Archive for the Church Category

Overreacting?

Posted in Church, Discipleship on November 15, 2013 by nmpreach

Recently, I had someone (I’ll call him John) visit with me about someone (let’s call this person Bob).  John wanted to “get (Bob) back into the Church.”  It seems that Bob had a horrible experience with a church and was using that as an excuse not to attend anywhere.  John was convinced of the necessity of community and attempted to communicate his conviction to Bob.  I appreciated the visit and knowing John was concerned for his new friend.

What struck me was what John said.  “Pastor, I have this friend who I’m hanging out with.  He’s kind of like my project.  Would you be willing to visit with him and alleviate any concerns he might have about the Church?”  What infuriated me about what John said was how he described Bob.  A project?  Really?  So if we’re to make disciples, does that mean we perceive them as projects?

The Webster’s defines project as “something that is planned or devised.” It almost sounds sneaky, right?  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m about making disciples.  I’ll be upfront about that!  But my concern is two-fold: 1) Did Jesus minister considering those around Him as projects?; and 2) What makes me think I can complete any “project” when it comes to discipleship?  After all, doesn’t God do the changing?

As I read about the public ministry of Jesus, it’s clear that He had goals in mind – first and foremost to love.  Jesus loved by speaking truth.  He spoke about man’s brokeness, God’s offer for redemption, and what He (Jesus) must do to restore all things.  After the crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus gave His disciples a task to do what He did.  But I never read about considering those ministered to as projects.  I never hear anything other than compassion, mercy, and grace.  If we’re to be about His business, maybe we should consider those around us more than just projects.

Secondly, when I think of projects that I have done, I have a sense of pride.  Accomplishments feel good.  And I celebrate the project not because of it, but because of me.  When it comes to people (side note: created in the image of God) and making disciples, I have a hard time wrapping my brain around considering them another project.  In fact, I think the Church has been all too often guilty of doing just that.  We get people to come to church, be baptized, etc. and then we’re on to something/someone else.  Project complete!  And the person doesn’t know up from down, left from right, etc.  It’s not their fault they go back to what they know.  After all, they were treated as a project.

I think it’s important to remember God does the changing in people.  Sure, He wants me to be involved.  But ultimately, the success belongs to God.  The only thing I have to celebrate is a person meeting Jesus.

You might think I’m making more of this than I should.  Maybe I am.  But I chose the word “infuriate” because that described what I feel.  If we treat people as projects, we have a long way to go.  Jesus didn’t die for projects.  He died for you and I!

Be YOUR Part!

Posted in Church on October 18, 2013 by nmpreach

I’m being stretched.  I believe that’s a good thing – but not always comfortable.  I want to be stretched.  Being stretched is the only way my flesh can become like Jesus.  So I hesitantly whisper, “Bring it on!” – while knowing this stretch may be more uncomfortable than the last.

What I mean by “stretched” is this: I’ve been caused to reevaluate my beliefs, practices, and way of living (often times on a daily basis).  The reason I have no problem with it is I believe it’s what Jesus had in mind.  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.”

The last stretch has come over the last few years.  God has convicted me of the importance of Sabbath, of rest, of the idea that I can’t be all things to all people.  Someone is going to get offended.  Someone will always feel cheated.  Someone needs more attention than I can give.  That’s a fact.  And because of my personality, I attempted (for years) to be all things to all people.  When one lives like that, they are often disappointed.

No one is the Messiah – except Jesus Christ of course.  And He could be all things to all people.  But Satan convinces us of untruths.  And we try (and fail).  And we try again (and fail).  Eventually, God has said some pretty powerful words to me.  Ready?  Here they are.

JUST QUIT

That’s it.  Just quit.  Quit trying to be the Messiah.  Quit trying to be all things to all people.  Quit doing (or attempting to do) what I didn’t call you to do.  It’s not healthy.  And more important, it’s sin!

Think about it.  We do this to ourselves and to each other.  I recently read of someone in the Church ranting about how everyone should get involved in the ministry this particular person was called to.  The person went on and on about how everyone was all talk and no action.  Only what they didn’t know is others were carrying out their own ministries.

I was reminded of 1 Corinthians 12.

Now there are a variety of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.  vss. 4-6 (ESV)

I AM NOT called by God to be a nursery worker (hear all the mothers celebrating?).  I AM NOT called to be an interior decorator (Can I get an amen?).  But Paul reminds us it’s okay.  I may not be called to do those things.  But someone else in “the body” will be.  My obligation as a follower of Christ is to determine what God’s calling is and follow that call.  Using the analogy Paul uses:  If God calls me to be hand, it’s going to be frustrating attempting to be a foot.  If I’m called to be an ear, be an ear.  After all, God is faithful to provide all the parts.  And who am I to use a guilt trip to force someone into someone they’re not?  Don’t be someone else’s part – just be your part!

Something to think about.  I hope you’re stretched.

Should I?

Posted in Church, Scripture on April 18, 2012 by nmpreach

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive?  As many as seven times?”  Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” – Mt 18:21-22 NRSV

And forgive our debts, as we have also forgiven our debtors. – Mt 6:12 NRSV

These were the verses read for our Bible study this morning.  The topic of discussion was forgiveness.  The specific question: Can we really ask to be forgiven our sins if we haven’t completely forgiven others?

It’s interesting in the first text the NRSV translators use the phrase “member of the church.”  The actual word in the Greek would be translated brother.  In other words, this isn’t just a casual acquaintance.  Peter is asking about someone whom he has a relationship with – someone who should also be concerned about community/relationship.  A brother has your best interests at heart.  He would never do anything intentional to hurt you.  Jesus says in effect, “Don’t keep score.  Forgive much.”

But what about those who don’t have your best interests at heart?  What about those people who don’t want a relationship/community?  What about people who have proven they could care less about you?  What if they have no desire to be a brother or sister?  What about those people?  Should I forgive?  Should I make peace (as much as possible) and then move on with life?  Should I continue to get bloody and bruised?

Of course there’s much to “unpack” in the word forgiveness, which leads to a conversation of grace, which leads to…  You get the idea.  So what say you?  John Bevere says no desire to forgive is The Bait of Satan.  Is there a difference if the one to forgive is a member of the Church, a brother, a sister?

Hmmm.

Thankful…Really!

Posted in Church, Scripture on November 22, 2011 by nmpreach

A few days ago, the sermon premise was to be thankful despite circumstances.  The text was Matthew 14:22+.  I also alluded to James 1 – “Consider it pure joy my brothers…” and mentioned 1 Thessalonians 5:18 – “…give thanks in all circumstances.”  About halfway through the sermon, Job also came to mind, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.  The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised” 1:21.

I was aware of some people in the congregation dealing with new challenges that at first glance seem insurmountable.  However, the sermon text and premise was set weeks ago.  I’ve always made it a point to preach without having someone or their specific need in mind.  In fact, I approached one and told them the premise of the sermon prior to Sunday, in an effort to alleviate the thought that the sermon was about their particular situation.

After the service was over, I was approached by a few people who mentioned how it spoke to situations in their lives – many of which I was unaware.  I’m often amazed at how God works and I felt blessed.  I continue to pray that God alone gets the glory.  I was also approached by someone who has been a believer for many years.  This particular person said something like (I can’t recall their exact words.), “I know what you were saying.  But is that really possible?  Can we really say what Job said?  I’m not sure I can thank God when something horrible happens.”  It was at this point that they mentioned a horrific tragedy in their own life.  This person was still struggling with something that happened months ago.

So here’s where you come in.  Is it really possible to have the faith that Job displayed?  Can we truly be thankful in ALL circumstances?  Or is that just a pious way of looking at things?  We know what the text says.  There’s no argument as to the words on the page.  But is it really possible?  Or are we kidding ourselves?

I’ve got my own thoughts.  What about you?

 

An Arrogant Body

Posted in Church, Community on May 13, 2011 by nmpreach

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many.  If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body…On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honor we bestow the greater honor…

1 Cor 12:12-15, 22-23

I’m often reminded of how much emphasis Jesus placed on unity.  He modeled it, taught about it, and prayed about it.  Of course if our Lord placed an emphasis on something in His life, perhaps we should learn why and strive to do the same.  Within the Church, there are well-intentioned believers who think they have a “handle” on what God’s will is…for everyone!  In other words, using Paul’s analogy to the Corinthians, an eye might say to the foot, “You’re not doing it right.  Watch what I do.”

In the Church there are those who believe they and they alone have a discerning spirit.  They’re willing to tell the community what needs to happen, how it needs to happen, and when is the right time.  The trouble is: When these people don’t like how things are going or the timing of things, they become frustrated and question the validity of the community.

The same well-intentioned believers are also available to tell each person in the community what their particular gift is.  And they are happy to do so.  The trouble is: When those in the community don’t use the gifts like they’ve been advised, their commitment is questioned.

Of course we in the Church are to hold each other accountable to be what Christ desires us to be.  We need constant encouragement to persevere to the end.  But how arrogant is it that one or two people in a community think they have a “handle” on what God wants to do?  Your gift is what God says – not what someone else thinks it should be!  Our role in the Church (discipleship, missions, service, etc.) should be defined by God and not others.  It’s much safer that way.

If you’re a hand, stop listening to a foot.  Be a hand.  If you’re an eye, understand all parts of the body have a function.  You might not like their function.  But be what God called you to be – an eye!  That’s how the body works.

The Difference Between Sheep and Goats

Posted in Church, Community on March 10, 2011 by nmpreach

I received a call the other day that took me by surprise.  It seems  a para-church ministry has come in contact with many unchurched or dechurched people and felt a need to offer them a general invitation to a church in the community.  The person on the other end of the phone call stated that many of the people they reach don’t have connections with a church.  The ministry reaches people with multiple needs including addiction, emotional issues, and  the like.  In other words, these are needy people.  They bring “baggage”.  And often times, they’ve burned bridges with many people.  Honestly, this part of the conversation wasn’t what surprised me.  After all, this is just another day in ministry.

The person then stated they had a few questions for me:

1.  What denomination (or lack thereof) would I consider our church? 

 The leaders of the para-church ministry felt strongly about listing the community churches on a flier that included denominational leanings.  Again, no surprise.  This is normally a great resource for media outlets (newspapers, chamber of commerce, etc.) to distribute to new residents.  I explained our church is non-denominational but we have many people from many backgrounds.  Therefore, we might be considered multi-denominational.  The person stated they understood and would list our church and contact information.  They then proceeded to question two.

2.  Would our church be willing to be listed in a directory that includes all of the community churches?  

This question seemed strange to me.  The church I minister with has always taken an active role in the community.  In fact, those in attendance at community gatherings read the mission statement on a consistent basis: At the heart of the community with the community at heart.  We are encouraged to GO SERVE SOMEONE!  The church has fundraisers that benefit local ministry, a community Easter egg hunt, and a Fall Fun Festival for the community.  There are also other smaller events throughout the year.

I guess what surprised me was having to be asked.  And I answered, “Of course.”  There must have been a hint of surprise within my voice.  The person I was talking with offered an explanation for the question without being asked.  “The reason I’m asking is that I have had one church tell me ‘no’.  Because of that, I want to ask everyone if they want to be listed or not.”  Really?  A church in town told you they weren’t interested in ministry?  “They said they just didn’t want to be involved.  Those people bring too much baggage.  There are too many needs.”  Honestly, I didn’t know what to say.  After a few seconds of trying to take in what I’d just heard, I said something to the effect of, “What a shame.  Isn’t that what the Church is all about?”

Jesus displayed the heart of a servant.  He taught we should do the same.  And in my mind, when the Church doesn’t do what Christ called us to do, we’re no longer the Church.  We become a social club, a group of people who only interact with our group – very narcissistic!  Let me say again:  What a shame! Need we be reminded of the sheep and goats?

There Are More Important Things Than You!

Posted in Church, Community on March 9, 2011 by nmpreach

A leader’s task within the Church is to guard doctrine (Titus 1:9).  Although there are other things they are responsible for, this task must be at the forefront.  Elders are described in Scripture as shepherds, overseers, and servants.  Because people, their personalities, and of course Satan is involved, conflict occurs within the Church from time to time.  People respond in several ways. 

1)  There are times where any disagreement leads to stress and the eventual severing of a relationship.  Within the Church this looks like people leaving for “greener pastures” or a church “split”.  Sadly, there are times where those who leave spread discontent within the greater community for primarily selfish reasons. 

2)  There are times conflict is real and realized among even those outside the group.  Have you ever walked into a room and felt the tension?  An example within the Church might be the Hatfields and the McCoys.  One family sits on one side, the other chooses to sit on the other.  They only associate with one another if forced.  Everyone knows of the disagreement/discontent/hate among the two factions.

3)  Finally, there are times where the conflict is real but those in the community/church choose to not allow it to destroy the relationship.  Matthew 18:15ff comes to mind.  If a brother sins against you…   

Here’s my thought:  As Jesus was preparing to go to the cross and eventually ascend back into heaven, He could have prayed for anything.  But He makes it a point to pray for unity among believers (John 17).  Surely He knew there was going to be disagreements, power plays, and people acting foolish.  But here’s the thing.

Unity doesn’t mean a lack of opinion!

As diverse as they were, the apostles had their own thoughts, gifts, and interactions with Jesus.  Sure, they had a common goal (evangelizing the world).  But they did it in ways in which they were gifted.  Jesus didn’t expect Peter to be John, Matthias to be Thomas, etc.

The elders where I serve are wise in their own ways.  In other words, they bring something different to the proverbial table.  I believe that’s what God intended.  That’s community.  That’s relationship.  That’s family!  And even when they disagree, each of them display humility, servanthood, and above all – a unity that is more important than anything else.  Are they perfect?  Of course not!  And God knows that.  But when one person (elder, pastor, one who holds the money bag) has only his/her agenda in mind, things go South in a hurry.  An elder who doesn’t see the community’s needs above his own is stifling the Church.  A pastor who “rules with an iron scepter” leads many astray.  A lay person who complains about everything and thinks no one else gets it, is fooling themselves (and might I add arrogant).

Unity means exactly what Jesus prayed.

We have a common goal.  The elders guard the doctrine.  And at the same time, we celebrate diversity.  Anything more than that is bordering on a cult.