Another Great Disappointment

What do you think of when you hear the word “fellowship”?

    Do you think of a group of people bound by a common purpose (fellowship of the ring, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, etc.)?
    Do you think of a fellowship meal, such as one served on special occasions at church?
    Do you think of light-hearted banter and laughter, as when a family reunion is held?
    What favorite memory comes to mind when you hear the word “fellowship”?

In the Bible fellowship is an important concept.

Psalms 55:14 (WEB) 14We took sweet fellowship together. We walked in God’s house with company.

Acts 2:42 (WEB) 42They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and prayer.

1 Corinthians 1:9 (WEB) 9God is faithful, through whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.

2 Corinthians 8:3-4 (WEB) 3For according to their power, I testify, yes and beyond their power, they gave of their own accord, 4begging us with much entreaty to receive this grace and the fellowship in the service to the saints.

2 Corinthians 13:14 (WEB) 14The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.

Philemon 6 (WEB) 6that the fellowship of your faith may become effective, in the knowledge of every good thing which is in us in Christ Jesus.

1 John 1:7 (WEB) 7But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.


Fellowship is one of the key practices that the early church was devoted to pursuing (see Acts 2:42 above). Throughout the book of Acts we see the church gathered. The Greek word “ekklesia” literally means “assembly.” The church is the “assembled” or “gathered” group of believers. The church is more than family or friends meeting for food or friendship and conversation. It is even more than a Bible study. It is the gathering of the body of Christ to study the Word, to practice koinonia (where we obey the reciprocal commands: loving one another, caring for one another, forgiving one another, serving one another, etc.), to celebrate and worship together, observing the sacraments, and to pray together. These activities are NOT optional, NOT trivial, NOT private and NOT to be neglected (see Hebrews 10:23-25).

The Reality

  • Almost 6 in 10 Americans see valid alternatives to worshiping in a church with other believers. And more than a third say worship services should be entertaining if churches want to be effective.
  • Fifty-eight percent of Americans agree that worshiping alone or with one’s family is a valid replacement for regularly attending church. Thirty percent disagree. Twelve percent are not sure.
  • “Church attendance has long been a measure of religious and devotion,” Scott McConnell, head of LifeWay Research, said. “Today, less than half of religious service attendees see regularly gathering for worship with other believers at church as essential.”

The statistics reveal what pastors have been observing for some time now. Church attendance has not only been decreasing, but has diminished in its appeal. More people see church attendance as unimportant. More people allow other activities to override church attendance. The world system has certainly conspired in this, planning events and activities at times and on days normally associated with religious worship. However, the choice between worship with the gathered church and involvement in other activities is a matter of priorities. What is more (most) important?

It all comes down to delight. When I was in high school, I was heavily involved in my church and its activities. I was a youth leader in the church, but I was constantly drawn to to the church and to its various members by the encouragement, laughter and comraderie we shared. We were constantly seeking ways to be involved in each other’s lives. I eagerly anticipated opportunities to be involved in the services, programs and activities of the church. I wanted to invite people to my church and to share Jesus with others. Those were exciting days for me. I found delight in this.

When we delight in the things of the Lord, His Word, His work, and His people, we will make time for “fellowship.” When the church practices Biblical fellowship, people are aware of it, amazed by it and attracted to it. We must STOP “forsaking the assembling of ourselves together!” We must be DEVOTED to fellowship. Otherwise, our spiritual lives are impoverished, our testimony is diluted, and our impact is diminished. We fail, not because we are belligerent, but because we are simply indifferent.

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A Great Disappointment

man old depressed headache

Photo by Gerd Altmann on Pexels.com

Today, as I prepare to preach another sermon and lead another Bible study, I feel a burden that I do not usually bear, although I probably should, given what I intuitively know.

I am beginning to realize what I have sensed for a while, that the Word I have spent a lifetime (43 1/2 years now) sharing is a Word that has less reverence, respect, and authority among people generally and even among the people I serve specifically.

A new survey has come out from Lifeway Research, indicating a trend that is continuing almost unabated and one that pastors like myself have been feeling in our own ministries all along. It points out one reason pastors no longer command respect: people no longer respect the Book pastors represent.


Research Results

Researchers found Americans are split on their views of the Bible. More Americans believe the Bible is completely accurate, however, a growing number say the Bible is not literally true.

In 2018, half of Americans say the Bible is 100 percent accurate in all that it teaches. That’s up from 47 percent in 2016 and 43 percent in 2014.

Fewer than half (47 percent) of Americans agree the Bible contains helpful accounts of ancient myths but isn’t literally true. Forty-three percent disagree. In 2016, 44 percent agreed the Bible isn’t literally true, and 41 percent said the same in 2014.

“The last writing included in the Christian Bible was completed nearly 2,000 years ago,” McConnell said. “Yet Americans’ beliefs around this book are shifting more than most other theological beliefs.” — Scott McConnell, Executive Director of LifeWay Research


As goes our attitude toward the Bible, so goes our spiritual vigor.

That’s why the psalmist in Psalm 119 focuses so much attention on his attitude and affection for the Word. He realizes that this Word is directly linked to the Author. The more he knows the Word, the more he knows the Author. The more he respects and cherishes the Word, the more he does it’s Author. The Word has become “his delight.”

When I see people uninterested and disengaged when hearing the Word read and explained, I long for a day when people, who had pleaded for the Law to be read, stood for hours to hear it read and explained (Nehemiah 8). I long for experiences where people come to me and beg to have a Bible study or class. I long for the excitement I used to feel when I entered a Bible conference or revival services, where people were waiting with an excitement to hear the Word that was electrifying. Those were the days….

As my delight for the Word has been increasing, the delight of many has been decreasing. As it decreases, it brings spiritual drought. We need an authoritative Word, a “Thus says the Lord,” if we are to progress in our spiritual lives. It’s one thing to “feel” spiritual and another entirely to “be” spiritual. If we are to “be” spiritual, we must have a solid foundation on which to build. In the past, that concrete foundation was the Bible. Today, it is constructed on the sands of “I think so” or “that’s just how I feel about it.”

I would encourage any serious-minded seeker of spiritual life to go back to the longest chapter in the Bible (Psalm 119) and spend some time with a seeker who shares the same goal. You will see that his need for spiritual guidance and information, his need for an authoritative Word, and his need for encouragement and comfort came from the Bible (the law of the Lord).

To the degree that we have failed to delight in the Word, we have failed to pursue the spiritual life we desire and God designed.

Psalms 1:1-3 (WEB)

1Blessed is the man who doesn’t walk in the counsel of the wicked,

nor stand in the way of sinners,

nor sit in the seat of scoffers;

2but his delight is in Yahweh’s law.

On his law he meditates day and night.

3He will be like a tree planted by the streams of water,

that brings forth its fruit in its season,

whose leaf also does not wither.

Whatever he does shall prosper.

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Why Delight Is So Important?

Genesis 3:6 (WEB) When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit, and ate; and she gave some to her husband with her, and he ate.

Psalms 119:47 (WEB) I will delight myself in your commandments, because I love them.

Matthew 6:21 (WEB) for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

When I was able to eat sweets, my favorite dessert (served for my birthday) was strawberry cream cheese pie. You might say (with some understatement) that it was my delight! My wife would make one pie just for me and one for the rest of the family. This could be one reason why I am now too sweet and must refrain from sweets altogether. My taste buds were so delighted by this dessert that I could consume the whole pie in one sitting.

When something brings delight, it attracts our attention (as when the woman saw the fruit was a delight to the eyes), elicits our affection (as the psalmist expresses in 119), and captures our focus (as Jesus explains about treasure).

My delight drives my desire. When something delights me, I want more. Sometimes, my delight is insatiable, so strong is the craving. Delight is not the problem. Desire is not the problem. Craving is not the problem. What brings delight, what is desired, what is craved, may very well be! We need to learn to delight, desire and crave what is best for us, not what brings immediate gratification, but eventual destruction.

The verses listed below from Psalm 119 are the eight other places in the psalm where the author mentions delight. Obviously, the thing that had attracted his attention, elicited his affection, and captured his focus was the Word of God. It has become his DELIGHT. Because of this delight, he cannot forget God’s words. They have become his counselors, directing his path, even if others are unaffected by God’s Word. In God’s Word the author has also found comfort and assurance in affliction and troubles. Because of this delight, the Word of God has a special place in his life, a special function for his life, the special focus of his life.

Some may say that they find the Word of God boring. Others may reply that the Word of God has become more important to the author than God Himself. Still others may think that the author has overstated his case concerning the Word. But I disagree.

When my wife and I were preparing to marry, we had to spend the last three months apart. She was in Florida, making final preparations for the wedding, and I was in Arkansas, serving as a youth director for my church. This happened in the days before internet, email, texting, and cell phones. Long-distance calls were expensive and prohibitive to the average consumer. Party lines were a given (and other neighbors could listen in on private conversations). However, we were committed to communicating with each other through letters, writing at least every other day (as I recall), and talking on the telephone once a week (all I could afford).

I can honestly say that those letters were never boring to me, no matter how inconsequential the details or generic the descriptions. My delight was in knowing that my beloved cared about me and was communicating with me. Sometimes, because the postal system had certain idiosyncrasies inexplicable to the common man, letters sent might not arrive as planned or scheduled. I might have to go several days without receiving a single letter. Then, I might receive several in a single day. The days when no letter was received caused great disappointment. I would wonder if she was still thinking about me, still caring for me. Young love can be very insecure love, if not fed with constant attention. But when several arrived the same day, I was thrilled. There was never enough time to catch up during the brief weekly phone conversations. Letters could fill in the details and embellish the responses.

I can also say that I did not idolize those letters. They weren’t what was most important to me. My beloved was the object of my delight, but those letters brought delight because they came from her. They were important to me because she was important to me. The letters from unknown senders would not have the same impact. They would be tossed aside, while hers were opened immediately.

If we consider the Word of God in this way, as His love letter to us, expressing his care and his concern, we would, no doubt, find His Word as delightful as the psalmist did. It would hold a special place in our lives, gathering our attention, garnering our affection, and gaining our focus. It is not the Word that we are in love with; it is the Author. We love the Word, because we love the Author, and it is a Word from Him that we want, we need, and we delight in receiving.

It is because we do not delight in the Word, that we fail to appreciate it and pursue it. But if we delight in the Author, we should delight in His Word. And delight is the difference between drudgery and desire.

Psalms 119:16 (WEB)

16I will delight myself in your statutes.

I will not forget your word.

Psalms 119:24 (WEB)

24Indeed your statutes are my delight,

and my counselors.

Psalms 119:35 (WEB)

35Direct me in the path of your commandments,

for I delight in them.

Psalms 119:70 (WEB)

70Their heart is as callous as the fat,

but I delight in your law.

Psalms 119:77 (WEB)

77Let your tender mercies come to me, that I may live;

for your law is my delight.

Psalms 119:92 (WEB)

92Unless your law had been my delight,

I would have perished in my affliction.

Psalms 119:143 (WEB)

143Trouble and anguish have taken hold of me.

Your commandments are my delight.

Psalms 119:174 (WEB)

174I have longed for your salvation, Yahweh.

Your law is my delight.

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My DELIGHT

What has captured your undivided attention…ignited your passion…enlisted your energy…brought renewed interest and excitement…and given a new sense of purpose to your life?

What brings delight to your life? What thrills and excites you?

Psalm 40:8
I delight to do Your will, O my God;
Your Law is within my heart.”

Psalm 1:2
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.

Definition of delight (according to Merriam Webster’s Dictionary)
1. a high degree of gratification or pleasure : JOY; children squealing in delight; also : extreme satisfaction

2. something that gives great pleasure; her performance was a delight

3. archaic : the power of affording pleasure; of more delight than hawks or horses be— Shakespeare

Commenting on the Hebrew word translated “delight”, the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia has this:

The element of joy, of delight in God and His law and will, in the Hebrew religion is noteworthy as being something which we are apt to fall beneath even in the clearer light of Christianity.
W. L. Walker

Recently, I have been conducting a more intensive and extensive study of Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible. I decided to do this because, in the past, I have memorized several key Bible verses in this psalm that have helped me, and because, as the Director of Light of Life Ministry, I lead a ministry devoted to and focused on helping believers gain a deeper understanding of God’s Word.

It is a remarkable psalm for several reasons:

• The longest chapter in the Bible is devoted to a single purpose: to extol and to call attention to the Word of God
• It is a beautiful and intricate acrostic poem: each stanza of 8 verses begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet (and since there are 22 letters in the alphabet, there are 22 stanzas) and each verse in a particular stanza begins with the letter of that stanza
• It is 176 verses long because 22 stanzas times 8 verses each stanza equals 176
• It utilizes at least 8 different words to describe the Word of God (which I will discuss in another post)
• It is repetitive in the use of words and themes without seeming so

One repeated theme is that of “delight in God’s Word.” I note the following (emphasis mine):

• Psalms 119:14 (WEB) I have rejoiced in the way of your testimonies, as much as in all riches.
• Psalms 119:16 (WEB) I will delight myself in your statutes. I will not forget your word.
• Psalms 119:20 (WEB) My soul is consumed with longing for your ordinances at all times.
• Psalms 119:24 (WEB) Indeed your statutes are my delight, and my counselors.
• Psalms 119:35 (WEB) Direct me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in them.
• Psalms 119:47 (WEB) I will delight myself in your commandments, because I love them.
• Psalms 119:54 (WEB) Your statutes have been my songs, in the house where I live.
• Psalms 119:70 (WEB) Their heart is as callous as the fat, but I delight in your law.
• Psalms 119:72 (WEB) The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of pieces of gold and silver.
• Psalms 119:77 (WEB) Let your tender mercies come to me, that I may live; for your law is my delight.
• Psalms 119:92 (WEB) Unless your law had been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.
• Psalms 119:97 (WEB) How I love your law! It is my meditation all day.
• Psalms 119:111 (WEB) I have taken your testimonies as a heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart.
• Psalms 119:113 (WEB) I hate double-minded men, but I love your law.
• Psalms 119:119 (WEB) You put away all the wicked of the earth like dross. Therefore I love your testimonies.
• Psalms 119:127 (WEB) Therefore I love your commandments more than gold, yes, more than pure gold.
• Psalms 119:129 (WEB) Your testimonies are wonderful, therefore my soul keeps them.
• Psalms 119:143 (WEB) Trouble and anguish have taken hold of me. Your commandments are my delight.
• Psalms 119:159 (WEB) Consider how I love your precepts. Revive me, Yahweh, according to your loving kindness.
• Psalms 119:162-163 (WEB) I rejoice at your word, as one who finds great spoil. I hate and abhor falsehood. I love your law.
• Psalms 119:167 (WEB) My soul has observed your testimonies. I love them exceedingly.
• Psalms 119:174 (WEB) I have longed for your salvation, Yahweh. Your law is my delight.

If you have gotten this far, you may be thinking that my references were overkill. I just thought that it would be important to note how often the psalmist repeats the sentiment of love, rejoicing and delight in the Word of God. Obviously, it is a great source of joy, a subject about which he has great passion, and the focus of his life—his DELIGHT!

Is this book, the Bible, your delight? Is it the source of your wisdom, strength and help? Is it your comfort in times of trouble? Is it your hope in times of discouragement? Is it your joy in times of sorrow? Is it exactly what you need, whatever you are facing?

I want to encourage you to consider the attitude of the writer of Psalm 119 and adopt that attitude. You will find that your love and delight in God’s Word will translate into significant benefits in your life (which I will discuss in a later post).

Stay in the Word and it will stay in you and be your stay in life.

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Calling Sin a Mistake Is a Mistake

mistake

noun

1. an error in action, calculation, opinion, or judgment caused by poor reasoning, carelessness, insufficient knowledge, etc.

2. a misunderstanding or misconception.


sin

noun

1. transgression of divine law:

the sin of Adam.

2. any act regarded as such a transgression, especially a willful or deliberate violation of some religious or moral principle.

3. any reprehensible or regrettable action, behavior, lapse, etc.; great fault or offense:

It’s a sin to waste time.


Recently, I read the apology of the mayor of Nashville, TN about the affair she carried on with a member of her security detail where she said that she had made “a mistake.” After all, we are all human and all prone to make mistakes. I have made mistakes in actions. I have made decisions that I thought were wise and beneficial, only to discover that those decisions were poor ones because I didn’t possess all of the information I needed. I confess that I am not as proficient as my math teacher sister and have often made mistakes in calculations. My opinions are not infallible, so I have made mistakes there. Poor reasoning, carelessness, and insufficient knowledge as well as misunderstanding and misconception have all played a part in the many mistakes I have made during my 62 years of life. I certainly regret these mistakes and the consequences which have followed them.

However, when I hear people describe deliberate, premeditated, and serious breaches of morality and ethics as “mistakes,” I bristle because it seems that they use it to minimize or excuse these breaches.

1 John 3:4 (WEB) Everyone who sins also commits lawlessness. Sin is lawlessness.

I think it is a mistake to call sin a mistake, because it seems that we are seeking to deflect the severity of our trespass and alleviate our guilt. We downplay the hurt and the consequences of our sin. We seek to excuse our wrongdoing by giving the impression that we didn’t know what we were doing, or that we didn’t realize the consequences. It’s not really our fault or, at least, not fully our fault. If you knew all of the extenuating circumstances, surely you would understand why this happened. But trying to blunt the reality of our sin and its consequences only keeps us from fully embracing the responsibility for our sin, deeply feeling the remorse for its hurt to us and others, and truly repenting of our sin and seeking to turn away from it. It also minimizes the price that has been paid for sin (Hebrews 9:26; Isaiah 53:10; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 8:3).

Embrace in one act the two truths–thine own sin, and God’s infinite mercy in Jesus Christ. ~ Alexander MacLaren

We have a strange illusion that mere time cancels sin. But mere time does nothing either to the fact or to the guilt of a sin. ~ C.S. Lewis

Let us stop the progress of sin in our soul at the first stage, for the farther it goes the faster it will increase. ~ Thomas Fuller

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Living by the Book

The Opposite of Going beyond What Is Written!

I have signed the Nashville statement, because I believe it accurately and succinctly states what I believe the Bible teaches about human sexuality.  Some have thought that because it has been named the “Nashville” statement, it somehow reflects what Nashville believes. It is not really about Nashville at all (except for the fact that those who constructed the statement were meeting in Nashville). It is about historic Christianity: what the Christian church has always taught and believed about these issues.

It is no secret that many within and without the church do not hold to these historic orthodox views on human sexuality; nor do they hold to the historic Christian faith in many other areas as well.  For someone to state them boldly and hold to them strongly makes these others uncomfortable. So, in response, a group of three neighbors came up with another statement which they feel more accurately represents what Nashville citizens believe.

The new statement — called the “Accurate Nashville Statement” — says “god loves you just the way you are” no matter if you identify as LGBT or not.

Of course, this doesn’t come from those with “theology degrees and white men.”  That should seal the deal.  Make a statement.  Call the opposition names.  Game over.  And charges of abuse and bigotry on the part of the learned theologians follow.  This further solidifies the charges.

The group further counters: “Let’s be clear: Any time a few humans make another feel miserable in their own skin because they think their small worldview has the monopoly on who/what God is – thats abusive and horrific behavior.”

SO, let me be clear. When people seek to establish their beliefs based on what they think, or what others will think about them, THEY HAVE GONE BEYOND WHAT IS WRITTEN!

When religious ideas and views become the established view concerning these issues because they are the most popular, WE HAVE GONE BEYOND WHAT IS WRITTEN!

When we refuse to speak out against SIN because it makes people feel uncomfortable, WE HAVE GONE BEYOND WHAT IS WRITTEN!

When we in our pride decide to speak for God with no more authority than “this is how I feel about it,” WE HAVE GONE BEYOND WHAT IS WRITTEN!

Let’s be clearer still: Christianity is a whole system, a whole body of Truth. We cannot simply take and believe what want and then reject or neglect the rest. This system of Truth is based upon what God has revealed about Himself, ourselves, our world and our destiny in the Bible. The theologians who gathered and presented the Nashville Statement, found here, worked meticulously to state with simplicity and clarity what the Bible teaches about human sexuality. It wasn’t about how they felt, or what they wanted to believe, or how people would feel about their work. It was about what God says to us concerning our sexuality.

So sure that the issue is settled in favor of the “Accurate Nashville Statement,” some are calling the Nashville Statement “the religious right’s death rattle.” Others say that when the Bible “contradicts” what “science and nature” reveals, another interpretation of the Bible must be sought. So, we must now make the Bible say what we want it to, no matter how distorted the outcome.

My response must be similar to that of the Apostles Peter and John, when they were hauled before the Sanhedrin for “gasp” healing and preaching in the name of Jesus. They were ordered not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.

But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

In my ministry, I do not seek to put down or belittle people. I do not seek to make them feel unnecessarily uncomfortable.  I do not seek to force my beliefs on others. But I must stand firm in the Truth of God’s Word, no matter the consequences. When I tell someone caught in a particular sin that God’s Word says it is wrong and that God is displeased, it is not to shame them or to belittle them. It is to help them understand that God offers grace and forgiveness to ALL of us sinners. I must be faithful to the God who has revealed Himself in His Word. I must be honest and truthful about what He says.

It is true that God loves all of us sinners. But as Leighton Ford has said, “He loves us too much to leave that way.”

The Apostle Paul’s instruction still stands: “We must learn not to go beyond what is written,” if we want to please God. In the past, when people presented ideas that were unbiblical, they were called “heretics.” In the past, when people sought to worship a god, holding ideas about him that were inaccurate or unworthy of Him, they were called “idolaters.”

It is true: “The spirit of our age does not delight in God’s good design of male and female. Consequently, confusion reigns over some of the most basic questions of our humanity,” said Denny Burk, president of CBMW. “The aim of The Nashville Statement is to shine a light into the darkness – to declare the goodness of God’s design in our sexuality and in creating us as male and female.”

CBMW’s co-founder John Piper said, “The Nashville Statement is a Christian manifesto concerning issues of human sexuality. It speaks with forthright clarity, biblical conviction, gospel compassion, cultural relevance, and practical helpfulness. It will prove to be, I believe, enormously helpful for thousands of pastors and leaders hoping to give wise, biblical, and gracious guidance to their people.”

 

So, we are presented with a choice: Will we live by the Book, or will we go beyond what is written? The choice is ours and choices have consequences.

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Are You Going Beyond What Is Written?

Let’s explore an unhealthy attitude that is often condoned in the church…

1 Corinthians 4:6

Now, brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other. For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?

As the Apostle Paul begins to sum up what the nature of ministry is and what it involves, he reminds the Corinthians of his former discussion in chapter 3 of his letter about himself and Apollos. The Corinthians were so caught up in exalting one leader over another that they failed to appreciate the value of each one. Their mantra was:

1 Corinthians 1:11-12

My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

Sadly in the ministry today this same spirit manifests itself. My pastor is better than your pastor! Our church has better programs! Our church has more members! Our pastor visits more! Our pastor preaches better than your pastor! This is the same attitude people take to their favorite movie stars, favorite shows, favorite celebrities. It is the spirit of pride, the spirit of our generation. In ministry, when it is manifested, it is ugly, marring the image of a church that should appreciate the gifts of God, rather than compare them.

The point Paul made in the earlier chapter using himself and Apollos as an example, an analogy, was that each minister has separate gifts, separate ministries, separate results, but each has an important role to play in the furthering of the gospel.

1 Corinthians 3:6

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.

Who do we think we are? Are we the source of God’s blessings to the church? Do we think we are so special that the church can’t do without us? Do we think that God’s work will stop, if we are moved or removed from the scene? Do we think that we can “punish” the church by withdrawing our presence or support? Do we think that God’s work can’t continue without us? Are we that petty, shallow, prideful?

1 Corinthians 3:7

So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.

We pastors and leaders cannot boast about our gifts or our ministry, because we are not their source. We have only received the gifts, the calling, the ministry. Our efforts should flow from our desire to be faithful to the calling and gifting that God has given rather than on producing results through those efforts. “God gives the increase.” When we act like we are producing the results, rather than acknowledging that it is God working through us producing results, we become proud, boastful, ungrateful.

So, just what does Paul mean when he quotes the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written?” My KJV Study Bible (given to me by my children on Father’s Day, June 18, 2006 ;-)) explains it this way:

This “is a proverbial expression. Paul is telling the Corinthians not to go beyond Scripture. In other words, learn to live by the Book, and stop following men (emphasis added).”

In this context, Paul is applying what the Scriptures say about “pride” to a specific situation in Corinth.

Proverbs 15:25

The Lord tears down the house of the proud,
but he sets the widow’s boundary stones in place.

Proverbs 29:23

Pride brings a person low,
but the lowly in spirit gain honor.

James 4:6

But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”

1 Peter 5:5

In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,
“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”

These are just a sampling of the many verses among many different contexts that are found in the Bible condemning pride. One might say that it is the “original sin,” since it was the sin that caused Satan to rebel against God, the sin that caused Adam and Eve to fall in the Garden, and the sin that continues to set us in opposition to God and His ways.

I am not trying to live my life by what others think about me. We must stop being so self-conscious about ourselves that we fail to see and do what is right. We must stop bowing down to the world and we must stop concerning ourselves with their opinions. We must stop holding our tongues and remaining silent while right fails and wrong prevails. We must adopt the attitude of Peter and John when confronted with the choice to cower to others expectations or step up and stay the course of right:

Acts 4:19-20

But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

Now here is what I find most interesting. That such a prominent and obvious sin can be committed so openly, blatantly, and smugly among God’s people, who may justify, excuse, or cover it without the slightest remorse, is appalling. We ought to know better, and we ought to do better, and we ought to fall to our knees in remorse and repentance when we find we are guilty of the sin of PRIDE. The Corinthian church failed to see their sin of pride in comparing leaders and choosing sides. They failed to understand that how they were acting in the church was a serious sin. They thought that by standing up for one leader and putting down others, they were only showing loyalty. But instead they were committing serious sin in their failure to understand the true nature of ministry. When we clothe ourselves in humility and learn “to live by the Book,”

“Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other.” You will begin to appreciate the glorious variety of ministers and ministries God has given to His church.

 

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What Does Ministry Require?

When I think of ministry and ministers, I think of this group of men and others like them. I have had the privilege of associating with these men during my 42 years of ministry and especially this group for the past decade. These men represent what great ministry is all about. Each one has his own unique personality, abilities and gifts, but there is one common quality I want to mention that they share. It is a rare quality and one that unfortunately has grown rarer in the past few years. (I am intentionally refusing to make any comments about the guy with the green-striped shirt in the middle) 🙂

When I think of successful pastors with successful ministries, I think of these men. It is not because their ministries meet the current standards in measuring successful ministry. They do not have a large following or large ministries. They have not written best-selling books on ministry nor have they been published in leading ministry magazines nor have they received media attention for their efforts. They do not have multi-site churches and they may preach to a relatively small group of people. As far as I know, they have not spoken at large conferences (with possibly one exception) or garnered a spotlight on their efforts. They have trudged away in the trenches of ministry day after day for a combined 350+ years, tirelessly seeking to carry out the calling God has placed on their lives. Some have done so with significant personal challenges: fighting health issues, bi-vocational work demands, and the never ending needs of their congregations. They have done so with grace, diligence, and a singular resolve to finish the course set before them. They are among my heroes of the faith along with those mentioned in Hebrews 11. Yes, I put them right up there with those saints of old.

What common quality makes them stand out? They each exhibit that rare quality of FAITHFULNESS.

In 1 Corinthians 4 the Apostle Paul tells his followers how to think of him and how to evaluate him. He is a minister (a slave) of Christ and a steward (manager) of the mysteries of God. Ministers are not CELEBRITIES! They should not be self-seeking, self-centered, or self-promoting. They are simply servants, called to serve Christ by serving His people.

Jesus reminds us: “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” – Luke 17:10

The requirement is “that a man be found faithful.” And we will be evaluated by God, not by others or by ourselves. Others do not see the sleepless nights praying over some person with a serious need. Others do not see the sacrificial service or the anonymous giving. Others do not carry the weight of hurting people or spiritual concern, the weight of feeling the responsibility for the spiritual welfare of their people. We cannot even make a true evaluation of ourselves and our ministry. Many times we have served, thinking that we failed in our efforts, but are unaware of the real impact that service has made. Sometimes we may have felt that we were fairly successful in our efforts, but were blind to the ineffectiveness of that service and the pride that generated it. Ministry is not about having our names in lights or large congregations filling our churches. Ministry is about serving Christ by serving others. It is often ignored, unappreciated, and scorned by others. Only God knows what we have done for Him, how we have served, why we have served and the extent of our labor for Him. And only He can properly evaluate our ministry.

So, what is FAITHFULNESS?

  • It is doing the same thing over and over, day after day, year after year, not because it is always rewarding, fulfilling, and exciting, BUT because it is important, necessary and right.
  • It is doing what is needed, indeed what Christ expects, whether or not it is well-received, popular, or rewarded. We choose to obey God rather than men.
  • It is doing what is right, no matter the consequences.It is serving, because we are called to serve, not because we are paid to serve.
  • It is serving, not because people appreciate it, but because God expects it.

I am not God and I cannot evaluate the ministry of the group of men pictured above. I am not saying that they are flawless or perfect. But I can say that I have observed the quality of FAITHFULNESS in each of their lives and I applaud it!

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Charlottesville from a Broader View

Charlottesville may be one of the most recent settings for the display of the poison of hatred and violence, but it certainly is not the first place and, unfortunately, will not be the last. I am no prophet; I am only a student of human nature. Sadly, people feel that, in order to be heard and bring about change, they must shout, agitate, and inflict harm. As a Christian, I stand opposed to violence and hatred. When Christians have taken a stand throughout the centuries, they have chosen to be persecuted, rather than deny their faith and renounce their allegiance to the Savior. But rather than lashing out, they chose to "turn the other cheek." Rather than violently displaying anger, frustration, and disagreement, they willingly suffered at the hands of violent men. Their example should point us in right direction in these days of angry rhetoric and violent protests.

Neither do I wish to deny that certain groups of people have been the recipients of violence, hatred, and prejudice for simply no other reason than their skin color, their national origin, their cultural heritage, their religion or their sex. The sad fact about the human race and our various differences is this: we seem to see differences as deficiencies to be put down, punished, or stamped out rather than as beneficial advantages to be celebrated, appreciated and utilized. In any relationship, if two people are exactly alike, one of them is unnecessary. We cannot lift ourselves up by putting others down. Proclaiming that others are inferior does not prove our supposed superiority. Tearing others down will not make us feel better about ourselves. It is our differences that allow us to be of help to one another; it is our unique abilities that enable us to contribute the most to others; it is our differences that allow us to provide our strength in another's weakness and accept their strength in our weakness, thus enabling us both to be stronger together than alone. It is our differences that challenge us to think from a different perspective, gain a deeper understanding, and garner a new appreciation of those differences.

I do not want you to think that I believe all differences of opinion, ideology and theology are created equal. Some are true while the opposite is not. Some are beneficial while others are destructive. Some are clear while others are ambiguous. When I speak of differences, I do not refer to differences of opinion or thought. I refer to innate differences, differences over which we have no control, differences infused into us by our Creator. We must embrace those differences.

As a Christian who believes the Bible and its explanations of human origins, I want to say more than these things: Racism is wrong! Violence is wrong! Love is our overarching value! I must also say that, according to the Bible, race itself is a wrong way to view humanity and human beings. The Bible only knows one race: the human race. We are all descendants of Adam and Eve. We share their DNA. We come from the same stock. Adam called his wife Eve because she was the mother of all living (Genesis 3:20). Paul's argument in Romans 5:12-21 only makes sense by viewing mankind as a unit where all are affected by the actions of our ancestor Adam.

Acts 17:24-27 The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation;

I do not presume to think that we do not divide ourselves into various groupings. The Bible acknowledges this when in the book of Revelation we are told about those from every tribe, tongue, people and nation (Revelation 5:9). But one of the goals of God's plan of redemption for the human race is that of breaking down the barriers that divide us. In the Apostle Paul's world humanity was divided into two groups: Jews and Gentiles, but he says that God's plan is to abolish what separates them ("the dividing wall of hostility").

Ephesians 2:14-16 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.

In the gospel, we find the answer to violence, hatred and bitterness.

2 Corinthians 5:14-21 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Think of it. When we embrace the gospel, Christ's sacrificial love for us now compels us to love others. As Paul says, the love of God has been poured out into our hearts (Romans 5:5). We no longer live for ourselves. We seek to serve others. We have been reconciled to God and we are now ambassadors of Christ sharing the message of reconciliation. Reconciliation: bringing people to God and bringing people together. This is the opposite of worldly wisdom: earthly, natural, demonic (James 3:15). Earthly wisdom is manifested where jealousy and selfish ambition exist in disorder and every evil thing (James 3:16).

James 3:17-18 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

If we embrace the biblical explanation of human origins, we will seek to look past the superficial differences that seem to divide us and seek to embrace our common heritage, our connectedness, our identity as a part of a large family, the human race. If we embrace the gospel, we will embrace the teachings, values and goals of the gospel. As Christians, we will also embrace the privilege of belonging to the family of God, the household of faith, a brotherhood of believers, the church of God. This family is made up of people from every tribe, tongue, people and nation from every generation and will display the beauty and splendid variety of God's glorious kingdom.

Until we Christians view people the way the Bible teaches and until we love them the way God does, we will continue to be a part of the problem rather than a part of the solution.

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The Death of a Church

Sadly, churches, like individuals, die. This has been on my mind and heart recently, since one of our sister churches in my denomination, a church from which the church I pastor sprung up, closed its doors. In fact, it has so weighed on my mind that I arose at 2:30 A.M. to begin writing this post. The church was one with a long history of ministry in its community. It had been pastored by men I knew personally and respected greatly. It was a seedbed for raising up pastors from its ranks. It is gone and the loss brings the same stages of emotion as the death of a person: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Even though I was not personally connected to the church since I was not the pastor, a member, or close friend of members, I have been affected by the loss. I know people who are grieving because this is or was their church. Some had a close association with the church at one time in their lives. Some have known or been associated with the pastors I mentioned. Some used to call this church their home church. Now it is gone and grief is the only way to describe the loss.

Sadly, when churches die, there is no obituary posted, no funeral service conducted, no burial plot to visit, and no autopsy performed. In essence, there are few opportunities for people to understand what happened or to gather and mourn the loss. Grief is present, but opportunities for expressing and processing that grief are absent. People are left to grieve alone or to find their own way to process their grief. It doesn't seem right that a church can close its doors without some kind of opportunity to recognize its impact on the lives of others and to let the survivors (those present members who are left) know the depth of the loss.

Sadly, the estimates are that between 4,000 and 7,000 churches close their doors each year (see http://www.churchleadership.org). They do so for various reasons, but one reason that cannot be avoided is another statistic: 3,500 people leave the church each day. Many do so hurt and disillusioned. A pastor friend (Bill Keaton) collected a list of church diseases and published them in a diagnostic tool for an emphasis we were calling Great Commission Churches. Sadly, I have been unable to locate my copy, but I did find a list of diseases on the website: http://www.chucklawless.com. He lists the following diseases:


Community Disconnect Disease. Churches with this disease meet within a given community, but they do not know that community.

Methodological Arthritis. The name says it all: this church is stuck in doing things the way they’ve always done them.

The “Grass is Greener” Syndrome. This syndrome is a malady where pastors or people see this church as a temporary place to be until they can find a "better" church.

Professional Wrestling Sickness. Sooner or later, we realize that in PWS it’s all fake. The church with PWS talks a good game in standing for righteousness, but hypocrisy is everywhere.

Program Nausea. Churches with Program Nausea try a program, toss it soon, and then quickly try the next one. They never seem to find a stability on which to build a ministry.

Baby Believer Malady. This congregation is doing evangelism well, but they have no strategy to grow new believers. Their unwritten, and wrong, assumption is, “As long as you show up for our small groups and worship service, you’ll grow.”

Theological Self-Deception Ailment. While no church with an unbiblical theology can be healthy, TSDA is characterized by a belief that teaching theology is all that is required to be a healthy church.

“Unrecoverable Void” Syndrome.  Church leaders and laypersons alike suffer from an overemphasis on self-importance, characterized by statements like, “This church will close its doors after I’m gone.” Church members with UVS fail to realize that God’s church will go on without any of us.

Talking in Your Sleep Disease. They go through the motions, but the motions lack energy. They meet for worship, yet the atmosphere is lifeless.

Congregational Myopia. The congregation with this condition is nearsighted, focusing on themselves only. They have no vision for the future, and they fail to see that their current direction will likely lead to further disease and decline.


I am sure that, if we were to conduct more thorough research, we could come up with other common ailments and diseases. The point is that, just as with individuals, churches may become unhealthy with one or more diseases that, if left untreated, can bring about their demise. The first requirement is to recognize the symptoms. The next is to diagnose the problem. Then a treatment must be prescribed. And, of course, the patient must be willing to undergo treatment. The sad fact is that, just as in cases with individuals, this all too often comes too late to save the patient. Early diagnosis provides the greatest opportunity for successful treatment. Prevention (pursuing healthy practices for church development and growth) is the best way to avoid these diseases, just as pursuing a healthy lifestyle is the best defense against illness and disease.

I hope that you have been able to stay with me through the more theoretical and less personal aspects of this post. I believe that the information is important and relevant, but I want to return to the personal matter of grief. The death of any individual we know subjects us to the contemplation of our own death. Mortality presses upon us as we face the death of a loved one. We wonder about how we may face death and we are reminded that death is inevitable for each of us (unless the Lord returns before we die).

Of course, the longevity of a church certainly may exceed that of an individual and I don't personally believe that its death is inevitable. In this, the analogy breaks down. But we do live in a world of chaos, confusion, and destruction, a world of death. Although it doesn't have to be inevitable, I believe that it is always a possibility for a local church to grow ill and die. In my own denomination I have seen almost half of our churches close in my 42 years of ministry. Several of those churches that closed were churches I had pastored. It is with a heavy heart that I recall the memory of my time there in those churches and the once vibrant ministry conducted there.

When a church closes, we ask ourselves, even if our church seems vibrant and healthy, "Could this happen to my church?" It is not a question to ask lightly. When we hear of the closing of another church, we should take seriously the opportunity to consider the health of our church, to observe any symptoms that might indicate some illness or disease, and to take preventative steps to address any problems we see. Overconfidence and complacency are our greatest enemies. We ignore the signs of illness to our peril. If we wait to long, the disease may become terminal.

But there is hope. About 1,000 churches are born each year and that number is increasing. Also, many churches have recovered from one or more of the diseases mentioned above. Death is not inevitable and the prospect of revival is encouraging. We should not lose heart or grow weary in well-doing. If we do not faint, we will reap the fruit of our labors. The work of ministry may be for people, but it is not about people. The one requirement for a steward (manager) is faithfulness. We answer to the Lord of the harvest, the Head of the church, the King of kings and Lord of lords. We don't need to build the church, because he said, "I will build my church." We were left with one priority, "seek first my kingdom." We were left with one activity, "stay busy in the work till I come." We were left with one reminder, "the servant only needs to please his master."

As I heard one pastor put it, "I would rather BURN OUT than RUST OUT in the ministry!

You need the church and the church needs you. I'm not ready for my church to die, because Christ died for the church. He wants his church to fire up, hold up, study up, stand up, wake up, toughen up, and fess up! (See Revelation, chapters 2 and 3).

  1. Do you understand that the church is NOT man's invention, but God's design?
  2. Are you burdened for the local church to which you belong?
  3. Are you praying for it fervently?
  4. Are you ready and willing to serve diligently?
  5. Do you desire to do all you can to prevent the death of your church?
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