Why Would a Church Plant a Church?

It really is a good question. Why wouldn’t a healthy church body just continue growing its own existing attendance, offerings, leadership, and “followship,” and let that be enough?  Certainly, a church body may feel pushed to plant a church because its present facilities are limited, or it is land-locked so it can’t just build a bigger building.  Perhaps it resists going to two services to accommodate growth because of the possibility of losing unity in the body. But shouldn’t there be more reasons for church planting than merely pragmatic ones?  I believe that there are, indeed, several profound reasons for doing so that go far beyond the practical.

Churches planting churches is founded in God’s design for humanity to reproduce. God created man in His own image. God commanded Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth with His image bearers (Gen 1:28). When we replicate God’s image across the earth, we speak of God’s rule and proclaim His glory! Reproducing image bearers sets forth God’s mission for spreading His fame. Later, Christ came to the dirt-gardening-green-1214394earth to bring humanity salvation and before He left, He gave once again a more pronounced mission to “make disciples” (Matt 28:19,20). So each person made in God’s image who has been given new life through Jesus are to reproduce disciples of Jesus. The church is where disciples grow and flourish in Christ’s own image. The culmination then of a group of people making disciples of Jesus should naturally be reproduction–one body of believers forming a new body of believers for the purpose of making more disciples of Jesus. This is God’s plan.

Churches planting churches live out  a mission founded in God’s design for humanity to reproduce. God created man in His own image, then commanded Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth with His image bearers (Gen 1:28).  When we replicate God’s image across the earth,  we speak of God’s rule, proclaim His glory, and live out God’s mission for spreading His fame.  Christ came to the earth to bring humanity salvation, and before He left, He gave a more pronounced mission to “make disciples” (Matt 28:19,20).  So, each person made in God’s image who has been given new life through Jesus is to reproduce disciples of Jesus. The church is where disciples grow and flourish in Christ’s own image. The culmination, then, of a group of people making disciples of Jesus should naturally be reproduction–one body of believers forming a new body of believers for the purpose of making more disciples of Jesus. This is God’s plan. 

Churches planting churches are forced to trust God. Trusting God is always an adventure into the unknown. God told Abraham to go to a place that “I will show you” (Gen. 12:1), and though several times he demonstrated lapses of confidence in God,  Abraham did follow and is later recognized as a person of sweet faith (Heb. 11:8). God intends for His people to trust Him.  Church reproduction is a supreme act of faith in God on the part of the planting body.  It places the church in a position of dependency due to limited funds, limited people, limited facilities, and often limited leadership.  It is a process by which faith takes root because people are forced to run to the Unlimited One for help. And is not total dependency upon God for the full expression of His great glory always the place where God’s people should find their resting place?  Planting a church forces all involved to look to Him in a very intentional way, and in doing so, their faith is forged and strengthened.

Churches planting churches get to experience a taste of life in the early church. Paul makes clear in Romans 15:19 “so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of  the gospel of Christ.” As you read his epistles, you see that the reproduction of godly men is the goal of the ministry of Paul, and he exhorts his followers to minister in such a way that they, too, reproduce godly men.  (Titus 1:5; 2 Tim 2:1).  Paul went into major cities from Jerusalem to Illyricum and in-between, seeking to produce churches that would reproduce churches within those cities. This process shows that a church is indeed to be a missionary congregation that is to live out the missional outreach of God to people to create a new people for His glory. Each time a church gives birth, it takes that body back to the roots of the early church and accomplishes the same purpose that Christ and the apostles set forth to accomplish (Eph. 2:20). I say that there is truly nothing like this experience in all of the world!

Churches planting churches stir up a greater passion for the things of God in the people of GodThis is one of the sweetest results of church planting. Christ will build His church, and we as human beings simply get to be a part of it, but in the process, the things of God become a more precious and superior priority for the people of God.  This happens in several, tangible ways:

  • Prayer becomes vital – 1Thess 5:25“Brethren, pray for us!”
  • Love for one another grows – 1Thess 3:12 – “…may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another…”
  • Giving becomes much more important – 2 Cor 8:3-5 – “For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.” This passage describes  financial giving, but a church planting a church is driven to other kinds of sacrificial giving, which may include people, possessions, and even property to help establish the new work.
  • Service to each other blossoms –1 Peter 4:10 –  “As each has received a gift,  use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” Every person serving is important in God’s Kingdom work, and never is this service more vital than in the forming of a new body.
  • Leaning on God becomes the safe zone.  Prov. 3:5-6  – “…in all your ways, acknowledge Him and He will make straight your paths.”  Every time a new church meets together, there is a communal  sense of the need to trust God.  People experience  many emotions as God directs their paths in the process of growing His church, and leaning on Him becomes the safe zone for each step along the way!
  • People recognize the unique value of one another. – Rom 12:9-10 –  “Let love be genuine…Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” Genuine love for God and for people happens in Christ’s church when the Gospel pulsates through its heart. This work of grace should not be taken for granted nor should it be forgotten. Christ died for people!

Churches planting churches will experience difficulty. Of course, like everything we set out to do in a very fallen world, planting a church can be difficult.  There are a number of reasons for this. People who carry with them some sort of religious or “spiritual” agenda are often attracted to church plants. They can come with smiling faces and seem thrilled to be a part of something new, yet inwardly, they are really wanting something that is formed to their own liking. They often begin by being very service-oriented, but their service is simply the key they will use to open the door of their personal agenda. Church planters often face real spiritual roadblocks that are thrown at them often by the Evil One who wants to discourage the planter or even take the planter out. Anytime a church is planted, it should prepare for real spiritual battle. Church plants often begins with only a few people coming.  Visiting families with children like to have nurseries and children’s ministries already in place for their families. If the core group starting the church has only one or two children, the experience of the visiting family can be discouraging,  and that of the core group’s children can be lonely.  These things and others like them seem small and insignificant, but they can be real threats to the overall success of the church plant. 

The metaphor of birth is an excellent one for a church to ponder when working through both these difficulties and experiencing the joy of new life.  Pregnancy, like the process of preparing to plant a church, is long and can be hard.  Parents-to-be, like a church planting a church,  battle anxiety about the unknown.  Birth itself is painful and arduous, yet there really is nothing in the world like the birth of your son or daughter. It is an experience I will never forget! The same is true of a church giving birth to another church. It is an opportunity to claim a front-row seat to see the hand of God building His Kingdom for His great glory! Pray, plan, prepare, and pursue planting a church! 

Growing Old Is Not For Sissies

I turned 60 this year–actually a few months ago now. I think the dust of it all has settled and I’m in a better condition to talk about it. Hitting this mark shook me up more than I anticipated.

So, I have been doing some thinking. I know, that is dangerous, but hang with me. The question I have asked is legitimate, I think. “What do I know now that I didn’t know or maybe was afraid to think about when I was younger?” I think that is a legitimate question for someone my age to ask.

So, I began a list. In no certain order…

Life is rarely as it seems. This comes as a big surprise to a young person. When we are all young, we all have in our minds how life should work out. We may never say or even know how to express it, but we have expectations. However, life is rarely like what we think. In God’s providence for us, He moves in us and through us for His own purposes and it is often so very different. We wouldn’t chose those ways, but looking back, they were perfect for us. We may not have liked it at the time, but God was shaping our hearts in such profound ways. Early in our marriage and ministry, God put us in some of the most confusing and even ungodly places to minister. I say now that through those times, I learned more of what not to do in ministry than what ministry really was. There were some very difficult days, but now, I am so thankful God put us through it all. I now am constantly aware that most likely, what I am seeing now in life and ministry is not what it seems, and I can trust that God can and will put it all together for me for my good and His glory. Age has allowed me to see this and be ok with it and even expect it now.

Genuine friends are few. I guess I had a weird view of what a friend should be and do. Looking back now, my idea of a friend wasn’t very accurate. Over time, I have learned that really, there are concentric circles of acquaintances with really only a very, very few real friends. I’m slow, I guess, but I see it now so I can adjust. I began to understand this when we lived in Germany and the Saudi War broke out. Someone asked me, “If we do get invaded (in Germany) who would you call first?” Immediately, I knew of one name of a friend that I knew if I called him, he was resourceful and concerned enough and between the both of us, we could make an escape. That guy is still someone I could go to and we can pick right up where we left off and enjoy each others company. This is just one example, but there are people that God gives you for long lasting relationships but they are very few and far between. This is not a complaint, just a reality from my perspective. I continue to be thankful for their friendship.

Family is a sweet gift from God – treat it with care. There truly is nothing like family. No matter how dysfunctional your family may seem, it is the core institution that all of us were created to be a part. I now have a clearer sense of how important not just parents are but also how important in-laws can be in a family. I am now an in-law. I have learned much from my mother and father-in-law how to love, care for, and treat family. I have learned how to be a grand-father (or “Pops” as I am now called). But most of all, when it comes right down to it, it is the family that is where I am most at home, where I find some of my greatest joys and where I can count on to get the most honest feedback for my life. My children (all three of them with their spouses) are my greatest friends. I am now exploring the world of grand parenting and finding moments of great and unspeakable joy in learning how God has made them and how God is working His glory out in their lives. I travel this road with great care and find it so rewarding. Family is a sweet gift from God!

Pain hurts. We all know physical pain hurts–boy, does it ever! But I continue to learn that there is other pain in life and it hurts as well. Sin causes pain. The way people respond to other people and circumstances in life can cause excruciating pain. There’s unbearable pain when parents don’t parent with love. There’s inner pain when people walk away from Christ’s church. There’s unspeakable pain when some of life’s expectations don’t live up to what was advertised. Sin causes pain…and it hurts. Sometimes terribly. I don’t think anyone ever told me this in my twenties–or, at least, maybe I wasn’t listening. Probably more of the latter.

I am far more depraved than I could ever imagine. The word “depraved” for some sparks all kinds of theological debates. I’m not going there in this piece. But, I will say this, it is true. I am far more depraved than I could ever imagine. My heart is deceitful and desperately wicked, and quite frankly, from time to time, it scares me how much God’s grace and mercy keeps me from my own depravity. I have learned to love the hymn, “He Will Hold Me Fast” mainly because I know in my soul that if Jesus doesn’t hold me fast, I am a goner! But the sweetness to seeing this is the fact that Jesus has set His love on me even though He knows my wickedness. Just amazing, isn’t it?

Jesus is so much more than a ticket to heaven. I was raised to understand that “being saved” meant I would go to heaven. We sang, “I Got A Mansion” and it thus implied heaven and a huge house was the focal point, the apex of salvation. So, Jesus was my ticket there. Who wouldn’t want to go there? Now, that sentiment is not wrong, it just isn’t entirely right. My redemption in Christ is far, far more than this. It is my privilege into the presence of the Father Himself. Christ’s righteousness imputed to me means I have been given life–eternal life. Access to the Father is the sweetest because it is that all important relationship that was forfeited by my sin and willfulness against Him. This is all of grace and all of His magnificent love seen in the perfect work of Christ alone! Once again, it is just amazing, isn’t it?

Grace is the 3-in-one oil for the cogs of life. Grace is God’s favor extended to me that has finds no merit in me. It is God’s divine enablement given to me to live out His perfections in a very imperfect world. Grace makes the cogs in life work more effectively. As we have been given this favor from God even though we don’t deserve it, we are given a whole other platform now on which we can serve others. The law pushes us to a merit system for living that honestly, no one can measure up. God’s grace is available to those who humbly need it and is given freely. Grace then becomes like the 3-in-One oil that my father used to use to free up rusty screws or bolts. That particular brand has been replaced by W-D 40 but it still does the same thing–it loosens things and causes them to work and function properly. I praise God for His grace that enables me to function properly in life.

There are no magic wands! Finally, there are no magic wands in life is there? There are no quick fixes. There are no 3-steps to happiness or 5 Easy Lessons for a Happy Marriage – all of that is hype. All there is really is a life that is daily. Every day, all the time and in every way, our only source of contentment, satisfaction, success, joy or happiness or anything else you would give yourself to better your life can only be found in Christ…alone. This is not just a pitch for reformational thinking, it is just how life really is. I’ve watched it now for 60 years and have been in ministry for 37+ years of that 60 and have only begun to learn Christ, love Christ and live Him. Everyday, by grace and through faith, I get to live His perfections as I depend on Him alone. The more I seek anything outside of His grace and glory, the more difficult life gets for me and those around me. Nothing magic here! Just ordinary living filled with repentance and faith in Christ and by His great grace. That is enough! Really.

Symbolism over Substance

There is a real danger within the church of something that is rarely talked about but ultimately can cripple a body of believers. Jesus confronts it consistently.

It is what I call “symbolism over substance!”

In the Gospel of Matthew, he gives the account of his conversion in 9:9,10. It is a fascinating study of how Christ goes after the heart of hypocrisy of symbolism over substance. Jesus goes straight to where Matthew was working and says two uncomplicated words, “Follow me!” While those two words are certainly simple, the implications behind them were enormous and life-changing. That call would forever change his life! Matthew went out and threw a banquet with all of his friends and co-sinners, I mean, co-workers! Jesus sat and banqueted with them and no doubt spoke of the Father as He was always quick to do! It would have been such a banquet like never experienced before!

But the Pharisees blew a gasket! Why? Because of symbolism over substance! They reacted to what it looked like (symbolism) rather than what was really happening (substance). It looked really bad for Jesus to sit with such sinners. To the Pharisees, it appeared to them that Jesus was giving some sort of approving wink at their sinful ways. Jesus was doing nothing of the sort! This gathering of sinners got to see first hand the power and authority of the God-Man who had just transformed one of their co-sinners, I mean co-workers. But the Pharisees got all bent out of shape because of what it looked like. You see, they had worked hard to get rid of these sinners who had so corrupted their society. Now Jesus was reclining with them.

Churches can get into this mode when their eyes are no longer on the real mission of the church. Jesus reminded the Pharisees of His own mission in 9:13: “Christ declared, ‘For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners’ to repentance” (as Luke 5:32 adds).  Jesus’s own mission was the substance of all that He was and all that He did for real sinners. The Gospel is by nature substance. It is truth to be believed. We give ourselves to the truth of who Jesus is and what Jesus has done for us! When symbolism (what it looks like) becomes more important than the substance of the Gospel, courage is lost, love for others wains, humility shrivels up, and self-righteousness becomes the all encompassing way of doing church life.

The church cannot afford to pursue “what it looks like.” It must go for substance! It must find out what is true. In loving people, look past what their lives look like and how they appear to you. We very often carry self-righteous standards and quietly lay them on people without them ever knowing it. This is crippling to people who desperately need Gospel mercy and generous compassion.

It starts as a hair-line fracture in the foundation when one person decides what obedience to God looks like in a given situation. This “way” slowly begins to find approval with others. Over time this way becomes the “law of the land.” The law then becomes “tradition” and the people approve the tradition. Over more time it becomes “sacred tradition.” Even in leadership meetings, space is given to the sacred tradition and thus it rises to the point of unquestionability. Elder decisions are made in keeping with the sacred tradition rather than what God’s Word says. It then becomes about “who is right” rather than “what is right.” It is like this huge snowball meandering down the snow-covered hill and it grows over time and if no one stops it from growing it soon smashes into the structure and the crack in the foundation implodes. The church is left in shambles and people are crushed beneath the weight of something that should have never been that big in the first place. To be clear, there may be really nothing wrong with the first person’s way of obedience in a given situation. The problem comes when it is wrongly elevated to another level unchallenged, ignored, or worse, defended.

How do you know if that sound you hear is the tumbling snowball? Jesus speaks to Pharisees, “Go and learn what this means” (9:13) which was a rabbinic formula that encouraged humble repentance for their lack of knowledge about what they should have known. He then points their hearts to a passage in Hosea that speaks of God’s sweet mercy to the nation of Israel pictured by the prophet’s wayward wife Gomer. God pursued them with steadfast love and mercy. The remedy to their self-righteousness is simply the grace of Christ at work in their hearts through the Word of God. It is this grace that works into the people of God a humble heart that learns, a will that is filled with mercy, and emotions that are governed by truth.

May God keep His church from symbolism over substance!

Four Components to Church Leadership Development

My wife and I were at one time missionaries to Germany. We served the English speaking community there where we had the privilege of starting a church with another couple. It was a very wonderful time in our lives as a very young couple with a young family serving English speakers in Heidelberg Germany. It was during our time as missionaries that we experienced the up and downs of living life on mission in a foreign country. We learned so much about culture, humanity, the necessity and urgency of discipleship, and the function of the church both in the sending aspects and in the going aspects. One of the realities of missions both “at home” and “global” is the mess that is missions. By mess, I’m simply stating that like everything else man touches, it usually ends up a bit messy by the simple fact it involves people who are a mess. There are never enough workers, which we know will always be the case. There is always too much to do, which we know will always be the case too. The people God choses are really never adequate for the job. This is all part of the mess. Just look at the very first “missionaries” called “disciples” whom Jesus “sent” to do His Kingdom work. They too were a mess.

While it is very true to say God has chosen the “weak things to confound the wise” (1Cor 1:27), I think there are some rudimental things that could be addressed systemically in leadership development that could prayerfully spawn a new generation of laborers for the Gospel both globally and here at home in the local church.

My take is that a proper methodology must come from a healthy understanding of the church’s function in carrying out the great commission on the lowest level possible within the framework of the church. At the epicenter of ministry, the people of Christ’s church must be people who are disciple makers. That is, they are so convinced of the Gospel in their own lives they live with urgency to both be a disciple of Jesus and purposefully make disciples of Jesus. The leadership of the church and the “followship” of the church lock arms and walk in step with one another to reproduce more and more people who are both convinced of the Gospel and transformed by the Gospel. This kind of reproduction happens organically through relational living with love for one another and pastoral care of one another. It is out of the pool of discipleship where future elders and deacons arise and serve the body of believers called the church. It is out of this pool of disciples where global missions gets its best laborers.

These future leaders and future servants need to be:

Identified with discernment! While this is not particularly difficult theoretically, it is amazing to see how often this is not done in the church. In the book of Acts, there is this a thread of existing leadership selecting others who can do ministry (see Acts 6:3; Acts 13:2,3). Accompanied with the choosing, there is a need for discernment concerning the ones they chose. This discernment is really quite necessary for doing the work of Christ. The implication is clearly there would be some who could be chosen and some, for lack of qualification, would not be chosen. The Apostle Paul and Peter would later articulate with more clarity the qualifications for church leadership that cannot be dismissed. So, it seemed very necessary that there would be in place some mechanism of identifying men who have the character and live out the necessary qualifications. The application is very appropriate especially in our world. Elders and deacons who are leading and serving must identify others not by their personality, their giftedness, their likability, or their creativity. The existing leadership must have spiritually discerning eyes to see the men God has His hand on for the purpose of future ministry. Identification is only the first step.

Trained with care! God has designed things in a way where discipleship is functionally fundamental in the framework of the church. Disciples need, well, discipling! They did with Jesus and they do in the church. Qualification is not all that is necessary. There needs to be certain competencies as well. It is very important to take time with him to instruct him on the spiritual health of his own soul, the spiritual health of the church collectively as God’s people and individually as disciples. Care should be given to sound doctrine and grasping the multiple tensions God’s Word brings into life and ministry. He should be competent to teach and to manage his family. Nothing should be assumed with these disciples and instruction should be clear, to the point, and even personal with a goal of shaping the heart for leadership. Jesus took important time with His disciples and His instruction of these men was life changing for them and stuck with them all throughout their ministry.

Assessed with courage! Perhaps there is no greater need in our structure than this area of assessment. There are two key areas where assessment is needed. The first area is what the man believes. There certainly is an intellectual component to this part of assessing, but he should reflect in his answers a pastoral reflection in his knowledge. This intellectual assessment sadly is where it often ends. The second area must be in place. It is the area of assessing the life of the candidate. Usually one or two questions are asked in the counsel meeting of a quasi assessment about his life and then all else is assumed if he answers “correctly.” There should be so much more than this. There should be an investigation over an extended period of time that would assess the man’s spiritual fruit, pastoral giftedness, personal people skills, and an ability to actually lead, shepherd, and love people. It’s important to observe the man’s work ethic, reputation in the community, how he handles pressure, how he handles people who are difficult to love, and how he handles the normal ups and downs of daily living. A qualified man must be proven (not a novice) and there seems to be little in place to prove that he is proven. Assessment of a potential leader should be done over time and observation. Courage is needed to address weaknesses in an individual and reproof or correction is necessary even if it is difficult. Genuine respect for the office of elder or deacon demands a courage that will risk the relationship for the purpose of growth in the life of the potential leader. This should not be over looked.

Sent with accountability! This one is a no-brainer, but because of our present structures in ministry, few people understand how it should work and thus always think that someone else is holding the person in ministry accountable. In the world of missions it can be a bit of a mess. There are three legs on the stool of accountability! The first leg is the person himself. Is he living a life where accountability is sought and easily received. In other words, does he see his need for it, pursue it, and gladly submit himself to it and allow it to be a conduit for change for his own life personally? The second leg is the sending church. Will the sending church be intricately involved with holding the person accountable. Is there good communication and follow-up by the sending church and will they ask the hard questions. Will they then follow up to see growth in his life? Finally, there is the sending agency. Are there clear lines or boundaries for the sent one and are there marked paths each missionary should follow? Is there careful and meaningful follow up? Is the follow up personal and intentional? Is there intentional inspection of what is expected? There is often real turmoil in team missions and this area of accountability becomes so very crucial in effective disciple making. Accountability in the realm of the local church is often neglected as well. The paid pastor or pastoral staff often do their work and rarely will have anyone sit down with them and ask probing questions that would ascertain just how that man is functioning at life at home, life in his job, and how his spiritual walk with the Lord is doing. Often, there is no safe place for the leader to land so superficial answers are given and everyone goes on their way with no real sense of accountability . Lots of assumptions go on while underneath it all may be some real areas of concern that never get addressed. Over time, it can be a ministry killer.

We live in a fallen world and quite frankly, there is no perfect system that I know of that will perfectly harness these four areas perfectly. So, often the imperfections exist and over time only continue to grow because the ball is dropped in one or more of these. Only Jesus did it perfectly. And while Jesus is our ultimate hope, we can and should address what we can do in each of these areas to promote godly leadership in our churches that will spill over to a more God-glorifying structure for global missions. If healthy discipleship isn’t happening within the framework of the local church it will not happen effectively in global missions either. Our hope is Christ’s perfect work on our behalf in us that makes it possible for all involved to live in constant repentance and faith through Christ and for His glory.

What’s In It For Me?

We live in a world that is designed to cater to my base desires. One of the local TV broadcasters promotes this idea by saying, “We are on your side!” I always ask myself, “How do you even know what side I am on?” or “What makes you think I am on a side?”

I understand what they are saying, I guess, but one of the implications behind it is that I live life for all I can get out of it and if they can be in it for me, then I’ll choose their station rather over the other stations. It’s a default way of thinking what I think everyone thinks. We live life for what is in it for us!

People come to church for the same reason. People come to Jesus for the same reason. We read the Bible with that same underlying motive. Our ultimate goal in any kind of spiritual endeavor is often, “How can I be a better me?” So, we see Christ, His Word, and even church attendance in light of this motivation. We quietly think, “Just tell me how I can be better, do more, and live better and I will be happy!” So, Jesus, the Word, and Christ’s church all become a useful tool for my happiness. I don’t know that we ever intend to do this but “what’s in it for me” over time creeps into every crevice of our motivations for life.

We often don’t realize the path this takes us down. It subtly points us to our own goodness as the goal for life. Looking inward for our righteousness is never a good idea. There has to be a better motivation then, “What’s in it for me.” The good news is, “There is a better motivation!” We come to Christ, His Word, and His church for one reason: “Let me see the person of Jesus Christ and learn all He has already done for me!”

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

John’s Gospel tells us of a group of Greek people who had differentiated themselves from the masses of people and came to Philip with six words, “Sir, we would see Jesus” (John 12:21). So many in Scripture followed Christ for so many reasons but these folks stuck out in John’s mind simply because they wanted to see Christ. Philip told Jesus what they wanted and Christ said something notable. In Vv24,25, Jesus says in so many words, “He that will see me will have to die, lose their life, hate his life, and follow Me.” Jesus was headed to the cross. He was not headed for a happier life or for what was in it for Him, but instead He was sacrificing Himself for the sake of others. But, Jesus says, those who will die, will live! Those who lose their life will actually find it and those who hate their life will keep it!

The “what’s in it for me” way loses! Every time! Look to your motivation today. Look to your marriage, your family life, your own thought patterns and see just how “what’s in it for me” has snuck in and pulled you into it’s vortex and is draining the life right out of you. Now, turn from this thinking and set your affections on Christ…alone! He is the only one that has throughout all time really been “on your side.”

Prepare for Sunday

I can remember well the days when my children were very small and I had the privilege of pastoring a church we had started in Heidelberg, Germany. We were ministering to the English speaking community, including some sweet German friends that wanted to brush up on their English. Sunday mornings were hectic.

Cindy and I played a tag-team where each of us took a child or two and made sure they were fed, dressed, and ready to go. So many times it would not go as expected. Then, on the way in, the baby would have a serious diaper issue that soiled their clothes. But just like clock work, Cindy would reach in the diaper bag and pull out another whole set of clothes for the little one and we continued on our way.

Cindy would not say she was a super mom by any stretch of the imagination, but my point is, she was prepared. She had set some things out ahead of time for what was the possible or even the inevitable. Why? Because what was going on with the followers of Jesus was very important and she sought to do away with any possible obstacle for what was more important.

Sundays for the followers of Jesus is so very important. It is one of the reasons why we call Sunday, “The Lord’s Day!” How can we prepare for Sundays? Sunday morning is a Saturday night decision!

1. Take time on Saturday just to stop and pray for Sunday. Pray for your pastor. Pray for your Family Bible Class teacher. They are preparing for you and for your soul so spend some time in prayer preparing your heart for them. Pray for the family of God. Look forward to seeing perhaps some new people that God will bring to visit. Pray for the nursery/children’s workers that they won’t get distracted and that they will be loving and helpful to your children as they seek to point their hearts towards Jesus. Pray for the hearts of people to be softened by the greatness and glory of God. Pray that your heart will be receptive to the Word of God.

2. Take time on Saturday to confess sin. You have battled your own sinful heart all week. There were moments of sweet victory and then there were moments of stumbling unbelief. Confess your faith anew in Christ’s work for you and speak to God of turning from your own self-glory and coldness toward God and toward others. Confess your failure to effectively love your family and confess your struggle with discipling the heart of your children. Own your sin knowing that because of Christ’s finished work on your behalf, He freely forgives and cleanses you from all unrighteousness (1John 1:9).

3. Take time on Saturday evening to get ready. No, I’m not talking about putting your make-up on. I’m simply urging you to get the children’s clothing out ahead of time. Do the necessary ironing (is that still a thing?). Get breakfast stuff done ahead of time. Make it as easy as possible to have a calm Sunday morning. Oh, and don’t forget to throw in an extra outfit for the baby—you know, just in case!

4. Take time on Sunday morning to set your heart toward God. Play some Christ-honoring music that will help direct your heart toward Him. I would urge you to listen to something where the words of truth are clear and sung in a way where your heart will resonate with their truth. Get your Bible out and read it. Work together as a team to get the kids ready and shoot to get out into the car five minutes earlier than normal—you know, just in case…

5. Put your phone down. Just put it down on Sunday mornings. Really, can there be just one time when you are not looking at it? Don’t pick it up until much later in the afternoon. Take a “sabbatical” from social media. Remove any distraction in your heart and reserve all of your thoughts for Christ alone.

6. Arrive with expectation. Expect to encounter people who have needs. You are there to serve and not to be served. Look for someone and see in their eyes the hurts that have beaten them up that week. Be a source of grace, healing, and help to them. Expect to sing about Christ and His work on the cross—on your behalf! Expect to participate! Worship is participatory. Expect to hear from God through preaching. The spoken Word is the revelation of the Living Word (Jesus) with the view toward the transformation of your heart into the image of Christ. Long for Christ and His grace in your soul. Look and listen for the sweet words of the Gospel. Let your heart be refreshed and renewed once again in the hope that only Christ can give! Cherish it in your own soul and speak of Him to the others around you after the service. Our unity and fellowship flows from Christ and His glorious Gospel. Get there early and be the last to leave because it’s the best view of heaven you will see on this side!

Prepare for Sunday. It’s pretty important! Don’t miss it!

Atrophy in the Church

Many churchgoers in the American church can live an entire life and never witness firsthand a church being planted. Thus, many do not know what they are missing. While for me, this is sad, it is a very real a picture of the overall health of the American church. Any church over time that does not actually grow and mature in what it means to make disciples is in danger of atrophy. By growth, I mean there is in the life of the church people coming through the doors, growing and changing to Christlikeness, and then going out to from the church to serve Christ in His Kingdom work. The pinnacle of this is seen in a church starting another church.

The word atrophy means, “A wasting away of the body or of an organ or part, as from defective nutrition or nerve damage; a decrease in size, a wasting away, or deterioration.”  If there is no healthy inflow of people and outflow of people with intentionality, over time the church will slowly and often quietly crumble. You won’t even know it is happening until you walk in one day and see only a few people left hanging on for dear life. Atrophy.

There are some very real signs of atrophy.

1) The church seeks merely to survive. This is often motivated by fear. It is paralyzing and will cause both leadership and followship to not make the necessary changes so as not to “rock the boat.” What they don’t realize is the boat is already rocked and needs to be calmed with a clear vision of Christ and His church. The church is divided, unhealthy, and is in the process of atrophy. It’s subtle, but so destructive.

2) The church seeks merely to thrive. This too is often motivated by fear. This is the pendulum swinging the other way. Suddenly, change is the name of the game and change is made in bold ways that are often rushed and not well thought out and thus not really well communicated. Inadvertantly, this can be hurtful to people on many levels. The leadership looks horizontally to methods and personalities that can be somewhat mimicked for success. People who question leadership are often marginalized and thought of as “old fashioned” or “trouble causers” rather than shepherded and cared for. Growth can happen and often does at least numerically. But the good health of inflow and out flow of people and ministry doesn’t happen. Over time, stagnation and atrophy will show itself.

3) The church loses its heart of service to God. In its early form this shows up in people no longer interested in working at the very necessary levels like nurseries, ushers, greeters, etc. People lose the heart to serve others in the realm of the body of believers, so church attendance becomes sporadic, public services are dropped because no one comes and the vision for service for God and others is lost. Ulimately, discipleship and soul care of people wanes and the outflow of people for ministry dries up. Atrophy has the church by the neck and life is being suffocated out of the body.

There is only one remedy for atrophy. One. Through the careful preaching of the written Word of God a rebirth of a bibilcal understanding of the Living Word (Christ) must permeate every area of life in the body. The Gospel is central then to this important view of Christ. His person and His work then is driven home as the Word is preached with fervency and is received with humilty of heart. The result of this is two things: repentance from sin and faith in Christ. The person of Christ begins to flow (Gal 2:20) in the hearts of God’s people, service to God and others is restored, discipleship and soul care become the priority, and people go out with the message of the Gospel on their lips and their lives and impact their world. It’s not hard. The early church did it well with men who only knew how to fish.

Can you sense atrophy setting in? Don’t ignore it.

Can’t we just love each other?

So much bickering! So much anger! So many ugly things being said! So much hurt! Can’t we just love each other? After all, this is Valentine’s month, isn’t it?

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It’s a valid question. But there’s a problem. It’s a very real problem. The problem is this thing called “love.” We really struggle right there. If you listen to pop songs of yesterday or today, you will get a mixed bag of definitions, illustrations, or dreams of love, but you will find it difficult to find the real sense of love as God has defined it. It’s not what we think it is. Jesus addresses it though. His standard for love is really, really high and very, very difficult. You may not really want to know it. But you also may want to at least take a peek at it. You know, just in case…

In the middle of his greatest sermon, the one that He preaches on a hillside to his disciples, Jesus says this, “So, whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12. We were taught this as a child and our parents called it “The Golden Rule.” Scripture often sums up all of the Law and the Prophets with one word, “Love!” The two greatest commands are “Love God and Love Others!” (Mark 12:28-31). Essentially what Jesus is saying here is love is lived out in the Kingdom of God by “whatever you wish others would do to you, you do it to them.” This is startling. This is shocking. Love just isn’t that way! At least, that is what our hearts tell us. Thankfully, the Apostle Paul gives us even more clarity about love in 1Corinthians 13 (Read it at your leisure!).

So, how do we want to be loved? I suggest that there are at least three spheres of our lives that long to be loved.

   We want to be loved emotionally. Don’t we all want emotional acceptance, emotional sensitivity, feeling of being wanted, feeling of being supported, feeling of being needed, the feeling of being important to someone, the feeling of acceptance, feeling belonging, cherished, respected, welcomed, appreciated, befriended, listened to? Then, this is how we treat those around us! You giveemotional acceptance; you be emotionally sensitive to the needs of other; you make others feel needed, wanted, appreciated, and cherished, respected, welcomed, befriended…etc. You see this?

 We want to be loved mentally. We want to be understood; we want our opinion heard; our thoughts to matter; we want recognition, approval, and to be believed in. All of these things and many more aspects we don’t have time to list are what we give to others. Think what relationship in your life right now would be so much better if this was done. Take your thoughts and direct them outwardly to the people around you.        

 We want to be loved physically. We want to be touched, hugged, caressed, and cuddled. I can remember my mother’s hand on my forehead when I was sick and throwing up. That certainly is a one-of-a-kind love.

  Here’s the point though: we don’t manipulate life so we are treated this way! Instead, we give this love to those around us! Wow! This is a tall order! Is there anyone you know that loves like this? I’m pretty sure, I am not capable of doing life and living love like this. So, the original question above, “Can’t we just love each other?” seems a bit like a “No,” doesn’t it?

Unless… Unless something from within our hearts changes. Enter, God’s amazing grace through the person and the work of Jesus! He changes the heart of those who trust Him and by God’s grace, in our struggle to love as we would want to be loved, we humbly exercise His divine grace and we reach out to God in prayer!

 We ask! Simply put, it is an act of humble faith. We are desperate to love this way, so we ask God in faith. Love doesn’t come naturally, but only through God’s grace working in us. We pray for God’s wisdom to love; for God’s patience to love; for God’s Spirit to love through us. This word ask is the word a beggar uses when he is asking for alms!  We don’t know how to love; we are bound by our base desires (7:6) and we are blind by our own lusts and self-serving desires. So, we don’t resort to our own manipulations of life, we die to self and come to Christ in nothing else but humble faith. Notice what Jesus does? He gives! Twice Jesus says this! Of course He does, He loves!

 We seek! This is asking in faith but with passion. Our base passions and desires scare us often so we tend to push away from them. Jesus says we passionately ask! With all the emotional gushing love we can muster we implore, plead, entreat, and appeal for God to grace us with a love that communicates Jesus’ kind of love. But, notice, it is not a demand! It is not with a stomp of the foot, but it is a humble faith with passion. It’s an earnest pursuit of reacting or acting in a way that you know is outside of you! I wonder if when you don’t love your neighbor well if you really passionately ask God for His love? How does Jesus respond to our seeking? He allows us to find. There are ways to love each person, each time! Seek from Christ His love and you will find ways that His love in you can be given.

We knock! This is asking God for love with passion persistently and patiently! It is probably the most blessed part of what Jesus is saying. We keep coming back. Why? Because life continues to present to us time and time again that we can’t love in a way that is needed. We persistently knock in order to patiently learn to love each person in each situation with care, with gentleness, with truthfulness, and with the same grace that Jesus has extended to the likes of us. Notice who opens the door! Twice Jesus says, “It will be opened to you.” He opens the doors to love others. He has to! It’s His love, you’re His person, and the one needing love is His work for His glory!

Who can do this? Only Christ! Look through the pages of Scripture and find people loving in extraordinary ways but getting very little love in return. The Apostle Paul explains how this love happens in Galatians 5:6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. Faith in Christ is that upward and outward look to Him that steadies our hearts to love people that are so very different from us and look at things from such different views. By faith, we get to die to that inward and downward look that seeks its own and look upward and outward that loves God and loves others. Isn’t that amazing?

So, yes, we can just love each other. And, just for fun, we can work to “outdo one another in showing honor” to each other! (Romans 12:10). What grace!


Life is so difficult…

Sin has so tarnished all of life. One of the sad realities of sin is that sin is never singular. There is never a time where we sin one sin. James makes it very clear in James 2:10 “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” So often, sin piles upon sin and the results of this can make life very difficult for everyone involved. Their sin means you are suddenly faced with perhaps some very difficult circumstances to navigate through. You must first navigate through your own sin that just comes gushing out of your heart. If that isn’t enough, you must learn then to navigate through the sin of those around you who are reacting to the original sin. Layers and layers of sin, destruction, hurt, and discouragement can really throttle your soul and turn your heart from the sweet grace of God in Christ. So, when these things take place, it is important that we have some real anchors for our soul that are sure and steadfast.  

Below is a list I have used personally to help steady my soul when facing difficult circumstances. Maybe you have some steady anchor points you would add these to. Consider these truths!

1. Immediately guard your thoughts. Our mind is so deceitful and can very boldly think things that are quite nasty and very hurtful if not held in check. Few people knew this better than the prison-bound Apostle Paul. While in prison he wrote his letter to the Philippian church that speaks of the joy in Christ that is unlike anything here on earth. In Philippians 4:8 he writes, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” “[You] think on these things.” It seems to be very clear there are several other things you could think but you don’t. Instead, you turn your mind to “these things.” I would simply add the word, “immediately” to that! Immediately, think on these things. Setting your thoughts toward God when your heart would naturally think its own thoughts is vital to stability.

2. Only Speak that which is true.The immediate default of our heart is always “self-righteousness” and it seems to come out of nowhere. We immediately seek to protect ourselves from hurt. We quickly seek to justify our wrong actions or reactions to the difficulty, or we seek to simply escape it all by ignoring or pretending it didn’t happen. These actions flow out of the lie that somehow, we can either manipulate life, control the circumstance, or sway others to our view of the storyline. Our “creative” (read deceitful) minds will be tempted to put a spin on the story that will favor us. Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:25 “…put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth…” When the difficulty arises, guard your thoughts and watch your words! Truth is so vital. Your spin on the truth will only work evil and will eventually destroy relationships around you. 

3. Don’t repay evil for evil. This is just a natural impulse, isn’t it? There’s an attitude adjustment that needs to be made here. The word “repay” is the idea to render and carries the idea of paying in full. It is the attitude, “You do this to me, I do this back to you in full!” It is a vicious punch-and-counter-punch that can actually be reflexive. Paul says this in Romans 12:17 and then adds “but give thought to that which is honorable in the sight of all.” He calls for self-control—Holy Spirit control! Act! Don’t react. Take a deep breath and allow the Spirit of God to adjust your attitude. Jesus did this perfectly on our behalf. “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” 1Peter 2:23 

Amazing, isn’t it? This is only possible by trusting the Father who judges justly! 

4. See your log first! Pride is a killer! God resists the proud! Others are not the biggest sinner in the room. Matthew 7:3-5 compels each of us to cease from looking at the spot in our brother’s eye and look first to the log in our own eye. A person who is consumed with self-glory has to keep pointing at the spots in others eye in order to justify their view of self. But it is more than a spot in our eye! It is a log! See it! Get help removing it. Do that first! To constantly point out someone’s unrighteousness is nasty and so destructive to relationships. Certainly do not make their unrighteousness a topic of conversation to others. God gives grace to the humble to see your own log.

5. Be reconciled! We are called to be ambassadors of reconciliation. In Christ, because of His gracious gift of righteousness imputed to our account, we are then to take His righteousness and apply it to every relationship in life. Once again, the Apostle Paul speaks to this in 2Corinthians 5:18 “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;” Christians are to be people who pursue reconciliation. Understandably, there may be times when because of the hardness of hearts, reconciliation will seem impossible. You can do everything you can possibly do to set the table for reconciliation, but the other party won’t come and participate. However, In Christ, we can always be the ones pursuing it with grace in our hearts.

6. Look to your Savior. This is not listed last in order of importance as much as it is for emphasis. The process of our sanctification is often pictured as the Christian on an upward way “new heights I’m gaining every day.” The emphasis seems to be on our works and every day we are getting better and better at holiness. It sounds good, but it’s not really a complete picture of what is happening. The victory given to us is Christ’s victory on our behalf. Peter says it best in 2 Peter 3:18 “Grow in grace and knowledge of Christ!” Peter is seeking to encourage persecuted people not to “do more; try harder” to persevere but to be looking to their Savior. True spiritual growth is seen in our understanding in a clearer way all that Christ has already done for us on our behalf and trustingHis finished work. These very difficult times are God’s way of showing us our default of self-glory and thus giving us the grace to repent and turn in faith to His work in us for His glory. Our sanctification is growth in faith in Christ not in our perfect work. Look upward and outward rather than inward or downward! Look to your Savior and don’t take the eyes of your heart off of Him!

Christ alone is our steady anchor. It is in Him and through Him that we can even possibly begin to handle the very difficult times with courage. His steadfast love and care for us work in us His great grace and glory but we cannot be passive. We are called to repentance and faith! Trust Him!

I’m a perfectionist!

I never really wanted to be. I never thought I could be. But, I am!

I remember well as a young student pianist I would drive my Mom nuts when I practiced. I would take a two-note phrase and go over, and over, and over it until I could perform it perfectly three times in a row. If I made a mistake, I would start all over again. Usually, somewhere in the middle of my striving, I would get so frustrated that I would take both hands and hit the keyboard striking as many notes as possible. By this time, my mother would ever-so-cautiously enter the room, tap me on the shoulder, and softly say, “Why don’t you get yourself a drink of water and come back to this later?” Mom knew what she was doing. While that worked to divert my mind and emotions temporarily, it did nothing to quiet the beast that was forming in me and showing it’s ugly head. I say ugly, because that is exactly what it is. It is ug-ly!

Striving to be perfect is damaging on so many levels. We don’t realize everything that is connected to it at the time, but the evil beast from within is there storming about and seeking who it may devour.

The implications behind my perfectionism

I call them implications because they are not often quite so readily seen.

If I am perfect, I don’t really need a Savior. Now, think on this long and hard. If I can somehow, someway do it right or actually be right, why would I need Jesus. This is perhaps the most difficult truth about my supposed perfectionism. Jesus really didn’t need to die. We don’t need Jesus, really. This is more than just wrong, it is heretically wrong! This is rebellion at its worst. It goes against all that God’s Word teaches. I become the savior and I am my own righteousness. It speaks of ingratitude for Jesus. All that God did for us in Christ is unnecessary. Wow. I don’t want to go down that road at all.

If I am perfect, woe to the people around me! You see, if I am perfect, it is a perfection of my own making. It’s not God’s perfection, it is mine. It’s not really perfection at all and yet I demand that not only I must live up to it (which in itself is a big hoax) but everyone around me must live up to my standard. The problem is they don’t know my standard and so they fail miserably and constantly. But this is good for my perfection because it makes my position of perfection even better because no one else can be perfect like me! I then look down on them and treat them as the failures they are. I let them know about it too! They will never meet up to my standards. Over time, though, because no one meets my standards, people grow weary of not being able to meet up to my standards and they begin to resent me and desire to not to be around me. I am left to wonder why and am often sulking and feeling sorry for myself when I really it brought it on myself because “I have to be right!” I end up treating people in such selfish and unkind ways.

Yah, woe to them!

Well, the Apostle Paul understood this quandary of life. In 2 Corinthians Paul speaks of a dialogue he had with God. He said that God gave him a “gift of a handicap to keep me in constant awareness of his limitations.” (V7 in the Message). He went on to say that he didn’t quite think of it as a gift at first, but when God showed him that in his weakness, Christ’s strength became visible in his life, he was glad to have his gift! He was glad to have his God-given handicap. His imperfection made him glad! In fact V10 says, “Now I take my limitations in stride, and with good cheer!”

Wait! Who really does that? Who really is glad and with good cheer in their limitations? Not a perfectionist! You see, my faux perfectionist heart is full of self-glory that keeps me from the two greatest commands of all Scripture: Love God, and love people (Luke 10:27). It’s damaging to the glory of Christ around me and it takes away an opportunity to love my neighbor. Why then am I even in this world then? No wonder I am discouraged!

But because of the Gospel of Jesus, I get to be a repenting faux perfectionist! And, I’m glad!

For more reading on this subject read here.