Here’s some great articles to browse through as you start your week. The theme I picked for this week is harmony and reconciliation:
”Don’t wear yourself out to get rich; because you know better, stop! As soon as your eyes fly to it, it disappears, for it makes wings for itself and flies like an eagle to the sky.” Proverbs 23:4
Far too many people wear themselves out on the rat race for the almighty dollar. They think that they are doing something good, but the opposite is often true. They work, eat, sleep, work, and maybe, just maybe get rest on a weekend or a vacation here or there. But is this what God wants?
We are called to work and work hard, yet there needs to be joy along the way. When God created the universe, it was a six day workweek with a one day rest, yet you get the sense that it was a joy for Him. Each day He looked at His work and declared it to be good (the last day very good).
So is it biblical for us to work hard? Absolutely! But work must be a joy, and this is done when you see the purpose of what you do as compared to the overall picture. Working for money as an end is fruitless, it flies away anyway. Working for the Lord, however, is a blessing, and when we do anything for God and His glory, we will be more satisfied on his daily basis. 1 Cor 10:31, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all for the glory of God.”
Since transitioning from my church to a new ministry that serves the church in her mission of making disciples, Teresa and
I have embarked on an unexpected journey: trying to find our next church family to join together with in order to serve Jesus. This is the first time that we have had to do this in 25 years, so you can imagine how intimidating this has felt!
However, through this we’ve seen a wide variety of worship styles and I am encouraged for the church as a whole! Its been a very rich experience and we’ve met some wonderful people and faithful belevers. Yet as a result of this search, I’m reminded of some essentials to look for and hope that three principles might be helpful for you if you are in the same boat. As I heard someone say once, approach a church with a critical eye, not a critical spirit. Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list:
Four characteristics to look for in a Church:
They are Christ centered and Bible focused. This is a non-negotiable. If the church does not preach, teach, or show a concern for Christ and His Word, there’s no sense being there. Thankfully, we saw that most churches were serious about the Bible.
They are caring and friendly to others. We were shocked, yes shocked, that in one case, no one said a word to us. I did have a moment when I thought a woman was going to shake my hand, that is, until she reached around me to grab a bulletin next to me! We were not looking for an overwhelming outpouring of attention, just a friendly hello or two would have sufficed from someone other than the pastor.
They are concerned about the gospel. We exist to glorify God, and we glorify God by living and loving the gospel on a daily basis. When we are challenged by the gospel of Jesus Christ, it can result in an amazing, beautiful time of praise and glory to His name. This is shown when a church emphasizes missions, ministries, and daily personal evangelism.
- They are unified with one another. Every church has negative Nates and Nellies, but there’s a difference between a person or two who can be cranky a church who has a culture with many of them. When personal preferences disrupt unity in a church, there is a spirit that permeates everything. This can become obvious to a guest.
That’s all I have for now, and I realize that there’s only four characteristics here, but these are essential. Personal preferences in worship style, preaching style, driving distance and other items might come into play, but these, in my opinion, are secondary. Over all of this is the overriding leading of the Holy Spirit, so prayer and discernment must come into play.
That’s what I have, would you add anything to the list?
I’ve been a senior pastor for almost 12 years and on a church staff for the rest of my 23 plus years of ministry. I’ve pastored in several states both in the North and the South, urban, rural, and suburban. During that time, I’ve seen a flurry of changes as the church has come into the digital age and the culture has drastically shifted nationwide.
One thing that hasn’t changed is our inherent sinfulness and our reaction to change. Most of us don’t like change (unless we are involved in it), yet change is a certainty in life. Thankfully, some churches and leaders have successfully pushed past the resistant bullies and are seeing the fruits of their work. However, with so many churches plateaued or declining, subtle and not so subtle battles are taking place in churches all over. Bullies, ingrained in their traditions and positions, threaten the survival of churches themselves, and sadly, hundreds of churches close their door each year because the church didn’t respond to their community with the gospel.
So what is a leader to do? Start over? Take over? Leave? None of the above? Lots of options here, but something needs to be done (NOTE: check out Thom Rainer’s podcast for this great insight). Also, I’ll write more on the how and what to do in another post, but here’s some reasons why leaders need to press on despite the bullies:
- Jesus died for you. You are saved, gloriously and wonderfully saved by grace through faith. His death meant your life, and His gift was sealed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in you. Hold on to this truth, and rely on God’s leading through His Spirit.
- Jesus prepared you. One of my favorite sayings of late said by a pastor is that “God never wastes a hurt.” Whatever you have gone through before has been used by God to prepare you for this task ahead. Remind yourself of what you have experienced and what you have learned from it.
- Jesus called you. Jesus called you to this church, and until He moves you to another place, you need to bloom where you are planted. As in the case of Nehemiah and the task he had, opposition from ungodly, fierce people threatened to stop the work. He and his followers pressed on.
- Jesus loves you. This is of course a great reminder, but remember that Jesus also loves others, too. He even loves those bullies. Pray for them, talk to them, and press on despite them. Your work in the gospel is not for the bullies, but for the new believers who need Christ and then need to grow in His grace.
Hope this encourages you you as we go into the greatest weekend of the year leading up to Resurrection Sunday. May you do His gospel work through His power as we remember that Christ died, Christ was buried, Christ rise again!
Have you ever heard the expression, “like a bull in a china shop” before? The expression brings to my mind the image of a person recklessly breaking precious dishes and cups as he or she rushes through the store to get to wherever he or she is going. This expression is almost always used in a very negative sense, of course, but I think that there are times when the person who is the “bull” has no clue that others are hurt. In other words, the sins of a bull can be unintentional.
This image makes me think of a bull in a slightly different way. In the Old Testament, when an unintentional sin by either the priest or the people was committed, repentance and restitution needed to be made. The Law of Moses was very specific on how to do this and by whom this sacrificial offering was to be made:
Leviticus 4:2-3, “Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘If a person sins unintentionally in any of the things which the LORD has commanded not to be done, and commits any of them, if the anointed priest sins so as to bring guilt on the people, then let him offer to the LORD a bull without defect as a sin offering for the sin he has committed.”
Of course, we live in the age of the New Covenant, yet there is an application here for God’s church. Our unintentional sin which results in pain might even result in death, and while we don’t sacrifice too many bulls today, perhaps we need to be more aware of that serious damage that our sins might bring to others.
James 1:19 tells us that we should be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” Unfortunately, we have seen quite a bit of the opposite in our nation and social media, yet we as Christ’s church need to be different. This is not the time to be callous or bullish to our traditions, practices, and structure, especially if it gets in the way of our task of reaching people. This is the time to do what our society has not been willing to do: denying ourselves and following Christ in all things. in other words, people should know you less for your political rhetoric and more for your commitment to speaking the words of the gospel.
So we are left with a choice before us: are you a bull, stubbornly charging, creating discord, and making all sorts of noise for no eternal meaning or purpose? Or are you going to be different: humble, caring, and willing to see people as Jesus did? Even more, are you willing to build bridges and even to deny yourself to serve God no matter what it takes? The way of the bull is sinful and leads to death and the way, the greater way, leads to life. Sacrifice your bull and deny yourself. Take up His cross.
Choose love and life. God would have it no other way.
It has been interesting to experience the cycle of emotions over the past few months concerning the election and the transition to the new president of the United States, Donald Trump. We have seen a cycle take place over the past several weeks including denial, disbelief, a time of challenges to the results, and finally, of acceptance of the election yet with intense hatred. The hard truth is that we have a President in Donald J. Trump, and though this truth may send chills to a portion of our country, nevertheless, we have this as a reality. Others willingly have welcomed the new president with an excitement for any new changes that he might bring. This doesn’t mean, however, that President Trump isn’t without his flaws. His character shortcomings are many, including his past indiscretions, accusations of racism, and an ongoing display of brashness and immaturity in his many tweets against those who criticize him. Granted, some of the accusations against Trump are overblown, yet there’s no denying his shortcomings. Personally, I criticized candidate Trump long ago on these flaws, much to the chagrin of friends on social media, yet this same criticism was also applied toward Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Gary Johnson, and others.
However, let’s be clear that if you are a Christian, you have two main truths regarding our new president: 1) you are called to the privilege to pray for your leaders and 2) you should never fear your leader.
First, your privilege of prayer for your leader should not be seen as an obligation, but as a pleasure. Romans 13:1 says that “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” Related to this is 1 Tim 2:1-2, “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority…” Our subjection and our prayers go hand in hand, praying for peace, goodness, and the sovereignty of God over all of our affairs. It is understood too, that this is our privilege and our pleasure so that we don’t pray for our leaders with anger, hatred, or even obligation, but with fervent peace in our hearts.
Second, you should never fear him. Those who call themselves Christians should neither have a boastful confidence in a man nor scathing hatred and fear of a man. Matthew 10:28 says, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul, but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Hebrews 10:31 states that “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” We are to fear (or be in awe) to God, not people. We cannot and should not make the mistake that our object of fear is a simple mortal man when there is a powerful spiritual realm well beyond the physical before us.
So feel free to critique the policies, participate in the process, but most of all, pray for him as your God ordained leader. Eye the media with a healthy skepticism, policies with a biblical worldview, and most of all, work for peace in a country which desperately needs it. Do not fear- focus instead on the gospel- and stand for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all people in our great country.
Praying for our leaders,
I struggle with depression from time to time, but this past week, a wave hit me pretty hard and I felt as if my world was turned upside down. I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that it was very, very rough. When it hit me, I cleared my schedule, turned to the Word, and spent a ton of time in prayer. But still, it felt like God was silent and my prayers weren’t even going past the ceiling. I felt like David when he asked God,
“How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?” (Ps 13:1)
I felt defeated, down, and even disgusted because I had no real reason to feel that way. I wasn’t sure why it was this bad, but I was hurting.
But I pressed on. And as I have worked through this (and still am, TBH), I realized a few truths:
- I may feel alone mentally and emotionally, but I’m never truly alone when I am in Christ.
- I may struggle now, but my future is His.
- God is never going to leave me or forsake me.
- I may weep and even stay anxious, but His joy is my strength.
Of course, I knew these truths, but at the time I didn’t feel them. Thankfully, God is gracious, and as I prayed, talked, and sought the Lord, these truths became more real in my heart. I am fighting the fight for joy, and God is revealing this more and more to me, even as I write tonight. Praise God!
So that said, let me share my encouragement to you who might go through from time to time: draw near to Christ, read His Word, pray, talk to a friend, and even change your routine. Most of all, be patient and let His Spirit work in you as you fight for joy.
May the Lord take you through this season, because I am confident that He will. 🙂
Many of us have been there. A boss, co-worker, or even the work conditions are draining, depressing, or even toxic. The employee might be in an environment that does not align with his or her own values. The boss is an equal opportunity “yeller.” Gossip is rampant, nastiness is all around, or a systematic dishonesty exists.
The first temptation for a Christian is to start looking for a new job, and for some, this might be a viable option. There are, after all, employers that align with Christian values or at least has a healthy work environment. Others might be tempted to fall into a sort of a depression, to disengage mentally and give up on the workplace, or to even write it all off and justify your lack of passion about your work. But hear this: before you leave physically or mentally from your work, there are other options to consider.
Here’s the problem: I believe that in a sense, people relate with one another in the way that we should relate to God. In the gospels, Jesus affirmed the Shema (Deut 6:4-6, Mark 12:30) in saying that we should love God with all of our “heart, soul, mind, and strength,” and in so doing we are fulfilling the greatest commandment. In the same way, He affirms our need to love our neighbors as ourself. And the truth is that none of us are good at either, which is the crux of the problem. It’s even worse for the person who does not have a relationship with Christ because they are not going to possess a consistently God-centered ethic.
A Christian has a difficult enough time following these commands in a healthy environment, but a boss or coworkers who willingly tramples on these commands for various reasons makes it even harder. This is why when a Christian works for an organization in which the environment is decidedly anti-Christian, tension almost certainly going to develop. Employees and employers that do the opposite of either of the two greatest commands will affect everyone inwardly and outwardly. Moral and ethical dilemmas are bound to appear and godly principles violated. More tension, more conflict for the Christian.
So what does a Christian do? First of all, remember that many Christians have worked in far worse evil conditions over the years than the United States of the 21st century, at least from the perspective of persecution. Christians have endured through the martyrdoms of Ancient Rome, the beatings of the slaveholding South, the insanity of Nazi Germany (see Bonhoeffer), and the persecutions of Christians in various countries today. Yet through these times, Christians continued to hold to those Great Commands- they continued to love God, to work for the Lord and not for men (Col 3:23), and remained salt and light to many (Mt 5:13-16). They overcame evil with good, and darkness with light. What’s encouraging is that these are not super Christians but ordinary people, dedicated to Christ and living in the Spirit!
That said, I get it- being salt and light is going to be hard in such an environment. It’s hard enough to do in a healthy environment, but even worse when you are fighting the battle day after day. And yes, if another opportunity exists to be in a better environment, this might be a time to go- if God leads. But Christians are not always called to the “easy,” and the truth is, we are all in a spiritual war, under attack by an enemy who hates us. Besides, this world is not our own, and we as the citizens of heaven are looking to a different Kingdom than the kingdom of man. And since you are in enemy territory, expect to do battle in the Spirit, no matter who your employer is or what your work environment might be like.
So what do you do? Change your mindset and remember your calling as a follower of Christ, carrying out the mission given to you by Jesus. You can change your environment, affecting the lives of others around you who are also caught up in the toxicity in your workplace. But to do that, you need to be ready- to purposely live in the Spirit, to be in the Word, to discipline yourself for godliness, and to humbly love those around you as yourself. Most of all and whatever you do, remember your calling- a calling beyond the immediate, a calling for life and for eternity, a calling to love God and for the glory of God.
We’ve all heard it: “Yeah, uh, I’m spiritual, but you know, um, I’m just not religious, know what I mean?”
Uh, no. Not really.
When we hear this sort of talk, it might seem somewhat profound. But first of all, let me be clear that being spiritual means to be at one with the Spirit of God, not some far off, nebulous mystical concept of self-defined happiness. Yet even assuming that the Holy Spirit is the context, with all this talk now and in the past about bad church experiences, the idea of giving up on the church might even seem an attractive thought. I mean, can’t you be Spiritual without being religious?
Well, yes and no. If you mean be in tune with the Spirit of Christ and reject hypocrisy in the church while staying in the church, well sure. I’m right there with you. As a pastor who has been in ministry for over two decades now, I’ve seen my share of ugly. And ugly is, well, sinful and shameful. Hey, there’s plenty of comfort loving, sin dwelling, pride filling, molehill making people who call themselves Christians to make grown men cry in a business meeting…and sometimes they do!
But if being Spiritual without being religious means to stay away from the church, then you are missing the mark on this one. Here’s a few reasons why we need not write off the church:
- We are all sinners. Hypocrisy in the church has and always will be, simply because sin will be until the Day of Christ. In fact, anyone who claims to be free of the struggle with sin is being dishonest. 1 John 1:8 says, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.” There. We’re all hypocrites in some way.
- We are the Bride of Christ. Yep, sometimes an ugly bride, but the bride nonetheless. Jesus died for this bride! And as the bride, we are called to grow to be more like Christ, both individually and corporately. One day, all this will come to pass and we as believers will be invited to the Bridegroom’s wedding feast (Rev 19:7).
- We are One in Christ. I pastor a multiethnic, multigenerational church, a people who put away the labels of Black, White, Democrat, Republican, Rich, Poor, Young, Old, etc. We might have come from different cultures, but in Christ we are one new humanity (Eph 2:15).
- We are all partakers of grace. Christ in His death on the cross was an act of grace. Salvation is a gift of grace (Eph 2:8-9). Our sanctification is through God’s grace (Rom 8:29). And our love for one another must abound in grace and love (1 Pt 4:10). In fact, the church is at its finest when it is a beacon of grace to the world.
- We are better together. Ministry is given to, partaken in, and poured out through the church. God’s plans are realized through the church. He commended and corrected the church (see Rev 1-3). Though the church (the people) are far from perfect, the bible is clear: we are all pilgrims in this journey, and as we serve one another (Phil 2:2), we are better together!
Obviously, these are some reasons to still love the church and I’d love to hear more from you. The point is, I’m not writing off the church, and I pray that you won’t either.
My point: love the Bride of Christ as Jesus does!
This weekend, our church on the hill here in Cincinnati is going to pray and fast for 48 hours. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for our church to do this, as we are at a major crossroads in the 60 year history of our church.
You see, our community has been changing for quite some time. Families have moved north and east of our area. Poverty has been on the rise. Single parents have become the largest demographic in our area. Add in the state of our postmodern nation and it’s easy to see the challenges that our church has faced.
But, wow, how God has blessed us! He’s led our church to adapt and become a multiethnic, multi-generational church. He’s connected our church family with the community through many of our outreach efforts and events. He’s opened doors for the gospel through a revitalized Passion Play, through our new Food Pantry, and through the faithful sharing of the Good News at every opportunity. And the worship services have been nothing short of inspiring and life changing as new believers have come to Christ and several have recommitted their lives to serve Christ more fully in our response time to the Word!
So why fast and pray? We do this to seek the Lord to do something beyond what we can do naturally. You see, if we only operate within the confines of what we can do naturally, there’s no faith in that! After all, how does God get the glory when we make plans that we can do and do work that we can do, when we have all the power and strength of what God can do?!? For this reason, I am eager and excited to have us enter in this time of fasting and prayer.
That said, here are some things to pray for:
- Our vision and our vision team- we are awaiting a report from a consultant and going through a process of evaluating and innovating our church ministries. Nothing is off the table, and most importantly, everything needs to be before the Lord!
- Our staff and our search team- in our need to fully staff our church, we have a search team looking to fill a position related to the children and family ministry. We need to have Spirit led wisdom and direction for the team.
- Our love for the gospel and community- our community is desperate for the love and truth of Jesus Christ! Please pray and seek how God might shape our hearts to share the life changing gospel with all we see.
I hope and pray that you will be a participant in this emphasis. We will be starting the fast at 9:15 am Friday and finishing at our Sunday 9:15 am Bible Study, where EVERYONE (men, women, and children) will be eating, fellowshipping, and participating in a Bible study together. I am expecting that God will continue to do spectacular things at our church, so let’s see what else He has in store that will magnify His name!