“Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.” - Jonathan Edwards -

Monday, July 27, 2009

Friends

I realize that I have posted on some of these topics before, but as I have changed and grown (hopefully), I wanted to repost some thoughts. So, as you may remember, my first question on the last post was:

How many friends do you have to lose while attempting to do the right thing?

Answer - I have no idea -- but I do know that this can be debilitating for a small-church plant/pastor.

Many people go into church-planting with a pastor/friend that they know and trust. Sadly, all too often, the idea of starting a church, or planting one, is romanticized by all involved. Their motivation might be that they will finally have a church in which they can contribute at a level they desire. Or, it may be that they came out of a broken church and finally have a chance to 'do it right'.

There may be many motivating factors, but what I have found to be true in most cases is that the people are not united in their desire to plant a church for God's glory. And when a pastor and the people around him are not united in that goal - the fallout is usually numbered in friendships.

In our case, none of us really knew what we were doing -- we truly wanted to do the right thing, but because so much of our initial impetus was emotion, the right thing was not the SAME thing in everyone's mind.

Therefore, as the church became more 'traditional' in it's perspective, many people left or had a change of heart, usually taken out on the pastor, because the church was no longer unique, or to use a more realistic, but baser word, the church had ceased to be 'fun' for those involved.

Now, to be fair -- as the pastor, I too struggled with the exact same emotions, and it truly was not until I REALLY read the Bible and spent time in prayer with fellow elders, and sat at the feet (figuratively) of many great teachers that I even had an inkling of what the church is really all about.

I was eaten up with making the church in my image, just as much as the others were bent on making it in their image -- no one was innocent on this. But, what finally prevailed was the overriding desire to honor and glorify God, and lift Christ up so that all men would be drawn to Him -- and that was a consensus that the church came to together.

I have lost a lot less friends in recent years, and I would encourage the small-church pastor to really plan and think about his church BEFORE planting, or even taking an existing one on. Ensure that you understand the purpose of the church, and the perspective of the congregation. Do not over commit on anything until you have a clear and detailed idea of what the church needs to do to get to the place of a God-honoring institution.

The church is a place where God's people come together to worship and honor their Lord, and a place where the visitor and/or lost will hear a clear and consistent proclamation of the wonderful, soul-freeing gospel weekly. The messages will be Christ-centered and not man-centered, the families will be drawn together to worship, not split into thousands of shards that have nothing to do with one another, and the music will be God-honoring, and Christ-centered -- not man-honoring and worldly-centered.

Surround yourself with people who understand what the church exists for, and weed out those who are looking to make a name for themselves. Find team-players who want to succeed to God's glory, and do not become a despot in your pastorate, but give those who have been gifted, a place in real ministry.

These are but a few common-sense ideas, nothing unique here -- but let me encourage small-church pastors who are ready to throw in the towel. If you will work at building a God-honoring church, and find others who want to work at that as well, you will lose fewer friends than I did..

May God bless your work!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Why do Small-Church Pastors Quit?

As a note before I post this I want to answer a few questions:

1. No, I am not considering quitting.

2. No, I do not have any particular person or incident in my mind -- I just have recently heard some comments that stuck in my craw and I wanted to get my thoughts out...

With the above comments firmly in mind let us now go on to our post:

====================================================


I hear a lot of people talking about pastors who quit the ministry. Some say that they burn-out because of an unbiblical method of church planting; if one was 'truly' trusting the Lord, then the strength of the Lord would carry them through.

While this comment can be true, all too often it comes from a layperson or someone with a nice staff and an assistant, who have no idea how mind-numbing and physically draining small-church ministry can be. These folks seem to insinuate that those who face bone-weary burn-out are somehow trying to do things 'their way'.

A small confession here -- I used to buy that; but then I planted a church...

Here are some of the questions that are not well-understood by those outside of small-church ministry.

* How many friends do you have to lose while attempting to do the right thing?

* How many key persons leave to attend a church that has more 'functions' for their family.

* How does one build a church when resources leave for already established places?

* How does one support their family on a pittance of what everyone else in the church (usually those telling you to 'have faith', or 'trust in the lord') make in their vocation?

* How does one cover all the needs in the church when there is no full-time staff, only a volunteer staff, that is usually at their breaking point as well?

* How do you stay true to Biblical truths when the church down the street grew from 5 - 5000 in the same timeframe by giving away a car and flat-screen TVs?

* Also, if you are non-denominational, who supports you? There is no denominational support group built in.


These are but a few thoughts -- but I want to ponder them and in my next post put down some ways that we have managed, within our small church, to combat the above contributors to 'burn-out.

We certainly do not have all, or even most, of the answers. But, I would hope that this post and the next one might encourage someone who needs it.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Hope Part II

In the previous posts, I have covered a lot of ground as regards God's providence, and the subject of death and dying. I now would like to close out this series by finally looking at the great hope that Christians have - ‘Our Eschatological Hope’.

Three things I would like to cover in this post:

o What is the physical resurrection?
o What is heaven?
o How does the Reality of our Hope manifest itself in our life now?


As I said last post, we simply cannot understand eternal life, death, dying or suffering without having a Biblical understanding of these terms. So, we have looked at providence, we have looked at suffering, we have looked at death and now we look at the final state of man.

So, let us start by looking at two passages of Scripture that will set the tone for the rest of the post.

Romans 8:18 – 25 -- For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

1st Corinthians 15:50 – 58 -- I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.


PHYSICAL RESURRECTION

What is the final state of the believer and unbeliever. I am not discussing the spiritual state exclusively, but also the physical state. Well, we see in these passages, and in many others, that there will be a physical resurrection. When people think of heaven and the eternal state, they have a tendency to think of chubby little Hallmark angels and clouds as opposed to the Biblical concept of heaven being a place inhabited by people with bodies; physical bodies.

Paul clearly and unambiguously states that we will be raised into glorified bodies, not dwelling for eternity in some sort of ethereal, gauzy existence. And we will dwell on a New Earth and in a New Heaven, in our glorified bodies, serving, worshiping and dwelling in the presence of our God forever.

When a believer dies, they are taken into the presence of the Lord in a spiritual state – as Jesus told the thief on the cross -- "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." And we also find this in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus – Lazarus is carried away in the bosom of Abraham to heaven. So, when we initially depart from this plane of existence, we will be in heaven, but we will not be complete; the culmination of our resurrection will happen when the Lord returns, and soul and body are reunited in a glorified and perfected state.

1st Thessalonians 4:15 – 17 -- For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.

Even those who are alive when Jesus Christ returns will die in a sense, as their mortal bodies put on immortality, and their perishable dirt sacks are replaced with imperishable perfected bodies. So, yes, Virginia, there is a physical resurrection – and those who have departed first, those dead in Christ are raised first, and then those remaining will be translated into immortality.

The unbeliever will also be raised, but tragically, it will not be to bodies that have been glorified and perfected and in the presence of God forever, but to bodies that are bound for hell and pain. The unbeliever will be cast into the Lake of Fire with Satan and His minions, and there their worm will never die. They will forever be plagued with suffering – a suffering that is caused by being unprotected from God’s Wrath by the only mediator that is accepted, Jesus Christ.

WHAT IS HEAVEN?

So now we know that there will be a physical resurrection, but where will we be dwelling in our perfected bodies? Well, we will be dwelling in the New Heavens and the New Earth. And while there is a difference of opinion in how this new creation will take place, whether or not God will actually do away with the old creation completely, or simply restore and regenerate the old I will leave up to a discussion at a later date.

In the Revelation, as John was given the vision of the New Heaven and the New Earth, his descriptions were marked with the presence of jewels and crystal clear gold, and precious stones. It is obvious that John was trying to find words that would describe the beauty of heaven. What we do know is that it will be beyond anything that we can dream of, or imagine in this life.

"OK, so it is beautiful; but what and where is it?" Well, I think Wayne Grudem says it well “Heaven is the place where God most fully makes known His presence to bless.” We know that God is omnipresent – He is everywhere at all times in a way that we cannot understand, but He has always had places where He especially manifested His presence – in Israel it was the Tabernacle for example. So, Heaven will be the locus (if I may use that word) of His presence.

Will we recognize loved ones when we enter into this blessed place? Well, all I will tell you is this – Peter and the disciples recognized Moses and Elijah when they spoke with Jesus, and the disciples recognized Jesus Himself after His resurrection. What does that tell you?

HOW DOES THIS MANIFEST ITSELF NOW?

So, we have taken a brief look at heaven, the resurrection from the dead, and now we must ask ourselves, how should this knowledge impact our life in the here and now? Is there any impact in our lives? Well, let me put forth a few ideas quickly for you.

Colossians 3:1 – 4 -- If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

If you have been raised with Christ – if you are truly one of God’s children, what should you set your mind on? It is a sad truth that we Christians are as worldly and materialistic as the basest of pagans. We strive for, get consumed with, and suffer from, the same desires as the world. We do not set our minds on the things that are above. Yet, if we truly understand and believe the truth about our eschatological hope, should we not be a people who have their gaze fixed on the things above? What goes into your mind, what do you watch on TV, what do you desire above all other things?

Philippians 3:20, 21 -- But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

Are you anxiously awaiting our Lord and Savior, do you live as though He could return at any time? Do you recognize that your citizenship is in heaven, above and beyond the earthly ties of citizenship – can you identify with the body of Christ around the world, or are you a person who is xenophobic and hateful towards those outside the pale of your earthly citizenship? We who are in Christ are all citizens of the same place!

Matthew 6:19 – 21 -- “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Like the Colossians passage, this one stresses that we are not to store up things on this earth, but store up our treasures in heaven. Do you do that? Are you storing up your treasures in heaven – are you living in and for Jesus Christ, or are you abusive and self-centered, grabbing all the gusto in this life, to the detriment of your family; are you willing to get that promotion at work through the denigration of someone else; are you socking away all of your grain in the barn, to the neglect of God?

He speaks of a man like that in Luke 12:16 – 21 -- And he told them a parable, saying, The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops? And he said, I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry. But God said to him, Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be? So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.

Brothers and sisters, the siren song of worldly goods and desires beckons to us constantly and tirelessly, and it is hard to ignore that call. Let us keep our mind fixed on the things above, anxiously awaiting the glorious return of our Savior, praying that the Holy Spirit would strengthen and guide us through the rocks and shoals of this world’s treacherous and deceptive waters. And may we all say, Maranatha – Come Lord, Jesus!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The Hope

In the past six or so posts we have examined God’s providence in detail, going from a basic definition of His providence to the providential care that He shows, even in the death of His saints. These posts have been difficult for me, as many in our church are going through hard times.

A providential God simply does not compute to those weaned on the American god who is, more or less, simply there for the good times – a god who promises nice cars, big homes, and a lack of suffering – the god of many in our modern world.

But the god advertised by many churches is simply not the God of the Bible – the God who sent His children into exile for their promiscuous love affair with idols; the God who did not allow Moses into the Promised Land because of disobedience; the God who allowed Job to be sifted, yet never snatched out of His hand; the God who has called many to suffer for His name over millennia.

This God is one that many who call themselves Christians would not recognize. Sadly we have become enamored with the comfortable god, the one who would never allow his children to suffer. But, the comfortable god is not the God of the Bible – the God in the Bible is mighty and frightening, He is in control of all things, and He is inscrutable in His ways ofttimes.

So, as I approach the final posts in this series, I wanted to quickly review the last few posts.

In my initial post on this subject, I ruminated on the fact that death, as is defined by most all of us, is an event in time. It is something that happens at a point in time, and can be delineated by a clock. What is one of the basic questions that always gets asked by the lead character in a police drama? What is the “time of death”.

All of us have this view of death, not just the lost – few people live in the mindset of eternity – that death is not an event, but a state in which all men find themselves as they march through life.

However, Paul had this mindset – we find him speaking of all being dead in their trespasses and sins before being made alive in Christ. [Ephesians 2 & Colossians 2]

I proposed a working definition of death a few posts ago. Here it is again - " Death is the state that we find ourselves in due to Adam’s sin. While physical death may occur at some specific date and time, we have all been born into, and live in a body of death until, in Christ, we are redeemed into eternal life."

This definition will really help us as we walk through this world. If we could but keep our minds fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, then we would spend much less time worrying about the many issues and problems that confront us in this life, and much more time in the Word, in treating one another as we should, and in living fearlessly for Christ. We all face the danger, in our fallen nature, of becoming far more consumed with us and far less consumed with Christ.

Most relationship issues that I deal with are overwhelmingly centered around pride, and striving in this world. In marriage for example, men are to serve their families self-sacrificially, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, and women are called to serve under their husbands, yet we all struggle with the pervasive nature of pride and sin.

So, marriages in today’s world end up (up to 50% in the church!) in divorce, because the parties will not die to self, and live in Christ. People do not have a proper understanding of death – they strive under the delusion that our world has served up, loaded with sugar and additives, that our existence on this planet involves us being happy and getting the most stuff while we have the chance, rather than us being dead to self and living for Christ – Paul says in 2nd Corinthians 2:15, 16 that we are ...the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.

And yet, we have so bought into the world’s ideas that we jettison our role as salt and light, and an aroma of Christ, and climb aboard the desire train – living lives of blissful, or desperate, materialism.

As Christians, if we could but grasp the reality that we are dead, and that it is Christ who lives in us, the church would be a vastly different place. Marriages would be healed, broken friendships would be reconciled, and pastors would not be striving for bigger, better, and more more, more. Oh, the message that the church could send to a world not only consumed with, but in slavery to, materialism! It is sad when the world looks into the church and finds not only the same disease that affects them, but the haughtiness and pride of a people who believe that they somehow deserve the better ‘things’ in life.

If we would simply get a handle around the fact that we are not our own, but bought with a price, a price that included our death and rebirth through the power of the Holy Spirit, maybe we would once again be true salt and light to this sad, self-centered and dying world!

Rather than run on in this post, let's leave this here, and pick it up in the next post which will begin to discuss our eschatological hope - a hope that reaches beyond the grave into eternity itself.