Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Is the Goal Growth or Control – Sometimes I'm Confused?

Writing is an extremely difficult mode of communication because many aspects of what is being communicated are lost. For instance, you cannot hear the tone of voice, see the facial expressions, or interpret the subtle indicators of body language. All you are left with is the existing textual content. What you are about to read is not meant to be in any way judgmental, critical or harsh. It does not reflect on any particular congregation or denomination. It is a question that must be addressed in every corporate body. I'm not a “Know it all”. I'm simply a Christian attempting to challenge as well as encourage (in positive ways) the application of Scripture to our lives, and “work together” to accomplish the “work of the ministry”.

Every congregation desires to be effective in ministry to their community. Every Pastor or Church leader desires to serve a living, growing, vibrant “Body of believers”. In 1988 Alvin J. Lindgren and Norman Shawchuck co-authored the book, Let My People Go. Within its eight chapters these two explore the need for and outline a path toward “empowering laity for ministry”. In my opinion, one of the most liberating truths presented in this book appears on page fifteen, “The undergirding theological assumption of this book is that the mission is God's – the ministry is ours as God's people.”

The mission: “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Luke 19:10 (JKV, emphasis added)

The ministry: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” 2 Corinthians 5:17-19 (NIV, emphasis added)

The method: “To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel's sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.” 1 Corinthians 9:21-23 (KJV, emphasis added)

The Apostle Paul may have been divinely empowered to become “all things to all men”, but in today's Church it requires a team of believers to accomplish all the varied aspects of ministry. We speak of “servant leadership” and “the priesthood of all believers”. Isn't it time to employ the gifts God has given each individual as a team? The business world has motivated people for years with slogans. One of those is: TEAM – together everyone achieves more. Everyone who is part of the “Body of Christ” is called to be a member of the ministry TEAM.

Our goal is growth. God is in control. Communicate the vision, trust the leading of the Holy Spirit and commit to Meeting Individual Needs In Situations That Refresh You. “Some plant, some water, but God gives the increase” - He never intended a cookie cutter approach to ministry. He created us as individuals, gifted us each with unique talents and abilities, and called us to form “One Body”. Each member has a function. What's yours?

“Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you.” 1 Samuel 10:7 (NIV)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Where Are We – How Did We Get Here – Can We Turn Around?

Every long trip I've ever taken has a reoccurring nightmare of its own. While each trip has been different than any other, they all seem to come preprogrammed with that one inevitable moment when these haunting questions arises: “Where are we?” That is usually followed by, “How did we get here?” Once those two questions have surfaced, been debated, and an acceptable answer has been established, the third, most important and most daunting question springs to light: “Can we just turn around PLEASE?”

I have to believe (for my personal well being and positive mental state) this is a common experience; so, don't destroy my illusion if this has never happened to you. This simple unavoidable experience has a spiritual application that is relevant to the Church today.

Every congregation is facing these three questions. Whether we call our current situation a “transformational process”, “an examination of our core values” or “an evaluation of our mission and scope” the fact is we (the “Body of Christ”) are working our way through these three tough questions: “Where are we?”, “How did we get here?”, and “Can we just turn around PLEASE?”.

“Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent.” Revelation 2:5 (NASB)

The Church has a well defined ultimate destination (Heaven); yet, Pastors & Church Leaders often fail to communicate the “Vision” in a clear concise manner that liberates the congregation and encourages everyone to answer their personal “call to discipleship” in ways that strengthen and build the “Kingdom of God”. Strict adherence to a legalistic code of conduct is not the answer that will carry us through to our ultimate destination.

“For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace.” Galatians 5:4 (NLT)

Transformation, and revitalization are attainable goals, but they are the outward expression of a transformed mind working together with a revitalized heart. The work of the “Kingdom of God” will not be accomplished by human effort devoid of the “Power and Presence” of an “Holy God” actively ministering through “His People” to meet the needs of this world.

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” Romans 12:2 (KJV)

But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.” James 1:22-24 (KJV)

If we (the “Body of Christ”) faithfully attend church, listen to the message of FAITH, HOPE, FORGIVENESS, and LOVE, but do not engage in LIFE-GIVING ministry on an individual level, we cut off the transformation we so desperately seek. Where Are We – How Did We Get Here – Can We Turn Around? Yes! We can turn around. It requires: The Spirit of God, our Personal involvement, and a corporate solidarity in the areas of worship and service. “Are we there yet?”

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Are We (the Church) too _____________?

At the risk of being “terse”, which I have been told I often am, there is an issue within the “Body of Christ” that must be addressed. The Church today is “all over the map” with regard to theology, dress-code, moral standard, and behavioral expectations. People who should agree and walk in unity are fragmented, and divided on every issue facing society in our lifetime.
Back in the day”, when I was serving the public fast food, there was a common saying: “Opinions are like _______. Everybody has one, and most of them stink.” So, I ask you, “Has the Church become just a collection of stinky opinions?”

To some we are too liberal. To others we are way too conservative. To some the worship is too traditional while others think it's too over the top contemporary. Should we blend all the styles together so that everyone gets a little something, but no one is completely satisfied?

People shop for a church the way they select a new pair of shoes – First this pair then another looking for the illusive perfect fit. Honestly, at times it seems that we are all trapped in some twisted form of a fairytale. “Goldilocks and the Three Pastors” - This one's too hard. This one's too soft. This one's just NOT right.

Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.” Acts 5:29 (KJV)

It is past time for men and women of God to stand up for the TRUTH, speak it in LOVE and see the Church grow and prosper as we bring our lives into alignment with God's WORD.

Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” Luke 18:10-14 (KJV)

We cannot compare ourselves by our own standard. We must measure ourselves by God's standard. It is only in living by faith that we can please Him. It is only in allowing Christ to make us HOLY that we can be HOLY. Whatever righteousness we claim outside of Him is “filthy rags”, and we become blind men leading each other.

Let them alone and disregard them; they are blind guides and teachers. And if a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a ditch.” Matthew 15:14 (AMP)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Education & Ministry – Where's the Value in That?

As this calendar year draws to a close and the academic year quickly reaches its mid-point, I find myself in a pattern of reflection and evaluation. The influence of the materialistic culture surrounding me is screaming, “There must be a positive return on your investments!” I mean everything worth doing or anything worth having is universally attached to its dollar value isn't it?

The perceived “Value” of ______ (you name it) is directly proportional to the financial investment necessary to acquire the item. It's been a while since I've studied economics and I have never had an opportunity to teach the economic laws that govern our interactions in the market place; however, I feel confident you'll be able to at least acknowledge them even if you have no interest in understanding them. (Don't cheat and skip this vary basic summary of Economic Laws. It is relevant to the point I'm making.)

The Law of Supply and Demand – the availability of an item will either increase or decrease the demand for the item – huge supply = diminished demand/diminished supply = huge demand – to influence the price simply control the supply.

The Law of Diminishing Returns – at some point (which varies from item to item) the more you invest in the items production there will be a declining value experienced on the return from your investment.

The Income Leisure Trade Off – in order to increase income you must decrease leisure activities.

These laws work well when we are applying them to business and, to some degree, they can be applied successfully to interpersonal relationships, but we completely “upset the apple cart” when we apply them in the arenas of education and Christian ministry. Both these “Businesses” are in reality “Service Industries” who's products “Value” is immeasurable by market standards.

The LORD detests dishonest scales, but accurate weights find favor with him. When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity.” Proverbs 11:1-3 (NIV)

In order to weigh the value of either education or Christian ministry we would need access to the eternal perspective. God's not sharing that vantage point so we are powerless to measure the value of these endeavors. What we do have the power to calculate is the cost of not providing these services. In Micah chapter 6 verses 10-12 God is addressing issues related to societal ills. Those same problems exist today. Do you think He has learned tolerance? Will He accept our inaction because the “cost” outweighed the “Value” in our minds? When we approach Godly pursuits we must do it with integrity and humility if we expect to benefit from Godly wisdom.

How can I tolerate your merchants who use dishonest scales and weights?” Micah 6:11 (NLT)

So what is the “cost” of NOT providing both education and Christian ministry? Charles Dickens knew the answer. Have you read his work, The Christmas Carol, if you have you can ask the Ghost of Christmas Present. “IGNORANCE and WANT” are the result – both of whom will and have devastated society throughout history.

You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it.” James 4:2 (NLT)

If you too have entered the phase of your year which includes reflection and evaluation, please do not use Economic Laws to measure Spiritual value. As we prepare to make the end of the year sacrifices we should take action from the perspective of the LOVE that builds up instead of the knowledge that gives us a “Big Head” and pays no attention to the “Heart of God”.

But knowledge puffs up while love builds up.” 1 Corinthians 8:1b (NIV)

God is all about “seeking and saving the lost”. We should be about “making disciples”. That has eternal and inherent “value” which is immeasurable by the exchange rates of this world. “Freely you have received. Freely give.” The return on the investment is in God's hands.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Is This Your Knife I Just Found In My Back?

            I realize for the past few weeks this blog has been silent. For that sad reality,  I take full responsibility. The fact is, I’ve been feeling a little “Un” – Unchristian, Unwanted, and Uninspired. As the events of the past few weeks have unfolded in my life I realize God has been at work shaping and reshaping my thoughts toward Him, His Word, the Church, and my view of Ministry in general.

            Growing up I was convinced the single most difficult command given to Christians was the command to “love your enemies”. However, in view of recent events, I realize there is a foundational principle within Scripture that is much more difficult to live out in the community of faith. We all have our own struggles and I am sure at varying times in our lives the “spotlight” of the Holy Spirit brings to light in us specific areas of development He wishes to address. For example, we may find any of these mandates form Scripture catching us off guard: “give and it shall be given to you”, “love your neighbor as you love yourself”, “be not wise in your own eyes” – any of these can and have challenged us to grow spiritually.

“What sorrow awaits you who are praised by the crowds, for their ancestors also praised false prophets. But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. Do to others as you would like them to do to you. If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them!” Luke 6:26-32 (NLT)

            But, forgiveness is what I now consider the most difficult command and concept of Scripture. Living in the community of faith being wounded is inevitable. Actions will be misinterpreted. Words will be misunderstood. Hearts will be broken. Yet, in all of this we are commanded to love and forgive. We are reminded to let go of anger and agree quickly with our adversaries. Often the deepest wounds we carry are those inflicted by our family. Those we love the most have the ability to wound us more deeply.

            I do not know your struggles and you do not know mine unless we share them. I do not know what church you attend or what internal controversies exist within that body of believers, but I am sure people are wounded. We all go through times of feeling “stabbed in the back”. So, whatever issue is facing you today with love compassion and empathy I urge you to examine your life and forgive.

 “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.  You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’  But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.  Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.  Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison.” Matthew 5:20-25 (NIV)

            We have all been called to serve, and at times find ourselves feeling imprisoned for doing the “right” thing. We have no choice but to share the grace of God with others. The gift of that grace is not ours; it belongs to Christ and has been freely shared with us. It now becomes our responsibility to offer it to others. Please hear my heart. Nothing I have said was intended to be harsh, judgmental, or hurtful. It has been spoken in the hope of forgiveness, healing, and restoration – not only for me but the entire “Body of Christ”.

            Our service is not offered to gain the praise of others. It is offered to build up and benefit the church. Restoration, reconciliation, and healing are the goals – not personal glory – God’s glory. Forgiveness is the most challenging command we have been given, but it is also the most liberating. Today, I both ask your forgiveness and offer mine to you. As we prepare our hearts for the coming season of Christmas let us first take a fresh look at the gift of His grace through forgiveness.

 “Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future.  There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all. However, he has given each one of us a special gift through the generosity of Christ.” Ephesians 4:1-7 (NLT)

            I have not always been the happy, well adjusted, well spoken individual who is speaking to you now – Okay some of you don’t see me as any of those things, but I forgive you. The fact is my mother went through “hell” to raise me. Many of us have gone through “hell” to get where we are and some of us are still going through attempting to reach the “promise land”.

            You know who the knife in your back belongs to, just as I know to whom the knife in my back belongs. You know your deepest pain, just as I know mine. The question is how to address it. Really, there is only one choice. In families, churches, life and ministry offenses are inevitable. Hurt and pain however unintentional will happen.

            The choice we have is in how we allow that hurt to affect us. For this passage I will turn to the Amplified Bible. I believe in some cases it clarifies the text and add to our understanding. Paul instructed Timothy to simply refuse to focus on the offense and present the “Truth”. You and I have the power to accept or reject the hurt caused by any offense. We have the ability to “Do The Right Thing”. “Preserving the bond of peace” does not mean avoiding what is wrong. It is an invitation to correct the wrong in a way that insures that all willing parties recognize and embrace the grace of God. We have a responsibility to pursue and perform God’s will in light of the revelation of His word. We are commanded to avoid the practice of evil – not allow evil to have a free-for-all of destruction through our lives, families and churches.

“But refuse (shut your mind against, have nothing to do with) trifling (ill-informed, unedifying, stupid) controversies over ignorant questionings, for you know that they foster strife and breed quarrels. And the servant of the Lord must not be quarrelsome (fighting and contending). Instead, he must be kindly to everyone and mild-tempered [preserving the bond of peace]; he must be a skilled and suitable teacher, patient and forbearing and willing to suffer wrong. He must correct his opponents with courtesy and gentleness, in the hope that God may grant that they will repent and come to know the Truth [that they will perceive and recognize and become accurately acquainted with and acknowledge it], And that they may come to their senses [and] escape out of the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him, [henceforth] to do His [God's] will.” 2 Timothy 2:23-26 (AMP)

            At this point, you may be thinking, “But you don’t know what they did. You don’t understand what they said. Well, I would forgive but they never asked.” The resounding answer that will quiet all those thought is: “You’re right!” But, the most difficult mandate of Scripture is no matter the offense – FORGIVE. In granting forgiveness we ourselves are forgiven. In withholding forgiveness we ourselves are condemned.

“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” Matthew 6:14-15 (NASB)

            Too often in the “Body of Christ” we sell our inheritance as “sons and daughters” of the “Most High” to hold on to the hurt we have suffered. That hurt grows into bitterness and poisons every aspect of our lives. Our responsibility is to let go of the hurt and look after one another. If we have, in fact, secured God’s grace, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit. Employ His grace to set others free from the bondage to sin.  In the act of looking after one another and liberally applying grace and forgiveness toward others, we ourselves are forgiven and the “Body of Christ” is strengthened and built up. God is always moving forward. The Church, His people, should also be moving forward. We cannot afford to fall behind and fail to grasp the fullness of God’s grace. We cannot contaminate and defile ourselves and others by allowing bitterness to grow and flourish among us. Trouble, problems, conflicts, and sin must be dealt with clearly, compassionately and quickly. You and I have the power to overcome resentment. That power is love.

 “Strive to live in peace with everybody and pursue that consecration and holiness without which no one will [ever] see the Lord. Exercise foresight and be on the watch to look [after one another], to see that no one falls back from and fails to secure God's grace (His unmerited favor and spiritual blessing), in order that no root of resentment (rancor, bitterness, or hatred) shoots forth and causes trouble and bitter torment, and the many become contaminated and defiled by it - That no one may become guilty of sexual vice, or become a profane (godless and sacrilegious) person as Esau did, who sold his own birthright for a single meal.” Hebrews 12:14-16 (AMP)

            As we prepare for Communion and look forward to the Christmas season. I invite you to read with me 1 Corinthians 13, measure your life by the standard of love, and repent of any offenses you have caused. Also freely forgive any wrongs you have suffered. Encourage your family and strengthen the Church through the power of LOVE and FORGIVENESS.

Reading together: 1 Corinthians 13
“If I speak with the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge it will come to an end. For we only know in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”
1 Corinthians 13 (NRSV)