Sunday, December 28, 2014

Welcome to the Real World, Baby

Put aside your traditional warm and fuzzy stereotypes of the Nativity handed down through the centuries. The world Christ was born into was much like the world we live in today. It was a world of violence, death, indifference, and neglect. Things haven't changed much in 2000 years because man hasn’t changed much. In spite of all our so called progress, it’s still a world where people crowd God out and kill babies like they were a dime a dozen.

Here are a couple of real world headlines from the Jerusalem Chronicle in the early days of Jesus.

GOD TURNED AWAY AT BETHLEHEM MOTEL

(Luke 2:7 NIV)  "She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn."

No room for God. No room for the baby Jesus. The King of Kings had no bed! The Lord of Lords had no clothes! He was wrapped in torn up rags to keep him warm. God in rags! He was cradled in a feed trough where animals had drooled and slobbered as they ate their dirty hay and grain. Welcome to the real world, baby!

God came into the world, but only a few people noticed. For the rest of the world, it was business as usual. They had no room for Jesus.

Things never really got a whole lot better for Christ. Thirty years after his birth we hear Jesus say, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." (Matthew 8:20 NIV)

Welcome to the real world, baby!

“No room at the inn”, today has been replaced with “no room in the mall”, “no room on public property”, “no room in our schools”, “no room in our schedules”, “no room in our budgets”, “no room in our hearts."

John the apostle hits the nail on the head when he says, "He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him." (John 1:10 NIV)

God came to earth and almost everyone missed him. Christ’s birth was the turning point of history, but went by unnoticed by the vast majority of people living on earth. It wasn’t long before the Jerusalem Chronicle ran another headline.

BABIES MURDERED IN BETHLEHEM

(Matthew 2:16 NIV) “When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.”

This day that “will live in infamy”, ranks right up there with Pearl Harbor, 9-11, and recent school massacres. It was one of man’s cruelest hours. Herod felt so threatened by the baby born King of the Jews that he decided to “fix the problem” by killing all the boys in Bethlehem under two years old. Welcome to the real world baby!  

A child is born, and immediately, evil rears its head to kill him. Hope comes to mankind in the form of a Light, and right away, the darkness tries to snuff it out. Bethlehem is blessed by God and chosen as the birthplace of the Savior of the world, but in no time, it became the killing fields. The peace and joy of Christmas were replaced with murder and mayhem. Silent Night, Holy Night, was replaced by the sound of weeping and wailing. Welcome to the real world, baby! The romantic stories and songs of Christmas cannot cover up the insecure brutality of Herod’s wrath.

We've may have come a long way since the Butcher of Bethlehem did his thing. But we have not become all that much kinder. We are much more proficient and sophisticated in the way we kill babies today. We abort them, bomb them, starve them, gas them, and mow them down with semi-automatic weapons. By the millions we steal their lives and never once do we look into their sad and frightened eyes. Welcome to the real world, baby.

These headlines stalk us beyond the cradle. These forces will seek our demise until the day we die. They steal our children’s innocence. They stupefy our culture with alcohol and drugs and sex and greed. They plant the seeds of discontent and destruction in marriages. They turn us into bitter cynics instead of people who glorify God. None of us are immune. Whenever we seek to do good for God’s glory there will be opposition… sometimes violent opposition. Satan will use any and all means necessary to silence God’s children. Welcome to the real world, baby.   

All this does not necessarily mean defeat. Jesus has overcome the world. We may be bloodied, but we can also be victorious. Even with the worst this world had to offer, "The child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him." (Luke 2:40 NIV)

Jesus grew stronger and so can we. God’s Son cannot be defeated. Grace was upon Jesus and it will be upon those who believe. Grow stronger and be filled with wisdom in the year to come. And oh… welcome to the real world baby.

 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Born of God

(Luke 1:35 NIV)  ""The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God."

(Matthew 1:20 NIV) "what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit."

(Matthew 1:23 NIV) "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" --which means, "God with us."

(John 1:34 NIV) “I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.”

(Luke 22:70 NIV) “They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?” He replied, “You are right in saying I am.”

(Colossians 2:9 NIV)  "For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form…"

(John 1:14 NIV) "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us."

It’s ironic, and not mentioned much in church circles, but Christianity has its roots in a sex scandal. That’s right… Mary got pregnant before she and Joseph were married. She conceived a child out of wedlock.

Furthermore, Mary said she conceived without having sexual relations with any man. She said an angel told her that the child growing inside her would have no human father, but would be “born of God”. This was her story. Try that line today and see how far it gets you. Surely the gossip mill was hot and heavy in Nazareth.

One of the great mysteries and truths of Christmas is that Jesus did not have a human father. Jesus is the Son of God… God incarnate… God in flesh. Jesus was “born of God”.

If Jesus would have had a human father, he could not have been the perfect sacrifice for all mankind, because he would have been born with sin. But Jesus was indeed born of God and so He can be the sinless and perfect Lamb of God. Only a Savior “born of God” can save us.

So what started as a sex scandal became the most holy and blessed event ever to happen on the face of the earth. On that holy night in Bethlehem, Jesus was “born of God”. Merry Christmas!

And here’s the bonus... the greatest Christmas gift ever given: because Jesus was born of God, we can be born of God too.

(John 1:12-13 NIV) "Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-- {13} children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God."

All of us were born of human decision once. We all had human fathers. We had nothing to do with the decision to be born. But now, if we will receive Christ as Lord and Savior, we can be born of God… born again… born of the Spirit. This birth we choose. We either say yes or no to it.  

To be born of God we must believe God. When God comes to us in the night… or during that bad trip… or just before that surgery… or during that church service… and says he wants to be born in us, we have to decide whether or not to believe God. Some of you may be in the process of making that decision today.  

We must receive Jesus. He has come to us. We must make room at our "inn". We have to choose to let Jesus be born in our lives.

(1 Timothy 1:16 NIV) "I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life."

The whole nativity and life of Christ are metaphors for this choice we have. There was no room in the inn for Christ to be born. He came to his own but they would not receive him. He was despised and rejected.

We all have a choice to make. It’s a “yes or no” question. Jesus was born of God. Will you be born of God? Will you be born from above? Will you be born again? Yes or no? It’s that simple.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Light of Christmas


(1 John 1:5 NIV) "God is light; in him there is no darkness at all."

(John 1:9 NIV) “The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world."

(John 8:12 NIV) "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

(John 9:5 NIV)  "While I am in the world, I am the light of the world."

(John 12:46 NIV)  "I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness."

One of the great traditions of Christmas is lights. Even before the world had electricity people would light their trees and windows with candles. Light has been a part of Christmas since the birth of Christ when a bright star led the Magi to Bethlehem and the Christ child.   

The tradition of lights is based in scripture and in the nature of God himself. John tells us that “God is light”, so light is a God thing. Light and God go together - like Romeo and Juliet, like cake and ice cream, like guitars and rock & roll.

All light we see today is the creation of God.

(Genesis 1:1-4 NIV) "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. {2} Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. {3} And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. {4} God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness."

Light didn’t just happen. God spoke light to the universe with his creative word. Without God there would be no light. Darkness would still be “over the surface of the deep.”

Not only did God create light, God sustains the light. God gives light and God can take it away. God spoke light into existence and he can speak it out of existence. Without his word… without his presence, we would die in darkness.

That’s why King David prayed: "You, O LORD, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light." (Psalms 18:28 NIV) 

David knew that God is the creator and sustainer of light. God’s presence turns our darkness into light. He keeps our lamp burning. God sustains light, and with light, comes life.

(John 1:4 NIV) "In him was life, and that life was the light of men."

When Jesus came to earth, he brought life to us. Light is directly connected to life. In nature and in the spiritual realm, it would be impossible for life as we know it to exist without light.
Remove the sun’s light and everything would die. If a board or an opaque object covers a patch of grass in your yard, that grass will die.

Remove the Son’s light and all souls die. Without Jesus we live in the shadow lands of spiritual darkness and eventually we perish. Darkness brings death. Light and life go together.

When Jesus comes to live in us, the life and the light of God come to live in us.

(John 8:12 NIV) “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

Light not only brings life, it can bring deliverance.

(Isaiah 42:6-7 NIV) "I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, {7} to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness."

Light brings freedom and release. If the light you are following doesn’t bring deliverance, it is not the light of God.

Christmas is about the fact that “the true light that gives light to every man has come into the world”. It’s about God coming to earth to take hold of our hand. Christmas is about the Light of the world coming to make us into people of the light. Christmas is about Jesus bringing light to eyes and hearts that are blind. Christmas is about God helping people who once sat in dungeons of darkness to move into his wonderful light.

Come to the Light!

 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The First Witnesses

(Luke 2:8-17 NIV) “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. {9} An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. {10} But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. {11} Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. {12} This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." {13} Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, {14} "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." {15} When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." {16} So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. {17} When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them."

On the night Jesus was born, God sent an angel to some shepherds with a message: “A Savior has been born to you.”

Shepherds were the transient, minimum wage workers of their day. They were considered “unclean” by the religious elite. They were the "rabble" and unwelcome in the best of church circles. But, God came to them first with the good news of Christ’s birth. In fact, the angel told them that the reason God came to earth was for them. And so these despised shepherds became his first witnesses. We can take some lessons from this.  

First, we can believe God. The shepherds believed God. They responded to God’s invitation. In a display of faith the shepherds decided to “go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” (Luke 2:15) 

They were just following in the faith footsteps of their ancestor Abraham.

(Hebrews 11:8 NIV)  "By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going."

Abraham was called to go and he went. He believed God. So did the shepherds. They believed. They went. That’s biblical faith. That is "believing" God. When the bible speaks of believing, it means a belief that is big enough to change the direction of our life and produce actions of faith.

Just “believing in God” is not what the bible considers faith. The devil believes in God. But “believing God” changes the direction of our life.   

Second, the shepherds made a move to find Jesus. We should too. They believed God had come to them and so they went to him. We should too. The bible teaches we are “saved by grace through faith”. God came to the shepherds. That’s grace. They went to him. That’s faith. Jesus came for us. That’s grace. When we come to him… that’s faith. 

Third, the shepherds didn’t procrastinate. Neither should we.

(Luke 2:16 NIV) “So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.”

The shepherds hurried off to find Jesus. They didn’t put it off. We should all be so wise. Many put off receiving Christ, saying “I’ll do that later”… but “later” never seems to come. On that day when we all stand in front of God, many will be saying, “I was going to do that later.” That won’t be good enough. There is no "later" in eternity. Don’t procrastinate.   

Fourth, the shepherds went public with their faith.  

(Luke 2:17 NIV) “When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them."

These unclean, unshaven, un-showered shepherds went out and started telling people what they had heard and seen. They simply told their story. They went public. In these days of “privatized faith” we need more witnesses like this.   

So today, in the spirit of Christmas, believe God and make your move toward Jesus. Stop procrastinating and go public with your faith. If the shepherds did it… so can we. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

O Little Town of Bethlehem

(Micah 5:2 NIV) “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

(Matthew 2:1-5 NIV) “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem {2} and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” {3} When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. {4} When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. {5} “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: {6} “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’”

“O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.”    

“Come to Bethlehem and see
Christ whose birth the angels sing;
Come, adore on bended knee,
Christ the Lord, the newborn King.”

Most of us have been singing Christmas carols about the little town of Bethlehem since we were children, but did you know that the town for Christ’s birth was chosen hundreds of years before He was born.

The Magi followed a star to Israel and stopped at King Herod’s palace with gifts. They thought surely a royal child of the King would be born there. But there had been no births in Herod’s family, so he called in his chief priests and bible teachers to inquire where the long foretold Christ was to be born. They looked to Micah 5:2 and told Herod that when the Messiah came, He would be born in a little town called Bethlehem.

Bethlehem had already produced one great king in the giant slayer named David. But he was just the warm up act for an even greater King. This coming King’s origins were “of old, from ancient times”. This King would rule the world.

The Magi knew exactly where to look, because the scriptures drew them a road map. And then, as they headed for Bethlehem, the Christmas star pinpointed the exact location of the Christ child in a way that would rival any GPS system available today.

Who is this God who boldly announces the birthplace of His Son hundreds of years before it happens? Who is this God who would choose a small backwater town and an obscure stable for the birth of the King of kings?   

He is the Lord – a Lord who is both Ruler and Shepherd. He commands His people with holy authority, but gently leads those He has called to follow Him. He is the God who walked with His people in the beginning. He is the God who was born in Bethlehem to walk with His people again. And He is the God who still desires to walk with people today.

He is a God who transforms insignificant little towns into places of great significance. He is a God who makes small and insignificant people into great servants and saints of God. He is a God who transforms lowly stables that smell of manure, into holy places where Christ dwells. And today, He lives to do the same in our lives.

He is a God that kings and priests knew about but refused to serve. He is the King who chose the little town of Bethlehem, and a humble stable for His birthplace. His name is Jesus Christ.

We would do well this Christmas season to emulate the Magi who came to worship him and to lay their treasures at his feet. Come to Bethlehem and see.       

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Glory Revealed

(Isaiah 40:1-5 NIV) “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. {2} Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.  {3} A voice of one calling in the desert: “Prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. {4} Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. {5} And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

The first humans on earth to see the birth of Jesus were neither the shepherds nor the Magi. The first humans on earth to see the birth of the Messiah were the prophets of the Old Testament. God revealed to them the glory to come.

Even though they viewed it through a glass darkly, their visions were remarkably accurate. They saw the Christ coming to earth for his people and described Him so well that those who followed had little excuse for missing Him.

Isaiah looked into Christmas future and saw the coming of the Comforter. Centuries later, when Handel composed his masterpiece, “The Messiah”, he began with Isaiah’s words: “Comfort Ye My People”. Later when the God man, Jesus, spoke of His departure, He too spoke of a Comforter that was to come -- His promised Holy Spirit.

The picture that is painted for us here is of a God who comes to earth to comfort, not condemn... a God who comes to bring peace, not punishment.

In Isaiah 40, we see the embryo of John’s, “for God so loved the world.” We hear a whisper of “the Word who became flesh and made his dwelling among us”. The prophet calls to us: “prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.”

We desperately need that straight highway. The days leading up to this wilderness known as Christmas are strewn with road hazards to spiritual preparation. The crass commercialism and the frantic stampedes for holiday bargains have created many treacherous and crooked side roads. Millions will be lost in the wilderness of this or that X-Mart.

Christmas parties that serve up the “holiday spirit” and “x-mas cheer” will cause many to swerve to the left and the right -- spiritually and literally. We need the straight way that Isaiah speaks about, for we have spent way too much time in the ditches of life. We have become like a people in the desert, crying out for water even as we bury our heads in the sand of maxed out credit cards. “Are you ready for Christmas” is no longer a spiritual query. In these last days it questions whether or not we have completed our cash cow sacrifices to the gods of Commerce.

We simply must have someone who will straighten the road… someone who will level life out for us. The ups and downs are wearing us out. We need someone to fill our valleys and level our mountains. We need someone who will make the rough places smooth. We need someone to even us out in this roller coaster life of highs and lows. We need the Lord that Isaiah saw.

And so God comes to us. Isaiah caught a glimpse of the glory of the Lord which would be revealed. It would not be seen on an American Idol stage, or on a Super Bowl playing field, or even from a Presidential podium. It would shine forth from a manger in a little backwater town.

“O little town of Bethlehem”… The Light of the world comes and “all mankind will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”  


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Forrest Gump – Prophet, Priest, Theologian, Counselor

One of the greatest theologians in the 20th Century seldom gets adequate recognition. Perhaps it’s because he came along so late in the century and is this year a mere twenty years old. Perhaps it’s because he was not educated at the right schools. Perhaps it’s because his relationship with his mother would be considered too close by today’s standards.  

Whatever the reasons, it’s time we recognized his contribution to the church. His wisdom has deeply affected many. His practical take on life has assisted me in the work of pastoring, and more specifically, in the planting of a church.

His name is Forrest Gump and some bible college or seminary should award him an honorary doctorate, because the things he said make more sense than most of the high browed boloney that passes for wisdom today.   

He addresses more theological issues and pastoral questions in a two hour movie, than will be addressed in most four year programs of study – and at a much smaller cost. So for the next few blog posts, we’re going to consider one of the wisest special needs philosophers of all time. And hopefully we will learn something important about the special needs of people from his words.    

One of the first gems to come from the mouth of this genius was this: ““Momma says, “Stupid is as stupid does.”” He uttered it on a school bus when he first met Jenny, his fickle friend for life.

Some will not even like using the word “stupid”, but it’s actually a biblical word.

(Proverbs 12:1 NIV) “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid.”

(Ecclesiastes 10:3 NIV) “Even as he walks along the road, the fool lacks sense and shows everyone how stupid he is.”

(2 Timothy 2:23 NIV) “Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.”

Besides, what better word is there to describe what often goes on in church circles?  

It’s important to grasp the “stupid does” concept, because many of the debacles that occur in church planting are the direct result of planter error. In our pride we can easily have a Proverbs 12:1 moment or an Ecclesiastes 10:3 week. We read something or hear something from our favorite guru and without running it by anyone, we launch out in a new direction. Many times, we even pay for this bad advice. In other words, we behave stupidly -- and the results we get from doing stupid are unsurprisingly, stupid. Stupid is as stupid does.  

Listen, we all have a plan. We all know that planting a church takes hard work. But maybe if we prayed more and performed less, the work would go better and turn out better. Perhaps we could avoid the pain of “stupid is” if we sought more counsel and did less stupid stuff.   

This golden phrase from Bishop Forrest Gump is also a great tool to help us with those inevitable counseling times we pastors tend to get ourselves into. I have a sign in my office that I have pointed to more than once after listening to an hour long litany of self-inflicted pain and chaos which someone wanted me to fix with a prayer or two. It’s a short three word phrase that illuminates a great principle of scripture. The sign simply says, “Stupid Should Hurt.”

You see, sometimes God rescues us from our foolishness. But more often, he lets the pain of foolishness teach us to stop doing stupid stuff. If “stupid” never hurts, we have no incentive to modify foolish behavior. And in the end this failure to modify behavior can damage us or kill us. If we are church planters, it can hinder or even kill the fragile church plant we have been called to nurture.

Sometimes the factual, but unpopular answer, to the questions about why pain comes, is that pain just naturally follows “stupid” around. And getting that answer may well be a blessing, not a curse. It may be a hand up, rather than an insult.  

It’s unfortunate, but very few want to be this blunt when they “speak the truth in love”. That’s unfortunate for two reasons.

First, “Stupid Should Hurt” is the truth about much of what is brought to the counselor’s office today. And if we cannot share the truth, then what do we have to offer besides platitudes? It’s certainly more “loving” than much of the self-serving advice given today.

Second, “Stupid is as Stupid Does” is the best formula for eliminating those long hours of counseling that seem to follow pastors around today -- counsel which almost no one applies after they walk out of your office. When you faithfully deliver the “stupid is as stupid does” and “stupid should hurt” principles, your counseling hours will go way down and you’ll have more time for your family, some of whom might actually listen to you… at least until they turn thirteen.  

And that's all I have to say about that.

Next time we will learn from Forrest regarding the debate surrounding pre-destination and/or free will. Study up.  

Friar Tuck

Saturday, June 14, 2014

BLESSED SCARS

After the death of Jesus, the disciples were fearful and bewildered, until one day, the risen Christ came and stood among them. He did something else significant -- He showed them His scars. As far as we know, the risen Christ lives today with the scars of his crucifixion. And if Jesus lives with scars, so can we.

Every one of us comes to Christ wounded. In his grace and mercy, he stops the bleeding and saves our lives. But the scars remain. We live with the scars of abuse, the scars of neglect, the scars of bad habits, the scars of loss, and the scars of lying (our lies and the lies of others). Some of us live with the scars of running around in the darkness for too many years. We live with scars caused by others and we live with self inflicted scars. We have our obvious scars and we have our hidden scars.

Sometimes we are wounded by a parent who doesn’t live up to their calling. Sometimes that scar came from being betrayed by someone you loved and trusted. Scarring sometimes involves a loss of innocence that can never be recovered. Scars can come from losing someone very dear to you.

Why would God allow the scars of the past to remain? Why doesn’t God just heal them and make them disappear with a word? The answer is simple: our scars serve a valuable purpose. Scars are visible evidence of God’s healing. They are wounds that have been healed. They are not a curse, left to shame us or defeat us. God doesn’t remove them because they speak volumes about his great love for us and his power to heal and restore. Our scars remind us of who we were and where we came from. They also help us appreciate where we are now. And they provide great incentive not to return to the “old days”. Being reminded of yesterday’s pain can help us appreciate the peace we have today.   

The bottom line is this: If Jesus lives with scars… so can we. That’s why I thank God for my scars today.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

THE PRIDE PILL

May 29, 2014

As I was reading in Luke’s gospel the other day I came across a verse that grabbed me. You know how that happens to us occasionally… a verse we’ve read many times just seems to jump off the page and right into your head.

The verse was Luke 9:46 - “An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest.”

A little over a week earlier, Jesus had told the disciples that he was going to die. He told them there would be a cross for them to carry too. Now we find them bickering about who will be the greatest. Foolish pride is hard to combat, even in the presence of God incarnate. 

When I was a lot younger, Mohammed Ali was the heavyweight boxing champion of the world. He turned the athletic world upside down by boasting, “I’m gonna show you how great I am... I am the greatest”. He didn’t just want to be the greatest -- he laid claim to already being the greatest. Sounds like the disciples.

This got me to thinking about pride and its part in the church today. And it occurred to me that in thirty years of ministry, pride has been at the root of every church dispute I have ever experienced. Every time a church feuds and splits, pride is there giving its approval.     

It’s sad, but you don’t have to look very far in the Christian world to find church disputes. They happen all the time. Most of the time they are people/personality issues rather than theological issues. They may be wrapped up in theology, but that’s only a disguise. The majority of the time they boil down to who’s going to be in charge, or who’s going to run the show. In essence they are about who’s the greatest. Christ’s disciples are still arguing about the question today. We’re hooked on “Pride Pills”.

We can try to justify these nasty little spats with spiritual sounding phrases, but the bottom line is that we want to be considered greater or more important than someone else. We’re right, they’re wrong. We’re spiritual, they’re not … and before you know it we’re exerting power and influence to get our way and we’re saying, “I’m gonna show you how great I am.”

I would contend that pride has destroyed more churches than the devil ever could. The devil may be there stirring the pot, but he’d have nothing to stir if it weren’t for our human sense of pride. We provide all the ingredients and the fire for cooking.

Pride always looks down on someone else from a position of spiritual superiority. It always assumes that they are somehow below us. Pride is at the heart of the judgmental spirit that turns so many people off about the church. It drives the put downs and sarcastic remarks that so many Christians are known for in this world. It is at the heart of the gossip and the slander that so often marks church disputes.

No Christian in their right mind will ever admit to it, but it really boils down to a matter of thinking that we are somehow not as bad a sinner as the other guy. Oh, we’ll confess to being a sinner, but we’re not as bad a sinner as you know who. Their sin is far worse than ours. We’re better people than them. We’re greater. And Jesus just looks at us and shakes his head. He’s thinking, when are they ever going to get it?

The battle with pride will dog us until we die. Just when we think we have cut the head off of this monster, it will grow a new one in another area of our life. We must be forever diligent. Our work is never done in this area.  

And if you’re sitting there thinking, “I know someone who sure needs this teaching”, you’ve already missed the lesson. It’s me… it’s me O Lord, standin’ in the need of prayer.

 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

10 LESSONS LEARNED IN THE TRENCHES


I’ve been involved in church planting now for 15 years. Along the way some hard lessons have been learned and are still being learned. Here are just ten of them in no particular order of importance. There are enough for a second list rattling around in this old brain. These thoughts are not particularly profound. Thousands of church planters could easily write the same things down. I hope they can help in some way.    

1. Calling and vision are as important as gifting

If you are not called by God to plant a church, do not under any circumstances try it. Do anything else that God will allow you to do. There will be months and even years where your calling is all that will keep you going. And if you do not have a strong vision, someone else’s vision will drive your work and you will end up being an unhappy passenger instead of the captain of your ship. It will not matter how gifted you are if you bail out after ending up in a place you did not intend to go. Be sure of your calling and your vision.  

2. Prayer is the artillery that softens the beachhead

Human effort may bring success without concerted and extended corporate prayer, but it is so much harder and ends up glorifying man instead of God. Prayer opens doors we would have to humanly beat down. It changes hearts that we cannot touch. It brings deliverance and conviction that we can never produce. And it discourages the enemy more than all our plans, prowess, and programs. Enlist a passionate prayer team.  

3. Planning and programs are cool, but preaching is crucial

You can have the greatest plan since Pentecost and all the programs money can buy, but if your preaching is impotent and/or safe, your flock will be impotent and safe. Church plantings need prophets who will call people to repentance and to the difficult task of following Jesus. If you want to start a real church, do not forsake Christ’s prophetic message. You may even draw a crowd without it, but you’ll have a service club, not a church. Preach like your life depended on it, because in a way, it does.

4. The Enemy will not go away, just because you showed up

Spiritual warfare will not cease just because you ride into town in shining armor on a white horse. In fact, it will not cease until the one true Rider comes on His white horse. Satan will more likely double down if you last over a year. Prepare to lose many things and even people who are dear to you. You are a threat to the darkness if you are actually piercing it and the Devil will not go down without a fight. And by the way, he doesn’t fight fair. Keep your sword sharp and your shield handy, because you will need them.   

5. You will likely attract a fair share of religious malcontents

New churches attract about as many church hopping malcontents as they do lost people. Sometimes it seems like more. Those “experienced saints” that we prayed for to come along side of us should come with a warning label. They likely left the church they were in and headed your way for a reason other than your dynamic leadership. Be open, but also be wary. You may not be getting what you think or what you really need. Be cautious about handing out leadership roles, even if you are desperate and they have what seems like all the right credentials. If you prefer the lost over the malcontents, do not invest much advertising on Christian radio. Instead, spend your money on the head banger rock station in town. And do a thorough job of vetting leaders or you will surely wish you had.

6. It gets harder when you’re winning

If you think failing is difficult, wait until you start winning. When that attendance comes up and those offerings start to meet budget, watch out for major attacks on you, your family, and your church. As said before Satan does not give up just because it gets hard for him. He’s had it a lot harder than you can ever make it for him and still managed to comeback and even thrive. The devil is apathetic about mediocrity and those who are losing, but apoplectic about those who are doing it right and winning. So if you thought it was tough when you were down, it will get tougher when you get up and get it going again. Don’t let success lull you to sleep. Keep a guard posted. 

7. Perseverance is more important to success than personality

It is amazing what we can accomplish if we just don’t give up. You may not preach, write, organize, or look like the superstars of the church world today, but you can accomplish what God called you to do if you persevere. Get up every day and pray that God will use you in some way. Put one foot in front of the other and never back down. You are a church planter. You have been called to go and preach good news to the harassed and helpless. Let the big guys write their books and pack their stadiums. Just keep going and do not give up.   

8. Plan on staying a long time

The prudent church planter will allot 10-15 years to the establishment of a new church. It should be easier and quicker, and in some rare cases it may be, but usually it is not. So if you don’t want to sign on for the long haul, don’t sign up at all. If you are going to err, err on the side of longevity. Premature departure can cause irreparable birth defects. Like it or not, for a while, you are the heart of the new church. Until they begin to walk, talk, and think for themselves, you cannot walk out on them. So figure on being at this for a good while. And if you suffer from wanderlust, do everyone a favor and do something else besides planting a church.

9. You haven’t planted a church unless it survives your departure

Just about anyone can draw a crowd for a while. Some can even turn the crowd into a congregation. You can lead the group for years, but unless the church survives your eventual leaving, you did not plant a church… you just managed a club. This is a frightening thought for many and that’s as it should be. People can be blessed and saved through your ministry. That is all good and right. But a successful church planter helps birth a church that outlives his or her tenure. All churches have a lifespan, but your churches should last longer than your stay with them.   

10. Lead your group to plant another church as soon as possible

The bad thing about new babies is that they quickly become self-centered and selfish. They begin to think that life revolves around them instead of around Jesus and His calling. Having a new baby can change that. Include plans for reproduction in your start up vision. Sell it to the people every chance you get. Usually, we end up doing what we plan to do. Daughtering a church will help you get your eyes off of yourself and onto Kingdom growth. And it will also give you something to pray about besides yourself. If you don’t do it in the first ten years of your existence, chances are it will never happen.   

So there you go. 10 Lessons Learned in the Trenches. The hope is that you find something helpful in them. Blessings

Friar Tuck