Sunday, March 27, 2011

March 28, 2011

Facing the Foundational Issues of Church Health

My first twelve years, after graduating from college, were spent coaching and teaching. Like most locker rooms, ours was covered with signs for the purpose of motivating our players. Probably, the most profound sign was the shortest. It simply read, “Block and Tackle.” It was a constant reminder that nothing we did, no matter how innovative, would work, if we did not block and tackle. Those two things were essential to the success of everything we attempted.

Like the sport of football, every endeavor in life has certain fundamental things that must be accomplished before success will happen. This concept is true with church building. During my thirty-plus years of ministry, there have been many new and innovative ideas put forward about how to build churches. There is no doubt many have worked diligently to see the church grow. Yet, most of what we hear today is discouraging in regards to the health of the church in America. Could it be we have lost sight of the foundational issues that must be settled before a church can be healthy?

I suggest there are three foundational issues that must be resolved before the church can be healthy. First, we must deal with the issue of proprietorship. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus said, “I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Proprietorship implies ownership but it also implies authority. Paul made this clear, when he wrote to the Colossians. He wrote, “He is also the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning, the first born from the dead, so that He might come to have first place in everything” (Colossians 1:18 HCSB).

Despite this clear word from scripture, many of our churches find themselves stymied in their growth, because they have not settled this issue. If our churches are to remain relevant in our world, we must settle it. We must wholeheartedly accept that the church does not belong to the pastor, the deacons, the founding fathers or any other group. Jesus must be recognized as the sole proprietor.

The second foundational issue is one of purpose. Once again, scripture speaks loudly and clearly to this issue. The Great Commission commands us to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19a HCSB). If we are to accomplish this purpose, we must first understand what a disciple is. We can’t make something if we do not know what it is to look like when it is completed. On the foreign field we usually equate discipleship with evangelism and at home we measure it by how many courses our church offers each year. Both of these are admirable goals, but by themselves, they do not complete the making of a disciple.

When this command was given, there was a clear understanding about the relationship between a teacher and his disciples. A disciple’s ultimate goal was not only to know what the teacher taught but to become like the teacher. Evangelism and teaching are obviously necessary in the building of disciples, but they are not enough. True discipleship is not measured by what you know but by how you live. If we are to be successful in fulfilling this purpose, we must realize our ultimate goal is to assist believers in becoming like Jesus.

The third issue is one of practice. It is often in this area we run into problems. Generally, the problems result from the inability to distinguish between principles and preferences. A principle is written in stone. It can’t be changed. For example, John 14:6 is a principle. It reads, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (HCSB). This is an eternal principle. It was true when it was written; it is true today; and it will be true until Jesus comes. Any attempt to water it down erodes the foundation upon which our entire faith is built. On the other hand, a preference has to do with a personal choice. For example, one only needs to go to the Book of Psalms to see that the Word allows for a wide variety of worship practices.

When it comes to principle, we should maintain the steadfastness of Paul, when he wrote, “For the Jews ask for signs and the Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles” (I Corinthians 1:22, 23 (HCSB). When it comes to preference, we should have the humility of Paul, when he wrote, “Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interest of others: (Philippians 2:3, 4 HCSB).

As we approach the close of another year, my prayer is that we will give God thanks for all the marvelous teaching tools He has made available to us, and that we would be honest with ourselves, realizing these tools will not provide long lasting results until we deal with the issues of proprietorship, purpose and practice. Once we have dealt with these in a God honoring manner, there are no limits to what He will do through us.

Monday, March 21, 2011

March 22

God’s Measure for Success

When Paul Harvey, famous journalist and radio commentator, was asked to reveal the secret of his success, he responded, "I get up when I fall down." John Maxwell devoted an entire book to the initial failures of successful people. In his book, Failing Forward, he wrote, “When it comes right down to it, I know of only one factor that separates those who consistently shine from those who don’t. The difference between average people and achieving people is their perception of and response to failure. Nothing else has the same kind of impact on people’s ability to achieve and to accomplish whatever their minds and hearts desire.” The point is that few people rise to the level of success without first passing through the portals of failure.

These truths are found in the struggle for success in both the temporal and spiritual world. Unfortunately, most people think of success only in the temporal world. This is why so many people reach a high level of success in their field of expertise and still have emptiness inside they can’t seem to satisfy. We see this in business executives, high- paid athletes, movie stars, and other worldly endeavors. The reality is that temporal success plus spiritual failure may allow us to live life more comfortably, but it will never bring us the enter peace that the heart of man craves..

If spiritual success is important, it would be to our benefit to understand how to measure it. I believe that there are four signs of spiritual success found in the first psalm. Read it for yourself and see if you can not see these four things. First, a successful spiritual life is one that has found and maintained strong moral stability(v. 1). Second, it is a life that is spiritually oriented and that takes delight in spiritual things (v, 2). Third, it is a life that bears good fruit. (v.3). Fourth, it is a life that has no doubt about its eternal security (v. 6) Another way of saying it is that a spiritually successful person lives right, loves the things of God, produces a positive influence on his/her world and has no doubt about his/her final destination.

Like temporal success, our spiritual success does not always come easy. We stumble and fall. With each failure, there is a lesson we should learn. It is we can’t succeed on our own. Self-will and determination is not enough. We need help; we need the daily guidance of God’s Spirit in our lives. He is the one who shines light on our failures but He is also the one who will extend a hand to lift us up. If we choose not to yield to His leadership, spiritual success will pass us by.

If these words seem to be more discouraging than encouraging reach out and take His hand. It is always extended toward you. It begins by acknowledging you can’t do it on your own. Let Him lift you up and dust you off. He will lead you to success. Do not dwell on past failures but remember, “It is not how hard you get knocked down but how fast you get up that really matters.”

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Reflections for March 17

Sebastian’s Lesson on Grace

Sebastian was an Old English Sheep Dog rescued from the pound. He was extremely intelligent and he tried to be obedient to our commands. In the beginning, it was obvious his obedience came from fear of punishment. When he was told to do something, he lowered his head and attempted to do it, but there was no light in his eyes.

After months of loving care, Sebastian began to change. He remained the most compliant dog we have ever owned, but he no longer held his head down. When he obeyed, he held his head high. The blank look in his eyes was replaced by a sparkle. It became clear that his greatest joy came from pleasing us. He was no longer responding out of fear. Instead, he was responding out of appreciation for the loving care he received.

Many Christians are like the young Sebastian. All of their lives, they have been beaten up with the threat of God’s judgment. They recognize God’s Law is for their good and attempt to obey it. When they fail, they are fearful of God’s punishment and when they succeed they do not promised, but instead, they live a life of constant fear of punishment for their failures.
Other Christians are more the older Sebastian. They have a better grasp of God’s grace. They understand that all of God’s prohibitions in Scripture were given for our protection and provision. They realize God does want His children to live a life filled with the things He has promised. While they know God does not turn His head on their sin, they accept He is patient with them. They realize they are going to fail along the way, but they also realize God is faithful to forgive their failures if they are faithful to confess them. Instead of using this understanding of God’s grace as a license to sin, they use it as a motivation to do the right things. Their understanding of God’s grace motivates them to have a deep desire to be pleasing in His sight. In response to His grace, they desire to serve Him out of a spirit of appreciation and not out of a spirit of fear. They learn the joy of service motivated by appreciation and their lives are richly blessed.