Monday, July 21, 2014

As leadership goes, so goes the church

When Paul was on his way to Jerusalem, he stopped to meet with the elders of a church. Not just any church: it was the one in Ephesus, where he had stayed longer than in any other city. There are some vitally important truths we can learn from this meeting that is described in Acts 20. Truths that impact the spiritual health of our churches.

A lot has changed since then, but the strategic necessity of leadership hasn’t changed. That is truth number one: as leadership goes, so goes the church. Paul knew that. We know that. It’s true on a sports team. It’s true with an orchestra. It’s true in a congress or in a college. It is most certainly true in the local church, and I would venture to say that most of the time when a church disintegrates into chaos and confusion, you could trace it back to defective leadership.

Truth number two is that the leaders of the church are called elders, overseers and pastors. The three titles are interchangeable. These are men who have been called by God to lead, feed, and care for the church which He purchased with His own blood.

Truth number three is that it is clear from this passage that Paul is meeting with a team of leaders, not a solo pastor, for whom there is no biblical support. John Stott calls him a “one-man-band, playing all the instruments of the orchestra himself.” Imagine that kind of concert; it would be novel, but not satisfying. It might be entertaining to watch one musician run from tuba to violin to kettle drums, but there’s nothing fun about watching a pastor burn himself to an ember while trying to keep all the plates spinning by himself. There is also no biblical support for a “CEO pastor” who sits atop the organizational chart and holds all power and authority in his hands. The churches Paul planted were led by elders, and these men shared the responsibility for the spiritual needs of the flock. There may have been one or two in each church who were more gifted to preach than the others, but they led as a team. You will notice that when Paul and Barnabas went back through the towns they had visited in their missionary journey, they appointed elders, plural, in every church, singular.

If there is a singular reason why a church will be healthy and productive in every biblical sense of that word, I believe that reason is that the church is led by a team of godly elders. Of course there are other reasons why a church is or is not healthy. My top three would be, a commitment to a plurality of godly elders, a commitment to expository preaching, and a commitment to equipping men to be spiritual leaders in their homes. Expository preaching gives the flock the whole counsel of God by taking the church through books of the Bible, rather than bouncing from one topic to another and using Scripture as a springboard. Expository preaching trains believers not only in the truth, but in understanding how to study and interpret Scripture correctly.

I think if you take any one of those three legs of the stool away, the church suffers. It might grow and even have big numbers because of its programs or because of a charismatic topical speaker, but the spiritual growth of the members will be affected if those three commitments are missing. Of course, having those three legs of the stool does not guarantee success. Only God can build a healthy church.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Free ebook alert! (July 14th and 15th only!)

To Live Is Christ to Die Is Gain To Live Is Christ
To Die Is Gain

Author(s): Matt Chandler with Jared C. Wilson
Publisher: David C. Cook

Buy Now! 

Using Paul’s radical letter to the Philippians as his road map, Matt Chandler forsakes the trendy to invite readers into authentic Christian maturity.

The short book of Philippians is one of the most quoted in the Bible, yet Paul wrote it not for the popular sound bites, but to paint a picture of a mature Christian faith. While many give their lives to Jesus, few then go on to live a life of truly vibrant faith.

In this disruptively inspiring book, Chandler offers tangible ways to develop a faith of pursuing, chasing, knowing, and loving Jesus. Because if we clean up our lives but don’t get Jesus, we’ve lost! So let the goal be Him. To live is Christ, to die is gain—this is the message of the letter. Therefore, our lives should be lived to Him, through Him, for Him, with Him, about Him—everything should be about Jesus.

It is time to wake up

If you have developed a habit of using church as a nursery, then you might want to consider this. A man who went to church with his wife always fell asleep during the sermon. His wife decided to do something about it and one Sunday she took a long hatpin with her to poke him with it every time he dozed off. As the preacher got to a part in the sermon where he asked, “And who created the universe in six days and rested on the seventh?” she poked her sleeping husband, who came flying out of the pew and screamed “Good God, almighty!”

Then there’s the story of a man who fell into a deep sleep every Sunday, so the pastor devised a plan. During one service the pastor asked his congregation while the man was sleeping, “All who want to go to heaven, please rise.” Everyone stood up except the sleeper. Then, at the top of his voice, he bellowed, “All who wish to go to hell, stand up now!” The sleeper bolted out of his pew, looked around and said, “I don’t know what we’re voting on, preacher, but it looks like you and me are the only ones for it.”

I don’t know why Luke included a story in the book of Acts about a young man named Eutychus who fell asleep in church, but I’m glad he did. It encourages me that this problem even happened when Paul was preaching. The story gets worse when the young man falls from a third floor window and dies.

You have to be careful when and where you fall asleep. I remember a kid in high school chemistry who fell asleep, didn’t even hear the bell go off for classes to change, and was still asleep when the next group of students came in and found him with a paper airplane sticking out of one ear, courtesy of a classmate. I remember one time when Cindy and I were dating and stayed up all night talking, even though I had to be at IBM at 4:45 a.m. for work. I fell asleep on N.C. 54 and when I woke up, I was in the left lane, passing a car. God was merciful.

Think about some things that happened in the Bible, good or bad, while people slept:

Adam fell asleep and woke up married. And missing a rib.

Samson fell asleep and woke up in chains. And missing his hair.

Daniel fell asleep and woke up having a vision. And looking at the angel Gabriel.

Jonah fell asleep and woke up in a fish.

Eutychus fell asleep and woke up dead.

The story in Acts 20 has a happy ending, as Paul takes the boy in his arms and the Lord raises the young man from the dead.

Clearly this passage in the Bible is not there to warn us about sleeping in church. But if the pew fits, sit up in it and pay attention. The Bible does warn believers, however, to make sure that we do not sleep when we should be awake. Paul wrote, “Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.” How do we stay awake, spiritually? “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”

It’s one thing to fall asleep on the preacher. It’s another entirely to fall asleep on the Lord.

One question, then. Are you awake?

Monday, July 7, 2014

Revival leads to reformation

With all due respect to Dave Ramsey and his opening speech on his radio show, “where debt is dumb, cash is king, and the paid-off home mortgage has taken the place of the BMW as the status-symbol of choice …” cash is not king. I know Dave Ramsey understands that, but the people in Ephesus didn’t. Especially those who were in the silver shrine business. That was the cash cow of the day, and people came from all over the world to see the temple of Artemis, and most of them wanted to take home a replica of the shrine, or a statuette of Artemis (or, Diana), to put on their mantel and even to serve as an idol. This was big business in Ephesus, but something was happening. Sales were dropping. Silver shrines and statuettes were not flying off the shelves in the souvenir stores, anymore. Tradesmen like Demetrius studied the trend and found the source of the problem: Sales started dropping when Paul came to town and preached Jesus and the resurrection. Sorcery had also fallen into disfavor, as the citizens who regularly practiced it before they came to Christ renounced their belief in magic arts. Their actions proved their repentance when they brought their magic books to the center square and burned them: $6 million worth, in today’s currency. Now we see a further effect of the Gospel, as Christians who would have previously bought silver shrines as graduation gifts for their children started giving them prayer journals instead. Business leaders who used to order silver shrines by the dozens from Demetrius and his guild of silversmiths were calling up to cancel their orders.

“Why? You have been ordering shrines for your best employees for the past 20 years,” Demetrius may have asked. The business leader would respond, “Well, Demetrius, I have been wanting to talk to you about this. I believe in Jesus of Nazareth now. He is my king. He has changed my life, and, well, I don’t even have a shrine in my own house or business any more. I got rid of them.”

Multiply that by the number of households and business owners that believed in Christ, and you see how it began to hurt the bottom line of those who profited from idolatry. I was trying to think of a modern comparison, and remembered a statistic I heard years ago about legalized gambling. George Will wrote in 1999, “Last year, Americans spent about $7 billion on movie tickets, $26 billion on books of all sorts, $450 billion on groceries. Gamblers in America wagered more than $630 billion legally in state lotteries, casinos, slot machines, video poker etc.” If you combine that total with the estimated $350 billion Americans spend every year on illegal gambling, the total approaches one trillion dollars.

So, I wonder. What would happen if the gambling casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City had to close because revival brought reformation? What would happen if the smut industry went under because the majority of those who buy the magazines and the videos and download the garbage off of the Internet suddenly stopped because they were radically saved? What would happen? Would to God that it did!

Here we stand, 238 years young as a nation, desperately in need of revival. As in Ephesus, revival can come to America when followers of Christ put to death our own idolatry. When that happens, and the truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection is proclaimed and lived, I believe we will finally see one nation, under God. Lord, “Will you not revive us again?”

Friday, July 4, 2014

3 Reasons I Am Thankful For My Country

Ah, Independence Day. From the earliest age my parents would trust me with fire, you have been my favorite holiday. I would budget and save as soon as I saw July 4th on the horizon and burn (and ignite and explode) every last nickel to my name on tightly packed rolls of incendiaries.

And even as I have grown, I still revel in this one holiday with a child-like giddiness. This giddiness prompts me to post photos on Facebook that, to some may seem semi-irreverent, but to me are a healthy counter-balance to the attitude that this is "God's country" and the world's last great hope for heaven on earth.

Pictures like this...                                                                 ...and this...

But I certainly don't want to downplay my genuine thankfulness for my country, and as I reflected on that today, three specific reasons came to mind (obviously shaped by recent events in the news):
  1. I am thankful for our religious freedom. Yes, for all the panicking about trends that portend frightening shifts in this very freedom, it cannot be denied that we still live in one of the most religiously free countries in the world, and for that I am extremely grateful. And I am equally grateful for my neighbor's freedom to practice Mormonism, Scientology, and even the faith-tenets of atheism. It is within this melting pot of free religious ideas that we find ourselves equally free to proclaim a gospel that is the only form of true freedom.
  2. I am thankful for a judicial system that demonstrates God's common grace. Again, while we may bemoan the trajectory that our highest courts seem to be trending, I am thankful that we have leaders who sometimes (event often?) get it right—if not always for the right reasons. I am thankful for the system of checks and balances that keeps any one of our branches of government from running roughshod over it's people.
  3. I am thankful for our freedom of speech. There is a reason that America is the #1 exporter of Christian written and printed materials. Our pulpits are free, our publishers are free, our blogs are free. We live in a place that has resisted at least the more overt forms of censorship that we see in other countries. Indeed, based on the heated debates I've witnessed recently in the public square (i.e. Facebook), I can wholeheartedly declare free speech to be alive and well! But may I plead with all my fellow Christians, this freedom is not a license to fight verbal fire with fire. While our friends, neighbors, and co-workers may suffer from a sort of "John McClane of the mouth"—shoot first, ask questions after everyone's dead—we have a freedom of a higher sort. And that freedom ought to be the filter through which all our other freedoms are checked and balanced.
    Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:16-17 ESV)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Save the Cheetahs! (but slay the children)

I’ll never forget an experience I once had in one of my pastorates in East Texas, an experience that highlights the illogical atrocity that is liberal thinking. In attempts to raise money for a Christian School associated with the church, one of our members raffled off a cow for butchering. After the raffle was over he took the cow to the butcher, but it was turned away because it was pregnant.

To be clear, I get this. Butchering a pregnant cow is weird. Let the cow have the baby, then butcher it. And then butcher the cow’s baby once it grows up. That’s the circle of life. Lion King teaches us that. And so does the Bible (Gen 9:3). But, when we live in a society where it’s wrong to butcher a baby cow, but okay to butcher a baby human, something is cataclysmically amiss. And this is precisely the kind of society in which we live.

One of the major stories circulating social networks right now is that of a young Texas girl named Kendall Jones, whom many berate because of her African hunting expedition in which she killed a leopard, an elephant, and a lion (oh my!), among other animals. Many are calling Kendall “sick and depraved,” even going as far as signing an online petition against her that had already garnered 40,000 signatures by July 1.

The petition is “for the sake of all animals.”

But does the word “depraved” really describe Kendall Jones and her hunting hobby? I mean, is she really “wicked”? Is she really “corrupt”? Is she really “perverted”? Because that is what the word “depraved” means. Isn’t it more logical to assign this word to those that support the hunting of humans, particularly innocent ones in the womb?

While I believe that it’s important to preserve endangered animals, I also believe that humans are more valuable than animals. This is what it means that God created “man in his image,” something he never attributes to animals (Gen 1:27). And this is the real problem. People are more offended when a High School cheerleader slays a ferocious lion than when one slays an innocent baby.

It’s okay for a woman to have the right to kill an unborn human, but not okay for her to kill a vicious animal. I guess the standard of depravity is determined by whether or not something is endangered. The human population is booming, so let’s slay em’ without remorse.

The national conversation right now concerns what many liberals call a “battle against women,” because a company–Hobby Lobby–won a lawsuit that keeps them from having to provide certain drugs that can kill babies in the womb. I mean, people are really up in arms about this. Apparently it’s a “right” for an employer to provide employees with these drugs, drugs that can hunt down an innocent baby in his most innocent state and slaughter him to pieces.

The only thing missing is a way for abortionists to mount their trophies on their walls. Oh wait, isn’t that exactly what Kermit Gosnell did? And wasn’t this story quickly dissolved by the liberal media?

And thus, the philosophy of our age is to save the cheetahs, but slay the children. This, in my dictionary, is the definition of “depraved.”

Picture Credit

Monday, June 30, 2014

It was crazy good in Ephesus

There were some crazy things going on in Ephesus in the first century, as recorded in Acts 19. I would call it at first blush a bad “Jerry Springer Show” episode, assuming there’s ever been a good one. But you’ve got healing hankies being handed out, wanna-be exorcists beaten up by a demon-possessed man and running out of the house naked, and people bringing the ancient equivalent of Ouija boards, crystals and Tarot cards and throwing them on a bonfire in the middle of town. The craziest thing of all? This was all a powerful act of God. Every bit of it. The healing hankies were not a televangelist’s ploy to raise money so he wouldn’t have to be called home to heaven, or worse, lose his TV show. No, they existed because the palpable presence of the Spirit of God on the Apostle Paul was so powerful that even things he touched, like handkerchiefs and aprons, were able to heal the sick and cast out demons. And you know it was a miracle because Paul had nothing to do with it. It wasn’t Paul who was passing out the hankies, or even worse, selling the hankies for a donation to his ministry. The would-be exorcists? They were pummeled by the demon because God doesn’t shrug at those who speak for Him when they don’t even know Him. He acts in such cases, and sometimes severely. The bonfire? When the fear of God falls on people, repentance leads to reformation. Bondages are broken and lives are changed. So, yes, these were crazy days in Ephesus. Good crazy.

You can read about the other events, but let me tell you more about the would-be demon slayers. They were called “itinerant Jewish exorcists” by the author of Acts. Seriously? Traveling exorcists? Did their website read, “Have demon, will travel”? Was their phone number 1-800-COME-OUT? It’s hard to take these guys seriously, but this is no laughing matter to God, as you will see. Their biggest mistake was that they “undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus.” You get that? They tried to transact business in Jesus’ name when they didn’t know him at all. That would be like me going into any bank this Monday, and saying to the manager, “I am here for Warren Buffet; give me $500K.” I would undertake to invoke the name of Warren Buffet, and they would undertake me right out of there. Simon Kistemaker said, “The term ‘name’ signifies the person, words, and works of Jesus, so that anyone who uses this name identifies completely with its bearer and becomes a true representative.” These seven men were clearly not representatives of the Lord Jesus. When they tried to cast out the demon, it said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?” Then the demon-possessed man proceeded to beat the wanna-be exorcists up so badly that the seven men ran from the house wounded and naked, and were perhaps renamed after that, “The seven streakers.”

There were three huge mistakes these men made from which we can take warning. First, they had only second-hand knowledge of Jesus. There’s a huge life-changing difference between knowing about Jesus and really knowing Him. Second, Jesus was just an “add-on” to their belief system. You can add a rabbit’s foot, too, but don’t hold your breath for good luck. Third, they used Jesus’ name as a means to an end. They weren’t interested in surrendering to Jesus, only using Him.

It can be crazy sometimes to truly follow Jesus. But it’s much crazier not to.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Five marks of a strong marriage

We really don’t know how Aquila and Priscilla treated each other in little things, this couple living in Corinth when Paul found them. We don’t know whether Aquila served his wife by helping with household chores. Someone said, “The most important four words in a marriage are, ‘I’ll do the dishes.’” We don’t know whether Priscilla told Aquila often how proud she was to be married to him, even if he never made it into the Bible. We don’t know whether Aquila opened the door for Priscilla before they walked into their house. Prince Philip said once, “When a man opens the car door for his wife, it is either a new car or a new wife.” Not so, your Prince-ness! I believe real men open doors for their wives. But I digress. I would suggest that we do know five truths about this ancient couple’s marriage that we should apply in our own. They were willing to be uprooted for the sake of the church. These two moved a lot, from Corinth to Ephesus to Rome to Ephesus in order to serve the growing church. They worked together as equals. They were truly one flesh and they were always mentioned as a couple. Marriage should be like that, that whether we are together or separate, others think of us as one. The unity candle is a great picture of what marriage is positionally from the beginning, but it takes time and work and humility for that picture to become a reality. It reminded me of a couple in their nineties who died recently. Every morning for 70 years they held hands at breakfast. Their eight children said they had been inseparable since meeting as teenagers, once sharing the bottom of a bunk bed on a ferry rather than sleeping one night apart. When Helen died on the evening of April 12, her husband Kenneth quickly began to fade, and he was surrounded by 24 of his closest family members and friends when he died 15 hours later. They cared for others more than they did themselves.

We see that in the way they take Paul in, not just as a fellow worker in the tent-making trade, but into their home. We see it in the way they opened their home to the church, in nearly every place they lived. We see it in the way they ministered to Apollos. They were not intimidated by Apollos’ great eloquence and learning. They weren’t concerned that they might look foolish approaching this bold preacher with a word of encouragement and correction. They cared more about him than they cared about how they looked or were perceived by him. Also, they were gracious in their approach. “They took him aside and explained the way of God to him more accurately.” They talked to him, alone, with patient explanation of God in a way that changed the man’s life. They were workers.

Aquila and Priscilla were yoked together through marriage and yoked with Christ through salvation, fully engaged in following His lead. Paul called them “fellow workers in Christ Jesus.” You couldn’t aspire to a more fulfilling life than the one described in that phrase. They took risks.

Paul wrote that Aquila and Priscilla “risked their necks for my life.” A great marriage is sometimes marked by risks for the sake of Christ and His church. Hudson Taylor said, “Unless there is an element of risk in our exploits for God, there is no need for faith.”

Which of these five marks of a strong marriage would you agree to work on, starting today?