Friday, January 2, 2015

Your New Year's resolution is going to fail

I've got bad news for you. Your New Year's resolution is going to fail. Sorry.

I know. I am pastor, which means I'm supposed to offer encouragement and I should be writing an article entitled "10 ways to stick with your New Year's resolution"  but I'm not going to do that. If that's what you're looking for, there's plenty of other places that will offer a multitude of self-help, to-do steps.

I'm not trying to be a downer or a discouragement for those of you who may be in the first couple of days of whatever new commitment you've made at a time while your still feeling positive about what you're doing. I'm not even telling you this because of the statistics that say only 8% of people will actually still be keeping their resolution a year from now. The reason that I'm saying that you will not find lasting success in your New Year's resolution is that your motivations are all wrong.

How can I say this? It is actually possible for me to state with certainty that whatever your motivations are for attempting to make some change are wrong? I believe so. I can hear you yelling at the screen right now. You're probably cursing me because you think you have a long list of good reasons for trying to make a new change in your life and who I am to tell that your motivations for change are misplaced?!

Even though I may not know what New Year's resolution you've decided to make, I'm going to guess that your thought process behind this change went something like this. "I'm tired of feeling this way." or "I'm doing this for my family." or "I want to get my life organized" or "I want to be a happier person." Whether I hit on the exact phrasing you used or not, I bet I came close to why you've made your resolution. Let's see if I'm right. Help me out by responding to the following:

I'm wanting to make this change in my life for _____________

The reason I believe your resolution is going to fail is because so few people ever fill in that blank the right way. There's only one answer. There's only one thing that must be your motivation. Ready for the answer? Scroll down and see what the right response was.
I'm wanting to make this change in my life for the glory of God.

"Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" 1 Cor. 10:31

When we seek change for any reason other the the glory of God, we are actually seeking our own glory. Not a good idea. In truth, we are making the mistake of worshiping our own desires. When we are trying to make a change to feel better, look better, act better, live better, the focus is on us! We spend so much time thinking about how our lives, or the lives of those around us, might improve if we would just make certain changes, and that's what becomes our motivation. The problem is that my life is not worthy of receiving any glory and every time I fail and every time I sin, I'm reminded of this fact and that leads to me to give up on my resolutions because the motivation for my change (myself) is not near good enough to keep me going.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to loose some weight, have a better attitude, or to get more organized. However, before embarking on whatever change you think you need to make, take time through prayer and the study of God's Word to make sure that the change you making is for God's glory, not your own. Start each day with the reminder that your are doing this for Him, so that He might use you for His purposes, that He might reveal new things in your life, and that He might use these changes to mold your even more into the new creation He has already made you.

I don't want your New Year's resolution to fail. However, even if you stay committed from now to the the end of time to whatever change you've decided to make, but you've done it for your own self, than what good was that change? You might make it to Heaven a few pounds lighter but what does that matter to God? Instead, "whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Happy Holidays...or is it Merry Christmas?

Once again, we've entered the month long period of when I hear my fellow church goers bemoaning the increasingly popular use of "Happy Holidays" over their preferred "Merry Christmas." Today, you can't go anywhere without seeing stores, restaurants, television shows, and newspaper ads taking extra care not to use the dreaded "C" word in case it might offend those who don't celebrate the birth of Christ, Jesus of Nazareth.

In truth, this change bothers me as well. It acts as a very clear reminder that fewer and fewer people are even willing to recognize Jesus, much less follow Him as Lord and Savior. The reason all those companies have changed their terminology is that they know to follow the majority opinion, and there are simply more people in our culture that don't affiliate themselves with Jesus than there are those who claim the title of Christian.

So how do we, as followers of Jesus, as ones who celebrate His birth, respond to this change? Do we get mad about it? That's a pretty common response. I hear people on a regular basis (although it has seemed to lessen in the past couple of years) who loudly and bitterly express their disapproval of those who've stopped using "Merry Christmas." I have no problem with people expressing their opinions, in fact we should welcome it, but in this case I don't think it's done the church any favors.  Another option would be to let it go. Many have chosen to adopt the attitude of indifference to this change. They don't care what phrase the store puts on their sign outside as long as there are still good sales on the inside. While this response certainly doesn't help the problem any, I do believe it gets us closer to determining what's at the heart of this issue.

What I've come to believe is that we, as followers of Jesus Christ, have been confronted with the uncomfortable truth that we approach the Christmas season almost exactly as the entire non-Christian world. In other words, we've been living as though we are experiencing happy holidays instead of living out a merry Christmas. We focus on the giving and receiving of gifts, just as everyone else does. We look forward to time off of work, just as everyone else does. We spend money on ridiculous things, just like everyone else does. We may take the time to go to a special Christmas Eve service, but let's please not evaluate our Christlikeness based on our church attendance to one service out of the year.

What's truly going on is that it's hard to tell a Christian and a non-Christian apart during this time of year when we as followers of Jesus Christ are supposed to be celebrating Him! No wonder business owners have stopped using the phrase "Merry Christmas." They hardly see anyone truly living out Christmas anymore!

So we could keep on yelling at those who've starting saying "Happy Holidays" but that's really just putting the blame on someone else for a problem that we've created, or we choose to find ways to live this season in a way that's different from those around us. People should take notice of us during this time of year and say, "Why are they so different from everyone else?" It's our job to live as ones who are truly having a merry CHRISTmas and then those around us will have to take notice.


Friday, October 31, 2014

This forgotten Biblical principle can absolutely change your life.

A couple of weeks ago, we had to start our morning routine a little earlier than usual. The Christian school my boys attend had asked me to speak at their monthly prayer breakfast and because we needed to be there about 30 minutes earlier than normal, I set the alarm clock with plenty of time to get me and the boys up and ready.

Let me just pause for a second and tell you, for those of you who don't know me well, I AM NOT a morning person. I can easily stay up into the late hours of the night with energy to spare but don't get me up early!My oldest son Peyton seems to have inherited my aversion to early rising. When I woke Peyton up extra early that morning, he moaned and complained and with eyes not yet fully open asked with a yawn, "Why can't prayer breakfast be a night?!" I could help but think, "Amen, brother. Amen."

While I fully admit that I am not a morning person, I have been more an more convicted by a certain biblical truth that is causing me to rethink how I start my day. I first preached on this Biblical principle about six months ago, and I did so in relation to a series on tithing I was going through, but I have come to see how this principle is related to so much more than just tithing. What my eyes have been opened to is that this Biblical principle in not only an important component for the life of the believer, it can have a tremendous impact on one's spiritual walk and result in a multitude of blessings.

What I want to share with you is called The Principle of Firstfruits.

The word firstfruits is seen in many places in the Bible. It's mentioned multiple times in Exodus through Deuteronomy as God's command to bring in the first part of the harvest as an offering in relation to certain feasts. God makes it clear that the firstfruits are holy to Him (Jeremiah 2:3). In the New Testament, Christ is referred to as the firstfruit (1 Cor. 15:20) as is the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:23) the followers of Christ (James 1:18) and the faithful remnant of Israel (Romans 11:16). What the Bible makes clear is that the firstfruits are the first and best portion of whatever we have (or in some cases what God has) and is given up as an offering and sacrifice. Still, how do we see the principle of firstfruits lived out in our lives?

The principle of firstfruits is more than just about the giving of our finances, but to best understand this principle we should first examine in the context of giving. Let me ask you a few questions. When you give into the offering plate on Sunday, how much should you give? You have been called to give a tithe (Malachi 3:10 & numerous other Bible passages) which literally means a tenth. So if I earn $100, I should give $10. Pretty simple, although only a few have grasped the importance of this concept. For arguments sake, let me assume that you tithe. Now, of that $100, which $10 of it should be given as your tithe? It is the last $10 you earn, or the first $10 you earn? You say that you don't know which $10 is the first or the last, so let me ask it this way. When you get paid that $100 is the $10 check the first check or the last check you write?

Let's take the example back to bible times. We are called to give our tithe out of our increase, so in my case, I give of the money I earn. However, when God established the principle of tithing, many people's increase was agriculture in nature. So, if a farmer back in the days of the Old Testament was counting his sheep for the shearing, and he counted 10 sheep (only a small farm) which one becomes the gift to the Lord? Is is the first sheep that passes before him or the last one?

In other words, do we give unto God only after we've made sure we have enough for ourselves or do we give Him our firstfruits? God called us to tithe as an act of trust. He doesn't need our money. He says, "trust me with the first portion of what you have by sacrificing it (giving it up) and watch how I bless and sustain the rest." Think about it for a minute. If you've already spent/given away/used up ninety percent of what you have and then give that ten percent to God, how is He going to bless what you've already used? The principle of firstfruits teaches us not just about giving ourselves and our resources to God but doing so in the correct order.

So what the principle of firstfuits means is that I give to God the first part and best part of whatever I have, so that He might dedicate the rest. Hopefully you are seeing how this can apply in many ways beyond simply tithing. I could write many pages on this topic, but for simplicity's sake, let me offer a few ways to implement the principle of firstfruits.

  1.  Give the first part of your day to God. Am I saying that to live by the principle of firstfruits you have to become a morning person that wakes up at 4am and spends two and half hours in prayer? If so, my son and I will be two very unhappy campers! While I don't believe you have to wake up extra early to do this, I do believe you should find a way to give the first part of your day to God. If you are able to, spend that first portion of your work day with your office door closed and get in the Word. Maybe you have a long drive to work, and could use that time to listen to Scripture and be in prayer about what it's saying. Some of you may just need to wake up a little earlier and give that time to God before any of the craziness of your day gets started. Watch how God can bless, sustain, and increase your day when you give the firstfruits to Him. 
  2. Give the first part of your relationship to God. This is often overlooked, but I think that we need to even dedication our social time unto the Lord. How often have you sat down with a friend for lunch or gotten into a phone conversation and complaining, gossiping, or slandering words became the immediate tone of the conversation? You see that best friend and you can't wait to vent about how frustrated your boss/husband/wife/child is making you. What if instead of letting your conversations drift into negativity, you spent the first portion of your time with others talking about what God is doing. Instead of complaining about some person, begin your conversation with prayer for that person who is causing you problems. Pray for and with those you are spending time with. You could open Scripture and take five minutes to share and discuss a verse to help set the tone of the rest of your conversation. Watch how God can bless and use for good your social time when you give the firstfruits of that time to Him.
  3. Give the firstfruits of your service to God. When it comes to service, many people (even I often do this) make the mistake of thinking that serving God comes only when and if there is time available at the end of a busy day/week. This completely goes against the principle of firstfruits! I understand that you may not have the ability to start each day with a service project, but you can plan your day/week with a service first mindset. In other words, be purposeful about looking at your schedule and before deciding on and scheduling all the things you think you have to do, take time to plan your service to God. Put on your calendar first the ministry your going to volunteer with or that church event you're going to help run and then worry about fitting in all that other stuff. Watch how the Lord blesses and multiplies the hours of your week when you give the firstfruits of your time and service to Him. 

I'm curious, what other ways can you think of to give your firstfruits?

The principle of firstfruits means giving the first and best of everything to God. We do so as an act of trust in Him that He will meet our needs. While we do want to know that our needs will be met, let me offer one final reason we are to give the firstfruits to God - that's what He gave to us. "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16

Be blessed!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Why "Love the sinner, hate the sin" is killing the church

You've heard it said, "Love the sinner, hate the sin." You've probably even said that. I know I have.

I've been preaching through a new series lately entitled, "That's NOT in the Bible" where I've talked about several popular sayings, just like the one above, that cannot be found anywhere in Scripture. I've done this in order to examine whether these sayings we put so much stock in are true or not. Some of the sayings like, "God helps those who help themselves" have been easy to debunk. I've also shown how saying "God won't give me more than I can handle" is not only wrong (God regularly gives us more than we can handle) but it's also dangerous because we often begin to think we can handle our problems on our own.

This last Sunday, I talked about the frequently used motto of the righteous believer "Love the sinner. Hate the sin." I went into this message with some trepidation because while I figured that most people would correctly guess that this is not a direct quote from Scripture, they might respond by saying that it is a true statement which can be backed up with Scripture.

I must admit that in recent days this phrase has begun to trouble me a great deal, but I've been hesitant to throw this saying out of my repertoire. I was worried that if I stood up and claimed that this simply wasn't true, then what would I say my stance was on those who openly lived their lives in a manner that is obviously inconsistent with Scripture? Would I then be following in the footsteps of many who have chosen just to adopt a stance of refusing to call someone else's sin a sin?

I have come to the place where I believe this statement is wrong, as I will show in a moment, but I also realize that I can't just remove this statement. I must replace it with something else.

Before I offer my humble solution to this problem, let's bring a familiar passage of Scripture into our conversation. Take a moment and read the story of the woman caught in adultery in John, chapter 8.

At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap,u in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.  At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
The New International Version. 2011 (Jn 8:2–11). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Now, with this story in mind, let's once again examine how the saying, "Love the sinner, hate the sin" stacks up against God's Word.

1. Love the sinner. First of all, let me say that I unequivocally believe that God loves sinners. It has to be true because He loves me. Also, I can't argue against the fact that Christ showed great love and mercy to this woman and she was undoubtedly a sinner. The problem for me is not in trying show God's view towards sinners, it's in how we use this statement to look at sinners.

Think about this for a second. When we use this statement, we are immediately viewing that "sinner" in the context of their sin. In other words, using this statement is allowing me to look at some other person and see him or her first and foremost by the name of a sin. This means that I'm saying, "To me, your name is adulterer/gossiper/drunkard/abuser/homosexual, but I love you!" How can I really love someone when I view them primarily in the context of sin?

Would you want to be treated this way? Think of your ugliest, darkest, most shameful sin, and then ask yourself if you would be okay with others coming up to after church and saying, "Good to see, _______ (fill in the blank with that sin.)" Of course you would never stand for that. You would be appalled if others constantly dealt with you based on what sins you have committed. So if you don't want to be treated like that, how can you do this to others?

In the passage, those pharisees couldn't see that woman as anything more than an adulterer. She was an adulterer, but they were more concerned with treating her by her sin instead of helping her receive grace and forgiveness. However, what we can see is that Jesus did not treat this woman just by her sin, but as a child of God.

So while it is true that I am to love sinners, I must get rid of this part of the statement, because of the attitude it allows to dwell in my heart.

2. Hate the sin. I know what you're thinking. There's no way I could have a problem with the statement "Hate the sin." Actually, I do. If it was simply "Hate sin" and not combined with something else, I wouldn't have a problem. I am supposed to hate sin because God hates sin. However, when I say "hate the sin" in conjunction with "Love the sinner" what I'm really saying is, "I hate your sin."

One of the things I love about this passage in John is that Christ turns the Pharisee's hatred over sin back on themselves. He said, "Whoever is without sin, cast the first stone." Then, these men had to realize that their sin disqualified them from being the accusers.

It's the proverbial plank in your own eye situation. I'm much more ready to judge and hate someone else's sin instead of examining my own life and addressing the sins I see there. What would be appropriate would be for me to say, "I hate my sin." Therefore, I must throw out this part of the saying as well.  Saying those words are only allowing me to justify myself and my actions towards others, while in reality it's causing me to stand in a position over others that God has not granted me.

So what do we do about someone else's sin? If I must stop using this statement as a way to feel better about not giving my approval of another's lifestyle, how do I keep from being someone who just refuses to call out sin and stand on the truth of what the Bible teaches? If I throw out "Love the sinner, hate the sin" do I just allow others to decide for themselves what they want to call sin and then just stay out of their way? Do I just tolerate any sin and behavior that is around me or that is in the church just so I don't run the risk of judging someone else?

There must be an answer. Let's look at a few options to see how we can replace the saying and fix the problem.

Option #1 -  Love the sinner, not their sin. Sound good, doesn't it. I've removed hate from the equation. Problem solved. But wait a minute! All I've really done is give an ambivalent attitude towards sin and that could just lead me to accept whatever sins are in those around me as permissible. Let's not choose this option.

Option #2 - Love the sinner, hate your own sin. Well, now I'm getting a little closer. At least I'm willing to take a look at myself first before I judge others. But then again, by using this statement, I'm still choosing to look at others first and foremost as sinners, instead of beloved children of God. Let's not choose this option.

Before I give the third option, why don't I stop trying to come up with some other statement that's not in the Bible just to replace an already faulty statement that's not in the Bible. Why don't I just let God's Word stand on its own and use what I know to be true to help us deal with the problem. So with this in mind, let's choose to replace "Love the sinner, hate the sin" with

Option #3 - Love your neighbor as yourself. Think about it for a moment. Isn't this the perfect replacement to our incorrect thinking? When I look at those around me, I should see them as my neighbors, those whom God has placed in my path in order the share the Gospel with. Do they sin? Of course they do and so do I.  However, I'm now on the path of no longer looking upon them first as a sinner but instead as one whom God deeply loves and wants to reach through me.

More than this, not only am I just supposed to love my neighbor, I'm supposed to love them as I love myself. What does that truly mean? Think back to the Bible story. Jesus didn't say the woman hadn't sinned. He simply said, "neither do I condemn you. Now, go leave your life of sin." This woman encountered mercy in the face of her sin, and Christ gave her a choice of how she would respond to experiencing such mercy. Would she keep on sinning without thought of consequence or would she seek to change her life, with God's help, because she wouldn't dare continuing to live like that after being given such a great gift?

Therefore, if I realize that as a Christian I've been given a second chance and been shown mercy in spite of my sin, then I should hope, pray, and strive toward the same end in how I treat those around me. I don't have to start accepting the sinful actions of those around me. I don't have to stop talking about what sin is in order not to offend or accidentally judge someone else. However, I am called to live as a redeemed, loving child of God who is ready to engage, help, and pray for the neighbors God has placed in my life, I must be willing to do so even when they are still living in the blindness of their sins, for who knows when I might be able to treat them with the same love and mercy of which God has shown me.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Who Is My Neighbor? Hint: They Live Next Door!

Well, it’s happening again - a new church is coming to Cleburne, Texas. I started seeing the signs posted everywhere and I even ran into a large group of people all with the same t-shirts on and out promoting the new congregation. I wish I could say that my most immediate reaction was a positive one, but it wasn't. In my flesh, my first reactions was, “Another church! Doesn't our town have enough of these already!” In truth, my heart was actually crying out, “I hope this new church doesn't take people away who might come to my church.” In other words, it wasn't that I wasn't actually upset that there was another church option for my town, it was that I was feeling threatened and fearful about what repercussions a new church might possibly have on the attendance of my church.

Some of you might think poorly of me for thinking such things, but it’s in addressing these wrong thoughts and feelings that has helped me realize a few important things that I think need to be brought out into the light.

I was recently given the book “The Art of Neighboring” by Jay Pathak & David Runyon. I’m still working my way through it, and I plan to share some sermons in the coming weeks over some of the things I’m leaning, but one thing is for certain - this book will cause anyone who reads it to fall under a great personal conviction. Let me share with you the brief intro to the book.

“What if the solution to our society’s biggest issues has been right under our noses for the past two thousand years? When Jesus was asked reduce everything in the Bible into one command he said: Love God with everything you have AND love your neighbor as yourself. What if he meant that we should love our actual neighbors? You know, the people who live right next door. The problem is that we have turned this simple idea into a nice saying. We put it on bumper stickers and T-shirts and go on with our lives without actually putting in into practice. But the fact is, Jesus has given us a practical plan that we can actually put into practice, a plan that has the potential to change the world. The reality is, though, that the majority of Christians don’t even know the name of most of their neighbors.”

Take a moment to think about this. If I asked you to tell the name of the people who lived in each house around you, could you? Honestly, I couldn't tell you all the names of those who lived around me. I’ve met most of neighbors at one time or another, but I can’t say that I really know them. Sure, there’s a courteous wave hello when we see each other in passing, and we might share a few words if time allows, but I have not involved myself in their lives or taken it upon me to see that they are saved and in a growing church family.

This brings me back to the thought that started all of this. Why in the world would I be threatened by a new church coming to town when on any given Sunday there’s only around 10,000 of the 135,000 people that live in my county attending a church? By those statistics, we need all the help we can get!!

My selfish heart has awakened a couple of much needed reminders for my life and I hope for all of us.

1. Instead of worrying about other churches are doing, I should be thinking about what I’m doing to get people into church. There’s a huge field of harvest awaiting before us and we can’t just sit idly by waiting for people to come to us! Christ told us to love our neighbor - so let’s start with our actual neighbors! Let’s get involved in their lives, take time to be there for them in times of need, and be ready with an invitation to hear and receive the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.

2. I must stop being afraid of those around me and welcome more workers to the field.  I just spent a week on a retreat with fellow pastors, from various denominations, and one of the items we constantly discussed was learning how to trust and work with one another. These barriers are not easily broken down, but they must be shattered.  Each church is going to reach a different group of people and we need to celebrate how God will use our differences to reach all kinds of people through the unifying message of salvation through Jesus Christ.

So to my brothers and sisters in Christ who are starting a new church, I say welcome! I hope that you will find success and that your are able to reach out and meet some people from the Lord. I won’t feel threatened by the work you are doing, but instead I will encourage you and pray for you. However, I want you to know that I’m making a new commitment to reach out to those around me. So, when you come walking down my street to meet new people, you’re going to encounter my neighbors who I will know by name and they will know me. May God bless us as we work together.

Pathak, Jay, and Runyon, Dave. The Art of Neighboring. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2012

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Quickest Way to Get a New Pastor

Tired of the pastor you have? Ready to get someone new behind the pulpit but that stubborn preacher you've got now just keeps hanging around? Well, have I got the solution for you! There's one surefire way to get that pesky old pastor to move on to other pastures, and it's a tried and true technique that's been working for thousands of years! The answer to your problem? Grumbling. That's it! It's so simple. Just make sure to every day take a few minutes to grumble and complain to another church member about something you dislike, no matter how small or insignificant, just make sure to do it behind your pastor's back. Don't worry, eventually most every negative thing said comes back around to the pastor, but the added bonus is that he won't know who said it!

Okay. I'll stop the sarcasm and melodrama. Obviously, I'm going a bit overboard with this in order to make a point (although, I am a little worried that some one might be really looking for ways to get rid of a pastor) but there's truth behind my joke. I've got pretty thick skin, and so I can fairly easily let a negative criticism role of my back, but over time it does begin to have an effect. I've been in the ministry for thirteen years now, I have never known a season where there's wasn't some form of grumbling going on in the background. What's more is that I know I'm not alone. Almost every friend I have in the ministry shares the same story. Each of us hear whispers and rumors and "he said that she said"'s of things that people don't like and that get's old after awhile. In fact, I watched several dear friends get completely torn up by such issues and leave the ministry all together.

If you are a member of a church, any Bible-believing, Jesus-preaching church, let me tell you a little secret from us pastors. It's not the complaints we can't handle, it's the fact that you won't come and talk to us directly and work together on a solution! The sad fact is, that when a church body gets in the habit of grumbling, instead of coming to the pastor, there will come a time when that leader has had enough, and that will lead to problems.

Think back with me for a moment to the time when the Israelites were wandering in the dessert. What activity does Scripture constantly show them doing? GRUMBLING!!! Over and over again, the Bible records the people as whining and complaining about the tough circumstances they were in. They cried out to go back to Egypt where at least they had food and water (I guess they didn't appreciate God's cooking) and the had home to live in. I laugh when I notice that they never once mentioned in their complaining about how they would be walking back into slavery!

On several occasions, Moses became so frustrated, hurt, angry, and overwhelmed that he lashed out. In fact, his anger would eventually lead to sin, which kept him out of the Promised Land.

However, one particular occasion comes to mind where things happened differently. In Exodus 18, Moses' father-in-law, Jethro comes to the camp. Moses was completely bogged down in the work of leading those complacent, stubborn, and grumbling people. My guess is that Moses was on the verge of a breakdown. Things weren't going well and the number of grumblers was growing. Jethro could have done the easy thing and joined in the complaining and fanned the flames a little bit, nitpicking on every detail that Moses was getting wrong, but instead he chose to do something different. He chose to talk to Moses directly. Read what happens.

13 The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. 14 When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?” 15 Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. 16 Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.” 17 Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. 18 You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. (Exodus 18:13–18, NIV)

Jethro could see that Moses was doing something wrong, but he was determined to help him see the problem and work in fixing it instead of just complaining to others!

I hope that each of you understand that my intention in writing this is to help foster healthy relationships in your church, especially between you and the ministers in your church. If you really are seeking ways to get rid of your pastor, then let me advise you lovingly but firmly, that you need to find another place of worship. Only God should be the voice in the ear of the man of His choosing to tell him to move somewhere else.

However, if it is your desire to bless your pastor, to encourage him, and make him more effective in his calling, then let's change the title of this article to "The Best Ways to Keep Your Pastor Around" and let me humbly offer a few suggestions.

  1. The next time you have a complaint or issue with something that is happening in the church, fight back that impulse to share it with someone else and commit to pray on it for at least a couple of days. My experience is that most complaints are over small things that are emotionally driven and with time those issues go away. If you choose to say something to someone else, you're only doing damage and you won't be able to take those words back.
  2. If the issues that you're having persists even after a time of prayer, then go straight to your pastor's office (just please do not do this on a Sunday!) and express what's on your heart. I know that it may be hard to say a complaint directly to the person who you believe is causing your complaint, but trust me, your pastor will appreciate you for it and it will only cause your relationship to become stronger. There are many times that we as pastors need to hear exactly what you have to say! I'm certainly not perfect and sometimes I need to be made aware of something I'm doing that is causing pain for others. I'm not saying there won't be bumps along they way, and not every issue will get resolved according to your liking, but more often then not, you will walk away with a peace about you that you didn't have before. 
  3. When someone else around you is dong the grumbling, refuse to let it go any further. No matter how much I speak to issues such as this, I am fully aware that there will always be those who complain. However, just because someone else continues to complain doesn't give you permission to chime in with your grumble. Instead, when you hear those negative words coming from someone else, take action! Be bold enough to simply walk away from conversation, or respond with something like, "Let's take a moment to pray for that person instead of complaining about him." I promise you that doing something like that only a few times will keep the complainers away from you! 

I pray that as you face issues in your church, as we all do, you take the road less traveled and seek ways to make peace, to put yourself aside and think of others first. Don't be a grumbler and you will see a difference in your life and in your church family.

A quick note to my church members: I want each of you who attend Bono Baptist Church to know a few things about what I've written here. Have I at times felt the hurt of negative criticism that wasn't brought to me while I've been the Pastor of our church? Yes. Am I writing this from a place of being totally overwhelmed, hurt, and on the verge of leaving because of such things? No. I am writing this because it's something that every pastor deals with, struggles with, and wishes they could talk about openly and honestly. I hope that pastors and church members from other congregations find this helpful, but I also hope that each of you will take these words to heart and commit to be a church member that is always willing to come and talk with me no matter what you're facing. I love you all - Bro. Greg

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Jesus' Approach to Church Growth

In John, chapter 6, Jesus presents a difficult teaching. Here’s a short sample.

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
(John 6:53–58 - ESV)

Because of these words, scripture tells us that just about all of Jesus followers left except for the twelve, and even they seem troubled by this teaching.

Put yourself in the sandals of Jesus’ small band of brothers. This event happened right on the heels of Jesus feeding the five thousand. The disciples must of have been saying among themselves, “All right, guys! Looks like this following Jesus thing is finally starting to take off! Now those leaders in Jerusalem will have to listen to us. Now things will really start to happen. Our numbers are growing and maybe we could even have enough money to build a really nice building to meet in every week with beautiful stained glass windows and a nice new pipe organ!” To which Peter replied, “I will only attend if we sing contemporary music!”

And now, in the blink of an eye, the “Jesus crowd” went from several thousand to only a handful. Do you wonder if any of the disciples wanted to say to Jesus that evening around the campfire, “Couldn’t you have just taught more about loving one another? Or maybe, you could have told the crowd another one of your parables. They don’t understand them, but they sure love them. You could have just kept feeding them. I know they would have stayed if you had done that!”

It wasn't that Jesus missed a great opportunity to dramatically increase His number of followers. Instead, He purposefully said these things, knowing it would cause many to fall away, and it wasn’t the only time Jesus did this. Jesus was much more concerned about finding sold-out, on-fire, fully-committed followers, ones who truly abided in Him as He was describing in those verses, then just trying to keep everyone happy.

By today’s standards, Jesus would not have been an effective leader, for every church leader “knows” that once you have a few people following you, you do everything in your power to keep them satisfied. Why would Jesus, on multiple occasions, willingly and purposefully thin his “congregation”?

It’s because Jesus’ approach to growth was not about adding numbers but instead about radically transforming lives. It’s true that each person matters to God, but Jesus wasn’t so concerned about having half committed followers. Jesus knew that things were going to get even harder than they already were. He knew that His Great Commission would push His followers WAY out of their comfort zone, and well beyond the old way of doing things. He sought to have people around Him that wouldn’t get upset when things changed, because there were a lot of big changes ahead. Jesus wanted those who respond with a simple and quick “yes” when called to a new task instead of those who would hem and haw and come up with excuses. Jesus sought men and women’s hearts – all of them, completely dedicated to the Father’s will.

Whether a minister or member, we should all ask ourselves a few question when it comes to trying to grow our churches.
1.    Is our aim just for numbers or for dedicated followers? Let’s take the time to examine our motives concerning how we operate in church. We should not be so worried about getting in the masses that it keeps us from teaching people about what it truly means to follow Christ
2.    Are we avoiding talking about the tough stuff or making the touch choices? I have said to myself before, “If I say this or do this, that family might leave our church, and they tithe!” If we speak the truth of Christ, in love, and are willing to do whatever it takes to bring in and disciple as many dedicated Christians as possible, then we will at times rock the boat and even cause people to leave. It’s never fun, but since it happened even to Jesus, I can be sure that we will still face this today.
3.    Am I fully committed to what Christ asks of me to fulfil the Great Commission? If we can honestly answer yes to this question, then we will stop worrying so much about trying to keep others happy and will simply do whatever it takes to reach others for Christ.

Examine your own heart, and ask yourself this question. “When I go to church, am I hoping just to be kept happy, or do I want and am willing to be challenged to change my own heart and participate in changing the hearts of those who are lost?”

Be blessed!