Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Leadership lessons from David.

Today I want to continue the series of leadership lessons from the Bible by taking a brief look at King David. Now, I freely admit that volumes upon volumes have been written about this man and a short blog post is not going to even begin to do him justice. Alas, I shall try anyway.

1. The first thing that I want to point out about David's leadership, and really his character in general, was his total dependence on God. As we look at his life as recorded 1&2 Samuel, 1 Chronicles and to a certain extent the Psalms, we see a man completely in love with God. One of the best examples of this is found in 1 Samuel 17 when David faces the Philistine Goliath. Two instances stand out among this narrative. The first is in verse 37 when David is explaining to Saul that he is willing and unafraid to fight this mountain of a man. He states quite matter-of-factly, "The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine (All quotations in this post will be from the HCSB)." I have to wonder what the tone of Saul's reply really was because he simply tells David, "Go, and may the Lord be with you." Was his statement tinged with laughter? Was it one of dismay and defeat? Did he wonder if he was allowing a young man to charge headlong into his certain death? All we know is that Saul tried his hardest to make sure David was prepared to fight by giving him his armor and weapon. In the end David didn't even want those things because, in our parlance, "they cramped his style." The second instance is found in David's words to Goliath on the field of battle and these are some of the most powerful words in all of Scripture. He tells Goliath:

You come against me with a dagger, spear and sword, but I come against you in the name of the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel's armies-you have defied Him. Today, the Lord will hand you over to me. Today, I will strike you down, cut your head off, and give the corpses of the Philistine camp to the birds of the sky and the creatures of the earth. Then all the world will know that Israel has a God, and this whole assembly will know that it is not by sword or by spear that the Lord saves, for the battle is the Lord's. He will hand you over to us.

Not one time in all of this does David rely on his own skills or abilities. There is never a sense that David is saying, "I will do such and such." He puts the outcome in God's hands and he is confident in God's delivering power. David doesn't even put stock in the might of the Israelite army because he knows that even their military success lies in the power of God and His faithfulness to His people. How many times in our lives do we expect that our skills and abilities will get us to a certain point and then God will take over when we can do no more? This isn't a backwards way of looking at things, it is the wrong way to look at things. Whether we say it or not our underlying belief is something like the old, false adage that "God helps those who help themselves." The Biblical truth is that God helps those who depend on Him. Even the best that we can do on our own and in our own power is like filthy rags to God. The lesson here is to dependently and obediently rely on God for all things.

2. This second lesson is similar to the last lesson from Numbers 16 and it relates to David's spiritual maturity. What happens after David slays Goliath and he is anointed by Samuel as the next king of Israel, is that Saul repeatedly tries to kill David. For the next several years David is on the run and constantly trying to avoid Saul. The amazing thing is that David has a couple of opportunities to kill Saul during this time, yet he doesn't. The reason that he refrains from killing Saul when the opportunity arises is that David knows better than to strike the man of God. From the moment that David was anointed God's hand was on him and it was removed from Saul. Spiritually, he was now the true king of Israel but Saul remained the visible and effective king over the people but David didn't act on this truth. Even after the death of Saul and Jonathan, David still respected his position as "the Lord's anointed." In 2 Samuel 1 we see David ordering the death of the Amalekite who told him of Saul's demise and  then his song of lament over their deaths. There are two things that I can see here. The first is that David had the utmost respect for God and the person that He anointed as leader of the people. This is something that we struggle with in the Church today as we think nothing of rejecting and rising up against the people that God has placed in leadership over us. It is true that if a pastor or leader is doing things that are clearly contrary to God's ways then we have a responsibility to confront them and if it is not dealt with then we must remove them (see Nathan's confrontation of David's sin with Bathsheba). However, if the hand of God is on a leader then going against them is going against God's anointed and that is a bad place to be. Secondly, David displays the New Covenant ideal of loving, not only our friends, but also our enemies. His mourning of Saul's death shows that even though this man was trying to kill him, he still loved him. Of course, Jesus will later tell us this very thing during the Sermon on the Mount.

3. Finally, David never wavered in his devotion to God. Yes, he fell into sin just like all of us do but when it became clear to him what he had done he said this, "I have sinned against the Lord (2 Sam. 12:13)." His repentance stands as a great example to each of us. Furthermore, he was not too proud to accept correction from Nathan the prophet. How many of us, as leaders, are too caught up in our position to accept the advise and reproof of the Lord or our associates? The truth is, if we are walking with God we will be open to His divine correction that can either come from His Word, the Holy Spirit, or those around us. This doesn't bring us down. On the contrary, it builds us up and makes us into better leaders, better husbands, pastors, businessmen or whatever. If we honor God and walk closely with Him, He will honor us and be faithful to us just as He was to David.

These are surely only a few of the many lessons that we can draw from the life of King David. He stands as a shining example of a man after God's own heart and as a true and righteous leader. I pray that we will all take these lessons from God's Word to heart and become the leaders that He wants us to be.


Monday, March 28, 2011

Mutual pursuit

This past weekend I was privileged to be a part of a Discipleship Now (DNOW) weekend with the youth group of Franklin Heights Baptist Church. One of my dearest friends is the youth pastor for Franklin Heights and about a month ago he asked if I would like to come with them and help chaperon and lead some of the sessions. I was excited from the first moment because I had heard of DNOW weekends but had never been a part of one. Needless to say, my excitement was far less than I would find out it should have been. The blessings began even on the trip to Myrtle Beach as a rode with Justin Lucas, another youth pastor from Trading Ford Baptist Church. We spent the entire (what turned out to be) 5 hour trip to the beach discussing every spiritual matter under the sun and if I had turned around and gone straight home the blessing would have been manifold.

The theme for the weekend was a study from Student Life Ministry called "Live Love" and it was a wonderful study of Jesus' command for us to love one another and how that should be the defining characteristic of our identity as Christians. We spent hours sharing and discussing how love is lived out in our lives and how it runs contrary to the ways of the world. The depth of some of the student's spiritual life was so encouraging to me and it was capped off with a joint worship service on Saturday evening where some of the youth were asked to give some devotional thoughts to the group. It was during this worship time that some of the adult leaders, including myself, were asked to give testimony. Something struck me as I was sharing how God has been so good and faithful to me that I would like to share with you and perhaps expand upon.

What I realized that evening was this: although there have been many times in my life when I was not seeking God's face and pursuing His will for my life, He has always pursued me. One of the passages that we looked at this weekend was John 15. While there is much about Jesus' command for us to love one another the way that He has loved us there is also this in verse 16, "You did not choose Me but I chose you and appointed you that  you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain..."  My question to the group, and to you, was and is this; did you realize that the God of the universe who created the planets and stars, the oceans and mountains, picked you to be His? If we are believers in Jesus Christ we have been divinely appointed to be His children and heirs to His kingdom. This should leave us dumbfounded and speechless at the perfect and amazing will of God our Father.

If you are like me there have been far too many times in your life when you were not following the path that of God's will and have turned your eyes from His wonderful face. Even in those times when we are not pursuing God, He is always there and we are always in His hand as John 10:28-30 tells us. Now, this does not let us off the proverbial "hook" of following God' will or searching after His plan for our lives. The Bible is replete with admonitions to us to pursue righteousness and seek God's face. However, even when we don't He does not so easily let us stray. In Isaiah 62 we have a prophecy about the glory of Zion and God's people and in verse 12  it says that they will be called, "Sought out, and city not forsaken." In 1 Samuel 13:14 it tells us that God sought out a man after His own heart. Even though the list of places that we are told to seek after God far outweighs the evidence that He seeks after us, it is clear that He will not let His chosen ones slip quietly away from Him. In fact, I would say that God pursuing us should be the exception to the rule rather than the norm. It is His will that would would passionately chase after Him but He does not leave us high and dry when we stray from His path.

By any earthly standard I should have used up my measure of grace long ago, and many of you may feel the same way. However, we serve a God who does not work within the earthly grace economy. We serve a God whose limitless grace is always ready to welcome us back to Himself. This does not mean that we take God's grace for granted or test the limits of His patience because we know that He can tell the Holy Spirit to cease striving with us at any moment. In fact, Paul asks the Roman Christians is grace is any reason to continue in sin. His answer is one of my favorites, "By no means!" However, we can take comfort in the fact that if we are His then He will draw us lovingly back to Himself. Furthermore, the Bible tells us that if we draw near to Him, He is faithful to draw near to us. That is a promise from God's Word and as such we can take it to the bank.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

"Shu wa waga..." God in Japan.

I just finished reading a piece from Fox News titled "God in the Rubble. What I saw in Northern Japan." In it, a longtime resident of Japan and child of missionaries tells about his experience looking for friends in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami that we are all acutely aware of. Amongst the rubble, he found a piece of wood with the words "Shu wa waga..." written on it. To those of us that know nothing of the Japanese language this is meaningless, but what it translates to in English is powerful. While the entirety of the message is lost, those three words mean this, "The Lord is my way..." In the United States this would not be anything special because there are plenty of people who claim the name of Christ within our boarders. However, in Japan, only 1% or less claim to be Christians. Yet, in the massive rubble and destruction these words were found by a man who understands what they mean and has the means to share it with the world. That in itself is a miracle of no small proportions.

Needless to say, the tragedy in Japan brings to light all kinds of questions about God, His will and His character. While they should all be taken seriously there are some that just can't be answered completely until we arrive in glory and all is revealed to us. I think the same questions arise in almost any catastrophe like the one in Japan, or hurricane Katrina, or tornadoes in the Midwest. If we believe in God and experience a disaster we may as something like, "Why God?" If we do not believe in God we may start a question with, "Why would God..." No matter the form the underlying thought is, "this is not the way things are supposed to be." If we approach the issue from a completely naturalistic viewpoint then it is the way things are supposed to, there is no other option. This is what happened to the dinosaurs and this is what will happen to us, we will be exterminated by the forces of nature. However, if we come at it with a theistic point of view, particularly a Christian worldview, then we have good reason to believe that things are not as they should be.

My preaching professor in seminary liked to put it this way, we live in the then but not yet. Since the time of Christ we have been living in a new era of God's redemptive plan for the world and humanity. While we have one foot in the era that is to come we are still left with the other in the way things used to be. Paul puts it well in Romans 8:22-23, "For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body." All of creation groans and is in pain awaiting the glorious re-birth at the coming of Christ. The Bible tells us that at that point all things will be made new again and that there will be a new heaven and a new earth. In that new creation there will be no more suffering, no more earthquakes, no more hurricanes, no more tsunamis, no more pain. It will be perfect.

No, it is not God's will that any should perish. It is not His desire to see any of His beloved creatures suffer. However, in His perfect plan He allows and even (if I may be so bold as to say it) causes events that are painful for us. Why? So that more of us would be drawn to Him or return back to Him. The natural reaction to a disaster like the one is Japan is to say that God wasn't there or that He removed His hand from a wicked nation. I disagree. God was and is in Japan. I believe His heart breaks infinitely more than ours do when people are put through such immense pain. If we say that God wasn't in Japan during the earthquake and tsunami we have to say that He wasn't at Calvary. God never removed His hand from His Son, Jesus Christ. We often look at the words that Jesus cried on the cross, "My God, My God. Why have you forsaken me," as evidence that He had been abandoned by His Father. It would do us well to remember the rest of the Psalm that Jesus was quoting that day. Listen to Psalm 22:24, "For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; Nor has He hidden His face from him; But when he cried to Him for help, He heard."  Look also at verse 28, "For the kingdom is the Lord's And He rules over the nations." God heard the cries of agony from His Son on the cross and He hears the cries of distress rising up from Japan. Whether it is through Samaritan's Purse, or the Salvation Army or some other relief organization, God is in Japan.

We are told in Mark 4:41 that even the wind and sea obey the voice of the Master. The earth and the sea obeyed the command of God in Japan but He was neither silent nor absent in the suffering that followed. He hears and He is there whether we can see it or not and whether or not we care to admit it.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Resources available!

One thing that I love to do is create useful resources for the building up of God's people. Through Number 156 Ministries we currently offer two  different Bible studies for use in various settings. Both of these studies, Radical Faith and Fear This! were born out of my experience in youth ministry. Each of them started out as a lesson series for our youth group and now I want to make them available to you!

Radical Faith is a 10 week survey of several Biblical characters and the qualities that they exhibit. The idea is that these characters and their lives give us an example of what it means to live a life that is totally abandoned to God. Some of the topics include:

Abraham's radical obedience
Gideon's radical strategy
Paul's radical perseverance
Jesus' radical love.

As you will learn the word "radical" has at least two meanings that are useful for us as Christians. First, it means returning to the root of somethings. As Christians it is imperative that we return to our roots of the Bible and Jesus Christ. We are told by Christ that He is the vine and we are the branches. Without that connection to the life giving root of Christ we are doomed to stumble and ultimately fail. The second meaning is one that we have become very familiar with and that is, departing from the norm. It is time for us to leave behind the mediocre faith that we have come to embrace in modern Christianity and be boldly in love with God.

Fear This! is an examination of some of the attributes of God. While it would be foolish to try and describe all of the attributes of the infinite God these are some of the foremost. One of the things we have noticed recently is that there seems to be a huge misunderstanding of who God is. This leads us into all kinds of bad doctrine and an incomplete view of God. Some of the attributes that we explore are:


While both of these studies were originally used in a youth group setting they are valuable for just about an small group. Each study includes a complete workbook with both student pages and leader pages. The leader pages are designed to give you additional information on the subject at hand. Furthermore, I encourage you to make these studies your own and find new and unique ways to tailor them to suit your ministry need. You can view and download them (as PDFs) by following the link below. These resources are free of charge but we do welcome any donation that you would like to make to our ministry for their use.

resources link

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Leadership lessons from Number 16.

Here are some lessons that I have drawn from Numbers 16 relating to leadership. To read the passage in its entirety please click here Numbers 16.

1. If you are in a position of lay leadership in a church, be very sure of what you're doing before trying to bring charges against the pastor. If you are a deacon, or on the administrative council, or a trustee, or whatever they call the lay leadership at your church be wary of trying to undo your pastor. This passage tells us that Korah and some 250 leaders among Israelites, "took action and they rose up before Moses." We know from the other narratives about Moses' life and the wanderings in the desert that this was not his first rodeo with unhappy people. Their complaint is found in verse 3, "You have gone far enough, for all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is in their midst; so why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?" Now, this in itself is not the problem. The problem is, it wasn't true and they were maliciously attacking the leadership of Moses and Aaron, God's appointed men. Here is what it may sound like today in our churches. "Hey pastor, you've gone too far. Who are you to say that the church needs to go in a different direction?" Or, "Who are you to preach against sin? We want to hear messages that make us feel like God likes us." What about, "Hey youth pastor, why are you teaching so much of the Bible and not just having fun with the youth group. Isn't it supposed to be about fellowship?" I'm not going to give any more examples because we all know what this type of accusation sounds like and we've all got our own specific examples. Any time we try to supersede God's leadership, whether it be His personal leadership in our lives, or the people that God has appointed as leaders over us we are treading on very thin ice. In essence, we are saying that we know better than God and have a better plan than He does. Now, let me say this. There are times when those in leadership need to be held accountable. If they are clearly straying from Biblical principles and are found to be in error then they must be approached. However, before we accuse our godly leaders we must be absolutely sure it is true and for the right reasons. This leads me to point 2 and it is for the leaders.

2. Leaders must be faithful to God's leadership. Look at Moses' reaction and words to God in verse 15. He says, "Do not regard their offering! I have not taken a single donkey from them, nor have I done harm to any of them." As leaders we must be able to go before God and claim our innocence of what we are being accused of. One thing that I've heard many people say is, if you are innocent then you need no defense and if you are guilty you have no defense. If we are guilty of what we are being accused of then there is no sense in fighting the truth. However, if we are innocent we need only be so before God and He will take care of the outcome of the situation. Moses knew that he was being faithful to the commands he received from the Lord and so he left the results up to Him.

3. Leave the judgment to the Lord. If we look at what happens to Korah and his rebellious cronies we see that Moses did not mete out the justice. After proclaiming his innocence before God he did not call an army of the faithful to go and slay the rebels. Instead, he allowed God to show His judgment to the real trespassers. This serves two purposes. First,  it doesn't allow anyone to have further problems with Moses. After the judgment was levied there was no doubt who did it. Other people couldn't look on and say, "Gee wiz, look how Moses opened up the ground and made it swallow those people." By allowing God to take care of the problem Moses left no doubt in the people's minds that it was divine justice and not human revenge. Secondly, and this is related to the first, by allowing God to address the situation His power and will on display for all to see. This served to confirm Moses' anointed leadership. The solution to false accusations against God's leaders is to continue being faithful to His call and His direction and the chaff will be sifted out by God. Thankfully, under the New Covenant there is also the chance for the misguided to see the error of their ways and repent. Unfortunately, Korah and his rebels had no second chance.

4. Do not allow the poison to spread. God tells Moses that He is going to solve this little problem and He also tells him to separate the good from the bad. In verse 24 God says, "Speak to the congregation, saying 'Get back from around the dwellings of Korah, Dathan and Abiram.'" There was a reason that God eliminated the influence of Korah and it was because He knew that that kind of thinking could easily spread throughout the entire assembly and compromise their faithfulness to God. If we look ahead to the Gospels we see Christ warning the people to beware of the leaven of the pharisees. Why? Because bad attitudes and rebellion have a nasty habit of spreading among the family of God. If a leader senses poison and leaven in the congregation it is imperative that it not be allowed to spread and infect others. This does work both ways though. If people in the congregation sense poisonous and unbiblical doctrine coming from the pulpit it must not be allowed to spread either.

5. Clean up afterwards. After the judgment of the Lord came down He commanded that the censers and firepans be hammered into sheeting for the altar as a reminder to the people. If we have an incident in our midst then it is important for us to explain what happened to those who may not have been privy to the goings on. If the issue is not addressed then it will only lead to further speculation and potential harm. If discipline occurs in the house of God it is best to be honest about it. That doesn't mean that we share every gory detail because that may not be edifying and may hinder a person or groups ability to be welcomed back into the community. However, if we leave it all hush-hush then that can lead to all kinds of conspiracy theories and additional problems later on. This is where there are some differences between Numbers 16 and what I'm saying because what happened to Korah and his followers was certainly out in the open for all to see from beginning to end. The situation was slightly different though and may not match up to what we experience in our own churches. I suppose the level of disclosure should be consistent with the openness of the situation.

These are just a few lessons on leadership that I have drawn from this particularly interesting passage of scripture. To be sure, there is more to be learned from this passage and the Bible as a whole on the subject. As a conclusion I would simply say this. To the lay leadership of the Church, be very careful before accusing or attacking the leadership of the pastor and staff. They have been appointed by God as undershepherds of the flock. Their leadership does not stand apart from God but underneath God. To pastors, be sure to remain blameless before the Lord regarding your decisions in the Church. You have been appointed by God and fall directly under His divine command, never forget that. It is not your church, it is His and your job is to lead according to His will and plan.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

"Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!" Legalism bites the dust.

The title of this post comes from Paul's words to the Colossians in chapter 2, verse 21. Over the past five verses or so he has been combating the false gospels and bad theology that has crept into their mindset. Even a cursory reading of many of his letters to the churches shows us that one of Paul's common themes was straightening out people's understanding of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is clear that we, even with two thousand years of history under our belts, still need to have that Gospel clarified for us.

For many, many years I understood the Christian life to be one defined by a lengthy list of things that I was not supposed to do. For instance, as a student I was not supposed to cheat on my work. Why? Because I'm a Christian and Christians don't do that. As a husband I am not supposed to beat my wife or commit adultery. Why? Because, I'm a Christian and Christians don't do that. In reality these are true statements and they are, indeed, things that I should not do. However, I was missing the greater point and the higher calling of the Gospel. If we look on into chapter 3 of Colossians we see Paul telling us to "set your mind on things above, not on the things that are on earth." He then goes on to give us some examples of what these things are in verses 5-9. Here is what things of the earth look like: immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, anger, wrath, malice, and so on. These things, the Bible says, we should consider ourselves dead to. So, let me ask this; what do attention do we give to dead things. My wife and I planted a few dogwood trees in our yard a couple of years ago. In surprisingly short order they died. After being completely sure that they were in fact dead I uprooted them and we used them as firewood one beautiful summer evening. Let me assure you, this is the first I've thought of them since.

The problem with seeing the Christian life as a series of rules that must be kept and a list of things not to do is this; we still are giving our attention to those things. The Bible tells us to set our minds on things above and when we are constantly concerned about not cheating, or not sinning in some other way, we are still dwelling on those things. The reason that we are admonished to set our minds on things above is because what we think about and dwell on becomes who we are and how we act. Even with the best of intentions if we are absorbed in what not to do, we are bound to trip on one of those very things we are trying so hard to avoid. This is the fatal error of legalism. If we are so engrossed in what we are not to do and what our neighbor is not to do our focus is not on God, it is on us and how well we can do.

Thankfully, and not surprisingly, the Bible does not leave us hanging on this matter. First of all, Paul gives us some examples of what setting our minds on things above looks like. In verses 12-17 he tells us that we should be focusing on things like humility, compassion, forgiveness and love. The beautiful thing is that the ultimate source and expression of these things is found in Christ alone. Furthermore, Jesus tells us in Matthew 6 that we are to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, then all of these other things will be added to us. The message is clear. If we ever hope to live the Christian life the only possible means is by setting our eyes on Him and not, what Paul calls, "self-made religion." Let me be sure that I am perfectly clear on this matter. To be sure, there are many things that we should not do as followers of Jesus Christ and the Bible speaks plainly about these things. However, the way to avoid them is not to keep our eyes on them but to keep our eyes on Christ, who "is seated at the right hand of God." This flies in the face of our earthly nature and everything that we know from human experience. In our world, if we want to avoid a hole in the ground we have to keep our eyes on it and carefully skirt around it. Not so in God's economy. In God's way to avoid the pitfalls we must take our eyes off of them and lock them on Him. Then He will guide us around them as we are focusing on His will and His ways, indeed, the things above. I see two major reasons for this:

1. This is an exhibition of our faith. The Bible tells us clearly that we walk by faith, not by sight. Hebrews 11 shows us that faith is something that God honors and is honored by.

2. If we fix our eyes on God and trust Him for our guidance and life  then there is no other recourse that to give Him the glory for our triumphs and victories. If we depend on ourselves to avoid sins and pitfalls then we have every reason to boast in ourselves. This is not God's will. According to 1 Peter 2:11-12 this also becomes part of our witness to the world. When they see us living a holy life, directed by the Almighty, then it is clear how we are doing it. Not only can't we do it ourselves, but we can't even begin to take credit for it. All the honor and glory goes to God.

The result of all of this is that we live totally abandoned to God alone. We give up on trying hard to live up to His standard, cast ourselves on Him completely and live in the true freedom that Christ came to give us. Yes, holiness is a crucial component in the Christian life, legalism is not. Legalism focuses on the things of this earth and not the things above. It has "the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body," but it is "of no value against fleshly indulgence (Col. 2:23)." So, as "holy and beloved" brethren in Christ, set your minds on things above and see Christ live through you each and every day.


Friday, March 11, 2011

Book review: The Hour That Changes the World.

Author: Dick Eastman
Subject: Prayer

This book was recommended and given to me by my pastor who was using it himself and using it as a study on Wednesday nights at our church. To be honest, I was a little skeptical when I first saw it because it looked an awful lot like a "method" for prayer. In my mind the only reasonable model for prayer was found in the Lord's Prayer and anything else smelled of "gimmickry." I could not have been more wrong. First of all, Eastman goes to great lengths to show that what he offers us is rooted firmly in the Bible in every way. What he does is offer an hours worth of prayer broken into 12, five minute segments. The reason he gives for framing it around an hour is found in Mark 14:37 when Jesus asks the disciples if they could not even keep watch for one hour. Thus, Eastman take Biblical examples and applies them to each portion of the hour. They are:

Praise and worship
Waiting on the Lord
Confession of Guilt and Sin
Praying Scripture

This gives us a well rounded model for use in our own prayer lives. He is clear to express that this is not a model for getting more out of God. In a real sense it is about getting more out of our prayer time and the goal of that should be closer communion with the Lord. You may be thinking, "An hour! I don't have an hour and even if I did I don't know if I could do it." Let me challenge you to try. You will be amazed at how quickly that hour goes by and how you are longing for more at the end of it. Furthermore, it is a flexible model. If you need to spend more than five minutes in one area or another, then go for it! You will find that over time you begin to mold this model to suit your own prayer time and it will revolutionize it. I have nothing negative to say about this book. It is by far the best book on prayer I have ever read. I strongly encourage you to give it a shot and then share it with others because you will want to. Again, this is not about getting more from God, it is about doing prayer in a Biblical way that focuses on Him and not us.

93137: The Hour That Changes the World: A Practical Plan for Personal  Prayer, 25th Anniversary Edition The Hour That Changes the World: A Practical Plan for Personal Prayer, 25th Anniversary Edition

By Dick Eastman / Baker

A classic book with a 21st century challenge. More than two million Christians around the world have revitalized their prayer lives through the step-by-step plan of prayer outlined in this book. You'll be challenged to spend one hour each day in prayer by dividing the hour into twelve five-minute "points of focus," such as praise, waiting, confession, and Scripture praying. In this special 25th anniversary edition of The Hour That Changes the World, Dick Eastman also extends an invitation for believers everywhere to help form continuous walls of prayer in their communities-saturating neighborhoods and nations with nonstop, focused intercession. Whether you join a wall of prayer or simply apply the twelve-points plan, this book will transform your prayer life.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The place of Revival

Photo courtesy of markuso
I was just reading some posts on the Charismatica blog on revival in the marketplace and they really sparked my curiosity. The point that is made is that, historically, revival has broken out in various places outside of the Church proper. That is not to say that Holy Spirit revival has come through avenues that are outside of the household of God, but that it has occurred outside the church building. My question is this; are we looking around aimlessly within when we should be fixing our gaze without? That is, do we wrongly assume that God will send a revival in a way that fits into our preconceived notion about it? What these posts from Charismatica hint at is the question, if God sent revival in the marketplace, or the home, or academia, would we embrace it? Let me continue with an example. All over the country there are powerful youth rallies and conferences that see masses of young people set on fire for the Lord. When I was a youth pastor at a United Methodist Church we took our youth to an event called "SpiritUS" that is held every year at Camp Caswell, NC. For two weekends 1000 youth and leaders invaded this camp and in turn the Holy Spirit invaded many of them. The same thing can be seen in events held by Student Life and other ministries. My question is this; when these revived youth re-enter the church is their passion embraced by the church? Perhaps it is better asked; is it carried over into the larger fellowship? Sadly, in many cases I believe the answer is, no.

It seems that when certain demographics within the Body of Christ experience revival or renewal it is restricted to that particular group. For instance, we hear of "lay revivals" or "student revivals" or "evangelical revivals." Why do these not turn into Church revivals? I believe there are at least two answers to this question:

1. First and foremost, it may be that it is God's will that these revivals only occur within certain groups for a specific purpose. I am more than willing to concede this point because God is sovereign and His plan is far better than mine. Indeed, who can fathom the ways and will of God? "Not I" said the pig. While it may seem strange or contrary to the ideas we have about God's plan, it is none the less His plan and we/I must trust in it.

2. We don't understand that we must choose to be a part of God's revival. This is one of my primary points in much of what I believe and preach about revival. God is a God of choices. Look at Deuteronomy 30:15-16, 19: , See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the Lord your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it...I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants." God put these choices before us. He puts revival out there as an option but we must choose it, we must decide that we want to take part in what God is doing in the world. His will is that there would be a vibrant Church and that people would come to know Him but He doesn't force it. That is His permissive will and it shows His love for us.

Now, it must be stated that everything that looks like revival and smells like revival is not always so. "Beggin' Strips" may look and smell like bacon but they aren't bacon. We must be careful not to jump on board with something just because it has the appearance of revival. The problem is, all to often we don't get on board with things that are genuine. We couch our choice in phony discernment. That is, we say "well I don't want to be a part of it because I'm not really sure it is real revival." That's a great place to start but when we use that excuse to hide the fact that we don't want to do the hard things that God asks of us we are deceiving ourselves. Think about the time when Gideon tested God with the fleece. He already knew what God was asking of him, he was just scared to do it. Let us not fall into the same trap.

So, the question still stands; if God sends revival somewhere outside the traditional forms will we embrace it? There is no telling where the Holy Spirit will decide to break out and we would be wise to be on the lookout for it in various places.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Leviticus 19:15 vs. The Social Gospel

When I was in seminary one of the required courses for the Master of Divinity degree was "Liberation Theology." As I have told many people, this was one of the best and most interesting classes I took in school. While I disagree with many of the doctrines that radiate from liberation theologies, it was a well instructed and hugely enlightening class.

(As a side note, the school that I attended was a historically black seminary and so it was a privilege to, not just talk about liberation theologies with a group of outsiders but to dialogue with people who are on the inside of it. In fact, our professor for this particular class studied under James Cone, the author of Black Theology. We faced racial problems head on and all sides of the issues were represented and appreciated. In many ways, in some of our classes we felt that, even in our small group, we were making further progress towards true brotherhood and Christian love.)

Let me move on. As part of this class we learned about and discussed what is known as "the Social Gospel." The grandfather of this theology was Walter Rauschenbusch, a pastor in the Hell's Kitchen area of New York City at the turn of the 20th century. This "gospel" has gained much media attention over the past year due, in large part, to statements made by Glenn Beck regarding terminology such as "social justice." The basic idea of the Social Gospel is that God shows special favor towards the poor and marginalized. Thus, it is our duty as Christians to usher in God's Kingdom on earth by taking action to bring equality among economic classes. Now, if we left it at that it would be near impossible to argue with. There is no doubt in my mind that we have a responsibility to meet the needs of the "have nots." You cannot read the Bible and come to any other conclusion. However, it goes much further in its implications. For starters, Rauschenbusch, and others, believe that to change people's hearts and ideology you must first change the system. Therefore, the reasonable solution is a form of socialism where institutions, such as government, force equality. The natural outcome of this is prejudice against those who have in favor of those who have not. Enter Leviticus 19:15.

This verse, found in the Law, states, "You must not act unjustly when rendering judgement. Do not be partial to the poor or give preference to the rich; judge your neighbor fairly (HCSB)." While the Bible is clear that we should do everything in our power to look out for the poor this verse indicated that it is not to be done at the expense of justice towards anyone. My issue with the Social Gospel is that it turns the wealthy into the enemy rather than the source of aide to the needy. Rather than preach a Gospel that changes hearts and minds so that those with resources freely give out of obedience to God, they are demonized and forced to give. 2 Corinthians 9:7 says, "Each person should do as he has decided in his heart-not out of regret or necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver." In light of these verses I see the Social Gospel doing a few different things:

1. It takes the job of conviction out of God's hands and places it in man's. This should be enough to give us pause. The bottom line is that the Social Gospel is saying, "We don't trust God to work in people's hearts to move them to give to the needy so we must do it." Where is the trust and faith?
2. It creates dissent and strife among people. As I said before, the people with the resources become the enemy rather than a partner and source of relief.
3. It removes the joy from giving and potentially eliminates the possibility of the wealthy receiving a blessing from their giving. Nearly anyone that you talk to will say that if they have the ability, they love to give. I have had the pleasure of serving at a soup kitchen a few times over the past few months and it really is a blessing because I get to do out of love for my neighbor and love for God. When I was in the military we occasionally had to do KP (work in the mess hall). It was atrocious! I didn't want to do, I was compelled to do it and not by God but by the commander.

Overall, I believe that my biggest issue with the Social Gospel is that it solves one injustice by creating a new one. Yes, God cares for the poor and downtrodden but, spiritually, He makes no distinction and one injustice is not better than another in His eyes. Unlike the Social Gospel I believe the way to see real and lasting justice in our world is to see God change people's hearts. The system is driven by ideology it does not drive it. Just as culture does not create morals, it is created by morals and they exist apart from systems and culture. A person does not become a Christian just because they live in a Christian community, it is the state of their heart that makes them one. So justice and equality can only come by the effect that God and Christ have on a person's heart. I read, just last night, that holiness is not something that "rubs off on others." That is, when the Israelites were given the Law the unclean things that the priests touched did not become clean, the priest became unclean. If we look at Leviticus 20-21 we see repeatedly that God says, "For I am the Lord who sets them apart." The same thing applies to our world today, if we want equality and justice it is going to be something that God does, not man. However, we do have a role to play and it is surrendering to God and acting as the salt and light of the world.

Furthermore, because we as humans usher in God's Kingdom by creating equality it becomes something that we do rather than God. This begins to hint at works righteousness. It is as if God has done all that He is going to do and the rest is up to us. Jesus, then, only set an example for us and nothing more. What effect did the cross have? Did it do nothing other than offer us a model of  perfect servant leadership? The message of the entire Bible is that humanity has been helpless to do anything on our own outside of God's grace and power. Yet, suddenly because of our advances in theology we have it all figured out and can say to God, "alright, we've got it from here." History has shown that all of our attempts as justice apart from God have failed miserably. Why? Because they have not addressed the root problem which is sin. Only Christ has addressed that issue in a way that will work and it is a way that insures that God gets the glory, not us. If we can, in some way, bring about God's Kingdom on earth then we would have everything to boast about. How can this possibly be the plan? In the end, if we think we are doing something that is God's will and the result would be room for us to boast, it is dead wrong.

I will leave you with this. Justice is not the enemy, no matter what pundits say. It is something that God deeply desires to see in our world. However, it must come through the transformation of people's hearts, minds and lives, not through additional programs and legislation. Can you transform someone's heart, mind or life? Of course not. Only God can do that. Finally, we must be extra careful in our theology so that we don't find ourselves solving one injustice with another one. "Judge you neighbor fairly."


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Technicolor Dreamcoat starts debate in OT class.

Last night in our Old Testament survey class we watched a clip from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, the classic Andrew Lloyd Weber musical that chronicles, in Broadway fashion, the life of Joseph in the book of Genesis. The reason that I showed this was to critique it as a form of "storying" the Bible. The unforeseen result was a great discussion on the pros and cons of using culture to present the Gospel message. Now, if you are unfamiliar with this show I would encourage you to search for it on Google or Youtube and take a look at it. As I've told many people, the result of having listened to its soundtrack as a child was that I knew the story of Joseph better than just about any other story in the Bible. This, of course, could not be a bad thing. However, as I just mentioned the discussion that followed in class was rather enlightening and I think brought up some very timely points.

The main question that seemed to keep resurfacing was this; how far is too far when it comes to what we are willing to do in order to present the message of God? The verse that is often trotted out regarding this subject is 1 Corinthians 9:22 where Paul says, "To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some." The idea here is that Paul did whatever it took to relate to people so that he could share the Gospel with them. Unfortunately I see this verse being abused rather frequently as people use it as an excuse to do things they know are contrary to the will of God. Somewhere a line must be drawn between what we will  do to reach people and what will ultimately compromise the message of Christ. Should we become prostitutes in order to reach them? Should we get involved in the drug culture in order to reach those bound by its chains? The ultimate plumb-line is, of course, Christ. He became a human in order to save us. In that capacity He did all the things normal humans do and He was not afraid to associate with the marginalized and outcasts. However, was there ever a point when Christ compromised the will of God in order to save us? The answer is a resounding NO! His entire mission and goal in His earthly life was to do the will of the Father.

Now let me move back to the subject at hand. One of the hottest topics in Christian circles is the use of contemporary music and alternative worship practices. It seems that everyone has an opinion regarding these things and the subject can bring out all kinds of un-Christlike attitudes among otherwise well adjusted believers. I can say with a degree of certainty that churches have been split and pastors have been removed over this very issue. So what, then, is the big deal? I think I could summarize it this way. On the one hand there are those who staunchly support traditional forms of worship and music. They believe that the trend towards contemporary music and worship is a capitulation to a culture that is ultimately bankrupt and favors entertainment value over and above the truth. On the other hand you have a group who believes that using contemporary music and worship is a way to attract a demographic that has no interest in church or the things of God. Thus, they use those "means" to "save some." Sadly, I think taste comes into play on both ends of the spectrum and this is where we must be most careful. If we are against something simply because we don't like it or because it goes against our taste grain we are treading on roads that resemble the scribes and Pharisees of old.

The test of anything or any means that we use to present the Gospel must be its faithfulness to the truth as revealed in God's Word. If a song, or drama, or whatever clearly presents the truth of God and His message then it should be embraced and that is said to all parties. If a contemporary song speaks the truth plainly and without shame it should be welcomed. Likewise, the traditional hymns and forms of worship should be cherished by those who prefer contemporary music because of the deep spiritual truths contained in them. The fact of the matter is this, there was a time when "How Great Thou Art" was a contemporary song. There were times when any music in the church was anathema unless it was a Psalm. Music, worship, evangelism and preaching have evolved over the centuries to give us what we have today. To be sure a church service looked far different for the disciples and early Christian that it does now and that is okay.

We are so blessed to be partakers in a Gospel that transcends time, space and culture. For 2 millennia  it has adapted to speak to people throughout this great world without changing its basic principles. I will be the first to stand by the fact that if a means compromises the truth of the Bible then it should be cast aside. The eternal destiny of people's souls hangs in the balance and we cannot afford to take a chance with that. Our goal must be to find that place where truth and culture can coexist and maximize the fruitfulness of our seed sowing. If we know the ground is hardened it is foolish for us to continue to waste seed on it without first breaking it loose.

I will close with this. In all that we do, whether it be worship, or evangelism, or discipleship we must to it with caution when we find ourselves near the line between speaking the truth and being culturally relevant. Furthermore, if we must err on one side or the other let us err on the side of truth and let God take care of the rest because if we are faithful to Him, He will be faithful to us.


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

By the will of God.

In my own personal Bible study I've been reading the book of Colossians. The way I'm doing this is the method suggested by John MacArthur in his book How To Study the Bible which is taking a book of the New Testament and reading it all the way through for thirty days straight. Of course, with the longer books it is recommended that you split it up into sections and read each section for thirty days. However, with Colossians it is easy enough to read it completely through each day. To say the least this has been a wonderful exercise in reading God's Word and it is amazing to see how different things stand out each time a book is read.

For instance, today as I began Colossians something jumped out at me in the very first verse. Here Paul is giving his introduction and he says this, "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother." Paul was claiming that his apostolicity was not based on his own desires of dreams or those of people close to him. It was based solely on the call of God upon his life. I would wager that if Paul had his way his life would have looked very much different than the way it turned out. If you read 2 Corinthians 11:24-28 you will find that Paul did not have a life that was easy by any means and only the most sadistic person would desire such a life if they had their choice in the matter. Yet, he endured all that hardship because he had an unmistakable call upon his life from the God of the universe. It may not have been what he dreamed about as a child in Tarsus, or what he envisioned as a career as he studied under Gamaliel but once the call was given he never turned back.

My question for you today is this: what is God's call for your life? All to often we misunderstand the idea of a call from God. Many seem to think that God only calls preachers and missionaries and pastors. This is dreadfully far from the truth. God calls all of His children to a specific purpose. Look at 1 Corinthians 1:26, "For consider your calling, brethren..." Here Paul is not writing to a group of pastors or preachers. He is writing to one of his beloved churches which would be full of people with various careers and vocations. In Ephesians 4:11 he continues on this theme and writes, "And He gave some to be apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers." None of these callings, less maybe pastor, must be carried out exclusively in the Church. God has given His people diverse gifts and placed them in diverse places in order to facilitate the increase of His kingdom. The question is; what is your calling and how, then, can you carry it out where you are right now? Now, it may be that you are not in the place that God wants you and it will require a change in your life. It certainly did for Paul and so it is not unreasonable to believe that He may move us. However, we must be absolutely certain that God hasn't placed us in a certain job or career path so He can use us there. Remember the story of Esther and how she was placed in the king's palace "for such a time as this."

Now, I must mention this. There is one call that is placed on all believer's lives from the moment that we except Christ as our Lord. This is the call of the Great Commission. None of us can opt out of sharing the Good News because we've not been called to be "an evangelist." We have all been called to go and make disciples regardless of the other specific call God gives us. One of the gravest mistakes we continue to make as a body of believers is to assume that evangelism is only for preachers or pastors or vocational evangelists. There is no distinction in God's economy when it comes to proclaiming the Gospel to the world.

So, today, I ask you this; what are you "by the will of God"? What call do you believe He has placed on your life? Is it to be a teacher, or a business person, or a mechanic, or a writer, or a parent, what is it?