Church transitions: The bus is leaving, make a decision

A few days ago I was involved in some lively and some times heated conversation with a seasoned senior pastor and a missionary pastor recently returned from the mission field.  The conversations took place in a car as we spent more than 20 hours traversing the highways of the Northeast and as far away as Toronto.  The subject matter was diverse, but almost all of it was ministry-related.

Conversationally, I’m not sure the trail we followed to get there, but we wound up talking about the explanations people use when they choose to leave a church.  We then talked about the role transitions of leadership in local churches play in people finally making a decision to leave.  And of course, how those transitions also bring people to the church that probably wouldn’t have come unless a transition had been made.

My seasoned senior pastor friend said that the concept of a bus provided a good analogy and I agree with him.  He helped me to think about the numerous ways a bus, its driver, its passengers, its stops, and its destinations provide some insight into the flow of the life of a local church:

1.  A local church is in motion and there is a purpose for that motion, like a bus.

2. It has only one driver at the wheel, but it’s following a route pre-determined for it by someone that isn’t actually in the bus in the same way all of the other people are.

3.  The bus driver has some freedom to deviate from the route, but he has to hit the stops that have been pre-determined for him.

4.  There are pre-designed times for people to either get on or off….the required stops.

5.  Some of those that get on will ride for a little while, realize they’re on the wrong bus, and then get off at the next stop.

6.  Some will get on, understand where the bus is going and then strike up conversation with the others who also know they’re on the right bus, relationships will be built between them, and also with the driver, but he is concentrating on the driving.

7.  Of those that get off, some will do so because their ride on the bus is over.  It’s taken them as far as they wanted to go.

8.  Very few of those that get off, actually get off because they don’t like the way the bus driver is driving.

9.  When a new driver sits down at the wheel, some will get off at the next stop.  Not necessarily because they don’t like the driver, but usually for the same reasons people have always gotten off the bus.

10.  If the new driver is given a new route and destination for the bus, some will get off, but a whole new group of people will get on board and want to go that direction.  For those that get off….no problem….it’s not personal, just not where they desire to go and the stops along the way to get there aren’t helpful to them.

Every analogy ultimately breaks down if you ride it too long, including a this bus.

Hopefully the ride has been at least a little enjoyable.

 

 

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Can a Christian Vote for a Mormon?

The challenge of voting is solved for me.  My vote is not determined by political party, nor by the candidate’s charisma, or his theological purity – I vote platform philosophy.  Whichever platform most closely aligns w/ my values is the one I will vote for.  If the Democratic platform aligns with my worldview more than the Republican one, I will vote Democratic and vice-versa.

As it stands right now, the Republican platform more closely mirrors my values than does the Democratic platform.  I would vote for a Mormon Republican before I would vote for a Christian Democrat.

I would rather have a Mormon working for me than a Christian working against me.

The question isn’t: is Mormonism heresy?  That question is definitively settled for the evangelical Christian.  The question is: can a Mormon be President?  More exactly: can a theological heretic be a competent President?  Well, would you support a Mormon Republican who sought to protect life in the womb or a Christian Democrat who was indifferent to it?  Would you support a Mormon Republican who calls for a strong defense or a Christian Democrat wanting to scale down our military to a position you would consider weakness?  Would you support a Mormon Republican who championed 2nd Amendment rights or a Christian Democrat who wanted to pry your gun from your cold dead hands?  These aren’t theoretical questions.  (I think issues of trinitarianism take a back seat to public justice).

A few more questions are worthy of consideration –

Can a man of your theological persuasion have a different political vision?

Can a man hold a theological persuasion quite different than yours and have the same political vision?

Can a Christian be open minded toward abortion, want to expand the role of government, work toward a socialist state, and weaken the military?

Can a theological heretic, or a pagan for that matter, work toward limited government and be a social and fiscal conservative?

I would have no problems voting for Mormon.  I don’t see that it presents a theological or philosophical problem for the evangelical Christian.  Someone might object that a Mormon President will give legitimacy to the Mormon Church.  Historically, as far as I know, the ranks of the Roman Catholic Church didn’t swell during Kennedy’s presidency, nor did the evangelical church see rising numbers because of the legitimacy that Bush the 2nd gave to it.  And if Romney is the GOP candidate, and if he does stir up interest in and curiosity about the Mormon church, let’s take advantage of it.  We should welcome a national conversation about Mormonism.  If Romney is the GOP candidate, study up, boys, and have a response to questions and concerns about Mormonism.  But again, I would vote for a pagan or a Mormon if we had a shared platform/a shared political philosophy.

I will be on my way back from Israel when this publishes and so I won’t be able to interact with any comments that are posted until later.

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Dying Churches and the Church Planter

As I look across the landscape of our country and that of Europe, I can’t help but to notice the remnant of once thriving churches that are now run down buildings or historical buildings with no life of a church. This breaks my heart.

Almost five years ago I came to Valley Center as a church planter to restart an almost dead church. Through the journey of restarting Valley Baptist Church I have come to appreciate the unique challenges, struggles, and rewards of this type of ministry. I am convinced churches today need to invest in the process of restarting dying churches for a number of reasons.

Stewardship. The average church planter in Southern California will never lead his church to purchase property because of the sheer prices. There are benefits to not owning property, but that is not for this discussion. What I don’t like about this is there are many healthy church plants that are thriving while there are many dead churches sitting on property that is paid off and not being used. It just seems like poor stewardship not to unite two of these churches to reap eternal rewards.

Legacy. Almost without a doubt (sure there are exceptions) the founders of these churches loved Jesus and wanted to impact their community through Christ. Almost without a doubt the people of these churches did not change with the culture (contextualization, not distortion of the Gospel)and ultimately failed in their effectiveness in being able to share Christ with their neighbors. There is great potential if an established dying church can humble themselves concerning preference of form concerning worship, they have an opportunity to continue their legacy. I had the joy of becoming great friends with the man who pastored VBC through the 60’s and into the 70’s. It brings me great joy to see his joy as he watches our church thrive.

How to move forward? I don’t know exactly. I think the first step is to specifically pray for this sort of opportunity. God has to lead the way for sure. Second, I believe the local church should be actively involed. We couldn’t have done what we did without the emotional, prayerful, and financial support of FBC Mira Mesa for the first three years of this journey. I am praying and currently working with a church planter and dying church going through this process. I hope that we as a church can help other churches stay alive and become defective again in carrying out the Great Commision.

The right man for the task. The man called to restart a dying church needs certain gifts to enable his success in the journey. He needs to have a balance between firmness, gentleness, sensitivity, and most of all patience. Patience is key because restarting a dying church is like turning around an aircraft carrier-it takes time, but the rewards at the end are totally worth it!

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Thanksgiving Day

My favorite holiday of the year … Thanksgiving Day.

I love it for its Christian meaning, as the thankful life is the Spirit-filled life (Ephesians 5:18-20).

I love it for its social benefit, as it’s a great time to reconnect with family, and reach out to others.

I love it for the food, fun, and football. The Lord truly gives us all things richly to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17b).

And I love it for its historical depth. It depicts so well the Christian roots of our nation … the influences that helped shape our nation and its unique freedoms, blessings, and privileges.

One of my habits each Thanksgiving Day is to read the Thanksgiving Day Proclamation by our 16th President, Abraham Lincoln. In so many ways, it’s a remarkable declaration; it was made during the height of the Civil War, was boldly and unapologetically Biblical, and supremely Presidential.

I am including it here for your reflection, and if you feel so directed, for you to read on Thanksgiving Day before family and friends.

May God bless you, richly.


President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation

It is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God; to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations are blessed whose God is the Lord.

We know that by His divine law, nations, like individuals, are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world.

May we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war which now desolates the land may be a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole people?

We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown.

But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.

Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that God should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people.

I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.

(signed)

A. Lincoln

October 3, 1863

(Lincoln’s papers, Library of America, 2:520-521)

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Three Essential Relationships

I wrote this blog for Crossroads Community Church, where I will be serving come January. I thought it would be appropriate here.

At the end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus spoke what has come to be known as the Great Commission. Jesus began by telling his disciples that all authority was his (Matthew 28:18). He concluded by assuring them that he would be with them always (Matthew 28:20). Sandwiched between these two awesome realities lies the Great Commission. Jesus said this: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them all things that I commanded you.” There’s quite a bit packed into Jesus’ statement, so let’s break it down into bite-sized pieces. There are four main verbs in this commission. Go, make disciples, baptizing and teaching. In the original Greek, one of these verbs is an imperative, meaning it’s essential, you must do it. The other three are subordinate clauses to that imperative. Can you guess which the imperative is? I’m sure you guessed correctly. The imperative is to make disciples. We make disciples by going, whether across the sea or across the street, and by baptizing and teaching. Jesus is telling us that his church is meant to be first and foremost a disciple-making body. A disciple is a learner. We are called to be disciples of Jesus and our relationships within the body of Christ should be geared so that all of us learn more and more about and from Jesus. It is with this truth in mind that we created the Paul, Barnabas and Timothy model of mentoring. Let me explain it to you.

Each of these well-known New Testament figures represents a type of a relationship that is essential in the discipleship process. And much like the Five Hour Foundation, discipleship is foundational to our growth in faith. Each of these three characters is important to nurture and mature us as followers of Jesus. That’s why you will continue to hear us encourage you to cultivate, as foundational for your life and for the Crossroads community, these types of relationships.

What do these three relationships look like?

Paul was, of course, the great apostle to the Gentiles. A former persecutor of the church, Jesus revealed himself to Paul on the Damascus Road and changed his life forever. Paul’s missionary journeys are detailed in the Book of Acts. And Paul’s letters to the churches he founded, as well to his ministry companions, take up nearly one-third of our New Testaments. Paul is a classic mentor. He poured his life into people. Paul was a spiritual father to many believers, and he once called Timothy a ‘son in the faith.’ Each one of us needs a spiritual mentor in our life, like Timothy had in Paul. We all need someone who is older, wiser, more experienced and deeper in the things of Christ. We all need to be poured into by another brother or sister. Their influence can range from scriptural studies and encouragements, to working through hard times in our marriage or with our kids. In many ways, this is what Pastor Bill’s nxtSTP ministry is about. God’s vision for that ministry is to engage the Boomers and beyond to invest in the future. That is also why your pastoral staff and leaders are here. We all need to be poured into like the apostle Paul did. So ask yourself, “Do I have a Paul in my life?”

Barnabas was a companion of Paul on his first missionary journey after Pentecost. Paul and Barnabas were peers, and sent out from the same church ministry in Acts 13. They walked through life and served God together. They were friends and without a doubt, they were mutually edified by each other. When Jesus sent out his disciples in the Gospels, he sent them out two by two. It is commonly explained that Jesus knew they needed fellowship and protection. He wanted his disciples to have fellowship because he knew that they were created for relationships. In the same way, we need to be able to share our lives with others in friendship. Jesus also wanted to his disciples to be protected, because life could be treacherous. It’s the same for us. When we are alone, we are more vulnerable in so many ways, but when we are in relationship, someone has our back. We can count on them. So Jesus sent his disciples out two by two, and this is exactly what we mean by the Barnabas model of mentoring. Not only do we need a Paul, someone who will pour into us, but we also need a Barnabas, with whom we will walk through this life of faith. A Barnabas is our spiritual peer, a friend in the faith, someone we co-labor with and someone who will be a source of fellowship and protection. They will encourage us in the faith, and we will do the same for them. We all need someone who knows us with more regularity and depth then our Paul. So ask yourself, “Do I have a Barnabas in my life?”

Timothy was, as I already explained, Paul’s son in the faith. Timothy was considerably younger than Paul. Yet Paul made a substantial investment in Timothy. Although young, God was using Timothy mightily in the pastoral ministry. Timothy was the recipient of mentoring at the hands of Paul and it paid eternal dividends. So not only do we need a Paul in our lives to pour into us, not only do we need a Barnabas to walk alongside us, we all need a Timothy as well. We all need to be pouring into someone for their benefit and growth. Take a minute and think back on the individuals that we have discipled. Whether we have been a Christian for thirty years or for thirty minutes, there is always someone who will be blessed by our spiritual investment in their lives. And not only will they be blessed, but everyone who they reach out to will also be! In the more modern vernacular, this is our spiritual ‘paying it forward.’ As we have been blessed by our “Paul’ and encouraged by our “Barnabas,” we then seek out someone we can bless as we have been blessed, our own personal Timothy’s that we can pour into as a Paul. So ask yourself, “Do I have a Timothy in my life?”

So there you have it! Now you understand our Paul, Barnabas and Timothy model of mentoring and discipling. Brothers and sisters, can you imagine if every person in our entire family of faith endeavored to have, as a starting point, these three relationships? Can you imagine how much growth would take place? Jesus wants his church to be a disciple-making body, so I encourage you to pray about your Paul, Barnabas, and Timothy relationships today. God will surely meet you as you pray about this concept, step out in faith, and seek these people out. And the impact will be amazing!

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CONTEXTUALIZATION

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…No one has seen God at any time.  The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.”[1] John the Baptizer speaking of Jesus

 

“Ritualism is nothing more than a rut, and the only difference between a rut and a grave is the length and depth.”[2]Chuck Smith

 

 

Something that has always existed in the Calvary Chapel Movement is the practice of what is known as contextualization.  The basic idea behind contextualization is allowing people and churches to express devotion to the core non-negotiable elements of Christianity in ways that are natural to their cultural background.

 

Contextualization and Calvary Chapel

Calvary Chapel did this during the Jesus Movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s.  At a time when most people wore suits to church and sang only hymns in their services, Calvary Chapel allowed the thousands of hippie kids who were coming to Christ to come to Jesus and the church just as they were.  Pastor Chuck wouldn’t allow the kids to feel as if they had to take a shower, put on a suit, and start learning hymns if they wanted to follow Jesus.  Instead, he allowed them to come into Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa in their bare-feet, dirty clothes, and eclectic styles.  They let the kids express their love for Jesus in new songs they were writing in different musical styles than the old hymns that churched people were used to singing.

 

Whether people were calling what Chuck Smith and Calvary Chapel were doing “contextualization” or not, that is exactly what it was.  The hippies came from a different culture, and as they came to Jesus they weren’t forced to adopt the culture of established Christianity in its forms and traditions.  They were allowed to let their new love for Jesus and commitment to Him be expressed in forms and styles appropriate to their own culture, and this openness provided many more open doors for sharing the gospel with the hippies.

 

The Biblical Example

Many people don’t realize that Jesus Christ contextualized His ministry.  Jesus was a cross-cultural missionary.  He came from the kingdom and culture of heaven to a specific kingdom and culture on earth.  Jesus came to a specific place, at a specific time in history.  He ate the food of the culture He was in.  He attended the festivals and observed the customs of the culture in which He lived.  He spoke the language of the people of the day.  As He taught the truth of God He used illustrations and parables with which the people He was ministering to could relate and understand.[3]

 

Paul would carry on the great missionary example set by Jesus as he practiced contextualization as well.  When he knew he was going to be traveling through and preaching the gospel in an area where many Jews lived he actually went so far as to have his pastoral assistant Timothy circumcised, even though the poor dude was nearly thirty years old at the time![4]  Why? We know from books like Galatians that it had nothing to do with Paul believing circumcision had anything to do with one’s salvation.  Paul was contextualizing.  This was the level of Paul and Timothy’s missional commitment.  They were removing an amoral barrier to communication that would exist between them and their Jewish audience so that the people would give an ear to the gospel they preached.  He and Timothy were willing to lay down their rights in amoral areas to win a listening ear with lost people and we should be willing to do the same.

 

Personal Story

When I was pastoring a church in Idaho a group of us used to go to the local nursing home and do ministry once a month.  We would usually sing some hymns and then give a simple gospel message.  I remember on one occasion as I began to open in prayer a Mormon woman in her seventies yelled out, “Hey! You better fold your arms!”  What was the problem?  In LDS culture it is a sign of reverence to fold your arms and bow your head when you pray.  She didn’t want me praying irreverently in her presence and so she wasn’t going to let me go on with the meeting until I folded my arms.

 

So what did I do? I folded my arms!  I didn’t do it because I had to, but because I wanted to.  I know Jesus didn’t care whether or not I folded my arms, lifted my hands, or laid on the ground when I pray to Him.  So it didn’t bother me one bit to fold my arms.  But it would have bothered this woman greatly if I didn’t, and she wouldn’t have tuned her ear to one word I had to say from that moment on.  So, the meeting when on, I preached the gospel, and about a month later through a miraculous work of the Holy Spirit that same woman got saved!  Sensitivity and flexibility to cultural issues matters greatly at times.

 

No Compromise

Inevitably when the subject of contextualization comes up people pull the compromise card.  They say you want to water down the gospel and the teaching of the Word with all this contextualization business.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  Expressing his commitment to contextualization Paul said,

 

“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak.  I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.  Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.”[5]

 

Now, notice that Paul didn’t merely say he didn’t do certain cultural things to win a listening ear with lost people.  He said he became certain things to win a listening ear with lost people.  He temporarily adopted cultural and even religious practices that were amoral for the purpose of removing barriers to people hearing him out in regard to the gospel.  Paul’s flexibility in this enabled lost people to hear the Word preached and become saved through faith in Jesus.  But it started with Paul contextualizing so as to win an ear with the lost.

 

So what does this have to do with compromise? The same man who wrote this in his passion for contextualization also wrote, “even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.”[6]  Was Paul into contextualization? Yes.  Was he into compromise? NO!  Contextualization is about having flexibility in forms and methods, not the message of the Bible.  As church planters we need to work to practice contextualization in our methods and yet remain unyielding in our no-compromise commitment to preaching the unadulterated truth of the gospel specifically, and the rest of the Bible generally.

 

What a Culture is Vs. What it is Becoming

Sometimes the best way to contextualize is to become the opposite of what a culture has historically been.  This is something I’ve learned while doing ministry in Idaho and Utah.  Utah is a predominantly Mormon state.  That being the case, most people think going to church includes wearing collard white shirts, dresses, singing songs that are at least sixty years old, sitting through a boring two or three hour weekend service, drinking water for communion, and trying not to fall asleep as you struggle through the predictable monotony every week.

 

Some might be tempted to think that contextualizing to reach people in Utah must mean designing your church services to be like what I’ve described above so that Mormon people will feel comfortable in your service, and therefore be able to hear the gospel.  To be sure, this might be a good thing to consider in some cases.  But I have found the opposite to be the case at Refuge Church.  What we have discovered as we’ve done church in a more casual and free way is that it is a breath of fresh air to people who have grown up in a very formal church environment.  People love that church is just about normal people who don’t have it all together getting together informally to worship a Savior who truly does have it all together.

 

So the point is this: Practicing good contextualization doesn’t always mean exactly conforming to the predominant norms in a culture.  Sometimes people who have grown up under one style of church or in one kind of spiritual environment are actually longing for something different than what they’ve known.  So again, it all comes back to being flexible with forms and uncompromising with content.  All you can do is pray, know your culture, and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.  He will never steer you wrong in how to reach the people in your context.

 

The Dependable Path of Authenticity

The last thing I want to mention on the issue of contextualization is the issue of authenticity.  Frankly, sometimes in an effort to contextualize guys end up changing so much about themselves and their church that they really just come off as being fake.  I know a pastor who was a successful business man before entering the ministry.  Due to his background he was a wealthy guy, so he tended to dress really nice and keep a clean-cut appearance.  As a pastor he started out dressing and behaving in the same way he did while working as a business man for almost twenty years. But one day he began to change.  In an effort to be relevant he grew a goatee, started wearing baggy clothes, and got a new hair-style.  The result was that the young people he was hoping to reach with the gospel through his extreme makeover became his biggest critics.  They thought he was inauthentic and felt like he was trying to sell them something rather than be real about what he truly believed.

 

Personal Story

Authenticity is always the strongest course of action.  Again, I learned this pastoring in the small rural town of Salmon, Idaho.  As a city kid who grew up playing in punk rock and metal bands and living a vegan straightedge lifestyle, a rural Idaho rancher town like Salmon is the last place I would’ve ever thought God could use me to reach people.

 

My wife and I moved to Salmon in 2006 and were immediately beat down with culture shock.  I’ll never forget going to Cowboy Church the first week we lived in Salmon.  It was definitely a church service like I had never experienced before!  The congregation sat in stands used in the horse and mule auction, the band played on the back of a flatbed trailer leading the people in Pledge Allegiance to the Lamb, while cowboys road real horses into the arena waving the American and “Christian” flags.  The preacher yelled a lot and looked like he’d just come from a ride on a bull at a rodeo.  All me and my could do was sit back in awe, and wonder what minister of Satan had deceived us into moving to such a place that was so incredibly different from us culturally.

 

As I struggled a bit with how God could use me to reach a place that was so different than anything I had come from or appreciated culturally, the Lord told me just to be myself and teach His Word.  That’s what I did.  And you know what, over time those cowboys, hunters, farmers, ranchers, loggers, and tough down-home people we served in that community welcomed us with open arms.  It didn’t matter that they fished on icy rivers and killed bears and all I wanted to do was listen to metal, watch movies, and read books.  The people saw belief and passion in the message that was preached.  They heard the teaching of God’s Word instead of motivational speeches and pithy comments from the pulpit.  They respected authenticity and the uncompromising teaching of the truth.  Sure, we did some things to accommodate the culture.  But more than anything it was authenticity that went a long way in reaching a culture different than my own.

 

Exhortation

Consider your context.  What are some cultural things you may need to adapt or challenge to get an ear with lost people in your context who need to hear the uncompromised gospel?  Prayerfully let the Holy Spirit guide you as you answer that question.  And as He does, be you, be authentic, and by all means preach the Bible!  Preach the everlasting gospel!

 


[1] John 1:14a & 1:18 NKJV

[2] Smith, Chuck. Calvary Chapel Distinctives. Page 101.

[3] Matthew 13:13

[4] Acts 16:1-5

[5] 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 NKJV

[6] Galatians 1:8 NKJV

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Stewardship

“…and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit…Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit…By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples…These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

There is much to be said about a tree that produces a lot of really good fruit on a regular basis. There can be a lot of attachment to a tree that produces a lot of excellent fruit. There is something incredible to me personally about a tree of grove of trees that are laden with ripe, sweet fruit. My parents use to have these 8 or 9 Tangelo trees that produced the sweetest and juiciest Tangelos I have ever eaten in my entire life. Plums straight off of the tree are something to be experienced. I have a white nectarine tree that has some of the sweetest fruit I’ve had in years. A Mexican-Lime tree, a lemon, 4 avacado trees, navel orange, a neighbors plum, the other neighbors 3 Loquat trees, a dwarf Fuji and dwarf Ein-shemer apple, and two grapevines I planted 3-4 years ago. I LOVE fruit off the tree. I love produce straight from the ground. When I bite into a fresh picked piece of fruit from the tree, glancing the blue sky dotted with a cloud or two, feel the breeze of my face, hear my kids laughing, and plop down on the green grass to enjoy what I hold in my hand…I cannot help thinking about the goodness of God and how His care and desire in displaying Himself to me is so far beyond what I could ever even begin to deserve. Many times tears will fill my eyes because of God’s overpowering display of affection overwhelms me. And there are so many that are on the earth today that can’t even begin to imagine having an experience like the one I am describing because they have been born into a life of forced slavery, or prostitution, or are born without a sense of smell, or they must be fed through a feeding tube their entire lives, or they are born into the Dalit caste in India, or they beg their entire lives being rejected by the family around them. Squalor and filth is their green grass. Coal streaked stonework is their blue sky spotted with clouds. The blast of a furnace is their breeze on the cheek. The harsh and crude voice of their boss is the only laughter of children they will ever hear…

And sometimes I do ask the “why” question.
Why was I born here now? Why am I where I am in life today? How am I supposed to live in such a way in this place in this time with what God has given me?

The only satisfactory answer I have ever come up with is this…Stewardship.

I have prayed in the past that God would bless me with the best that I might bless others with the best. I want to be like my heavenly Father. He has gone above and beyond with what He is allowing me to steward. He has blessed me in this day with the wife I have, the children I have, the church I am a part of, my finances, my home, my health…and He wants me to steward them.

God has placed many of us in leadership positions of fellowships of men and women, boys and girls, seniors and babies, missionaries and ushers, equipping and pruning. And we will all stand before the Lord Jesus Christ one day soon (sooner than we think) and give an account of our stewardship, every aspect of it. And there can be a real fear or hesitancy in exercising stewardship in some areas for a whole host of reasons.

Jesus tells the parables of the good and faithful stewards who started off with some money and gained more as they put it to use…and they were blessed by the Lord. One kept what was given to him in a “safe place” and gave it back when he was called to give account. Now, I will say this to his credit, he didn’t lose any of what was given to him. He kept it safe and sound, probably checked in on it regularly to make sure it was still there. The picture pops into my head of a lot of evangelical Christianity today. Men are holding on to what has been given to them, they are diligent to check in on a regular basis to see that none of what has been handed to them is lost, keeping everything safe and sound set against the Day when must give account. But Jesus called this servant, this steward wicked, lazy. Why? Because he did not put to use what was given to him.

Let me focus in on one aspect I have previously mentioned. To gain more, to bear more, especially as it pertains to fruit trees, there must be regular pruning at the appropriate times and seasons. For if you do, you will, no doubt, reap a Harvest of produce at the appropriate season. Things will not look the same for awhile. Things will take a new direction in certain areas of ministry and relationships. But to get to that place of growth and bearing more fruit, what must be done? I must be willing to prune the already fruit bearing branches that have been there for so long. And to us and our impatient nature, we are overwrought at the mere mention of ‘pruning’ something that has been the awhile. “People are used to it being that way”, “we’ve always done it like that”, “what would dear old _______ do if we changed that?” what if the people leave, what if others think I’m just trying to be hip with the latest trends and statistics? What will the guys at the conference say? What will the board say? What if someone flips out on me again because of another change? What if, what if, what if?

Yes, Jesus says that the Father is the vine dresser and He prunes…but the steward in the parable is the one who goes and and in wisdom puts to use what was given to him and his “crop”, if you will, increased double. There was some pruning going on in there somewhere during the interim.

Don’t let the fear of the unknown, your budget (or lack of one), keep you from producing the kind of fruit that brings tears to your eyes it’s so good…and causes people that taste and see that God is too good to them, too. What kind of a price tag can you put on that kind of “fruit”. This kind of fruit will fill your heart and mind and you will spill over with a joy that is impossible to contain at the goodness, the sweetness, the provision of God Almighty…all I order that you might share this with others that the Lord brings you, that they might go out and tell others and share with others their lives and what God has given them, and that this process would continue until we see Jesus face to face.

broken heart

The Minister’s Heart

The Minister’s Heart

It was said by John Piper that the minister’s greatest asset is his heart.  I agree.

All of us have seen men with great gifting, but with a spiritual smallness of heart that leaves us uninspired and feeling cold.  Others limp along with broken hearts, while still others put up walls to protect themselves.  In my opinion, nothing can compensate for a spiritually sick heart in a minister.  Now amount of gifting can replace what the heart is lacking.  Conversely, I find nothing more attractive and inspiring than a minister with a heart like God’s. Gifts can be turned on and off.  The heart simply is what it is at any given moment.

The great quote about King David was that he was “a man after God’s own heart”.

The heart of a minister is a broad subject, but there are a few aspects of that topic that I want to mention for your consideration.

The Carnal Heart

Pastors are men, and men are tempted with sin.  As Pastor Chuck Smith has said, “We are redeemed spirits in unredeemed bodies”. The Apostle Paul said it well in Romans 7:18, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.” Nothing good dwells in my flesh.  It has no inherent capability to be holy, but only to sin.  Every pastor knows this battle between flesh and spirit.  The pastor must put forth great effort to stay close to God, and to resist sin.  The battle occurs daily.  If a man is overrun by sin for a season, inevitably his ministry is affected in some negative way.  He knows to do right, but doesn’t.  Good intentions are good, but they are not the same as right actions.  Knowing what holiness is is not the same thing as walking in holiness.  Knowing “how to do ministry” is not the same as doing it with a heart that is unburdened by sin.  Each one of us thanks God for His daily mercy and grace.  If you are a pastor who is burdened by sin, remember that you have been set free from the bondage of sin.  (Re-read Romans 5 & 6).  Repent and do the first works, and return to your first love.  (Revelation 2:5)  God is good.  Turn back to Him with renewed vigor.

The Broken Heart

If a pastor does his job well, he will eventually suffer from a broken heart.  Pastoral ministry is people oriented, and people sin and hurt each other.

The Walled In Heart

A pastor is sometimes tempted to wall off his heart, in order to avoid suffering the heartbreaks that result from committing himself on an emotional level. I don’t think that a pastor can serve well if he tends to protect himself too much.

The Jesus Heart

There was no sin in Jesus.  He was temped in all ways as we are tempted.  He knew what it was like to be tempted with lust, fear, pride, anger.  He knew what it was like to want to be recognized and appreciated, but to not receive it.  He knew what it was to go without some of the comforts of life.  I find great comfort in the fact that Jesus understands my temptations very well.  He is not shocked at my humanity, frailty, and my pre-disposition to sin.

To be sure, Jesus suffered from what we would call a “broken heat”.  He poured Himself out time and time again.  He poured Himself into people’s lives, and especially into the Twelve, who all forsook Him at His arrest and death.  And yet, Jesus never turned back from doing the will of His Father in Heaven.  I find great comfort in knowing that Jesus understood the deep pain of a broken heart, and yet never turned back.

I don’t see Jesus ever walling in His heart.  He did not live a self-protecting life, but He lived a very poured out life.  I see Jesus rising early to pray.  Surely, this added much to His ability to give and give and give.  He was fully human, and knew the dangers of becoming cynical and bitter with people.  He understood well the propensities of others to use and abuse, yet I never see Jesus pulling back and protecting Himself from the pain and cost of loving to the uttermost.  I must consider Jesus’ life of holiness and prayer as keys to living a life that does not protect itself out of a mentality of “self-preservation”.  In addition, I am sure that as Jesus always did those things that pleased the Father, that that obedience must have led Jesus to know when to go, what to do, and when not to go, or not to do.

I do not have an answer for how a pastor ought to care for his heart.  I have suffered all three of the above described scenarios.  However I choose to live, I know that Jesus is and always needs to be my model.

May God lead us well as we serve Him.  May we find all our strength in Him, all our guidance, all our comfort, and all our love in Him.