How God Gets His Work Done!

-He Doesn’t Need My Wisdom!

The Church of Corinth was one messed up church—they struggled with sexual immorality; and, they fought over the Lord’s Supper; and, their doctrine on the resurrection of the dead was problematic! So, when the Holy Spirit provoked the Apostle Paul to write a letter & call them out, he reminds them of the 1st time they met when he had introduced them to the Gospel:  “And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified….my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” 1 Corinthians 2:1-5.

-Don’t Sanitize The Gospel!

I’m not intending to read into the text; but, it seems like maybe they’ve become embarrassed over the Gospel. Perhaps they felt pressured to make the Gospel more appealing to their cosmopolitan neighbors by down playing the cross, the shed blood & the atonement. If so, there’s probably an application here for the western Church—have we digressed so far from our calling that we feel compelled to sanitize the offensiveness of the cross? Have we become so “seeker friendly” that we’ve become “Gospel unfriendly”? Do we crave the world’s approval so badly that we feel compelled to “market” the Gospel by packaging it in a more user-friendly format?

-God Only Blesses His Plan!

It seems, in the reading of this letter, that Paul is intent on changing some faulty thinking! They needed a doctrinal cleansing on HOW God gets His work done—He doesn’t need our help! He doesn’t want us to figure out how to DO CHURCH in our wisdom or strength! He will only bless HIS SOVEREIGN PLAN! Paul seems to emphasize interactive discipleship over “church programs”—life on life interaction! “…I came TO YOU…I was WITH YOU” he said in vs. 1,2.  Paul also emphasizes the power of God over human performance—human method’s will come & go; so, focus on the power of God to minister through us!

-Do Ministry By God’s Grace!

If our ministry focus is on US—how WE need to GET BETTER at it; or, how much effort WE need to put into it—WE will be ineffective at it! We’ll become neurotic & self-absorbed over whatever ministry we’re involved in because our efforts will center on us & our abilities rather than God & His power to do the spiritual work—that ONLY HE can do—in someone’s life! We’re talking about doing ministry by “legalism” vs ministry by “Grace”; and, GRACE wins every time! When we perform ministry in the strength of the flesh it puffs us up; and, gives us the allusion that we’re helping God out! He doesn’t need our help!

 

 

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Politics Is Like A Skunk

Touch It & People Will Notice

That’s what a pastor friend of mine told me once: “Politics is like a skunk: Touch it and that’s all anyone will notice about you for a long while.” When I was in my 20’s and 30’s I was very much involved in the political scene. I was part of the “Moral Majority” back in the 70’s and listened religiously to the political talk shows during the 80’s and 90’s.

Perspective Is A Great Thing

But, “perspective” is a great thing! It’s about the only great thing about growing older! Perspective is “the ability to see all the relevant data in a meaningful relationship to one another.” Over the last 20 years I’ve gained a different perspective for the Church’s level of involvement in politics during the “Moral Majority” years. From my perspective, the Church exchanged Christ’s commission to “make disciples” for the hope that their political clout (because of their “majority” status) could change our country, for the better, by electing the right individuals to office & through legislation.

We’ve Reaped What We Sowed

Almost 5 decades later, we’ve “reaped what we sowed.” Because we backed away from our calling to “make disciples” the Church has severely shrunk in size. Some of the most recent statistics I’ve seen reveal that 9 out of every 10 churches in America are in decline.  And, only 1 new church is starting for every 2-3 that are closing! We’re no longer a “moral majority”! So, we’ve—for the most part—failed to elect God-Honoring public servants; and, we’ve failed in the battle to pass God-Honoring legislation. We’ve lost the “Culture Wars”!

God Is Still Sovereign

We’ve paid a great price for our disobedience, Church! And, I’m pointing fingers at this guy at the same time I’m calling out the rest of the Church! I’ve been disobedient to my calling! There, I said it! Will you admit it? But, wait! This is not a message of hopelessness! All is not lost! God is still Sovereign! He’s still on the throne! He still listens & is moved by the repentant prayers of His Children! He continues to raise up “modern day prophets” who call the Church back to God; to brokenness & humility; to return to our calling; to fulfill our Lord’s Great Commission to “make disciples” as we “go” about doing life!

Another Election Is Only Months Away

Like most of you, I’m already sick to death of all the negative campaign advertising! It would be real easy, for me, to just walk away from the political process altogether! I’d have no problem finding something else to do on election day & I’m sure many of you feel the same way. But, we can’t! On the basis of Scriptural principle, there is simply no way that I can—in good conscience—recommend that you stay away from the polls on November 8th. Just because politics is less important doesn’t mean that it’s not important! There’s a tension there! It’s all about being a good & faithful steward!

(Part II Next Week)

A Biblical Case For Social Media!

Social Media Is Here To Stay

Like it, or not, Social Media is hard-wired into our culture. Some social experts predict that in less than 10 years it will be nearly impossible to interact in the culture without being engaged in social media. In a practical sense, what does that mean for us as followers of Jesus?

The Gospel Requires Us To Interact With People

If we’re unable to interact with our culture, we’ll be unable to share the Gospel! If we can’t share the Gospel we’ll be incapable of fulfilling Jesus’ commission to His Church! That’s how serious it is!

Adapting To Our Culture!

When Hudson Taylor went to China, as a missionary, he was a pioneer when it came to cultural adaptation. At the time, the Church criticized him for adapting Chinese dress & for eating Chinese food with Chinese instruments & for living in Chinese housing & for observing the local customs and etiquette. Those methods seem only natural to us today, don’t they? We assume that a missionary will adapt to the culture; and, use every non-sinful method necessary to disciple people for Christ. But, what about our own context here in America? Should we respond any different to our own culture? Or, is that just for foreign missionaries? No! It’s not! We enter the “Mission Field” every time we leave our homes; and, every time we leave our churches! We have the same Biblical responsibility that Hudson Taylor had to embrace the non-sinful elements of our culture with the goal of winning as many as possible to Jesus.

Outdated & Irrelevant

When we’re “outdated” we become culturally irrelevant; and, an impediment to Gospel penetration in our society! The stakes are too high to reject the current culture just because it’s unfamiliar or uncomfortable to us! The “principle” from Scripture is quite clear—God values the sharing of the Gospel above cultural distinctives! If social media offers me a wider platform for sharing the Gospel, in the current culture, than I’m “enslaved” to do so! See the Apostle Paul!

Paul’s Heavy Words

Here’s what Paul says about cultural relevance: “I have made myself a slave to everyone, in order to win more people. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win Jews; to those under the law, like one under the law—though I myself am not under the law—to win those under the law. To those who are without that law, like one without the law—not being without God’s law but within Christ’s law—to win those without the law. To the weak I became weak, in order to win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some. Now I do all this because of the gospel” -1 Corinthians 9:19-23

 

Do We Value God’s Presence? Or, Can We Do Church Without Him?

So, Where’s God?

Here’s what I’ve come to realize after all these years in the ministry: Too much of my church ministry has been done without any consideration for the presence and power of God! If your church is typical very little thought is given to God’s presence in your worship service; and, the rest of your ministry effort!

I “assumed” His presence as I performed ministry in the power of my own wisdom and effort. Oh, I prayed regularly; and, I read His Word consistently. But, most of my prayers were requests to bless my efforts or my ministry! Sound familiar?

I prayed that God would just use me; and, give me wisdom — my ministry was “me-centered” and “me-powered” rather than “God-centered” and “God-powered”! I never thought about asking Him to “show up”! I never really gave consideration to the fact that spiritual work requires His Presence; or, it isn’t HIS WORK!

Moses’ Passion For God’s Presence

Recently, I found myself reading Exodus 33; and, it seems like the Presence of God was a really big deal to Moses. Let me set the stage for you – God had miraculously presented Himself to Moses & Israel and called them out of Egypt. At the time God showed up they were a people enslaved by the Egyptians; and, it was a pretty sweet deal for the Pyramid builders! They were pretty reluctant to let Israel go when Moses came ’round and demanded it. But God had a way of persuading Pharoah to let them go; so, out to the wilderness they went on their way to a new home – the Promised Land!

God would meet with Moses and tell him how to lead the people; but, more than that He actually accompanied the people on their journey – God went with them! He dwelt among them in a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. So, they knew He was present with them!

But if you remember what happened back in ch.32, the people committed “idolatry” in an incredibly grievous, immoral way – they made a golden calf and worshipped it while Moses was busy talking with God. So provoked was God, by their act of unbelief, that He told Moses to “stand back” while He destroyed them for their sin! But Moses interceded for the people and God “changed His mind” (or “repented”) about killing them. But, He also “changed the rules” for their wilderness journey!

Just take a quick peak at v.3; and, you’ll see God telling Moses, “But I will not go with you because you are a stiff-necked people; otherwise, I might destroy you on the way.” So, they needed to keep on making their way to the Promised Land; but, God wasn’t going with them! The next verse says: “When the people heard this bad news, they mourned…”

Now I confess to reading that “like a calf looking at a new gate”. Somehow I had overlooked that little phrase, “…But I will not go with you…” Instead, God said He would “…send an angel ahead…” of them to drive out the inhabitants of the land. But, God wasn’t going to be making the trip! This was an incredibly significant development!

Let the response of the people sink in: “…they MOURNED!” This was bad news! To do the Lord’s work without God’s presence was bad news! Notice how Moses tells God (v.15) that he just can’t do God’s work without God’s presence — “If your presence does not go, don’t make us go up from here.” “Don’t make us go without YOU”, Moses says. And, then he makes this incredibly insightful & revealing statement in v.16, “…I and Your people will BE DISTINGUISHED by this from all the other people on the face of the earth.” “It’s YOUR PRESENCE, with us, that makes us DIFFERENT from everyone else! You have to go with us,” Moses pleads! It’s the presence of God that makes His followers DISTINCT from everyone else on the planet.

Hey Church: Is God Present?

Could it be that it’s the “Presence of God” that we’re missing in our churches? Is that the reason for it’s decline? Has God refused to show up because we’ve been content to do try and do church in our own strength and wisdom? How’s that working?

If the church is to prosper again, like it did during New Testament days, we have to get over ourselves! We have to stop living like it’s all about us! Like Moses, we need to beg God to be present in our church and to lead us according to HIS AGENDA; or, it’s just not worth doing!

We need to do church in our brokenness and our weakness! Because when “I am weak” than “He is strong”! He shows up when we admit that our plans, our wisdom, our abilities, our talents, and, our effort just won’t get the job done!

As Jesus’ church we can’t be satisfied with anything less than God’s presence in our midst — in our ministry to the body & to the world at large! For Israel, it was bad news if God wasn’t present; and, it should be bad news to us if we sense a lack of God’s presence in our ministry.

We bring glory to God when His glory — His attributes — permeate our congregation! When God “shows up” the world will see Jesus when they see us worship; when they see how we interact with each other; and, when they observe our ministry!

What Should We Value In Church Ministry?

The American Church Landscape

For most of the last 36 years of my life I have been on the staff of a local church; so, I like to think that gives me some “depth perception” — I’ve observed the landscape of the church for nearly 4 decades! That said, the health of the church in America has never been more alarming. According to the United States Census Bureau Records, 4000 churches close their doors each year while only 1000 new churches start up. Every year, 2.7 million church members fall into inactivity; or, put another way, people are leaving the church! Since 1992, church attendance has dropped around 13% while population growth as increased by 9%. If we all do the math we’ll all come up with the same conclusion — we’re losing ground! And, it’s snow balling! “Humanly” speaking it’s an irreversible trend!

Thankfully, we serve a God that is neither limited by nor impressed with human trends. He transcends human trends! He loves to step into our world supernaturally & overcome all human logic and wisdom by His eternal power; and, He does it for the glory of His name!

How Should We Respond?

I’m privileged to be part of an Elder team that really cares about the church to whom we minister. We begin each of our meetings in prayer — sometimes lengthy prayer — seeking God’s direction for our meeting and for His church.

One of our Biblical titles is “Overseer” — pretty straight forward, isn’t it? We’re responsible for the “oversight” of our local church ministry. It means we’re “stewards”! We’re not “bosses”; nor, are we “owners” of the church! It belongs to Jesus because He “bought” us; and, we’re not our own (1 Corinthians 6:19,20)! As Elders, we “oversee” the work on His behalf.

We concluded that too much of our ministry effort, in the past, has been the pooling of human wisdom. We had bowed down to the “Idol of Pragmatism” which led us to “add this ministry” or “do it this way” because it worked at Mega Bible Church in Big City, USA. Which begs the question, if it’s Jesus’ church why don’t we ask Him how to run His church? And, so we did!

What Should We Value In Ministry?

What you’re reading, in this series of posts, is the result of months of prayer time & Scripture study in an all-out effort to discover what Jesus would have us “value” in our local church ministry — “Ministry Values”! And let me be clear about something from the start: these are NOT our Ministry Values because we say they are! As an Elder team, we’ve carefully studied God’s Word in an attempt to “confirm” what He wants us to value in ministry!

You may not come to the same conclusions as we have! And, I’m okay with that! Can you be okay with that? Every local church should be an individual expression of our Awesome God’s creative character! My son has his own little saying when we play games together as a family: “You be you,” he says. In other words, play the game the way you play it! You don’t have to play it like everyone else!

Let’s stop trying to be like every other church! You need to uncover who God made you to be through prayer, fasting, and a healthy diet of the God’s Word! Be still; and, know who God made you to be! When you discover “who” that is, it will set you free; and, provide passion & meaning to your local church ministry that trying to copy all the “big dogs” never will!

Right now we find ourselves on an exhilarating journey as a church. It’s a paradigm shift in the way we do church — rather than sitting around a table wringing our hands over “church business” we are learning to pray together and seek God’s help for the work He has given us to oversee!

We’ve Focused On All The Wrong Thing

I submit to you that the reason for decline in the church has been one of FOCUS — for decades we’ve focused on all the wrong things: politics, issues, music & worship styles, church attire, seekers, etc. We’ve made church about our agenda; our personal “hobby horses”! Not only have we been guilty of asking the wrong questions; we’ve asked the wrong person! We’ve sought answers from man instead of the All-Knowing One!

Let’s be gracious; and, assume that the church meant well! Her motives may have been right! But, in reality, too much church ministry has been done in the flesh for the last 50 years — when we work hard & pray little we’re telling the world that we have a weak God! When we pray hard we’re telling the world we need His presence in our ministry or nothing will happen!

If you’re like me, you long to see something happen! I long for a great moving of God’s Holy Spirit — one that brings the saints to their knees in repentant broken humility; and, one that brings the lost to an awareness of their lostness and their need for Jesus, the Savior!

I hunger for the presence of God to be manifested in our local church community of faith; to see the trail of His glory made known through the changed lives of our people. That’s the “Ministry Value” I plan to flesh out in my next post — Living each day in a way that brings God glory!

Thanks for blessing me with your time! Hope you’ll share some encouraging feedback! Like Jesus told Peter: “Feed My Sheep!”