America.”

As I connected this with the coming holiday, these thoughts came to my mind.
1. We thank God for the freedom to worship. How many people in our churches would worship if that freedom did not exists?  I think we should examine ourselves to see if we are willing to pay the ultimate price to follow Christ.
2. As we celebrate our freedom, we need to pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ around the world. I hope many churches will take time to do this during worship services this weekend.
3. We should remember that the most important fronts of war are not the military ones but the spiritual ones.

Can a vision statement blind us?

Vision statements and mission statements have been standard for churches for many years now. When I was a seminary student in the nineties, the church growth movement was hitting full stride. An emphasis in the church growth movement was that a church needed to be focused. It needed to know who its target audience was and how it was going to reach them. Vision statements and mission statements were a standard tool for keeping the focus in the right place.

Interestingly, the primary target of many churches that followed church growth methodology became young urban professionals who were also economically upwardly mobile. There may have been a few exceptions of people of going to the economically down and out, but for the most part, these churches were planted and grew in the suburbs and in metropolitan areas.

During the years that I have been out of country, many people have become disenchanted by the church growth model. They began to discuss the need to be missional. They decided to start new kinds of churches with a different focus. However, I find it interesting that many, if not most, of these churches seem to be in areas and doing ministries in such a way that they reach young urban professionals who happen to be economically, upwardly mobile. There are more exceptions to that trend than there were with the church growth movement, and I don’t think it is intentional as it was in the nineties. Still, it is interesting.

Vision statements can help. They can keep us from flying off in different directions, but they can also be limiting. I wonder if our vision statements sometimes make us blind to the opportunities that God places in our path. Is there a danger that we assume that God’s direction is one way when really He wants to stretch us in a different direction? If an opportunity for ministry outside our vision statement arises, how can we know that God does not want to change our direction? I don’t believe that we should be so slavishly attached to our vision statements that we would miss that God desires to broaden or to change the vision.