I Want To Be Your Friend

A friend sent this to me recently. Relationships are very difficult to maneuver through but with God’s grace at work in our hearts it should look a lot like this:
Martin Colborn writes,
“Can you criticize me without condemnation, ridicule or condescension? Can you express your convictions without expecting me to immediately adopt them as my own? Can you allow me time to test statements, in order to find out the truth (or error) of them for myself? Will you acknowledge that you, being human, friendship-daycould possibly be wrong, even in your dearest convictions and opinions, allowing me the same? And could we just talk, without cliche, without posturing or intimidating, without seeking to gain the upper hand or to win an argument? And when we must part, can we do so not to hurry to tell others each other’s faults, but to love and pray for one another instead, and look forward with delight to the time when God brings us together again? If you can answer “yes” to these questions, I want to be your friend.”

Christ-lovers and people who intentionally live for God’s glory should be the best at this.

Evidences of a Healthy Church

One of the most important jobs of the elder is monitor his spiritual health.  Paul counseled Timothy to “…watch thou in all things…making full proof of your ministry (1Timothy 4:5 KJV).  This same “watchfulness” is in the elders job description for the church.  Paul instructs the elders at Ephesus to “Take heed…to all the flock…” (Acts 20:28).

I love having a group of men that meet once a month to pray for the flock, plan for the flock, and protect the flock of God.  There are some very sneaky ways in which sin, wrong thinking, wrong philosophy, wrong theology, apathy, or indifference can come into an unsuspecting body of believers and wreak havoc over time.  There are some obvious and observable evidences of health that should quickly help us see if we are headed toward good health or is there a need for an adjustment.  Although not an exhaustible list, here is a list I look at to help me adjust.Perfect-church-2

1.  Is Christ seen preeminent in all areas of church life? (Col 1:18) Christ is the Head and in everything He IS preeminent. We don’t make Him this, He IS this. The question then becomes “Are we keeping in line with what is true?” This would include preaching. We can have a very well though out sermon with our Hebrew/Greek well developed and fully defined and have a profound exegetical outline and well articulated illustrations and never get to Jesus. Children’s ministry, teen ministry, college ministry, men and women’s ministries must all get to Christ and His preeminence.

2.  Is the Word central and authoritative? Pragmatism is slick. It dulls the senses and silently allows things that Scripture would never condone. The words “central” and “authoritative” are key. Central means it is in the middle of our thinking in all areas. Authoritative means we wrestle with our wills and emotions and seek to make sure our motives are submitted to God’s clear directives.

3.  Are there lives changing?  One of the joys of Scripture is to see just how God works His glory out in lives and the profound impact that has on a life.  People who are constantly pursuing God will always be changing from glory to glory (2Corinthians 3:18). Paul wanted His churches to continue to grow in their understanding of Christ and the aroma of Christ to permeate all of life (2Corinthians 2:14).  Growth in Christ is always seen by others and ultimate demonstrates itself in people becoming less like themselves and more like Christ.

4.  Is there ownership of sin? John is very clear, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves” (1John 1:8). The sad thing about aging in our organized churches is falling for this trap. Like the church in Sardis, there is a “reputation of being alive” but are really dead (Revelation 3:1). Much deadness can be traced to how the Laodiceans thought of themselves in full denial of what was true (Revelation 3:17). They didn’t own their sin. Let’s say it another way, “They didn’t treasure Christ and His magnificent grace.” Confession and repentance must be an intentional part of individuals and practiced corporately as well.

5.  Is there a growing care for “one-another?”  This spills over into so many areas of the church. People sacrificing themselves to give to each other was a key characteristic of the early church that made an indelible mark in the culture (Acts 2:42-46). We feel sometimes that we have to program our way into the surrounding culture when we should begin with genuine care, “one-another” each other in a way that is in direct contrast to the self-serving life-style of people without Christ.

Why Would You Leave Your Church?

Grace is Flowing

This is a good question. Most likely at some point in your life you may be faced with this question. What would guide you? There is an accompanying question that has to be asked: “What is a healthy church?” or “Why would I choose this church in first place?” There are many good resources today that can help answer these questions and maybe we can discuss them on a later post, but for the sake of this post, let’s assume you have been part of what you enjoyed as a “good” church and it’s not the same today and you are bothered by this. What are the core elements that have to be in place for you to stay?  Here is a list of questions perhaps you should ask about your church. The order isn’t particularly important as all of these are vital.

1.   Is there a genuine Christ-centered…

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Why Would You Leave Your Church?

This is a good question. Most likely at some point in your life you may be faced with this question. What would guide you? There is an accompanying question that has to be asked: “What is a healthy church?” or “Why would I choose this church in first place?” There are many good resources today that can help answer these questions and maybe we can discuss them on a later post, but for the sake of this post, let’s assume you have been part of what you enjoyed as a “good” church and it’s not the same today and you are bothered by this. What are the core elements that have to be in place for you to stay?  Here is a list of questions perhaps you should ask about your church. The order isn’t particularly important as all of these are vital.

1.   Is there a genuine Christ-centered approach to every aspect of ministry?  In other words, what flag is flying? For many, Christ is merely “understood.” Often Christ is not the center, the end, the beginning and everything in between, He is somewhere in the background. Read Colossians 1:17,18 and Romans 11:36 and compare. Is Christ really the reason you exist and meet together or is there another flag flying.

2.  Is there a genuine Gospel-saturation for living? Many have perhaps been brought up with the idea that the Gospel is the power of God unto Salvation (Rom 1:16), which is so very true and precious. But the Gospel doesn’t stop there! The same grace that saves is the same grace that sanctifies us every single moment of our life. We are be being saved daily (1Corinthians 15:2) and are being transformed into the image of Christ from one degree of glory to another which comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18). All of the message of the Gospel is true for us for everyday sanctification. If the Gospel is diminished for life the natural result is death, decay, and God’s glory will soon be missing. You can’t manufacture this and you can’t program it into your congregation. It either is or it isn’t.  church

3.  Is there an atmosphere of confession and repentance? Sin is by nature deceptive and so, well, it deceives. Confession and repentance must come from the top. There should be in the “atmosphere” of the leadership an on-going repentance. I have said so often to myself and to many others, “It’s not ‘Once saved, always saved;’ it’s ‘once regenerated, always repenting!'”  This is not just reserved for the leadership, however, the “followship” (my word…) should be a repenting people as well.  Confession and repentance in the heart of people is often exhibited in how people pray and what they pray for. Listen carefully to your own prayers and see if you include both in your own prayers. It is also seen in the church’s practice of the ordinances (The Lord’s Supper and Baptism are perfectly designed to speak of both confession and repentance as well as publicly declare the person and work of Christ).

4.  Is there an atmosphere of genuine growing faith exhibited and celebrated? Since it’s true that faith comes by hearing the Word (Romans 10:17) then theoretically people should be growing in their love, trust, and belief in all that Christ is and all that He has done. God’s Word is about God’s Son! Growth in faith is often exhibited in a strong hunger for the Word by the people, and a tenacious attempt by the leadership to be feeding them God’s Word. The giving of the Word and the receiving of the Word both need to be sought after by both leadership and followship and celebrated by a transformation in hearts that is talked about, and modeled in order to point the next generation to growing faith as well. If growing faith is absent, most likely church discipline will be absent as well.

5.  Is there a growing love for God that is seen in lives becoming more like Christ? It is easy to sit in public worship services and give lip service to loving God. It is yet another thing to see people who humbly admit transparently their own lives need Christ and thus pursue sanctification through accountability, life-on-life discipleship, iron-sharpening-iron relational living that result in a steady change into the image of Jesus. Once again, this is certainly leadership led, but it must be a followship thing as well! This should be what good ol’ fashion Acts 2 type stuff looks like that goes on in genuine fellowship “from house-to-house.”

6.  Is there a love for people that is sacrificial? This is part of God’s two-fold “greatest command” given to us in Scripture (Deuteronomy 6:5,6; Matthew 22:37,38) to love God and love people. Many will “do things” for people but that doesn’t mean there is a love for people. Christ is the model here. He sacrificially gave over and over (Philippians 2:1-11) in a way that met the need for humanity who could not do for themselves. Giving sacrificially as Christ gives means it is not convenient; it won’t fit your model of living; it will mean cleaning up messes, and it means they may not even like you for serving them. Loving people as Christ loved and gave Himself is just difficult. However, it should be a key element in leadership and in followship.

7.  Is there reproduction going on? Discipleship must be happening. Helping people become more like Christ needs to be front and center – the goal of preaching, teaching, activities, fellowship, worship, and evangelism. There should be an intentional outward focus that includes the inward focus. We follow the 2Timothy 2:2 pattern that flows from Christ’s Great Commission (Matthew 20:19,20) that commands that we “teach them to observe all that I have commanded you.” This means there is the constant verbal communication of the Gospel to all as well as the constant visual communication of a life that is being changed by the Gospel.  This should result then in reproduction – people whose life will be changed as they continue to watch other people’s life change. It becomes multiplication rather than addition to the church. (As an aside, I think the ultimate in true reproduction will be in churches that will produce another body of believers–sometimes called “Church-Planting.”)

8.  Is there humble worship going on? Humble worship is often lost somewhere along the way and aberrant worship appears. By aberrant, I mean, is someone or something other than the God of the Bible being worshipped and is the worship acceptable worship? I think God does care how He is worshipped. There are often two extremes: 1. Worship any way you want to as long as you are sincere; and 2. You must only worship this way–a rigid adherence to a prescribed method. Either side is flawed. God is holy and thus He must be worshipped in a way that aligns with His very nature. The story of Cain and Able illustrate this. Numbers 3 also tells of a bitter story of two men whose worship was unauthorized. The One true God is to be feared and worshipped, and His glory must be at the very core of our love and submission to Him. Genuine worship isn’t electronic or non-electronic, fashion or lack of fashion, programmed or not programmed. True worship is the grace-filled heart of a servant whose soul desires to speak of the worth of God and hear His Word with great joy and submit his life to it all!

It has been my experience that if one or two of these eight are lacking, things begin to crumble pretty quickly. Some would look for external signs that are changed and to this I would offer a caution. The external things may or may not be genuine reasons for leaving a church. Be very slow to leave if these eight things are going on but you are uncomfortable simply because your preference isn’t considered. It may be God is working His will into your life and means for you to serve others by not demanding your preference. Many won’t immediately see any of these eight for some time depending on their involvement. Maybe God would have you stay to help model and shape a different direction.  Maybe you sense it is too late for that and you need to quickly move on. Either way, considering these things may just clarify where God has you and what your next step must be.

10 Random Thoughts on Parenting

At Thanksgiving this past year, we had the joy of spending some time with all three of our children together with their families.  More than once, I was just overwhelmed with joy and several times to the point of tears welling up in my eyes as I thought of God’s amazing grace that continues to show God’s kindness to Cindy and me and our family. There are no magic wands or lists to follow that could even come close to orchestrating our family. Each child is so unique with the way God has designed them, and then you add the preciousness of their spouses and we have such a conglomerate of character, “characters,” personalities, physical abilities, and passions that simply cannot be because of any great thing we have done, but an absolutely undeniable gift from God to His great glory.

So, I thought I would jot down some things that I’ve learned, am still learning, forgot, advise, or not advise as the case maybe.  So, here are ten…for what they’re worth. They are not earth shattering thoughts nor are they prioritized in any way.  Just…random thoughts.

1.    Relationships are hard work. From the very beginning, work very, very hard on your relationship with them. You are not their “friend,” you are their parent. Especially at the beginning. As they grow and demonstrate they can discipline themselves this relationship grows and change will occur. Don’t hover over them, but don’t keep them at a distance either. As you change in age, responsibility, and life stages, understand they are changing too. Walk with them and work very hard at it.  It is hard, laborious, rest-stealing work. Nothing comes easy. Wrestle, struggle, weep, pray, and again I say, work!

2.    Keep looking down the road. You are training them for tomorrow, next month, next year, when they leave your home, and ultimately for eternity.  Don’t expect them to be 8 before they are finished being 7. Patiently take each day with the view they won’t probably get it today—but someday they will. We must give them an eternal perspective.  This takes time to form in our own minds so why don’t we give our kids time to “get it?”sipe

3.   Take time to learn them. God made them on purpose.  Do you know that purpose? We are designed to give God glory. Find out the fascinating parts how God made them unique.  Watch them—every part of them.  How do they act or react and to what situations are they really moved? Watch facial expressions, eye movements, bodily reactions and learn to decipher what God is doing in them and through them. It takes times.  Don’t be afraid to spend time.

4.    Teach them very early what “no” means. So many children do not get authority simply because Mom and Dad did not teach them what “no” means. It often means that they also don’t grasp “yes” very well either. This leaves them very insecure.

5.    Be consistent.  Spirit-driven, Christ-centered people are people who are not perfect, but demonstrate consistency. Children who never know what to expect from Dad or Mom because of huge swings of emotions or “moods” are once again raised in an insecure, fearful environment and those insecurities and fears are devastating to them.

6.    Constantly speak truth into their lives.  Everyday presents “Kodak moments” to speak God’s truth into their lives.  Don’t miss them.  They are precious times of relational heart-to-heart times that often do not come around the same away again. Store them in the library of your memory. A consistent focus on what is true keeps them in the realm of God and His glory. Learning to discern what is true in life must begin with the parent. Don’t be fooled by imitations. Satan is a liar. Sin itself lies. Christ, His Word, and the Spirit are all revealers of truth for all of life.  Learn it, live it, model it and speak it into their lives. Truth doesn’t come by osmosis.

7.    Laugh often and hard! Don’t take yourself so seriously. Laugh with your kids often and laugh hard. We have had tears in our eyes and our guts hurt with laughter. We laughed at ourselves, silly things, and even laughed a corny jokes.  Now that they are grown, they are now saying the corny things and we are laughing just as hard…well, most of the time!

8.    Build traditions into your lives. We have many memories that we all share and are now seeking to make more. We have places for vacation, we have holiday traditions, we have many “Sipe-isms” as well as times with extended family that we all cherish together. These are things that are like glue that keep us all coming back for more. As fun, weird, or difficult as family (and extended family) can be, are all opportunities to grow in Christ-like love and reminders of God’s grace to all of us.

9.    Make all of life ministry. Being a pastor meant that my kids were pastor’s kids, but I doubt they knew it much. Cindy and I sought to make ministry a life rather than a ministry. In other words, we got to share life and ministry all the time with our kids so they really couldn’t decipher when we were “ministering” and when we were living life.  It was all one. Loving God and loving people cannot and should not be put in dividers and segmented. I am overwhelmed now to see them doing what they have done all their lives.  They are making a living by it now.  Pure grace!

10.   Cherish every step.  I think Cindy is better at this then me, but learning to love and cherish every step of the way is a must. This demands a certain contentment combined with delighting-in-the-moment way of handling each moment through the years. Each child moves through life in his/her own way that should be cherished, enjoyed and not rushed. The mothers contentment at where she is in life is crucial here. If the mother is always up-in-arms and creating drama for her and everyone else, she is not cherishing the moment. Life moves at break-neck speed and we will miss things that are very dear if we are not alert. Stop and enjoy right where you are in life and where they are.

Just my thoughts…and I’m sure there’s more thoughts out there.

It’s the new year. It is also time to check your inventory…

Grace is Flowing

Retailers often do not like this time of year. They must go through their entire inventory piece by piece and make sure that what their supposed to have is what they actually have. It’s painful, but it is a necessary and time consuming way of accountability, discipline, and living out what really is true. It often takes closing the doors so that accuracy and documentation can be best maintained. inventory

To some degree, it is useful for a child of God to take similar inventory. We too should check our lives to see that what we say we have is indeed what we really have. Maybe we should actually get away, turn our technology off, and sit quietly so that accuracy and documentation can be best maintained. We have been given the magnificent, complete, whole, pure, undefiled, holy righteousness of Christ upon salvation! What a gift.  What a joy.

Yet, is…

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Covetous Hearts at Christmas

This is supposed to be a time of giving, isn’t it? Why then does my heart just begin to erupt with a nagging desire for things. It’s not even stuff I need or really, really want.  It’s just a gut-wrenching “You would be most happy if you had…” or, “Wouldn’t your life be so much easier if you had…?” Do you have similar thoughts? How do you battle with this.gifts

Here are some things I begin to do with great and purposeful intentionality:

1.  Stop your heart.  No, I don’t mean physically.  I mean, I literally say to my soul, “Stop!” This is not some legalistic, just-try-harder thing, it simply is what Paul says in 2Corinthians 10:5, “…take every thought captive…” Here’s our “way of escape” (1Corinthians 10:13) and somehow we miss it.  Don’t miss it–stop it!

2.  Start your heart.  Here’s where I begin to start my heart: the goodness and grace of God in Christ.  Begin a list and keep adding to it.  Christ has given me life itself. I breathe. That is simply because God is gracious. But there’s more–oh, so much more.  He has given me grace, mercy, righteousness, peace, adoption as an adult son, I’m an heir with Christ, grace, and did I mention grace? This is just a start–begin a list and check it every day! Keep it vertical–Christ focused.

3. Renew your heart. Here’s the other important part–the horizontal relationships that God has given.  I begin with Cindy, my wife. Oh, my, God’s goodness and grace really begins to overflow as I think of how good God has been to give me her! Then I think of my three children and now their spouses–all very dear people to me–my favorite in the world. Then, so far, three grandchildren. I can’t resist thinking about my extended family of my brothers, who are very dear to me, my dad, my in-laws, and just as I am about to burst, I think of my family in Christ. The covetous thoughts really begin to slither away by God’s good kindness.

This takes practice. The thing I like most is the worship that comes out of this as I think of what I really deserve. So much of life hovers around our view of God vs. our view of ourselves. Sin always takes root when we think more highly of ourselves than we ought. Only God is God and He alone is our satisfaction!

So, stop; start; and renew!

Have a very Merry Christmas!

“Worshipping god” without “Worshipping God”

Jesus often got to the point and didn’t mince words. He turned the light of truth on the Pharisees and urged them to come off their high tower of self-reliance and see the spiritual bankruptcy of their lives. Christ’s sermon on the mount hits us all between the eyes (see Matthew 7:24-27). Many of us are perhaps “worshipping god” without really “worshipping God.” 

I couldn’t help seeing the church today in A. W. Pink’s comments:

They bring their bodies to the house of prayer, but not their souls; they worship with their mouths, but not “in spirit and in truth.” They are sticklers for immersion or early morning communion, yet take no thought about keeping their hearts with all diligence.  They boast of their orthodoxy, but disregard the precepts of Christ. Multitudes of professing Christians abstain from external acts of violence, yet hesitate not to rob their neighbors of a good name by spreading evil reports against them. They contribute regularly to the “pastor’s salary,” but shrink not from misrepresenting their goods and cheating their customers, persuading themselves that “business is business.” They have more regard for the laws of man than those of God, for His fear is not before their eyes.”

Convicting…

Unbelief – An Often Misdiagnosed Disease

It’s tragic–very tragic. It happens to all of us. We simply don’t believe Christ–who He is, what He has done, or is doing–and we misdiagnose our unbelief as a mere trifle, a cold, or a passing headache. 
 I see unbelief in my own heart and am often shocked by how easily I go there. Any time I spend giving in to my unbelief, I am, in effect, walking down the path to a land of make-believe. I often call it “la-la land”–a land of complete desolation! It is desolate because it isn’t a place of real life–it’s make-believe. It’s a cold, lonely, and harsh land.  It’s not the place of God and His great glory.  It is simply an imaginary place that seeks to void God from all of life.  The reality, of course, is that we can’t do that to our Creator, for He is THE Ultimate Reality. (Psalm 139).

There are several paths to “la-la land.”images

1. The path of cynicism – If I  head down this path, I don’t have to really buy into things I don’t want to believe. I can just give a cynical glance to them, chuckle about them, and move on. If I am not convinced things will happen like God says they will, I can just wander down this path and gamble that maybe, just maybe they won’t really be as God says. Sometimes, cynicism brings comfort because things don’t often happen when we think they will happen, and we rush to the conclusion that they won’t ever happen and seek comfort from our misguided thoughts.  Dangerous.

2. The path of skepticism – This path is very close to cynicism, but this one is often based purely on experience. I’m skeptical because it has never happened to me. Oh, I may have heard about it happening, but I personally have never experienced it, so at the very least, I’m skeptical. Since unbelief in Christ demands my own belief system (or any belief system other than God), skepticism becomes a source of comfort since I get to decide based on my own experience and my own choices. Also dangerous!

3. The path of suppression. Now, it does get very dangerous.  I grab all troublesome thoughts and seek to diminish their impact in life. Some call this denial. I get subdued, quiet, tepid, and perhaps lifeless in reactions and responses. This is a miserable life of coiling into a fear-filled cocoon and denying truth by squelching the obvious work of God in life and minimizing any effect it may make.

4. The path of scoffing.  Unbelief shows it truest colors when it derides, ridicules, or pokes fun of truth and people who are seeking truth. The disease at this point is bringing a certain blindness of thought, a narrowness of mind that will not see things any other way. There’s a certain insecurity about unbelief that will create its own world and just insist this new world is the world that everyone must live in.  Ridiculing truth and those who believe it becomes  a game to people who go down this path.

Any of these paths, and no doubt there are others, are often diagnosed merely as ways of handling life. In a survival mentality, one doesn’t deal with truth but just seeks to persevere. Sometimes life gets that way. But refusal of the truths of all that Christ is and all that He is doing and has done is refusing to live life – real life. Christ came that we might have life in an abundant way (John 10:10). Let’s check our lives and makes sure we have not misdiagnosed a very deadly disease.

A Thankful Heart

We just learned a new hymn here at CBC.

“My heart is filled with thankfulness to Him who bore my pain;
Who plumbed the depths of my disgrace and gave me life again;
Who crushed my curse of sinfulness and clothed me in His light;
And wrote His law of righteousness and pow’r upon my heart.” (Getty/Townend)

This expresses my heart so much. God has graciously been “massaging” my heart with these truths over and over again this year. With each circumstance God has worked into my heart His glorious grace. I am truly thankful.
Even more than this, I have seen the grace of Christ come alive in the lives of many of our people. This week, I want to express my gratitude to my church family for the grace of God that is evident in so many lives.
To my church family at CBC, thank you for…
1. Showing me Christ by following the leadership that the Father has given all of us in Christ. Imperfect elders and now deacons working together to serve God and others is a blessing, but it can’t be done without the people of God following. Grace to you!
2. Showing me Christ by loving Cindy and me, my family, and even my dog! We bombarded you with us now over 2 1/2 years ago and you have graciously and lovingly accepted us–all of us and the joy of Christ has permeated your lives in love for us. Thank you!
3. Showing me Christ by loving the new people God has brought. I have seen some of our older people invite these younger people into your homes, out for a lunch or dinner, and you have showered them with lovingkindness. The newer people have all spoken of your kindness and how you pictured the love of Christ for the world by your kindness shown.
4. By showing me Christ by serving each other and reaching beyond your comfort zone to love people who are different. God graciously continues to give us people from all over Columbus and even from many different cultures. Many of you have given yourselves to them in a very self-less way that exalts the name of Christ. I watched with amazement some of the new younger folks who jump in and do whatever it takes to serve the body of Christ. Last Sunday night was so encouraging. Many of the ladies who in the past always were the ones in the kitchen were graciously served by our young adults who served pies, home made whipped cream, coffee, and all with a joy that was full of the joy of Christ. It was breathtaking!
5. By showing me a greater glimpse of Christ’s humility through your love for God’s Word. You have listened to preaching and have responded with humility, confession, repentance, as well as a deep-rooted desire to see God’s glory revealed and enjoyed. You have motivated me by your loving response to God and His Word and the results have been undeniable. You have grown, matured, and have then been more prepared to look at life with courage and joy knowing God is really God.

So to all my CBC family, may this Thanksgiving really be a time of rejoicing in the glory of Jesus Christ! He alone is our King, Savior, Redeemer, and Friend. Spend time thanking Him and giving of yourself to His great grace so that we will continue to become more like Him and less like ourselves. We have much work to do for His Kingdom and let’s not miss a single opportunity to walk with Him.