Monday, August 18, 2014

Gaining strength from one another

The ship Paul was sailing on made three stops before it finally docked for seven days in Tyre. When it did, Paul and Luke and the others traveling with them “sought out the disciples” and stayed with them. There is no mention of Paul preaching in the synagogue or in the streets, though he may have done that. What Luke emphasizes in this section is not seed-sowing, but relationship-building. Paul was strengthened on this difficult journey by the fellowship he shared with other believers. So are you and I. God made us for relationships and when we are in right relationship with Him, He puts us in relationship with others. That’s why John wrote, “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”

When it was time for the ship to sail again, the whole group of disciples walked with Paul and the ministry team to the shore. It was a family-integrated prayer service as men, women and children knelt on the beach and prayed with Paul and the team. And then they “said farewell to each other.” It is a simple truth, but a significant part of our growth as people is learning how to say both hello and goodbye, and to do it well. Relationships matter because every person is precious to God. We are made in His image, not “made” in His image. Our countenance communicates clearly. We are also made in His image, not “afraid” in His image. A friend of mine told me the story of taking a man from his church on a mission trip to Africa years ago. The man would not shake anyone’s hands, and he wore gloves during the whole trip. He also wore a surgical mask.

Let’s learn to greet one another with at least a smile and a hello. Not a grunt, or even worse, a turned-up nose. A few weeks ago when Cindy and I met with several young couples to talk about marriage, we confirmed to them what they already knew: One of the things that communicates to both a husband and a wife that they are loved is when they are greeted with warmth and a smile when they come home from work. It’s true in marriage and it’s true in any relationship. We love to be greeted with a smile and hear our name called when we’re not in trouble.

It’s also important to learn how to say goodbye. Did you know that a group of German researchers discovered that a husband who kisses his wife each morning when he leaves for work lives longer? And men who kiss their wives before leaving have fewer automobile accidents on their way to work than men who do not kiss their wives. Not only that, but the good-morning kissers miss less work, and earn 20-30 percent more than non-kissers do. So, kiss her, men! And young people, this applies to you, too. Greet your siblings with a smile (probably not a kiss) and a warm hello, and you may be amazed as you watch the relationship grow. Greet your parents with a warm smile and a hello and they will be amazed even more, maybe stunned. You may even need to use smelling salts the first time you try this.

Let’s practice good hellos and goodbyes. We never know which time we say goodbye will be the last time we get to say anything at all.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Don’t end up worshipping the wrong thing

As a group, we paid off more than $18,000 in debt. We cut up more than 30 credit cards. We trashed hundreds of offers received by mail that would have amounted to more than 1 1/2 million dollars in debt, had we accepted the cards and maxed them out. We got on a budget. We learned about earning, saving and giving, and how we can honor God with each practice.

What am I talking about? Financial Peace University, a course by Dave Ramsey. Nearly 30 families and singles in our church completed the course several years ago and are excited about what we learned and are putting into practice.

“Your biggest problem is the guy you shave with every morning,” says Dave Ramsey, America’s favorite financial counselor. Ramsey teaches that personal finance is 80 percent behavior and 20 percent knowledge, and that Americans are in trouble financially because of some very basic facts. We spend more than we make. We don’t save. We borrow money. Lots of it. We practice self-indulgence like it’s our job! The average American family saved minus-.5 percent last year. That’s not new math, folks. That means that the average American family spent more than it took in, so it had negative savings. I don’t know about you, but negative savings just don’t make any cents. Sorry.

In 1981, the typical American family saved 11 percent of its income and owed 4 percent of its income to credit card companies. By the year 2000, the savings rate was below zero, and the average American family owed 12 percent of its annual income to credit cards (Shira Boss, “Green With Envy: Why Keeping Up With the Joneses Is Keeping Us in Debt”). Anybody want to bet that those numbers have gotten worse, not better, in the last 14 years?

In Dave Ramsey’s class, we learned about using a budget that really works (“telling your money what to do, instead of the other way around”), how to bargain wisely, how to invest, how to use a debt snowball to get rid of unsecured debt, and more. We heard it many times: you cannot have financial peace if you don’t practice self-control and learn delayed gratification. Most of the purchases we regret are impulse-spending. A simple rule of agreeing with our spouse that neither of us will spend more than $250 on any one thing until we have “slept on it” would save us money and remorse.

Some of you might be thinking, “I thought this was a religion column. Did I stumble into the finance section of the paper by mistake?” No, this is the religion page. Let me assure you, however, that how we handle money is determined by our worldview: what we believe, how we live, who we worship. Everybody worships something or someone, and perhaps the saddest individual in the world is the “self-made man” because he worships his own creator.

That’s why Jesus said more about money and possessions than He did about any other subject. He knew we would struggle in this area. More than two-thirds of His parables deal with the stuff that threatens to own us unless we see ourselves as managers, as stewards of something that ultimately belongs to God. Jesus even said that how we deal with money and possessions is an accurate indicator of our spiritual maturity and our readiness for leadership. “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much … if then you have not been faithful in (money and possessions), who will entrust to you the true riches?”

So … how is your budget working for you?

Monday, July 28, 2014

Free ebook alert! Replant by Darrin Patrick & Mark DeVine

Authors: Darrin Patrick & Mark DeVine
Publisher: David C. Cook

Price: FREE (July 28-29)

Audible Deal: N/A

Grow Where You’re Replanted

Today’s spiritual landscape is littered with churches on their last legs, forcing us to reconsider how we keep the Body of Christ alive and strong. The solution, according to visionary pastors Darrin Patrick and Mark DeVine, is to infuse new blood into the body and by seeking God’s presence and guidance. Avoiding cookie-cutter steps or how-to formulas, Replant describes the story of a church resurrection, a story that offers a multitude of divinely inspired, and practical possibilities for church planters. The result is a harvest of inspiring ideas on how to inspire new church growth. Discover a new openness to churches merging with other congregations, changing leadership, and harvesting fresh spiritual fruit—inviting us all to re-think how churches not only survive, but thrive.

Here's one way to bless your spouse

Cindy and I shared some ideas about building a strong marriage with younger couples in the church recently, and I told this story from Gary Smalley:

One of the things that I appreciate most about my parents is the honesty of their marriage. They’ve never claimed to have a “perfect” marriage and aren’t afraid to disagree. At one point, my parents got into a huge argument. They were so frustrated that they each ran off to a different part of the house. I let the situation calm down for a few minutes before I knocked on my father’s office door.

“Come in,” he reluctantly replied.

As I walked into his office, I found my dad sitting behind his computer reading a document titled “Why Norma Is So Valuable.” (My mom’s name is Norma.)

“What are you reading?” I asked.

“Well,” my dad began, “a number of years ago I started a list of why your mom is so valuable. So when I’m upset with her, or when we’ve had a fight, I’ve learned that instead of sitting here thinking about how hurt or frustrated I am at your mother, I need to make myself read through this list.”

The document contained literally hundreds of words and phrases describing my mom’s value.

“When I first start to read through the list, I’m still upset,” explained my dad. “I usually get to the first three or four items and think, ‘What was I thinking?’ or ‘This one is no longer valid!’ or ‘I’m definitely going to erase that one.’ But then the farther down I read, the faster I realize that you have an amazing mom.”

This is the best idea I’ve ever heard for recognizing someone’s value. Talk about creating safety. It’s also what my father does to get his heart back open. Jesus explained why it is so powerful when He said, “For where your treasure is, so there will your heart be also.” In other words, your heart will be open to what you value. One way to keep your heart open and your spouse feeling safe with you is to focus on her value.

We can create this honor list for our spouse as well. Take several minutes to list all the reasons why your spouse is so valuable. For example: a character trait, faith pattern, values, morals, parenting skills, spirituality, the roles he or she plays that you appreciate, etc.

And don’t keep the amazing list to yourself – share it with your spouse. Let her know that you recognize her value. (Fight Your Way to a Better Marriage, Smalley)

As I think about my wife’s birthday coming up in a few days, I remember the column I wrote in 2011 entitled, “Fifty Reasons Why I Love Her.” I normally ask Cindy to proofread my columns before I send them to Madison Taylor, but not that one. I sent her a decoy that week, and on her birthday, which happened to be a Saturday, I cut the column I had written about her out of the paper and brought it to her at the breakfast table.

“Look,” I said. “The Times-News printed a different column this week.” Cindy gave me a funny look but after she had read the first few sentences, she started to cry.

It was one of the best presents I have ever given my wife. I encourage every person reading this column to do something similar. Then keep that list in a place where you can read it often when the marriage is going through a storm.

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?