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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Does Hope Have Any Value in a Fast Food World?

I frequent fast food restaurants. I don't necessarily like their food. I like getting my order quickly. I have very little patience when I enter these establishments. I have an expectation of speed rather than quality.

These restaurants are always crowded. I see people who are just like me who want their desires fulfilled quickly. They also have very little patience. They want what they want right now. Tomorrow they will not be able to tell you what they ordered. Their motivation is to get in, get what they want, consume it and get out.

Does this sound like the contemporary church? Let me explain.

Hope has a different meaning for contemporary Christians than it did for New Testament Christians. Their hope was not built upon God's removal of the tribulations they were experiencing. They were looking for the return of Christ when all things would be made right. They were concerned that they would be found faithful when He came. They looked for His return daily.

I don't think most contemporary Christians see hope in that way. Their concern is that God get them out of their present situation. They ask Him for new jobs, more money, people to love them and healing for sicknesses. Of course, there is nothing wrong with praying for these things but, unfortunately, there is no thought of Christ's return in any of their prayers. The long-term hope of the redemption of the whole world is foreign to their thoughts. They see God as one who fulfills their orders for the present time rather than the One who will set all things right.

Admittedly, it has been a relatively long time since Christians began the hope for Christ's return. True faith requires continual hope because of the promise that has been made and does not waver no matter how long it takes for the promise to be fulfilled.

There are only a few contemporary preachers who speak of Christ's return. There are many more sermons which speak of a God who promotes those who believe in Him. They tell of how He removes all the obstacles which keep His followers from having what they deserve. They say that being a Christian is good for business. These sermons provide Chrisitans means for transferring God's power to themselves. As one preacher said, "I know the streets of heaven are paved with gold but I want some gold right now!" (It may not be an exact quote but it is close. I was so surprised by his audacity that I didn't write it down.)

I am sure that the New Testament Christians disliked tribulations as much as contemporary Christians. They, no doubt, also prayed that God would remove their hardships. Paul, himself, prayed that his "thorn in the flesh" would be removed.  Yet, this does not seem to be their ultimate hope. They looked to the coming of Christ. They saw their salvation in His return. In fact, they knew that they would not truly experience their salvation until they were in His presence.

Oh, I still plan on praying for current needs for myself and others. But, that can't be the whole understanding of my Christianity. I want to be found faithful even if God never answers any of my present requests. (I say this with the expectation that He will indeed answer some of my requests.) I want my hope to be built on His return rather than what I will receive from Him immediately. I want to see my own salvation being fully realized at His return. I want to work as if He is returning today.

And yes, I will still go to fast food restaurants and have the same expectations as I have always had. I just don't want my faith to take the character of a fast food patron. I haven't come to my faith to get in, get what I want or get out. I have come to stay because He is coming.

And He just might come today.

Romans 8:24-25 (NIV) 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Have We Lost Our Vision?

I am fairly insulated from the rest of the world in my office. It is a Christian environment. The staff is kind and careful to follow Christian principles. It is easy to forget what lies outside my doors. There is world that lacks the Shepherd to lead the sheep.

Jesus saw the crowds and their emptiness. They didn't know what to do with their lives. They were pursuing their own goals without any great return. They were like hamsters running on wheels that went nowhere. They were tired and dispirited with no direction or real hope. They were lost without admitting it. He had compassion on them for they were like sheep without a Shepherd.

Sheep need a shepherd to give them direction. Sheep have a tendency to follow the next blade of grass which can lead them off a cliff. They look down without noticing what is around them. They fail to see danger or where they are in relation to the other sheep. It is easy for them to get lost pursuing that next blade of grass.

Sheep are often in need of a shepherd to mend their wounds. Sheep pursue the next blade of grass so miopically that they can be cut when they slip on rocks. Sheep can be hurt by dogs or other predatory animals even if they escape or are rescued by the Shepherd. They need the Shepherd to put salve on their wounds and care for them.

Sheep have no idea how to find water. They know where it is if they remain in the same pasture but roaming sheep are led to water. They are afraid to get a drink from fast moving water. They need still water to quench their thirsts. Thus, they need the Shepherd to lead them to this water.

Sheep have no defense against predators. They need the Shepherd to protect the sheep. Wolves will try to take young sheep even with a Shepherd but the Shepherd fights them off with His staff. He puts Himself between the wolves and the sheep.

The shepherd may build a small stone wall to corale the sheep at night. He lays down as the door (gate) of this corale so that the sheep will have to cross over Him to get into trouble.

Sheep have no purpose without a shepherd. The Shepherd shears the sheep in season to provide clothing for others. It cools the sheep in the hot summer months and gives the sheep purpose.

Does this sound like those in the world today? Do they pursue the next item in front of them and get themselves in trouble? Do they get in debt or ruin their relationships because of these pursuits? Are they often wounded without anyone to heal them? Do they know how to find Living Water which will spring up from inside of themselves and quench their own spiritual thirst? Are they in need of protection? Do they need a purpose in life? Of course, people need all of these things.

People need the Great Shepherd. I need Him; you need Him. Yet, we also have the responsibility of seeing these "crowds" so that we can share the gospel. The need is for workers for the harvest is plentiful. The need is for Sunday School teachers who will spend the time to share the gospel with classes. The need is for greeters for those who will make the church an inviting place. The need is for getting outside the church to share with our neighbors and co-workers the good news of this Great Shepherd.

Have we lost our vision? Do we believe that our only ministry is to feed the poor or entice the rich? Do we think that we can merely sit in our padded pews and let the world go to hell?

We must not for someday the Great Shepherd will ask us to show us the sheep we have brought to Him. We must go and pray that others will join us. We must "see" the crowds too.

Matthew 9:36-38 (NIV) 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field."

Friday, December 16, 2011

An Encouraging Word Is Needed Today

I do not put on rose-colored glasses and look at the world without seeing the struggles, disappointments and failures. I see the hardship and dispair in the eyes of many. This look is seen in many believers as well. So, I would like to address it. I would like for you to know some encouraging words for today.

God still loves you with an everlasting love. Nothing in the world will change that. It doesn't matter what you have done for Him or against Him; He still loves you. He has proved that love with the sacrifice of His only Son while we were still His enemies. He loves us even if we choose to reject Him.

God still has wonderful plans for us regardless of how things are going right now. He will continue to complete that which He has called into us. He will walk with us to the end of this journey.

God isn't finished with us yet. As long as we are breathing, God is working on us to create the image of His Son. He is bringing us to the joy of our salvation. He is pruning us for greater things.

God will bring us to victory. He is a God of victory; not defeat. He brings all those who will walk with Him into His victory. It doesn't matter how the battle looks at the moment. God will bring victory!

God is still as powerful as He ever was. He is still healing, speaking and bringing miracles to this earth. He is not hindered by circumstances. He uses circumstances to reveal His glory.

God is still in control. It does not matter what Satan has done for he must get permission from God to do anything at all. This means that God is using the evil that Satan is producing to create a people whose faith is in Him. He is bringing Satan to his end by allowing him to bring that evil. It is an ultimate rather than an immediate goal.

Nothing can come into your life that you and God together can't handle. Everything you face can be overcome because He is walking with you.

There is an end to any and all pain. That end may be your graduation from this life to a new life with Him in heaven or it may be the victory you will have over that pain. Cancer is no conqueror of God-- Not is MS, ALS, diabetes, Aids or any other disease.

God does not want you to be lonely and He has a solution for it. Look around and you will see God working in others to bring you what you need. He is a God who walnts us to be completed by our interaction with others. He is a God who loves us through the love of others too.

Did I say God loves you?

1 John 4:16 (ESV) 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.

Pass this on if you believe someone needs to know this.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Have You Been Fooled?

People like to hear simple solutions. In fact, many people think they can run the country better than those in charge, diagnose their health problems better than their doctors, fix the economy better than the economists and solve unemployment without the aid of others wisdom. People see their own "simple" solutions as "the" solution. They choose not to know the problem in depth because that complicates the solution. Therefore, it is better to be ignorant of the true issues and look for simple solutions.

People like to hear simple solutions. They know the tax code is complicated so anyone who presents a very simple means of computing taxes is going to be heard. The internet has capitalized on people diagnosing their own health problems, car break downs, plumbing issues and everything which needs a solution by allowing the users to address their symptoms and giving them simple solutions. (Of course, there are more in-depth places to explore on the internet but those with the simple solutions get more traffic because they are simple.)

People believe that those who reject their solutions must have another agenda. They often say, "It just isn't that complicated!" when it is really very complicated. This is why politicians often support simple solutions by dividing the classes. Their solutions sound like, "We can pay for all your needs by taxing those who make more than 99% of the rest of us," and, "The real problem is that 47% of the country pays no taxes at all." You can see how simple the solution is for both sides. Each one says that the other should pay more. The other side has a selfish agenda. The polarization of our society is assuring that there are no solutions to our problems.

People adopt their simple solutions so fervently that they fail to see the other side. They will deny that their solution has flaws while refusing that another solution has merit. Therefore, the one who wants a higher minimum wage can't see what that will do to the small business owner. The one who is making millions only sees those who are down and out when a photo op is needed.

It is foolish to believe that many of the concerns facing our world have simple solutions. It took a long time to get into the mess that we are in and backing out of them is not going to be simple. It is foolish to believe that the problems are all because of another group. We are really all connected in this world. The solutions are for us to work out together. Trying to do so apart will fragment us farther and never provide solutions.

It is important for us to become intensely informed from both sides of the debates which present the solutions to our problems. Sticking our heads in the sand and hoping that there are others who will provide perfect solutions is foolish. Thus, we need to explore the other side of every solution so that we can see both points of view.

The real solutions to our problems are often a marriage of other simple solutions. This is not compromise. It is taking both sides to create a better solution than either side could alone.

There is one thing we should use for the basis of our understanding: There is One who will give us guidance in our solutions. Denying Him is saying that you have explored the whole universe and know there is no god. But, of course, that can't be true. Denying Him is saying that you have accepted a simple solution which says their is no god because you have truly failed to look. This is no different from those who are accepting the simple solutions for the economy, political leadership or unemployment. They chose the simple solution because they got to the real solution.

Real solutions take wisdom and instruction. Without these we will continue to languish in our problems as we point to others as the culprits of all our woes. This is no solution at all. It is foolish!

Proverbs 1:5-7 (ESV)
5 Let the wise hear and increase in learning,
       and the one who understands obtain guidance,
6 to understand a proverb and a saying,
       the words of the wise and their riddles.
7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge;
       fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Preaching God's Word

Sermon preparation is both hard and easy. Preachers have to produce a sermon each week for their congregations. They simply cannot stand before the congregation and say, "Sorry, nothing came to me this week." Thus, they (we) must say something even if it is lame. 

That is why it is so important to be in God's word each week for the preacher's own personal rather than public spiritual growth. Sermons should be the spill-over of the spiritual life of the preacher. They should be the word of God because God has spoken to them. 

Sermons must be given as the preacher has received them. Since God does not produce "on command," sermons take time. Some times God speaks immediately but more often the preacher is forced to seek the Lord with his whole heart to hear what God wants to tell the congregation. It takes prayer (sometimes with fasting) and study of God's word. It takes the surrender of the preacher's personal desire to say what he would like to say. It requires humility since it is only by God's grace that that He speaks to the preacher. 

A sermon is a tremendous responsibility. The preacher isn't there to "wow" the congregation, tell the best jokes or become a psycho-therapist. He should consider his sermon as God's word. It should be so carefully prepared that it will reflect the scripture being presented. It will explain and apply this scripture in the context of the hearers. Preaching a sermon should be seen as delivering a much needed medicine to the sick. It should be handled and delivered carefully.

Preparing a sermon is also very easy. God wants to speak to His people. He has called the preacher to deliver this message. He uses this instrument (the preacher) with precision. He speaks to the preacher who listens. Listening is not all that hard. All the preacher has to do is get out of the way and let God speak through him. Sermons are easy once that is done. Of course, the hard part is getting out of the way.

That doesn't mean that sermons don't have humor or personal touches. Look at some of the messages in the Bible. Jesus was asked whose wife a woman would be in the resurrection after she had seven husbands die on her. I imagine His first thought was, "Are you kidding? The real question is 'what is she putting in the soup?' Come now, seven brothers married to the same woman, one at a time and each one dying and there is no suspicion of malevolence!" We should see the humor in humanity as we seek to present the message. I believe that God has to laugh sometimes when He sees some of the things we have done. We should be able to laugh too.

Go to church this weekend (or whenever your church meets). Pray for your preacher in the meantime. Pray that he will deliver God's word to you rather than a well prepared but dry explanation of the scripture.  God's word is life-changing.

1 Thessalonians 2:13 (ESV) 
And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

What to Look for in Your Next Church

People visit the church I pastor every week. Most of them are looking for something. Many of them have no past connection with church. They have never been to church before. They may be looking for many things that we can't provide. We cannot become the place where every problem goes away. We can't be the people who encourage bad behavior. We can't preach Christ and other religions at the same time. Many of these people and others check us out and keep going.

There is no virtue in losing people. We are not an exclusive club which limits its membership. We are a people who seek to bring those who do not know the Lord into His presence. However, we can't violate our own principles to keep people either. We cannot take people to Christ by going somewhere else. We are limited to the teaching of the Scriptures, the leading of the Holy Spirit and our own convictions of right and wrong. It isn't that its "my way or the highway"; its "His way is the high way."

So, I write this with my own convictions to help others who are seeking a church which will lead them to the same place I want our church to lead people. What I am saying is: I know I am biased. I just want you to know that I know it.

The leadership of your new church should have several traits which should be observable. The leadership will never be perfect but these leaders should exhibit a clear separation between themselves and the world. Church leadership is in the world like the rest of the congregation but it must provide the example of living a holy life. This should be seen in a consistent time with the Lord each day, a obvious confession of sins before the Lord and an uncondemning spirit. The latter characteristic will allow the leadership to point out sin without condemning the sinner. The Holy Spirit is the One who convicts the world of sin. Church leadership can only point to the sin.

The holy lifestyle of the leadership should be seen in their righteous behavior. It will be clear that the decisions being made have been done so because of their spiritual maturity for they have prayed about each step the church should take. Sure, surveys may be taken, consultants may be consulted and trends in culture may be taken into account but the prevailing atmosphere will be one of prayer and seeking the Lord.

Because this leadership has confessed with a godly lifestyle, the congregation will know grace itself. They will understand that the leadership has given them grace and that their only godly response is to return grace to the leadership. The leadership will be blameless because of its hard work, continuing care and selfless lifestyle.

The pastor of this church will be gentle rather than harsh. I understand that there comes times for "fire and brimstone" but most of the time the sermons will be encouraging, comforting and urging the congregation to live lives worthy of God.

I personally do not understand the pastors who privately complain about their congregations. They tell me of their ignorance, failures and ungodliness. I liken this to a coach who complains about the performance of his players. Wasn't he responsible for their actions? Shouldn't he have coached them better? Shouldn't a pastor take some of the responsibility of the actions of his membership after some period of time? Isn't his responsibility to urge them to live lives worthy of the Lord?

Thus, the congregation should reflect the lives of the leadership after a period of time. The congregation will try to beat the leadership into submission if they have had long periods of being beaten by the leadership. They congregation will either live in a godly manner after being under the leadership for a long time or they will seek another church which has no example of godliness which convicts them of their sins.

Note that I have spoken of "over a period of time." Godly leadership has been oppressed in many churches which has led to verbal and political persecution. These leaders have been fired, forced to live on smaller and smaller salaries, criticized openly before the congregation and others and sent anonymous letters of malice. This is the worldly response to godliness: demonize the godly and exalt the guilty.

Obviously, you do not need to be a part of a church that is so ungodly unless God has called you to be a part of the solution of bringing that church to her knees in repentance. That is a special calling that requires a significant maturity and commitment.

So, what are you looking for? A holy leadership which leads righteously and blamelessly before the congregation which is being encouraged, comforted and urged to live in a godly manner. This congregation will also follow the characteristics of the leadership if the leadership has been there for a significant period of time. You cannot judge these characteristics by bells and whistles but by careful observation.

In the end you have to say, "Do I want to go where this congregation is going?" Of course, you should also check your own heart. Are you wanting to go where God wants you to go? Are you seeking a godly lifestyle or a place to hide and do whatever you please?

God has a part for you to play in the mission of your new church. So, where do you want to go?

1 Thessalonians 2:10-12 (NIV) 10 You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. 11 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Characteristics of the "Called" Minister of the Gospel

Most of the people I know in the ministry are honest, hard working, God seeking, praying ministers of the gospel. They have different personalities and gifts but share some common characteristics. I have observed these people and know that God called them because of how they are used by God. Not all of them are in pastoral roles. Each of them lives out their calling in very specific ways.

Called ministers have hearts that sink into the ministry. They look forward to doing their ministry. They don't see it as work even though they will work harder than anyone would expect for the salaries they receive.

None of them are perfect. They fail at times but they are never failures. They sin at times but they are known more for their seeking the Lord rather than their sins. They express their faith by their words and the ways they live.

Called ministers don't wonder what they should do each day. They know their calling. When they don't know how or what steps to make, they go to the Lord in prayer. Their prayer life is not relegated to praying for the sick. It encompasses their ministries. These called ministers seek the Lord until they know exactly how they are to preach, lead, address issues and continue their ministries. Their outward lives may not be spectacular but their prayer lives are. Evidence of such a prayer life is seen in how they speak of prayer, how they pray publically and the time they spend in prayer. Those who go into their "inner room" to meet with the Lord come out changed. Their faith and demeanor is different from those who rely on other means of carrying out a ministry.

These called ministers need no one to monitor their work. They know the Lord is watching them at all times. They know that they work for Him and work with Him. They know that nothing will be done without abiding in Him. Therefore, they do what they do as His servants. They seek to please their Lord so fervently that no godly person will deny their work ethic.

Called ministers of God are more likely to get criticism than those who aren't. Many ministers are judged by the way they handle the politics in their areas of ministry. They speak favorably to the potential big giver even though he is living a licentious lifestyle. They pander to the whims of those who will cause the most trouble. This is not the case of the called minister. He or she is gentle with those around their ministries but careful to hold their principles regardless of the political fallout. These ministers may be "run off" or fired or given so much more hell in their places of ministry than those who are in the ministry for the job rather than calling.

Called ministers are blessings to their areas of ministry. They bring the presence of the Lord into every situation. They cause the godly to seek God more and the ungodly to be uncomfortable. They may not be great orators with great articulation but will speak loudly by their actions. They will say more with stumbling wordsof life than those whose words are beautiful on the outside but filled with death inside.

Note the called ministers around you and lift them up in prayer. Pray that, though their lives may not be easy, their ministry will bring the presence of the Lord to all those around them today.

1 Thessalonians 2:4-9 (NIV) 4 On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. 5 You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed--God is our witness. 6 We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else. As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, 7 but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. 8 We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. 9 Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Church of Smoke and Mirrors

1 Thessalonians 2:3-5 (NIV) 3 For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. 4 On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. 5 You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed--God is our witness.

The Wizard of Oz was a favorite movie of mine as a child. The Wizard kept the people of Oz believing that he was all wise and all powerful by trickery. They failed to look behind the curtain at the man manipulating the gadgetry. I wonder if the message of the gospel has stooped to the smoke and mirrors of the Wizard of Oz to draw a crowd.

I once heard of a pastor who was using special gimmicks to draw in crowds. He once told people to come because a certain famous person would be at church the next week. He even went as far as to have a limo parked outside that next Sunday morning. During the worship service he announced the arrival of this famous person but failed to produce them. Then, he looked down on the congregation who had arrived supposedly for the purpose of seeing the celebrity and tell them, "Jesus comes every week and you don't come to see him!" He played on the guilt he had produced. Think of it: he told them to come because of the celebrity then, when they come, chastises them for arriving. What a gimmick!

I am not opposed to using tools which help people worship or understand. The church has used imagery to convey the gospel from the beginning. Paul spoke of the monument to the "Unknown God" as he shared the gospel in Athens, Jesus picked up children while expressing the need to come into the Kingdom of God as children and healed them so that people would understand who He is by His power and glory. There were times when God used spectacular events like fire falling to light an altar or the stopping of the Jordan River to reveal His will. But these were not gimmicks. They were genuine acts of faith and miracles of God!

I am glad that there are many churches growing like weeds. I just don't want them to be weeds. I want them to accurately share the gospel with all of its truth by the power of the Holy Spirit. I would love to see them have a spiritual awakening that cannot be explained by the presence of a charismatic preacher. I would love to hear that God is moving without any other explanation.

A guy once told me, "If they come to your church for a hotdog, they'll leave your church for two hotdogs." The problem with gimmicks is what you do for an encore. You have to keep doing more and more spectacular feats to get people to come back. This is like the tv ad which is so amazing that no one can remember the product that is being sold. Gimmicks which draw attention away from the gospel diminish the power and truth of the gospel.

Jesus did not come to me with any gimmick. The Holy Spirit convicted me and revealed the truth. I was alone when I asked Jesus into my heart. A couple of years later, after walking away from my faith, the Holy Spirit came to me while alone and convicted me. He helped me remember the joy of the Lord. I pledged to Him that I would remain steadfast and asked Him for continued  conviction. I have not lived perfectly but I have been one who confesses often and seeks Him regularly because He draws me near. None of this came with any smoke and mirrors.

I suppose someone could think I am just full of sour grapes. They think I feel this way because my church is not experiencing the phenominal growth of the church of smoke and mirrors. I hope that is not he case and I want the Holy Spirit to convict me of this if it is.

My problem is that I talk with a lot of people who do not understand the gospel. They come to church regularly, were baptized as children and nod their heads in agreement with Jesus as the Messiah, but do not have a powerful relationship with the Lord. They believe that everyone is going to heaven. They have no daily time in God's word. Their prayer life is almost non-existent. I wonder what they think I am talking about when I speak of walking with the Lord.

The gospel must be preached with and by the power of God. It must reach people through the conviction of the Holy Spirit. It must change people from the inside out.

The filling of a church by smoke and mirrors is a sham. It reveals the lack of faith found in the preachers who produce this trickery. They do not believe the gospel has the power to draw people or convict them so they resort to means they can produce.

Jesus said, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." I believe that those who resort to thing apart from Jesus are doing nothing though it looks like a lot, but isn't looking like you are doing something when you really aren't the nature of using smoke and mirrors?

Friday, December 2, 2011

When Is a Ministry a Failure?

Many pastors are discouraged. Many of them are secretly looking for another profession. They may even be looking to their denominations to "promote" them out of their present ministries. Though they have cried out to God, they have not seen any results. Each Sunday is the same. Their churches shrink slowly and they are wondering just how much longer they can endure their own "failures."I have found that the problem most pastors face is not failure but how success is measured.

Success is not measured by comparison.
Each pastor's mailbox is filled with the success stories of the mega-pastors. Their churches are full, the giving is more than they know how to spend and their books are best sellers. The pastor of the shrinking church wonders why this hasn't happened to him. He knows he has prayed. He knows that he has studied the Bible. He knows that he has done the best job he knows to do. He spends much of his time making sure the air conditioning works the next Sunday. He works hard to see each one of the sick and pays special attention to those who are feeling the hurt of divorce, the loss of a loved one or the emptiness of unemployment. He knows the mega-pastor doesn't even know all of his staff, much less all of his members. He wonders why he is in this position while these others are allowed to write books and preach all over the world.

Success is not measured by desire.
Many pastors saw their ministries differently while they were in seminary. They were on a equal plain with most of the other students. They didn't see that others sermons were that much better than theirs. They saw themselves going to grow churches. They wanted desperately to baptize hundreds each year. They wanted to see new buildings erected as they led churches to be leaders in giving to missions. Their desire hasn't wained but their reality hasn't met their desires. They still want this. It just isn't happening.

Success is not measured by complaints.
I believe that each church has five people who are sent by Satan to complain. These people side up to the pastor at first and stab him in the back at the first opportunity. They complain and stir up trouble under the guise of being concerned for the church. They have been a part of running off the past three pastors and they don't feel that their work on earth is yet done. These people are rarely the ones who lead the charge. If something is said often and widely enough people will believe it is the truth. These complainers are saying it often and to as many people as possible.

So, how should a ministry be evaluated?

A ministry should be measured by calling.
Pastors are called to the ministry not to success. They are to fulfill the role rather than to be admired, become famous or write books. They are called to lead in the church where they are. They are not called to become the character and personality of a known mega-pastor. Pastors should praise the ministries of these mega-pastors but never measure their success against them.

A ministry should be measured by obedience.
It isn't desire that makes one great but obedience. Desire can mislead us to do things that we should never have done. Obedience to our Lord is all that counts. It isn't how much we have been given but what we have done with it that really counts. The Parable of the Talents should teach us that God expects us to take what we have had entrusted to us and be obedient with it.

A ministry should be measured by changed lives.
The pastor should spend some time each day alone with the Lord. He should be changed by His presence so that he can share this change with those around him. Changed lives are measured one life at a time. The pastor should never overlook the one in order to see the hundreds. Lives are not changed by mere church attendance. Many people come to church every week and are still white-washed tombs full of dead men's bones. Pastors should focus on those who are being changed by the presence of the Lord rather than the complaints of the five people who were sent to literally raise hell in their churches.

Maybe your pastor is feeling like his ministry is in vain. He has been called, faithful and is seeking the Lord in his own life. His ministry is changing folks but he may not even know it. It may be up to you to tell him that his ministry is not in vain. You have been changed!

1 Thessalonians 2:1 (NIV)  
1 You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Church: There's an App for That!

 Acts 17:19-21 (NIV)
19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, "May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean." 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)

Paul went to Athens to share the gospel to a group of people who were continually looking at new ideas. They were Greek "geeks" of the day. Paul seized the opportunity to address these who wanted to hear what he said because it was new.

Paul used the setting to address them. The Athenians had filled their streets and buildings with idols but they also had an inscription to "an unknown god." Paul knew that they had searched everywhere but did not know God. He knew they had not found Him in all their idols and explained to them who God really is. Some scoffed at the resurrection, others wanted to hear more and  a few became believers.

Paul employed the culture of the area to share the good news of Jesus Christ. He sought to win some with each message he preached. He knew that there would be nothing that would win all so he searched for ways to reach people with the gospel.

My church has just created a mobile app so that people can communicate the gospel in today's environment. The app tells about the church, allows the user to post prayer requests (which are pushed out to all other users), provides a venue for watching sermons, gives the calendar of church events and encourages people to invite others to church with one click to "Tell a Friend." It is using the environment of this day to reach the next generation. I think this is something that Paul would have done.

Please check out our app and see if it is something you would like to suggest to your own church. Let's reach the world one person at a time. Let's use every available means.

In the Apple Store search by entering "Thalia". (no quotes) In the Android app store search by entering "TLBC" We are Thalia Lynn Baptist Church. The company we used to create this app can be contacted by clicking on "More" at the bottom right of the app and scrolling down to "Built By."