The sobering gift of leadership: a lesson from Gideon

I’m not sure why, but I’ve always been intrigued with the concept and the reality of leadership.  I was very interested in the subject before the Lord called me to follow Him.  The ability that some people have to influence other people to do things they wouldn’t normally do was what made history so interesting to me, even in high school.  In fact, all history–World history, is basically a study of leadership and the incredible consequences produced by the wielding of the powerful tool that leadership is.

When Jesus called me to follow Him my interest in leadership increased all the more.  For me, it’s just not possible to follow the greatest leader the world has ever known and not be interested in the clearly God-created concept of leadership.  In my pursuit of understanding the subject since His call for me to follow Him,  I’ve read about a dozen books on Christ-like leadership and I’ve learned much.  But as with so many other subjects that really matter, I’m of the strong conviction that the bible is the best book ever written on the subject of leadership. 

But, similar to many other topics that the bible speaks about, the lessons on leadership contained within its pages must be gleaned from the STORIES of good leaders, bad leaders, reluctant, and even want-to-be leaders, that are recorded.  Although there are certain phrases or statements that are clearly great principles of what true leadership really is, (like serving, rather than being served) the bible really doesn’t provide a succinct definition of what leadership is or a list of the key aspects of leadership arranged in a really cool, logical format. 

The past few weeks I’ve met with quite a few pastors, attended a handful of different churches, and watched a few videos from a few different pastor’s conferences.  Doing so has prompted me to re-examine an important leadership lesson from the life of Gideon that God pressed upon my heart not long after I discovered through other people’s input that He had entrusted me with the sobering gift of leadership–the ability to influence people to do what they normally wouldn’t do.

Please know that I apply this caution to myself first and foremost, but I believe and pray that it is of value to anyone who has been blessed with the stewardship of leading others. 

I will skip over quite a bit of Gideon’s story and zero in on what I believe are a few crucial warnings that can be learned from his life and leadership.

Judges 6:11,15  Gideon is a member of the small clan called the Abiezrites,  who are a part of the small and less than influential tribe of Manasseh.

Judges 6:34 In response to the gathering of the armies of the Midianites and Amalekites nearby, “the Spirit of  the Lord came upon Gideon” and he blew the trumpet and the Abiezrites gathered to him.  (At this point, begin thinking about how many Abiezrites may have gathered in response to his Spirit-led trumpet blast).

Judges 6:35 Gideon then sends messengers to his whole tribe and 3 other tribes.

Judges 7:2-7  God tells him there are too many people gathered under Gideons leadership and therefore there is a danger of them thinking that if they win the battle, it was because of their numbers and their abilities.  He then goes through a process of pairing them down from 32,000 to 10,000 and then finally, to just 300, and they have a great victory with an army of 300 that had God’s power and creativity with them.

I had a few questions about this whole episode for a long time.  My questions were these:

Did God know before they gathered that an army of 32,000 would be prone to take the glory for the victory?  Of course.

If He knew that and HE was the one who gathered them, would He make such an apparent mistake and then have to undo His mistake?  Not likely.

Or, is it possible that it wasn’t God’s power of Spirit that gathered them, but Gideon’s personal leadership and influence that gathered them?  Possible.

When the Spirit led Gideon to blow the trumpet, how many Abiezrites probably gathered to him?  My guess:  300.

Did the Spirit lead Gideon to send messengers to the rest of his tribe and the 3 others?  It doesn’t say that.

Finally, here are a couple of lessons that I believe God wanted to teach Gideon, His people, and all those whom He has given the gift of leadership to:

1.  If you have the gift, be careful to ensure that God’s Spirit is leading you to use it. 

2.  To determine whether it is His Spirit leading you to use your influence with people, ask yourself whether success will bring glory to Him alone, or whether it will increase your glory and status in the eyes of others and potentially even increase the pride in themselves of those you lead.

3.  If you do exert your influence and it hasn’t been Spirit-led, know that He will expose your flesh-based efforts at some point and that you’ll see for yourself the disruption of other people’s lives that you have caused.

4.  Know that when He is truly leading you, the number of those you lead at any moment in time moment, is exactly the amount of resources necessary to do what He has called you to do, (similar to the 5 loaves and 2 fishes).

5.  Impact for His kingdom is usually inversely proportionally to size.  Thinking that a large task requires a large group of people is faulty thinking.  Jesus’ example of investing in a few that would eventually impact the whole world and the history of the church itself clearly demonstrates that smaller groups of people generally have as much or even more impact as larger groups.

 

 

The Minister and His Money

If you want to make a bunch of pastors uncomfortable start to talk personal finances. Immediately the conversation will go to how little they are paid by their church or what major financial obstacle they are trying to overcome. It saddens me because what I have found is that pastors are some of the worst stewards of their own money. This has little to do with how much they get paid or what financial challenge they are facing but more to do with how they spend what they do have.

I am shocked at how many pastors still rent even though they have lived in the same city they are ministering for close to 20 years. I talked to one pastor who has moved 19 times in the 20 years he has been a pastor in his town. His excuse was that he couldn’t afford a home in his city. If you do the simple math and add up all the deposits he put down on all those rentals along with the costs to turn on and turn off utilities, not to mention the sheer cost of moving all of those times he would’ve had more than enough money for a good deposit on a home. Add to that conversation the fact that the typical pastor has the latest technological gadget, an impressive wardrobe, and fairly regularly frequents restaurants and entertainment and you start to see why so many pastors are in bad financial shape.

We are called to be good stewards of our money. That starts with not being afraid of money or mastered by it. We need to stop the excuses face the facts. Too many pastors have resigned themselves to the fact that they will never be able to get ahead and so they proceed to go and spend every dime (and then some) of expendable money they have on frivolous things. I am talking about more than just a starbucks addiction here. We’ve developed a lust for almost anything new.

Let me give you a few suggestions:

  1. Start in the Pulpit: Calvary Chapel pastors pride themselves on teaching verse by verse and only talk about money when it comes up in the scripture. I’ve heard this refrain since well before I joined on as a pastor. It comes from a reaction to the tele-evangelists of the early 1990’s always asking for money. Unfortunately when money does come up in scripture we spend a good deal of the sermon apologizing that it’s there. We make assurances that we don’t know who gives what and what they do with their money is between them and God. All of this is okay but there are people in the congregation who are dying to know what the Bible says about how They should use their money and we are not giving it to them. When the Word of God talks about money PREACH IT! Don’t be ashamed that the Bible tells us to give. Don’t be afraid to ask. Most of all do not worry about the finances of the people in the pews. We need to stop making excuses for how bad people have it. The Bible tells us that if we trust God with our money He will supply all of our needs and more.
  2. Stop Starving Yourself: 2 Timothy 2:6 says “It’s the hard working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.” Pastor make sure that the church pays you. Stop sacrificing your family for everything else the church is doing. You are a priority for the church and need to stop taking a backseat to every whim and waffle. Your wife wants to know that the family is going to be secure and provided for. She is not asking for much, just that the basics needs to provided for. You should have the tough discussion with your elders that once all the basic expenses of the church are paid you come next. If your church is running short on that then I refer you back to step one.
  3. Stewardship Starts at Home: You have already read my diatribe above. Stop frivolously spending your money. How can you expect your church to have its house in order if yours isn’t. It goes beyond how you spend your money. Do you have plan, budget, or dream? Your money should be a servant to these not the other way around. When I started out I made $18,000 a year had $20,000 in school debt and a car payment. Owning a house wasn’t even a pipe dream. Then I got married and my wife had higher expectations for our family. We paid down our debt, saved up enough for a down payment, and bought a house by year four of our marriage. We were frugal (nice way of saying we didn’t spend any money) and we were faithful with our giving. God provided. Pastor get your financial house in order.

I know this is a lot and some of it vague but my heart hurts for those who are breaking under the pressure of finances. I recommend using Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover. It’s the best book out there. Too many times in the stress and frustration of ministry we use spending money as an outlet of stress. Buying something or doing something that costs is shown to produce a chemical reaction in our brains. Problem is that feeling  goes away quickly and just like a drug we need more and more to produce the same effect. Don’t be mastered by your money. It is a neutral tool that God has given us to accomplish His purposes.

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Pastoral Ministry Practice #3

 In John 17:4 Jesus refers to the work He has already accomplished.

 I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.

Suffering a sacrificial death and rising in power were not the only assignments given to Jesus.   In John 17:6-13 He lists out the work He accomplished before going to the cross.   These verses serve as an outline of the pastoral ministry of Jesus Christ.  These verses set before us the four essential practices of pastoral ministry.  What Jesus exampled in His ministry and reviews in prayer here before His Father are the essence of being a shepherd to the flock of God.

The first essential work of pastoral ministry is given in 17:6 – I manifested Your name to the men You gave Me out of the world.  The second essential work of pastoral ministry is given in 17:7-8 – I gave them Your words…

The third essential work of pastoral ministry is given in 17:9-11I ask on their behalf…keep them in Your name.

Pastors, you are to pray for those God has given you to care for.  For all of what Jesus says in vv9-11, He asks just one thing: …keep them in Your name… The word ‘keep’ means ‘to guard carefully…to keep one in the state in which he is’.   Paul tells us that we don’t always know what to pray for, but here’s something that’s on target every time.  You’ll never have to wonder if this is God’s will because it always is.  “Father, keep them in Your name”.  We pray so many things for so many people – things that can very well be peripheral to what God desires to do in someone’s life.  But when you pray this, “Father keep them in Your name”, you are always praying in the direct center of the will of God.  For when you pray this, you are asking that the ones you pray for be held at the place of power and promise and joy and peace and grace and mercy.  The name of God means all these things – and so much more.

Without the Name of God there is no ministry of God.  Jesus said that He revealed the Name of His Father to the disciples and now He prays that they be kept in that Name.

 The Name of God is the first thing and the continuing thing in the ministry.

Jesus doesn’t ask the Father that His disciples be good preachers and expositors of the Word.  As previously discussed, you can be a whiz kid with the Word of God and a bust with the Name of God.  You may have a ministry and it may flourish – for a time.  But a man’s character always catches up with him and is something that can’t be hidden.  Remember Balaam!

Jesus doesn’t ask for their success – buildings, budgets, and bodies.  He is more concerned with the character of the church than the size of the church.  He prays that their hearts would always be focused on the heart of God.  How easy it is to have your attention moved from the heart of God and begin to be dominated by thoughts of ministry success and personal reputation.  When the pastors and spiritual leaders of a church are no longer concerned with the Name of God they will begin to compromise the Word of God and any success they have had in ministry will begin to be reversed.  The dramatic plummet in numbers of the mainline denominational churches in America is an attestation to this truth.  A disregard for truth and of life lived in the Name will undercut your prayer life.  If you are not kept in His name, you won’t pray for others to be kept in His name.

Pray your vision

Please note that what Jesus valued gave shape and form to His prayer life.  His vision was for the name of God and His vision gave birth to His praying – Jesus prayed His vision.  What do you pray for?  What is the vision you have for your life and ministry?  Do an inventory of the things that you ask for in prayer.  Be aware of what it is you say and do during your time of devotion.  What you ask for in prayer defines your vision.  In a very real way, prayer gives expression to and the awareness of the will of God for you and those for whom you are praying.

Your prayers will rise no higher than your vision.

When we hear someone pray and they are asking that God use them in powerful ways to reach their city for Christ; that God would fill them with His Spirit and flow through them with His love; that He would heal the sick and save sinners; that the church would be strong in the name of Jesus – we know that we are listening to someone with a big vision and someone who understands and realizes what it is that God is seeking to do.

Many pastors say, “That is my vision, too”.  But to listen to them pray, you wouldn’t know this.  They pray for their Aunt Sally in Minnesota and they ask God to bless this missionary in Brazil.  They ask that the church potluck be successful and that this week’s offering be large enough to take care of the bills that are currently due.  There is a difference between this kind of prayer and the prayer that Jesus modeled for us in John 17.

This man prayed his needs; Jesus prayed His vision.

Let me restate that: the pastor prayed his needs and Jesus prayed His vision.  Do you pray your needs and the needs of those around you or do you pray your vision?  Do your needs or your vision dominate your prayer life?  Obviously, there is a time to pray for needs – and there is a time to press your vision in prayer before the Lord.  Your prayers will rise no higher than your vision.

Paul prays his vision

The high priest bore on His breastplate the names of the children of Israel  – they were upon his heart whenever he went into the holy place. He also wore the names of the children of Israel on the shoulders of the ephod, engraved in stones, and worn as he went about his priestly ministry in the tabernacle (cf. Ex. 28:12, 29).  They were upon his heart as indicating the affection of God for them, and upon his shoulders, the place of strength, to illustrate his power in the support of them.  Like the high priest, the pastor bears upon his heart and his shoulders the people he pastors.  Paul gives us a pattern of how to pray for those we bear upon our hearts and shoulders.   We have clear insight into how Paul prayed in the book of Ephesians, chapters one and three.

For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.  Eph. 1:15-23

What is he praying for?  What does he want to see come to pass in the life of those for whom he prays?  Note the ‘so that’ in v18 – So that…

#1  You will know what is the hope of His calling

#2  You will know what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints

#3  You will know what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe

His vision for the church is that we be dialed in to God’s dream for us and the power available to bring to pass His purposes.  His vision for the church is not just that we go out and ‘do’ ministry, but that we would understand and recognize (know) of all the resources in God that are provision for us.  That is His vision.  Here is his prayer:

…that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened…

Paul prays for wisdom and revelation and enlightenment.  These aren’t part of his intercession just because they sound mystical and spiritual.  These dynamics of spiritual life are his prayer because they relate directly to his vision of what the church should be.  Even as the high priest bore upon his chest and shoulders the names of the children of Israel, even as Jesus is praying for us – bringing us before His Father – so we have the great privilege and responsibility of bearing on our chests and shoulders those for whom the Lord has given us responsibility for.  The church is in our hearts and weighs upon our shoulders – we are to bring these before the Lord in intercession and seek that God be glorified in them.  Whatever else we pray, let’s pray that they may be kept in the name of God.

candle-1

Light In The Darkness

“Unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness: he is gracious, and full of compassion, and righteous.”

 

Dark seasons come to us all. This is regardless of where we are or who we are or what we are doing. We are here. We are involved in this thing called “life” and the reality is that we all experience dark times. But there is a marked difference between the darkness that is experienced by the upright and the unjust.

The unjust dwell in darkness, and it a manifold darkness. They are lost in the darkness of sin, of confusion, of ignorance, of pride and stubbornness. Their eyes are blinded by the god of this age, their foolish hearts are darkened, they stumble in the darkness groping for anything solid, yet terrified and held back by fear not knowing what they will find…and they have no light…ever.

The upright have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of God’s dear Son. They were once in darkness, but now have been made children of Light, in fact, the light of this world. And yet we remain living testimonies in a world of fallen things. And we dwell daily in fallen bodies. These fallen systems love darkness and not light. And God is gracious and has given us His word to be a lamp to our feet and a light to our paths as we walk life’s narrow way. And because we are living epistles and stewards of light, living in the midst of a crooked and lost generation, we find ourselves at times in darkness. At a loss of which way to go, of our purpose, of our goal…and we fret. We become anxious.

But always the upright has hope. The upright has fixed his or her heart upon the One to whom they have cried out to for their salvation. He alone has shown Himself strong on their behalf. He alone has freed them from their prison and set them at liberty from their oppressive labors. And in the times of darkness, there arises a light. In the Lord’s time, there arises a light. Hope is renewed and strengthened, the sails of vision are filled to full strength, the upright begins afresh to be the living extension of the kingdom of God among those lost in darkness…

And he is once again gracious to those around him. He is full of compassion to those who do not know what compassion is. and above all and through it all, he is righteous. Not because of what he has done through the trying time of darkness, but righteous because of the One who has called and redeemed and adopted and made alive by the word of the gospel and the generous, miraculous work of His Holy Spirit indwelling and empowering him.

Presence

The Story of God’s Presence (Part 1)

The Bible is a story, not an encyclopaedia. To find a topic in an encyclopaedia, just turn to the letter “G” to read about God, turn to the letter “M” to learn about Messiah. The Bible doesn’t work this way. By story, I do not mean fiction, but rather an unfolding message. The Bible isn’t about God. It’s about God’s purpose and interaction with people. This grand narrative is a fabric of many threads, but lets look at one of the major threads in the Scriptures – God’s presence.

Now that we’ve threaded the needle, lets follow the stitch in the fabric as we look at Eden, the Tabernacle, the Temple, Jesus, the Church, and the New Jerusalem.

Eden

The Bible begins with an idyllic description of the world we all desire. It’s a place of incomparable beauty, peace, and blessing – the place of God’s presence. God created man to be in relationship with him. In fact, God walked with Adam in Eden (Genesis 3:8). Adam, being in harmony with his Creator, wasn’t laden down with fears; his relationship with his Maker was free from inhibitions. There was no pain or death, simply the joyful pleasure of life lived in God’s presence.  Something as wonderful as this ought to be shared, and so God blessed Adam with the joy of extending the Garden through fruitful expansion (Gen 1:26-28). He called Adam to work and keep the Garden (Gen 2:15-17). The very nature of the Garden itself yearned to cover the earth as a river flowed outward from it dividing into four other rivers (Gen 2:5-9). God’s purpose was to multiply this place of his presence throughout the earth.

This wonderful relationship between man and his God is the joyful life that everyone longs for, but like us, Adam began looking for a way to have the fruit of God’s presence without God himself. Adam and his wife ate from the tree that actualized life lived under self-rule. Choosing to distrust God and God’s Word, man could no longer enjoy the very presence of God. Man became an exile, and lest Adam try to re-enter the Garden, the Lord set cherubim, heavenly beings, with a flaming sword to guard the entrance (Gen 3:23-24).

Tent

God’s purposes hadn’t changed. He still wanted his creature to enjoy and know his presence, but sin now stood in the way between God’s blazing glory and man’s now frail existence. Although Eden, the place of God’s presence, was sealed off from people who rejected God’s goodness, God’s mission hadn’t changed. God called a man named Moses to establish a place of God’s presence that people could come near (Exo 25:8-10). God would meet with Moses and speak with him “face to face” in this tent often called the Tent of Meeting (Exo 33:7-11).

But man’s sin still stood in the way. Although Moses was graciously allowed to enter into God’s presence, God’s glory was veiled in a cloud (Exo 34:5). Moses was unable to actually see God. Reminding us of Eden, the tent’s inner chamber, known as the Holy of Holies, was separated by a veil, and on it were embroidered cherubim (Exo 26:31-33), reminding us of the certain death of sinners standing before a holy God. Access was restricted. There was an occasion in which one man could enter into the Holy of Holies. The high priest, on the annual Day of Atonement, was permitted entry after he offered a sin sacrifice for himself (Lev 16:2-3). His entry was granted only to make atonement for the sin of the people. The high priest did this with great fear, fully aware of his own sin. As with Moses, a cloud covered the presence of God to shield the high priest from death.

God created man to enjoy his presence, but the bitter fruit of sin beckons people to rule their own life in opposition to God. The message of this Holy of Holies is that God is still in pursuit of us. In spite of our rejecting him to be self-made gods, our Maker still pursues us. God had Moses make this tent seeking to multiply his divine presence on the earth. Why a tent? A tent is mobile (Exo 40:24-28). God was moving. He was extending his presence.

Temple

Later in Israel’s history, to show the permanence of his presence, a temple was established in Jerusalem, which God called the place of his Name (1Ki 8:29). The Temple was the epicenter from which the message of God’s presence could echo forth throughout the world. The Temple extended the presence of God, which he said would be a place for all nations to communicate with him (Isa 56:7, 1Ki 8:41-43). Like the tent, access into the thirty-foot cube of the Holy of Holies was only permitted on the Day of Atonement and only by the high priest. Sin still prohibited people from being able to enter in and enjoy God’s Eden-like presence.

The people of Israel didn’t keep God’s good Word, even though they had the reminder of God’s presence in temple form. Ultimately, the Babylonians, as a judgment of God on his people, would destroy this Temple (2 Chr 36:18). The article of furniture symbolizing God’s presence (the Ark) would also go missing. The new temple to be built seventy years later would be a ‘presence-less’ shell, housing a hollow Holy of Holies. Had God ceased from his mission? No. God’s mission is still active.

God is at work in the world. His mission of making himself known is always underway. This is what we see God doing in the Old Testament, but it doesn’t end there. The New Testament brings yet more clarity to God’s purpose and presence. We will look at this in my next post.

 


[1] John 1:16-17 reveals that grace had been given in the giving of the Law of Moses (which include the building plans for the Tent), but when Jesus came, a whole new dimension of grace was given. We have received the grace of God’s presence directly in Jesus, above and beyond the grace of God’s presence in the tent.

[2] Joh 14:16, the word another here means “another of the same kind”.

israel

Barriers To Jewish Witness

During the forty centuries of its existence, the Jewish nation has been repeatedly exposed to complete annihilation.  The history of Israel is a living “message” of GOD to the nations to “behold the goodness and severity of God.”

Many Gentile Christians say “How can I witness to Jewish people, I am not Jewish?”  However, more Jewish people have been brought into the kingdom, receiving Jesus as their Messiah, through Gentile believers than through Jewish believers.  So many people respond, “I don’t know the Old Testament well enough to witness to Jewish people.”  It might amaze you to know that Jews know very little about the Old Testament.  The average believer knows more about the Old Testament than 99% of the Jewish people you meet.  Most Jewish young people, and even older Jewish people, I have spoken with have never heard of Isaiah 7:14 (the virgin birth of Jesus predicted), Isaiah 9:6 or Isaiah 53 (which predict Jesus’ death), or, as a matter of fact, any Old Testament prophecy predicting Jesus as the Messiah.  Many are not even aware that Isaiah is even in the Old Testament.

In addition to this lack of knowledge of the prophetic scriptures, the gentile persecution against the Jews in the name of Christianity have formed a further veil over their eyes.  They do not get a true picture of who Jesus is.  They have heard tales from their fathers, grandfathers, great-grandfathers, who have passed them on from generation to generation.  The words “CHRISTIAN – CHRIST & CROSS” can cause very negative reactions to most Jewish people.  These words to the Jewish mind often are personally connected to family histories and bring up images of PERSECTION, INTOLERANCE, HATRED, TORTURE, and MASS KILLING.  Why is this the case?  Because of a real Gentile persecution against them in the name of Christianity.  Consider the following, so you understand the Jewish view of Christianity.  A short history tour:

Saint John Chrysotrom (344-407 AD), often referred to as the bishop with the golden tongue, stated  “The Jews are the odious assassins of Christ, and for killing God, there is no expiation possible, no indulgence or pardon.  Christians may never cease vengeance, and the Jews must live in servitude forever.  God has always hated the Jews, and whoever has intercourse with the Jews will be rejected on Judgment day.  It is incumbent upon all Christians to hate Jews.”

Saint Zeno (380 AD), Bishop of Verona, Italy, bewailed the fact that when inspired monks invaded Jewish homes to save Holy Scripture and in this process killed resisting Jews, only the bones of the dead ones were burned to ashes while there were still many Jews living who could have been burned for the glory of the Lord.

Saint Augustine (354 – 430 AD) said that the Jews called upon themselves for all eternity the divine malediction and must serve in no other capacity than as slaves.

Saint Athanasius (296 -373 AD), the Bishop of Alexandria, insisted that Rome deal with the Jews by use of the sword, tolerance was no better than treason against Christ.

Martin Luther (1483 – 1586 AD), once favorable toward the Jewish people, later said, “set the Synagogues on fire… in order that God can see that we are Christians… their homes should likewise be broken down and destroyed.”

In 1096, the first of four crusades was instigated by the established Church of Rome.  Thousands of Jewish people were drowned, butchered and killed under the banner of the cross.

In 1099, the first crusaders finally reached Jerusalem, they assembled all the Jews in the great Synagogue and burned them alive while marching around the burning structure singing, “O Christ We Adore Thee.”  (From the book, “The Jew and the Cross” page 59).

In the year 1262, in London, 1500 Jewish people were killed by enraged mobs led by cross-bearing clergy.  From 1290-1659 AD, no Jew was allowed to live in England.

In 1550,  Pope Paul IV said Jews must be servants, wear yellow badges, and be restricted to their ghetto without permission to speak to a Christian.

In the 15th Century, the Spanish Inquisition swept across Spain.  It was designed to do away with any Jewish religious allegiance on the part of the Spanish Jewish converts to Catholicism  (these converts were called “Marranos”). Fifty thousand Jewish people died in a three-month period under the sign of the cross.

In 1654, Peter Stuvyscent requested permission to expel the Jews from New Amsterdam (New York), saying the Jewish people are “the deceitful race – such hateful enemies and blasphemers of Christ – they should not be allowed  to further infect and trouble this new colony.”

In 1881, the Pogroms (a Russian word meaning “devastation”) began to be carried out in Russia and Poland.  A head clergyman devised a plan to destroy the Jewish people.  One-third would be starved to death, one-third would be forced to emigrate and one-third would be converted by force if necessary.  The Russian Orthodox priests would come out in the village squares during these pogroms and “bless” the Russian Cossacks and peasants who would carry out these pogroms “In the name of the blessed Jesus and the holy Madonna.”  They would then proceed to murder hundreds of Jewish people by torture, fire and sword.

Note the above quotes on Jewish persecutions were taken from the book “The Jew and the Cross”.

All of these persecutions continued into the 19th century, and we are all familiar with our recent history.  All of these named in this article attempted to annihilate Jewish people in the name of Christianity.  It is no wonder one Jewish writer wrote, “To some, the Roman cross is a symbol of charity, and supreme devotion.   To the Jew, it is a reminder of perennial persecution.  The cross to the Jew is a symbol of pogrom (devastation).”

Jewish people need to know the difference between a Gentile who is not a believer and a Christian.  We must tell them the difference.  As one person has said “to them Hitler, the Pope, Mary Baker Eddy, Billy Graham are all Christians.”

A well-known Jewish Christian professor said that his former understanding was that all Gentiles were Christians; this kept him from accepting Jesus for a long time.  He would see a drunk stumble out of a bar and often think, “if that is Christianity, I don’t want it.”  I am so convinced, and often say while explaining the difference between Gentile and Christian, that to be a Christian, one must have a SPIRITUAL BIRTH FROM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, ISAAC AND JACOB.  That’s what the founder of Christianity, Jesus, said (John 3:3).  To show Jews the difference between Christians and Gentiles, we must show them that we believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

So what response can you give a Jewish person to whom the above persecutions are a stumbling block?  The Word is the ultimate response, as it truly is a light for our feet and creates a very delicate path.

In Matthew 7:22-23, Jesus said that many would claim His name, and therefore claim to be Christians, who weren’t.  They would even say they had done many wonderful works in His name… and yet had never known Him.  Likewise, Jeremiah in the Old Testament (Jeremiah 23:14, 15, 25, 34, 39), states that false Jewish prophets from Jerusalem would come in the name of the God of Israel and presume to speak in His name, yet they would be speaking lies.  It is interesting that in Jeremiah 23:39 and in Matthew 23:7, a similar fate awaits both false teachers and/or prophets “being cast away from His presence”.

Because of these persecutions against Jewish people in the name of Christianity for eighteen centuries, we might understand why some common terms should be avoided and others considered in their place.  A few suggestions:

[one_half]Christian[/one_half]

[one_half_last]Believer[/one_half_last]

[divider_padding]

[one_half]Christ[/one_half]

[one_half_last]Messiah – After they use the name “Jesus” in the conversation, then feel free to use it.[/one_half_last]

[divider_padding]

[one_half]Convert or Converted Jew[/one_half]

[one_half_last]Completed Jew or Jewish Believer in Messiah.[/one_half_last]

[divider_padding]

[one_half]Cross[/one_half]

[one_half_last]Messiah’s death for us.[/one_half_last]

[divider_padding]

[one_half]Jew[/one_half]

[one_half_last]Jewish, Jewish person, or Jewish People. The word “Jew” by itself is harsh to Jewish ears because Gentiles have used it as a curse for centuries.[/one_half_last]

[divider_padding]

[one_half]Blood[/one_half]

[one_half_last]Always use this term in connection with Lev. 17:11 or a related verse.   Do not use just the word by itself because the word “blood” is again a reminder of the blood shed by their people as a result of Gentile persecutions.[/one_half_last]

Some additional ideas:

Never, never argue, even if you know you are right.  It will only serve to turn the other person off.  The Holy Spirit does not argue.

Never become angry or take offense if a Jewish person uses the name of “Jesus” in a derogatory manner.  They don’t think it’s wrong because they have been taught all their lives that “Jesus” was only a man.  It is interesting that most Jewish people will admit that He was a good man- one of the best men who ever lived.

Do not laugh at “Jewish jokes”. They might assume you are ridiculing them and are anti-Semitic.  Remember, Jewish people are highly sensitive to the slightest hint of anti-Semitism and rightfully so.

Don’t make the common mistake of saying “some of my best friends are Jewish.”  They will immediately think, “what about the rest of us.”

Be led by the Spirit.  Always ask the Holy Spirit for guidance, depending upon on the Spirit to direct your words .  Jesus said in Matthew 10:19-20 “…it shall be given to you in that hour what you are to speak.  For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.”

Be in an attitude of prayer.  The Holy Spirit knows exactly what the person’s need is and what He wants to tell them.

Know your Messianic prophecies. “Study to show yourselves approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

Listen to your friend’s point of view.  This will help you to know where he stands and also help you in dealing with any future Jewish contacts.

Substitute words that they will understand, especially for terms such as ‘saved’, ‘born again’ etc.

Speak with a Jewish frame of reference.  For instance, you might consider saying  “All I learned about God, I learned through reading a Jewish book- the Bible” or the statement “The Old and New Testaments were written by Jewish people.”  (Note:  Luke was the only possible exception.)  The fact that the New Testament was written by Jewish people will be startling to them.  They naturally assume it was written by Gentiles.

These are my thoughts on how to approach Jewish people with the Gospel, considering their history and their unique perspective on Christianity.  In part two of this article, I will address how to more specifically minister to Jewish people.

 

End Part 1 – Continued June 2012

Part 2 “Ministering To Jewish People”

Jim Stretchberry has been the executive director of the American European Bethel Mission (AEBM) for the last 9 years.  Prior to his tenure with AEBM Jim served as a Pastor with Pastor Rickey Ryan at Calvary Chapel Santa Barbara.  Jim’s passion for the lost is evident in his commitment to missions for much of his Christian walk.  He regularly travels throughout Europe and the Middle East ministering both humanitarian aid and the glorious gospel of Christ.  His Jewish heritage has given him a passion to see his Jewish brothers come to recognize their long-awaited Messiah in Jesus of Nazareth.

justice

Does it matter?

In the last 5 years or so I’ve been intrigued by the research done by groups such as Barna, Pew, Gallup and others. While statistical analysis is not 100% accurate it is interesting to consider what the numbers say about the views and values of our nation. Such data is especially interesting when studies are repeated year over year for a decade ore more. Earlier this month Pew Research released the findings of their “Trends in American Values” study; a survey which they’ve conducted and expanded for the last 25 years. Although I’ve only skimmed the overview and have not read the full 164 page report, the trends are interesting, to say the least; and particularly so for the Church. For instance, on page 5 of the overview we read.

Republicans and Democrats are furthest apart in their opinions about the social safety net. There are partisan differences of 35 points or more in opinions about the government’s responsibility to care for the poor, whether the government should help more needy people if it means adding to the debt and whether the government should guarantee all citizens enough to eat and a place to sleep.

[…]

Just 40% of Republicans agree that “It is the responsibility of the government to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves,” down 18 points since 2007. In three surveys during the George W. Bush administration, no fewer than half of Republicans said the government had a responsibility to care for those unable to care for themselves. In 1987, during the Ronald Reagan’s second term, 62% expressed this view.

Later the report reveals Republican and Democrat value shifts graphically.

[divider_line]

 

Is this an issue?  Does it matter? I think is and does.

In chapter 2 of his book “Preaching & Preachers” Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones writes briefly of early 20th century British church history.  He cites the rise of a “social gospel” in Western countries prior to the First World War and explains that the same was happening in America at the time of His lecture series, which ultimately became the book “Preaching & Preachers.” Lloyd-Jones’ purpose in doing so was to highlight the importance of keeping the preaching of the gospel central to the work of the church.  He argues that this “social gospel” was “largely responsible for emptying the churches in Great Britain.” I do not question Lloyd-Jones’ assertion, nor do I disagree that preaching should remain primary within the Church.  The social concerns that Lloyd-Jones addresses are ones of ethics and morality, which he rightly argues are nothing without godliness; his points are actually well made .  My concern however, which I believe is represented in the above data from Pew Research, is that American Evangelical Christianity in the last half century, or more, has neglected its social responsibility.  This shift is certainly not because of Lloyd-Jones, but rather a position that seems to say “the purpose of the church is preaching, and we should vacate the social sphere.”

Yes, the proclamation of the gospel is the central work of the Church.  It is essential that we “Go into all the world and preach the gospel” (Mark 16:15).  But are there not aspects of the gospel that require the activity of the Church in the sphere of social issues?  Throughout it’s history, the Church has been the body which addressed humanity’s social ills.  Health and welfare are the responsibility of the body of Christ.  Be that as it may, somewhere in the middle of the last century, the American Evangelical Church withdrew from that sphere, leaving a vacuum.  Since nature abhors a vacuum, someone or something had to fill it.  Enter the Government.  What once was the ground held by the church is now occupied by federal, state and local government agencies.  What once was provided for by the loving charity of God’s People is now—out of necessity—funded by ever increasing taxation.  So, it is no surprise that Republicans, who are far more “religious” than Democrats, and who count themselves “socially conservative” would agree that It is not the responsibility of the government to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves, or meet the needs of the poor.  My question is, are we, the Church, ready to move back into the sphere that is rightfully ours and gladly meet the needs of others via our loving, compassionate charity?  What good is social conservatism’s push for prayer in schools and the Ten Commandments back in the public arena, if we’re unwilling to practically display the love of Christ through gospel demonstration?

To political pundits like Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage,  “Social Justice” is a catchphrase for Communism.  But it is elementary in Christianity that “I am my brother’s keeper.”

church_split

The Dark Side of Church Planting

I have been a strong advocate of church planting as long as I have been in the ministry. And I still believe very much in church planting. I have heard it said that the key to the spread of the gospel is new churches. I dispute that. The key to the spread of the gospel is the Spirit working through the church. New and local congregations should be part of the universal church. God did not ordain new churches. He ordained THE church that is meant to spread virally like yeast in flour. With this reality in place, church planting has become very very sexy amongst Evangelicals in the recent seven or eight years. This is not a bad thing either. But like all things, there exists a shadow side. As a three time church planter (and someone who has coached and counseled literally hundreds of church planters), I wanted to spend some time exploring that dark side.

It’s not a church plant, it is a church transfer

This, to me, is the largest dark side to the current obsession with church planting. Statistically, church are being planted with rapidity but the number of Christians are declining in the West. What that means, simply, is that many church plants are really church transfers. A new congregation is birthed but with existing members moving from another church. So one church begins by the pillaging of another. This is not a bad thing when that is an intentional mitosis model of the existing church (multiplication by subtraction). But usually it is not the plan of the existing church. Instead it is imposed on the existing church by a new congregation that subverts the existing church. This problem is also exacerbated by our Western success models. A church plant is ‘successful’ if there is x number of people there. So for a church plant to be deemed successful, they need bodies in the building, no matter where they came from. So I have always advocated that the best way to discern the fruitfulness of a church plant is by baptisms, not by Sunday attendance. So if a church has 30 people in the end of the first year and did 20 baptisms, to me that is a realistic church plant. If a church has 500 people at the end of the first year and did 50 baptisms, then that is a church transfer in my estimation. I always tell church planters this, “Seek and save the lost and throw back the already saved.” By the way, the “market share” of those outside Christ far exceeds those inside.

Not All church plants are alike

In trying to understand the impact of a church plant, we have to look at the circumstances in which it was birthed. Some church plants I like to call ‘trust fund’ church plants. Like a person with a trust fund, their work is fully bankrolled by a large sending organization (both finances and people). Another type of church plant is a “you against the world” church plant where it is a single individual just doing it without any help. Neither one of these ways (or any of the shades in between) are better, worse, more spiritual or less, but they are different and should be viewed differently. In a culture that finds its value by understanding itself in relation to another, this creates a pretty toxic environment. If a church just moved 100 people in an area from elsewhere and have 150 people at it, is it really more mightily used by God than a church that began with one family and has 40 people? In our culture, the church planter with 150 is considered a success and the planter with 40 is just another church planter. Do you see the rub there?

The church split plant

This is all too common and truly sad. This is the church plant that is really a split off of another church (usually led by a disgruntled ex-pastor, missionary or popular volunteer). This plant is within about 30 minutes of the host church and is fueled solely by the disgruntledness against the host church. It is never characterized this way though (until after some time when honesty prevails). It is always characterized in the most spiritual of terms, God’s calling, seeking to disciple differently then they see around. When I have talked with church planters contemplating this, I always say the same thing. “Don’t be THAT guy.” You see, once you are that guy, you carry that with you for the rest of your ministry.

In conclusion, our goal should always be the glory of God in the people of God by the Spirit of God. Church planting should not be a competition nor some sort of carnal badge of honor. It is the calling of God for us to be in His army in the way in which He desires. As churches continue to be planted, let us make sure that we do it with the strength that God supplies that in all things he will get the glory in Christ Jesus.

Inner Struggle

The Lie of the “Good Girl”

“She’s too innocent . . . she doesn’t do that. I don’t think she even knows what that is.”

“She’s a good girl and that’s not like her to do that.”

I believe these can be some of the most harmful words overheard by young girls. I was that oh-so-put-together, organized, on every academic team in school, over achiever, got good grades girl. I overheard as others labeled me by saying things like, “She’s so mature.” “She knows that’s wrong, so she won’t do that.” “Look at that godly girl and everything she’s balancing in her life.” “She doesn’t struggle with that.”

Again, these were some of the worst things for me to have heard growing up and in high school. Since I knew others didn’t recognize me as the struggling sinner that I was, trying to figure out this life and what it means to be sanctified and justified by Christ’s blood, I was not able to be open and honest with my struggles, and seek the help I needed. I was overburdened with my sin: sexual temptation and lust of the mind. I was everything but mature in my walk with Christ, put together, being sanctified, and seeking after God, and hearing that people thought highly of me only added to the façade I had to keep up, and the guilt and shame I was carrying. I was identifying myself more with the list of those who won’t inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11) than I was with Jesus and my new life in Him.

God designed a girl’s heart, mind, and body to be protected and pure. When she hears others talking about how well she’s doing at that, even though they are really only referring to the outside, then her only fleshly worry is keeping up with appearances, despite addictions hiding in the closet, in old relationships, on her computer, on her bookshelf, or in any other area of life where idolatry is an issue. It doesn’t matter how filthy her eyes are from the porn she’s watching but can’t tell anyone about, or how disgusting she feels from the boys she’s blamed herself for sleeping with, or how unclean her mind and thoughts are from the unstoppable, lustful thoughts she has, or how broken hearted she is from male after male that can’t fulfill her in her life. Her flesh craves to maintain the perfect image that has been being portrayed to others, despite the common knowledge provided from the Bible that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s level of perfection (Romans 3:23).

I feel like sexual sin is also harder for girls to admit to because of this idea of them always being pristine and holy. In an article on helping women with addictions, author Rob Jackson put is very well when he said, “Female addicts often suffer a greater social stigma and inner shame than do male addicts. Society promotes the stereotypes of ‘boys will be boys’ and “’good girls don’t,’”[1]. The Bible tells us that there is neither male nor female before the Lord (Galatians 3:28), so there is no sin common to just man, or just women (1 Corinthians 10:13). Sin is a human struggle, and a girl is going to feel even guiltier when she’s struggling with something that no other girl seems to admit to struggling with. I saw this in my experience, but I also see it the more and more I talk with girls who are willing to be open about their struggles, and the more I see this as being a barrier to their honesty about their struggles, and their willingness to seek help.

So, how do we fix this problem? Parents, I think it starts with you and your most powerful tool: the gospel. The parents in the church youth group where I serve are no longer surprised to hear me tell them, “Don’t be surprised that your children are sinners.” The shock parents sometimes exert to their children for not upholding Jesus’ level of perfection only breeds more hypocrites into the church. Let your kids be real with you and don’t shame them for their struggles with sin. When your children are sharing their sins and struggles with you, you should view that as a God ordained opportunity for you to actively share the gospel with them, through your words and actions. Shame is not the gospel. There is no condemnation in Christ (Romans 8:1), so don’t be a tool in the enemy’s hand to burden your kids with more guilt. Share with them the freedom found in Christ’s love displayed for us on the cross. Their sin is horrific, bad, ugly, and it’s why Jesus had to die, but He also rose again to defeat sin, so that your children can be sanctified in Christ, having access to God’s power living in them, to help them have victory over their sins.

We also need to be warned and aware that girls do actually struggle with porn.  It may start in a more subtle way with women. Virtually every young adult novel these days includes very explicit sex scenes, which is nothing but straight up porn, or erotic literature. In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal which shares about the rise in women reading erotica on EReaders due to its easy access, one reader admitted that, “. . . the digital format helped her get over the embarrassment[2].” The Bible says to think on things that are pure and lovely (Philippians 4:8), and I know from experience that reading those things only add to the embarrassment and weight of sin, and the lustful, evil thoughts. It is not lovely and pure to gaze into a fictional vampire’s love life, I don’t care if they waited until they were married. It’s not lovely and pure to worship and idolize the marriage relationship between two characters in your book, even if it has the genre title “Christian fiction” on the side of it. It is not lovely and pure to read pornographic literature, even if nobody else knows that’s what you’re doing because they can’t see the book cover on your new EReader. It’s only lovely to worship the one true God.

The more I talk to girls about the dangers of reading literature that is not only too mature for their age, but also downright pornographic and sinful, the more girls I am finding who admit to struggling with this. For some reason this form of pornography is more tolerated than visual pornography, which girls struggle with as well. Parents need to be aware of this and closely monitor what their young girls are reading. And older girls and women, you need to take it upon yourself to decide if what you’re reading leads to pure and lovely thoughts, or if it feeds your flesh with lustful, adulterous, disgusting thoughts. You need to be able to recognize your responsibility to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called (Ephesians 4:1), in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

About the Author

Lexy Sauvé grew up on C.S. Lewis, Shakespeare, and Hans Christian Anderson, pursuing her love of literature and writing since kindergarten. Her love of poetry grew through middle school and is still her genre of choice. Lexy rededicated her life to Christ at the age of 13, and has since been growing to understand and walk in the ministry of reconciliation that she has been entrusted with. In the summer of 2011 she married her high school lovebird, whom she occasionally collaborates with artistically. They enjoy reading, espresso, and old book shops together. In 2012 she graduated from Weber State University, in Ogden, Utah, with a degree in Creative Writing.

Lexy also has some background in journalism. She wrote for Weber State’s newspaper, The Signpost, in the area of Arts and Entertainment, as well as serving as a student editor of poetry for their literary magazine, The Metaphor. She is currently working with Calvary Chapel Magazine, as well as pursuing side projects in editing, publishing, and teaching workshops.

 


[1] Pure Intimacy.org, 2004, “Help for Female Sex Addicts,” http://www.pureintimacy.org/piArticles/A000000574.cfm

[2] “Books Women Read When No One Can See the Cover,” Katherine Rosman, March 12, 2012, The Wall Street Journal