Archive for January, 2011

18
Jan
11

Stay on the Road!

2011 has begun with some challenging tests for my wife and me.  Ironically, these tests have come in the midst of a time of corporate fasting and prayer with our beloved Lifepoint Church.  Yesterday, I seemed to hit the “worry wall.”  As I was driving down Market Street in Wilmington I began to cry out to God with everything I had on my heart, and I said, “Lord, you have to be very clear with me.  I need to hear from You and I need to hear it in such a way that I cannot misunderstand or miss it.”  Well, if you pray this kind of prayer, it may not be a good idea to be behind the wheel at the time, because it came so immediately and impactfully that I had to pull off into the parking lot of a store along the way.  Here is what I received.

My memory was taken to a time almost 16 years ago when I was on a short term mission trip to Kenya, Africa.  Our group had completed our mission and visiting the Masai Mara Game Reserve.  Our tour van had broken down on a dirt road and we were waiting for help to arrive.  I had walked into the bush to use the bathroom in private, when I looked down and saw a very large paw print in the dirt near my feet.  I quickly retreated to the van and when I got there a park ranger had arrived.  I asked him about the paw print and he responded, “Oh yes!  There are very large lions in this district.  Please stay on the road and near the van, and if it grows dark before your repairs, stay inside the vehicle.”  I wondered why the Lord might have brought this image so quickly and vividly to my memory and how it might relate to my current circumstances.

That’s when the Holy Spirit brought certain Scriptures to my mind.  Last week I had read the following,

Strengthen the feeble hands,
   steady the knees that give way;
say to those with fearful hearts,
   “Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
   he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
   he will come to save you.” -Isaiah 35:3-4

I heard the Lord clearly saying to me, “This is what I have called and set you apart to do.  You do it and leave the rest to me.”  Okay, that’s great, but I still had the feeling that there was still more.  So, when I got home, I quickly found my Bible and went to the 35th chapter of Isaiah and began to read it in it’s entirety expecting more.  More is what I got!  My eyes filled with tears as I read…

  And a highway will be there;
   it will be called the Way of Holiness;
   it will be for those who walk on that Way.
The unclean will not journey on it;
   wicked fools will not go about on it.
No lion will be there, [emphasis added]
   nor any ravenous beast;
   they will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there, 
  and those the LORD has rescued will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
   everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
   and sorrow and sighing will flee away.  -Isaiah 35:8-10

The road in Kenya!  “Stay on the road and near the van!”  How much more clearly could the Lord have spoken?!  “You stay on the ‘highway’ I have set you on.  You continue to walk in the ‘Way of Holiness’ and I will take care of any ‘lions’ along the way.” 

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.  Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” -1 Peter 5:7-9

06
Jan
11

Attracting Followers

But the multitudes saw them departing, and many knew Him and ran there on foot from all the cities. They arrived before them and came together to Him.  And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd. So He began to teach them many things. – Mark 6:33-34 (NKJV)

Megachurch… Purpose Driven… Seeker Friendly… Missional… Emergent… Relevant… Contemporary… Reformational…  Pick any phrase regarding the modern western church and you will find a correlating method and strategy of doing church growth.  Browse through the shelves of any local Christian bookstore and one will quickly find scores of authors peddling their concepts and recommendations for attracting membership and adding to church roles.  Some of the hottest selling books on the market for pastors and ministers are of the leadership genre.  The world-wide web provides, in the blink of an eye or a quick Google, a vast multitude of blogs and websites designed to enable church leaders to increase their numbers and “grow” the church they serve.

Please don’t assume that I am being negative or that I am opposed to these things.  There has perhaps never been a time when church leaders have had such immediate access to help and counsel and educational resources enabling them to be successful in the work to which they have been called.  There is no way I would want or try to place a negative on that!  No!  I have availed myself of a large number of books and resources designed to increase my own ability to lead and to minister, and they have proven excellent and effective.  Having said that, I am recently discovering (actually rediscovering) that for all of the methods, strategies, resources and ideas presented in this modern age, none of them can effectively replace or improve upon those found in The Bible or the example of Jesus’ earthly ministry.

At the pinnacle of Jesus’ brief ministry up to His crucifixion, the repeating description of the crowds surrounding him is the word, “multitudes.”  Often that word is further defined by multiple thousands.  Additionally, we are also told that many of these people were coming from many miles away during a time when automobiles, well-paved roads, and other convenient means of transportation were non-existant.  In fact, the demand for ministering to these throngs of followers was laborious, often exacting a wearying toll on Jesus and His core group of disciples.  Jesus, long before Willow Creek or Saddleback or any other well-known modern model was doing MEGACHURCH!  But, if we are to follow His model, we would do well to at least attempt to understand why and how (apart from the fact that He was the Son of God) He was so successful in attracting such masses of followers.

Forgive me for cutting to the chase, but I believe that a hint of why so many people were being drawn to Jesus’ ministry can be found in one phrase in Mark 6:34.  It says that when Jesus “saw” how many people were coming out from surrounding towns, villages and communities to where He was, that He was “moved with compassion for them.”  Now, I could go into the original Greek meaning of this phrase and discuss all of the theological and ecclesiological intricacies, but may I state simply that Jesus looked at them and He cared.  He didn’t see just faces and numbers.  He saw what they brought with them.  They brought situations and circumstances of suffering, disease, abuse, oppression, loneliness, hunger, betrayal, poverty, fear, despairand most of all spiritual emptiness.  Jesus saw this and He cared.  He cared enough to do something about it!

Did any of these people come out of curiosity because they had heard about Jesus and because of His growing reputation as a powerful miracle worker?  For sure!  Did any of them come, thinking that this might just be the One who could stir up enough revolutionary spirit among the people to overthrow the ruling Roman government as the political and military Messiah they had been told to expect?  Probably, but they had seen many such potential leaders in their history.  No, the primary reason that the people flocked to Jesus was that they had desperate needs in their lives and they heard that this man was miraculously fulfilling such needs.  His reputation as a miracle worker was authentic for sure, but it only takes a short accounting of all of His miracles to discover that not one of them was performed for show or to impress for the sake of attraction.  All of Jesus’ miracles were  intended to benefit and meet the needs of those He was sent to minister to.  And let it be noted that that ministry was supremely sacrificial to the very end.  This was not missed by those hearing of Jesus’ reputation and thus…they came!

It has been rightly stated that “People don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care.”  People may be attracted to our churches because they have heard about our great music, or that the preacher is a powerful speaker or that our core doctrine and theology is sound, or that our small groups and discipleship programs are second to none.  They may come because their own church is boring and they have heard that ours is exciting and vibrant and new.  Most importantly, and hopefully, people will be being attracted to our churches from a void in their spirits that tells them of their deeper need for a Savior.  They may come and they may come initially because of our well executed church growth strategy, but for certain if they do and they sense that we do not care about and for them and their needs in the model and manner of Jesus…. they will not stay.

The best way to attract followers?  Be “moved with compassion” for them, do something about it, and they will come in “multitudes.”

04
Jan
11

“What…me worry?”

Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? – Matthew 6:27 (NLT)

This is your brain!

This is your brain on worry!

04
Jan
11

When is “sorry” not enough?

“But what do you think about this? A man with two sons told the older boy, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’  The son answered, ‘No, I won’t go,’ but later he changed his mind and went anyway.  Then the father told the other son, ‘You go,’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir, I will.’ But he didn’t go.

 Which of the two obeyed his father?”

   They replied, “The first.”

   Then Jesus explained his meaning: “I tell you the truth, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do.  For John the Baptist came and showed you the right way to live, but you didn’t believe him, while tax collectors and prostitutes did. And even when you saw this happening, you refused to believe him and repent of your sins.” – Matthew 21:28-32 (NLT)

Last week, my wife ran across a quote and posted it on her Facebook page.  I was so struck by it that I, in turn, posted it to my page.  It says, “When you forgive someone you release that person from judgment, but without true change, a relationship of trust is not possible.”  For me this says,  in order to be trusted, one must act in a trustworthy manner.  As followers of Christ, we should know that our willingess to forgive a wrong is tied up with the fact that we ourselves have been willingly forgiven by a perfectly Holy God.  We recieve that forgiveness after we have believed what the Holy Spirit says about our guilt, and our response is one of genuine repentance.  In other words, God says I’m not right and that there is no one who is right, and the only way to be right is to accept His forgiveness and recieve Christ’s righteousness (Romans 3:10).

Repentance is an old fashioned word that we don’t often hear in church anymore.  It sounds “churchy.”  It sounds strict.  It sounds too hard.  Consequently, I believe it may be possible that too many may be like the second son in Jesus’ parable of the two sons in Matthew 21.  Many say they are sorry, but they really don’t believe that they are “all that bad.”  They want salvation and the “abundant life” but many are unwilling to admit their wrongs and let Jesus pay their price of admittance.  The consequence may be that they will someday hear the Lord say to them, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”  And who will they be able to blame at that time but themselves?

If people will try to “run the game” on God Himself in this manner, what makes us think they will not also do the same thing to their fellow humans?  How many will say they are sorry just for expediance sake?  Yes, if they ask us for forgiveness we MUST forgive.  Yes, if they say they are sorry, we would be wrong to reject it out of hand.  But…our willingness to forgive…our willingness to believe the best about a person should not make us vehicles for their continued misbehavior and destructive conduct.  There comes a time, when it is entirely appropriate to say, “Yes, I forgive you,” but then allow them to show the fruits of their repentance.

Even the Lord Himself in sending out His disciples told them,  “But if a town refuses to welcome you, go out into its streets and say,  ‘We wipe even the dust of your town from our feet to show that we have abandoned you to your fate. And know this—the Kingdom of God is near!’  I assure you, even wicked Sodom will be better off than such a town on judgment day.”  In other words, there is sadly a time when we must say, “Enough is enough!  I have presented you with the truth and with a way to forgiveness and by your own actions you have rejected it.”  The time we spend trying to convince one of their wrong may be time stolen from someone else in need.  Ask the Lord to show you when it is time to “wipe off the dust” and move on!