Sunday, June 30, 2013

From Around the Web

I follow 10-15 different blogs each day. Instead of posting strictly "original" material on my blog, periodically I will start highlighting some of the good material that I have been reading recently, hoping that you may find the posts beneficial also.

  •  Being the Dung Gate Guy. This post and video inspired a recent post on my blog. The 40 minute video is worth watching.
  • Simon Prevette. A guest blogger on Kevin DeYoung's site wrote this power account of a man who powerfully impacted his church. Almost every church has "Simon Prevettes", one of Maywood's was Miss Ginny who recently was called home to glory.
  • Is it Ok for Christians to Drop OMGs? Great posting and insight into one of my pet peeves. 
  • 14 Tips for Time Management. Church consultant and researcher Thom Rainer offers practical suggestions to control our days rather than having our days control us.
  • Why Gay Marriage is Good (and Bad) for the Church. Trevin Wax provides great insight to this issue in light of the recent Supreme Court decision.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Symphony of the Lamb

Malchijah the son of Rechab, ruler of the district of Beth-haccherem, repaired the Dung Gate. He rebuilt it and set its doors, its bolts, and its bars. (Nehemiah 3:14)

Sermons are rarely preached from Nehemiah 3. The chapter is a long list of tongue-twisting names who participated in rebuilding Jerusalem’s destroyed walls under Nehemiah’s leadership. Two errors can be made when this chapter is approached—skip it entirely or only focus on Nehemiah’s great leadership to get the people to work on the wall. When either of these errors are made, we miss the richness of God’s people stepping up to perform their part of the work to complete the task. Every name listed, including the Dung Gate guy, worked together on a common purpose to get the job done. We need to embrace the same mindset in our churches today!

It is easy for us to embrace a “me mentality” in ministry—“I am an elder”, “I am a Sunday school teacher”, “I lead worship”, or “I (fill in the blank)”. We often function as individuals in silos rather than as an essential component of the body. It is important for the local church to have a “we” mentality instead, where each Christ-follower serves in his or her unique capacity and calling for a greater whole— like we see in Nehemiah 3. When the silos come down, the gospel is proclaimed, disciples are made, communities are reached, and needs met. 

I love classical music and have attended the symphony on several occasions. One of my favorite pieces is Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. If played by a violin, French horn, or tympani alone, it wouldn’t be impressive, even though the individual instrumentalist played well. But, when all of the instruments in the orchestra come together and play the piece- it is an awesome performance! The same is true in the local church. While each of us may be “playing our parts” well, God’s Symphony is not experienced until everyone plays together. In Nehemiah, those that came together rebuilt the wall, in our churches lives and eternities will be changed.

I pray that within the local church(es) we will keep our eyes on the Great Conductor, faithfully and obediently serving in our unique capacities—playing in the Symphony of the Lamb (in two movements: the Great Commandment and the Great Commission).

"Let us be banded together as one man; let us contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints; let us pray with fervor, let us live in holiness, let us preach constantly, and preach with fire, and let us so live, that we may impress our age, and leave our footprints on the sands of time."
 - Charles Spurgeon

Sunday, June 9, 2013

I Am a Church Member

Church membership is often approached similar to a country club membership. We join a church to see what we can get out of it. The pastor is to feed us through his sermons. The music is to fit our style. Programs and ministries are for our benefit. Deviations are not acceptable. We determine what we like and don’t like and are members who expect perks, privileges, and service. Not only is this description unbiblical, it is harmful and crippling to the local church.

In his 75 page book I Am a Church Member, Dr. Thom Rainer addresses his hypothesis that “congregations across America are weak because many of us church members have lost the biblical understanding of what it means to be part of the body of Christ” (p. 5). As an Elder in the local church, I consider this book essential reading for all members and prospective members. It should be discussed in small groups, Bible studies, Sunday school classes, and new member classes. The chapter titles succinctly identify the core attitudes of biblical church membership:

  • Chapter 1: I will be a functioning church member
  • Chapter 2: I will be a unifying church member 
  • Chapter 3: I will not let my church be about my preferences and desires
  • Chapter 4: I will pray for my church leaders
  • Chapter 5: I will lead my family to be healthy church members
  • Chapter 6: I will treasure church membership as a gift

The "love" chapter in 1 Corinthians (13:4-7) is usually included in weddings as a charge to a bride and groom. Yet, within the proper context- the verses are directed toward the local church and how members are to relate to one another. Rainer stated, “if we could just abide by the principles of the love chapter, we would have completely healthy churches. It would be a revolution! The principles of these verses are sufficient to cause a revival in most churches!” (p. 13-14).  I couldn’t agree more.

Imagine the difference in our local churches if members took the following pledge contained within the book:

  • I am a church member. I will seek to be a source of unity in the church. I know that there are no perfect pastors, staff, or other local church members. But neither am I. I will not be a source of gossip or dissension. One of the greatest contributions I can make is to do all I can in God’s power to help keep the church in unity for the sake of the gospel.
  • I am a church member. I will not let my church be about my preferences and desires. That is self-serving. I am in this church to serve others and to serve Christ. My Savior went to a cross for me. I can deal with any inconveniences and matters that are just not my preference or style.
  • I am a church member. I will pray for my pastor every day. His work is never-ending. His days are filled with constant demands for his time- with the need to prepare sermons, with those who are rejoicing in births, with those who are traveling through the valley of the shadow of death, with critics, with the hurts and hopes of others, and with the need to be a husband and father. My pastor cannot serve our church in his own power. I will pray for God’s strength for him and his family every day.
  • I am a church member. I will lead my family to be good members of this church as well. We will pray together for our church. We will worship together in our church. We will serve together in our church. And we will ask Christ to help us fall deeper in love with this church, because He gave His life for her.
  • I am a church member. This membership is a gift. When I received the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, I became a part of the body of Christ. I soon thereafter identified with a local body and was baptized. And now I am humbled and honored to serve and to love others in our church. I pray that I will never take my membership for granted, but see it as a gift and an opportunity to serve others and to be part of something much greater than any one person or member.

I am a church member. And I thank God that I am.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Where Prayer Focuses....

What are you trusting God for in the next six months which only He can do?

Listening to an old recording by Dr. Howard Hendricks, I was recently riveted by this question. The answer to this question- not much, is a pulse check on my prayer life. Honestly, I have been too safe in my prayers by usually having a plan b figured out if God didn’t answer and not praying often for areas I don’t have much control over. Likewise, I couldn’t look back at the last six months and answer Hendricks’ question any differently. This reflection has led me to consider the theology and purpose of prayer.

In his classic volume Systematic Theology, Dr. Wayne Grudem identifies several purposes for prayer:

  • God wants us to pray because prayer expresses our trust in God and is a means where by our trust in Him can increase.
  • Prayer brings us into deeper fellowship with God, and He loves us and delights in our fellowship with Him.
  • In prayer, God allows us as creatures to be involved in actions that are eternally important. When we pray, the work of the Kingdom is advanced. In this way, prayer gives us opportunity to be involved in a significant way in the work of the Kingdom and this gives expression to our greatness as creatures made in God’s image.

Prayer changes the way God acts. When we as finite beings stop to consider this statement, it is mind blowing. The all-powerful sovereign God of the universe works in response to our prayers. Consider a couple examples from Scripture:

  • …You do not have because you do not ask. (James 4:2c)
  • If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)

Hopefully these truths will motivate us to pray more fervently. A few thoughts pertaining to prayer from Grudem:

  •  The regular reading and memorization of Scripture, along with years of a Christian’s life, will increase the depth, power, and wisdom of our prayers.
  • Prayer is not only talking to God, but also waiting on Him after bringing our requests. But for you, O Lord, do I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer. (Psalm 38:15, also see Psalm 130:5-6)
  • Prayer is never wishful thinking, for it springs from trust in a personal God who wants us to take Him at His word.
  • We are to pray earnestly but the intensity and depth of emotional involvement in prayer should never be faked- we cannot fool God.
  • Anything in our lives that displeases Him in the form of ongoing and unrepentant sin will be a hindrance to God answering our prayers. Prayer and holy living go together. If I had cherished  iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.(Psalm 66:18; also see Proverbs 15:29, 1 Peter 3:7, and 1 John 3:21-22)

Moving the hand of God through prayer is not reserved for the “chosen elite” but for all Christ-followers. I love James' words: The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit (James 5:16b-17). Elijah, the one who called fire down on Mt. Carmel and controlled the rain through prayer was a person like us! He prayed, God listened. The early church filled with ordinary Christians prayed fervently for Peter’s release from prison. When he showed up to their prayer meeting, they didn’t even believe it was him (Acts 12:12-17).

Dr. Hendricks also frequently said “where prayer focuses, power falls." I didn’t quite grasp the depth of those words until recently spending time studying and thinking about prayer. This study was only the tip of the iceberg- there is so much more to learn about the theology of prayer. In the coming days, I want to start trusting God through prayer in areas that only He can accomplish. Recently, a guys’ group I lead have compiled a list of unsaved individuals that are so far from Christ. We are committing to pray for them daily and will watch how God responds. 

Prayer is a great adventure. How will we shape eternity through our prayers?