Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Status Trap

Most people would never admit that they love attention or that it is important that they be recognized as someone important.  It is interesting that most people want to be credited for every bit of their ideas and insights.  At times, we disguise our pride as a pseudo humility for the sake of advancing ourselves.  I'm often amazed to find someone who really doesn't care if their name is ever mentioned for something great that they did.  They would not be offended if their name was never mentioned or even forgotten when credit was issued. However, this is typically not the case even in Christian circles.  Great pride exists in the church and in Christian institutions for significance and status. 

Solomon says in Proverbs 13:7, "One person pretends to be rich, yet has nothing; another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth."  Many people crave to be known for significance.  However, people who find their significance in Jesus Christ and not in their own status have nothing to prove.  Richness can come through knowing that God knows all about our endeavors for Him whether or not we are ever recognized.  Richness can come by trusting in God as the sovereign One who rewards those who diligently seek Him.  Richness can come by knowing the brevity of this life and what is done for Christ alone will last.  Richness comes by understanding that, "By humility and the fear of the Lord are riches and honor and life" (Proverbs 22:4).

Social status is one of the biggest traps that face us as individuals that cause us to limit what is done for Christ and others.  Country singer, Toby Keith, sang a song entitled, "I Wanna Talk About Me".  Some of the lyrics go like this:  "I want to talk about me, Want to talk about I, Want to talk about number one, Oh my me my, What I think, what I like, what I know, what I want, what I see".  The center of PRIDE is always "I".  The message of Christ's life contradicted this message of status and significance (take a moment to read Philippians 2).

May we find our significance in serving the One who gave Himself so freely for us--Jesus Christ!  Let's be known for this one thing--we are servants for His glory alone.  A servant may never be honored for his work, at least on this side of glory, but God will never forget!


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Healthy Communication

Most of us would deny the fact that we might be poor at communicating.  Healthy communication is so much more than being able to speak what is on our minds.  It is a matter of being able to listen and know when to respond--or if we should respond at all.  Healthy communication weighs the power of words before they are launched and considers the damage that might be incurred from them.  A good communicator will take time to evaluate what has been said, even it was unkind, and not retaliate with similar words to inflict injury. 

Christ says, that "out of the abundance of the heart" a man speaks (Luke 6:45).   Claiming that, "you forced me to say that", or "I did not really mean that" is not necessarily true.  From the depths of our hearts our words spring forth.  It is the mature Christian that changes the way they speak because they understand that they will give an account on the "day of judgement for every empty word they have spoken" (Mt. 12:36).  Scripture says a great deal about the use of words and how to use them.  Solomon even cautions not to waste precious words on a foolish man because he will either twist those words or those words will only fuel the fool to more foolishness (Proverbs 23:9; 26:4).  Apparently there is a healthy way to communicate according to Scripture.

Many times, it is not the words we choose but the cunning way we choose to use them.  At times we can be very destructive to others by the tone and attitude we give those words.  We can even embrace a false piety as we rebuke others for their short comings.  Our words can be filled with truth towards others but the way we deliver them can suck the life out of others and turn them not only away from us but away from Christ.  Although we would attest that gossip, lying, cussing, and arguing are distasteful to the Lord, in what positive ways are we exalting the name of Christ with our words?  Do our words give life and breathe encouragement to others each day?  When was the last time we took the time to praise another person for a job well done?  Would there be anyone that we need to seek forgiveness from for the poor use of our words?  Let's pray that God would grant us wisdom to know when to keep quiet, when to speak, and what to speak, because His glory is at stake.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Traits of Healthy Churches

A dear friend of mine, Dr. Chuck Lawless, recently shared some findings that relate to church health that his organization recently published.  I believe it is worth reading as we challenge ourselves in areas that others have found foundational.  Please take the time to read through his findings:

Over the last 15+ years, our Lawless Group team has conducted hundreds of church surveys. Most of the time, the churches with whom we work characterize themselves as “marginally unhealthy” or worse. Occasionally, though, we work with a church that sees themselves as “marginally healthy” or stronger.
Here are some characteristics of those churches:
  1. The preaching is strong.  It’s clear. It’s biblical. The people leave the service knowing ways they can apply the Word to their life the rest of the week. Church members indicate that they learn a lot from the pastor’s preaching.
  1. The worship is God-centered and vibrant. The styles may differ, but the worship is well done. Excellence is an expectation. Connections between the music and the sermon are clear. 
  1. Their small groups do outreach.  Every healthy church with whom we’ve worked has some type of small group whose focus is reaching unchurched people.  They choose their best teachers to lead the groups.
  1. They’ve dealt with cliques and divisions.  It’s not that these churches don’t have internal struggles; it’s that they don’t allow early sparks to grow into big fires. They address conflict early on in the process.
  1. They have a clear outward focus. Their members intentionally know non-believers. They provide evangelism training. Members aren’t concerned that there are too many churches in their area; in fact, they welcome new church plants. Their budget reflects dollars spent on others rather than themselves.
  1. They have a recognized strategy for producing disciples. The church has a membership class. They have a plan to disciple children, teens, and adults. Many of the members believe they’re ready to invest in someone else – and they know and understand the church’s disciplemaking strategy.   
  1. Prayer is a big deal. These churches do more than have a perfunctory prayer meeting; they actually pray throughout the week. They know prayer needs, and the church keeps members informed about answered prayers. Praying for pastors and missionaries is central to what they do. 
  1. They teach members about giving. They don’t assume that believers know about budgeting, giving, tithing, etc.  Instead, they intentionally build giving training into their overall strategy. Stewardship is thus a significant part of discipleship.  (And, by the way, these churches usually give at a higher rate than others). 
  1. They have a strong core group, but they also equip and invite others to serve. Long-term members are still critical to the work of the church, but they open the door for new members to serve as well.  These churches genuinely work on setting up the next generation to lead the church into the future.
  1. They believe the Bible. Our survey asks some basic “agree/disagree” doctrinal questions (e.g., “The Bible is the Word of God”). It’s not a surprise to us that the more strongly the church affirms the Word, the closer the church will be to being healthy. 

Please pray and consider if there might be a way that you could contribute to being a more healthy church member.  

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Making the Right Decisions

One of the hardest things in our lives is to make decisions that are not black and white in nature.  We are all faced with decisions that impact other people and decisions that will have a lasting impact for years to come, such as choosing a mate or a career path.  Chosen poorly, there may be no going back or correcting those decisions.  Many times others suffer when we make poor decisions.  I've not been immune to making poor decisions and some are even downright embarrassing.

When I was a young man I was encouraged to read the book of Proverbs every month (one chapter a day).  I did that for years and needless to say, Proverbs is my favorite book in the Old Testament.  I highlighted and wrote all over that book to that point that you would think I was the author.  I remember so many of those by heart and they shape my decision making on a regular basis.  Every person is given and practices a different amount of discernment.  There are times that we all scratch our heads and wonder what prompted a person to make the decision that they did.  Was it purely convenience, ignorance, or was it made out of frustration?

When we stand in confusion as to what decision we are to make, we do not have to draw straws or pick the petals off of a daisy.  I believe if we truly want to know God's will in a given matter then God will provide the wisdom and insight for the moment--if we consult him.  Here are some guidelines that I have learned from over the years and I believe are very helpful.

  1. Do I know for certain that my decision will honor God? (Romans 14:23 tells us that we should have faith that our decision will honor God and that we should not operate recklessly when His glory is at stake.  James tells us, "And without faith it is impossible to please God." (James 11:6)
  2. Have I consulted godly, wise counsel?  Many people will talk to others who will affirm their poor decision because they already know what they want.  Proverbs 11:14 says, "Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety."
  3. Does God's Word give direct admonition about the matter or provide healthy principles?  It is imperative that God's people consider God's feelings about the matter first.  God's Word has much to say about most things.  Most have gone through common experiences that we are currently walking through.  (David declares in Psalm 119:105, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path".)
  4. Have I spent time in prayer with God about the matter?  Jesus Christ himself consulted the Father (alone in prayer) in life's most troublesome times.  Philippians 4:6 reminds us to take our anxious and needy hearts to the Lord.  "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God."
  5. Has God given you a peace in your heart about the matter?  This is much more than giving yourself permission or taking God out of the equation.  If we are not in fellowship with Him we will never understand His full desires.  David says in Psalm 66:18, "If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened;"  This is not to say God is unaware but God is under no obligation to listen to those who walk out of fellowship with Him.
  6. Am I truly seeking God's Kingdom first or my own selfish desires?  Jesus encouraged His disciples not to be caught up by the cares of this world but to be wrapped up in eternal matters.  He said in Matthew 6:33, "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."