Thursday, November 20, 2014

Condemning the Body of Christ

In recent years I have noticed an increase in blogs and spoken-word videos pointing condemning fingers at the church by members of the church. Blogs entitled something like, “Ten Things the Church is Doing Wrong” or “Five Things Pastors Do to Ruin Churches” or “15 Things Churches Do to Chase Away Visitors” are posted and shared all over social media scolding Christ’s church for this thing or that thing. One begins to wonder if the church is doing anything correctly. While I believe such blogs and videos were originally meant for good, they have multiplied and built up like a type of cholesterol in the arteries of the church clogging the healthy blood-flow through their overshadowing negativity. Please don’t misunderstand me; I am all for self-evaluation and sometimes that means putting a spotlight on negative areas so they can be honestly addressed. (That’s something preachers of the “feel good gospel” need to learn.) However, I am no longer convinced the multitude of these articles is producing edification in the body of Christ. What they are producing may be more disturbing then the list of items they are spotlighting. Here is what I am beginning to see:

They are producing condemnation.
I have noticed that many of these articles and spoken-words are painting with a progressively broader brush. One man faces a camera or one individual faces a computer screen and proceeds to lambaste the entire church of Christ. There is little care taken to follow the words of Galatians 6:1 – “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.” The Bible constantly reminds us that we should be edifying one another in the church. How can we point out with condemning words that we need to love the lost when our attitudes do not even reflect love for our fellow Christians? I have noticed a coldness in many of these blogs and spoken-words by the author against his own brothers and sisters in Christ. We need to remember that the church is also called, in Scripture, the bride of Christ. An individual would be wise to carefully consider how he speaks to the bride in the sight of the groom. That is especially true when the Groom redeemed the bride with His own blood. 

They are producing pride.
This is the worst byproduct of what I will call the “condemn the church trend”. Pointing out the flaws of “all the other Christians” places the finger-pointer in a position that is separate and above his or her brethren. It says, “I see you people and expose your failures, but I myself am above all of that.” It is an undeniable human trait that we like having a 1-up on others. We enjoy having any slight sense of superiority. Rarely have I seen any of these recent articles or heard recent spoken-words that do not create this sense of separation of the speaker from the rest of the church. I would love to hear someone who has to bring a word of sobriety to the church include themselves into the mix and season their word with grace and edification. Whenever a word of correction must be given, though it sometimes must be given sternly, the messenger must posses humility and remember that he/she is a fellow member of the body of Christ and not portray themselves (even unintentionally) as superior to it.

They are producing fuel for enemies of the church.
Whether you want to admit it or not, the church has enemies. Jesus Christ told His disciples this would be the case, (See Matthew 10:22, Matthew 24:9, Luke 6:22, John 7:7, John 15:19, John 17:14.) I stated earlier that I believe in self-examination and that such internal inspection sometimes reveals ugly things that must be dealt with. However, internal inspection should be just that; internal! Every time one of these blogs or spoken words gets blasted all over the internet it adds more ammunition to those who already hate the church. (In fact, I wonder if some of this isn’t purposeful by a few of these authors in an attempt to endear themselves to a world that opposes God. Like a big public announcement declaring, “Hey, I just want you to know that I am not like all of those other Christians, so please like me.”) The church is not perfect and will not be so in this world. We are, however, being perfected. We should strive to be better and more like Christ. Correction is part of that. We should keep in mind though, that continually announcing every flaw in the church and blowing it up like it is the practice of the majority is publicly advertising that the church is not somewhere anyone wants to be. When a blog gets posted and reposted talking about “8 Judgmental Things the Church Does”, it doesn’t draw sinners to the cross nor does it take into account that most born-again believers are not acting that way. What it does do is confirm to the world their feeling that Christians hate everyone and judge them and therefore there is no reason to give them a chance or listen to their message. I believe correction and introspection should take place in-house. Pastors should be bold and address sin in their own congregations. Church leaders can receive edification, challenge, and correction through accountable relationships with other ministers and at conferences and retreats designed for such things. That way we, the church, are able to meet the world with our best foot forward and the compassion of Christ flowing out from us!

I suppose one could ask if I am not doing the same thing in this blog that I am criticizing in its content. Unfortunately, it is the nature of this particular beast. It is an issue which has been thrown out to the public eye; therefore it must be addressed publicly. My intent is merely to get us, as the church of Christ, to take some consideration of how we may edify one another for God’s glory instead of tearing down the church while the world looks on in amusement. To that end, the next blog I publish here will be a list of things I believe the church is doing correctly. Hopefully it will gain the same attention so many of these finger-pointing messages have. It is my hope to see the church encouraged and moving ahead with passion for its Savior and the Great Commission and a love for one another! Jesus said in John 13:35 – “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” He was speaking to and about believers here. That means the world will witness Christ in us by the way we treat our fellow disciples!

I want to encourage you to read the following portion of Scripture, even if you are familiar with it. Let it sink in and encourage your heart and love for Christ’s blood-bought church. Ephesians 4:11-16 – “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Salvation Only Costs Ten Dollars

I remember a man who periodically used to come by the church I was on staff at years ago. He was always looking for some sort of financial assistance to which we tried to help him with. What struck me about this man was that every time he came by looking for help he would tell the story of how he once came to a service at the church years ago and put ten dollars into the offering. Of course, we would have helped this man regardless of whether or not he ever put a dime into the offering, but I found it amusing to hear this tale each time as if he had somehow earned unlimited use of the church's resources by his one time offering.

As I consider that story, I see that same mentality present among others. A good deed done here or there acts as our ten dollar ticket to heaven. There seems to be an image drawn in the mind that we will stand before God one day, desiring entrance into His holy and eternal kingdom where no sin will dwell, and that we will offer up a story like, "I once gave to charity," or "I helped a person who was sad," or "I rescued a kitten from a tree," and God will say, "That makes up for all of your sin. Come on in!"

I am reminded of the movie Fireproof where the main character's father was trying to help his son understand his need for Christ. The young man, who was a firefighter, pointed out how often he had helped people and that he was a good person. His father responded by saying, "Son, pulling people out of a burning building doesn't make you right with God." In other words, even our best efforts only amount to a ten dollar offering.

Salvation costs far more than ten dollars. The price to redeem us is astronomically higher than the pocket change we can afford. And that really is what we are in need of; redemption. When sin entered the human race we became the property of Satan and the devil will be taking his property with him to his final destination. But God, loving His creation, deeply desired to save us. However, being purely just, The Lord could not just overlook our sin. A penalty had to be paid. So what would be the cost to buy us back? A sinless sacrifice.

That is the whole point of Jesus going to the cross. His sinless sacrifice satisfied justice upon sin while providing a pardon for the sinner.

“Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the
forgiveness of sins; “and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from
which you could not be justified by the law of Moses. (Acts 13:38-39 NKJV)

Christ did not come simply to heal some people and tell us to be "excellent to one another" (Bill and Ted reference). His mission was to buy us back. When you consider the cost of our redemption, our ten dollar attempts not only fall short; they are insulting!

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift
of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 NKJV)

So put your ten dollar offering of good works away. In fact, you can put your ten billion dollar offering of good works away. The simple fact is that you are worth far more than that and Christ paid the price. I implore you to humble yourself and receive His gift of salvation and then, as His adopted child, get those good-work offerings back out and use them, not to redeem yourself, but as an expression of love and thanksgiving for Him who first loved you and was willing to pay the price of your redemption.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

PK Parenting

In ministry, it is not uncommon to hear about the struggles of being a pastor’s kid (PK). Certainly being a PK has its unique share of pressures that are difficult for others outside of full-time ministry to understand. Those pressures can come from all angles. Sometimes they come from the congregation, sometimes from the parents, and sometimes (maybe more than we realize) they can come from the PK’s own perceptions of how they feel they are expected to be. I believe even in some instances that further difficulties can be propagated by the continual teaching that there is so much pressure being a PK that they should almost be expected to rebel. I wonder how many times such teaching has manifested itself in the form of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But this blog is not meant to focus on the struggles of being a PK as there are already numerous articles and teachings addressing this issue. The angle I intend to focus on is that of being a parent of a PK. Of course, that means I am addressing the pastoral father and mother. I didn’t grow up as the son of a minister so I haven’t been through the PK process. I have, however, gone through the child and teenage years and I am the parent of some PKs. I can candidly say that raising a family in full-time ministry adds a whole new dimension of stresses to the already difficult job of parenting. If you are a pastor, you know this already.

It is tough being a PK, but it is also tough parenting a PK. There are struggles our children cannot yet comprehend as we try to balance the work of the ministry and its demands with raising a family. Your children cannot know the immense struggle you face as a pastor when you are so concerned about a particular difficulty your child is currently facing that you must pull together every ounce of strength you can muster to concentrate on the individual who is sitting in your office in need of counsel. You not only carry the weight of your family and its growing pains, but the weight of every family in your congregation with their growing pains. This is the ministry though. It’s the nature of the beast, as we might say.

In addition to this is the ever present fact that as the shepherds of the local flock, the pastoral family has a huge spiritual bull’s-eye on them. Jesus pointed out in Matthew 26:41 the principle of scattering the sheep by striking the shepherd. What many in the local congregation sometimes fail to recognize is that your pastoral family is many times standing between your family and the attacks of the enemy. If you are not a pastor and you are reading this, let me encourage you to do more fasting and praying for your pastor and family and a lot less time criticizing them.

My intent in this article is to give a little encouragement from one ministerial parent to others. I am by no means an expert. I’m still learning these things and trying to properly apply them. I fail sometimes. Oh God knows how I fail sometimes and it brings me to tears! What I share here is born of those failures and lessons and I hope it brings some edification to a subject, I feel, is often neglected. In our fellowship, the Assemblies of God, our District holds an annual retreat to minister to that special group of kids we call PKs and MKs (missionary’s kids). Perhaps we could use a PK/MK Parental Retreat as well. The Lord knows we just want to be the best parents we can for our kids.

So here’s my two cents…

Your kids must be made to understand that the standards of your household are standards of your Christianity, not standards of your ministry.
All too often PKs are given the idea that the standard of their home has to do with the pastoral role of their parents. This idea can be compounded by the lack of Christian standards sometimes found in other families within the church. It’s a classic case of, “Billy’s parents let him do this.” So of course, when you do not, the blame is set squarely on the fact that you are a pastoral family instead of being on the issue that Billy’s parents may need to step up their game.

Our children need to know that the high standards we hold for them are not simply because of our pastoral role. They should know that the household standards would be this way regardless of what vocation their parents served in because it is the standard of Christ. I believe kids can grow to resent high standards if they believe those standards to be implemented merely because of full-time ministry. They may begin to wish that they could be “normal Christians” who don’t have to live so “restricted”. Remember, before you are a pastoral family, you are a Christian family. Help your kids see that a “normal” Christian family will hold high standards regardless of what Mom and Dad do for a living.

Don’t hammer your kids
PKs live a glass house of sorts, but so do their parents. We always know someone is watching and therefore can easily slip into panic mode when our child acts out of order. When that happens we may be tempted to “show” onlookers in the congregation how good of a parent we are. And it can very quickly morph into a show, where our child is portrayed as the villain before the audience.

When your kids act out of order (which they tend to do from time to time), resist the urge to rush in with the heavy hammer of pastoral justice upon their wretched actions. If their actions require discipline then take them aside to address it quietly. All that the congregation needs to see is you coming into the situation and addressing it. They do not need to be privy to the conversation or the details of the discipline. If someone does feel the need to interfere with your parenting, it might be well to take them aside and offer some pastoral counseling to them.

Don’t favor your kids
Many pastors (and some congregations) are becoming more aware that kids are kids (even PKs) and so there may be a tendency to over-correct and trade the hammer in for a license. In an attempt to not make our children feel they are being unfairly targeted for misbehavior we can unfairly overlook misbehavior. This will manifest into a huge problem when your congregation begins to sense that the pastor’s kid gets away with everything.

This is where the balancing act really comes into play as a parent. You must learn to levy the right amount of correction with the right amount of mercy and it is admittedly far easier said than done. However, just as constantly pouncing on every move your child makes (especially publicly) can embitter them against the ministry, so excusing their misbehavior (especially publicly) may ingrain a false teaching into their minds that the ministry is the place to escape standards and accountability.

Try to show them the benefits of being a PK
Not every part of being a PK is tough. There are opportunities that abound for kids who have parents in full-time ministry. The a fore mentioned PK/MK Retreat that our fellowship offers is one example. However, there are other benefits to be had as well if you are willing to look and take advantage of them.

Access to special speakers and ministry groups who come in to your church is something the average church attendee does not have. My kids have got to spend some extra time with missionaries and even a Christian Power Team because Dad is a pastor. Give your kids the “backstage pass”.

There are opportunities for ministry adventures that sometime pop up because, as a pastor, you know people. My son had the opportunity to travel a few weeks with an evangelist friend of mine. It was an important bonding time for him with another man of God and they had some great stories to share when they came home.

Those are just a few examples. You just have to look for them. The ministry has many good things attached to its workload and stresses. Blessed will be the PK Parent who finds them!

This was certainly not an all-inclusive list. So much more could be added, but this is a blog not a book. So to wrap things up, I will reiterate that PK parenting is no easy task. As a pastor/parent, you realize that there are pressures upon your children that most, if not all, of their peers cannot relate to. You know that they can easily feel isolated (probably because as a minister you have felt that way on more than one occasion yourself). You hunger for them to know the Lord like you do and even to surpass your depth of faith someday. You want them to live strong and true and not buy into the lie that they need to go through a dark rebellious phase simply because they are PKs. Yes, the PK (and the MK) have added pressures due to their parent’s calling, but I want you to know, fellow pastoral families, that the pressures you face as parents are not insignificant either. There may be times where you wish you could just be that “normal” Christian family and escape those difficulties. If I may be painfully blunt; your calling will not allow that. So let us encourage one another as we press in so that our precious PKs will be blessed… and so will you.

Feel free to share any other insights or stories that you may have as a PK or MK parent.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

I Prayed About It

I was recently told by someone who was in the midst of taking action contrary to God’s word that they had, “prayed about it.” I should clarify that they were not about to undertake something like an adulterous affair (although I have heard “I prayed about it” used in that context as well), but they were certainly disobeying Christ’s clear commands because what Jesus said to do was uncomfortable and difficult whereas what they had decided to do was far more convenient.

This got me thinking about how many times I have heard the phrase “I prayed about it” used to justify and even sanctify actions that are clearly unbiblical. It is a disturbing practice that sets aside the Scripture for personal revelation that almost always satisfies the flesh. I believe, as Christians, we need to stop using prayer as a scapegoat and thereby blaming God for our unbiblical actions.

Before I continue, let me quickly address those who are, for all intents and purposes, biblically illiterate. I do not use that term as some kind of insult, but as an accurate description of someone who does not regularly study the word of God in its entirety. What I would like to point out is that biblical mandates do not come from the biblically illiterate. The idea that someone who is in the world and who does not know Christ can correctly instruct a Christian on what he should be doing or how he should be acting is ridiculous. It would be like me making the preposterous assumption that I could give instruction to an electrician simply because I took a year of electronics in my senior year of High School. So if you are reading this blog and you are not a Christian who regularly studies the Scripture, please be careful not to presume you know what disciples of Christ should be doing. I will not be pointing people to the world which is at odds with its Creator, but pointing people to the Word. I don’t mean to be rude, but this subject requires a measure of bluntness that I normally do not use.

Now that we have gone through that bit of nasty business, let us continue. As Christians, we must get away from the very false idea that every action we take is sanctified by attaching the phrase, “I prayed about it,” or something of similar sentiment. To be sure, we need to pray and receive direction from God, but simply because we pray doesn’t mean we have listened. This becomes especially evident when we refuse to investigate what God has already spoken on the matter in His word or that we believe God has, through prayer, led us in a direction contrary to His word. God doesn’t do that… but our flesh will.

A perfect example of this can be found in Numbers 22. It is the story of a prophet named Balaam. Balaam was given a prophetic voice by God and his words carried power. Therefore, Balak, king of Moab, decided to hire Balaam to speak a curse over Israel. Balak, not knowing God, and not understanding that Balaam could do nothing outside of the Lord’s will, figured he could defeat Israel with the help of some extra power.

So Balak offers Balaam quite a bit of treasure to speak a curse against Israel. Balaam explains that he can do nothing outside of what God tells him to say, but agrees to go pray about it. That night Balaam prays and God flat out tells him that he is not to go with Balak and is not to curse Israel. So the next morning Balaam tells Balak’s men that God said no. At this point, no matter what Balak does next, the matter should be settled for Balaam according to the word of the Lord.

When Balak hears Balaam’s answer he decides to increase his offer. They say every man has a price and this becomes more than Balaam wants to turn away. You can almost see the wheels turning in Balaam’s head as you read the account. “There must be a way to get paid and please God,” might have been the thought process. So instead of saying, “God said no already,” Balaam says, “I’ll go pray about it.”

This time God tells Balaam exactly what he wants to hear. Of course, God did not change His mind. What the Lord did is similar to what many of us have experienced as children from our parents when we constantly ask for permission to do something they already said no to. Sometimes they finally say something like, “Fine! Go do what you want.” We knew they still didn’t want us to do it, but we didn’t care because we received the green light. What we didn’t realize, at our immature age, was that our parents were not giving us permission to participate in the action that was formerly denied, but they were instead giving us clearance to experience the consequences of our deliberate stupidity. Such was the case with Balaam because we read that God became immediately angry with him for going! (Numbers 22:22)

As we see with Balaam, simply praying about something does not automatically cleanse it and make it the right thing to do. In fact, there are times this sentiment is deliberately added because we know we are doing something against God’s will and we want to clear our conscience. It is akin to the nonsensical idea of something not being a sin because one does not feel convicted about it. If God’s word says it’s a sin and you do not feel convicted, it’s because your heart is hardened against the Holy Spirit, not because God has given you a pass.

We must pray and it is imperative that we pray for direction especially on critical matters. But we must come with an attitude to receive direction, not permission. If we are simply looking for permission we will hear what we want to hear. If we are looking for direction we will hear God’s word and do it even if it is not what we want to hear. When we use prayer as an authority creator for everything we have decided to do we cheapen prayer and misrepresent the Holy God to whom we pray. Let none of us be found guilty of such a sin.