Are You Giving Over Jesus? When Cowardice Trumps Conviction in a Leader

This morning, I read through Mark 15 and was once again challenged at how easy it is for leaders to “satisfy the crowd.”  Even though none of the charges against Jesus stuck, the Jewish leaders stirred the crowd to release the murderer and insurrectionist Barabbas (as was Pilate’s custom at that time of year), and sent Jesus off to be crucified.  “Why, what evil has he done?”  No answer from them, but in the drumbeat of rage they continued, “Crucify him.” 

Verse 15 is telling of Pilate’s cowardice:  “So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released from them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.”

All leaders have a bit of Pilate running around in them.  Their cowardice overruns and overrides their conviction.  Pilate knew Jesus was innocent (even his wife knew this as well), but in order to keep the peace, He gave over Jesus.

As far as a church is concerned:

  • Anytime a preacher of the Word preaches in order to satisfy a crowd rather than preach the unvarnished truth of God’s Word give over Jesus and His unvarnished gospel of God’s plan of salvation in the world and in the church.
  • Anytime a pastor shepherds the church in order to satisfy the parishioners rather than counsel them, “speaking the truth in love,” gives over Jesus and His work to grow and mature them in the faith.
  • Anytime a deacon serves the church in order to satisfy the parishioners rather than to roll up the sleeves, meet the physical needs of the people, and help along the pastors in the work of the ministry, we give over Jesus saying that our plans and way of running the church is better than Jesus’ plan.  (Keep in mind, it’s Christ’s church, not ours—Matthew 16:13-20).
  • Anytime a leader or person of influence seeks to satisfy the crowd (or even their own heart) in setting a direction for the church, we give over Jesus.  In fact, we will be working to usurp His role as the prophet, priest, and king of the church.  It takes great courage to defer to Jesus’ direction.  It takes great cowardice to fear that He doesn’t know what He’s doing, and we then try to take over. 

What others ways to you see how leaders can become Pilates—where the cowardice trumps the conviction?

The Joys of Pastoring a Multigenerational Church

Hi.  My name is Matthew Perry, and I pastor a semi-traditional, multigenerational Baptist church.

Before you say, “This sounds like an AA meeting—are you lamenting your situation?”  Far from it. 

When I interviewed at my current church back in October 2011, one of the questions that was asked me in various ways was basically this:  “What do you think of pastoring a church with a good amount of senior adults in it?”  My response surprised them:  “Senior adults need pastors, too!”  And what a tremendous blessing they’ve been to this pastor and this church. 

You see, I have a number of colleagues who look at my semi-traditional (translate: you still sing hymns with a piano and organ?), multigenerational (translate: you have a good number of senior adults at your church), Baptist (translate: they are so rigid in what they believe—ew) church and want to avoid this scenario. 

But this scenario is a blessing if that church seeks to follow what Scripture says and seeks to disciple the saved and witness to the lost about the glories of salvation through the cross and empty tomb of Christ.

I have a number of church planter friends who have planted churches of various sizes.  Some have maintained a modest size, while others have churches which have exploded—so good to see! 

Yet, when I go to these churches, I notice something distinctly missing.  No, I’m not talking about an organ.  I’m not talking about pews.  I’m not talking about a traditional choir. 

What I distinctly miss seeing is the gray haired people!  And I believe that, without realizing it, many of these younger churches will miss that as well.

Titus 2 speaks of the beauty of a multigenerational church:

But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. 2 Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. 3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, 4 and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.6 Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. 7 Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, 8 and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.9 Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10 not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior (Titus 2:1-10, ESV).

Titus pastored a multigenerational church where the older members would teach the younger members how to put their sound doctrine into sound living in all facets of their lives.  A church simply wishing to reach the 20s-30s demographic of their particular culture should read and heed this—we need all generations represented in our churches for the sake of putting the gospel on the frontburner as we live and move in our jobs, our homes, and yes, our churches as well.

Some pastors may have been burned by older people who may be hanging on to the tradition and the former ‘feel’ of the church of days gone by.  As a result, many pastors believe that the senior generation is the problem—so the fewer we have in our churches, the smoother the ride.

While I know this is often the case, especially in more established churches, if the pastor is honest, every generation has their particular ‘druthers’ of what they believe a church should be and wish to see that vision imposed executed to their desires.  That older generation may have lived during a time in the church when the church was flourishing, and associate the flourishing with the methods with growth. 

This is where the younger generation may teach the older generation about their times.  When the various generations listen to one another, they may each glean a bit of wisdom from the other.  The older generation has raised their children, worked at a job all their life, know a bit more about how to handle finances, and even better, know how to grow and sustain their Christian faith through all the seasons of life.

But the older generation, if they have a Bible-based, Spirit-driven motive, want to leave a legacy.  They know that the times in the culture have changed.  They know that church is not on the radar of the average person.  So deep down, they want to see the legacy and gospel-witness of their church continue on.  So they learn from the ‘young folks’ to see where they are and where the culture stands so that the church as a whole can look for more effective ways to connect with the surrounding neighbors, all the while staying firm and true to what the truth of Scripture speaks. 

Hi.  My name is Matthew Perry, and I pastor a semi-traditional, multigenerational Baptist church.

And I thank God for it daily!

 

 

Leadership Development from … the Book of Acts?

I like Phil Newton a lot. He is decidedly biblical as pastor of South Woods Baptist Church in Memphis, taking that church in a solid direction based on Scripture and not tradition. His booklet, The Way of Faith, has been helpful for me for use as a primer for the Christian faith.

Recently, Newton penned an article about leadership development from the Book of Acts. How wonderful! Here’s an excerpt:

Potential leaders had to learn to follow before leading. The consistent pattern in Acts never separated evangelism and discipleship as though the former succeeded in producing new believers even if the latter were neglected. “The goal of mission,” Johannes Nissen rightly notes, “was the formation of a new community in Christ.” In obedience to Jesus Christ’s command (Matt 28:19–20), the disciples baptized and instructed new disciples. Donald Hagner points out that the “therefore” in Matthew 28:19, connects the assignment of disciple making to not only the disciples but to every church that comes after them. The Great Commission’s emphasis falls on the hard work of nurturing in discipleship rather than proclamation, evident by the clause —“teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matt 28:20). The atmosphere for training leaders to engage in mission and to strengthen local churches permeated the experience of discipleship. Those that launched out in church planting had a foundation for pastoral work established in the Christian community’s discipling ministry.

Why Is It So Important for Church Leaders to Identify and Equip Other Leaders?

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  • “We should leave the work of the ministry to the professionals!  After all, they’ve been to seminary and been trained.  We haven’t.  And that’s what they get paid for, right?” 
  • “I have an idea of what the church should be doing.  I think I’ll suggest it to the pastors and deacons so they can get to work on it.” 
  • “So the ministers do all the work?  I want to get involved in a church where I can make a difference for the Kingdom.  That doesn’t seem to be happening here—I think I’ll move on.”
  • “You mean the ministers expect us to be involved in ministry?  That’s not what I signed up for—I just want to go to heaven, and not go to hell.  Isn’t that why Christ died?  I don’t like these expectations—I think I’ll move on.”

These quotes above are examples of how people think the ‘work of the ministry’ should go in a church.  Some think it’s up to the trained people, while others don’t want that but want to be a part of Kingdom work in a local church. 

Ephesians 4:11-12 gives a helpful (and Spirit-inspired) insight into the purpose of the leaders in the church—to identify and equip future leaders in the church for Kingdom work.  Why?  What are some reasons and benefits that come from this.  Below are five.  It’s not a comprehensive list by any means, but a list nonetheless that will get the conversation started.

  1. This is a command of Christ himself.  This is sufficient—but as always, when Christ commands us to do something, reasons abound.  He never commands anything in a vacuum or to simply cramp our style. 
  2. This is a reason He called you into the ministry.  We are called to “make disciples”—that is, we are called to reproduce ourselves.  This is part and parcel of our calling into the ministry.  If you have any doubt, read 2 Timothy 2:1-2. 
  3. This builds up the body of Christ into unity and maturity.  The more people are involved in leadership, the less time they may have to complain about what’s happening.  They will see what it takes to make things ‘run’ (for lack of a better term).   But when we work in the same direction, captured by the same mission and vision that Christ has laid on us, a unity and maturity into the likeness of Christ takes place.  We are, as Tozer said, all instruments tuned to the same tuning fork.  And by virtue of that, we are tuned to each other.  
  4. This safeguards the minister from believing he is irreplaceable.  Few things serve as stumbling blocks to leaders in thinking that the ministry of a church would fail without them.  This stems from a significant insecurity in the minister needing to believe he is irreplaceable.  This mindset is dangerous for the church and for the leader.  A leader must not consolidate ‘power,’ but give it away.  That way, things do not grind to a halt when he is out of the pulpit or out of his class.  The church keeps moving along because the true pastor is the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ (John 10:10; 1 Peter 5:4-5). 
  5. This develops ownership of all of the members of the body of Christ, not just the leaders.  While you will have people content to spectate, more and more people have other options to take up their time.  If we as leaders do not equip and encourage and provide opportunities for people to learn and serve, we will lose them.  People wish to be a part of something bigger than themselves. 

Can you think of any other reasons why identifying and equipping leaders is necessary? 

For the Person of Christ or for Personal Preference?: Critiquing the Cause of Criticism

“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Comes to terms quickly” (Matthew 5:23-25a, ESV).

How do we sort through criticism?  Is all criticism bad?  Is it all good?  Do we shrug it off?  Avoid it?  Quit when we receive it?  Let’s critique the cause of critics and criticism today!

Some people are difficult–but in a constructive way.  They challenge us in our walk with the person of Christ.  So one would say that are not difficult, but their exhortations may land in a difficult manner on us.  The end result, however, is being stronger in Christ.

Others are difficult in a destructive (or at least non-helpful) way.  They challenge us to walk in their personal preferences.  So one would say that they are difficult in that we risk working for their glory by their standard, and not for God’s.

I talk to quite a few pastor friends–and all of them (as with all people) deal with criticism.  All of us at some point have been among the critics and among the critiqued.  God calls us to be ones who are mature, able to discern truth from falsehood (Hebrews 5:11-14), but we must also discern the motives behind the criticisms.  Are we denying self and taking up the cross and following him?  Or are we exalting self, crucifying others, and following our own aims and desires and expecting others to follow suit?

Remember Thing from the Addams’ Family?

The beauty of the Body of Christ is amazing.  So many different personalities and backgrounds—and God brings them all together for unity and maturity.

Do you remember the Addam’s Family?  Remember Thing?  Thing is a dismembered hand that was part of the family, who would move around on his ‘fingers’ and find ways to make symbols to communicate.

While Thing brought high entertainment value to the black & white TV screen, there’s nothing funny about this in the context of the church.  Some want to function as a dismembered body, doing their own thing apart from the Head, who is Christ (Colossians 1:18-23). The church is the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12).  We are nothing without the head.

When you bring a criticism to the church about an issue, ask yourself the following questions to critique the criticism:

First, is the criticism you are bringing based on the person of Christ, or personal preference?  This takes some serious prayer, but also a willingness to let others in your life who will tell it like it is.  The Apostle Peter was told by the Apostle Paul in Galatians 2:11-14 that his actions were based on personal and cultural preference.  If you are teachable (that is, you understand you are a human being and do not have it all figured out), this will be a welcomed aspect of your sanctification.  If you are not teachable, always willing to teach, and seldom believe you have anything to learn from anyone else unless they have a radio ministry or have published a book, you’re headed for a fall.  Your ‘Christian walk’ is all about the steps you deem fit to take–and everyone must march in lockstep.

Secondly, if this is based upon a biblical issue, have you gone directly to the person to address this, or are you simply telling everyone else… maybe even guising it as a prayer concern? (I would even recommend this even if it was based on personal preference. Who knows? The issue that is bothering you so badly may disappear when you engage that person as a person the way Christ intended, rather than a distant enemy or annoyance.)  There have been times in my 20+ years of ministry when someone has come to me to complain about someone else.  My first step is to ask them, “Have you gone to them to express your concerns?”  Many times, the answer is, “No, I haven’t yet!”  After I encourage them to go, a time later they returned with another complaint.  “Did you go and talk to them?”  “Well, no, I didn’t feel led to at the time.”  So I would arrange a meeting right then, if possible–especially if it was after a worship time.  We don’t wait to feel led, for God has already led with his command (Matthew 5:21-26).

Thirdly, are you actively involved in serving the church as a servant of Christ, or merely looking as a spectator or as a judge in the Olympics–a removed observer? I ask this because it’s amazing when you are involved with a group of people, you begin to see how they serve, the attitude in which they serve, and how that service is not about merely serving themselves, but Christ and others. Didn’t Christ come not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45)?  When you’re not serving others, the only person that tends to matter is yourself. That’s not how God intended us to be.  The approximately 60 ‘one another’ passages in the NT give this away.

Fourthly, when speaking about the issue that is bothering you, do you use your words more to criticize and gossip about that issue or to pray about that issue? Prayer is the instrument God uses to change hearts. Maybe the heart of the one that troubles you needs to change–or maybe your heart needs to change!  

The path of least resistance is to complain and think only of what self wants. It’s easy to do that.

But if our critiques are based on biblical truths and biblical issues, then that is another blog post for another day, which will springboard from Ephesians 4:15. In this case, if it’s about personal preferences, then don’t raise them up to tests of faith. We are sinners–all of us. Some are in the demographic of being a sinner saved by grace. But others aren’t. We risk being very legalistic if we expect people to operate based on our Law rather than on God’s law in speaking the truth in love.

Time is too short for self to get in the way!  The world needs Christ!  Let not personal preference provide a stumbling block to the person and work of Christ!

Links to Help Your Grip (4.20.2013)

The Marathoner’s Fragile Glory (David Niblack)

But when I walked out of the restaurant, I stepped into a world that had changed. Suddenly our achievements, our medals, and even whether we had finished the race became astonishingly trivial. The near-sacred enchantment of the Boston Marathon vanished before my eyes; our medals became mere pieces of metal around our necks, the finish line was only a band of colored paint, and we found ourselves in a new race to discover if our friends were safe amid the confusion and sadness. This race had an urgency the marathon never did. Death and evil openly entered the equation, and they changed the atmosphere completely.

A Focus on the Personal as Britons Bid Thatcher Farewell, New York Times (John F Burns and Alan Cowell)

Since dying of a stroke last week at 87, Britain’s longest-serving prime minister in 150 years — and the only woman to hold the office — continued to stir intense passions. At issue were the elaborate ceremony and estimated $15 million cost of a funeral in whose planning she had a major voice, as well as the socially disruptive consequences of her no-turning-back battles in the 1980s to shake Britain from its long postwar slump.

Kermit Gosnell and the Politics of Abortion (Ross Douthat, New York Times)

… if you want to hear honest talk about the realities of abortion, go speak with those abortion counselors and providers. Even the most radically pro-choice will tell you that the political discourse they hear about the subject, with its easy dichotomies and bumper-sticker boilerplate, has little correspondence to the messy, intricate stories of her patients. They hear about peace and guilt, relief and sin. And it is they who will acknowledge, whether we like it or not, that the rhetoric and imagery of the pro-life movement can touch on some basic emotional truths.

I Hate Flying, But I Love Jesus (Joe Thorn)

The only place I can find real comfort and peace is in the character of God and the hope of the gospel. It is not just that God is sovereign, but that he is good, and because of Jesus his work in my life is for his glory and my good.

Iranian pastor told to recant his faith, or else remain in prison (Baptist Press)

“The reality of Christian living is that difficulties or problems do arise in our lives,” Abedini wrote. “Persecution and difficulties are not new occurrences, but are seen often in the Christian life. It is through the suffering and tribulations that we are to enter the Kingdom of God.”

7 Wastes of Energy for Leaders (Ron Edmundson)

Wasting time and energy may be one of my biggest pet peeves as a leader. Some days I leave work and feel I never got off the treadmill. It’s physically and mentally draining.

How to Find Peace in This Election Cycle

(This sermon was preached on Sunday, November 4, 2012 out of John 4:46-54 at Arapahoe Road Baptist Church in Centennial, CO where I pastor.  To listen to the audio, go to http://www.arbc.net/sermons.htm.)

On Wednesday nights, we spend time in prayer and in study of the Word—a time that I treasure with our church family. During one section of that time, we pray for physical needs. At the bottom of that first page, you will see a particular request asking for prayer for President Obama, our governmental leaders, and our nation. One of the lines that I use each week for the last few months is one that causes some affectionate eyerolls to commence, but nevertheless I say, “You may have heard that there is an election coming up!” A few courteous laughs come about, but behind those laughs is the moaning not simply of another bad joke, but by the fact that everyone is tired and so weary of the presidential race taking place. The primaries, the debates, the political ads, the campaigning have both sides charged up in hopes of a victory—but also ready for November 7th, the day after the election.

It’s funny how so many look at this election. Some of you in this place may love President Obama and hope he gets another four years—either because you love him or because you just don’t care for the Republican platform. The opposite could be said for Governor Romney—you may not be crazy about him, but you’re scared of another four years and may not be crazy about the Democrat platform. Some of you are considering not voting. If you are, you are considering voting third party because you just don’t like either candidate but you wish to vote your conscience and participate. Some of you have plans to head to Canada right now!

What’s hard to find right now is peace! There is a truckload at stake in this election. In fact, with the economy, the unemployment, things happening at home and abroad, I expect a record turnout for this election, to be honest. But this process causes quite a bit of turmoil. Can you trust either one of these men? Are they telling us the truth—or are they just trying to tickle our itching ears? Do we have to go to http://www.factcheck.org to see if they are on the level? Do they care about us—or just our vote? Will they represent us, or just their interests?

My aim this morning is to provide perspective! In the midst of the primaries, debates, TV advertisements, endorsements, and campaigns that you will not let this for one second cloud out the cross and empty tomb! Beware of becoming to fixated on the candidates that we forget that there is one who is Lord over all the dignitaries on the planet.

1. All earthly leaders have their limits—Jesus doesn’t.

46 So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. 47 When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. 48 So Jesus said to him, “Unless you[a] see signs and wonders you will not believe.” 49 The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” 50 Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.

God has a way of getting our attention—especially that of a leader. The moment leaders of all stripes believe they are in control of all they survey, He puts something in our path over which they have no control. Such is the case with this leader—an “official” he is called. He is someone that works from the mighty Roman government. History bears out that Rome had an arsenal of gods at their disposal that they believe helped them and empowered them in their various endeavors. But those gods were of no help today, were they?

The Scriptures show us other leaders who pursued other gods. I’m in the process now of going through the Bible in 90 Days. Part of the Bible reading was through Exodus 11 when God told Moses to approach Pharaoh to allow the people of Israel to go outside the camp to worship and offer sacrifices. When Pharaoh refused nine times over, and God has set nine respective plagues to get their attention. When Pharoah refused that ninth time, God sent the plague of the firstborn—those who did not have the blood of the Lamb on the doorposts to ward off the angel of death—that plague hit every Egyptian home. That plague even hit Pharaoh’s home. Pharaoh was convinced he was invincible—but only One is invincible.

Do we know the backstory of this ruler? No, we don’t. We hesitate to speak where Scripture does not speak. But we do know this one other item—he worked for a Roman emperor, a Caesar. Caesars believed they were gods! In Acts, we see a place where Herod put on his royal robes, sat on his throne and spoke. In Acts 12:22-23, it says, “And the people were shouting, ‘The voice of a god, and not of a man!’ Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by works and breathed his last” (Acts 12:22-23). Every leader that does not give glory to God and His Word—and especially leaders who believe they are in ultimate control will learn a significant lesson—we’re not!

The presidential candidates have learned this, or in the case of Governor Romney should he be elected will learn it, that they may believe they are in control. They make promises.

  • I’m going to create 12 million jobs. But presidents cannot create jobs. Policies can be attempted to be put in place—but does that not have to get through Congress.
  • I’m going to protect the unborn/give a woman the right to choose. Only if you appoint pro-life or pro-abortion judges, and even then Congress has to vote them in.

Every leader has limits. Yet this leader sensed something about Jesus—that He could help. But he thought Jesus was like a typical leader who had limits. He could do more than most—he could heal someone sick, but if he died then that would be outside of Jesus’ paygrade. “Come before my child dies.” This leader was very pro-life when it comes to his child, wasn’t he?

But this is the gospel truth we must see. Jesus did not simply come for this life alone. Some who hold to the prosperity gospel believe that Jesus wishes to prosper materially and presently, hinging all on your obedience. Some of you who have watched the primaries, the debates, the advertisements, and the campaign speeches may be focusing exclusively on the here and now. You’re putting all your eggs in the baskets of these candidates to turn this country around—and both candidates believe they can do this. But they have limits.

2. Politicians do not always keep their promises—Jesus always does.

Beginning in verse 50, we read:

“Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. As he was going down, his servants met him, and told him that his son was recovering. So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, ‘Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.’ The father knew that was the hour when Jesus has said to him, ‘Your son will live.’ And he himself believed, and all his household” (John 4:50-53).

It must be said that prior to this exchange, Jesus told not just this man but all the Galileans around him that they would only believe when they “see signs and wonders.” But that was not the case with this man. In his inquiry, he told Jesus to come down before his child dies. Jesus is one who knows hearts and knows the motives. He wasn’t asking out of doubt, he was asking the only one who could help and he asked out of desperation! This was not a theoretical question—this came down to brass tax.

So Jesus put it to him: “Go; your son will live.” The faith that this official demonstrated was incredible. He didn’t stay and wait for Jesus to come! He didn’t ask for proof that Jesus could do it. The apostle John tells us, “The man believed the word Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.” This is no small feat.

How many times does Jesus promise something, but our faith is extremely conditional. What do I mean? We put conditions on God to come through for us before we will believe. But this shows that we haven’t really grasped the gospel and all it’s implications.

Consider how this looks in various stages of our lives:

  • Dear God, if you give me a train set for Christmas this year, I will love you and follow you forever and ever.
  • Dear God, I know you died on the cross for my sins and that’s handled, but I’m devastated that my girlfriend broke up with me.
  • Dear God, if you bless me with good grades and a good job, I’ll love you.

That list could go on and on, couldn’t it? What if God doesn’t provide the train set? What if God sends that boyfriend or girlfriend on their way? What if we don’t get the grades or job we want? Does that mean God is somehow less than God? What we risk doing is allowing the circumstances of our lives (good and bad) cloud the cross and empty tomb?

We must intentionally focus on the concrete promises found in the black and white pages of Scripture to inform the events of our circumstances, and not the other way around.

Look with me at Romans 8:31-39:

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be[a] against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.[b] 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The foundation of it all is Christ and his work on the cross! Look at the promises:

  • If God is for you, who can be against you? You say, “Lots of people in my life!” But ultimately, if God is for you, no one can ultimately do anything of eternal consequence to you. You are his!
  • If God did not spare His Son but gave him for us, will he not also give us all things? “All things?” Yes, everything we need to stay the course and keep the faith—if he is sufficient!
  • Who will bring a charge against His elect? God acquitted us of all charges through Christ.
  • Who will condemn us? Since Christ took our sin on the cross, no one!
  • Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Now notice here, even though they are Christians, does that mean that everything bad is removed from their lives? Look at what they experience: tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword. Not only are we conquerers, but more than conquerers. In Christ, He has obtain the victory over these things in our behalf—and the ‘more’ part is that nothing anywhere will separate us from the love of Christ.

Let’s revisit the visioneering and the aspect of magnifying Christ. What is big in your vision right now? Your empty bank account, your messy house, your bad grades, your job, your iPhone 5? Your illness, your relative’s illness, your house that hasn’t sold? The divorce that devastated your life, your children who have strayed from the Lord, your own heart that is straying from the Lord? Or—this election? Do you see how everything can cloud out the cross and empty tomb?

Politicians make promises left and right. We’ll create jobs, pay down the debt, balance the budget, make tax cuts/raise taxes, provide government healthcare or repeal the government health care plan. But do we know they will do it? I mean, do we really know they will keep their promise? Too many scandals and too many lies to protect them from those scandals reveal that many times politicians will say whatever they can to advance their own careers, no matter what. But the point is, you just don’t know!

With Christ, you don’t have to worry about him keeping his promises. In 2 Corinthians 1:20, the apostle Paul tells us that “All the promises of God are ‘Yes’ in Christ Jesus.” What does that mean? It means that Christ is the high point of God’s revelation. And since He conquered at the cross and the empty tomb, beating sin and death at its own game, then every promise that God made in regards to our salvation is a big “Yes” in Christ. God kept His Word—and it was sealed in Christ! He is the “Faithful and True.”

Jesus gave that Roman official His Word—and this Roman official believed it even when it seemed that everything was against it. Remember, his son was dying. He was at his wits end. He was out of control. There was nothing he could do but come to Jesus. And Jesus gave His Word, “and the man believed and went on his way.” Do you believe Jesus—even when you don’t know how it will end or how it could end the way He says it will?

This leader had a long ways to travel back. But his servants met him and told him that his son was getting better. When he asked when, he realized it was the same time that he spoke it. Before the man believed His Word, but it says in verse 53 that “He himself believed, and all his household.”

3. Everyone is looking for a savior–Jesus is that savior!

At the end of one of the debates, one of the candidates’ last sentence was very telling: “That’s why America is the hope of the earth.” Do we see the type of language this is? The “hope of the earth”? This is “savior” language! This is nothing new. John Winthrop during colonial times called America that “city on a hill.” Roosevelt vowed that the United States would make this world “safe for democracy.” America has been seen as the great hope of the earth in many, many ways that we don’t need to go into in this venue.

And so these men who are running for president are also seen as ‘savior’ figures that will help America get out of the slump its in and bring it back to greatness and stability. These men have very different plans for saving this nation. But there is one thing that we must know:

Both of them will make absolutely rotten saviors in the area where it counts—that of eternity! There will be a time when political elections and everything else of earth will be past. Then we will be standing before the Unchanging, Eternal, Unelected One who sits on the throne. And all the saviors of the world will be seen for what they are—sheer wannabes. They may stand for good things, have strong convictions, but they cannot touch the very core of who you are and why you are here.

Don’t let this election cloud out the very foundation of our salvation:  the cross where our sins were atoned for and where the victory was accomplished for our sins.  Christ rescued us from ourselves—He is the only One who can rescue us.  To find out more about what he’s accomplished, visit http://www.twowaystolive.com.  What a Savior we have!

Man of Sorrows! what a name
For the Son of God, who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood;
Sealed my pardon with His blood.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Guilty, vile, and helpless we;
Spotless Lamb of God was He;
“Full atonement!” can it be?
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Lifted up was He to die;
“It is finished!” was His cry;
Now in Heav’n exalted high.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

When He comes, our glorious King,
All His ransomed home to bring,
Then anew His song we’ll sing:
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

– Philip Bliss (1838-1876)

“That’s the Way We’ve Always Done It”: The Wrong Answer for the Inquiring Minds

Established institutions worry about those who ‘rock the boat.’  So when newcomers express interest in an organization or become fully involved, they begin to look at their organization with new eyes.  Suddenly, the questions start to arise:  “How come we do this?”  “Why do we do it this way?”  “Has anyone ever tried this this way?” 

In too many instances, the splash of cold water comes along:  “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”  If this is where the conversation stops, and one is satisfied with that answer as ending the issue, then a problem exists. 

While I have not come across this phrase at my church (yet), I know I will by the law of averages.  Why?  Because in 20+ years of ministry, this has been an answer given at every stop I’ve had, numerous times. 

If I had the power, I would outlaw this phrase.  Why?  It’s lazy and unproductive.  By giving this answer (and being satisfied with it) does one the disservice of not analyzing and exploring the issue to see if it could be accomplished better, or if it needs to change, or if it needs to stop. 

So what is the right answer for inquiring minds? 

  • Find out how it began.  The reason why this event or program began may have served its purpose for a time.  But that time may have passed.  But it’s always good to go to the source. 
  • Think like a church planter.  Church planters examine Scripture and examine their culture and go from there.  Many times, we as established churches simply think within the paradigm of our traditions and what ‘worked’ in the past.  It’s good to start with a blank sheet of paper and the Word of God and go from there.
  • Be willing to cut bait or recalibrate.  If a program or event’s only pull is that it’s something we’ve always done but does little to advance the gospel or strengthen the church, we need to evaluate as to whether to cut bait (phase it out) or recalibrate and reorient something good into something great for the glory of God. 
  • Examine Scripture to see what is non-negotiable (such as in Acts 2:42-47; Matthew 22:37-40; Acts 4:32-37, etc.), and what is personal preference.  Churches cannot do everything!   Each week, we get mail and ideas from those inside and outside the church that we should do or must do.  Sometimes we can, other times we are able to do so with the resources we have.  Most of the time, we are able to visioneer and strategize to put things forward with the people and resources we have.  But everyone has a bias, Christian or non-Christian.  The secret that many have not realized is recognizing that which is a personal bias and preference, and that which serves as an absolute truth in regards to what Scripture outlines. 
  • Keep in mind there are actual people in the church.  So we see a ministry may need recalibrating or phased out.  Headstrong people would be ready to say, “Let’s do it!  It’s the right thing to do—let’s move!”  As someone once told me, “Easy there, big fella.”  You have another component—people!  People who are involved and invested in these ministries, if for no other reason than a comfort factor.  If those folks are not involved in the process of evaluating this area, you will lose whatever influence you may think you have or hope to have.   True leaders don’t just walk in front of their people, but walk with them.  Some change will be obvious to make and can be done quickly—other change will take time.  It’s better to bring them along by making the case and letting it simmer.  Whatever short-term gain you may have in the quick change will be a long-term loss in your influence because you are communicating that programs mean more than people.  That’s a bad day!

So the right answer?  Let’s take a look at it and see if this helps or hinders the vision God has given for us.   Paul told

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching (2 Timothy 4:1-2, ESV).  Patience is a lost commodity on leaders, but patience is what is commanded.  Everything worth doing takes time, love, and teaching! 

May God help us as leaders to help our people ask the right questions!

“I’ll Pray for Your Leadership, You Pray for My Follow-ship”

After a particularly joyous Sunday at our church where I pastor (with a fellowship to follow), one of our dear senior adults came up to me and engaged me in a conversation about the service.  Since I’m still learning the ebbs and flows of the church where Christ has placed me, I often use humor to scope out the lay of the land.  This time, our service went somewhat longer than usual, and I preached a few minutes longer than usual.  So I made a comment about having a talk to that “long-winded preacher we have.”   This time, though, I followed it up with, “We say when we start, but not when we end.  And God did something wonderful this morning.” 

How this person responded not only encouraged me, but reminded me of an important lesson.  He said, “Preacher Man, we have been trained here over the years to be done by 11:30.”  (He paused, and I honestly braced myself for what was to come.)  “But you’re just going to have to un-train us!  Keep preaching the Word!  It’s taking hold!” 

When we parted, he said to me, “I’ll pray for your leadership—you pray for my ‘follow-ship’.”   I hugged him and thanked him, promising him that I certainly would. 

No church is perfect!  At least, in my situation, if it was at one time, it lost it’s perfection the moment I set foot on the premises.  But you can’t love Jesus and hate His bride.  He’s called us to be a part of it with all its warts and wrinkles.  We know that He is working in us to make it  spotless and without blemish (Ephesians 5:28). 

John Maxwell once said, “If you are a leader or want to be a leader, and no one is following you—you’re just taking a long walk.” 

Are we leaders in our churches, but no one is following our lead?  We can react in one of the following ways:

  1. “Well, these people haven’t got it together.  They just need to get on-board.  I’m right—can’t they see that?  If they can’t, they must be so worldly as not to know better.”  These folks suffer from self-righteousness.  Don’t take time to share with them your struggles—they will subtly or not let you know that they just cannot relate to you.  If you’re a Christian, you should never struggle with Scripture reading, prayer, witnessing, or any other myriad of activities along this line.  You have to lead people from where they are to where they need to be with boldness mixed with compassion (speaking the truth in love—Ephesians 4:15). 
  2. “Who am I to lead any of this?  I’m only a sinner saved by grace, but that’s all.  Who would ever want to follow my lead!  I can barely lead myself.”  Trevin Wax recently posted how dishonoring to the Spirit of God it is to say you’re “just a sinner saved by grace.”  Take the ‘just’ out and recognize that the Spirit of God dwells in you through the atoning work of Christ.  And recognize that God calls all Christians to tasks, and has gifted all Christians to certain tasks.   We were not given a spirit of fear, but of “love and power and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7).  Rest on the fear of Christ, not on the fear of man.
  3. “Before we do anything, let’s find out what others think because I’m afraid to make this decision.”  This can be a good rule of thumb, especially with your key leaders.  In our situation here with the hurt that has taken place over the years from various fronts, the key lay leaders here need to know that the ministry leaders hear them and have an avenue in which to contribute to a conversation.  So whenever we make a key decision, they need to be in on the discussion.  And when it comes to the congregation, they need to be communicated with clearly.  But there is a balance in discussing/communicating, and balancing that with not leading at all until you know where the current is flowing (politicians get blistered for not saying anything until the latest polls are in, then lacing their speeches with those poll-driven talking points.)  Leaders have to lead.  If this is out of balance, then the leadership and ‘follow-ship’ become reversed.  God has placed shepherds and teachers to lead in proclaiming the Word of God and to lead the sheep into His pasture.   And we must lead the sheep boldly, instilling in them the confidence that they know the shepherd cares about them and their ultimate well-being.

One young minister lamented how people kept getting in the way of his ministry.  The older minister replied, “People are your ministry.”   There’s wisdom in this reply!  Christ has called us to minister to actual people.  May we ministers minister, and may all of us have a heart ready for others to minister to us! 

Book Review: “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” by Doris Kearns Goodwin

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Historians over the last century have ranked Abraham Lincoln has one of the top two presidents in the history of the United States—most rank him first by a long shot. On the surface, the reason many cite is that his presidency coincided with the great turmoil and struggle in our history: the U.S. Civil War.

Doris Kearns Goodwin, author and historian extraordinaire, has penned a classic that could be classified not simply under “History > American History > Civil War,” but could stand as one of the finest books on leadership in print. Here is a description of the book from the Team of Rivals website:

Acclaimed historian Doris Kearns Goodwin illuminates Lincoln’s political genius in this highly original work, as the one-term congressman and prairie lawyer rises from obscurity to prevail over three gifted rivals of national reputation to become president.

On May 18, 1860, William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, Edward Bates, and Abraham Lincoln waited in their hometowns for the results from the Republican National Convention in Chicago. When Lincoln emerged as the victor, his rivals were dismayed and angry.

Throughout the turbulent 1850s, each had energetically sought the presidency as the conflict over slavery was leading inexorably to secession and civil war. That Lincoln succeeded, Goodwin demonstrates, was the result of a character that had been forged by life experiences that raised him above his more privileged and accomplished rivals. He won because he possessed an extraordinary ability to put himself in the place of other men, to experience what they were feeling, to understand their motives and desires.

It was this capacity that enabled Lincoln as president to bring his disgruntled opponents together, create the most unusual cabinet in history, and marshal their talents to the task of preserving the Union and winning the war.

We view the long, horrifying struggle from the vantage of the White House as Lincoln copes with incompetent generals, hostile congressmen, and his raucous cabinet. He overcomes these obstacles by winning the respect of his former competitors, and in the case of Seward, finds a loyal and crucial friend to see him through.

This brilliant multiple biography is centered on Lincoln’s mastery of men and how it shaped the most significant presidency in the nation’s history.

According to the website, Steven Spielberg is making a movie based on this book, focusing on the last four months of Lincoln’s life and presidency.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Lincoln demonstrates how to reconcile and work with those who are not merely different from him in personality and ambition, but are indeed rivals—each having believed at one point they deserved the presidency more than he. The way he earned their respect and loyalty is something to behold.