Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Weekly Exposition

This is an excerpt from the weekly exposition I deliver at the church I serve, taken from The Secret to Enduring Faith, from Hebrews 12:1-2.

I have been reading the book Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose. It chronicles the exploits of Easy Company of the US Army during World War II. They were known as one of the best combat outfits in the military. Being a volunteer outfit, only the strictest requirements let a young soldier in. Physical training was of utmost importance, the men doing it most of their waking hours. Intended to be a paratrooper regiment, the men began to get irritated that they had not began training in that regard. They did nearly twice as much calisthenics as normal basic.

However, basic came to an end and the boys transferred from Camp Toccoa in Georgia to Camp Mackall in North Carolina. Training at Mackall was to be broken into four regimens, A, B, C, and D. A was to be strictly physical exercises. Easy was so well-trained physically that they were able to skip Week A. The men began doing their runs backwards, literally running around the staff sergeants as they led them out on runs, and challenging the staff sergeants to races.

After two days of this abuse, the staff sergeants went to the CO and recommended that the boys of Easy advance to Week B and skip A. Standing in awe of the boys' endurance, the staff sergeants, as well as men from other outfits, got out of their way and let them begin training as paratroopers.

Many of us know similar people in our walks of faith. Much like the boys of Easy, we stand in awe of some of our contemporaries' faith. How do they do it? How do they endure under such difficult circumstances? Many of us have mature Christians we look up to and we wonder where they get their strength and stamina from.

The writer of Hebrews says, "Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us." The Christian experience is like a race and not an easy one. This is one of the grand lessons of Hebrews 11. By faith each figure in chapter eleven endured, and it wasn't by perfect faith, but by enduring faith. Now the writer wants us to know how to endure just as those of the roll call.

The two secrets to enduring faith are so simple anyone can follow them; even me! First, we must lay aside every impediment. And then, we must keep our eyes on Jesus. Simple, isn't it?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Another Offering

Of Lousy Church Signs! This one smacks of elitism and Christian superiority, akin to "Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven."
Heaven: a prepared place for a prepared people
I have no problem with the theology behind the statement but we don't want to use heaven as a badgering point for calling people to repentance and faith in Christ; especially not on a potential first point of contact with unbelievers.

The second is an offering from brother Ron Jackson, emailed to me over six weeks ago. I apologize brother Ron! It got caught up in my inbox and underneath a flurry of email I lost it until today when I was cleaning out the inbox. There shouldn't be several hundred messages in one inbox!

I'm not quite so sure. Google is kind of like Wal-Mart; if they ain't got it, you don't need it. If you can't find it on Google, you can't find it, right? Right? Anyone?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Quote(s) of the Day

Via Dave Black quoting Corrie ten Boom in his latest essay The Astounding Power of Poverty.
“Look inside and be depressed, look outside and be distressed, and look to Him and be at rest.”
Brother Dave goes on to say in retrospect:
This intimate assurance that Christ can be trusted is our security. It resolves the dilemma of our insignificance, our mortality, our futility. Gradually we become aware that God takes unimportant nobodies, fills them with His Presence, and empowers them to live lives of unhypocritical love (Rom. 12:9). Our growing awareness of, and confidence in, the adequacy of Christ constitutes the unshaken rock upon which our faith stands.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Praise Report: Thank God for Rain!

Southside Virginia has been terribly dry over the summer and nary a drop of rain has fallen since spring. However, rain has been steadily falling since Wednesday morning and is falling now as I type. I wonder though...

Two weeks ago, a church member emailed me with a burden and related the she had a burden that our church was not praying enough. She then asked if she could organize a prayer vigil for Saturday, October 27th. I heartily concurred and agreed to take a slot. She wanted to pray specifically for rain because rain is completely bound up in the providence of God and only through prayer can a change be affected.

The irony is that since yesterday evening, our local weather report has stated we have received over five inches since Wednesday and our county is under a flood watch! We will still gather tomorrow at the church for our prayer vigil, which now will morph into a "praise" vigil! Perhaps tomorrow you might like to join us in prayer? I hope so.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Lousy Church Signs Continued...

OK, OK. I'm on a roll again. I can't help it. I spent about six hours in the car today making hospital visits and the church signs were just ripe for the picking. On a Baptist (ironic, huh?) church sign:
We'll care about you.
As opposed to whom? It must be that other church. ( know which one I'm talking about!!) Like I've said before, if you have to put it on the sign...
God gave us faces.
We create our expressions.
At least God didn't create church signs. Because I couldn't imagine He could be responsible for such lousy "expressions" on them. This next one takes the cake. My first question is, why do you need a banner in addition to a marquee? Are you multiplying lousiness?
Wednesday, October 31st 4-7 PM
Family Fun
and a
Holy Ghost Wienie Roast
I can't comment. I just can't. I'm wiping the tears from my eyes.

Miracle Baby Turns One

Earlier this year I blogged about miracle baby Amillia Sonja Taylor and the fact that she was born at one day under twenty-one weeks, the shortest gestation period known for a live human birth. A lively discussion ensued regarding reproductive choice. Amillia turned one yesterday. Follow the link to see a picture.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Lousy Church Signs

It has been quite some time since my latest offering of lousy church signs. Here are a few for your Wednesday. This one my wife found on the new "worship center" downtown.
Let your life match your lip.
Interesting diversion from "practice what you preach." Its good they didn't lose the alliteration. That is always important.

This one belongs in the "so sweet it will make you sick" category.
The next time you are reluctant to change,
think of the beauty of autumn.
Awww. It makes me want to get a new hair-do. And this one comes from my good blog friend Chris, The Evangelism Coach. And its OK to laugh out loud!

So, verbal adjective or adjectival verb? You make the call!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Sunday Morning Sermon

I have been preaching through the book of Hebrews. In this past Sunday's exposition, I dealt with Hebrews 11:30-40; the title of the message was Faith that Overcomes. In the development of verses 35-37, I transitioned the writer's expectation of persecution for the Hebrew Christians to contemporary persecution. Here is a brief snippet.

Persecution is very real. I could give example after example of modern-day persecution, yet we are lulled into believing that it really doesn't happen. We are insulated by a first amendment that guards our religious expression. We can gather freely, talk about the Bible, and worship with absolutely no recourse.

Yet, there are Christian brothers and sisters around the world that earnestly pray for the freedom you and I have. What does that freedom engender in us, however?

A white-hot passion for the Gospel?

A zeal to see souls saved?

A radical worship that changes hearts and lives?

An earnest calling forth of men and women to repent and believe the Gospel?

No--none of this. Rather it engenders in us a complacency, a slothfulness, a laziness that God abhors. It does not drive us to our knees in fervent prayer for our persecuted brothers and sisters. It drives us onto our backsides just glad that it ain't us.

These martyrs; these persecuted Christians are who the writer of Hebrews is holding up for us by way of example. He isn't holding up who we would consider giants of the faith--Billy Graham, Charles Stanley, David Jeremiah, Jerry Falwell--yes, these are great men of God and we should listen to them, honor them, and respect them and their ministries. Yet they aren't the men whom will be in the roll call of faith per Hebrews 11.

It will be men more along the likes of Tilmann, Necati, and Ur, Turkish believers who died for their faith in April of this year. Or the Chinese believer who was brutally beaten, along with his wife, for refusing to reveal the meeting location of their house church.

This is a disconnect that we need to overcome as the people of God. Persecution is real and it takes place everyday--even if it doesn't happen within our shores. Our freedom is a blessing but one we take woefully for granted.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Notes on Pastoral Authority

Having difficulty with an argumentative church member, I asked a couple of brother pastors' advice on the issue. From two different pastors, I received two different responses, polar opposites from one another. One pastor said simply tell him that you're the pastor and that's that. The second said I needed to lovingly admonish the brother and walk with him through this issue.

Pastoral authority is a difficult topic to discuss. How much authority should the pastor have, if any at all? If he does have authority then to whom does he answer? Likewise, who answers to him? How should he exercise that authority? Positions on authority are as many as there are pastors and there are several other factors that guide a pastor's understanding of his own authority.

Some pastors feel they don't need to know what is going on in the church; a hands-off approach. Some pastors micro-manage every minute detail of church life. The Scriptures give evidence of some semblance of authority when Peter urges the elders to whom he was writing. "Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain, but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you but being examples to the flock" (1 Peter 5:2-3). It is apparent that in Peter's time there were pastors who saw their role in church life as "he who is to be obeyed." Perhaps this attitude did not play out in actual practice but quite certainly the tendency was there.

It was about fifteen minutes before I was to preach at a funeral with one of the predecessors of the church I serve. He is seventy years old. Spending twelve years at the church I now pastor, he asked, "How long have you been here now?"

"Almost six years, sir."

"Well, you've been here long enough to be called pastor now haven't you?"

This is one of the first principles of pastoral authority. Authority is earned. I believe a certain amount comes with the office, but not much. People are not by nature trusting people and when a man comes in from outside their congregation, there is a natural uphill climb to garner respect. Many pastors do not take advantage of this uphill climb to allow their muscles to be hardened by the difficult work of winning people's hearts.

A good friend of mine (and if you're reading, you know who you are) often says, "A man who leads and nobody follows is only taking a walk." Pastoral ministry is not some kind of divine follow-the-leader. It is an earned respect, an earned influence.

A second principle is just to simply love people. We emphasize the Great Commission as well we should, but often we have done it to the detriment of the Greatest Commandment. Loving people is hard and its much easier to tell people about Jesus than to love them to the point of acceptance.

Moreover, people are needy and demand care. One brother pastor jokingly said he had 85 children. Though I disagree with the spirit of that retort, there is a grain of truth in it. As children are needy so God's people are needy and need constant attention and provision.This does not mean God's people won't act unloving. The pastor then can take the lead in a delicate area of church life and show the congregation he serves how to love unloving people. Peter did say "be examples."

A third principle I guide my ministry by is trod where they have trod. Walk with the folks through their difficulties and burdens, rejoice in their rejoicings, weep when they weep. Sometimes pastoral ministry just needs to be a ministry of presence. For the pastor's watch to stop for just a few moments means the world to a lonely elderly person, a grieving widow, or a hurting divorcee.

A final principle is to always pray. I pray with the people God has given me to serve every opportunity I get. I never leave a congregant's home, bedside, or hospital room without praying. Whether the time is happy or sad, I always pray.

One final concern is when to exercise authority. The pastor only has as much authority as the congregation allows him to have. It can raise incrementally through a life of integrity, dealing well with mistakes, and living an authentic Christian life before them. A real pastor and not "super-Christian" fosters an environment of trust when times to exercise authority comes yet hypocrisy can do irreparable harm.

Pastoral authority has its limits and can be abused. The Bible does not even call for "servant-leaders," the vogue, falsely humble moniker for how pastors ought to be. Rather, Jesus just calls for servants.
You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first of all shall be slave of all. Mark 10:42-44

Friday, October 12, 2007

A Good Question

Lawrence Henry, writing for the American Spectator, asks a good question. In an article entitled Church and Me? he asks,

Is a church its people, or is it the body of Christ, or both? When you feel like certain people -- perhaps key people -- have let you down, what do you do?

Lawrence states a problem I have often had in my own ministry and as a church member. What do you think?

But, at various stages, I have stopped going to church, because some human fallibility, some shortcoming in the congregation itself, has brought me up short. As a church, we belong to Jesus Christ, not to any particular person, whether he be preacher, teacher, elder, or friend.

But those preachers, teachers, elders, and friends do mean something, and when something goes awry -- when the church as a church just plain doesn't work, and when I start to feel the way I felt as a child, that some of the grownups are faking it, or taking refuge in rigidity -- then I start to feel that old uneasiness again, and find it a lot more comfortable to retreat to my Bible and my prayers and solitude.

Monday, October 01, 2007

What I Said Sunday

This past Sunday I preached a message from Hebrews 11:17-22 entitled "Confidence in Christ". Expositing verses 17-19 about God testing Abraham, I said...

Testing accompanies faith--it is a given. The Bible teaches that Abraham was tested, meaning that Abraham did not go looking for this test. It meant that any number of people or circumstances may have been the cause of this test, but ultimately, the originator of the test was God. But the test was not about God. It was not about proving Abraham's faith to all his friends and neighbors. It was about proving Abraham's mettle. It was about proving Abraham to himself. It was about Abraham being shown his deficiencies and how God would be sufficient to meet his every need; past, present, and future.

This was an amazing test for Abraham. When God called Abraham to leave Ur, Abraham gave up his past. But in the sacrifice of Isaac, Abraham was asked to surrender his future to God as well. All Abraham's hopes for the future lie in that boy--all of God's promises being fulfilled lie in that boy--yet God asked Abraham to give up that as well. God was going to make sure that Abraham had no claim on his own future--only God did.

And what proof did Abraham have? Only a simple promise and the voice of God. Isn't it amazing how, through the Bible, level of belief decreases with increasing level of revelation? Abraham had no accompanying miracle, no manifestation of the power of God, no burning bush, no crucifixion; yet he believed. Compare the bitter, hateful Israelites of Moses' day.

They had all manner of revelation, including a promise and the voice of God. They had Moses' experience at the burning bush, the horror of the ten plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, manna from heaven, a cloud to lead them by day, and a pillar of fire by night, yet how many of them refused to believe! Abraham had only a a simple promise and the voice of God yet this caused him to conclude that God was able to raise Isaac up, even from the dead.

But all this is beside the main point: that God, despite all obstacles and events to the contrary, He is faithful to His promises.