Archive for October, 2010
Today I appeared on Mac’s World Live for View From the Pew with guest host Bob Monsurrate. I enjoyed our conversation about stewardship, American culture, and faith.
I’ve always been impressed with those who have the ability to incorporate the Bible into their prayers. It not only makes the prayers seem more genuine, it creates a sense of authority. I would characterize those who pray the Scriptures as ones who have walked with God for a measure of time…the kind of persons who really desire to know God’s will and do God’s will. There’s something about reflecting back to God what He has already said that makes one feel more in tune with God when praying.
So how do you go about it? It’s not that hard, but before you start experimenting with it, let me give a few suggestions to think about that may help guide your first steps. Praying the Scripture back to God should be a reflexive part of your pilgrimage, but you have to start somewhere, right?
First, I would recommend that you prioritize the word of God in your devotional time. While there are many wonderful resources available to supplement your Bible reading, there is no substitute for the Bible itself. I think its good practice to pray with your Bible open, and to pray as you read the Bible. As you read the Bible, ask God to speak to you from what you are reading. If something strikes you, consider it a signal to stop and pray.
Next, analyze what the verse is actually saying. I believe God speaks to us today through the Bible, but that affirmation is not an encouragement to run willy nilly through the Bible to find some proof text that aligns with your will. So be thoughtful about what the verse is saying and what it is saying specifically to you. Let me use a simple illustration. Philippians 4:19 says, “And my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory.” What does it say? At face value, it says that God is committed to meeting my needs and that He has the abundant resources to meet my needs. It does not say that God is committed to meeting all of my wants. Transportation is a need. A $60,000 SUV, on the other hand, may be a want. Analyzing the verse keeps you from putting words in God’s mouth.
If you believe that God is speaking to you through the verse, personalize and verbalize it. Back to our example from Philippians 4. Suppose you do have a need for transportation. You might pray something like this: “God, you are committed to meeting the needs of your people, and today you are the God who meets all of my needs according to your riches in glory…and today I bring you my need for reliable transportation.” That sounds a little better than the typical litany of demands we toss in God’s direction when we want something.
Prioritize. Analyze. Personalize. Verbalize. Why not give it a shot? The value of praying Scripture is that it will draw your heart closer to God and God will use it to align your will with his will.
This weekend I presented the third sermon from my series titled Missionaries You Should Know, focused on Saul of Tarsus, aka the Apostle Paul. What gained my attention from my study of Acts 9 was Jesus’ simple testament in verse 15: “Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as the people of Israel.”
This verse reminded me of the counsel I once received from my friend Ken Lumley. Eating pancakes at a Village Inn in Ft. Worth, Texas one night, Ken leaned across the table and said, “God calls special people to specific places for His sovereign purposes.” We were talking about church planting and the story of Abram from Genesis 12:1-2.
I thought about Ken and Abram and missions and Saul, and used that principle to share what I believe God wants to do in each of our lives. So this weekend I used Acts 9:15 to simply point out this truth: God calls and sends special people to specific places for His saving purposes.
I believe that each person is special. Not in a little league “everyone gets a trophy” kind of way, but in the sense that we are special because God has set his affection on us and we are profoundly loved by Him. In other words, we are special because we are God’s children. We don’t really bring anything to the table that completes a deficiency in God. He’s quite complete on His own without us. But because we belong to Him, special we are indeed.
We are not God’s special people in a vaccuum. We are who we are in the context of where we are. Paul was called and sent to a specific people in specific geographical locations. Part of knowing what God expects of you is to simply evaluate where you are in this world. You are in a family, a neighborhood, a school, a job and a city by God’s design. He intends for you to live your life as an expression of his tangible presence in order to share the gospel of Jesus Christ right where you are.
For the past week people who follow religious news have been buzzing about the announcement issued out of Garden Grove, California, that the Crystal Cathedral was preparing to file Chapter 11 bankruptcy to protect itself from vendors who were filing liens against the ministry founded in 1955 by Robert Schuller. Reports indicate that the church is presently carrying a debt service that ranges toward $55 million dollars. While many secular journalists have pointed to the family conflict betwixt the senior Schuller and his son as one of the sources of the church’s demise, others in Christian circles have pointed to Schuller’s generous and gracious theology as the primary factor that has weathered the ministry.
I think it’s absolutely heartbreaking anytime a church that flies under the flag of Jesus Christ experiences public shame. Whether it’s sexual misconduct by church leadership or the misappropriation of funds or even the assumption of too much debt, it impacts all of us who serve Christ in the context of a local church. While Christians may be able to clearly distinguish the differences and create adequate distance, the bottom line is that non-church seculars in many ways lump us all together as the “churched.”
Now to my point. As I read several responses and appraisals of the particular story of the Crystal Cathedral, I did not see one that addressed the fact that attractional church is on the demise. By attractional, I mean the approach to church growth that believes that the church’s primary function in the world is to get people to come to it. The church growth movement of the last century gave plenty of appreciation to leaders like Robert Schuller for his innovative methods of attracting people and building attendance. For Schuller, these methods included things like erecting a fabulous house of worship, providing incredible music, presenting celebrities to share personal testimonies, and over the top holiday celebrations. For nearly 50 years these methods attracted people to the church in droves.
I would like to suggest, in deference to those who think otherwise, that a worship band would not have changed anything. Contemporary methods of attraction are still methods of attraction.
This is why I am convinced that the missional church movement is needed today more than ever. Missional Church is not new. In fact it’s a return to the scriptural principles of sending that we see in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. The world does not exist for the sake of the church. On the contrary, the church exists for the sake of the world. In my theology, the most important work the church does in the world today happens off campus in places that are desperate for the presence of Christ. The primary role of the church seeks to serve members by preparing them for their God-given, personal mission. Evangelism happens in the community by members who are equipped, not at the conclusion of the sermon at the altar call.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be a part of a church that is nothing more than a “glass cathedral,” existing for no other purpose than to get people to routinely attend. Yet the majority of our churches in America today are stuck in that worn approach that we commonly call the Church Growth Movement. They may not have majestic music or aesthetic sanctuaries and the mortgages that come with, but week in and week out they open their doors and wait for the community to come in. These churches offer the same buffet of programs that worked in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, but wonder why the impact is less significant. They may not file for bankruptcy, but decline they will. Sooner than they think.
Here’s a nice article from CNN.com on African American preaching in America. Click here for the article.
The video highlighting all of Ashworth Road Baptist Church’s work in the 2010 Summer of Love.
I can’t tell you how proud I am of our church’s execution of this project!
I hate to be interrupted. I bet you do too. You know…
…the phone rings at dinner;
…the door bell rings during the ball game;
…someone drops by your office unannounced;
…your youngest spills milk;
…your oldest has a fender bender;
…your spouse locks his or her keys in their car;
You could probably add a dozen more ways you’ve been interrupted in just the last week alone.
Do you ever wonder if God is a part of those interruptions?
Allow me to introduce you to a man named Philip. Philip was person that God kept interrupting to do Kingdom things. Those interruptions may not have made much sense to Philip, but they did to God. And because he was “interrupt-able,” God used him to make a mark in the world.
Philip, just like Stephen, was not an apostle. He was an average Joe in the church who had come to faith in Christ in the ground swell of response following Pentecost. You might say that Philip is believer 2.0. I think it would have been exciting to have participated in the awesome work of God in the days following Pentecost. But Philip, like many others, found his world interrupted by the persecution that flared following the martyrdom of Stephen.
What can Philip teach us about interruptions?
1. Life’s interruptions may be God’s opportunities. Acts 8:1-2 says that when persecution hit the church, the people scattered from Jerusalem into Judea and Samaria. Who wouldn’t rather have stayed home? Or stayed together? What appeared on the surface to be a very bad thing (persecution), actually turned out to be a very good thing because the gospel became decentralized.
2. Spiritual leaders make the most out of interruptions. Acts 8:4 tells us that the believers who scattered proclaimed the gospel as they went. How Kingdom minded is that?! I like Luke’s word play at this point: they scattered the gospel as they scattered out of town!
3. God will interrupt us from good things for better things. The next report we get concerning Philip is that God interrupted his travel plans and told him to take an exit and focus on one particular town. There, Philip preached, cast out demons, and was used by God to perform some incredible miracles of healing. In the end, God gave Philip that city for Christ, and filled it with joy! It wasn’t that Philip had been doing bad things. God just had something better for him.
4. God’s interruptions don’t always make sense. The next scene provides us with the most recognizable story about Philip: his conversation with the Ethiopian eunuch. Think about this one. Philip is impacting multitudes, and God interrupted him to leave the multitude to go to the desert road to talk to one person. That’s right, one. That doesn’t make sense to us, does it? But it did to God. Legend has it that the eunuch became the first to take the gospel to the continent of Africa. We need to be very careful about how we assess God’s interruptions. His interruptions may not make sense to us. But like Philip, we need to be responsive nonetheless.
5. As long as you are open to God, he will continue to interrupt your life. I like how the chapter ends. Philip is snatched from the baptismal waters and parachute dropped into another region where he continues to share the gospel. His life is one big interruption after another, all the way to Cesarea.
How long has it been since you have sensed that God is playing a part in the interruptions of your life? Are you “interrupt-able?” Or do you wear a big DO NOT DISTURB sign across your heart? What would happen if you began to interpret the interruptions of life as the interruptions of God?
Let me encourage you this week to look for signs of the divine. Look for the providence of God to lead you from where you plan to be to where you need to be. It may surprise you what God has in store for you!
During the month of October I’m doing a series titled, Missionaries You Should Know. Last weekend I opened to Acts 6-7 and taught about an interesting character named Stephen. I like him, enough in fact, to have given his name to my son. A lot of things are obvious about Stephen. As a man of good reputation and full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom (Acts 6:3), he was selected to serve the widows who were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. He was confrontational. If you read his sermon in Acts 7, he doesn’t pull any punches as he preaches the gospel (Acts 7:51-53). Most notably, Stephen was the first martyr of the Christian church (Acts 7:54-60). I don’t suppose his confrontational style had anything to do with that.
I am intrigued by an obscure verse about his face. Acts 6:15 says, “At this point everyone in the high council stared at Stephen, because his face became as bright as an angel’s.”
Hmmm. I imagine Stephen to be a guy like me…middle aged…family and kids…job…mortgage…and I’m not stretching the truth one bit to say that no one (especially an enemy) has expressed that I have the face of an angel! So what’s this about?
I got to thinking about some verses like Matthew 18:10, where Jesus said that we should always take care in how we deal with children because “their angels are always in the presence of (the) heavenly Father.”
Then I thought about Moses in Exodus 34. He came down the mountain after being in the presence of God for 40 days and nights with a face so radiant that the people became filled with fear.
And then I thought about Jesus and his transfiguration in Matthew 17:1-2. The Bible reports that Jesus appearance was altered and he became radiant.
I think those clues help us to understand something about Stephen. Though he wasn’t an apostle, he did know how to live in the presence of God. When you spend time in the presence of God, you not only reflect God’s countenance, you also reflect his heart and his passion. No wonder Stephen stepped up and preached the gospel with such clarity and passion. He was simply reflecting the heart of the One he has spent time with.
My mother always said that I needed to choose my friends carefully because I would be influenced by them to become like them. It was good advice that Lisa and I have passed down to our own kids. When you spend time with God, it’ll show. You’ll reflect his values and mimic his interests. Our God is a missionary God, and if you spend time in his presence, you’ll become a missionary, too.
For all the talk I hear about the important role that patience plays in the Christian life, I’m surprised by how little the Bible actually has to say about the subject. As I mentioned in an earlier post, patience in the New Testament concerns our appropriate response to difficult people, while endurance concerns how we are to approach difficult problems.
If you read each of the Bible references on the word “patience” or the word “patient,” you’ll find a good measure of them refer to God’s patience with people like you and me. Solomon has a little to say about the topic, connecting patience with virtues such as strength of spirit and wisdom. But we have to look to James 5 for any kind of substantial treatment of this particular Fruit of the Spirit.
Here are some summary observations about patience from Jesus’ half brother:
1. Difficult people will be in our lives as long as we are alive. “Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return…” (James 5:7, NLT) Yes, we are to patiently wait for the return of Christ, but we need to remember that God’s waiting room is usually crowded with others, many of whom have challenges that infringe on our comfort levels.
2. Sometimes patience is required simply because God is trying to do some heart work in a person’s life that isn’t quite complete. “Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen. You, too, must be patient” (James 5:7, NLT). Like fruit that ripens over time, we cannot rush the work of God in a person’s life.
3. Patience builds strong character. “Take courage, for the coming of the Lord is near” (James 5:8, NLT). There is an old saying that goes something like this: Give a child everything he wants and a pig everything he wants and you’ll have a very fine pig and a very poor child. We don’t want patience. When we do, we want it now! But exercising patience doesn’t hurt us. Rather it builds us. Think of it as eating your vegetables.
4. Complaining about problem people only makes things worse. “Don’t grumble about each other, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. For look—the Judge is standing at the door!” (James 5:9, NLT) When you criticize and complain about “problem people” to others you risk the danger of making the problem bigger than it is and give it a life of its own. Keep the circle small.
5. Others have exercised patience successfully. If others have done it and are doing it, so can you. “For examples of patience in suffering, dear brothers and sisters, look at the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord” (James 5:10, NLT)
6. Patience produces the blessing of God. God is compassionate and merciful and will reward your patience. “We give great honor to those who endure under suffering. For instance, you know about Job, a man of great endurance. You can see how the Lord was kind to him at the end, for the Lord is full of tenderness and mercy” (James 5:11, NLT)
I hope these simple observations will encourage you today as you deal with difficult people. I know the temptation is great to “fix” those challenging people, but keep in mind that God may be using those difficult people to knock a rough edge or two off of your character!