Archive for January, 2013
In a conversation with a Pharisee who was an expert in the Law of Moses, Jesus was asked which of the commandments was the greatest. Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-40, NIV). If we were to summarize the great commands of our Lord we could simplify it by saying, “Love God and love others.” In fact, one of the best ways we can demonstrate our love for God is to love others.
1 Corinthians 13:13 affirms that love is the eternal quality that will last forever. “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13, NIV). 1 Corinthians 13 is nestled between chapters 12 and 14 where Paul gave instructions concerning how Christians are to worship and conduct ministry. Chapter 13 was not arbitrarily placed there to expound upon marriage. Marriage is not the context of 1 Corinthians 13. The context deals with how we are to relate to one another in the context of ministry. Love has several characteristic behaviors that help us know how we are to conduct our relationships. How should Christians express love to one another?
1. Love is accepting (“love is patient, kind”)
The Bible acknowledges our diversity. We are unique and quirky. We all have our points of weirdness. Love does not demand or force you to be like me. It allows room for me to be me and for you to be you!
2. Love encourages and affirms the success of others (“love does not envy”)
We should riotously celebrate one another’s wins and successes.
3. Love is humble (“love is not boastful, love is not proud”)
Love requires that we walk with deep humility, to assume responsibility for ourselves and to acknowledge our own flaws.
4. Love serves (“love is not rude, love is not self seeking”)
In John 13:1-7, the disciples were vying for the best seats. They were playing politics and making plays to obtain rank and power in the Kingdom of God. In response to this, Jesus picked up a towel and washed their feet.
5. Love forgives and reconciles (“love is not easily angered, love keeps no record of wrongs”)
It has been said that we are never more like God that when we give and forgive. We should encourage reconciliation when we see relationships become strained or broken.
6. Love is grounded in truth and honesty (“love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth”)
Love is built on trust, and trust cannot be established without truth. If truth is not the foundation of loving relationships, all that remains is sentiment and shallow pretense.
7. Love works for justice (“love always protects”)
We are like the older sibling who takes up for those who cannot take up for themselves. Love doesn’t turn blind eyes and deaf ears toward injustice. Love speaks up and stands beside those who cannot carry their own offense.
8. Love always believes (“love always trusts, hopes”)
Love avoids judging the motives and actions of others. Love is optimistic and believes the best about others and gives others the benefit of the doubt.
9. Love will not quit (“love always preservers, love never fails”)
Love is marked by a resolve that will not give up on others. Love doesn’t write people off.
The New Testament does not articulate the core values of the Church like modern businesses. But there is little doubt in my mind that Jesus would rank love as the supreme core values He desires his churches to possess.
A new report released today by Barna Research ranks America’s Most and Least Bible-minded Cities. Des Moines/Ames, Iowa rests at number 49; right in the middle of the pack. Looking at the list on the infographic provided with the report produced no real surprises. Cities in the deep south rank higher than cities in the Midwest and Northeast. Where does your city rank?
I think the report is helpful and reminds us to pray for our cities. We live in a day when we are tempted to be super impressed with the emergence of the super mega churches that boast thousands in attendance. Barna research reminds us that we still have a lot of Kingdom work to do. I don’t think we’re in danger of running out of unchurched people!
Thanks to my wonderful wife, my great family and my many friends, I just celebrated the best birthday ever. Over my birthday weekend my wife and I went to dinner with our friends, Dan and Christy. Much to my surprise, they gave me a llama for my birthday. Now some of you have heard me mention my new llama in social media so I’d like to take a minute to explain.
I didn’t actually get a llama. Dan and Christy gave a llama in my honor to an poverty stricken village in a third world country in South America through Heifer International. Since 1944, Heifer International’s mission has been to work with communities to end hunger and poverty and care for the Earth. One of the ways they do this is to provide livestock to people in villages that allow them to develop sustainable and reliable income sources. Milk from goats and cows, honey from bees, and eggs from chickens are some of the ways that families in third world countries are finding help and hope through the work of Heifer International.
So next time you find yourself searching for a creative gift idea, consider Heifer International. You can learn more by visiting their website at www.heifer.org. Thanks, Dan and Christy! By the way, I named him George.
One of the helpful sections of Paul David’s Tripp’s book Dangerous Calling was his insightful list of signs that a Pastor is losing his or her way. Here it is:
1. You ignore clear evidence of problems and are defensive.
2. You become blind to the issues of your own heart.
3. Your ministry lacks personal devotion and private confession.
4. You are not preaching the gospel to yourself.
5. You stop listening to the people closest to you.
6. The acts of ministry become burdensome.
7. You begin to live in silence due to fear of becoming known.
8. You begin to question your calling.
9. You start looking for a way out.
I think people are surprised when pastors have emotional meltdowns, morally fail or just plain quit. Tripp’s point is well taken. Pastors never just lose it, or sin, or quit suddenly. Something began to erode privately long before the issue(s) became public. Before a pastor loses their ministry they first lose themselves. It’s not like falling off a ladder where one slight misstep leads to sudden catastrophe. It’s more like drifting. No one ever drifts all at once. Its a slow and subtle process. Neither does one drift closer. One always drifts away.
Like me, you started out riding a tricycle. Then the day came when you moved up to a two wheeled bike with training wheels. With a little confidence and achieving a bit of balance, the training wheels came off and you rode your bike without the training wheels. Finally, the day came when you received a driver’s license and began to drive a car.
Every break through is a break with. If you insist on holding on to tricycles you’ll never experience the joys of the bicycles and cars. And once you experience the joys of the break through, you’ll never look back. I think that principle is true of virtually every element of life, but especially true of faith.
You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honor.
And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God. As the Scriptures say,
“I am placing a cornerstone in Jerusalem,
chosen for great honor,
and anyone who trusts in him
will never be disgraced.”
Yes, you who trust him recognize the honor God has given him. But for those who reject him,
“The stone that the builders rejected
has now become the cornerstone.”
And, “He is the stone that makes people stumble,
the rock that makes them fall.”
They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them.
But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.
“Once you had no identity as a people;
now you are God’s people.
Once you received no mercy;
now you have received God’s mercy.” (1 Peter 2:4-10, NLT)
In the text cited above, Peter offers three tests to positively identify the Church.
1. Our relationship with Jesus Christ
Peter affirms that we are a chosen people. Peter looked at their status as children of God and immediately observed that they were related to God because of his divine initiative. Using the imagery of the Exodus, he observed they were once not a people but now a people belonging to God…once without mercy but now ones who received mercy. Like Peter’s audience, we too lacked identity and were not even a people. But because of God’s great mercy we are no longer nameless. We belong to God through Jesus Christ.
2. Our relationship to one another
Our personal relationship to Jesus Christ carries with it a corporate responsibility. We belong to Christ AND to one another. All of the language in the passage is plural. Vertically we are a people who belong to God yet at the same time horizontally we belong to one another. We are the people of God, not the persons of God.
Peter calls us living stones. When my family moved from Texas to Arkansas we quickly noticed the Ozark Native Stone used in much of the architecture. While it may not suit your personal taste it communicates a wonderful picture of the church. Each stone, with its individual distinctive, is placed among the other stones by mortar to be used for a greater good. Each stone is acknowledged and valued yet together become powerful.
The church is not about uniformity. A brick home illustrates uniformity. The church is about unity in the midst of diversity. Each one of us has come to Christ and his body with our own size, shape, and color. Set upon the foundation of Jesus Christ we are carefully placed within the wall. Our uniqueness can be honored and celebrated as we cherish the individual contributions to the whole.
Peter then leaves the metaphor from architecture and moves to a metaphor from the field of government. Using the language of citizenship he calls us a holy nation. As good citizens of God’s Kingdom we remain rightly related to the king and to our fellow countrymen.
3. Our relationship to the world
Peter affirms that each of us serves in the role of priest. Individually we have direct access to God. There is no mediator that we need apart from our great High Priest, Jesus Christ. Corporately we engage in worship and praise, inviting others to join us in worship of the living God.
We are to be renown for our relationship to God. The mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. As his special possession, we come to the realization that any blessing we possess does not come for our personal consumption. We are blessed so that we might be a blessing to the world.
I spent my elementary years living in a small, county seat town in Northeast Missouri. One of the features of this typical hamlet was the town square. In the center of the town square stood the county court house. Then surrounding the courthouse were the four streets that boasted the best commerce and retail that our county had to offer. I can remember summer Saturday nights when our family would take a walk uptown and casually walk around the square. I can remember the big, plate glass windows of the merchants where they would place on display the very best merchandise they had to offer. They reason, of course, for the display window was to draw the customer off the streets and into the store. Our relationship to the world is not unlike those display windows. We are to display the glory of Christ and make our appeals based on his greatness, not our own.
What is our identity? We are the people of God.
Every now and then you come across a book that stops you in your tracks. My most recent read, Dangerous Calling by Paul David Tripp is without reservation the best book I read in 2012. Tripp spent the early years of his ministry career in pastoral ministry in the local church. Today he serves the Body of Christ through consulting and counseling pastors and people with the goal of helping them develop healthier lives and ministries.
Over the course of the next several weeks I want to interact with some of the provocative material he presents for a couple of reasons. For one, it helps me work through it personally. Every vocation has a dark side, filled with subtle temptations and challenges. Pastoral ministry is no different. Interacting with Tripp’s book as you look over my shoulder will help keep me from sticking it on a shelf alongside a multitude of other books I’ve read.
The other reason I want to do this is to help those of you who are faithful to Christ and his church understand a little more about your pastor. While this book is by a pastor for pastors, I believe some of the best support a pastor can receive from the congregation he or she serves is understanding; the proverbial mile in my moccasins, if you will. Maybe you will be so inspired that you would even consider purchasing a copy for your pastor. It could be a gift that your pastor would find to be life changing, if not life saving.
The opening pages of the book begin with the author sharing his personal struggles in ministry. I anticipated that he was going to unpack a series of stories about some terrible sin he committed and then write about other pastors who committed scarlet letter sins. But the book isn’t about those pastors we hear about on the news that got caught stealing money or violating their marriage vows or trapped in the snare of addiction or substance abuse.
To the contrary, Tripp didn’t focus on the gross public sins of pastors. He went to the heart of the matter, dealing with the private, personal issues that fester deep within. Yes, sometimes those personal challenges do manifest themselves into public scandal. But they also can slowly simmer, causing pastors to wither away in spiritual atrophy. How does this occur? As Tripp sees it, the major problem pastor’s face is the disconnect that exists between their public ministry and their private life. How does this occur? According to Tripp, the problem develops because three temptations are not dealt with.
Temptation #1: Allowing ministry to define one’s identity.
Pastors face the ongoing challenge of differentiating their profession from their personhood. When pastors see their profession and their personhood as one in the same, they begin to neglect applying the truth they offer to others to themselves. Pastor’s offer grace to others without seeing their own need for the same.
Temptation #2: Allowing biblical literacy and theological knowledge to define the depth of one’s ministry. According to Tripp, “Maturity is not about what you know it’s about how you live your life. There’s a difference between growing up and growing old.” If pastors are not careful, the truth they affirm with their brains will cease to impact their hearts.
Temptation #3: Confusing ministry success with God’s endorsement of one’s life.
Or, in everyday language, “How can I be so bad? Look at how God is blessing my ministry?” Obviously this line of logic has led and continues to lead many down slippery slopes toward self-destruction. Pastors can never forget that God will always honor his word and advance his own kingdom and often does so in spite of His human servants. God is first and foremost bound to honor his Kingdom and advance its purposes. He is not obligated to advance my kingdom or anyone else’s for that matter. Therefore large does not equal legitimate.
Barna Group has released its newest research on Temptation and America’s Favorite Sins. The article is self explanatory and well worth the read.
I’m a book junkie, but unfortunately my 2012 reading habits did not keep pace with my purchases. I keep a stack of purchased but unread books sitting on a shelf in my library. In years past this stack was never more than three or four deep. This year it grew to ten or twelve. I had to reprimand myself, solemnly promising that there will be no more purchases until the stack is at a manageable level. Right.
I don’t know if you’ve ever had this happen to you or not, but occasionally I’ll purchase a book and pass over it time and time again until I finally pick it up and read it. Then, having read it, I close the cover in frustration because the book would have been very helpful in a timely way had I read it when I purchased it. The name of the book I reference is Buy In by business consultant and Harvard Professor John Kotter.
Buy In is a leadership book that explains how to gain the buy in necessary to implement your great idea. According to the author, there are four basic attack strategies that any presenter of catalytic change needs to be aware of and prepared to counter. Those four basic attacks are:
1. To create confusion around the idea;
2. To kill the energy of the idea through delay tactics;
3. To ridicule the idea and/or the presenter; and,
4. To foster fear through fear mongering.
So what does the presenter need to know or understand to be able to effectively deal with challenges that can cripple his or her good idea?
First, Kotter strongly encourages that any challenges should be welcomed. By this he means there should be no secret or stacked meetings that eliminate dissenters. Rather, all should be welcomed and invited to ask hard questions and provide feedback. Responses to the questions raised by the challengers should be simple and full of common sense versus long, drawn out answers that are filled with statistics and hard data. Respect must be shown to all who show opposition regardless of how nasty they behave. Most importantly, all answers should be addressed to the silent majority of those in the room versus the one who raises objections. Why is that so important?
Here’s my big takeaway from the book. Most good ideas can secure a simple majority, say 51%, to get permission to proceed with the initiative. The problem is that while 51% may win the day, it may hamper the idea from actually getting off the drawing board into full implementation. Seldom is it reasonable to achieve 100% support because there will always be some who castigate the idea for one reason or another. But the 5-10% of those who speak against it aren’t the ones who will keep the idea from getting off the ground. The difference between permission giving decisions and supporting decisions swings in the balance between the 51% and the 85-90%. In other words, the presenter isn’t trying to sway a few naysayers. He or she is trying to sway the silent 40%.
So when you address challenges and opposition, the goal isn’t to win the consensus of the whole. The goal is to win the lion’s share of the room, which is usually the difference between gaining the permission to go it alone and getting the help you need to get the job done.