Thursday, April 30, 2009

Risk is Right

Our church is about to go on its first mission trip in over 25 years. We are super-excited and we’re not going all that far away. About ten of us are going to partner with a congregation south of Harlingen Texas in the Rio Grande Valley to do evangelism and service projects in a farming community full of immigrant families. Someone mentioned to me the other day their concern about violence across the border and another person mentioned our potential risk by the new strain of flu that is causing such a (unnecessary) panic.

The fact of the matter is we are not careless and must be discerning wherever we go, but the bottom line is that real safety is a myth. It is a myth that we can guarantee real safety anywhere and anytime. Real security is in the arms of God and we must go where He leads. Now we aren’t even going anywhere with a high risk level- certainly not in comparison to missionaries around the world and church leaders who live in countries hostile to the good news of Jesus Christ.

Follow this link to read the story about three men who were martyred for the gospel in Turkey. What an inspiring and convicting story (stay tuned for more info when our church will be showing the film). We should use the freedoms we have in this country to go as far as the Lord sends and trust Him with our security. Spreading the gospel does not call us to be careless but it does call us to take risks!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Vision for Growth

Sometimes it feels that churches view themselves less like faith communities who are sharing life together and more like shopping malls in competition with other shopping malls to see which can get a bigger profit. A few years ago I served on staff at a church where I remember another staff member referring to a neighboring congregation as “the competition”. We even had meetings to brainstorm how to out-do the competition!

That mindset disturbed me then but it bothers me even more now that I am the pastor of the congregation I now serve. The church’s goal is not to grow up but to grow out. We need to remember that we are not building a ‘tower of Babel’ on the corner where the church’s buildings are located. Our ‘tower’ is not in competition with another church’s ‘tower’. Leaders of larger churches need to take a hard look at their congregation and ask some tough questions. Are you just trying to keep programs afloat and add more programs? Are your programs just making your congregation busier? How does this affect the family? How does this affect marriages? How does this hinder rather than help foster genuine life-sharing relationships? How does your size frustrate true community from developing? Is ‘reaching people for Christ’ really the goal or has reaching people become a necessity to keeping programs afloat and roles filled?

The purpose of the local church is to magnify God’s glory through life and witness. This is a missionary lifestyle that displays Christ to others by how we live with integrity, put the good news to words, and share life through authentic committed relationships within the congregation. My congregation has seen a peak and decline. We have to take a hard look at ourselves and ask those same questions on the backside of numerical growth. We genuinely want to reach people but not to make ‘reaching people’ a means to build back our ‘tower’.

Our goal now is to grow out. Right now we have about 75 active members in our congregation. Through the preaching and teaching of the Word my desire is to see our people grow spiritually and reach out to their neighbors, family members, and co-workers. As the Lord blesses and uses us to make more disciples we want to stay connected to one another so that our relationships are a witness. That may happen through church planting, starting home groups, or sending members to dying congregations to reinvigorate the mission there. That’s the vision the Lord has given us for the local church. What’s your vision?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

When the Fruit has yet to Bloom

This clip is especially for my fellow church members who share my love for the gospel and have a desire for our church to be a "city on the hill" for our city. It can be frustrating when we don't see the immediate fruit but these two great men of the faith remind us who is in charge of the results. Let's press on beloved!

Monday, April 20, 2009

"My conscience is captive to the Word of God"

Thanks to Justin Taylor for the reminder that this past weekend was the 488th anniversary of Martin Luther's famous "here I stand" moment. This critical moment in the Reformation took place at the Diet of Worms. That sounds like a really disgusting way to lose wait, but a "diet" was a formal assembly pronounced 'dee-et'. Worms, pronouced 'Vorms' is a German town on the Rhine River. Here is the scene was the most recent Luther movie (which I highly recommend) that reenacts this piviotal moment. What conviction and courage!


Thursday, April 16, 2009

What is the Backbone of the Church?

Recently I’ve heard a variety of people tell me what the “backbone” of the church is. Let’s see… the Sunday School is the backbone, the Wednesday prayer meeting is the backbone, fellowship (usually meaning, planned social events) is the backbone, the senior adult group is the backbone, and so on and so forth. Well usually when someone wants to tell me what the “backbone of the church” is they really only mean that I should emphasize something or some group more because it is important to them.

So what is the “backbone of the church”? Well the Scriptures of course! God’s Word has always made God’s people. Ephesians 2:19-20 says, “…You are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the chief cornerstone.” Neither a particular program nor a particular group of people are the backbone.

God’s Word is what our church is built on- as it was given to us by apostles and prophets inspired by the Holy Spirit. Sunday School can be a great program to teach the Word, prayer meeting is a wonderful gift from God to respond to the Word, fellowship is how we live out the Word among other believers, and the senior adults are to be excellent examples of putting the Word into practice (see Titus 2), but we need to remember that the Word itself is the backbone.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Oughta Serve Somebody

In the words of Mr. Bob Dylan, "Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord... but you're gonna have to serve somebody." Tomorrow is Maundy Thursday. This is not a day that gets as much attention during Holy Week as Good Friday or Easter Sunday but let me challenge you to make it a special day of observance.

If you are Catholic or Anglican you are likely to take part in a communion service or even a foot washing ritual. This day which takes its name from the Latin word for commandment (mandatum) commemorates Jesus' gathering with his disciples in the Upper Room to observe Passover. During this gathering Jesus gave new meaning to the Seder meal and prepared His followers for horrific events of the crucifixion.

He also did a most unusual thing for a rabbi and even more amazing for the Son of God. He took the role of a servant and washed the feet of His disciples. He was teaching them the posture of humility and servanthood they would need to demonstrate as His emissaries into the world for the gospel's sake. This posture is given to them as a command in John 13:34, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another."

So let us observe Maundy Thursday by honoring our Lord through gospel-driven acts of service to others. Display the gospel and love of our Lord through servanthood. Serve your spouse, your co-workers, the people who annoy you, your servers at the places you eat, etc. Who know maybe it will become a lifestyle.

Monday, April 6, 2009

What is the Church anyway?

The “old school” mindset (meaning only the last 50-60 years of church history) of the American church is to do evangelism and discipleship through a program. Want to reach people? Start a program. Want to demonstrate your commitment to Christ? Join a program. What to be a Christian leader? Join a committee. Want to spread the gospel? Give money to a program. Want your people to do personal evangelism? Start a program and beg them to show up (even if you know they’ll fizzle out after six weeks).

Now these methods aren’t necessarily bad and not all “programs” the church uses for evangelism and discipleship should be thrown out with the proverbial bath water. Some of those things I just mentioned are very helpful, but perhaps we’ve put the primary emphasis on the wrong things.

The home is where Christian living, evangelism, discipleship, and leadership ought to begin. Your relationships in the world are where those things should extend next. Want to reach people? Invest time and personal relationship in them. What to demonstrate your commitment to Christ? Gather with your local church faithfully for worship and Bible study, but also set an example in your home, community, work place, etc. Want to be a Christian leader? Be the spiritual leader for your wife and children (Wives, support your husbands and help lead your kids); teach God’s Word in your home, share the gospel with your family members. This is a big job- leave the committees for those who have moved passed this phase of life or only take on what doesn’t take away from your leadership at home. Want to spread the gospel? Go on mission trips as long as you are physically able. Send money if you are able but let those who cannot physically go do the bulk of the sending. Pastor, want your people to do personal evangelism? This is where I’m convicted to set the example for my people. Lead your people to share the gospel starting with their children but also to season their conversations with neighbors and co-workers with God’s Word and share the gospel with them through personal relationship.

Our churches (and as far as I’m concerned this begins with my leadership at my church) must see their purpose to bear the image of God to the world through obedience to His Word. It is not about fulfilling a social obligation and not about a program we attend. We are a living organism, a community of faith- the children of God, the Bride of Christ, and the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Technology and True Discipline

A minister friend of mine was telling me how he and the rest of his church staff got blackberries to make them more efficient. He was very excited about the whole church staff 2.0 level of efficiency. Well I hope the Blackberries help- I'll admit I struggle with coveting that shiny, glowing marvel, but the revelation of a new piece of tech revolutionizing efficiency is nothing new. First it was the pager, then the cell phone (in all its bulky, pull-up antenna glory), then the palm pilot, then the blackberry, and most recently the i-Phone. There is and will always be some latest gizmo which tempts us to believe we can substitute technology for discipline. Don’t get me wrong- I too drool over the latest gadget but these things will not make us better stewards of the time the Lord has assigned us if our hearts are not committed to be disciplined for the Lord. Without a personal commitment to discipline that new “magic discipline device” is just a $300 piece of bling on your belt. I’m reminded of 1 Timothy 4:7-8. We are to discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness. Godliness is the goal and a personal commitment is required. Paul never tells Timothy that personal laziness can be tolerated as long as he purchases the new i-Parchment. Okay, yeah that was cheesy but you get the idea. Technology can be an aide but be careful that it isn't expected to substitute true discipline, which begins in the heart.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The De-valued Prime Minister

Say what you will of the British but they do not mince words, even when they are harsh. Daniel Hannan (MEP) calls the U.S. President... uh I mean the British Prime Minister to the carpet. Check out the video...

HT: Voddie Baucham